artist - musician - craftsman
and furniture maker
[May 23, 2021]
simply revland: the wood shoppe (1976)
It was February 4, 1976 ... a brutally frigid North Dakota winter day. Not the most ideal time to be asked to inaugurate NDSU’s newest coffeehouse, the “Twenty After.” After years of performing, and simultaneously learning my woodworking craft, I was not only feverishly preparing to give a knock-out performance, I had also formulated the proclamation that I was, unfortunately, walking away.
I was uncertain how long this hiatus would be, so I decided that being vague about this announcement wouldn’t be appropriate. It was a “please, stick a fork in me” moment. Through time, the thrill had considerably dissipated, and the stress attached to performing 30 songs a night was now unbearable. I felt I had left a mark, perhaps a small one, the magnitude of which was certainly up for debate. Still, I was praying for a good crowd, all the while knowing that John Denver was performing two miles away at the Fargo Civic Center. Oh my.
Here I was, 3 months shy of my 23rd birthday and, perhaps for the first time, deliberating philosophically as an adult. Once I was introduced and walked on stage, I was delightfully surprised at the large crowd of young people, as well as the number of close friends in attendance. I opened with one of my original corny tunes, but then spent little time delaying the inevitable, or beating around the bush. I don’t ever recall being booed before but the sound reverberated throughout the room like an echo chamber. What I came away with was a fortified confirmation that, perhaps, I would be missed. John Denver I was not. There was no denying that. But this night was mine and, as it turned out, a life-altering moment in time.
In between sets, I was greeted by friends, some surprised by my announcement and others expressing some disappointment. Generally speaking though, everyone was supportive, yet inquisitive, wondering what would be in store for me. One soon-to-be new friend, was a slender, fresh-faced gentleman, generously mustachioed, a year younger than I, who wanted to get together for a jam session, as his expertise happened to be the mouth organ, or simply put, he was harmonically-inclined.
We met the next day at 1105, and music was actually never discussed, as he swiftly acknowledged one of my contemporary coffee tables in front of the couch. The conversation shifted to the fact that he, as well, was a furniture maker, and that perhaps we should consider opening a store. Well, one thing led to another and we soon opened “The Wood Shoppe” directly across the street from “Betty’s Beer Depot” on 13th Avenue and Fifth Street South. The location turned out to be advantageously serendipitous to both of us, as six packs were just a few steps away, and achieving some level of utopia was a daily occurrence, as we hopelessly waited for the phone to ring.
At left: Betty's Beer Depot. At right: The Wood Shoppe.
The Wood Shoppe.
Betty's Beer Depot.
We eventually took on a third partner, as the term “the blind leading the blind” required further acknowledgment. We soon acquired our first commission, an L-shaped counter/cabinet for Oak Manor Standard Gas Station, so excitement filled the air. Weeks later, upon completion, which required the guidance of a self-help book (or two), we were informed that we had missed the deadline, compelling the owner to give us an I-Need-It-by-5am-or-You-Can-Kiss-My-Ass Proclamation.
We were up all night in preparation, and the sun was just hovering above the eastern horizon. It was 5am and, as we hoisted the cabinet to load into the pickup, we were stunned to realize that we couldn’t get it out the front door of our shop. We looked at each other, trying to affix the blame on anyone -- including Betty -- and got to work removing the 5x6 picture window from the front of our building. I’m quite confident by now we were each planning how we could withdraw from our verbal partnership agreement once this day was over.
To amplify that perception, once we reached the gas station we realized we couldn’t get it through their front door as well. This quickly became the last straw, an unmitigated coup de grâce, and an embarrassment of riches. If we learned anything that day, we understood the need to measure doorways, including our own, before tackling any project.
Well ... this was my professional woodworking debut. Not my proudest moment, but not a time to quit either. The three amigos, all flying by the seat of their pants, soon turned into two, and within a few months, it was one. I was now on my own, frighteningly so. And I had much to learn.
I now carried a tape measure wherever I went. Lesson learned.