My Engagement at "Heavens Amphitheatre"

Since I haven’t written anything in awhile, I decided to get the funk out with a fun story involving me, my wife, our friends, and a little piece of heaven located in central Washington. This is a little long winded…you might wanna get a coffee or a cocktail before you start 🙂

My wife and I love music, especially live music; it’s like a battery charger for our souls. The way live shows breathe life into us and fill us with such wonderful emotion is really a special thing we share together.

Double happiness after a storm

In The Beginning:

I have a friend…we’ll call him John. I’ve been friends with John for about oh, 17 years, really good friends for about 12. In the late 90’s John was always bugging me about “The Dave Matthews Band”. He noticed how passionate I was about music and just couldn’t wrap his head around me not liking that band. After all, in the latter half of the 90’s, if I wasn’t at school or work, then you could more then likely find me at a local rock show. I remember John playing me a track off some(?) DMB live album; “All Along The Watchtower” (a common cover song for DMB). I was still into Jimi Hendrix at that point and just like all the other times he’d played me DMB…I just…WASN’T…feelin’ it. He was more then likely very disappointed, because if you’ve never heard/seen that particular song, it was official years ago…it is their song. Dylan gave it to Jimi and Jimi has passed it to DMB. So it is written, so it shall be.

Fast forward to 2004 with me and my wife having just moved from San Diego to Silicon Valley. At that point, John and his wife were our closest friends and they convinced us that going over 800 miles to see a concert from a band I’m not in love with was a fantastic idea. Not just A concert, but three nights of the same band. A festival you say? Nope…just Dave Matthews Band for three nights. When I said: “Sure, but the tickets are pricey and it’s a long way, so I think we’ll just hit up two shows, then have an extra day to get home.” He rightfully cut the head off my teddy bear and told me get out! Not really, but he said that wasn’t an option because it’s all one show. So, I put my faith in him; after all, they had gone in 2002, and had been fiending to get back.

My wife and I were on a time crunch because of our work schedules so we left on a Thursday at 9:00pm, drove through the night and arrived at 9:00am. (I don’t ever recommend doing this.) For some reason I didn’t want to relinquish the driver seat and about an hour away I started trippin’. Just too long on the road…my vision was getting weird, I started getting all crabby and impatient but whatever; we made it safely and had all day to chill, nap and get ready for what was to be a life altering night.

We arrived at the camp grounds to be witness to a slow stream of fellow campers milling around and setting up.  We took a deep breath and set our gaze amidst the beautiful grass fields that lie atop a canyon bluff with a view of the expansive Columbia River Gorge. The Amphitheater is perched on a bluff about a klick away from the grounds. Yes…a klick away.
Long story short; 4 songs into the first night my mind was literally blown. Yes literally– it was a big mess.(not a good video but this was THE moment. Gets crazy at 4:15 and God makes himself known at 5:35)
I will never forget thinking that night that I had never witnessed such a perfect example of quintessential American music. The influences the band has are endless, but very much steeped in jazz, folk, rock, blues, pop, country and alternative(change your pants at 1:42). The confluence of instruments, races, ages, styles and hard work give them a truly American spirit. Combine that with an unparalleled ferocity and a peace be with you attitude…it just can’t be beat. I, like so many before, was officially…hooked.
If by happenstance, aliens ever introduce themselves to us–I hope they get to see this band live. They would immediately think we are cool enough to not destroy us and at at most; might demand another show.

The Gorge is great place to see any band, but the three consecutive days really adds a wrinkle of communality. The fellowship and openness among the fans can be so unique.
Open your hand and talk to your neighbor, you may very well come away with a friend for life. The different(or same) people we meet every year is just amazing. People from all over the country and world come to see this band crumble the mountains for three straight nights every year. And we always seem to run into people from our hometown– which of course makes us grin at how small of a world it is.
*Disclaimer–This statement is moot if you mistakenly park next to a frat party. Not that they aren’t a large and historic part of the fan base, but they can get a little outta hand. There are always going to be unsavory characters at events with large numbers of people. Unfortunately, the frat crowd is what helped this band find it’s wings and it will be a part of the atmosphere forever. Many are cool…just stay away from the large groups.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a fight almost break out and someone always ends up saying: “Dude…you’re trying to start a fight at a DMB show…what the _ are you doing?”  At this point the alpha jackass dips his head, realizes he’s an idiot and stumbles away.
But, and this is a big but…if you can so easily switch the mental tracks of a liquored up, testosterone fueled college male that already has his chest puffed, just by reminding him where he is? That is some peaceful stuff right there.

Behind these jokers is how the frat crowd leaves their camp.

We left our first Gorge weekend at peace and completely in the sky. Funny the way it is; we we’re worried about the redundancy of a three night stand. Then as we we’re driving away that Monday, all we could think of was how awesome it would be to have just one-more-night.

Alas, all we could do was start planning for 2005.

At a friends house in January of 2005, I had the epiphany of how I wanted to propose to my smokin’ hot wife. I knew I wanted to marry her well before this moment but, we were in no hurry and I had no clue of how I would tackle the age old tradition.

The Plan:
I decided to keep it a secret…from everyone – even family. This in itself was one of the hardest and trickiest things I’ve ever done. The only people I told were two friends that helped me get the ring. I felt bad about not asking my father in law or telling my best friend but a secret is a secret and I was going for ultimate surprise. Roll forward to mid August and our plan is to see the band for two nights at SBC park with my mother, then road trip from the Bay Area to Idaho for a family reunion, then head over to WA for the shows and back down home to the Los Gatos mountain range.
The family reunion was a perfect opportunity to meet her extended family, aaaaaaand to see what I was getting myself into 😉 Ahhhh just kiddin’; but it was funny being “The Boyfriend,” when I knew all along I was gonna be changing that lame title in a few days.

Her family was totally welcoming to this curiously consistently smiling California kid. Funny story–I told everyone I’d take care of dinner one night (25ish people). I thought; what better way to weasel my way in then through their stomachs? I had been jonesin’ for some carnitas. (Classic super grinding, comida  Mexicana. Boiled pork, that is fried in pork fat, shredded and put in a fresh corn or flour tortilla with guacamole, onions, cilantro, hot sauce and lime juice. This, which was to be a dinner of epic proportions, came down with a resounding thud when I miss calculated my reheat of the pork and served what ended up being carnitas ‘jerky’ tacos. Took so long to chew that your mouth was completely spent after one taco. At least it was a delicious and flavorful 150 chews.

After a few days of dune buggies, potato launchers and the emotional wake of the family matriarch, we set off on a tired drive to our spot in central WA.

The Friday night show didn’t disappoint and I went to bed nervous for the next morning.

August 20, 2005, Saturday morning around 9:30-10am. I asked my wife if she wanted to grab her coffee and take a walk with me to check out the campgrounds and the view. “Sure” she replied. We started walking and told her I forgot my cell phone. I ran back to camp, handed John a note and ran back. We walked toward a bluff that we had seen people on several times before. To reach this bluff, you walk past a barbwire fence that is the border to the south west of the campground. There are No Trespassing signs on the fence but at the same time, I see two dudes out there walking toward the edge. I’d say the edge of the bluff is about 100 yards away from the campground perimeter and our camp is two hundred yards away from that perimeter. We cross the line and walk toward the bluff, but the more we walk, it starts to hit me. We are friggin’ really far away.

John read the note I handed him. It detailed the directions for my plan, which included him. He was the reason we were introduced to that place and the band; he was also to be my best man, so I thought it would be memorable to make him a part of my proposal. The directions lead him underneath my car where I had smuggled (without my wifes knowledge), a large sign that read; “TARA, WILL YOU MARRY ME”

(Notice no question mark. Hilarious, like I’m not asking, but telling her to marry me. Lulz.)
The directions for the sign read that I would call him in 10-20 minutes and he is to hold the sign up toward the south western bluff. Tara will at that point, be on a beautiful bluff over looking the Columbia river with the awesomeness of the amphitheater in the back round–I’ll get down on one knee, she’ll say yes and all will be right with the world. Sounds easy and kinda romantic right?

Houston…We Have A Problem:
As we hike the dry desert terrain and the bluff comes closer, I feel a bit of stress as I realize. I have ZERO chance of seeing that sign and cell coverage is spotty. I mean, the campground from our vantage looked like a bunch of ants(marching?). I could barely make out our general camp area much less words on a sign. Amidst this bit of mental chaos a beautiful thing happened. Here we are on the tip of this bluff when two old school F-86(or something?) fighter jets that were running the gorge screamed over our heads. Mind you, the campers 1-2 hundred yards away think these fighters are close, big, loud and just overall impressive. We were directly under them by about 50-75 yards. It was supremely intense and special, because we were the only two out of thousands to have that experience. Plus, my brothers a pilot with a nasty habit of going to war every few months. He is in our thoughts often when he goes overseas, so to think about him over there when I’m about to change my life was definitely a family moment.

The view toward camp…doh!

Originally, my plan was to be out there about 3-5 minutes, then mozy on back to camp and get a hero’s welcome. With me trying to pinpoint and slyly phone John, Tara was starting to get a little antsy…10 minutes have passed. At this point I start to steer her closer, knowing that my vision of being on the tip of the bluff was totally kiboshed, but I could still salvage a little romance.
Tara now was feeling very uncomfortable. I had chosen to slightly ignore the trespassing signs and now…the cops were barreling down on us in an off-road vehicle with a megaphone. “YOU NEED TO LEAVE NOW!”
Quickly, I ditch Tara to run over to the cops and head them off to explain my sweet and innocent little situation.
“Guys, hi, I’m sorry, I know…but I just need five minutes to propose?” I pull out the box and show them the ring.
“Please, just 2 minutes guys, then we’re gone?”
“Okay, we’ll leave, just let me…(sentence trails off as I run back to Tara).

Tara asks me whats up and if we’re in trouble.
I tell her “its cool”(yeah right), and that I wanted to show her something.
I pulled out the red box and said sweetly “look”. She was befuddled, scared, confused and hot, so all she could articulate was, “What’s that?” I smiled and told her to look inside.
She started to cry and I think I said, will you marry me? She cried more, nodding her head and we hugged to cheers from random campers watching the ordeal go down.
In my panic I didn’t drop to one knee, but hey, the ring was on the finger, gigitty.

We are escorted off the bluff toward six security guards who walk                              us into the paddy wagon.  Right before we got in I figured I should capture the moment and force a smile.

We are then whisked away to a detention area where we proceed to wait and explain our situation for about 3 1/2 -4 hours. All the security people were chill, they new we weren’t up to any harm and they thought what I was doing was cool. However, everyone of them had the same story.
The rancher that owns that land (I thought it was owned by the venue) has a zero tolerance policy for trespassers, which I get. The Gorge houses alot of  people high on god knows what thinking they’re on top of the world. He’s tired of them desecrating his land, muckin’ up his pastures and scaring his cows…zero tolerance. And of course the security detail has all kinds of stories about people getting prosecuted and how we’re probably not going to ride off into the sunset on this one. At this point we are pretty damn nervous. Not because of pending legal action, but our precious weekend with all the time and money spent getting there is all but washed away.
The county sheriff who had taken our statement and information earlier (thank heavens we both had clean records) finally came back…like I said…hours later. The sheriff told us he has worked with this rancher for 10 years and he is the only one that really deals with him on a one on one basis. He told us that he explained the situation to the rancher and PLEADED with him that we were truly up to no harm, that we we’re devastatingly sorry (which I was), and that prosecuting us was just not the right thing to do. He let us go with a flurry of warnings and let us know that two girls found sleeping off a magic mushroom high in the cow pastures were not meeting the same lenient fate as we had. Whew!

As we walk back to our camp we are in complete shock; not just from the ordeal, but that– Ahhhhhhhh, we’re engaged!!! Tara calls her dad who immediately thinks we need bail money or a tow truck. Then her mom whom we had just seen at the family reunion was now in Yosemite trying like crazy to get a pay phone; cause once again, cell phone fail.
We get back to camp greeted by screams, smiles, cheers, video cameras and cocktails. John was happy but totally spent from holding that sign above his head for twenty minutes. Said he couldn’t feel his arms after 7 minutes and the last 13 were pure torture. I felt bad but still…so funny. While he was holding the sign, there was a group camped next to us with a megaphone that kept asking all girls as they walked by–“Tara? Are you Tara? “I’m not afraid of commitment! I’m ready to settle down.” That guy continued with the shtick for the rest of the weekend…lulz.

The show couldn’t have been more perfect, the pretty songs sounded extra beautiful that night (#34). We stayed on cloud nine until the sun came up, then slept the day away just to wake up and have our last amazing show of the weekend. Once again, driving home Monday morning wishing we had, one, more, show.
Our drive home was pure euphoric giddyness consisting of eye twitching espressos and constant phone calls to everyone we couldn’t wait to tell. Another curious coincidence was another buddy of mine (groomsman), who I’ve known now for about 30 years :-O; proposed to his chick on the same day. Neither of us had ever discussed it but we did it on the same day. Crazy, just crazy.

Since then, we have been back to The Gorge 3 times for a total of 5 mind blowing weekends and 15 soul bouncing shows. Our most recent trip in 2009 included a road trip from San Diego with our 3 week old boy Wyatt. Tara’s mom came out from Florida to watch him two of the nights so Tara could go to the shows…then got her mind blown at the night 3 show…gigitty.
Every year is a different adventure with a different cast of characters. I don’t know what 2012 will have in store for us but I know one thing…the saga will continue and more memories for me and my wonderful wife await.


2 comments on “My Engagement at "Heavens Amphitheatre"

  1. marti21 says:

    You are a poet Joshua. I mean come on…”The campground from our vantage looked like a bunch of ants marching.” = Brilliant imagery. John will love this. Among other things “…when I knew all along I was gonna be changing that lame title in a few days” broke my heart. What a lucky lucky man and a perfect perfect girl with a beautiful beautiful love story.

  2. […] but still jaw wearing.  You’d think I’d have learned my lesson at the family reunion (referenced here). Oh […]

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