Very Best Night of the Year
Author: Robert Force
Date/Studio: 1984 Altman, San Francisco, CA
Engineer: Sandy Stone
Producer: Robert Force
Original Release: When the Moon Fell on California (KM318)
Current Release: The Complete Recordings (BSR 158)
Janette and I came to the small seaport of Port Townsend, WA in 1977. We had just bought a 1965 Bluebird school bus from the Willamette, OR school district. She was a sweet running rig-- my fifth school bus. We called her Melody because some kid, along with many others, had scratched her name on the ceiling. Bruce Tipton, a friend from Alexander's By The Sea Artist's Guild, had a boat building shop in town. We had come to use his facilities to fix her up for the road.
We both caught “Commodore's Disease.” That's what we called the ennui brought on by sitting on the front porch of the Cupola House, picking paint chips and staring out at the harbor. By then I had been on the road doing music for six years. Why not stay? Al and I could book tours ahead instead of being out there hustling all the time. We sold Melody to musicians who were driving to Alaska to gig.
Port Townsend was a small backwater full of artists like ourselves, many of whom had moved there in the last several years. Janette and I grew up in the Northwest, so it was like the Seattle of our youth, sleepy and beautiful. In fact, it was a competitor to Seattle in the 1880s. It had the deepest port on the Northwest coast. Windjammers from around the world graced the waterfront. Stone buildings were built downtown; a streetcar took you out to a racetrack. Victorian mansions adorned the hillsides.
Then steam technology was adapted for sailing ships. With paddle wheels it was now possible for the big schooners to go the extra fifty miles into the heart of the Puget Sound. Port Townsend ceased being the next up and coming great metropolis of the West Coast. The money had moved on. For the next 100 years it was destined to remain a small fishing and logging town with the added distinction of having an Army artillery base to guard the entrance of Puget Sound in the upcoming World Wars.
Joe Welch was a Port Townsend son and veteran of the Second World War. His father, George, was a photographer who documented the Olympic National Park much like Ansel Adams did for Yosemite. His mother, Lillian was the daughter of Charles Eisenbeis, a Prussian immigrant who was one of the biggest of the capitalists and investors who built much of what is now historic Port Townsend.
Joe definitely inherited his father's and grandfather's civic sense. He was instrumental in getting a large portion of central downtown turned into a sports stadium for recreational baseball, football and soccer. He helped to get another portion of town set aside for a community golf course. He helped lay out State Route 19 so that when you leave town Mount Rainier seems to float above the two-lane highway. He passed away shortly before the largest windstorm of 1979 sank the Hood Canal Floating Bridge.
The day after the bridge sank was Valentine's Day. The long winter nights of our far north country needed some brightening. For weeks the folks in the “alternative” community had been planning an event. Steve Grimes and his band would play 50/60s style music backing “made up” groups. We took turns on stage. Karolyn, Janette and I were Sergio and the Subtlettes singing When I fall in Love by Bobby Vinton. Everyone was dressed in clothing of the era-- poodle skirts, scarves, zoots and suits.
Bruce was building a 45' schooner for Joe's daughter, Ann. She became Janette's and my good friend, adopting us into “old Port Townsend.” Janette worked for Ann in the Waterfront Grocery, an early whole foods store. After the Commodore's, we lived with her in the apartment above her grocery-- the old ZeeTai Building, “purveyors of tea, rice and Chinese laborers.” Our son, Dakotah, was born there, weighed the next morning on the produce scale. Ann became his Godmother, as she did later to Sam.
That's why, “When old Joe died, I took his tux dancing.” (More story is on other Very Best song page.)