Remember Prairie Vortex?

Remember Prairie Vortex?

You know about Pitchfork and Lollapalooza—but do you remember Prairie Vortex?  Of course you don’t. It’s like it never really happened, as if the town of Prairie Bend never existed, not even a sign remains. It’s gone, now, but I can almost remember, when the air is full of sweat and thunder and I can hear in the distance the thumping of a bass and guitar. Yes, it happened. I can almost remember…

My colleague, Refinery Boy, and I had this idea to do a feature story on the emerging downstate music scene, how the combination of no money and no hope with plenty of time to practice was producing some awesome rock bands!

Bands with names like Squelch Plank, Towpath Prophets, Koi Pond Pondering and the Chanterelles. Never heard of them?

There were other bands, too, but I just can’t remember them, now.

Anyway, Prairie Bend was the center of this creative vortex, surrounded by cornfields, a little town along the Illinois River, a town that time and the interstate forgot.  It was just past the Utica exit.  We almost missed it.

The sign said, “Welcome to Prairie Bend.”

The town was like something out of the Twilight Zone–or  the X-Files, because we had cell phones. There was a Main Street, a bank, a  hardware store, a Woolworth’s that was still open (most of them had closed years before).  There was the Post Office and a hotel around the corner, where the Peoria-Rockford bus stopped. There was a movie theatre, with one of those great old marquees, an Indian Head in neon.

The real action was along the river on Water Street, where the bands practiced in the vacant warehouses and played in the dim-lit bars. In fact, “Dim-Lit Bars Suck” was one of the popular songs. Maybe you’ve heard that one?

The air that afternoon was buzzing with summer insects and the ozone of an approaching storm. We stopped at Woolworth’s, where a pretty girl with cat’s eye eyeliner served us ice tea at the lunch counter. I remember her hair, a long brown ponytail down her back.  She told us about the free concert that evening at the edge of town–Prairie Vortex. She handed me a flyer, the words swirling like  a neon tornado.  See you there, she said.

Yes, I remember the dark clouds gathering in the west, and people gathering in the open field.  There was a stage set up, and Squelch Plank did their sound check. Someone mentioned lightning. The sky turned the dark purple color of a bruise, as the air filled with the smell of rain and burning leaves.

Was that a tornado siren?  I couldn’t tell.

Even now, my memory betrays me. I do remember  thundering bass lines, incredible feedback, and the sky opening, bright neon colors swirling against black, black, black.

The next thing I remember is a ditch by the side of the road, a cornfield, and Refinery Boy trying to start the car. It was late  afternoon, in the middle of nowhere. The sky was clear and cloudless blue, and there was no sign of Prairie Bend.

We drove on to the nearest town, and asked directions, there.  Of course, you know!  No one had heard of it. There was Prairie Center and  Prairie Point, but no Prairie Bend. The bus had never stopped there.  It wasn’t on a map. There was no mail delivered there.

How could a town just disappear from the face of the earth, without a trace, not even a memory?  The mystery still bothers me. The best explanation  I can come up with is this—the combination of explosive weather conditions, amplified instruments and raw creative energy ignited by lightning opened a space-time vortex that swallowed the stage, the speakers, the people, the Woolworth’s and the movie theatre, creating an alternate reality.

Refinery Boy and I did a piece on Bed-and- Breakfasts, instead. We are still friends after all these years.  We talk about other things.

But I remember the town, that night, the electric air. It’s all somewhere else, maybe, somewhere where it’s always summer.

Sometimes, it seems so close, I can almost hear that thunder….

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Filed under: seasons, weather

Tags: prairie vortex


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  • Maybe Prairie Bend returns like Brigadoon very hundred years. I love your lean and lively prose. Good job.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Like Brigadoon, what a wonderful thought! Thanks for stopping by, AW.

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