Last waltz at the Palms

The Palms Playhouse on Saturday night looked like a giant outdoor “Fireside Chat” with lefty folksinger and storyteller U. “Utah” Phillips playing the part of FDR. Giant speakers were strategically situated around the outside—two sitting on the old picnic table, another leaning up against the back wall behind the barn near the side door. One hundred and fifty lucky ticket holders were packed inside; 60 more diehards hunkered down outside in the gravelly parking lot on folding chairs and logs, and some got horizontal in the grass between the two back sheds.

Fans brought bouquets of flowers, bottles of wine and home-baked sheet cakes that said, “We love you Palms, Thank you Dave. See you in Winters.” They brought their bittersweet tears that ran in the creases around their stiff upper lips. Around 8:30 pm, inside the barn, they gave a standing ovation to managing partner and guiding spirit Dave Fleming as he made his way onto the tiny stage. This time, his hands weren’t shyly jammed in his back Levi pockets, as they often were when he stood, announcing the star for the night. This time, Fleming sat down on a chair and took a deep breath. He sat down to face the music. I don’t think he could have stood. The relaxed gesture almost felt like the beginning of the old Sonny and Cher song about divorce that starts, “Ya better sit down, kids.” Except that, this time, we are the parents and we knew what was coming, but it still hurt anyway and everyone was sitting there with the blunt question of “did this really have to happen?” in the back of their pissed-off grownup minds.

Fleming was gracious and eloquent in his simple honesty. “Wow. Here we all are. Does anybody not have a camera?” He talked about the wonderful memories that we all shared, how wonderful the old barn had been. He offered up his pledge to do his best to make the Palms’ new home at the historic Winters Opera House as good as it had been in the old barn. And then he brought Utah out, red-flannel plaid shirt laying mostly low under that long white beard and ponytail, to take over and help the masses along. “The Palms isn’t going away, ya see,” the sage philosopher and big picture guy intoned. “The Palms is a community, not just a place. The Palms is us. We all have to remember this.”

Not too many folks noticed Linda McDonagh Stuart, the Palms landowner who sold the place, as she walked out early on.