blake allen (with john waite) at the sellersville theatre

onstage with blake allen at sellersville
onstage with blake allen at sellersville

now that i think of it, the last time blake allen and i got to play together was on this very stage…at sellersville theatre, opening for hal ketchum. tonight, bruce had asked us to open for john waite – which i’d initially thought was an odd pairing. what i’d hoped for was to get blake in front of john gorka, but ben arnold ended up getting that gig…which is an even odder pairing. but – i’m not about to look a gift horse in the mouth, so we took the show, and were glad to do it…besides, if blake had gotten the gorka show, he’d have had to do it by himself, and i’d be sittin’ at home.

blake and i are strange bedfellows, for while i’m allergic to rehearsal, blake is addicted to it. i’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that having me available to him presents a form of sensory overload – he has entirely too many options available to him. this became apparent when we were working on ghosting (his first solo album) together, and we’d pile tracks upon tracks upon tracks on these songs…and then poor marc moss would have to sort through the rubble and debris to piece together what was what – sometimes 40 tracks’ worth – and then strip away stuff until the buried song would resurface.

last night, for instance, on blakes’ new song until the sun, he had me try three different instruments until he decided at last on the pedal steel.

blake at sellersville
blake at sellersville

fortunately for the world, though, he’s much more adept at songwriting than at spur-of-the-moment decision making. 🙂

there were two new songs in the set…the aforementioned until the sun, and another new one (my current favorite) called the leaning tree. they both got the pedal steel treatment, as did horse from the final aunt pat album. it’s still pretty difficult for me to sing and play pedal steel at the same time, even with my microphone down at what i’ve come to call “the rusty height” (meaning roughly the height that rusty young from poco sets his mic and stand…low enough that you can look down at your hands while you’re singing…). but since horse was the only steel song that i knew the words to, it was the only one i sang on. the leaning tree is fast-tracking to becoming my favorite to play, though…the descending harmonic notes on the pedal steel do something really intense to that song, on a mood level.

blake and tom at sellersville
blake and tom at sellersville

i’m not sure what it was that i did, particularly, but all my levels were fine when we walked off stage after soundcheck…yet when we went up for the show itself, things were…quiet. i don’t know what it was, specifically, but i didn’t seem to have the same volume level that i had at soundcheck. so i played through the first two songs (pedal steel), and when i made the switch to baritone guitar for the third one, i went back and jacked the amp up a bit. the baritone is always a little quieter than the other instruments anyway, and i felt like i had to if i was going to be heard for the next song. and, sure enough, it was fine…louder than i’d expected, actually, but i always ride a tight grip on the volume with my right foot, anyway, so it wasn’t the end of the world. after that song, i notched the volume a bit and it was fine for the rest of our short little set.

i played lap steel on long december and actually got a smattering of applause after my solo. that doesn’t happen very often, and i won’t lie and say i didn’t get a rise out of it. 🙂

john waite at sellersville
john waite at sellersville

john and his band were polite, gracious, and complimentary – and as fate would have it, one of the boys (bassist tim hogan) is originally a philly dude. tim and i started talking after the show, and it turns out that we’re both fellow robert hazard alumni…we got the chance to exchange some stories about robert, including a funny one about robert confronting him about whether or not he was seeing roberts’ daughter, corinna…and then it further slips out that he and ronny crawford played in anna nalicks’ band together. i gave him one of my cards and asked him to casually mention my name to ronny next time he sees him…i’d love to see the look on ronnys’ face when he does.

this is par for the course with the rate at which the world seems to shrink on a regular basis for me in this day and age…it really is pretty remarkable.

on the way home, i checked my email on my iPhone and got a note from john lilley that saturday nights’ show at steel city coffeehouse is sold out. that’s the fourth sold out show i’ve played in the past two months, between john’s shows at the kennett flash and this one, dan mays’ kennett flash show, and jd malones’ steel city show…and that’s not counting the shows that were full houses without quite reaching sellout status, like craig’s landhaven show a couple of weeks ago. it’s gratifying in a way i can’t really explain…there’s a degree of validation in having people show up and pay good money to see you in this kind of economic climate.

there really is – as stephen stills once observed – somethin’ happenin’ here.

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j d malone at the blinkin’ lincoln in philadelphia pa

on sunday, during our only rehearsal for saturday night’s blinkin’ lincoln show, i told the guys in j.d. malones’ band that “i was prepared to be pleasantly surprised, but i wasn’t expecting to be…”. based on the manayunk factor, added to the list of people who were already clucking about the place up front, i had made up my mind that it was going to be the third installment in the Grape Street Series – the first being the grape itself, obviously…but when the grape decided it was too cool to be on grape street anymore and moved into bigger, decidedly less friendly and generally douchier quarters on main street, most of the regulars migrated to the dawson street pub…where many of them were already established as dual citizens.

now, though, there’s the blinkin’ lincoln – the aforementioned third installment.

tommy geddes and jim miades at the blinkin lincoln
tommy geddes and jim miades at the blinkin lincoln

the BL was opened by russ, a longtime dawson patron…i’m not sure what the specifics of the story are, but it’s up on ridge avenue – a respectable distance from the pretentious arrogance that permeates main street manayunk, but not so far removed from it as to avoid it entirely. it’s a new endeavor, so there are still a few loose ends (beer and soda being served from kegs and 2 liter bottles, things like that), but you can tell that russ’ heart is in the right place. russ has always had a genuine love for music, and that’s what’s driving this for him. he’s not in there because he sees a void in the philadelphia club scene (which there is) or because there’s an assload of money to be made in running a live music venue (which there isn’t).

the one modus operandi that the BL has embraced which i’d love to have seen go down with the grape ship is the way that shows are run.

and yeah, i realize that they didn’t invent it, nor were they the sole practitioners of the multiple band marathon bill…but enough already. by the time a band takes the stage at midnight, the night has gone on too long. but – then again, if you’re intent on running your nights that long, then chances are pretty good that you’re much more of a bar than a music room…no matter how hard you might try to pretend otherwise. the BL, like the grape, is/was a bar first and foremost. period. it’s a bar that loves music, but it’s a bar.

with tommy geddes at the bar
with tommy geddes at the bar

but – what’s a bar without a bartender? and the BL is blessed to have one of the best in my longtime buddy jake carlin, who will be the best reason to play the blinkin’ lincoln for as long as he’s there. jake is one of those guys who, whether he’s even aware of it or not, gives off such a great vibe that you’re just happy to be around him. he’s also a musician, so there’s opportunity for shop talk, and he’s a good match for russ on the enthusiasm scale. between the two of them, there’s a lot of passion for this place…and i can see why it’s contagious. my hope for them is that it actually materializes into something tangible over time.

the band took the stage at midnight or so…long after i’m already typically on the road home from a steel city show, or something of that endeavor – and it was well after 2 am when we left the club. the show itself was fun…for the band, anyway…i had someone at the edge of the stage after the first song asking me to turn up, and – well, that simply wasn’t going to happen. i was bummed that the room couldn’t hear the band the way the band heard themselves on stage, but if we were to start turning up on stage, it would’ve turned into mush, and no one would have benefitted from that. also, the soundman didn’t approach me once to ask me if i needed anything, if i had anything to go into the PA, nothing. so – no microphone on the amp, and no input for any of the acoustic stuff…which meant the dobro simply took up space all night, and i played the banjo through my guitar amp.

and, yes – it sounded lovely. 🙂

j d at the blinkin lincoln
j d at the blinkin lincoln

the thing i took away from the gig, above the comraderie and the musical experience, was that those axe commercials are apparently more grounded in reality that i would’ve ever thought. that whole bit about women’s behavior being altered by deodorant seems a little outlandish on the surface, but tom goss’s girlfriend shannon was very happy to see me when she walked in the room, and after she jumped on me when she spotted me, i was suddenly very happy to see her, too. later, i gave dani a hug and felt a strange snapping sensation against my chest and realized that i’d broken her bra when i put my arms around her.

now, i’ve heard of guys undressing women with their eyes, but i never would have thought it possible to actually pull that off with your mind. who woulda thought that your humble musician buddy tom was actually a jedi in training?

the force is strong with this one. 🙂

would i go back? sure. i wouldn’t make it a habit, but i wouldn’t mind going back sometime, under the right circumstances. they’re on the right track.

craig bickhardt at landhaven in barto, pa

i’m relatively certain that i’ve spoken about landhaven here before – i’ve had the privelege of playing there a few times, with idlewheel and dan may, but tonight was a solo show with craig bickhardt, backed by the venerable “tommys” – tommy geddes and myself.

with craig bickhardt at landhaven
with craig bickhardt at landhaven

the significance of this particular night was that it was the first live show craig had played since officially receiving copies of his new record, brother to the wind. this was also the first show i’d participated in since that amazing steel city show that we did with j d malone. that show represented a certain amount of vindication for me, since i’d had a handful of pretty piss-poor outings behind craig in the not-too-distant past…and i was hoping to keep the short streak going with this show.

also, i wanted to explore heavier use of the dobro for the slide-oriented songs – i think i’d discussed that earlier, but i just felt as though the lap steel through the amp hasn’t been serving craigs’ songs as well as the dobro would.

and if i needed any proof, i’d get it during the set that night. “donald and june” and “lord franklin” really came to life with the dobro. i used it on “a day well spent”, too – because apparently i brought a little extra bravado with me – and while i think the idea was solid, the execution…well, not so much so. i think i could come up with a great part for it, though, if i sit down with it and shed through it a few times. it’s one of those deals where it’s too much to try to replicate the guitar riff that carries the song, but maybe too lazy sounding to just try to muck around underneath it.

on dobro with CB at landhaven
on dobro with CB at landhaven

if i had to dig for a negative for the night, though, that’d be it – craig was phenomenal, we had a great crowd, new craig bickhardt CD’s were flyin’ off the shelves…we opened with gordon lightfoot’s song for a winter’s night, which we’d never played before…but we fell right into it at soundcheck, and it sounded pretty tight at showtime. in fact, the first two or three songs kinda set the bar for the rest of the show, and you could feel it onstage – in the way that getting a solid jump on the other runners in a footrace lets you pace yourself as such, as opposed to having your options limited to “catch up or else”. it definitely feels good to knock a couple out of the park when you step up to the plate – you can relax and turn your brain off and just play in a way that you can’t if you have trouble getting into a groove.

this was two in a row…i hope we can keep it up through some of the shows we have this summer – there’s some great stuff on the horizon.

dan may at the kennett flash

it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that all of us were a little nervous going into the show – based on what had happened with the john lilley show on opening weekend.

knowing dan as well as i do, i should have taken tommy aside after the gig and conspired to keep that whole thing a secret – because i should’ve known that it’d be a concern going into the show, and that dan would worry about it before we got in there…and worry he did.

‘course, that probably was compounded by the fact that one of his guitarists (yours truly) missed soundcheck.

i had planned to leave work at 3:30, and had that option taken off my plate by some last minute hijinks at work that left all our citrix users forced offline, and i had to stick around until we got that cleared up. but i managed to leave much earlier than i would’ve been able to had i worked until 5 anyway – and yet it still took me an hour and 45 minutes to get to kennett square. the stretch of 202 that runs from the junction at route 100 to the route 1 intersection was bumper to bumper, and i sat there in that mess for 45 minutes. what took me five minutes to traverse with no traffic just killed me for this trip.

so, yeah. i was late. dan was not pleased.

and, probably needless to say, neither was i. in fact, i’d dare say that i was even less pleased than dan was.

with the ric 12 string onstage with dan may
with the ric 12 string onstage with dan may

the opener was soundchecking when i got there, so i brought my gear up to the door at the green room and began unpacking and getting myself together, tuning, running cables and such so that i could get my stuff onstage relatively quickly once they were done. they finished, and the doors were opening, so i just put everything into place and told kenny, the soundman, that we’d do a quick line check before dan’s set started and we’d be good to go.

so, once everything was up and in place, i went into the green room, plopped down on the sofa and just closed my eyes and tried to decompress from the nerve-wracking drive. thankfully, there was an opening act and that meant that i had some time to cool off and regain some composure. if i’d had to set up and go right onstage at the point that i got there, it would’ve been a significantly different show than it ultimately turned out to be.

dan convened everyone in the back hallway for a quick vocal rehearsal of some of the parts that we’ve been putting under the microscope of late – we’ve added some of the songs that were nigh impossible to pull off, vocally, back into the set – “roll”, specifically, among a couple others – and we wanted to make sure that we still had our parts committed to memory. while we were back there, i mentioned to the gang that dewey martin, the drummer from buffalo springfield, had passed away earlier in the week, and that we should do “for what it’s worth” as an encore, if we got the chance. so dan and i ran through it very briefly…maybe thirty seconds of it…and prepared to go out for our set.

"there's something happenin' here...."
"there's something happenin' here...."

for this show, we’d talked specifically about bringing back some songs that we hadn’t done in a while – or ever – and moving some of the songs that we did on a regular basis off the setlist for a little while…in the interest of keeping the show fresh for people who were regulars. and yeah, it was my idea. i just thought that perhaps people who were coming to the shows might like to hear some of the other, deeper tracks on the records, and that maybe we could get through a night without “melinda” or “it all comes down” and make room for some new stuff. i did miss playing them, though…

so we went out to a sold-out room and played our asses off…and it was good.

i didn’t know about this until afterward, but apparently there was a woman passing notes to anthony, asking him to turn his amp down. this happened at least twice, from what dan said…and anthony isn’t one of those people who plays too loud to begin with, so i don’t know what her issue was – i’m guessing that she was just one of those perpetually unhappy souls who ended up there because she was the opening acts’ aunt or something. i dunno.

beneath the very blue lights at kennett flash
beneath the very blue lights at kennett flash

either way, i’m not sure what the outcome of that battle was…but we got through the show with smiles on everyones’ faces – everyone played well, everyone in the audience seemed happy (happy enough for two encores), and it took the room a long time to empty out. bob and ellen behlke from scranton/wilkes-barre were there yet again – so i guess my commute doesn’t really stand up, if i’m looking for something to whine about. everything sounded good, everyone was in good spirits – even with the sound issues that i knew somehow we’d have, it went over really well. we went out for the first encore and did “fate” and “tupelo”, and then dan walked off and i summoned everyone to positions and started playing the intro riff from “for what it’s worth”…and we had the song well underway when dan walked back out onstage.

and yes – we tore it up. 🙂

and to make matters even more interesting, dan turned to anthony afterward and had him kick into “chico and the man”, and dan sang the shit out of it.

i walked offstage laughing and shaking my head. i couldn’t believe we actually pulled that off.

after the show, anthony comes over to me with a familiar looking gig-bag – familiar because it was identical to the one he’d packed his G# guitar in when he loaned it to me, some weeks back (and, it has to be mentioned, has yet to receive it back, as of this date). it contained another G# guitar, this one set up for slide and tuned for lap steel use.

he had asked his friend who makes them to put one together especially for me.

you can really close out a night any better than that.