By Mark T. Gould

“Pickin’ Up The Pieces” for My 50th Birthday:

On the Road with Poco

It was the night before my 50th birthday, and I was in the backstage trailer at the Topsfield, Massachusetts Fair. There was a lighted birthday cake for me on the table. Around me were some good friends, Jon, Georgina and Alison Rosenbaum and Marc Smith.

But, the real mind blower was that standing around the cake, singing Happy Birthday to me, were Rusty Young, Paul Cotton, Jack Sundrud and George Lawrence.

Poco. My favorite band for all of their 37 years, singing a private Happy 50th Birthday to me.

And, therein, lies a wondrous tale.

About a year ago, I had that startling revelation that my next birthday would be The Big One. The 5-0. Yes, the “Get Ready for the Senior Tour and AARP Membership” 50th. And, my wife, bless her, wanted to do something very special for me.

“Why don’t you go on the road with Poco,” she said. “You know that’s really what you want to do.”

Well, she had a point.

My friends and family have long known of my singular musical devotion to this incredible band. They’ve been together for 37 years, and I’ve been a fan for just about every one of them. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know the band members and their management (a well deserved shout-out here for Rick Alter, who has, along with the continuing vision of Rusty Young and Paul Cotton, brought this band back to where it should be), and it has been one of the thrills of my life to be their fan.

So, it was settled. But, I had no idea just how lucky I could be until I found out that they were scheduled to play four shows over two days, including October 5, my birthday, at the Topsfield Fair, the country’s oldest agricultural fair, just outside Boston, and more importantly for my family’s collective pocketbook, only about a four-hour drive from my home in Connecticut.

So, with my wonderful wife’s blessing, I contacted Rick, and volunteered to chauffeur the band around for the time they would be in the area. More than 24 hours of flight delays later, there I was, driving a white 15-passenger van north on Interstate 95, with my favorite music group seated in the back. It doesn’t get much better than that, believe me.

But it did.

On the 4th, the day before my actual birthday, we were in the hotel lounge, relaxing between the afternoon and evening sets of the first day’s performances. As we ate and drank, I casually mentioned to Paul Cotton how great it would be to hear “Bad Weather,” my favorite of his many wonderful Pico songs, in the evening set. He nodded and said he’d see what he could do.

So, it was on to the evening show. Most Poco fans know that the band’s set closes with “Crazy Love” and “Heart of the Night,” which saves their two most popular songs for the end. That night, though, it was a bit different as, following “Crazy Love,” Rusty and Paul conferred on the stage. Seconds later, Rusty walked back to the microphone and said, “tonight’s a special night because it’s the 50th birthday of a good friend of ours, Mark, who’s our attorney, as well as our chauffeur for these shows. Here’s one for him, that’s a real Poco classic.” The band then left the stage as Paul performed a breathtaking version of “Bad Weather.”

Thank goodness it was dark out so no one saw the tears in my eyes.

The next day, I turned 50 years old, for goodness sakes. I got up fairly early, as I always do, and I wandered down to do a workout in the hotel gym. As I headed back to my room, Paul Cotton was walking through the lobby. He came over to me, with a big smile on his face, said “Happy Birthday, man,” and gave me a big hug.

One hell of a way to start my 5-0, sweat from my workout getting on Paul notwithstanding.

The 5th was another beautiful Indian Summer day, and the crowd responded with standing ovations throughout Poco’s afternoon show. After performing a song, bassist Jack Sundrud announced to the crowd that it’s “our friend Mark’s birthday, so let’s give him a hand.” I, little old me, got an ovation from the crowd, and Jack then remarked “and he’s only 22!” which got a big laugh. Rusty Young was seated, making adjustments at the steel for the next song, but, in his best Monty Python voice, followed Jack with “ and he’s not dead yet,” which brought still another good-natured laugh from audience.

After the evening show, there was a final “meet and greet,” with fans, lasting well over an hour. Then, the band gathered up their instruments, and it was time to take them back to the Providence airport. It was about 9:15 when we left the venue, and a 90 minute ride back to the airport, where there was an 8 a.m. flight to Missouri awaiting the band the next morning, as they started the tour travel merry go round all over again.

We arrived at the airport hotel just before 11. We unloaded their gear, and it was, unfortunately, time to for this “Birthday Boy” to say good-bye. There were hugs all around, and it was just a beautiful time for me, just like every other minute I’ve been involved with Poco over this more than three decades of great music and fun.

So, that was it, Poco for my 50th birthday, complete with me hanging around, and hopefully helping out just a bit, with a tremendous group, no, band, of guys who have put a smile on my face and made me feel just so much better every day for the past 37 years.

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