liz longley and jd malone at kennett flash

so this show was supposed to have been craig bickhardt and liz longley, but craig fell rather ill midweek and had to bow out of not only this date, but also his saturday show at the creekside cultural center – both of which were capably filled by our mutual buddy jd malone. i was able to do the friday night date with jd because, after all, i was already scheduled to play the show with craig…so there wasn’t much adjustment required on my part, save for making sure i brought the banjo that doesn’t really get used in the bickhardt sets.

we were appearing with liz longley, whos’ been on shows with dan may and craig in the past, so we knew each other. liz had also just released her new record the week before, so i was looking forward to hearing some new material from her…as it turned out, the title track became my favorite of the new songs she did during her set…i fell in love with “overdue” when she did it on gene shay’s radio show last christmas when we were on with dan may. she’s the bridge between joni mitchell and dar williams.

now, she and craig are a match…she and jd – well, not exactly on the same level. vocally, liz’s delivery is a very soft, low volume affair, and unlike some singers, she translates that same vocal delivery live. a lot of singers – sarah mclachlan comes to mind – make records with these intimate, breathy vocals and then you see them live and the performance just doesn’t stand up to the record. liz manages to maintain the same restraint in her live shows that she accomplishes with her recordings.

jd, on the other hand, has an almost bob seger-like wallop in his voice…like seger, even jd’s ballads are delivered with his trademark grit, and he could probably do a show in a venue the size of the flash without any PA whatsoever. his voice is a powerful instrument, to be sure. it had to have been a bit of a bear for the guys doing sound, dealing with going back and forth – a lot of places would have just used different channels for the two of them, and repatched between sets, but they dialed it in…different strokes, ya know.

jayda was off work early, and she came along to the show…and gave the food two thumbs up. 🙂

being a jd gig, for me it was baritone guitar, lap and pedal steel, banjo, and dobro (which i shared with johnny, liz’s guitarist during her set)…still using the gibson amp that i bought from bob stirner some time back, and it’s still holding up quite well for dirty stuff, but none of the low-wattage amps i’ve been using for gigging are really cutting it for the clean stuff for pedal steel or baritone guitar tunes…which i’ll have to deal with at some point. even at low volumes, the pedal steel just ain’t workin’ through the gibson.

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dan may – nixon park concert series

with dan may, we’ve had strangely solid luck with outdoor shows. musikfest, rose tree park and the like have almost always panned out for us. even the festival we did last summer in somerset held out for us in the face of odds that it wasn’t gonna happen.

the show in kennett square at anson b. nixon park wasn’t gonna fly, though. it rained before, during and afterwards for this one. but – the gig was rain or shine, so of course we soldiered on.

nixon park with dan may
dan giving some pre-gig instruction to drummer mike beeson...
in ideal weather conditions, this must be a great gig. the stage sits aside a calm body of water that serves as a backdrop for the performing artist, and a narrow access road trails through right in front of the stage (which makes for convienent loading in and out, i have to say), and the audience sits on the slightly pitched hill opposite the road…there’s a small picnic table pavillion roughly a hundred yards from the stage, and this night they were selling refreshments from there (which also made for a convienent place to hide from the elements…but not so good for enjoying the music).

i felt bad for the handful of folks who showed up for the gig, as the entire series is rain or shine…and i’m not a big fan of playing electric instruments in the rain, but the band was under cover from direct rainfall – it was the runoff from the front of the stage that we had to be careful of, as there were a couple of streams that were running right underneath my feet (and, more of a concern, right underneath my pedals). nothing ventured, nothing gained though – and, in the end, nothing fried.

this gig was mike beeson on drums, alan sheltzer on keys, anthony newett and myself on guitars, plus dan and heather – and while the weather had an obvious effect on us, we played a tight set and had some fun.

with dan may at sellersville, opening for paul thorn

i love it when we make a fan out of the headliner.

dan may has been a fan of paul thorn and his music for a long time, and when we got to play in front of him at sellersville, it appears we balanced all that out.

this was a rare sellersville show for us, in that we weren’t providing backline – so we had to find a way to get everyones’ gear on stage in and around the headliners’ stuff. they travel relatively lightly, so it wasn’t as much of a problem as it might’ve been with a larger band, or a band that brought more gear than they did, and it was actually relatively comfortable once we were set up and ready to go. sellersville has a good sized stage for the number of seats it holds, although it has gotten pretty crowded on a few occasions (joan osborne, marshall tucker band) when i’ve played there. even with two bands’ worth of gear up there, though, it felt manageable this night.

paul thorn & band loading in and setting up
paul thorn & band loading in and setting up

we had a videographer come in to record dans’ set, and the final product is being put together at anthony newetts’ studio…he’s going to take the final audio recording from the house console and sync it up with the video – in his spare time, of course. i’m hoping to get either a headlining or a co-bill of some sort set up for sometime in early 2010, where we can record the entire show and possibly release it as a DVD in the spring. something to think about, ya know?

i was familiar with paul via word of mouth – specifically, from dan – but i’d never had the opportunity to hear him live before, and they made a believer outta me. their music is muscular, no-nonsense stuff and paul is a solid songwriter. and, being from the south and all, they were some of the nicest folks we’ve played with. that’s become something of a common denominator with touring bands – there’s a general sense of “we’re all in this together”ness with the bands that have southern roots than there is with bands from other parts of the country.

paul and dan in the lobby at sellersville
paul and dan in the lobby at sellersville

i’m sure there are exceptions, and i’m not saying that bands from elsewhere are all self-important bastards, or anything that extreme – so don’t take it personally, folks. i’m just sayin’ there’s a little extra somethin’ that these boys from the south carry with them that make them a joy to work with.

now, having said that, watch one of them come along and punish me for making such a generalization. 🙂

poco w/special guest idlewheel: concerts under the stars

this show had been a bold date on my calendar from the time i found out we’d booked it. not only because we were on the bill with poco, but because it meant the likely one-night only appearance of our side project, idlewheel.

idlewheel in king of prussia
idlewheel in king of prussia

idlewheel is a bittersweet thing for me. we get these short snippets of time to work with, and the pattern seems strong enough to say that it’s consistent – we get a day to rehearse, then we go out and do anywhere from a couple to maybe four gigs. by the time that fourth gig comes around, we’re as formidable a force as you might encounter. we’ve gotten our feet underneath us, we’re in the pocket, we’re tearin’ it up….

…and then it’s time to go home.

parting is such sweet sorrow, indeed. but, hey – i guess as long as we’re throwing around literary cliches, let’s not forget that it is better than to never have rocked at all.

it really is as much fun as it looks like...
it really is as much fun as it looks like...

i relish our opportunities to do this, so i was hopeful that there’d be at least a brief idlewheel segment to the show, and sure enough i wasn’t disappointed.

we split the show, with a craig solo set (which, in reality, was essentially idlewheel without jack, since tommy and i were accompanying him), and then jack joined us for “little red reminders”, dust of this town”, and “it must be love”.

in the interest of keeping set up and load out as simple as possible, craig had asked that i stick to acoustic instruments only, so i had brought dobro, mandolin, and banjo for the show, and that was enough – we had a relatively short set, and that was all i really needed. i substituted dobro for baritone guitar on “you’re the power” and “this old house”, mandolin for 12 string electric guitar on “it must be love” and i worked out a rolling dobro part for “giant steps”, which craig dedicated to ten day old daniel hampton, who was attending his first concert on the lawn with mommy and his grandparents, only a few days after being released from thomas jefferson university hospital in philadelphia.

with the "ginjo"...why do i hate that word so much?
with the "ginjo"...why do i hate that word so much?

to think that, originally, we had planned on wendy being pregnant for this show – but danny got to see this one from outside. his first concert was poco…wendy and i saw poco twice on our honeymoon…we’re all pretty solidly intertwined now. 🙂

in fact, if this show reinforced anything for me, it was just how intertwined all of my circle has become – from the musicians i play with to the people who come to the shows to my family, it’s all become one big circle at this point – i feel pretty lucky in that respect, too. i mean, musicians who i admired and looked up to as a kid are now interspersed with the people that i play with on a regular basis, and in some cases have become colleagues moreso than heroes…which is an odd thing to say out loud. certainly, if you’d told me back in the day…when i used to listen to the “indian summer” and “legend” 8 tracks on endless repeat in my bedroom at 907 patterson road in savannah, tennessee…if you’d told me then that someday i’d be friends with, would share the stage with, would play with, some of the people i’ve played with…i’d have said you were pulling my leg.

on the outer perimeter - where the PA isn't so loud.
on the outer perimeter - where the PA isn't so loud.

nonetheless, the set came off great – save for the fact that there was apparently a banjo issue. my friend pete conway emailed me in the week following the show to mention that he didn’t hear the banjo at all during the song i used it on. and, sure enough, when i got the DVD of the show from jon rosenbaum, it proved him out. i could hear it through the monitors, but it wasn’t coming through the mains at all. bummer.

craig sounded great, poco sounded great, daniel seemed to be enjoying his first concert ever, and we had a field full of friends and well-wishers on hand to welcome the little man into the world.

not a bad way to spend a sunday evening, i’d say.

good night, performing songwriter.

pink.  iggy pop.  mick fleetwood.  wow.
pink. iggy pop. mick fleetwood. wow.

so, amidst all the chaos and disorder that reigns in the post-internet culture that we find ourselves occupying at the moment…as newspapers close or retreat to online-only editions (i’m lookin’ at you, rocky mountain news), we’re looking around us and seeing that, true to the words of The Prophet Zimmerman – “he who is not busy being born is busy dying.”

newspapers, magazines – print media in general – have been on a slow, steady downward spiral with the advent of the internet, and when you factor in the attrition of readers who’ve jumped ship to online equivalents alongside that rueful combination of arrogance and delusion that seems to affect many businesses who wait too long to try and remain relevant in this day and age…

…well, it doesn’t make for a very positive forecast.

the latest apparent victims of this sea change would appear to be radio and records magazine, published since 1973, and – the loss closer to home – lydia hutchinson’s labor of love, performing songwriter magazine.

yes, it’s true…after sixteen years in print, performing songwriter is calling it a day.

to hear that radio and records would be stopping the presses was something of a headslapping, V-8 moment – well, of course, they’re closing! the very title of the magazine screamed irrelevance! no one listens to conventional radio anymore, and no one buys music anymore!

it was a moment akin to hearing that the typewriter quarterly would be ceasing publication, really.

performing songwriter was another story, though. we’ve all borne witness to the problems that paste is trying to weather…and we all watched sadly as no depression succumbed to the online-only solution…but i thought that the community that sprouted up around performing songwriter would be the difference for this particular mag.

that is, until i took a minute to think about a few things that hadn’t occured to me.

they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but those who say such things beg that we pay attention to the exceptions and not the rules.

all you have to do is look back at the covers of performing songwriter over the years to see where the shift started to occur that would alienate the very community that i perceived to have their backs.

i was a subscriber for three years…and they were good years. i saw jewel on the cover, jackson browne, shawn colvin, james taylor…the indigo girls were on the cover of the issue that contained the glowing review of my mutual angels album…i read about marc cohn, sarah mclachlan, david wilcoxs’ brilliant articles on songwriting and creativity…

but they lost me. somewhere along the way, they lost me, and i never really thought about it until i heard they were closing.

the magazine became, for me, analgous to a relative that i’d moved away from – someone who was really great to grow up around, but who’d changed significantly enough that you both realized that your best years were behind you, and you were forced to accept that who they are now and who they were then were two different people…and you had to get on with your lives. amicably, yes, but with a twinge of regret and nostalgia.

i have my doubts that i’m the only person who felt estranged from PS over the years. when the coverage turned from master songsmiths like carole king and john hiatt to modern fluff purveyors like alicia keys (who graced the cover twice, in 2005 and 2007, the latter containing a bonus article on that legendary master of wordcraft, kid rock), a lot of the folks who put performing songwriter on the map simply tuned out.

maroon five on the cover in 1997 turned out to be a harbinger of things to come. later, we’d get covers featuring jimmy jam and terry lewis, mary j blige, lionel richie, david bowie…with insighful articles on such master songwriters as….

…nikki sixx of motley crue.

nay, i shit you not.

those of you who know me know that i’m not a folk nazi, and i don’t think anyone ever thought for a minute that PS was going to be a single-minded celebration of singer/songwriters…the audience is too small and fragmented to support a publication as openly ambitious as PS was. when i fell in love with it, i foresaw it growing into a magazine that would eventually bring together disparate songwriting communities from various genres with an emphasis on artists whose persona emphasized their songwriting chops. i could easily digest an issue with room for roseanne cash alongside marc cohn alongside gillian welch alongside ben harper alongside ben folds alongside marshall crenshaw alongside erykah badu alongside ron sexsmith…blah blah blah.

but…lionel richie? come on, now.

from glancing over the covers of the magazine from front to back, there appears to be a trend of pandering for the sake of selling magazines to people who had little or no interest in the core group of artists that were initially part of their platform – which is fine, but to believe that you would be pulling converts over to the publication on a long term basis by featuring artists so far afield of their primary demographic as some of the folks they put on the cover in recent years is…well, far fetched.

in that respect, it’s only fitting that such a heralded, legendary songwriter with a decades-long lineage of timeless classics to their resume as pink, no less, should grace the cover of their final issue. it’s an almost blatant-yet-subconscious nod to why they should call it a day in the first place…never mind the additional coverage given in their swan song issue to such songwriting giants as…mick fleetwood? seriously?

still, as far afield as they wandered over the years, losing performing songwriter will create a void that losing an industry ragsheet like radio and records doesn’t really hint at. from all appearances, the magazine was on solid ground from a financial perspective – they didn’t resort to the public pleas for reader assistance that some other music magazines have had to resort to, nor did they opt for the online-only status that others adopted.

they simply pulled the plug.

perhaps it was a “beat the economy to the punch” thing, perhaps the publishers were just ready to give the magazine the kevorkian treatment before old age did it for them, or maybe they just felt – as i’m finding that i feel – that they shouldn’t be capable of sleeping at night after such a dick move as putting pink on the cover of a songwriters’ magazine.

sometimes, when you’ve lost your way, the best thing you can do for yourself is to simply stop walking.