Backing Salmonboy

One night, New York City-based experimental filmmaker Star Drooker had a dream about a woman with a birth mark in the middle of her forehead. The next morning, he drove to Vermont, and met Trish Overstreet. Within 24 hours they had decided they would get married, open a vegetarian cafe and performance space, have a child named Jesse, and do a film project surrounding the whole thing.

They traveled the country looking for a place to open the cafe. They narrowed it down to either Portland, Oregon, or Northampton, Massachusetts. After getting stranded nearby in a heavy snowfall, they decided on Northampton.

The plan was to be this: They'd open the cafe, they'd have Jesse, they'd raise him in the cafe for four years, then put together the film.

Well, I think it was John Lennon who wrote, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."

They opened Fire & Water, a vegetarian cafe and performance space, in late 1994. Trish was pregnant.

Jesse was born February 4, 1995 with what Star refers to as "a particular heart." They unplugged the machines 19 days later.

But just because he wasn't crawling around Fire & Water, doesn't mean Jesse wasn't a major part of the place. Star and Trish built an altar with photos and toys and stories. Each night after the performances ended, Star would play a song called "Salmonboy" he wrote for Jesse; sometimes it was three minutes long, other times it was longer than an hour.

Time went by. Trish got pregnant again, and Rain Arrow was born. Healthy. And the couple had to make a decision. It had been a really emotional ride for three and a half years. They had a four year lease on the space, and countless friends who helped out, who shared songs and stories and poems and love. Their initial plan was to start the film after four years, and that time was fast approaching.

They decided to re-up for another four years, and raise Rain in the space. He became such a big part of the place that any evening he wasn't there, you could feel the energy that was missing.

In October of 2002, I sat down with Star and Trish and interviewed them for the arts newspaper I was editing. They had reached the end of the next four-year lease, and they made the difficult decision to close up shop. So many people had come through their door over the past eight years. They found love. They found refuge. They found peace. They found an amazing meal and amazing people and an amazing child who one regular described as "another teacher."

In November of that year they closed up shop. On the last night they were open, 80 people showed up (it was a small space, comfortably seating about 30). The tables and chairs were gone. We sat in a ring around the outside, shared songs, shared stories. Rain dozed in a sleeping bag in the corner. Nobody understood how to walk out the door one last time.

Over the next few months, they started filming. They interviewed many of the cafe regulars. And then, while you'd hear something once in a while about Star or Trish or the project, things largely settled down.

But Star was still working on things. He teamed up with a documentary film producer – someone who told stories in a linear fashion to offset his experimental background – and they watched film and cut film and shot film and cut more. Last year, they showed what they had, then went back to the cutting room.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, I sat in Star and Trish's new cafe, Cafe Evolution, which has an expanded menu but fewer performances (it's a day-time cafe in a day-time town smaller than Northampton), and watched the 110-minute cut of Salmonboy: A Story of Fire & Water. They're at a point where they are ready to team up with a bigger, more commercial outlet, to do another round of editing and to distribute it.

The film is about Rain, Jesse, Star and Trish, and their roller coaster journey. The cafe is a character in it, but you certainly don't ever have to have walked through the door, never mind have been there three, four or more times a week, as many people were.

Star and PJ, the documentary filmmaker, are doing a Kickstarter project, hoping to raise $19,000 to keep sending the film to festivals and work on that wider distribution. Help them out by donating at their Kickstarter page.