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Island Legends: The 3 a.m. Boat

Spiritual Smart Aleck
Left to right: Mary Tuel, Thea Westcott, Dona Bradley
Left to right: Mary Tuel, Thea Westcott, Dona Bradley

A couple of weeks ago, Dona Bradley, Michael Shapiro, and I went over to Gig Harbor on a Tuesday night to play at an open mike that is run by Thea Wescott at a place called the Markee.

Dona, Thea, and I got to know each other back in the seventies.

Dona was singing in bands with David Conant and later Fred Schactler. Thea and Steve Fearey were working as the duet Bodacious when I met them. Rick Tuel, Chris Howie, and I worked together as Kanout Manufacturing in the early seventies.

As Dona, Thea, and I talked on that recent Tuesday night in Gig Harbor, the 3 a.m. ferry kept coming up. The 3 a.m. ferry was the boat that musicians took home. You played until the bar or club closed at 2 a.m., then you packed up your gear and beat feet for Fauntleroy.

If you missed that 3 a.m. boat, you either had to nap in your car or go find someplace to eat and hang out until the first ferry left in the morning.

A musician named Michael Murfin who lived on the island at that time had a ’58 Chevy from which he had removed the back seat. He put a mattress that went from behind the front seat into the trunk, and napped on the ferry dock when he missed the last boat. I thought that was ingenious but was not prepared to remove my ’58 Chevy’s back seat.

Later he moved to the city and joined the Love Family and his name was changed to Asaph.

But I digress.

Back to the 3 a.m. boat.

Rick, Chris, and I would go upstairs on that boat and go forward to the shelter deck, the covered area that had wonderful acoustics, and we’d sing a cappella harmonies: Amazing Grace, and I’ll Fly Away, and Daniel Prayed, and sea chanties. That singing was probably more fun than the gigs we played, come to think of it.

I remember being hit one night by the realization of what a miracle it was to be able to sing like that, to be part of making such a beautiful noise, to be filled with it, and carried by it. I was free of my own lousy self-opinion long enough to realize what a gift I had been given.

Thea and Dona have that gift, also.

I always had the greatest respect and admiration for Thea and Dona, because I thought of them as real professional musicians – they worked regularly with their bands and they toured around the northwest, and up into Canada and down into California. That’s what I thought of as the real thing.

I thought of myself as a folkie, playing irregularly at coffee houses and folk clubs and occasionally on the military bases for soldiers who for some reason were unable to get off base that night. My work paid a little, not much, but I thought of it as professional musician light, not like Dona and Thea, who were out there doing it.

We talked about musicians and other island people we knew forty-five years ago. Where are they now? We know where some of them are and what they are doing. Some of them we know are gone now.

The 3 a.m. boat was discontinued at some point, and many musicians moved off the island at that time. For those of us for whom the island was home, moving off was never an option.

The island music community is now booming more than ever. We have an embarrassment of riches here in singers, songwriters, and musicians. I am reminded once more that all art happens despite everything. I do not write because I’m organized and have a perfect little studio that’s all set up, for example. I write in chaos, disarray, and desperation. We do it because we can’t not do it.

Dona, Thea, and I are still singing. Still laughing. Still loving people. Still enjoying each other, perhaps more than ever now because of our long-shared past.

And Michael? Yeah, he was there, too. He was a kid, maybe twenty-one when we met him. But he had big aspirations. And I must say this: he has always had excellent taste in women.

That open mike in Gig Harbor is every Tuesday night at the Markee on Olympic Boulevard. Sign up at 6 p.m. We’ll be going back. See you there maybe.