I am convinced that musicians have secret powers, especially the sneaky cover bands that jam to all your favorite songs. They may seem laid back and casual, but they are diligently weaving a web of united strangers.
You have to get there early to really see the magic progress throughout the night. Around 8 o’clock, there are only a few stragglers in the bar. An older couple, a man drinking alone, a group of college kids on their phones. Lindsey and I take a table in the back. The lead singer is lively despite the quiet atmosphere. He is grinning and taking his time looking around the room, as if he knows something we don’t.
It’s a typical island pub, with only a couple tables set up, a narrow aisle to get to the bar, and a small stage for the band up front. Two walls are composed of sliding garage-like doors, and they are completely open, so we can easily watch the street passerby and vice versa. Thunder roars dully in the background, and every now and then the dark sky lights up above the street lamps.
We are mouthing along to familiar songs. A couple more people saunter in when they recognize Wonderwall or an Ed Sheeran song. Now it is almost 9 o’clock and the performer is holding his mic out to the young girls at the chorus. They shy away, laughing nervously. Take a sip of their drinks. Every now and then someone bobs their head or shimmies their shoulders to the beat. The crowd is reserved. Everyone is perfectly calm, nonchalantly glancing around the room to mirror the appropriate behavior.
There are reggae covers. Regulars trickle in; the band pauses to acknowledge them with warm high fives, reaching down from the stage. Louder customers stumble in, emboldened by booze from other bars.
It is closer to 9:30. The singer has grabbed a couple and implored them to dance. We applaud them as they do, laughing wildly. Another couple joins them, concentration on their faces as they carry out their steps. Curious onlookers come in from the street and stand in the back, order a beer.
10 o’clock. Now they are taking requests. A Bruno Mars song plays. Three girls push their way to the front, arms waving above their heads. The college kids went up for another round of drinks but now stay standing, looking for an in to the fun that won’t give away their eagerness. People are starting to sit up straighter now, more awake.
The dancers on the floor are spinning and stepping widely. Two continue to bump into a table and quickly apologize before spinning away. The group at the table stands to move it and their chairs out of the way. For a moment I am worried they will leave in annoyance, but they shuffle back, clapping their hands to the drum.
One by one, we strip away our inhibitions and get up from our seats. It’s contagious, this act of letting loose. The rest of the furniture is pushed back. The songs are more upbeat, one after another, the band looking unsurprised that now almost everyone is on their feet. Some are moving in a skillful manner, others swaying just a little off beat. All of it is hypnotizing.
Beer is spilled on the floor. Humid Southern Thailand rain trickles in from the huge open doors. I can’t tell if it is that or sweat that is covering all of our shoulders and faces. Shoes kick off. Toes are stepped on. Elbows bump against others. Everyone is screaming the words, Amy Winehouse now, mostly off key. Phones are tucked away in purses and pockets. A tall man says something to me in German; I shrug my shoulders dumbly and he grins, spinning me around. I can hear that the woman next to me does not actually know the lyrics, but is shouting inaudible words to the rhythm all the same.
I’m not sure what time it is. There is no more room inside but people are in the streets now, surrounding the scene. It is still raining and I can see that most of them are barefoot, rum buckets in their hands, hair plastered to their faces. Some are up on chairs, a few are reaching up and holding hands with people inside the bar. There is a child sitting on shoulders, bobbing up and down. A man is smoking a cigarette, swaying with himself. His eyes are shut and there is a smile on his face. One of the bartenders dances out, embracing a friend like he hasn’t seen him in years. A Brazilian women has taken over the microphone and is singing a Guns N’ Roses song.
The room has transformed in just a few hours, the most drastic effects in just a few minutes. The same cool and collected people I saw at the beginning of the night are now gravitated towards the center of the room. They are not the same people. Or maybe they are, this wild version of themselves just lurking beneath the surface. It feels almost primal. Like children being released. It feels like freedom.
No one is able to walk by without being captivated. I don’t think anyone in the world could look at this sight without smiling. It doesn’t matter if we have two left feet, where we are from, our age. There is a certain pulse in the room, a choreography for one big body. We all want to dance. In this moment, we are all a part of this universal language.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I know here I am not thinking about the past, I am not plagued with worry and anxiety about my future. I’m not thinking about anything except for the song playing, my own body moving. We are in a meditation of the present. And that’s why I’m convinced that musicians are magical. They are healers. Humanitarians. I think that if everyone could dance to a cover band in a dive bar, the world would be a better place.