For the sake of the song: Williams musician navigates uncertain times

For the sake of the song: Williams musician navigates uncertain times

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Grand Canyon train

The Grand Canyon Railway normally runs between Williams and Grand Canyon and includes on board wild west reenactments.   

On a typical Sunday evening this time of year at the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel in the tourist town of Williams, the train would be pulling into the platform and the dining room of the hotel restaurant would be filled with music. Diners from around the world might be singing along as the house musician played “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” But this is not a typical Sunday, and these are not typical times we are living in.

Grand Canyon National Park is closed, the hotel and the railroad is shut down and most tourists are sheltering at home. The train and hotel’s many wage workers and subcontractors—actors in the old Western shows, the train robbers, the musicians who play in the restaurant and on the trains—are all currently out of work.

“Getting that gig, and having a gig that pays well—I mean, the tips were really substantial—it was fantastic. It was fantastic to not only make a living but support my family in a way that allowed my wife to homeschool our kids,” Rick Remender, lead house musician for the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel restaurant and subcontractor for Xanterra Travel Collection, said. Xanterra, a privately owned resort management company, owns the hotel and train.

Remender has held the restaurant musician contract for the past five years. But come Friday, March 20, at noon, when the railroad suspended all operations, Remender was out of a job.

“My concern is that the whole season is going to be pretty bad regardless of when we open back up. I wouldn’t be surprised if the effects of this are felt into next year as well,” he said.

The temporary closure of Xanterra’s business operations in northern Arizona is currently planned to last through Thursday, May 21, of this year.

In light of the unforeseen loss of income, Remender, like many of his former colleagues, sought new means of employment. The hotel guitarist and singer is now a cashier at the local Safeway, a job for which he said he is grateful.

Father, husband, musician, cashier; in addition to the many hats Remender wears, he also wears a badge. Since taking the position last January, Remender has served as the constable for the town of Williams, running papers for the court, serving summonses and writs of restitution, among other duties.

“We’re peace officers and officers of the court. We’re elected officials and although you kind of work for the court, you mostly answer to the board of supervisors,” Remender explained.

In describing his duties he said, “I have an eviction summons, a forcible detainer, to serve tomorrow morning.”

The constable was quick to add that these eviction notices are for people who stopped paying rent long before March and any pandemic closures.

“This will be my last eviction for a while, hopefully. If you have documentation from your employer that you were furloughed, the court cannot issue you an eviction now,” Remender said.

On Tuesday, March 23, Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order delaying evictions for the Arizona renters who have lost income due to the coronavirus pandemic. The executive order is scheduled to remain in effect for 120 days.

Remender’s own parents are retired in Williams. It was through his father, also a musician, that Remender acquired the gig at the hotel restaurant.

“Being a small town, you know most people. The guy who had the contract before me, he knew my dad. He talked to the both of us about filling in certain dates for him. I played alongside him consistently that season and following season. The season after they offered the contract to me,” Remender said.

The majority of songs Remender played for the thousands and thousands of diners over years were covers of well-known hits.

“The Eagles are definitely popular; [I] seldom get through gig without an Eagles request,” he added.

But as for the most popular request, he said there was no contest.

“John Denver. People from across the world, people who don’t speak much English, they still know every word of ‘Take Me Home, Country Road.’”

In spite of the uncertain times, Remender remained upbeat, hopeful that he’ll be singing to visitors of the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel again.

“They like to advertise live music nightly in the dining room and the music itself has a 90 percent positive feedback from customer reviews. It is important enough to [the hotel] to have us musicians and actors there,” Remender said.

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