The Nashville Manifesto

it’s a song i’ve heard countless times, going back decades.

 

the “you should move to nashville” song.

 

and i’ve always had a readily available excuse…and a backup excuse, and a few more on standby in case i hadn’t made my point yet…

 

“there are dozens of guys in Nashville who do what i do that are delivering pizzas, and I’m lucky enough to be able to work regularly here…”

“all the session work is tied up with a handful of guys who get called for everything, and most of the folks running those sessions have a list of backups already, but they tend to go with a known quantity because they have to get the work done and they’re not prone to taking chances….”

“since the record business has died, a lot of the session cats have had to take road work to put food on the table, and the guys who used to get calls for road work are painting houses to make ends meet…”

“bands don’t really tour anymore, they go out for weekends or extended short runs, and you can’t make any money that way…”

“i don’t think i could play some of the crap that comes out of nashville for very long without wanting to put a pistol in my mouth…”

“i was born in tennessee. i grew up in tennessee. and that’s why i don’t want to go back. i don’t have a whole lot of fond memories of it.”

 

most (if not all) of you who know me have heard me say all this at least once or twice – and certainly, most of – if not all – of that is still true, to me…or at least that’s my perception.

but in my mind, the one constant – in the past, anyway – was that the only real reason to move to nashville would be for me to pursue some sort of foothold in the music business, to make some attempt to infiltrate the network of road musicians and get a steady gig with someone that i could feel good about playing with. and every time the thought has crossed my mind or the opportunity has presented itself, i’ve managed to convince myself that packing up my family (or more accurately in years past, moving away from my older children and creating a scenario where i’d see them even less than i did…since they were still in the nest at the time) was just a bad move on my part as a parent – especially with no guarantee of anything on the other end of the leap of faith to make it worth the sacrifice i’d be making to make it happen.

but there’s a shift in the tide, here.

it’s been gradual…i could point back a number of years, actually…and i’m not sure i ever saw it coming, but last month, the alarm went off and i woke up and found myself standing at the crossroads.

There is, of course, some backstory:

My five year old son was still in diapers when we moved to philadelphia from reading – a move precipitated by the fact that both jayda and dylan had flown the coop, i’d taken a job in IT working for Wells Fargo in Center City Philadelphia, and i was spending in the neighborhood of $750 a month on gasoline to commute to work.

So we found a cute house in Havertown – a single family, 3 bedroom house with a somewhat finished basement and central heat/air for $1300 a month.

i know that some of you reading this who might live in other parts of the country are already picking your jaws up off the floor. but that’s not really out of step with what the market was for rental properties at that point in time in the philly suburbs. it was not then, nor has it ever been, a particularly cheap place to live.

well, we fell in love with that house…danny grew up there, alongside four other houses’ full of kids his age, lined up in a row starting next door and continuing down the street where we lived. the back yard was expansive, covered with shade from a tree that must’ve been over fifty years old – i remember on a couple of occasions lying on our backs, danny and i, looking up at the leaves and branches over our heads and taking it all in.

when our lease term expired, the porperty management company raised the rent a mere $20.00 – which we saw as a good sign. at one point, we even asked their permission to reach out to the owner with regard to the possibility of selling the house, but the house belonged to a 94 year old woman named Frances Glenn, who was in assisted living at the time – so the oldest son replied to tell us that it was impossible to sell the house at that point, because it belonged to his mother and he didn’t have the authority to make that kind of decision about the house.

Not quite a year later, we received word from the proerty management office that Mrs. Glenn had passed away, and they’d be needing access to the property so that assessors could evaluate the worth of the house for the estate. Wendy and I started worrying immediately that the house would be sold and we’d be looking for a new place to live, after having made a much bigger emotional investment in the house than we ever should have, in retrospect. But our agent assured us that this was typical in these scenarios, that anytime this happened it was necessary to have the property assessed for tax purposes, and that we shouldn’t read anything into this.

So we took a nervous, deep breath, and continued on with life as usual.

Fast forward half a year or so – I was on the road with Boris Garcia in Northern California, and I woke to a text from Wendy at around 7am California time…the text contained a photo of a letter from the property management company, informing us that the estate had been settled, the oldest son – the one who couldn’t be bothered to have a conversation with me about selling the property barely a year prior – had bought out his siblings and he inteneded to occupy the property and we had 60 days to vacate.

in all honesty, i don’t think we’ve gotten over this to this day.

but, still – we had to accept it and regroup and move forward. but moving forward meant trying to find a house in the middle of the hoopla surrounding the US Open coming to Upper Merion Golf Club – which was mere miles from where we lived. so not onlly were rental properties at a premium, but there were people who were actually leaving for vacation and renting their houses out to Golf Fanatics for exorbitant prices. so we’re looking for a home for our family in the midst of all this…and needless to say, there was nothing anywhere in the neighborhood where we were that was even remotely close to being in our price range. there were houses that were literally renting for $6000 a week to wealthy golf fanatics from God knows where, and we were trying to find a reasonable place to live in the midst of all this.

we ended up settling for a house that was 200 square feet smaller in Morton – tucked in the corner of the intersection of I-95 and the “Blue Route” (the I-476 expressway). it was convenient to my day job at the time, but literally nothing else. it was 30 minutes one way to Danny’s preschool, which we were determined to keep him in for his final year there…farther from just about everything that was important to us.

Looming larger than any of that, though, was the fact that the rent for the new place was $1500.00 – very nearly a $200 increase in rent from what we were paying for a house we loved…for a house that didn’t really excite either one of us very much. not necessarily because it was that much worse a place to live, but because – well, it wasn’t the House In Havertown. it was, simply put, ill equipped to to compete with what we’d come from. It was three bedrooms, but the bedrooms were microscopic – and the upstairs bathroom was so small that when you sat on the toilet, it was nearly impossible not to be up against the wall…and standing in the shower, i could literally see over the shower curtain rod. I took to calling the place “The Hobbit House”.

We moved into the house a year ago this past June – while I was on the road with the Marshall Tucker Band. when I left, we lived in Havertown…when i came back off the road, we lived in The Hobbit House in Morton.

It was an interesting year, to say the least – for a lot of reasons that had nothing to do with the house specifically, but when the lease expiration started to creep up on us, we didn’t really give any thought to moving, as i don’t think either of us had the energy to even consider it. we hadn’t looked for anything as the lease term was expiring, anyway…until a random conversation that Wendy had with one of the mothers from Danny’s preschool. It turned out that she and her family were moving back to South Carolina due to some sort of promotion from work, and they’d be moving out at the end of June. So we went to see the house, and it was awesome…4 bedrooms, a HUGE finished basement, a deck, a porch swing – but…BUT…it was TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS a MONTH.

Still, we seriously considered it – the logic being that we’d have available child care because we’d be back in our old neighborhood and we knew people we felt comfortable with that would LOVE to have Danny a few days a week, which meant that we could all work and we could likely make up the $500 difference between what we were paying now and what we would be paying.

But, after considering this for a few days, and after being prompted by this opportunity to take a look online and see what else might be available in our old neighborhood, reality began to set in.

Even when we first moved to town, and were paying $1340 a month, we were getting by. Certainly not saving money, not buying anything extravagant, not getting ahead…but getting by. And thanks to the occasional runs with MTB, we were able to make $1500 work when we had to move. But since the contract expired at my day gig at the end of the year, and with me staying home with Danny while Dylan and Wendy went to work, even $1500 had become taxing…there were late payments here and there (which, thankfully, the landlord worked through with us) and things became difficult as a rule of thumb. If it weren’t for my musical income, we’d have probably been out on the street at some point…but we always managed to make things work.

Now, we were looking at moving into a house that was $500 more per month than what we were already paying…and it didn’t take long to figure out that, even if I went back to work and Wendy either stayed home or found daycare for Danny, the math just wasn’t going to end up in the black.

Then, looking at the few other properties that were on the rental market in the area, one thing became clear – the whole “bump” that had happened as a result of the US Open spike obviously had something of a lasting effect. Havertown, as I’d seen it, was essentially a working-class neighborhood. Our street was a quiet, peaceful street that consisted largely of families with young children…folks with no pretense. approachable, good people. But the notion of finding another house comparable to the one we’d lived in before for a similar price was fading into a pipe dream. there were the occasional duplexes and the like to be found, but generally speaking, every available single family home with 3 or more bedrooms to be found was listing at a minimum of $1850 – and much more likely at $2k or up. It was a huge spike, and it was nowhere near being matched on the income side.

When I started working the Wells Fargo contract, I was making $23 an hour. When that contract expired and I went to work for Amerihealth Mercy, I was making $22 an hour. For those of you who majored in subjects other than math, that’s LESS money. And everything I’d seen or been presented with after the Amerihealth contract expired was even less than what I’d been making – mostly junior, entry level stuff that involved migrating data or moving PC’s from one office to another.

So let’s recap – housing is going up in the area where we want to live by hundreds of dollars a month on a yearly basis.

In the meantime, I’m being paid less and less per hour to show up at work.

Perhaps the federal government would disagree, but this can only have one end result:

THIS PATTERN IS UNSUSTAINABLE.

So what do we do, when faced with our preferred option being unsustainable?

You either find a way to make it sustainable – which doesn’t appear to be in the cards – or you choose another path.

So do we hunker down and suck it up and stay where we are, or do we do something drastic?

As fate would have it, my in-laws, Mark and Joanne, were passing through on their way to Maine just as all this turmoil was coming to a head, and after putting Danny to bed, we put the subject on the table…and the notion of picking up and moving to Nashville was thrown out for discussion – and they were surprisingly supportive of the concept. For them, it made sense on several levels that we hadn’t immediately considered – we’d be less than a full days’ drive away from them for nine months of the year, and with that being the case, it’d be easier for Wendy to take Danny to see friends of theirs that had moved to Tampa from Reading a few years back.

So, in keeping with the spirit of the discussion, we got out the laptops, went to Zillow.com and did a search for Nashville, TN for rental properties with a ceiling of $1500.00 – the amount we were currently paying.

To say that we were shocked to see what our Pennsylvania rent would buy in Tennessee would be a huge understatement. Sure, like any other major city, there were properties in the vicinity of the Belmont and Vanderbilt campuses that were double what we were currently paying, but some degree of that is probably to be expected. The Nashville economy is booming right now – lots of new construction, a HUGE healthcare industry presence (healthcare, is it turns out, is the largest employer in the city by a 3 to 1 margin over the next category…and where there’s healthcare, there’s IT, after all) – and due to the relatively small footprint of the city, it was easy and quick to get into the city from some of the outlying areas where the real deals on housing were to be had…and there were some deals to be had.

The other attraction to moving to Nashville was that we actually had a pretty solid number of friends there – from my musical associations, as well as a half brother who lives 90 minutes south of town. So there’d be a distinct advantage to being there, as opposed to throwing a dart at a map and blindly picking another city to move to, if we were to choose that option.

So we started the discussion, in earnest for perhaps the first time ever, of picking up, packing all our belongings, and moving out of state to Nashville, Tennessee.

After staying up very late and discussing this with Wendy and her parents, I got up the next day and placed a call to the Nashville office of Robert Half Technology, and spoke to a recruiter later that afternoon, and had set up a Skype interview for the following morning.

Yes, THAT quickly.

So, we made the call. We kept it to ourselves for a short time, but I began rooting out job opportunities and started scouring Zillow and Craigslist for potential rental properties and such – but after talking to a couple of realtors, I was advised that it’d be best to hold off on actually trying to nail anything down until I knew what my move date was going to be, and that if it wasn’t at the end of the current month, I’d be hard pressed to find something that someone wouldn’t be willing to move into before I got there.

So I decided that I was gonna make a trip south to start doing some of this legwork with my boots on the ground in town. I made arrangements to stay at my buddy Rob Snyder’s place (since he was going to be on the road for almost the entire last two weeks of the month of June) and got ready to head to town.

Danny had gone north to Maine with his grandparents when they left, and the following Sunday, I got up bright and early and got ready to head south…I managed to make the trip in 13 hours or so, on two fillups (at $60 a piece) and got to Rob’s empty house at around 11pm that night, armed and ready for my fact finding mission. I got online, compiled a list of places that I wanted to drive by the following day, and fell asleep. The next morning, I got up and re-checked CL and Zillow to see if there was anything I’d missed, emailed my list to myself, and hit the road.

I had scheduled a couple of interviews – one with the Tech company I’d done the Skype interview for, and another for a company that owns a bunch of Jackson-Hewitt tax prep offices and kiosks in the Southeast…and there’d be two more that would materialize over that week, as well.

I’d also do walkthroughs at houses and then walk through a second time to videotape the walkthrough and post it so that Wendy and Dylan could see it from back home.

Then, at the end of the day, I’d come home, decompress a bit, and go out to see music. And I went out to see music literally every single night I was there. Monday night, the Time Jumpers at Third and Lindsley. Tuesday night, dinner with my buddy Charlie (where we bumped into Dan Tyminski on the porch of the restaurant, hanging out with the owner), then to the Five Spot to see Shawn Byrnes’ surf-punk band, the Doke Ohms. Wednesday, dinner with Peter Rodman, then to Douglas Corner to see Steve Conn play a set…and bumped into George Marinelli and was introduced to Guthrie Trapp, a great player and subsequently, a good friend as well. In fact, he was playing the following night at the Station Inn with his band 18 South…so the next night, I went to a Nashville Sounds game, and went to 18 South afterward and saw a great band fronted by wonderful songwriters play to a packed house who fell absolutely silent when they played “Whiskey Lullaby” (a song written by Jon Randall with Bill Andersen). I hung out with Guthrie and some other new friends in the parking lot until the wee hours (after having been the last two folks to walk out of Douglas Corner the night before)…and this went on the entire week.

So I’d get home from whatever adventure I’d gone on that night and would sit down at the table with my laptop and go over job listings, as well as whatever might’ve been posted on CL or Zillow during the course of the day…and make my “list” for the following day. While I was there, I secured an interview for an IT position at the Frist Center, as well – which I stayed an extra day to attend. Then, later that day, I got an email from RHT asking if it’d be possible for me to work the short, pre-holiday week prior to the 4th of July at the company I’d interviewed for first…”just to see if it’s a fit,” the email said.

So I consented to stay another week and get in 32 hours with this managed services company in Franklin and see how it went, so to speak.

In the meantime, I was still looking at properties…including a place in East Nashville that had a great back yard and a deck, a full basement, and was in an awesome neighborhood – I went to see it and met Sarah, the current occupant, did a video walkthrough, and…well, the place felt to me like we already lived there, on some levels. And it’s walking distance from the river and an easy drive into the city.

So we’ve signed the lease, we’ve sent the deposit check, and…

 

…it’s a done deal.

 

The Hamptons will be moving to Nashville shortly after the beginning of August – all of us, including Dylan. (and I’m not convinced that I won’t manage to lure Jayda down eventually, either.)

 

and…perhaps the most ironic detail of this whole adventure…after considering the move for musical reasons literally dozens of times over the course of my life, we’re moving to Nashville for reasons that have absolutely ZERO to do with music or the music business.

 

Go Figure.

 

We’ve put the news out there for everyone, and I’ve given up on trying to manage people’s perception – the universal response has been based on some vague assumption that I’m making this move for musical reasons, and I can certainly understand why folks think that way. I’ve tried to explain to the folks that are willing to have the conversation exactly what I’ve said here – that it’s much less a musical decision than it is an opportunity to try to create a better existence for my family. The job I’ve accepted pays $23 an hour (which spoils my theory that the reason the cost of living is so much cheaper there is because it’s harder to make a decent wage), and there’s no state income tax, which means that I’ll keep an extra $54 or so PER WEEK from that hourly wage than I did in PA.

AND we’re paying almost the exact same amount for a 1,700 square foot home in a great neighborhood that we’re paying now for an 1,100 square foot Hobbit House in a place where none of us ever really wanted to be in the first place.

The weeks ahead of us scare the hell outta me – we’ve paid the security deposit, but we now have to come up with money for the move itself (the base rental rate for the truck is $1500.00), and work out the logistics of the move, between clearing out the storage space in reading, picking up dylan’s remaining belongings at his moms’ house, and possibly piggybacking another friend onto the move as well)…then just the sheer manpower of getting everything onto the truck, getting everyone to where they need to be and such…AND Danny starts school the second week of August, and I have three gigs in New England the weekend prior to that.

 

My head hurts just thinking about it.

 

But I do honestly believe that by the time August has come and gone, we’ll all feel that we made the right decision.

 

Send good thoughts our way, folks. We’ll need ‘em.

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.)