an open letter to Pete Sessions

Perhaps it’s easy for most folks to believe that Congress’ arrogant, perplexing refusal to extend Unemployment benefits for millions of Americans only affects shiftless, lazy, unemployable layabouts who’ve been addicted to entitlements and have been draining the coffers for months and years.

I’m here to tell you that – at least in one very personal instance – you’re dead wrong.

That would be my own.

Explain, you say? Gladly.

As do many Americans these days, I work two jobs – I’m a freelance musician, but my “day gig” – the job that puts the majority of bread on my table – has been consulting work in the IT sector for some time now. I’ve worked in IT for over 15 years, but have been doing consulting on a temp basis for the past five. What that means, essentially, is that I’m a Temp. I work for a company who farms me out for projects, rollouts, installations, et cetera. It’s the New Normal in America in many, many fields – and statistics bear that out. So, in plain and simple terms, what that means for me and my family is that job security is a pipe dream. It means no employer-provided benefits, no paid time off for sick days, vacation, or holidays, and it further means that the longest an assignment will last is 18 months – thanks to some legal precedent set years ago when a temporary employee sued a corporation after having been retained for several years with no offer of a permanent position. The employee felt that they should be entitled to benefits extended to permanent employees, thus the basis for the lawsuit.

The actual end result, however, has been that a benchmark has been established – 18 months – after which time a company must either bring the employee on permanently or terminate their assignment.

This has been the case for as long as I’ve been doing this kind of work, and there’s no loophole that any of my employers have been aware. So what that means is that every year and a half, if I’m still on assignment after that time, the company has to either bring me on or let me go, and they tend to drop the incumbent and bring on a new face, retrain the new guy and carry on – as it’s cheaper for them to maintain “temp” staffing than it is to pay the cost of benefits for full-time, permanent employees.

So, this being the case, you can probably imagine that the Unemployment process becomes part of the package after a while. In the time since I’ve moved to Philadelphia, I’ve had to take advantage of Unemployment Compensation twice – for several months after my previous assignment, and – since December 29th when my most recent contract expired – after this one.

But here’s the huge difference between last time and this time.

Last time, I enrolled, filled out the paperwork, and began receiving benefits almost immediately.

This time, I’m looking almost six weeks into the rear view mirror and haven’t received a dime.

Why?

Congress.

See, here’s the deal.

I received roughly $500 a week in benefits for my first stint on Unemployment. This time around, I made a dollar an hour less than I did on the prior assignment…and that measley dollar resulted in a decrease in my benefit amount of over $100 a week. Because my prior benefit amount was over $100 more than what I’ve been allocated this time around, I’m required to exhaust my Federal Unemployment benefits before the state will kick in.

AND – since the Federal Unemployment benefits have expired, guess how much I’ve received in benefits since December 29th?

zero. zilch. nada.

No, it doesn’t make sense. I’m not sure why it works the way it works, but this is what I’m told. I’m not allowed to collect a single red cent in Unemployment benefits until Congress passes the extension.

In the meantime, underneath a record blanket of snow and ice, musical work has been postponed or outright cancelled, money that was already tight has all but evaporated. Rent is due. Trips to the grocery store have become miserable, painstaking exercises in mathematics prior to checkout, we’ve consolidated down to one car. Phone conversations with creditors have become commonplace, negotiating truces and working out payment schedules – because my family, like the vast majority of working families in Modern America doesn’t save money – not even when everyone is working and things are operating on our version of a “normal” playing field. There is no nest egg to fall back on when life throws us a curveball, because we live from check to check to make ends meet. So when that check vanishes, it’s not a speedbump, a temporary inconvenience.

It’s our own version of the Fiscal Cliff.

And, after six weeks of no income, we’ve gone over it.

Anyone who deals in employment forecasting will tell you that there are a few no-brainers, among them being the fact that the job market is at its worst in the months after the holidays. That’s doubly true in my field, where IT projects are typically at a lull while companies come to terms with budgets and plan for the year. What that means to our house is that there will likely be a three to four month period that will drift by while various client companies scramble to try to shake work loose from the trees. And during this period, however long it lasts, there will be no “safety net” for my house, because of a technicality that allows the State of Pennsylvania to flip me the bird and refer me over to the Federal folks, whose hands are tied because dickheads like Pete Sessions think it’s “immoral” to extend Unemployment benefits. Mr. Sessions has a short memory, since he practically tripped over himself to vote in favor of giving 750 Billion Dollars to the banks when they kicked our economy in the nutsack a few short years ago.

There are a handful of people playing in the nations’ most important sandbox who have a warped sense of priority, whose shameless self-serving agendas are hurting ALL of us – not just unemployed Americans, not just gay or lesbian Americans, not just immigrants, not just gun enthusiasts – but ALL of us. Whether it’s a sense of powerlessness, apathy, or distraction, we seem to be more than happy to ignore it. To turn and look the other way, to pretend it isn’t happening…but left to eventually bend at the hips and brace for the impact.

Maybe you’re one of the lucky folks who – whether bracing for it or not – have yet to feel the impact. Maybe they haven’t gotten around to you yet. But trust me – the law of averages won’t allow for you to be excluded forever. Sooner or later, you’re gonna find yourself in the same position I am. In some form or fashion, they’ll get around to you someday.

Solo Acoustic show, opening for Michael Martin Murphey at Sellersville Theater

for those keeping track, this would be show number 37 for me at Sellersville Theater – but who’s counting, right?

soundcheck - longer than usual, even - before the MMM show at Sellersville.

soundcheck – longer than usual, even – before the MMM show at Sellersville.

one thing that had been unbeknownst to me prior to walking into the theater was that WHYY (the philly PBS affiliate) was there that night, taping the headliners’ show for their series, On Canvas – which made me chuckle somewhat, since i had been looking all over the house earlier that day trying to find my videocamera so i could record some footage to put up on my YouTube channel.   (turned out, that wouldn’t have gone over very well, anyway…under the circumstances.)

there were going to be photos taken that night, and that inspired a truly comical exchange between dylan, christie and i before we’d ever left the house – over what combination of shirts i should wear for the show.  we settled on something that dylan had fetched from my closet that wasn’t even initially in the running…and it was actually a good call, in retrospect, but good as i might’ve looked in it, it mattered not – because due to the whole “TV shoot” situation, darrell (the photographer) wasn’t really able to move around during the show, and could only shoot from his seat – which was right down front…and didn’t make for the best angle to photograph a dude with a thick neck who looks down a lot while playing.  :)

as it turned out, darrell got all his best shots during soundcheck – as i stood there on stage wearing one of my favorite old ringer t-shirts with my hair flopping down around my shoulders – but they were great shots.  not necessarily transformative, but they looked like me.  darrell’s photos of me are some of the only photos i’ve seen of myself that don’t make me uncomfortable.  i’m as aware – maybe more aware – than most anyone else of my assets and shortcomings, and i certainly know what my attributes are and aren’t…and darrell’s photos aren’t overly flattering, nor are they hard for me to look at.   i’m not terribly fond of looking at photos of myself typically, but i don’t mind his so much.

(i know that might not sound like an endorsement, but trust me – it is.)  :)

listening intently to the front-fill wedges...soundcheck at Sellersville

listening intently to the front-fill wedges…soundcheck at Sellersville

anyway – because of the TV taping, there was a lot going on on the technical side of things, Dan Faga (the soundman/technical director) asked me to keep playing well after my soundcheck was finished…so i ended up playing most of my set and then a few more while they worked on levels, got the signal out to the truck and such.  in fact, i think my soundcheck was actually longer than my set was – but i kept playing while darrell snapped away and they worked out the kinks behind the scenes.

i finally stopped playing around fifteen minutes before the doors opened, and went upstairs to the green room – my friend rob nagy had arrived and was listening to my soundcheck, and my buddy skip bellus (a friend from the MTB run) had driven down for the show as well…so we all gathered in the green room for a visit, and bruce ranes (the talent buyer/agent) stopped up for a visit as well, and darrell came up and shared the soundcheck photos with christie.   it was good to have a handful of friends around, almost as much as it was to have a sizable crowd to play for.

i’d left everything on the stage, so when i wandered up to take the stage, everything was in place, plugged in and ready to go – i wandered up,

hey...had to get the shirt in here somewhere, ya know.

hey…had to get the shirt in here somewhere, ya know.

did my five to six songs (which seemed to fly by, as they typically do for opening sets), and quickly stowed my stuff behind the curtain so i could get out to the lobby and take advantage of the intermission face-time with the folks in the crowd – we sold a few CD’s, got a few names on the mailing list, and shook a lot of hands before the headliner came on…and while i was tempted to head down into the theater to listen for a while, i ended up heading back up to the green room to hang out with rob, skip and christie for a big chunk of the rest of the night.  we wandered downstairs at one point to find that there was some sort of impromptu intermission that had come up…we both initially thought the show was over, and that we’d totally screwed up our opportunity to press the flesh after the show, but it turned out not to be the case, so we stayed downstairs for the rest of the show (and got to know the On Canvas folks, who were very kind and encouraging as well).

by the time everyone had filed out to head home, it had gotten rather late – nearly one in the morning by the time i’d gotten home, and poor christie – she had another nearly two hours to go yet, and got home around three or so.

good night, though, overall….for number thirty-seven.

with Craig Bickhardt at Deer Creek Coffeehouse in Darlington, MD

 

so i called my hetero life mate – tommy geddes – to see if we could carpool for this one (since we’re down to one car at my house these days, it would be a load off my mind not to have to worry about being gone all day and leaving the gang without transport…it’s been interesting, to say the least, coordinating life these days where commuting and such is concerned, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. ) – we decided to leave around 4:30 or so, and i brought TG & the guys copies of the rough mixes from the record that i’d completed up to that point.

neither of us had played this room before (nor had craig, so far as i knew), so we weren’t sure what to expect from the room or the audience – and since i was a guest of tommys’ for the ride there and back, i chose to travel somewhat lightly…i brought the mandolin, the dobro, and the weissenborn, and decided i was going direct for the show and left my amp (and the baritone guitar, and the lap steel, etc) at home.

i LOVE playing the weissenborn – but i’ve always struggled a little with it in live settings…and i could wonder aloud about that endlessly, but i’ve settled on a theory of sorts.

if you’ve heard the instrument and you’re familiar with the sound of the weissenborn, then you probably recognize it immediately – it sounds like an acoustic guitar, but it doesn’t…it sounds like a dobro, but it doesn’t.  the fact is, it doesn’t really sound like anything but itself.  BUT – it sounds enough like an acoustic guitar that it’s very easy to have them conflict and overlap with one another when one is accompanying the other – so you really, really have to tread carefully with the weissenborn when you’re accompanying the acoustic guitar.

i’m sure david lindley figured this shit out ages ago…but we all gotta learn our own way, i suppose. :)

i was pleasantly surprised with how well everything translated through a single channel of the PA, where those three instruments were concerned – i had the Fishman Jerry Douglas Aura pedal for the dobro, but had it running through the effects loop built into my active DI box, so i could bring it into the circuit when I was playing the dobro and bypass it for the other instruments…i was also a little blown away by how good the mando and the weissenborn sounded through the same channel, with the same EQ chain.   that was especially odd to me since one had a piezo pickup and the other had a magnetic soundhole pickup…but you wouldn’t have known it from listening to it through the wedges.

craig was still struggling a bit with his voice – and had been for some time – but it seemed as though he was on the other side of it, when he sang.  he still had a bit of a cough, but his throat held up for the show just fine.

tommy had posted something on facebook about the show, and had tagged greg and jen keller in the post in a lighthearted attempt to shame them into driving over from mount airy (in the vicinity of frederick) – and i’ll be damned if they didn’t come out.  they were the only faces in the crowd that we knew, which was interesting – it was a small room, maybe a capacity of 55 or 60, and it was roughly two-thirds full, but most of the folks who were there were regulars of the coffeehouse who’d come out because they were affiliated with the church that ran the coffeehouse or perhaps because that’s just what they did on weekends – but they were very kind and welcoming.  we played two sets with an intermission, and had a solid night, all things considered.

tommy and i rode back listening to the rough mixes from the record – some of them are verrrry close to being finished, others are still a little perplexing…but i’m workin’ on it.  :)

 

at Sellersville Theater with Skip Denenberg

show number 36 for me at Sellersville Theater, in both headlining and support capacities, either solo or backing one of nine (!!) different artists i’ve appeared with there.

it’d also be the first time on the bill with the Marshall Tucker boys since we parted ways back in September – although i’ve been in touch with a couple of the guys via text once in a great, great while – but haven’t seen any of them since the York Fair show.

skip had submitted himself as an acoustic duo, but added dan faga on bass after the fact – and had tried to sneak a drummer onto the bill as well, but was predictably met with the obligatory stop sign.  i had tried to tell him when the subject came up that the stage was too small for support backline with all the MTB stuff set up, but sometimes ya just gotta find these things out for yourself. :)

we hadn’t had an opportunity to rehearse prior to the show, but most of the songs in the set were songs we’d played together before – so it was just a matter of running them in the green room prior to the show, really.   no sweat.

we coordinated transportation with our Sargeant-at-Arms, Mark Shultz, and drove up together – and got there well before we were expected, and certainly well before they were ready for us…so we walked upstairs to the green room and unpacked and ran through some of the songs while we waited for someone to come retrieve us for soundcheck.   the customary sandwiches came in and we had already run the set through once before it was time to head down to the stage.

we headed down and i ran into Keith and Daryl almost immediately, but barely exchanged small talk during soundcheck – Dibby came up behind me after we’d all but wrapped up and gave me a bear hug and asked if i’d brought my steel and my amp…and i said no, of course i didn’t – i hadn’t heard from anyone and i wasn’t going to chase anyone down – he seemed to be under the impression that i was going to be joining them that night, but it was literally the first i’d heard of it.

oh, well.  shit happens.

onstage with Skip Denenberg and Dan Faga in Sellersville, 2013.

onstage with Skip Denenberg and Dan Faga in Sellersville, 2013.

at any rate, we went back upstairs to wait for the call for showtime and hung out with a few friends who’d come up to visit, but we were back downstairs on the stage in a few minutes.  for this set, i was playing mandolin on every song but one…and that one was a dobro song.  i was travelling light, and it made for a quick tear-down after we were finished.  in fact, i was probably packed up and ready to walk out the door within five minutes.  the only other person i saw the whole night was chris hicks, who poked his head up the steps and waved at me for a moment in between songs and was gone just as quickly.

after we finished up, i was back upstairs in the green room in less than ten minutes.

back upstairs, we sat around and talked for the entire length of the show…i walked downstairs right after the first song at the point in the setlist where “fire on the mountain” usually is, but they went straight to “take the highway” and i walked back upstairs for the rest of the night – a buddy had brought me brownies that his daughter had made for me for Christmas, and i didn’t want to pull him out of the show, so we hung out until afterward….we were on the road by 11:30 or so.

too old?

I love the Classic Albums DVD’s…I probably own a dozen of them, if not more.

 

And even though they’re supposed to be mostly about how the records were made and such, there are some sobering interview moments that crop up every now and then – the one that plants a huge rock in my gut every time is Robert Hunter, in the “Anthem to Beauty” episode, where he talks about being in London, and having bought this case of wine…and walking around the city taking it in, and then – in a single afternoon – writing “Ripple”, “Brokedown Palace”, and “To Lay Me Down”…and then saying, “…would that those days but come again…

 

…and they will.  But not for me.”

 

Then in the Rumours episode, there’s a segment where Stevie Nicks talks about her regrets from having committed to Fleetwood Mac to the degree that she did for the best years of her life – “I never married and I never had kids,” she says, “because having a baby would have meant taking two years off and that just wasn’t acceptable.”

 

“…Everybody I know, all my friends who are famous…are sorry for something.  And I’m no different.”

 

 

This life that we’ve chosen comes with a HUGE price, and I think that if all these folks lining up to audition for American Idol had any idea of what it means to commit to a life as an artist, as opposed to having a part on a TV show for a season, only to be forgotten in a years’ time…they’d go back home and go to college and put it completely out of their mind.  The truth is, fame and notoriety don’t have shit to do with being an artist.

 

And when it comes right down to it, the biggest part of the choice you’re making doesn’t have shit to do with being an artist, either.

 

I’m saying this as a man a few birthdays shy of 50 years old, a man who’s most certainly sabotaged his own life with choices he’s made in the interest of pursuing a life as an artist to varying degrees since the day – over 25 years ago – that he received his discharge papers from the Navy and settled in a town eleven hundred miles from where he was born and started a band.   Several failed romances and estranged parental relationships later, I’m still working a day gig, as an IT consultant, and living from paycheck to paycheck – in order to create room in my life to do what I consider to be the only thing I’ve ever been good at.

 

And were you to ask the question that’s on the tip of your tongue right now,  I’d love to stick my chest out and proclaim loudly that, hell yeah – it’s totally been worth it, and I’d do it exactly the same way if I had it to do over again…but then there’s that always-present sense of doubt.  I don’t know that I’m speaking for anyone but me, but the notion that I’ve completely flushed my life down the toilet never completely leaves my mind.   But that doubt fuels me, pushes me on, inspires me to prove myself wrong…and sometimes I do.  It’s usually fleeting, but it does happen on occasion.

 

That moment when you create something that you immediately recognize as bigger than yourself is, quite possibly, the worst drug known to man.  Insanely addictive and every bit as dangerous as any illegal substance you could name…once you’ve made that happen, the drive to repeat the process fuels itself.  And when it happens – when you finish a song that you connect with, when you execute something on an instrument that gives you goosebumps, when you stand on stage in front of a crowd of people and the connection between you and them begins to exchange energy back and forth – well, there’s nothing else like it.  Those moments are fleeting, but – if you’re meant to do this – they become a lifelong craving that you’ll do anything for, give up anything for, risk anything for, sacrifice anything for.

 

And…we typically end up living rather bohemian lifestyles as a result of the choices we make in pursuit of The Artist’s Life.   And this is where the disconnect truly makes itself obvious – between those who choose this life and those who opt to live more conventionally.

 

If you want to go the conventional route, you sink your time and effort into a career path that requires MUCH more of your attention and energy than you can spare if you want to live The Artist’s Life.  If you want to go to law school and pass the bar, you’re going to be held accountable for how you spend your time…and taking a week off to do a Northeast Club Tour is going to be frowned upon by the folks paying you a salary to devote your undivided attention to the work they’ve given you.   The careers that create the kind of income it takes to live life on the conventional route require that you be engaged, permanently – and most folks who pursue The Artist’s Life are typically permanently engaged by pursuits that have little to do with what we do during the course of the day to earn money to pay the rent.  Serving two masters – the Muse and the Job – is a supremely delicate dance, and it can be draining in every sense of the word.  But for a lot of us who aren’t lucky enough to be able to make enough to live strictly by playing music, it’s a necessary dance.

 

And…AND – if you’re as lucky as I’ve been, and you’re not only still playing the game at my age, but possibly playing it better than you’ve ever played it – you’ll have managed to make enough during whatever endeavors the daylight hours bring you to allow you to pursue The Artist’s Life with as few compromises as possible.

 

But there WILL be compromises.

 

You will watch as friends your age, folks you went to school with, go on to jobs that command a comfortable salary…move into houses that will inspire envy when you visit…put their children through school, and save money for retirement.  You’ll watch this as you continue to pay rent, as you continue to move from job to job and make just enough to get by…as you continue to sacrifice the comforts of the conventional route in order to pursue The Artist’s Life.   Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t.  Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t…but you’ll find that, if you choose to follow the family road, that your choice of lifestyle will become an issue – whether spoken or unspoken – between you and the family you create.  Your spouse may insist that she’s one hundred percent onboard with your choices…but every time you have to choose not to pay a bill that’s due, every time you have to postpone repairs to the car, every time you have to decline to buy something for your children solely on the basis of an empty wallet – you will feel the weight of your choice, whether your family presses it upon you or not.

 

And you’ll be tempted to be jealous every time you encounter someone that you knew when you were young enough that you still had the option to choose…and see how they’re living, what they’ve accumulated, how well life has treated them.

 

But if the truth be told, chances are pretty good that this particular shoe fits both feet.

 

Your friend – the one that you envy for making the socially acceptable choices and taking the Conventional Road – is likely envious of the fact that you made the hard decision to follow your dreams and see where they take you.  It’s highly likely that you posess a skill that they simply do not – whether it’s your voice, your abilities on an instrument, your talent for weaving words together – you have spent your life honing a craft to the point where people pay you to use it.   You may not be making as much as a hedge fund manager or a securities banker, but you have something they don’t.

 

You may live in a circle of friends and family who don’t approve of your choices…but your choices are yours.  They may have forgotten that, but you don’t have to.

 

And maybe, you – the person reading these words right now – are at a crossroads in your life, and you’re weighing choices that would lead you down one road or the other.  Maybe you’re wondering if it’s ok to be taking this road at this particular time in your life, at your age…maybe you’re worried about what your friends and family will think about your choices.  Maybe you’re having the age-old argument with yourself about whether you’re doing the right thing or simply throwing away your life at a time in your life when you should be going to graduate school, applying for your internship, doing your residency.

 

You have to ask yourself a hard question right now.

 

And you will need to become accustomed to asking yourself this question, because it will become a regular signpost on your travels, no matter which path you choose.

 

“Will I regret this if I don’t do it?  Or will I regret it if I do?”

 

 

Maybe you ARE too old to decide to be a songwriter.  Maybe you’re not talented enough to sing in front of people.  Maybe you don’t have the chops to play professionally.   Any one of those things could be true.

 

But do you want to find out for yourself, or do you want to be 75 years old and complaining to the nurse who empties your bedpan at the assisted living facility, whining about how you could’ve taken a shot at it, but didn’t?

 

They say that you’re officially old when your hopes and dreams are replaced by your regrets.

 

Every man and woman walking the face of the earth wants more than what they have, when it comes to material possessions – you’re no different than they are when it comes to wishing for more than life has given you.  But if you’re pondering the choice right now, you should ask yourself the hard questions:

 

Am I willing to sacrifice in order to participate in this lifestyle?

 

Do I believe in myself to the degree that’s necessary to be confident in my actions?

 

Am I able to overlook the standards set for me by other people?  Am I willing to look at the questions of where I should be “at my age” and remind myself that I have to hold myself to a different standard?  Can I do that?

 

 

This life is full of rewards that other journeys simply don’t offer…and honestly, there’s no point in elaborating on that for you.  If you’re thinking in these terms, you already know that.

  

So it’s up to you…

 

What do you want?

  

OK, Good.  Now are you willing to do the work to give your choice the fair shot that it deserves?

 

 No need to answer now…take your time and give it some thought.  But don’t forget to ask yourself – will I be ok with my choices at the end of my life when I’m looking back on this moment?

 

on the road and in the round: craig bickhardt, don henry, michael johnson and lizanne knott

y’know, i can still remember the very first time that craig bickhardt and i played together.  it was at chaplin’s in spring city, pa – we were doing a songwriter’s round, and i was there because skip denenberg and jim femino brought me along.  at the time, jim was developing an artist who was also on the bill named kassie miller, and he’d recruited me to back her instrumentally.   when jim was doing the rounds, he set the room up bluebird cafe style – with a table and a large lamp right in the middle of the floor, with everyone around the table…and tables and chairs were actually set up on the stage to minimize the impact of the stage and make the whole space feel like a stageless room that could’ve passed for someone’s den.

at chaplins' with craig bickhardt, jim femino, skip denenberg and kassie miller, 2007.

at chaplins’ with craig bickhardt, jim femino, skip denenberg and kassie miller, 2007.

craig and i kinda latched onto one another at that point, and we’ve worked together ever since – both with me backing him instrumentally under his own name, and then later as a full member of a side project he’d undertaken with poco bassist jack sundrud called idlewheel.

craig’s songs are understatedly elegant, and while they’re not terribly complex, they are a challenge to play properly – which is to say, there’s definitely a line of delineation between overplaying and playing what’s appropriate for the song.  his music requires a certain understanding of how much is enough, and how much is too much.  it’s not a gig for everybody…but that’s one of the things i love about playing with him.  if you understand that simple concept, you’ll look like a genius playing next to him – whether the description is accurate or not.

craig has also opened some doors and there are relationships that i’ve formed as a result of my association with him that would not have come about otherwise – many of them through the “On The Road and In The Round” shows we’ve done.  stellar writers and performers like don henry, julie gold, thom schuyler, jim photoglo, and others have done these shows with us – alongside great local talent like jd malone and lizanne knott…and i’ve gotten a lot of opportunities to join the crew and back everyone on the bill for a lot of these shows, and while the “trial under fire” aspect might be scary at times, it’s also a bit of an adrenaline rush.  and, thankfully, thus far there’ve been no complaints.

for this show, there was some new blood along for the ride - michael johnson, of “bluer than blue”, “this night won’t last forever”, “give me wings” and “that’s that” fame.  (fun facts:  michael johnson was the first guy in nashville to give jack sundrud a gig as a bassist.  also, “give me wings” was my ex-mother-in-law’s favorite song for many years.)

back row: tommy geddes, michael johnson, don henry front row: tom hampton, lizanne knott, craig bickhardt

back row: tommy geddes, michael johnson, don henry
front row: tom hampton, lizanne knott, craig bickhardt

i had never met or played with michael, but don henry was joining us along with craig and lizanne knott, so michael was the only unfamiliar face on the bill – and i was pretty sure that we’d all be ok…and i know when to play and when to sit back and fold my hands in my lap, so i had that going for me too – along with the fact that i was on my home turf, on stage at sellersville theater.

craig, don and lizanne were their usual entertaining, funny and brilliant selves – and michael was a great fit in every one of the same categories, as well.  he’s a great player, for one thing – sticks to nylon string guitar, a wonderful fingerstyle player…and played some funny parodies of standards like “you make me feel so…so” – and to the tune of “blue bayou“, he did a song about a toupee called “blew by you“.  but i did get to sing the high harmony to “bluer than blue“, and i got to play “beautiful goodbye” with don henry with his co-writer, mike moran, in the audience, as well as don’s song “all kinds of kinds” (a recent number one for miranda lambert) – and the usual assortment of awesome bickhardt songs, closing the show as we often do with “this old house” and “if he came back again“.

i don’t think i’d ever brought the pedal steel out to one of the OTRAITR shows, but i fixed that for this gig – it was lap steel, pedal steel, mandolin and baritone guitar…and ran it all through the princeton reverb, turned with the speaker pointed towards the curtain behind us.  it would be this particular night that the reverb would decide not to work, though.  (note to self:  stop procrastinating and get the new pedalboard worked out yesterday.)

with jd malone and the experts, steel city coffeehouse, phoenixville PA

so it had been, as they say, a while.

 

the steel city gigs have always been jd malone‘s hometown shows – and we’ve always done well there, and this show was no exception.  a great crowd with lots of friendly faces – oh, and it was carolyn’s (jd’s wife) birthday, so that didn’t hurt, either.

the opener was a young guy from north carolina named sam lewis – usually, the opener gets drowned out by conversation and laughter in the green room…only because that’s inevitable when this crew is all in the same place.  now, i’m not saying there wasn’t plenty of both, but sam was an undeniable talent, and i sure did enjoy his set.  super nice guy, as well.  he was actually touring via Amtrak – taking whatever form of transportation he could get to the gig, which had to have been an interesting twist…i can vaguely remember being young enough to have the gumption to try something like that, but it seems so very long ago now. :)

dylan and jayda both came to the show, as did wendy – who cut a deal with carolyn’s kids to hang out with danny so she could get a night off to come out and hang out with grownups.

now, it’s been quite some time since i’ve bothered to update my perpetual life story, here – and to say that much has happened in the time since would be an understatement akin to calling World War II a “territorial conflict”.

a lot has happened since we last spoke.  a LOT.

and, frankly, it’s only been a few weeks since i had largely resigned myself to the notion that i might not be speaking with either of my older children again for quite some time, if ever.  things had soured that much.  i’m not certain right now to what extent the ship has righted itself, but it was good to have them both there that night, to say the least.  even if all the debris from the summer hasn’t washed away yet.

ANYway…

the last time we played this room, i brought “the toaster” – my ’57 gibson GA-20T amplifier.  i was promptly washed out and almost inaudible for the show.  i had it turned up waaaay past its’ sweet spot, and it didn’t respond particularly well.  i was thinking about bringing my deluxe reverb this time around, but with everybody riding together, space was at a premium.  so, i figured, the princeton did so well on the denver shows with boris garcia last year, maybe it wouldn’t be completely out of line to give it a crack at this gig.  plus, with the space issue being what it was, i didn’t bring the banjo, the 12 string electric, or any of the other toys – it was lap steel, baritone guitar, and mandolin and that was it.  so you could say i was travelling uncharacteristically light for this gig, and i figured that if worse came to worse, i could use one of the backline amps from the green room…which i always seem to forget about until i go downstairs to stow my cases and see them there. :)

JDjaydaSCCH3

jayda hampton onstage with jd malone and the experts, november 2013

well, the princeton made its daddy proud – i had it on 5 most of the night, and it sounded amazing – especially on the lap steel.  that’s definitely its’ sweet spot for that instrument.  the band was, this time as it was last time, pretty loud for a room that size.  i don’t know how many other acts that play that room are as loud as we are/were, but we shook the rafters, for sure.

jd debuted a few new songs during the show, with my personal favorite being if you pray…but we also shook up window painted blue quite a bit, as well.  i had made up my mind that there really wasn’t going to be an arrangement of that song that both he and i were gonna be happy with, but he proved me wrong.  and of course, jayda got up with us to sing black yodel and leave us alone…i couldn’t hear her vocal at all on the latter, and for a while thought that maybe she’d been doubling my part until the bridge came around and the dynamic died down enough that i could actually hear her voice.

jayda and JD singing "black yodel"

jayda and JD singing “black yodel”

next gig i have on the books with the guys will be burlap and bean later this winter.