East of NORMAL

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

I didn’t get a chance to say a proper goodbye to The Family Wash, or at least not to the edifice that was host to its first life. I plumb forgot and now I feel like there’s unfinished business. But what am I going to do? Amble to the corner of Greenwood and Porter and kiss the front window?
     I played The Wash dozens and dozens of times. There was a rare vibe in that old converted laundromat; from the twinkly Christmas lights onstage to the cool paintings and photos of local talent, from the shepherd’s pies and ploughman’s platters to the Guinness and the Crazy Cat Lady action figure in the original box. (Cue the theme from Cheers.)
     I haven’t had a drink in years, and I hope I never do again. But I still like bars — places where I average five hugs in an evening, where there’s happy chatter, good music, great food, and enough Class A musicians wetting their whistles that you can start at one end of the bar and have a band by the time you get to the other end. I’ve done it. One night I had a solo acoustic gig and wished I had a band. So I drafted Audley Freed to play guitar, Billy Mercer for the bass and Steve Latanation for the drums. We marched up to the stage and played a set foaming with brio.
     Now, let’s be clear: The place had inherent flaws that would sink a lesser venue. The PA was always on its last legs, night after night on the verge of disintegrating once and for all. On any occasion, the audience might be louder than the band. If you were playing a solo acoustic set, God help you. But here’s the thing: For some reason, you never got angry at a noisy crowd there. Chatty patrons that would make you boiling mad at any other venue just washed off like water off a duck’s back. I don’t know why, other than the fact that no matter how loud the crowd was, they always applauded fiercely after every song.
     Lastly — and this is why they’re moving — business was booming to the point that there were often more customers than room to put them. I’m going to guesstimate there were 12 tables in the place, and the bar could accommodate maybe 15 to 20 people. Say it was a night when The Ornaments or Sons of Zevon were playing, and you would have all the tables taken, 40 people at the bar and people stuck in every nook and cranny from the back corner to the waitress station, down the back wall to the one restroom. It engendered a feeling of being one of 75 mice crammed into a Days Inn ice bucket.
     So now, the unfailingly sweet major-domo Jamie Rubin and the whole gang have pulled up stakes and are moving into a larger space. If he and the same people are involved, it’ll be great. Some people will bitch that it’s not the same — you can set your watch by people like that. But Pete Finney will be there, as will Warren Pash, Kevin Gordon, Stacie Huckeba, and all the others who call The Wash home. The spirit will carry on, resting on the broad backs of people I love and will continue to, in any building, anywhere.