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Ralston Bowles

Folk Alliance Conference 2004 (continued)

There were several bizarrely serendipitous factors that prevented catastrophe.

First of all, if Kari Estrin hadn't assumed that the key she'd seen in her room earlier belonged to someone else (without checking to see that it was hers), she would have been first to open the door. Fortunately, David's instincts and upbringing kicked in and averted what could have been a very dangerous situation.

Secondly, Ralston Bowles would have been in that room, except for another chance occurrence. On his way to that room of doom, he walked past an open door where Chuck Brodsky was playing. Chuck flagged Ralston down, and told him to come on in and play some songs--his throat was sore and he needed some help. Ralston said he didn't even have his guitar, but Chuck convinced him to sit down and play, saving his life in the process. Ironically, Chuck had been booked that night for the SERFA showcase, but because of a schedule conflict, he was in his showcase room (three doors down from Kari's) and able to divert Ralston.

James Lee Stanley, a Folk Alliance attendee, made an unsuccessful attempt to gain access, emptying four fire extinguishers into the room before a frantic David heard a voice behind him say, "My guitar's in there." David didn't know whether to kiss Ralston or hit him, but at least he was safe and sound.

Fire trucks arrived, and as soon as the firefighters opened the door, the place immediately burst into flames, gutting the room. But they were ready, and it was quickly put out. When a charred case was brought out and set before Ralston, he opened it up and a bunch of smoke emerged. He picked the guitar up and smoke puffed out of the soundhole. As the assembled watched, Ralston strummed it and said, "It's in tune." And the crowd cheered.

The fire department determined the fire was accidental--that there was evidence of a piece of fabric on the rear bathroom light fixture that could have gotten there a variety of ways during the reception. Because there was no smoke detector and sprinkler system, the fixture smoldered for a number of hours, until Kari and David returned. There were two mattresses carefully stored in the bathroom, and there were no appliances, additional lighting fixtures, or candles in the room.

 David, Kari, Ralston, and the rescued guitar

So, as I know it, that's the story of The Folk Alliance Fire. How will the incident bode for future hosting hotels of Folk Alliance? That's a good question…       continue