the john lilley project at the kennett flash

i just want to say, for the record, that i’ve never yelled at a soundman in my life. never, not once.

and as of today, that statement still stands.

saturday night, though, was the closest i think i’ve ever come to snapping my streak.

this past weekend was the grand opening of lee zagorski’s new place, the kennett flash, and by all postmortem accounts, it was a pretty good weekend…jeffrey gaines opened the place on friday night with two sold out shows, and saturday night, it was john lilley’s turn.

jeffrey’s show was a solo acoustic affair, and a relatively simple task for just about any soundman…plug and play, as it were. but saturday night’s show was a full band, and would require a little more attention on their parts to make sure everything went smoothly.

well, it’s not that we were lacking for attention…but something was definitely missing. to summarize, the soundcheck went for two hours, the monitors were never quite right the entire night, and there wasn’t a whole lot of confidence inspired by some of the choices made during setup. for instance, someones’ novel idea of taking a DI to the console from the line going from my volume pedal to the amplifier. those of you not intimately familiar with the tasks managed by the various components within the signal flow of a guitarists’ onstage rig might ask why that’s such an awful idea…and if i were feeling a little more verbose, i might be inclined to tell you.

JL refers to this part of the stage as "tommys' world"...
JL refers to this part of the stage as "tommys' world"...

let’s just say that, short of putting an SM57 on a mic stand and pointing it directly at the guitar, it’s about the worst possible sound you can hope to capture from an electric instrument…especially when there are pedals between the original signal and the DI. when i stepped on the FullDrive for “second chance”, it sounded like a ribbon microphone six inches from a chainsaw.

so i did what any self-important rockstar would do…i jumped up from my chair, kicked over a table, yelled and screamed for a good five minutes, and demanded that the soundman be escorted from the building, otherwise i’d be forced to pack my gear and leave.

actually…probably not surprisingly…none of that happened. i did stop the song, though, and engaged in a rare instance of standing up for myself. without being an asshole (hopefully, anyway), i simply said that we needed to find some way to get a microphone on my amp..because the sound coming through the PA as it were was simply awful and that nothing good was going to come of continuing the way it was at that point in time.

the guys at the FOH board were accomodating, though…they got a mic and put it on a stand that was taller than my petite little princeton reverb amp, and pointed it down at the control panel.


but, hey – the show has to go on, and i’m not there to make waves, i’m there to play guitar. i could hear myself well enough, i could hear john somewhat well (albeit more through the mains than the monitors), and i could obviously hear tommy well enough to cue off him when the need arose…so i had the essentials, anyway. but the thing is, once you’ve gone through two hours of dickin’ around with moving mics, shoving two by fours under monitors, ringing out mixes just to have the feedback reappear after a few minutes’ time, there’s been a degree of mental damage…in the form of insecurity, lack of confidence, and a general reluctance to just put it all out there and trust that you’re in good hands.

the lindley quotes that i posted here in a previous entry alluded to that somewhat – in that he specifically said that if the sound wasn’t right, that he’d fall back on what was “safe” to play and go with what he knew…but that when everything was coming back to him in the proper proportion, that’s when he felt safest in trying new things, in stretching out a bit, in taking chances where he ordinarily wouldn’t. it’d be easy to get the idea that the former was the likely norm of the two given scenarios.

the area where you draw the line between the pros and the wannabes, though, is in how they react to their circumstances. i’ve always tried to be a pro about it, and at least put on a face that belies whatever troubles might be occuring behind the scenes – although sometimes i’m sure it’s more obvious to the audience than others. certainly, the howling screeches and whale song-like howls that come shooting out of the speakers at times are a pretty strong signal to the audience that somethings’ not quite right – but i’m referring more to the reactions of the musicians onstage. it can be anything from a disdainful glare to a full-on temper tantrum, but any musician who thinks that the audience is immune to such things is fooling themselves. audiences react to what they perceive to be the mood of the performer, whether they realize it or not. i’m sure that all of us can think back to a particular show we’ve seen from the crowd where we picked up on the fact that the performer was irate in some form or fashion, and can remember how that made us feel. at best, it creates a momentary sense of awkwardness…and at worst, it can drive a wedge between the performer and the audience that the show will never completely recover from.

maybe some people think that’s cool – i never did. i don’t go to shows to watch the kurt cobains of the world self-destruct before my eyes…i go because an artist has managed to move me to the point where i want to hear them create music that i’ve come to enjoy in a real-time environment. i want to hear them play the damn songs. ideally, if it’s not asking too much, i’d like to have them make some attempt to bring me into their world a little bit. there was a time when i was pretty sure i wasn’t alone in this mindset; i can’t really say these days…but i know that the last thing i want to have to see is some prima donna bitching across the stage to the monitor mixer or rolling their eyes or some other such nonsense. the time for all that garbage is during soundcheck. if you’ve got issues, work them out during soundcheck. if you want to stomp your feet and pout, do it during soundcheck. that’s your window of opportunity. once it’s closed, put on a fuckin’ happy face and get out there and play our ass off.

the band went up there on saturday night did just that. we played our asses off, and to the best of my knowledge none of us gave away where we stood on the issue…i mean, truth be told, once the show started and we warmed up, i eventually found myself acclimating to what we were hearing and settled into a groove of sorts and enjoyed the show quite a bit. my personal highlights of the night were the usual suspects, save for one – a song that we played for the first time ever at the previous rehearsal, a song called lullaby. we found some dynamic zones on that one that i don’t think we ever even tripped over as a band, and it really soared.

i feel like i spend too much time of late being a bitch about sound, about stage conditions, about whatever shortcomings might exist that affect a show…they exist, to be certain. and i feel as though, on some level, i’ve learned quite a bit about how to transend that sort of thing. the crux, though, is that no matter how professional you try to be about it, any musician will play better when conditions are optimal. i think, though, that as i find myself easing up the food chain a bit, that i’m able to carry myself a bit better and – hopefully – it’s not as obvious when i’m having a bad day. the thing that will always give me away is my actual playing. i can smile all damn day, but if i’m not hearing things right, i don’t play as well. period. i think the steel city show from a few weeks ago is a testament to that.

john was an absolute pro – he politely asked for a couple of adjustments at the beginning of the show, and never uttered another word, although all of us could run off a short list of things we’d have preferred to have had someone address. i played with a smile on my face, and everyone else kicked ass, too. the band walked out onto the stage and started playing, and then pierre robert from WMMR came out to bring john on…and the place lit up from that moment on. the crowd was completely into it, and we had a great show.

dan may w/vonda sheppard at sellersville theatre

some time back, i posted the following statement on a music industry messageboard called the velvet rope:

RE: which instrument has the most egomanical idiots?

here’s the deal, folks. some of you know this already, but i’m gonna come right out and say it.

batshit crazy isn’t married to a single instrument. it knows no bounds. you can, however, measure it by degree of talent.

think of it as a giant tree with three categories of rings – the outside most populated, the inside least populated.

on the outside are all the frat boys who just bought their first axe at walmart, the douchebags who got up at karaoke night once too often and started to believe the drunk chicks at the bar who fawned all over them, and the pimple-faced computer geeks who are crankin’ out their own special flavor of fruity loops on their PC’s in their bedrooms.

this ring of the tree is the worst, because whether by any fault of their own or not, they’re completely ill-equipped to do anything of merit or value, partly because of their inexperience, but more so because of their ignorant bravado.

the middle ring of the tree is almost a gradient unto itself, because it’s comprised on the outside of those who have stuck with it long enough to get into a band or two, play a couple of gigs at the VFW, and start to think that their own shit don’t stink because they got a little feedback from the honeys at the trailer park. in the middle of the gradient are guys who have been playing for years, who’ve got some serious mileage on them, have maybe had some degree of success, and maybe made a record or two…and have developed either a mental disorder or a chemical/alcohol dependency to quell either their self-hatred or their disillusionment with the world, because nothing turned out the way they thought it would, or the way they felt they deserved.

the inner ring of this gradient is composed of people like syd barrett and ryan adams and kurt cobain and jaco pastorius and charlie parker, et cetera…people who were just so fucking brilliant that they couldn’t help but be as nutty as a stuckey’s pecan log. makers of beautiful music and master purveyors of batshit crazy.

the inner ring is comprised of the fewest people….guys who play their asses off, are incredibly talented, and yet they manage to be personable, funny, easy going, and humble.

the absolute best musicians i’ve ever worked with had almost no ego whatsoever – because they’ve developed their talent to the extent that there are no lingering self-doubt issues. they know (whether they convey it or not) that they’ve got the goods, and they don’t need to shoot you down or “put you in your place” to prove it. they come in to a gig or a session, play their asses off, smile and enjoy the company of their fellow musicians, and go home at the end of the night content in the knowledge that they just knocked one out of the park.

batshit crazy is at its highest concentration on the outside of the tree, its lowest on the inside. same can be said of talent.

as an aside, a music store owner friend of mine once told me that someone sponsored a survey some years ago regarding rental defaults – which instruments were the most common victims of rental theft and rental default, and they found that instances of rental default increased with the diminishing amount of talent necessary to play the instrument in question.

least to most:

strings (violin, viola, cello)
keyboard and keyboard-related
DJ equipment

pretty telling, although whether it ties into batshit crazy or not is debatable.

now, you might ask why i’d be bringing this up when i’m supposed to be talking about a dan may show at sellersville…and you’d be well within your rights to be curious.

with dan may and company at sellersville
with dan may and company at sellersville

the reason it occured to me at all was because of the circumstances of the show…dan and the band were opening for vonda sheppard, who was travelling with a road manager/front of house soundguy and two musicians – a bassist and a guitar player. there had been a communication snafu regarding backline, and bruce ranes put me in touch with her road manager, and we managed – in the course of just a couple of phone calls – to get everyone on the same page. they needed a guitar tech, and i offered to take the job so they wouldn’t have to hire someone blindly, and i brought a couple of amps for her guitarist, james ralston, to try out – he’d asked for my deluxe reverb, but knowing the room as well as i do, i brought my princeton for him to check out as well, and he ended up using it instead (i also had the modded vibrolux reverb out in the car…just in case). the band came in and were very gracious and appreciative of the fact that we’d rustled up the backline for the show – they were friendly, easy to talk to (and work for, in my specific experience), and invited tommy and i up for the encore, which included “searching my soul”, “chain of fools”, and “tell him” (i played lap steel on all three).

seriously…four of the nicest people i’ve ever come across in this kind of situation.

dan and vonda after the show
dan and vonda after the show

sometimes in these shows where you’re opening for someone, there’s an air of superiority that’s lorded over you during soundcheck. you’re treated like caterers or worse…you’re snickered at, marginalized, or otherwise belittled (even if not outwardly, because hey – nobody does THAT anymore) and eventually, you’re “allowed” to go up onstage and play your own shit THROUGH your own shit for a few minutes, then hustled off so that the headliner can come up and abuse your stuff however they see fit, and then scurry offstage the minute they’re done without so much as a “thank you”.

now, it should be said that my absolute worst backline sharing experience at sellersville is head and shoulders above the scenario i just described, but there have been a couple of moments that have bugged me out in the past…which is what makes it so refreshing when you get to work with musicians who are confident enough in their own abilities to accept what life throws at them and work through it anyway. in my experience, the backline request can be interpreted as everything from “a loose guideline to what we’d like to have available, as long as the gear is in the spirit of what we’re asking for” to “if i said i wanted a ’67 blackface deluxe reverb, it damn well better BE a ’67…not a ’66 or a ’68, but a ’67. period.”

and in those latter instances, it’s usually some douchebag who reads waaay too many articles in vintage guitar that makes a stink about his amp…and often, they’re playing something like a mexican fender telecaster through it – or some other cheap guitar that certainly doesn’t perform well enough in their hands to warrant the expense of going out and hunting down their Specific Flavor Of Impossible.

i’m not sure why i feel compelled to vent about every other asshole on the planet to illustrate what great people the vonda sheppard crew are, but i’ve obviously got a bit to say about it…but i guess it’s just like anything else – when the bar is set overly low, you really stick out when you come in way above it.

the view from the tech nest
the view from the tech nest

for instance – since i had agreed to tech for vonda’s guitarist, i brought in my boss TU-12 tuner…which i thought to be something of an industry standard for stage tuning – and yet, when i’d tune james’ guitars, they’d always be just a hair flat compared with his stage tuners. it goes without saying that some guys would shit their pants in this situation, but james just tweaked everything in on the first pass, and he tuned from the stage for the rest of the show…without a single complaint.

and this, my friends, is just the kinda guy i referred to in my velvet rope post leading off this diatribe…“guys who play their asses off, are incredibly talented, and yet they manage to be personable, funny, easy going, and humble.”

so, anyway…there was a dan may set in the midst of all this man-love for vonda’s band – yes, there was.

because we were bringing the backline, we had – shall we say – a degree of flexibility, in terms of how we manned the show. we opted for something similar to the steel city/XPN shows a few weeks back, and we did a basic guitar/bass/drums instrumentation with the full vocal onslaught (since heather is back in the fold now, perky as ever).

barebones at sellersville
barebones at sellersville

i’m getting the sense that dan is finding a degree of fulfillment from this particular flavor of stripped-down-ness, especially since anthony is back among us and we’re finally getting to explore everything that he and i are capable of…and it’s sounding great, but i’m looking forward to getting to do one or two more “full strength” shows at some point down the road. i also want to try to start making some time to explore bookings…it’s been difficult to find the time of late to put in the necessary phone work and such, but change is in the wind and there’s no guarantee that this will be the case for much longer. but, i speculate. who the hell knows?

dan may, et cetera at sellersville
dan may, et cetera at sellersville

at any rate, it was one of those gigs where everybody loved everybody else at the end of the night, and you can never have too many of those. the folks at sellersville feel like family to us, and i see some of them more often than i’d choose to see some folks i’m related to…it’s easily in the top three of my favorite places to play, and i don’t see it going anywhere anytime soon.

jd malone and craig bickhardt – doylestown and phoenixville, PA

me, jd, and tommy geddes at puck
me, jd, and tommy geddes at puck

first of all, these shows are too few and far between – i feel like i see less and less of craig of late, and although i understand why, it doesn’t mean that i don’t miss playing with him.  and…this is the first JD band show since our puck gig that we did without jim miades on bass, which feels like ages ago.  before that, i guess you’d have to go back to the spring and the wilmington flower market show.

that’s too long between band shows.

j.d. apparently feels the same way, because we’re starting to pick up a few more of them…we actually had back to back shows this weekend, starting with puck (opening, as a trio) on friday night and headlining steel city on saturday night, with craig bickhardt doing a special set as well.  (and, of course, yours truly on double duty…and i wouldn’t have it any other way.)

i got to puck a little later than i wanted to, and that was even after having left work early to make sure that i got a healthy head start.  i was early enough, under the circumstances, though…not so late as to freak anyone out, anyway.  when i walked in, though, jd and tommy were just starting to get situated on stage, and there was nothing else up there…not a single instrument.   i put my stuff down and kinda looked around, confused…tommy must’ve read my thoughts and said, “yeah…jd made the headliner strike all their stuff so we could set up.”

(the reason that’s funny is that – one, that never happens, and two – it’s usually the other way around…the opener has to strike their stuff and hustle up when it’s time to play and then get their crap out of sight as quickly as possible.)

the reality, though, was that it was a four piece acoustic band…a single guitarist, two fiddlers, and a nyckelharpa player, and they’d stashed all their instruments backstage.

now, i don’t know about you, but i’d never heard of a nyckelharpa…and i don’t seem to know anyone else who knows what it is, either – judging from the confused looks i’ve gotten when i’ve brought it up in the time since.  in a nutshell, it’s a bowed instrument, with two string sets – four noted strings that are played with the bow, and twelve strings tuned to the chromatic scale that are sympathetic (which is to say, they vibrate in unison with whatever note of the scale is played, at the point in time when the note is played…so you have two strings vibrating at the same time based on whatever note is actually being bowed at the time…i think).  instead of fretting the instrument, though, the actual notes are fretted by keys that run alongside the neck of the instrument that actually serves as frets when pressed, as they make contact with the string at graduated junctures up and down the neck.  all i can really say about it with any authority is what i was told by her father about the instrument, and what i’ve managed to dig up about it on the internet…well, that and how it sounds.

its body is much deeper than that of an ordinary violin, and that (combined with the sympathetic strings) give it a significantly different sound than a standard violin, and the fact that you don’t fret the instrument the way you would a violin/viola/etc made it immediately attractive to me.  now, where i end up going with that is anyone’s guess, but for the time, i’m still very much inspired by what bronwyn bird was able to do with this instrument during their set on friday night.

(interestingly, when we looked this thing up on wikipedia, bronwyn’s picture was on the wiki page for the nyckleharpa.  props. 🙂 )

mandolin with jd at puck in doylestown
mandolin with jd at puck in doylestown

yet, when we showed up to soundcheck, all this stuff was totally out of sight…so i plopped my newly returned princeton reverb on the stage, plugged in the few pedals i needed, and was almost entirely ready to roll right then, but i guess some degree of tuning was necessary, so i got that out of the way, too.  i then proceeded to the bar, where i downed not one, not two, bur THREE samuel adams cherry wheat drafts.

they were sooooo good i couldn’t help myself.  and this is coming from a guy who typically doesn’t drink before a show, too.  good stuff.  GOOD stuff.

now, the other highlight of the night that had nothing to do with me or the band i was playing with was this scrappy bartender kid at puck named mike wilkins.

JD yells out for him during soundcheck, so he comes up to the stage and takes JD’s guitar and proceeds to play this song…the title of which i won’t reveal here, because if i do, then every pun-hungry nashville wannabe is gonna spill their coffee bolting for their legal pads.  he absolutely knocked me out, though.  then, the show starts…he comes up and does TWO songs and they’re BOTH phenomenal.

i hope good things happen for him, and that he’s smart enough to stay out of his own way…if so, this page will be turning up in search results for his name in pretty short order.

for us, the set itself seemed somewhat anticlimactic, knowing that we’d be playing with the full band the following night, and for a full set as well.  still, we got up there and gave it what we had, and (if i might say so myself) had a pretty solid set.  JD got the board mix afterward, and he was thrilled…so if he’s happy, then i’m happy. 🙂

oh, and did i mention that they have samuel adams cherry wheat on draft?

oh. ok.

so, the next night was the one we were really looking forward to…the one with craig on the bill and with the full band in tow.  so of course, i show up loaded for bear – lap steel, pedal steel, banjo, mandolin, baritone guitar, mandoguitar – the whole nine yards.  i was ready to friggin’ ROCK.

a rare banjo shot, steel city in phoenixville
a rare banjo shot, steel city in phoenixville

but then i get there and SOMEbody (cough*tommy*cough) had made the decision before i got there that we’d forego setting me up over on the little island where i usually set up, and that i’d be at stage right, next to the soundguy.  i wanted to be irritated, but as it turns out, i had enough room for everything but the pedal steel, and i would’ve only used that on a couple of songs anyway…so it was all good.  i had more than enough room for everything else, and i probably could’ve forced the issue with the pedal steel if i’d really wanted to, but i just left it in the car.  it wasn’t as important as i would’ve liked for it to be.

where i have to give props to my boy is that, whether he had intended it or not, having everyone up on that same level made quite a difference when it came to hearing everyone and being able to interact as a band – avery, specifically, said several times how nice it was to actually be able to hear what i was doing.  during craig’s set, too, it was much easier to blend myself into what i was hearing onstage – craig actually came up to me after the show and asked if i’d been working through the songs lately.  i wanted to say, “no, it’s just that the last couple of times we’ve played together, i played so badly that i could only go up from there.”

i discussed this a bit in a previous blog entry, though…how the mental aspect of being able to hear everything in perspective is such a huge factor in the performance that you’re able to turn in.  if i needed any proof, i got it on saturday night.  i felt like i was totally locked in with everyone else, and i’m sure it reflected in what i chose to play, and how i executed it.

something has to be said about the crowd as well.  SOLD OUT.

folks were starting to file in as i was finishing my setup and tuning everything, and i thought to myself, “wow…this is kinda nice.  there’ll be a solid crowd tonight.”

then, as i was finishing up, wendy came in with jayda in tow, and i got them a seat right up front, and i was sitting there talking to them, and it really started to fill up.  my buddy rob nagy came in and i had them bring a table up from downstairs and sit it down right behind wendy and jayda so they’d be close enough to take everything in…i went downstairs to put bags away and decompress for a few minutes before going back upstairs for the show, and the place was mobbed – packed to the gills.  fern told me that they actually went one over capacity (how does that happen?  how do you just go one over?  hmmmmm….).

craig bickhardt at steel city
craig bickhardt at steel city

craig came up to a wellspring of applause, and we opened with “you’re the power”, which i played baritone guitar on (although, in fairness, this night was the first time we’d ever done it together), and i could feel the amp under my feet, the bottom end was so tight.  i’d just gotten the amp back from tim warneck, my service tech, the afternoon before the vonda sheppard show at sellersville, and these two shows this particular weekend were the first time i’d gotten to play through it myself…james preferred it to the deluxe for the show, so i used the deluxe for that gig.

the one thing that still sticks in my craw, somewhat, where craigs’ sets are concerned, is that i have to start sticking with dobro for the songs in his set that require the slide element.  the lap steel just isn’t cutting it, and i should have figured this out by now.  perhaps for some of the ballads it might work, as a lindleyesque ornament, but for the stuff that’s the staple of the live show right now, dobro is where i should be going.  for “real game” and the like, it’s the better voice.  that’s all there is to it.

other than that, though, i felt really good about my performance with craig on saturday, and i needed that.  i’ve felt anything but good about other recent shows with him, and i felt like i needed to turn in a solid outing for this one to make amends for some of the others…and obviously, he noticed.

the bottom end - baritone and bass guitar.
the bottom end - baritone and bass guitar.

the break between the two sets was pretty short, and we went right into JD’s set…we’re still using “still love you” as an opener.  i can see that, from a certain perspective, but just once i’d like to open with “silver from” or something equally – potent?  maybe for the flower market show this spring or something. 🙂

as i had mentioned before, i do think that the fact that we set up so close together had something to do with it on one level, but the band was a steamroller that night – after the first couple of songs, it was almost as if the songs were playing themselves at some point.

it’s funny – the other day, i was talking with john lilley, and he asked me how i was able to remember all the stuff i had to remember between his band and the other bands that i work with.  he said it with a chuckle, but i could tell that he really wanted an answer to the question…i think partly because he was genuinely curious, and partly to lay his own worries to rest about my preparedness to play in his band.  it was actually a somewhat tough question to answer…but, in essence, i told him about how i was a student of what i call “the lindley method” – learning the academic angle of what it is you’re tackling, and then just turning off your brain and letting your subconscious take over.

i’ll let david explain:

(from an interview in acoustic guitar magazine)

Your solos tend to be very melodic. Do you work out your parts in advance, or are you improvising as you go?
LINDLEY: It’s a combination of [finding] what works and stretching.   I’ll try a few different things and try to remember the licks that seem to be good.   A lot of times on the road I’ll fall into playing the same things.   If the sound is bad, I’ll find myself playing the same old thing.   If the balance is good, if the sound is right, then I’m more willing to take chances–the subconscious stuff comes out.   What I’ve tried to do, especially playing with Jackson, is to get into a place where it’s automatic.   It just comes on, and you are watching yourself, like you’re looking over your shoulder.   That’s the best of all, when you are watching yourself play.   You actually get to sit back and say, “Where did that come from? Don’t ever do that again!”   So it’s a combination of those things: finding what works, and then “let’s mess with it.”   And then some things just seem to come out without even trying.   Gifts.   Evidence of something beyond.

(and on the same subject, in vintage guitar magazine)

You always seem to be coming from some fresh angle and direction that’s not necessarily what you did before, not what anybody would expect.

LINDLEY: Yeah, yeah.   You can’t form that thought in your brain when you play.   It’s a subconscious thing.   When you play a solo, you don’t really play it; you kind of watch what’s going on.   It’s a split second – it makes itself known.   Like peripheral vision.   You kind of see it or smell it or whatever it is when you’re playing.   It’s kind of the same thing in archery.   You can’t think about all the mechanical things and compound bows and the aim – you can’t think about it.   You don’t think; the bow goes off, and the arrow goes in the X-ring – if you’ve done it right.

So you play until it’s second-nature.   You practice your form until the form is automatic.   Like the Korean Olympic team: a thousand arrows a day.   It’s proven that any kind of thing, if you do it a lot, and you do it the right way, then you get really good.   Thousand arrows a day.   It goes right in there, at 90 meters, the size of a grapefruit.   Pretty amazing.   Practice it until it’s second-nature to you – and then you play.

But it has to be an automatic thing, because you really screw up if you think, “Now I’ll do this, now I’ll do that.”   You can’t think that hard.   The automatic part of it you have first – the technique and all – and then you put the emotion and other stuff in there.

Not everybody can do that kind of thing and pull if off. I fail a lot.   When that happens, that’s when you have to fall back on all the mechanical stuff and technique.

now i’m not going to sit here and tell you that i have this particular technique mastered or anything so absurd as that, but it’s what i try to do when it comes to stepping onstage with someone, or working on someones’ project in the studio…i try to turn off my brain and let the things that i’ve learned over the years ebb to the surface.  i’ve found that on the occasions when i’m successful at doing that, i’ve had my best nights.

saturday night with JD was one of those nights.

no fun aloud, boys....
no fun aloud, boys....

everyone seemed to bring their A game…we could hear each other, the crowd was superb, and everybody played their asses off.  what started for me with craigs’ set continued on through JD’s set…everything i asked my fingers for, i seemed to get.  everything seemed to go right…every chance i took paid off, every weird idea i got somehow landed on its feet.

jayda (who had seen JD once before, in a duo show that he and i did) was so impressed that she wants to bring her mom to a show.

that’s a statement in and of itself.

goodbye, 2008.

while it’s true that i tend to be a bit more reflective and nostalgic towards the end of each year, i think i’m finding that it’s especially true this year.  in looking back over my calendar a bit, i think i’m getting a clearer picture of why that might be.

this has been one hell of a year.

i don’t know if i remember a year that had quite so many mile markers in the space of one calendar as the one that’s currently fading into the history books…which is not to say that all of those signposts were harbingers of good news – this year has had its share of losses and setbacks as well, from losing robert hazard to watching friends battle serious illness (some successfully, some not so much).  still, when i look at the end net result, i can’t help but feel really good about the growth of my family and what i’ve managed to accomplish in 2008.

so, since i’m feeling all this gratitude, i thought i’d run down some highlights here, in chronological order.  feel free to read on and celebrate with me if you like.

january:  a call from robert hazard

late in the previous year, i did a show with patsy foster…a one-off show at chaplins’ put together by my good friend dean sciarra (who also runs the label that distributes my solo recordings).  the bassist on that show was a guy named michael radcliffe, who i’d heard about but had never had the opportunity to play with up to that point.  shortly after christmas, i got a call from michael asking if it would be ok to give my number to robert hazard…apparently, robert was looking for someone that he could do duo shows with as well as the band…someone who played multiple instruments.  michael remembered me from the pasty foster show and wanted to pass my information along…and i gave him the go-ahead.  robert called a couple of days later and we talked for quite some time, and he struck me as the opposite of what i’d heard about him from other musicians who’d worked with him in the past…he had a reputation for being difficult in certain circles, but i didn’t hear that in the guy i spoke with on the phone.  obviously, it’s not the best indication of a persons’ character, but i wasn’t put off by him in the least.  he invited me to his home for the weekend in old forge, new york on my first available weekend off, and we’d get together and see how it felt.

this was all happening in confidence, apparently – as he was planning to shake things up in his current band and hadn’t discussed this with them yet…so i had to keep it under my hat.

for the moment.

meanwhile, i had a date on january 26th at steel city coffeehouse, opening for robert and his band…so he’d be able to suss me out at that point and decide whether or not he thought i’d be the right guy for the job.  fate definitely picked the right gig for this particular round of scrutiny, because it was one of the best shows jd and i had ever done together.  “you were so locked in with him up there,” robert said to me later that night after everyone had packed up.  “that’s what i need…someone sympathetic.”

i wasn’t sure i knew exactly what he meant at the moment…but i had a notion.  and after going to his myspace page and listening to the first verse and chorus of “i still believe in you”, i knew i wanted to do this.

february:  idlewheel and dan may hit the road

(complete tour diary can be found here.)

idlewheel in february
idlewheel in february

was it a lot of work?  hell yeah.  but i loved it.  i got to go out and play with both bands on this jaunt.  with dan it was in my usual role, where his band is concerned – acoustic guitar and vocals.  but with idlewheel, it was a maiden voyage with some self discovery involved.  up to that point, idlewheel was a joint songwriting/recording project for craig bickhardt and jack sundrud – and for these shows it remained as such, with members of dans’ band augmented by tommy geddes on drums backing them up.  but this string of shows definitely cemented their status as a live entity as well.   i got to bring a host of my tricks to the table, and although i was sporting a bit of a cold for the dates, we pulled it off, and in pretty healthy fashion, i think.  we did the turning point, landhaven, the tin angel, the cutting room, and lois and gregs’ house concert series…and had a blast.   plus – i found myself in the arduous position of singing high harmony over the guy who sings high harmony in poco.  chew on that for a minute.

march 3rd and 4th – “he wore number one”

kalahskip wrote this song for the movie “a baseball life: the richie ashburn story”, and asked me to come in for two sessions to play on the song.  he had sent me a rough mix of the demo, and – as i’m prone to do – i heard a litany of various possibilities for what i could potentially add to it.  i ended up doing one night of instruments and one night of backing vocals, and played pedal steel guitar, baritone guitar, mandolin, and twelve string electric guitar on the track.

the engineer on the session was a talented guy named kalah higginbottom, who was a breeze to work with and did an amazing job on the sessions.

after having worked with skip and craig white from philly international on “lucky man” for the “invincible” movie, the bar was set pretty high.  craig and i hit it off and we’ve been really good friends ever since, so kalah had a lot to live up to, but the finished product speaks for itself.  nicely done.

april 4th – 7th:  off to ohio with dan may

kurman sleeping in traffic on the turnpike
kurman sleeping in traffic on the turnpike

this would mark my fourth trip to ohio with dan in the time since i joined his band almost exactly a year prior to this weekends’ shows.  this trip, there were two shows lined up for the trip itself (we played the first friday concert at appel farm the friday night before we left).  the first was a benefit show for a cancer center, newly built and having their open house to introduce themselves, and the second at stillwater in sandusky, where we’d had a magical show on a winters’ night there the previous december.  this time, though, we took alan, mike kurman, and benny (our erstwhile percussionist), along with heather and myself.  kurman and i drove out and back together…the trip out there was uneventful, but on the trip back, we encountered a huge backup on the turnpike due to not one, but two tractor-trailer accidents in relatively close succession, within miles of one another.  and, of course, let’s not forget my karaoke rendition of dan’s second favorite styx song (hehind “babe”, his unseatable all time favorite), “come sail away” – sung as a duet between yours truly (as himself) and yours truly (as eric cartman from “south park”).   talk about your moments…they’re probably still talkin’ about that one.

"i-i-i-i'm saiiillling ay-waaaaaay...."
"i-i-i-i'm saiiillling ay-waaaaaay...."

also noteworthy on this trip was my highest ever bejeweled score..well into six digits.  i don’t remember what the number was (obviously), but the game took so friggin’ long to play that i was pausing it and carrying it around on my iphone almost the whole day on saturday.

‘course, we could talk about benny and his room with the jacuzzi in it and what might’ve or might not have happened the night after the first gig, but that would all be conjecture and there’s no proof of anything, anyway, so what would be the point?  well, other than to plant the seeds of doubt in the minds of you, the reader….and we’re above that.  so, so above that.

april 14th:  the official premiere of “richie ashburn: a baseball life”


skip, wendy, and an anonymous phanatic
skip, wendy, and an anonymous phanatic

i’d never been to a movie premiere before, and subscribed to all the same assumptions most people probably have about how they go down…for something like this one, though, it was a very different affair.  still formal on a lot of levels, in terms of dress code and pomp and circumstance, but it was a pretty emotional affair.  emceed by harry kalas and attended by generations of philadelphia phillies luminaries – everyone from mage mcconnell to garry matthews and a ton of folks in between, including the widow ashburn…you could tell that there was a lot of love put into this project, from start to finish.

there was a short introduction and a lot of “thank yous” prior to the actual showing of the movie, and there was a huge contingent from richies’ family there who had come in from the four corners of the earth for this event…so just from that perspective, there was a feeling in the air of how important this guy was to philadelphia sports fans – and they’re not an easy audience.   the movie itself was an obvious labor of love, and told richies’ story in a way that made someone like me, who wasn’t around for all those years he played baseball in philadelphia, or called the games for the fans who watched and listened at home, wish i had been here to experience what it was that made him special.

april 26th:  robert hazard photoshoot and performance

ok, so it’s time now to unveil the new band…which means, of course, that new photos have to be taken.  which means that i have to go out and find some clothes appropriate for said photoshoot.

maybe you’re aware of this, maybe you’re not…or maybe you’ve come to the conclusion all on your own from perusing the photos on my site or on myspace…but i’m not exactly what anyone could call a clothes horse.  so, naturally, this causes me some distress.  one of the great things about dressing down most of the time is that i can veil my handicap with regards to some of the goofy choices i’m inclined to make where clothes are concerned.  i have zero confidence in my ability to dress myself past a certain point on the scale, and i’m certain that it shows in those rare instances where it’s required of me.

what would be the final incarnation...
what would be the final incarnation...

robert was one of the first people i worked for who made this an issue…or, perhaps better said, a priority.  i had heard stories about prior instances that would point to a borderline obsession with the issue, but i never really experienced that with him.  in fact, the subject never once came up until after we’d done one show together already, when he mentioned that he liked having the band dressed within a certain motif…it came up out of a discussion about cowboy boots, when i’d mentioned that i had a hard time playing pedal steel wearing anything that didn’t have a rounded toe on it, and it evolved from there.  he wasn’t overly insistent on a specific style or anything, though…with me, anyway.  most of the shows we did would find me wearing either a plain black dress shirt or my old standby brown flannel shirt, or just a plain black t-shirt at times.

for the photoshoot, i brought along a few choices and told robert and the guys that they could vote on what they liked best, and they went with the black dress shirt that i ended up wearing for a lot of roberts’ shows.

pre-photoshoot soundcheck at milkboy...
pre-photoshoot soundcheck at milkboy...

andrew orth was the photographer, assisted by two incredibly hot women – one of whom i’ve gotten to know over time, the other i’ve never seen again, sadly.  the actual band photos took only a few minutes, although he spent a bit more time with robert getting some solo shots before the show actually started…and the shots came out great.  in fact, i just met up with andrew the last weekend in november and he gave me a print of one of the band shots and a CD with some of the others he took that day on it…quite a keepsake from a memorable show.  it was, in some respects, my coming-out party with the band, and everyone who was there had nice things to say to me about the show and the band.  and, i have to admit, when you replace someone in a unit like that, you never know exactly how you’re going to be perceived…so there was a degree of comfort after that show based on how people responded to us.

may 1st:  dan may at tupelo music hall, londonderry NH

dan and myself onstage at tupelo music hall
dan and myself onstage at tupelo music hall

this is one of those rooms that you walk into and you just know that the people who run this place get it.   they understand how to book, promote, and produce shows, and they’re intimately familiar with who their audience is, and they put zero energy into trying to be all things to all people.  we were there as the feature artist for their open mike night, and as such, we got to meet some of the folks who play there on a regular basis…still instantly recallable to me are scott ferguson, a great songwriter and super nice guy, and lori diamond, who is so stunningly beautiful that she turned me into a stammering idiot with a vocabulary comprised solely of single-syllable words.  we had a great mini-set, and were invited to set up another appearance when something hit the table, and at some point we’ll make that happen…

may 8th:  with skip denenberg, opening for marshall tucker band at sellersville

with skip at sellersville
with skip at sellersville

i lobbied hard for skip to get this show – i’ve been a huge tucker fan since i was a kid, and i wanted to see them for myself.  i knew from having heard reports through the grapevine that dougs’ voice isn’t what it once was, and was willing to cut him a lot of slack – but it turned out that it wasn’t necessary…he actually sounded pretty good that night.  david muse (original firefall member) was with the band that night on keys, flute and sax, and he and i got to talk a bit before the show.  i got some great shots of the band from my vantage point at the corner of the stage, and was really impressed with clay cook, dougs’ nephew – great player.  chris hicks was also very gracious to me, and a genuinely nice guy.

the thing i was impressed with about these guys was that they were pretty much self contained…they have a crew and a bus and they use their own backline and they work their asses off.  they also have (as do most of the other bands i’ve gotten to know with their heritage) a huge family network that comes out to the shows that have become a large, nationwide, extended family.  there were folks there who greeted the band by name, and the band knew them and greeted them like you would a fellow attendee at a family reunion…asking questions about kids and jobs and family and the like.  it made it pretty obvious why they’re able to continue to have a career to the extent that they have.

may 16th – robert hazard on the radio and at the tin angel

robert and i on scott birneys' radio show
robert and i on scott birneys' radio show

to be filed under the “getting up at the asscrack of dawn” category for this particular year would be getting up and out of bed in time to be in newark, delaware for a morning radio show…it was painful, but the drive wasn’t as bad as it potentially could’ve been had it been a little later in the morning – which was a good thing, because the weather was atrocious – rainy and rather cold for this late in the spring.  the show was a lot of fun, though…scott birney is a pretty seasoned interviewer and asks good questions, and robert seemed to enjoy himself.  robert and i had a good set (although i probably would’ve chosen something else to replace “everybodys’ talking”) and afterward, a bunch of us went to lunch – wendy and i, along with robert and bob ross, who’d set up the radio appearance.   the thing about lunch that sticks in my mind now is talking about roberts’ upcoming 60th birthday…i remember being a little shocked that he was as old as he was, because you’d have never known it from the way he carried himself.

after we ate, wendy and i headed north up I-95 towards philadelphia, pulling into a rest stop to sleep a bit – we had a tin angel show that night, and george manney was coming in to do a video shoot and to interview robert for a documentary on philadelphia’s music community that he’s been working on for a long time.  (i wasn’t prepeared for meeting george’s wife…wow.  you’re a lucky guy, buddy.)  🙂

at the tin angel with robert hazard

over time, i have gone from coveting the opportunity to play at the tin angel to dreading it mightily…i hate the parking situation, both the parking in and of itself and how much it costs – i hate lugging all the gear that i have up the steps, and i hate having to press through people up and down the wall to get from one end of the room to the other.  now that george pierson no longer works there, the only thing to look forward to at the tin angel is dee – which is not to marginalize that in the least…it’s still reason enough to make the trip.

after we got there, it was obvious that there was no way we were getting everything on the stage – but we figured it out, and we ended up having a great gig.  michael tearson was there, and he came up and sang with robert on “out of the blue” (which we’d just added back into the set), and we all had a blast.

in fact, now that i think about it, that might’ve been the last time i played the tin angel, thus far.

may 23rd through may 25th – on the road and in the round
(with craig bickhardt, don henry, and julie gold)

craig bickhardt, moi, tommy geddes, julie gold and don henry
craig bickhardt, moi, tommy geddes, julie gold and don henry

in the immortal words of dante hicks, “i wasn’t even supposed to be here.”

in fact, i had the entire weekend off – and i went to the first show at godfrey daniels’ just to support my friend, and to see the show.  somehow, though, i ended up helping with the sound for the show the following night (and sitting in for a couple of songs) and going along to NYC for the living room show at the end of the run.

i knew don through the song he wrote for kathy mattea, “where’ve you been” – but i wasn’t terribly familiar with the rest of his body of work.  same with julie gold, writer of “from a distance”…but i got a quick primer on both of their catalogs the night of the first show, when i was but a humble observer.  needless to say, the shows were awesome, and i got to add another notch to my good luck parking streak in new york city.

aside from musical compatibility, there was a personal symbiosis between these three that really made these shows special…i was actually in withdrawals for the days after the shows.  i missed just being around these guys.

and to think that if i hadn’t gone to godfreys’ just to see the show, i’d have missed out on the whole thing.

speaking of godfreys’, by the way…

may 30th – with robert hazard, karen savoca and pete heitzman at godfrey daniels in bethlehem

i lobbied the folks at godfreys’ for this show on roberts’ behalf, not knowing that robert had headlined there in the past – i saw karens’ name on the schedule and, knowing that she and pete had worked with robert on “troubador”, i thought it’d be a great show if they were both on the bill.  i figured it’d be a safe assumption that there’d be some degree of interplay and that it’d be a better show for it.

turns out that i’d grossly underestimated just how good it would turn out to be.

on pedal steel with karen savoca and pete heitzman
on pedal steel with karen savoca and pete heitzman

robert opened, had pete join us for a couple of songs, then karen came up, i joined karen and pete on pedal steel for “colorado”, then robert came back up and we all did “midnight gal” and one other song together…it was just a phenomenal show.  my friend john woolley was there, and i tell him everytime i see him how lucky he was to have been in the audience for that particular show.   those don’t come around very often – where there’s such a connection between everyone on the bill that it’s just one big show, featuring everybody.

that definitely turned out to be the case for this one…and it will go down in history as having been the best show i ever did with robert.

june 1st – jd malone cd release party at chaplins’ in spring city

jd hosts the sunday night open mike at chaplins’, and reasoned that it might make a certain amount of sense to have his CD release party there, and make it right before the open mike – also, he wanted it to be a family-friendly event, and having it earlier on a sunday made that possible.

admittedly, it was a little strange playing chaplins’ with daylight streaming in the windows in the front.  not so strange as to be distracting, but strange nonetheless.

chaplins…i’ll say it here, because it’s nothing i wouldn’t say to any of them to their faces…chaplins has taken a huge downward spiral since the zagorski days.

the band with our fifth beatle at chaplins..
the band with our fifth beatle at chaplins..

two shows – this one and a subsequent one this same year – were almost carbon copies of one another, in terms of how the venue handled themselves.  the artist showed up on time for the load-in, only to find that the venues’ doors were locked and there was no one there.  then, half an hour or so after the agreed time, someone would show up, unlock the door and let us in, only to find that the place was still a wreck from the night before.  in the case of jd’s show, we had to wait another half hour past the half hour we had to wait just for the doors to open, while the person who showed up to unlock the place then cleaned up the mess from the previous show.   then there was no food available upstairs for damn near the entire duration of the show…i wonder how much money they lost in potential sales over that.

but, we were set up and ready to play at the appointed time, and the show went off without a hitch – to include one of my best solos of the whole year, on lap steel during jd’s cover of “hound dog”…on tape, it sounded smokin’…

and, of course, dallas malone, “the fifth beatle”, got up and rocked the joint to the rafters. 🙂

june 3rd – jayda’s graduation ceremony

yeah, she’s all growed up now.  but in my heart, this will always be my jayda:

jayda...back in the day. 🙂
some seventeen years later...

the ceremony itself was pretty much what i expected – tentatively controlled chaos, with a heavy dose of “will this ever be over?” hanging in the air…attended by a healthy majority of people who would rather have been at home, watching survivor – birdsboro wilderness.   it was a shame…it seemed like a lot of the people around us were there out of some thinly-veiled sense of obligation, rather than to watch the child that (one assumes) they raised from birth take their walk across the podium.  in short, it was your typical reading high school assembly…it just happened to be somewhere else.   only barely more civilized than the chaos and mayhem that perpetuated the annual talent shows.

jayda was in her element, though…surrounded by her friends, laughing and happy.  hell, jubilant, even.  it was pretty obvious that she was ready to take on whatever comes next for her, and she proves me right every day.  it was her moment, and i was glad that i was there.  i was, and remain, incredibly proud of her.

june 14th – final show with robert hazard at sellersville theatre

i was looking forward to doing this show with robert, and to playing with the refugees again – i’ve been a huge fan of wendys’ since her letters home album back in ’87, and having known about her as a songwriter since well before then.  i had done a show with them, playing with dan may as their support at puck in doylestown, several months prior, and was looking forward to seeing them again.

robert with his anniversary present
robert with his anniversary present

prior to the show, a fellow comes walking down the aisle with a guitar case in his hand and introduces himself to robert and puts down the case and opens it, takes out the gibson dwight yoakam signature model acoustic inside and hands it to robert and wishes him a happy fathers’ day.  turns out that susan had arranged to have the guitar delivered to him at the show as a fathers’ day present:

robert and i had dinner with two old friends of roberts’ (the wards) who have since become good friends of mine as well, and we went back over to do our set…which felt – i don’t know, strange..for some reason.  normally, it was really easy to sync up with robert and play off him and his energy, but this show just felt disjointed and…weird.  i’m still not sure why, to this day.

i just wish that we’d gone out on a higher note…no pun intended.

robert had seemed pretty wiped out from the time he’d gotten there, and that never really went away.  after our set, he packed up his guitar, and headed out almost immediately…so quickly, in fact, that he left his tuner, his harmonica rack, capos and cords in the dressing room.  i put them into a bag and figured i’d give them back to him the next time i saw him…

…but that never happened.

june 15th – craig bickhardt and dan may at concerts under the stars

with craig bickhardt at CUTS
with craig bickhardt at CUTS

one of several dates i did in 2008 where i accompanied both acts on a bill.

when we pulled in, we were listening to the phillies game on the radio – a game that had been tied by chris coste and had gone into extra innings.  as we loaded in, we had the doors open in the car with the game blasting so everyone could hear it as we were setting up.  it was a few degrees on the warm side of being perfect, but good outdoor concert weather nonetheless.

by this time, my buddy dennis rambo had signed on as my guitar partner in dans’ band, and he and i set up right next to one another in the pavillion behind the upper merion township building where this series of shows happens every summer.  some years prior, wendy and i had seen richard shindell and lucy kaplansky here.  now, the series was undergoing some changes – including a new talent buyer – and we had heard that attendance was falling off somewhat in the past few years…although i had nothing but conjecture to base any of that on.

i had one of the best “craig shows” i’ve had in the time he and i have been working together – the sound was pretty much spot on, i could hear what i was doing, and the mix worked…which is to say that i wasn’t blasting myself out and i had a good blend with what i heard coming from craig and tommy.

july 3rd and 4th – with graham brown…puck in doylestown and national underground in NYC

i bumped into jay davidson at a NARAS function just days before these shows, and he’d mentioned that he was looking for a fill-in guitarist for these dates – somehow, i’d managed not to have anything going on for the weekend, and so i signed on.  we did one rehearsal at jays’ house and off we went…i can’t remember the bassists’ name, but it was erik johnson on drums and jay on keys, with graham and myself on guitars.

jay davidson and graham brown in NYC
jay davidson and graham brown in NYC

grahams’ a good kid, and his dad (who doubles as his manager) is a gregarious, happy go lucky guy whos’ obviously very proud of his son, and has a musical background himself.  we did the puck show as an opener for jays’ band, budda dadda, and the NYC show was the typical “you have an hour to set up, play, and tear down” set in a room that – anywhere else in the united states – would be just another shithole bar with zero credibility or drawing power.  and yet somehow, playing this place is a Big Deal.

i’m still not sure how it is that new york city gets away with some of the shit that they get a pass for.

oh, another thing – since i didn’t get a parking spot right in front of the place, graham is personally responsible for breaking my consecutive “primo NYC gig parking” streak…and as such, is on my shit list.  🙂

july 7th and 8th – recording sessions with jon itkin and dan may at the bitter end, NYC

jon itkin in the studio
jon itkin in the studio

i met jon through myspace, although i don’t know who initiated our cyberfriendship – and he emailed me and asked if i’d be willing to play on an acoustic album that he planned on doing.  he’d had all the songs written, and he wanted to record the album almost entirely live…in the space of two days.  a man after my own heart, i thought.  he’d lined up some stellar musicians for the project, and i was really curious as to how they’d evolve as we got to work on them.  often, when i do sessions, i don’t really get a chance to listen to the material beforehand, and i’ve come to enjoy that aspect of it – because sometimes you come up with better parts by mining your subconscious as you’re feeling something out than you would if you had a few days to stew on it.  i’m a firm believer in david lindleys’ theory, where that’s concerned…he’s said in the past that “if that circuit isn’t working, then you go with what you know…but the subconscious is the better vehicle every time…every time.”  so even in situations where i’ve had days to mull over tracks before playing on them, i’ve made a rule of not picking up an instrument to play along with them until i’m in the studio.  i’ll listen, and let my brain start to hear this instrument or that instrument, and let parts start to solidify in my head, but i don’t play until i’m ready to start working.  so far, so good.

controlled chaos...
controlled chaos...

the sessions themselves were a joy, although i could’ve done with a different airflow arrangement…it was hot as hell in there.  there was a rollaround room air conditioner that, obviously, couldn’t be left on while “tape was rolling”, so it was off much more often than it was on.  at the end of the sessions on the first night, i had a show at the bitter end with dan may, as part of a round for the new york songwriters’ circle – which most definitely required a change of clothes.  i got some very kind words from the soundman about my guitar sound, which – considering how many friggin’ acoustic guitars that guy must deal with on a perpetual basis – was nice to hear.   the gig itself was nothing spectacular – typical new york musicians trying to one-up each other, with dan and i plopped down in the midst of it all – but it was a decent ending to a pretty productive day.  i did, indeed, drive home that night and back to brooklyn the next day to finish the sessions, and brought dylan along for the trip this time.  i highly doubt that it’ll go down as a red letter day in his young life, as he was bored to tears – and had i not been sweating like a pig all day and without a change of clothes or hygeine maintenance, he and i would’ve been heading over to the rockwood music hall after the sessions that night to catch fellow sessioner michael daves playing with chris thiele that night.  but – truth be told – i was more than ready to get out of brooklyn early and head home after the work was done.

the album that we cut over the course of those two days still hasn’t seen the light of day…it will eventually, though.  hell, i’d like to hear it myself. 🙂

july 20th – somerfest with dan may

honest to god, it really was beautiful the whole trip out there.  almost all the way out the turnpike, until about a half hour outside of town, the sun was shining and it was a perfect day.  about half an hour out, though, the clouds became ominous, the breeze picked up, and it became pretty apparent that we weren’t going to benefit from the great weather we’d driven through on the way out there.  and, sure enough, it was raining like hell when we got there.

the directions in and of themselves were strange enough, but we eventually found our way to the small parking lot behind the stage area and started loading our stuff into the area behind the tents and prepped for setup while we listened to the polka band that was onstage before us, replete with liederhosen, matching outfits, and the whole nine yards.

onstage with mike beeson behind dan may
onstage with mike beeson behind dan may

the one benefit of the weather was that there were a lot of people crowded under the tent when we started playing…but not a lot of them really cared about whether there was music playing or not.  it wasn’t that kind of gig, apparently – it was one of those deals where there just happened to be a band playing under a tent somewhere and, if it hadn’t been raining, everyone that was there would’ve been elsewhere freebasing funnel cake or riding something.  it was a fun show, nonetheless, and i’d certainly entertain the notion of going back this year, provided the weather lightning didn’t strike twice in the same place.

oh,  and provided that we could be reasonably certain that the roads were relatively passable in both directions.  you know how it is.

august 1st – a solo acoustic evening at the enchanted fox

i think this might’ve been the only one of these i managed to get talked into this year.

i went to the enchanted fox the first time with dan may for a duo show that – i thought – went over quite well.  it’s essentially a new age store in medway, MA with an upstairs room that’s usually used for yoga classes and such, but on occasion they invite performers to play upstairs in an acoustic, low key setting.

there were two reasons why i accepted the gig, and they were both people-related.

in the "music room" at the enchanted fox

one was that i really felt a connection with rose and her daughter and mike at the enchanted fox – this is a labor of love for them, and they do this out of a sincere desire to bring music that they appreciate to their patrons.  they’re good people, and i respect that.

the other was vernon domingo.

dan met vernon ages ago when they both had small children, back in ohio – vernon is a professor at bridgewater, and – as fate would have it – he was a professor of wendys’ when she went to school there.  i met them both when dan and i stayed at their house when i accompanied dan to the enchanted fox some time earlier, and had found out about the connection then.

with dan may and vernon and beryl domingo
with dan may and vernon and beryl domingo

vernon is also the most eager student of the guitar i think i’ve ever met.  the day after our first show, he and i sat together in his office-slash-studio for several hours, exchanging tips and shortcuts and the like, and his enthusiasm was absolutely infectious.  i loved being able to share the few things i’ve sussed out for myself that could potentially help a player who was just getting a grasp of the instrument, and he was grateful that i was willing to do so.

so, when the opportunity became available to go back and do a solo show, i made sure to include vernon and his wife, beryl, in the equation…and i brought wendy along so that they could get reacquainted, and we capped it off with a drive through bridgewater where she spent some of the happiest years of her life.  i got the five dollar walking tour, and as we started out of town, it began to rain, and it didn’t really let up until connecticut.

august 5th – robert hazard: 1948-2008

i still can’t believe you’re gone, man.


see you on the other side.

august 9th – dan may, musikfest

ok, so i got a little carried away...

everyone who was there pretty much agrees that this was probably one of the best shows the band played all year.  there was a great crowd, the weather was perfect, and we were all “on”.  dennis rambo was in full Rock God mode, and played his ass off, as did everyone else.  we managed to stretch out a bit on a couple of songs, most notably the ending riff on “nightbird” – we managed to string together some nice seques, and i tore my rickenbacker lap steel a new one on “it ain’t you”.

of all the shows we did in 2008, i don’t even have to think for very long to point and that one and say, “that’s the one.  that was the best of the lot.”

although maumee in november gave it a real run for the money….

august 13th – leader of the band: remembering the life and music of dan fogelberg

stage left at sellersville, 8.13.08
stage left at sellersville, 8.13.08

an absolute labor of love.  i started making phone calls in the spring, sending emails and asking the folks i wanted to be a part of this if they’d be onboard with the idea.  the premise was that it would be folks of some import who’d worked with dan in the past or had some connection to his music, and i think i put together a great lineup, if i do say so myself – jim photoglo, who was bassist in dans’ band for many years…wendy waldman and her band, the refugees, who had opened for dan on the exiles tour in 1987 – the year i returned to the US, and saw him twice during his summer run…michael lille, who was lucky enough to call dan a friend during the years he lived in colorado, and an accomplished singer/songwriter in his own right, and my good friend craig bickhardt – who i couldn’t imagine doing this without.

i put a lot of work into the show – i did a phone interview from vernon domingos’ home in bridgewater during our visit that lasted over an hour, i sent out emails, i handled the rider, the financial arrangements with all the participating artists…the original premise of the show was that there’d be a house band that would support all the artists who were playing the show, but we nixed that due to time constraints and rehearsal limitations.

onstage with dan at sellersville...
onstage with dan at sellersville...

the show opened with a single spotlight shining upon a chair with a guitar leaning against it, next to a portrait of dan done by my girlfriend-from-another-life, pat weghorn…then “aspen” began playing and a slideshow commenced on the backdrop behind the stage.  as soon as the intro song ended, i started the riff from “these days” and michael and i walked onstage and started the show.

everyone else did one or two of their own songs, and one or two of dans’…i did nothing but dan’s material, since i didn’t have any real purpose to throwing my own material out there.

and i did ok, until i got to “forefathers” and had to sing the final verse…which concluded with the (amended for the situation) line…

“…and one became this lonely soul who stood here once and sang these songs to you….”

that just about took me out of the equation, right there…but i recovered, got through the last chorus, and was able to pass the baton, and we got through the show.  we sold the theatre out, and every email i got was positive and supportive and thankful that we took the opportunity to do this.

"part of the plan" with the boys...
"part of the plan" with the boys...

for my part, i don’t know if i’ll ever be able to repay the inspirational debt that i owe him, but this sure felt good at the end of the night.

photoglo stayed in town for the week, and we did several other shows together – at chaplin’s, at the colony cafe in woodstock, NY, and at the fuelhouse coffee company in vineland NJ.  after the week was over, we came to refer to it as “a series of ground balls back to the pitcher with a home run in the middle…” – but i think we’re all glad it came together the way it did.   it was one of those shows that was certainly a challenge to put together, but in retrospect – i’d absolutely do it again.  in a heartbeat.

august 21st – a visit to the beard guitars shop with john lilley

i ran into john at robert hazards’ memorial service in philadelphia, and it was the first time we’d actually seen each other face to face…we had talked on the phone several times, going back to my days as the booking agent for chaplins’, and we’d batted around the idea of doing something together, but hadn’t really acted on it.

i had mentioned to him over the phone in one of our conversations that i was planning on taking a couple of my dobros to the beard shop in hagerstown, maryland to have them serviced and have new pickups installed, and he liked the idea of going down, so we planned a trip for the same day.  i had bought two identical regal RD40VS models to use for live work, one in standard bluegrass G tuning, and one in E tuning, and bought them specifically to get them “bearded” – which is to say, to have them gutted and rebuilt with new resonator cones, spider bridges, etc, and to have the new fishman resonator pickup put in – the one that was designed in conjunction with the new fishman aura pedal for dobro.

howard, paul and company treated us both like royalty, and we had a lot of time to chat while we were there waiting to get our instruments done.  they had us both finished and outta there by 3pm or so…which was good, as i had to be at soundcheck at sellersville for a show with blake allen (opening for hal ketchum), and i had planned on using the new setup at the show.

with john lilley, paul beard, and the folks at beard guitars
with john lilley, paul beard, and the folks at beard guitars

i had high expectations, but i have to say that they were still surpassed by the reality of how that instrument sounded through the PA at the theatre.  it was unreal.  i had become accustomed to dealing with woofing feedback in the low end as a result of transforming the entire resonator into a large ribbon microphone by the older version of the resonator pickup i was using…and while it didn’t eliminate the feedback entirely, it’s certainly no more of an issue now than it would be with any other amplified acoustic instrument…and it sounds exactly like it should.

i’ve had lots of opportunities to use the new “bearded” dobros with the aura pedal at other shows, and it never disappoints.  it wasn’t the cheapest pickup system i ever bought, but it really shines when you plug it in.

september 19th – happy birthday, david bromberg

so on this particular afternoon, i get a phone call from john lilley, asking what i’m doing that night.  i had planned on going to a house concert at lee bowers’ place, but it became apparent by lunchtime that day that i wasn’t going to be able to get out of work early enough to go and be there on time, so the evening was open…so my reply was “…nothing after work…why?”

well, it turned out that it was david bromberg’s birthday, and he and bob were planning on popping in, and apparently davids’ wife, nancy, had asked him to pass along an invitation to me as well – so i called wendy and we were locked in.  now, john told me that we were going to be playing a bit, but what i didn’t know was that it was a full-fledged parking lot jam with some of the best bluegrass players i’ve been in the presence of since the days when i used to accompany my ex father-in-law to the festivals back in the day.  dork that i am, i brought my lap steel and my jaguar baritone…just to show the masses how truly clueless i was.  thankfully, david had a full complement of other instruments there, and was very generous in letting others play what he had.

i knew that david lived in the area, but i didn’t really know the circumstances surrounding how he ended up here.  as it turned out, he had gone to school to become a violin maker and repairman some years ago, and he came to wilmington to set up shop.  he has a great building in the center of town that has his shop on the ground floor, and he and nancy live upstairs from the shop in an amazing space…david had all his instruments in the front area where the living room would typically be, and their place was filled with couches and bookshelves and great art and an awe inspiring record collection – i remember, while i was looking through his record collection, saying to wendy that i felt as though i was peeking at his diary.  you can tell a lot about someone from the music they listen to.

so eventually i ended up taking my place in the circle…david let me play his 1930’s dobro, and i flailed my way through a solo here and there, with an embarrassing moment when i totally left the road and flipped down the hill during an unexpected E minor shift in one of the songs.  later, when my turn came around to sing one, i fell back on john denvers’ “back home again” and sat back and listened to some incredible players take some very tasty breaks on a classic song.

it wasn’t until we were getting ready to wrap it up that i saw a familiar looking headstock among the guitars lined up in the front window of the bromberg residence…”is that what i think it is?”, i asked him.  “you wanna try it out?”

yes, it was one of the original hawaiian guitars in the weissenborn style from the early 20th century.  david told me he’d bought it at a flea market in france.  and yes, of course, it sounded amazing…it was (and to date, still is) the only time i’ve gotten to play one of the originals, and i won’t soon forget it.  wow.

october 15th through 19th – idlewheel, the sequel

these old guys will Kick Your Ass.
these old guys will Kick Your Ass.

boy…every time we get to do this, we get a little tighter.  we talked a bit, right after the shows, about the possibility of doing a second idlewheel album and trying to get it done before doing another round of shows…and at the time, everyone seemed interested in following up on it, but somehow it feels as if we’ve wound up on the road to hell, as it were.  good intentions and all.

i want to remain optimistic about the notion, though – because i know it’s not because the folks involved don’t want to do it.  craig’s album is out soon, and jack is in the midst of a second solo album as well, so their attentions are rightfully focused on those projects until such time as they get their legs under them.   i don’t doubt for a minute, though, that there’ll be another idlewheel album at some point in the not too distant future.

even if for no other reason but to give us an excuse to do this every once in a while.  this is, without a doubt, one of the best bands i’ve ever played in.

october 24th – off to florida with dan may

for dan’s mother-in-laws’ eightieth birthday, dan asked me to come down to wintermere, florida with him (just outside orlando) to play a special show for a surprise party they were having for her.   we considered it a “house concert”. 🙂

where's the buildings?
where's the buildings?

in the time that i’ve known dan, i’ve met a ton of his family, close and extended…and i’m still waiting to meet the asshole.  you know the guy…every family has one.  the one guy that everyone avoids at the family reunion, the guy whos’ drunk before volleyball even starts, and ends up picking a fight with a sister or a cousin that has someone crying and running for the house to hide in the bathroom until he leaves…you know that guy, right?  you’ve got one of those, right?

yeah, most of us do….but i haven’t met dan’s, yet.  i know he’s out there somewhere, but he hasn’t surfaced in the two-plus years i’ve known him.

it’s gonna happen, though.  you – whoever you are – you can run, but you can’t hide.  we’ll cross paths eventually.

october 31st – robert hazard tribute show featuring jd malone, nik everett, jan ward and special guest eric andersen

with jd malone at steel city...
with jd malone at steel city...

i know i discussed this show at length in my initial report a couple of months ago, and it’s probably one of the top five shows of the year, for me.  it meant a lot to see susan face to face for the first time since robert passed away, and to play these songs that i truly thought i’d never get to play again with people who loved robert and his music as much as i do.  equally as important for me was the chance to go out to breakfast with everyone after the show and take a few minutes to catch up with each other.

j.d. malone and nik everett pretty much stole this show right out from under the rest of us.  it’s a fact.

j.d.’s version of “wish me luck” and nik’s version of “bound” had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up.  when nik sang “bound”, it was the one moment during the show where i had to make an effort to turn off my brain and point my thoughts in another direction.  it really was that fucking good.

november 4th – yes we can!


now, though, the question becomes…will we?

november 23rd – maumee theater, toledo OH with dan may

another event well covered in the intial entry regarding the show…i’ve seen video of the show in the time since, and i would have loved to have been able to be in the audience and on the stage at the same time.

playin' my western orange gretsch in toledo...
playin' my western orange gretsch in toledo...

the week after we got back from toledo, john gave wendy and i passes to come to the electric factory to see the hooters play their annual thanksgiving show.  we had lanyards, and we could pretty much go wherever we wanted, whether it was backstage or out front.  we both went out front and stood behind my buddy michael tearson for a big chunk of the show itself, but during the encores, i moved around a bit, from the front to the back, and noticed…for what i think must’ve been the first time…the disparity in sound quality on the stage versus what i was able to hear out front.  it hadn’t occured to me before, because i’d never been in a position before to hear what the crowd heard and what the band heard during the course of the same show….but there was quite a difference.

that being said, if we sounded better to the same degree out front that we sounded on the stage, then we must’ve seriously kicked some ass at that maumee show this year.  the band was phenomenal – easily in the league with the musikfest show, if not its equal.  tommy geddes on drums for this show, and the return of anthony newett – my musical soul mate – on guitar.

words fail me.

november 29th – second annual “evening of thanksgiving” with craig bickhardt

stuff.  at milkboy.  yeah.
stuff. at milkboy. yeah.

the only real bummer surrounding this show was the fact that it was double-booked…there was another show immediately following the show we were doing, and we had to hustle our gear off the stage and get out within half an hour of playing the last note.  when the show was originally booked some time before, it was supposed to be the thanksgiving show, and that was it…but some guys’ CD release party ended up on the bill right after our show, which meant two things…one, we had to amend the length of the show – shortened by probably an hour, and two – we all had to leave after the show.  luckily, the bar two doors down (mccloskeys’ tavern) was open, so we all adjourned to the bar down the street once the show was over.  the collins family was there, our buddy art was there, the lovely michelle came along with andrew orth, who took pictures during the gig, as well as some shots of freddie ditomasso before the show….afterward, we checked out the blues duo who were playing in the bar, and matt collins and i hung out outside the bar on the sidewalk with freddie ditomasso, talking about fritter and the old days.

an absolutely sublime night.  one for the ages.

december 31st – new years’ eve in times square

keith and linda leavy, both devoted poco and idlewheel fans, invited wendy and i to come to new york city to spend new years’ eve with them on the 28th floor of 3 times square, where keith works during the day.  last year, keith and a handful of fellow poconuts spent the evening in a conference room overlooking the square and had a great time, and he asked me if i’d be willing to come up and play a few songs during their intimate little gathering, and – big surprise – i said, “sure.”

jamming with rusty young in times square
jamming with rusty young in times square

i didn’t know this when i accepted his invitation, but rusty young and his wife mary were coming as well, with rustys’ son will and marys’ daughter halle.  i brought dylan and jayda along as well, with jayda’s boyfriend, and the poconut contingent was well represented – jon and georgina rosenbaum, claudia upton, keith and linda (obviously)…mark and sharon smith were supposed to join us, but the weather kept mark at home for the night.  dan may told me, after we’d returned home, that someone had said during the broadcast that it was the coldest night on record in the years that they’d been broadcasting from times square on new years’ eve.

i didn’t doubt this in the least, having walked over from the parking garage at 40th and 9th.  🙂

so later on that night, the guitars came out, and dylan and i sat down in keiths’ office to tune up, when rusty came over…and the jam that we were planning on taking to the conference room kinda evolved right there in keiths’ office, where the guitars were stored.  everyone came over and circled around us and we sat there playing beatles songs for a good long while, including a pretty torched up version of “come together”, courtesy of jayda, with rusty on dobro.

dylan, in a completely uncharacteristic move, decided that he wanted to play as well, so i taught him “wonderwall” in a few seconds, and jayda sang that while dylan and i played guitar…and dylan kicked ass, considering he’d never played the song before.  he could probably play it even now, without a hitch.

and sitting there, playing “brand new distance” with rusty young on dobro and my daughter quitely singing harmonies in the background, was a pretty great way to bring an end to a pretty incredible year.

so…what about 2009?

well, for one thing, there’ll be yet another hampton walking around on the planet – for those of you whom i haven’t been able to tell in person yet, we’ll be joined by daniel thomas hampton sometime around memorial day weekend of this year.  we found out that it was a boy when we went in for the ultrasound last week for wendys’ amniocentesis…we’re a little under halfway there, and i’m numbed a bit by all the stuff that needs to take place between now and then.  we seem to be adopting our usual “wait until the last minute and run like hell to get ready” playbook, but that’s not gonna fly with this, and now that the holidays are behind us, we need to put some of the old ways behind us as well.

jayda graduated high school and turned a page on a long chapter of her life, and i think we’re actually closer now than we were before she finished school.  we see a lot more of one another, and she actually comes to shows on occasion…willingly, believe it or not.  she’s a big j.d. malone fan, and she comes to the house to play guitar hero with her brother, whos’ nursing a new computer that he got for christmas that’s become his prize posession.  he and i actually spent an entire evening building it from parts together, and i think he appreciates it more as a result of seeing the whole thing come together the way it did.  we’re all actually making an unstated effort to spend time together and do things as a unit, though…or at least it seems that way.

there are some great gigs already showing up on the horizon…returning to musikfest with dan may, and his debut at godfrey daniels.  jd malone is beefing up the band dates, returning to the wilmington flower market, as well as puck and steel city.  we’re in the middle of sessions for a new record as we speak, and the rough mix version of “got a gun” that showed up in my email last week is smokin’.  i’m not sure what the year holds for idlewheel and/or craig, as he’s focused on promoting his new record (which is coming out in february) and i’m not sure what that means, from a gigging standpoint.  the john lilley project is coming together nicely, and i know that john wants to start working on recording in january and february, so that he can have a record out there by springtime.

this coming year has all the potential to be every bit as amazing as the last one…which, in the course of my life, would be unprecedented.

and don’t think for a minute that i’m not incredibly grateful for every bit of good fortune thats’ come my way.