What do you do when you’re working behind the bar and you get a call from the club down the street that R.E.M. wants to come down and jam?

Hats off to Michelle Ceremuga, who came up with the right answer last Thursday. After a quick “yeah, right” she was assured that members of the group were indeed hanging out in town and itching to play The Cave ahead of their performance Friday at Alltel Pavillion.

So she did what any sane bartender would do.

“I just started icing down beers as fast as I could,” she said.

By then, word of the appearance of Minus 5–the band’s alter-ego/side project–had spread around. The next day, the set list, which included covers of “Hang on Sloopy,” “Quinn the Eskimo,” and “I Still Miss Someone” (dedicated to the late Johnny Cash), was posted on several Internet sites. The town has been abuzz with the news ever since, and for the 80 or so folks who either got word in time or wandered in, it was a definite “I was there when” moment to remember.

Among the cave dwellers in the audience that night was R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe, who sat back in a corner and took in the show while Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Pete Yorn and Scott McCaughey worked it out using the equipment of a gracious–and surprised–Laramie U.K., who had just finished up their set when Ceremuga’s cell phone went off. Superchunk’s Jon Wurster sat in on drums.

“They were really great guys,” Ceremuga said. “They played until the P.A. melted down.”

While the brush with fame was a thrill, she said, the impromptu show also turned a typical Thursday into a much more lucrative event.

“All the time I was thinking, ‘This is so cool. I’m going to make rent.’ ”