PENDLETON — There are no sea shanties in Joe Stoddard’s show, but he performed in front of a pirate ship regardless on Tuesday.
Won Israel, a comedy performer who was performing as a pirate named “Cap’n Arrr,” had set up his pirate ship backdrop ahead of Stoddard’s set on the 400 block of South Main Street, and although it could be moved back a little, it could not be removed.
But Stoddard, who’s been a musical performer for about 50 years, didn’t seem to mind and soldiered on with sound check.
“That’s what pirates like to do,” he joked. “Pillage. Abscond. Take up my space.”
As he readied himself for his set, he oversaw a sparse crowd. While tourists fill up Main Street on Friday and Saturday, the opening musical performance on Tuesday afternoon meant only a few audience members occupied the Main Street Cowboys’ purple and chartreuse benches as some of the food vendors continued to set up.
He immediately asked for requests, and after a teenager in the back shouted to play “something fast,” he dutifully obliged.
He launches into the country song “I’ve Been Everywhere,” and as the teenagers get up to leave, he promises to pick up the pace. Suddenly, he starts rattling off Tampa, Panama, Mattawa, and La Paloma a lot faster, truncating the ending just as the teenagers disappear from sight.
Stoddard takes it all in stride, reflecting his status as a music lifer.
He grew up in Los Angeles listening to rhythm and blues acts like James Brown and Wilson Pickett, but what really inspired him to become a musician was The Beatles.
He and his friends formed a band called The Nitewalkers, and although they were soon performing at venues on the Sunset Strip, things eventually fell apart.
“That band broke up,” he said. “I was devastated. I thought were going to be the next Beatles.”
Stoddard tried his hand at more typical jobs before gravitating back to music, bouncing around between various bands in Southern California before moving to Salem in the 1980s.
His blend of music and comedy quickly got him attention and he soon started performing with big acts like The Beach Boys and Loretta Lynn whenever they rolled through the Northwest.
Stoddard never did become as big as The Beatles, but playing music has become steady work for him.
Now 68, he’s on the road about 150 days per year working county fairs, carnivals, and corporate gigs. As soon as he finishes his last show on Wednesday, he’ll pick up and drive to Wyoming, where he’ll open for country singer Neal McCoy.
He started working for the Main Street Cowboys in 2000, and he’s been back to Pendleton on-and-off since then.
Stoddard said the Cowboys are sharp negotiators, and he’s become close enough with some of the guys that he even came out a little early to help them set up.
Still, it’s hard work being an itinerant performer.
Stoddard said he’s his own driver, roadie, and sound technician. While some Main Street performers have their own agents, Stoddard also books his own performances.
And although he’s only performing for two days, he’s expected to fill three one-hour slots on Tuesday and four on Wednesday. Looking across the rest of the schedule, a four-set day was not outside the norm.
The crowd he’s trying to attract is also transitory, a function of the Main Street Show’s smorgasbord design. If an audience member doesn’t like the performance on one block, they can move onto the next and find something else.
Hanging out with Stoddard before the show, Israel also chimes in.
“You always got be on if you’re wearing a costume,” he said.
Israel eventually joins the audience as Stoddard’s set continues, and although people come and go, the crowd averages about a half-dozen people.
But Stoddard is self-aware and uses the intimate setting to do more crowd work.
“And the crowd goes wild,” he said after finishing one of his songs. “Whatever’s left of them.”
Stoddard eventually gave away to Cap’n Arrr, but he couldn’t go too far: He still had two more shows to go before his night was done.