There’s a Light Beyond These Woods…

Back at my desk after spending literally 26 of the 60 hours between the end of my worknight on Friday and the beginning of the day behind the wheel of the car…so I’m feeling as though today, I wanna break with my usual barrage of nostalgia and quirky, ironic photos to actually use social media for the purpose it was always intended:

To share intimate, borderline awkward and uncomfortable information and observations about people around you in a potentially unsettling manner.

Or, as we used to call it before the Internet – observing life.

In fact, I’m not even gonna single out the folks mentioned by name. If you know the song from the link below, or if you’re a glutton for punishment and choose to invest even MORE time in this diatribe by watching the video, then we’ll just refer to them as “Nanci” and “Mary Margaret”. (If you know me even a little, though, then figuring out whos’ who will pose about the same intellectual challenge as one of those eight piece alphabet puzzles they make for infants with chewable pieces the size of your palm.)

So let’s begin, shall we?

If you use this platform – social media – for anything other than political rants or cat videos, it can’t help but expand your world. It makes the space you inhabit a little bigger, whether you notice it or not. It strengthens threads that might grow thin over time without such a means of keeping in touch with people.

One of my least favorite things about myself is that, where friends are concerned, I’m something of an “eat what’s on your plate” person. I tend to focus on what’s presented to me by my life as I’m living it, and when my circumstances change – people tend to drift off into the sunset. It’s never about them, nor is it a reflection of my esteem for them…it’s just how things have always ended up working for me. I focus on what – and who – is in front of me at a given time. Before this cyber-social phenomena existed, there were folks I loved with all my heart that faded off into the mists of history because I lacked the basic ability to maintain long distance friendships. There were exceptions, sure…but very few.

This platform has given us a tool to make those connections easier, and I’m thankful for that. It’s put me back in touch with folks from my hometown, Navy buddies, fellow nomadic musicians who land in different cities on a regular basis…and it’s made maintaining those connections easier – even if it’s a far cry from actual personal contact.

But I’ve always admired people who had the ability to nurture those threads without the need for a status update or a photo of their dinner…old school, as it were. It says something about their character and about the value they place on the people in their lives.

I’ve known the “Nanci” in this story for a number of years…since before she became the mother to the two amazing daughters that are perennial highlights of my Instagram feed. Her children epitomize what children their age should be – a living, breathing highlight reel of wonder and imagination. They have an inherited respect for nature and they wear their innocence on their sleeves in a way that dares you not to fall in love with them.

This weekend, though – I got to meet “Mary Margaret”.

Somehow, in the exchange of a few minutes’ conversation, Mary Margaret became an instant friend…the kind of instant friend that you find yourself willingly and comfortably volunteering information to, during conversations about things that aren’t always easy to talk about. She has a kind demeanor and empathetic eyes that convey a deep well of gentle understanding.  Right away, she felt familiar and comfortable to me.

We were all in Philadelphia…I was there for a show, Nanci was in town visiting her parents from her home down the road from me in the Nashville area, and Mary Margaret – long ago relocated to Texas – came there to Philadelphia to visit her old childhood friend for a few days of Grownup Girls’ Adventuring… or, as they initially framed it, “looking for rich guys in the bars in Chester County.”

They were best friends as children…and while it’s entirely possible that Nanci’s demeanor during the telling of their story was an exaggeration for effect, it wasn’t hard to get the impression that she never really got over losing Mary Margaret.

But the thing that left the deepest impression on me, as I’d see the two of them exploring the park, talking and laughing with one another, and just bearing witness to their friendship was – well, quite literally just that. Bearing witness to their friendship.

Yeah, yeah, I know…startin’ to sound like Crazy Stalker Talk. Stay with me and ride along to the next stop. I promise it ain’t like that.

Over the years, both Nanci and Mary Margaret grew up. Separately and together.

They’ve both had families of their own…A pair of daughters in Nashville, and four children between 10 and 2 in Texas.

Yet watching them together yesterday, even casually in brief fits and starts between trying not to fluster the soundman and making sure everything was in tune…was an oddly spiritual experience. For reasons that weren’t immediately apparent, it affected me deeply.

It was almost as if – in seeing the two of them together that afternoon that I was stealing a glimpse of the two of them as children, in tiny summer dresses, climbing trees in the woods like a pair of budding tomboys, or trying to walk across the shallow ebb of the creek without getting their clothes wet…

I saw two lifelong friends who refused to let something so trivial as time or geography erode the genuine love they had for one another…who valued each other enough to remain connected as they’ve grown up and into their own separate lives, as they’ve started their own families. Nanci and Mary Margaret love each other enough to become children again when they land on the same patch of grass a thousand miles away from the separate places they each call home.

I’ve known Nanci a good while.

Today, I feel like I know Nanci a lot better than I did a short time ago.

And Mary Margaret will take a tiny, souvenir-edition shard of my heart with her back to Texas.


“It’s nice to see your family growing, Margaret…
Your daughter and your husband there, they really treat you right
But we’ve talked all night….
And what about that light that glowed beyond our woods when we were ten?
…there’ll never be two friends like you and me….”


The End Of The Summer Breakup Letter

 My Dearest Metrocenter Levee Greenway,


 We need to talk. And I think you know why.

 Look, I’m not going to beat around the bush. We’ve been growing apart for weeks now, and I think it’s time we both acknowledged that we might be coming to the end of our run…sorry, bad pun. I think we need to go our separate ways.

We had a great ride – sheesh, sorry again.

 The puns are kinda unavoidable. 

 Let me start over.

 We spent some great times together these past few months, and you made a potentially unbearable summer not only bearable, but brighter by being there for me when I needed you. I know that’s probably little consolation now, but hey – the fact is, I think the writing was on the wall when the Nashville B-Cycle folks moved the bike kiosk away from the Greenway entrance. It was almost as if they were trying to come between us, and as much as I hate to admit it – I think they pulled it off.

 At the beginning of the summer, when I needed a safe place, you gave it to me…and you grew with me when my needs changed and i took to biking instead of the evening walks we used to share. You were there when I got the worst sunburn of my life…you were there for my first 10+ mile bike ride…you were there when I needed a friend. I’ll always remember that.

 But when the bikes went away, it was hard to go back to just walking with you…it felt like we were going backward.

 And…well, the BUGS. There were always the bugs. Every night, the damn bugs. 

I know, I know…they were there before you were, and there was nothing you could do about them…but that didn’t change anything. They came between us from day one – those tiny little swarming bastards were constantly trying to create friction between us, and it worked.

 But even so, it’s not just that.

 The summer’s over, and we both know it…and soon, the weather is going to get colder, and the days will get shorter, and – well, I just don’t think we were meant to be anything but a summer affair. We’re just not built for the whole year ’round, under the circumstances.

And…I don’t want to hurt you, but I’m going to be completely honest, here.

There’s someone else. Actually, there are a couple of “someone elses”.

When the bikes went away, I started seeing Shelby Park.

 Yeah, that Shelby Park. The one that everybody else loves, the one that you’re probably a little jealous of in the first place…but you have to understand – this was a practical decision. It was never about you, not as much as it was about the bikes and the greenway trails and the lack of the beating sun and…well, look – Shelby just made sense for me. She’s closer to where I live, where you’re in the backyard of my job…and Shelby has the bikes.

Yeah, at the end of the day, it comes down to the bikes. I really am that superficial.

 Maybe that shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is. For me.

 Hey, listen – you’re wonderful without bikes. Really, you are.

Well, except for the bugs. 

I’m sorry, I know I promised I wouldn’t keep bringing up the bugs, but it’s a big deal to me. I wish it were different, but that’s just who I am.

But you know, your hands aren’t clean here, either. I mean, there were other people biking and running on your asphalt almost EVERY time we spent time together…so it’s not as if I was the only unfaithful one. But what really hurt was seeing other people walking on you at sunset. I mean, that was OUR THING! The running and the biking, OK…but you had to share OUR thing, too?

That was hard to watch.

If it makes you feel better, I’ll share this with you…I’m probably going to be breaking up with Shelby Park soon, too.

I haven’t told her yet, so I’m not sure why I’m telling you…but I thought you should know.

The fact that Shelby Park has the bikes now doesn’t change the fact that winter is coming, nor the fact that it’s soon going to be dark for a big chunk of the day. You two have that in common.

So I decided to join a gym.

Don’t get angry, please. Hear me out. I’m trying to explain myself.

 I joined the Planet Fitness in Madison.

 We both know that I’ve been growing in this direction for a while, and I need to be with someone who’s going to grow with me, and I feel good about my relationship with Planet Fitness. I know, a lot of you hate her, you think she’s cheap and vanilla and boring – and I guess I can understand why you’d see her that way…you’re not alone.

But I have needs. And Planet Fitness doesn’t have the obstacles that you have in meeting my needs. 

 She’s just plain better for me, and I have to honor that.

I realize that there’s nothing I can say to lessen the pain of this…and frankly, it cuts both ways. When we first got together, I couldn’t see a time in the future when it wouldn’t be you and me, at sunset on the Cumberland River, watching the barges crawl along the waterline and listening to the traffic humming over the interstate.

But love is blind that way. When you first connect, all you see are possibilities – but when you settle into getting to know one another, the pitfalls of a relationship always end up showing themselves sooner or later.

I’m sure there’ll come a time at some point in the future when I’ll outgrow Planet Fitness, too…but right now, she’s what I need.

I’m sorry we’ve come to this. I’d really like to remain friends, if that’s not too painful or awkward. I think we’d still be able to enjoy the occasional get-together, once the cellophane wears thin and we’re able to hang out like normal people. You don’t have to answer that right now…it’s just something I’d like you to think about.

Good luck, OK? and thanks for everything. You earned a pretty important place in my life by being in it when you were…but I have to move on now.

Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.

Jerry Opdycke, 1953 – 2014

(Jerry’s official, self-penned obituary can be found here.)

once upon a time, in a land far, far away...

Jerry Opdycke at far right in the rear…behind the guy with the afro in the red hoodie.

Instead of offering any additional commentary on my friend, I’ll share with you what I shared with the folks at his memorial service earlier today.

I’ve had a week to grieve, and I feel like I’m just getting warmed up.

(I didn’t have any prepared comments…I made notes before I left – which I glanced at and then sat down beside me and forgot about.  This is from memory, and isn’t exactly as I recited it, but it’s pretty close.)

Hi, Everybody…

It’s been 32 years since I’ve been here – this room wasn’t even here when I graduated in 1983.  I actually had to use my GPS to find the high school…it’s been that long since I’ve been here.

it’s been that long since I was in a band with Opie, too, but that relationship went beyond Jerry’s talents as a musician.  The few times I came back to town, I always sought him out.

Jerry was the person who broke the news to me that David Philips died a few years ago…I know a lot of you knew David as the co-owner of Maxine’s House of Music on Florence Road that I used to haunt as a teenager.  I remember telling Jerry that day that I could count the people in Savannah that I went out of my way to keep in touch with on my testicles, and now that David was gone he was gonna have to be careful or he was gonna leave me in a hell of a bind.

Well, folks, I stand before you today as a man with no testicles.

Jerry has left us – and some of us may have expected it, but after him battling back from everything that life’s thrown at him, I fully expected him to battle back from this, too, and I’m sorry to have been wrong about that.

At almost 50, I think I’d rather be without my testicles than to be without Opie.

I see a few faces here that I know, but a lot more that I don’t, so let me introduce myself – as Debbie told you, my name is Tom Hampton.  I doubt many of you know me, but I met Jerry when I was a teenager and we played in a band together called the New Hope Music Project.

When I was 14 years old, I had the audacity to dial a number I heard on the radio to call the studio that Jerry shared with the band because I’d heard them on the radio, talking about a 45 they’d just released, and I called to ask if they ever needed session musicians.  I was 14 – I didn’t know if that was how it worked or not, but they actually told me that if I wanted to come down and try out, that I was welcome to.

I think I knew even then that they were probably just being nice to a green kid who’d never been in a band before – but my aunt took me to the studio, i went in and played three songs with them, and they took my number and wrote it on a card and hung it on the wall in the control room.  and time went by…a lot of time…and one afternoon i got a phone call from the band, because their drummer had taken a job out of town and had to leave the band – so would I be interested in coming in and auditioning for their band?

It was the beginning of a two year run playing drums behind Jerry with a group of musicians who were all at least a decade older than i was…and in bands, there are inevitably cliques that emerge – Pat and Frankie were longtime friends, and Ricky the soundguy was dating the lead singer, so Jerry and I were the last two left.  If we were gigging in town, Jerry would drive me to the gig in his turd-brown Toyota Tercel hatchback and he’d brainwash me on the way to and from the gigs by playing Little Feat incessantly in the car.  We’d go back to Jerry’s house after shows and he and I would rifle through his album collection and he forced me to fall in love with Karla Bonoff…we covered her song “Trouble Again” and I had to hear where that came from.

I talk about Jerry and David Phillips in the same breath because just about everything good that’s happened to me in my life since crossing paths with them was made possible by the fact that they took an interest in me. I was a dirt poor kid, living in Walnut Grove with my mother, brother and sister, and if those two hadn’t shown me the possibility that there was something else life had to offer, there’s absolutely no way that I’d have had the experiences I’ve had. It might sound cliche’ to say it, but it’s absolutely true that Jerry changed my life.

I joined the Navy and left town, and took my guitar with me because it was impossible to travel with drums…and Jerry’s ghost followed me too.  In fact, I listen to recordings of myself playing guitar during the years that I was “graduating” to playing lead, and if you listen to him and listen to those tapes back to back, the influence is undeniable.

When I came back to Savannah the first time after having left, I looked Jerry up and he told me to meet him at the old drive-in…I thought he was nuts, as it had been closed for ages, but Jerry had helped convert the refreshment stand at the old drive-in to the first Elks Club in town, and we talked for hours and hours…I remember snippets of the conversation, and I remember him saying several times that “your money ain’t no good here” when I’d try to pay for drinks.   After a while, I don’t really remember much else about that night…or leaving…or how i got home.

Our paths crossed time and time again over the years – he came to Nashville to see me play with my band, he came to Nashville to pick me up at the airport when my car crapped out on the way to a gig with Daryle Singletary…and he was always a phone call away.  I’ve still got voicemails on my phone from him.  I talked to him at 9 o’clock the night before he died.  Even after all that he’d been through, he was a rock.  I truly believed that we had a lot of miles left on our odometer.

About a month ago, I came to town with my friend Bert, who’s here today, to visit with Jerry…I brought my wife and 5 year old son, neither of whom he’d ever met, and we spent the afternoon together. Capped it off with a shot of Jack, his favorite drink. And I remember thinking on the way home that we should’ve taken a picture…but that we could do that next time.

One of the things I find a lot of peace in is the fact that there wasn’t anything unsaid between Jerry and I…he knew I loved him, and I told him everything I’ve told you today.  He was aware of the profound effect he had on my life, and I’m so happy that we got that afternoon together last month.  I thought it would be the first of many more, but it turned out to be the last.

If there’s a silver lining that we can take away from losing Jerry…all of us…go home today and pick up the phone.  send an email or a text.  Find somebody that you haven’t talked to in a long time and start a conversation.  Let them know you miss them.  I’m incredibly fortunate to know, at the end of the day, that Jerry and I said everything we needed to say to one another.

I was lucky in that respect this time.  It’s not usually the way it ends…but that’s the way I want to do it from now on.

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:


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 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.



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.  :)