In which the young
singer-songwriter discovers concert promoters really are whores.
By BEN WEAVER
The festival was called The
Dumas Brothel Biker Run. The goal of the festival was to raise money to
restore a historic brothel in downtown Butte, Montana. The organization that
wanted to do the restoration was The ISWFACE (International Sex Worker
Foundation for Arts, Culture and Education). The plan was not just to restore
the brothel architecturally but also to make it into a museum preserving the
history of sex workers and the sex industry. The festival was being held on a
piece of forest service land a little ways outside Butte. I was completely
ignorant to any of this information prior to my arrival. I just thought I was
driving to Butte to play a little folk festival in the mountains.
After picking up my info packet at a local coffee shop I
followed the map they had given me with parking instructions and directions to
the grounds. I reached the top of a long
rutted-out road, which led to the back stage area. My image of playing a small
folk festival in the mountains was shattered again. This time by what could
have been the biggest stage I had ever seen. It loomed over a gigantic field
covered in Porta-Potties and concession vendors. It looked like Lollapalooza. The only
difference was that there was no one there. No audience at least.
I was supposed to play at 6 p.m. I waited around for a while
to sound check and tried to find the promoter.
I had attempted to check into my hotel earlier in the day and was turned
away and told there was no reservation under my name. The list of bad signs was
slowly growing. The promoter was still nowhere to be found.
It was less than two hours before I was scheduled to play
and aside from the production crew and the various vendors scattered throughout
the field selling hot dogs and Harley stuff, there was still no sign of any
audience. There were rumors going around that cops had barricaded the entrance
and were arresting and searching the bikers and other audience members trying
to get in. Apparently there was a misunderstanding and many of the local
conservatives thought it was not a music festival but a sex festival and wanted
to shut it down. Either way the circumstances were quickly becoming
When the time came for me to play, there were no more than
10 people awkwardly standing in front of the stage, and sometimes noodle
dancing as the sun set. In those days I was used to performing in front of 10
people, but it was usually in the context of a coffee shop, where more often
than not 10 people meant the place was packed. Being on a huge stage, in front
of what was essentially an empty football field surrounded by mountains,
brought a new meaning to the words “low turnout.”
After I played, I set off to find the promoter again. I was
worried if I didn’t find him I would never get paid, and it looked like I might
not get paid anyway. Eventually I found him and introduced myself. I asked him
if we could settle up. He said I would
have to meet him at the coffee shop in the morning since that was where all the
checks were. I asked him about the hotel and he said he would call and make
sure there was a room for me.
I hung around for a little while and watched an Irish band
that had a high production show with lights, smoke, and backup singers. They
were traveling in a Winnebago with a trailer and groupies. The entire scene was
freaking me out so much by this point I decided if I wasn’t going to get paid
at least I was going to get some sleep.
When I got to the hotel, the parking lot was full of bikers
and Alice Cooper type rock dudes. I was still a bit wigged out, and I imagined
that the promoter was going to send some big bald dudes up to my room, to fix
me up and throw me out of town without my money. I put a bunch of chairs in
front of my door before I went to sleep.
When I woke up in the morning I went to the coffee shop
eager to get my money and get the hell out of Butte. But like I had anticipated,
the promoter was nowhere to be found and there was also no check waiting for
me. I asked the girl who was working if she could call the promoter for me. She
did, and surprisingly she reached him. He said he would be there soon.
I waited for about an hour until he showed up, but just
after he arrived he was gone again. Eventually he came back with a check. I
tried to get him to give me cash but he said he didn’t have enough in the
register. By that point I wanted to be out of there so bad I just took the
check. On the way through town I found a checks-cashed place, but before
cashing it they said if it bounced I would owe the amount of the check plus a
fee, which added up to more money than I had to my name at the time.
I went back to the coffee shop to make another attempt at
getting the check cashed. Again the promoter was gone. The same girl was there
and I explained my predicament to her. She said, “Well, do you know Norma
Jean?” I said I had no idea who that was. She said, “Norma Jean is in charge of
the brothel and she can probably cash the check for you.” The girl called Norma
Jean, and Norma Jean said to send me over.
I walked around the corner from the coffee shop to where the
brothel was and went inside. It didn’t appear to be much of a museum from what
I could see, but I was so concerned with getting my cash and getting on the
road I didn’t take much of it in. I do remember some dildos in a glass case
along the wall leading to the stairs. I remember them because apparently all
the paraphernalia in the brothel was said to be “genuine historical artifact,”
meaning what, I’m not exactly certain. To me the dildos looked like they had
been ordered out of the back of last months Penthouse.
At the top of the stairs I found Norma Jean’s office. I knocked
on the door and heard a voice say come in. At the back of the room, sitting
against a giant window overlooking the street sat a woman whose visual
appearance was more stunning than any I had ever seen. She was wearing a mini
skirt and had fake green eyelashes that extended at least 4 inches from her
eyelids. She was wearing more makeup than the entire cast of Star Trek
combined. Her hair was so red I thought I was bleeding from my eyes. In my
memory she is somewhere between Divine and Clara Bow. Despite her frighteningly
electric appearance (which I found rather charming and amazing, but had not
been prepared for) she greeted me with an enormous smile, and for the first
time since arriving in Butte I felt a sense of warmth come over me. She took
out her cash box and counted the contents. If I remember right there was
something like $265 in it, which didn’t look good for her after she cashed my
$250 check. Luckily she understood that I needed cash for gas money.
While Norma Jean was counting the money I glanced around her
office. There were a number of posters hanging on the walls advertising a “tell
all” book called, Cop to Call Girl. I
looked closer and noticed that the first name of the author was Norma Jean. I asked her if this was her
book, if she was the author. She peered up at me from under her giant eyelashes
while handing over my $250 and said, “Yes I wrote that, it is my story.”
What I have written here is the story as I remember it.
There are bound to be factual errors. But it remains the most surreal
experience I have yet to encounter in terms of getting paid for singing my
songs. Until recounting it here, I had
never thought to Google Norma Jean. I have since done so, and found that she
was in fact a member of the LAPD and later become a call girl. Her full story
would need another 20,000 words to tell so I encourage you to Google her and
get it for yourself.
[Editor’s note: Norma
Jean Almodovar’s rather amazing story is related at her website, www.normajeanalmodovar.com/mybio.html.
Meanwhile, Ben Weaver’s latest album, The Ax in the Oak, was released by Bloodshot in August. We think the two should collaborate…]