Sierra Surf Music Camp 2013 No. 2: The Pyronauts and Fun

Editor's Note: Like last year, the lack of internet connectivity and the need for sleep prevented us from posting real time missives from the Sierra Surf Music Camp.  Stand by for some now that the Mac has a signal.

As evening of the first day of camp set in, a slight breeze came up.  It provided only a bit of relief from the unseasonable heat that was forecast to be with us for the entire Sierra Surf Music Camp.

Gathering at the lodge in anticipation of 7:00 dinner, campers and families studied the listings for Surf Band 101.  Earlier in the afternoon, the instructors concocted bands made up of campers.  Like the inaugural camp, the process was not transparent.  Fifty years ago, it would have happened in a smoke-filled room.  In any event, four bands were created to perform on Saturday night. 

This year, no apparent fix was in.  The Sneaky Tikis were split in two:  Lukas and Greg would be the rhythm section of a band under the watchful eyes of John Blair and Bob Bitchin’; Lucas and Rob were together under the tutelage of Dave Wronski and Dan Snyder.  Glenn and I were going to be a rhythm section -- yes, I decided to give my light blue Chinese cheapie bass an opportunity to redeem itself -- for fellow campers, John and Carla.  Matt Quilter and Tim Stephenson would be our instructors.

After dinner, we headed out to the Donner Mine Camp amphitheater.  No camp fire was needed.  The breeze had not knocked the temperature down much.  The evening heat brought out the mosquitos and the need for bug repellant.  Campers, families, and instructors were in for a treat.  The Pyronauts were setting up to perform.

As we waited, I recalled how important The Pyronauts were in the rock ‘n roll fantasy that I often am fortunate enough to live out.  Several years ago, my search for surf music took us to Cooper’s in Nevada City.  There, we heard a band and met a young guitarist.  That night on the walk back to the hotel, I was enthused and thought:  “Surf at last.”  This was the end of blank looks, shoulder shrugs, and the questions that were like finger nails on a chalk board, “Surf, huh?  Is that like The Beach Boys?  The Ventures?”

The band was The Pyronauts and guitarist was Paul the Pyronaut.

Paul’s banter into the mic interrupted my rumination.  The Pyronauts then were playing.  Since Paul and Cheri’s move to Ferndale, we had not seen much of the band.  I almost forgotten how good they are and how much I love their sound and their songs.  Not much rust showed -- probably because they are four tremendously talented musicians.  And they have played together for a long time.  Paul recounted it to group sitting in the amphiteheater.  Bob and Paul for 15 years; Brett for 11; Tim for 8.  That longevity in part is a tribute to the chemistry that they have.  And the ability to work through differences of opinion, maturing from care-free but driven teenagers to young adults finding their ways to full-on men with businesses to run, family responsibilities, and the day-to-day travails of life. 

Their talents and chemistry allowed them to write songs that hold together.  Their chemistry also included a sense of humor; their seasoning taught them to move on past playing errors or lapses.  On the first night of camp, The Pyronauts needed that as they do not play together regularly anymore.  They had no pre-agreed or practiced set - just a list of songs at Paul’s feet. 

“Let’s play ____.”  “Okay”  or “No, not tonight.”  When Paul introduced a song by describing how it was written, the other band members asked, “What are we going to play?”

As their performance came to an end, the crowd applauded and cheered.  The Pyronauts had opened camp with a bang.  Energy.  Humor.  Musicianship.  Fun.  Good music.  We now were primed for Friday and getting our camper bands ready for Saturday night.  And I was taken back for a bit to a night at Cooper’s some years ago.

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