It’s a funny story. On April Fool’s Day in 1989, I met my wife at The Chameleon Club on Water Street in downtown Lancaster. I had moved to Lancaster in January ’88 and first found the Chameleon when it was in Tom Paine’s back room on Christian St. The Daves were playing that February night and I knew I’d found the place where Lancaster came alive. I soon found myself there every Friday and Saturday night. I never bothered to look who was playing. I knew I was going to have a great time and man, did I see some phenomenal bands! Little did I know how that club and owner Rich Ruoff would impact my life.
I married Tina in October of 1990. We bought a house in town within walking distance of Chameleon: just off Plum Street behind Fulton Bar. I was working as a painter for a large contractor here in town and she postulated that I might have more to offer the world than a fresh coat of paint. When I got laid off that winter, I began taking night classes at HACC. When I saw that I could handle college with straight A’s, we decided that I should get part-time jobs and go to school full-time. I had decided to become a high school English teacher: to enrich my community and help young people find their dreams.
My painting buddies all thought I was crazy. Why should I give up guaranteed pay for a degree that may never pay off? One guy in particular who managed a local paint store suggested I check out this new outfit, Two Dudes Painting. They were young, skilled painters with a great attitude and a realistic business model, he said. I was making great money and he felt sure I could get in right with these guys quickly, maybe even invest to become an owner/manager besides just painting. “This valley will see massive development in the next decade,” he said. “Don’t just paint. Own. Make your mark and make real money. Besides, teenagers are mostly assholes. Do you want to spend your days with them?”
By August 1991 I had made my decision and enrolled full-time at HACC. I continued to paint and also lined up other part-time jobs. We also found out we were expecting a baby. So in the first ten months of our marriage, we had doubled our debt and cut our income nearly in half. I had seven jobs.
Cut to May 1995. I’ve graduated magna cum laude from Millersville and our daughter is three years old. We might not have made it financially if it wasn’t for the GI Bill and lots of painting in the summers. Tina had been climbing the corporate ladder and her work was becoming more rewarding but more demanding. We were so glad I could paint all summer while I looked for a classroom to call home. By fall I could have a regular work schedule and a job with benefits. I could work my mind more and my body less.
That summer of ’95 also meant more regular returns to our favorite haunt Chameleon. I had helped celebrate ten years at the Blues Festival that February. When guests came to visit from out of town, there were three things on our must-do list: breakfast at Central Market, lunch at DipCo and a night at Chameleon. Our “big city” friends would just laugh and laugh at how friendly, cheap and fun Lancaster is.
Cut to 2002. I had only been a full-time teacher for four years after three years of substituting. Rich Ruoff announces that he’s selling The Chameleon Club. My first thought: if I had been making contractor money for ten years, I might have been in a position to buy it. It would have taken me about an hour to come up with investment/management partners. My second thought: where am I going to go to see great live music?
Cut to 2011. I still love teaching but have grown a strong distaste for Administrators, bully teachers and the public school industry in general. I decide to create Gigspots and leave the classroom. I seek help and guidance from Rich Ruoff, who has “retired” from music and is staging huge bicycle races.
Cut to the spring of 2013. Rich tells me he is getting back in the music business, “…and it’s all your fault hahaha!” He lays out the scheme for Lancaster Roots and Blues Festival and asks if I’d be willing to help. Four meetings later, he asks me to be Director of Operations.
Loretta told me once, “Ya know, nobody ever filled out a job application at Chameleon. If you showed up and asked for work, they would tell you to ‘come back tonight and wear a cool t-shirt’. If you showed up, worked hard and didn’t fuck up too much, you got to stick around.” So that’s my plan. I will wear cool t-shirts and work tirelessly to make this festival everything Rich dreams it can be. I’m ready to see Lancaster firmly back in place as the crossroads for music in the mid-Atlantic.
Lancaster Roots and Blues Festival will be the biggest event our fair city has ever seen. It will also be my biggest opportunity to pay back this wonderful city for giving me family, friends and a million things to be grateful for in my life. And I might never have stuck around in 1988 if it wasn’t for Chameleon Club.