Early on a gray Thursday morning, the Caleb Klauder Band unpacks equipment on the loading dock of a seafood warehouse in darkest Clackamas. Everything smells as you would expect.
Dockworkers stare. Why would an acoustic band busk a gut-strewn warehouse? Suspicious but amused, the blue collars continue loading halibut crates while guitarist Lewi Longmire repeatedly misplays "The Sailor's Hornpipe."
It's April 11. Portland hosts the 43rd episode of celeb chef Bobby Flay's Eat America, a Food Network travelogue that always includes a band drawn from the region it visits. Through merit and luck (good or bad?), the Caleb Klauder Band has been chosen to represent musical Portland while Flay probes the city's culinary side. Producers told the band sound equipment would be provided for its day-long lip-syncing odyssey. At 8 am, a tight-skinned martinet from the TV crew plunks a children's boombox on the floor.
As the roots-rock band adjusts to this alternate world, the Seafood Steward--a local chef and Sunday-morning KOIN-TV mainstay--stutters along for the cameras. There's something very profoundly television about watching well-trained cooks (or well-trained musicians) nervously mime while audiovisual surgeons buzz around them, creating Hollywood magic with speed and agility.
Two long hours later, Bobby Flay shows up and meets the band, sorta. For the cameras' benefit, Flay strolls past, staring into the middle distance as the musicians sync to their music, again and again. No one bothers to explain this conceit to the band--and no band members have bothered to watch an Eat America episode--but this is the show's standard intro. Flay looks a little worse for wear, but five minutes later it's a wrap.
Noon, the West Hills home of Oregon Chai. The band realizes that fringe benefits they expected of a Food Network gig might not materialize. They didn't get any of the Seafood Steward's "sea candy"--a glorified shrimp cake--and now a sip of caffeinated milk blend might be the best they can hope for. Someone shouts excitedly from the band's van. He's found a scone under the driver's seat.
What happens to musical guests on Playboy After Dark?
As Flay interviews the Chai people, the thickly accented New Yorker is one part calculated De Niro malevolence, one part grinning Ralph Malph chutzpah. There's little slickness to him--if anything, he uses a mix of sullen awkwardness, inarticulate pride and bluntness to charming effect. After Flay tosses off a thoughtless question, the Chai chef asks if he's been listening during their interview. Flay shrugs. "Nope." And nobody can help but laugh.
The producers decide Klauder's band should attempt a bluegrass number. Jenny Conlee, organist, fakes playing mandolin. Everyone thinks sudden rain showers lend a neat regional touch.
Around 6 o'clock, filming concludes at the home of a German. Horst Mager, archduke of the Rheinlander restaurant chain, lives in a Bavarian summer cottage in Northeast Portland decorated in Modern Rooster: rooster statues, rooster portraits...roosters, generally.
The Seafood Steward is at work in the garage, blade spinning with hypnotic facility, filleting and skinning a 20-pound salmon to "some gutting music." The frivolity quiets suddenly, however, when the Steward plucks a small metallic nugget from the torso of the great fish. This salmon did not die of natural causes.
As the cameras roll, cakes that don't look like cakes--gift-shaped cakes surely crafted from malleable plastic--are introduced. The owner of Clear Creek Distillery presents small-batch liquors to Bobby Flay and assembled guests. The band slowly dries out behind the crowd--emaciated, very sober props.
The guitarist leaves for another gig before the band is told they should play live for the evening's finale. At the end of every Eat America episode, Flay gathers splendid local folk for a group meal, points at the camera and shouts, "Go eat, America--it's waiting for you!" At this point, the chosen band overpowers sparkling conversation with actual music. This comes as a surprise. Conlee, the organist, gamely mimed mandolin and trumpet parts for other segments but can't really be expected to fake live lead guitar. A producer insists they'll fix it all in the studio. As Flay starts into his climactic routine, Horst Mager pipes up, confirming suspicions raised by the autopsy of the salmon.
"Hee, hee, ja!" Mager giggles. "Zee fish? I shot zee fish! In zee head, I shot him!"
Conversation dies. The crew readies for another take. The band waits. They're used to it.