poco with loggins and messina – NJ and NY

i was walking through the offices at work and my cellphone vibrated in my pocket, and it was a missed call from mary young, rusty’s wife. i stepped outside to check my voicemail, and there was a message from mary, asking if i’d be available to tech for the guys (that’d be poco, for the unfamiliar or uninitiated) during a handful of shows they were doing with loggins and messina at the end of august.

now, the important thing about these gigs was the personnel involved – the stagecoach festival had just happened months before, which featured damn near everyone ever involved with the band – messina, richie furay, george grantham, timothy b schmit…and it was a huge success. i don’t know what role that show played in these shows coming to fruition, but as fate would have it – poco would be joined on these dates by messina, richie furay, and – george grantham.

george had come to the stagecoach festival and got up with the guys and sang “pickin’ up the pieces” and played tambourine – it was a highlight of the whole show, and as it turned out, he was coming for these shows as well. and, of course, all the usual northeastern poconuts would be there.

george grantham waiting for his closeup at soundcheck

well, there was a gig conflict with the first one, but i was able to do the other two, and that was apparently good enough. now, what that meant was that within hours of finishing the dan may gig at the winchester in cleveland, i’d have to start driving east to make it to the garden state arts center (i don’t care how much PNC paid for naming rights, it’s still the garden state arts center to me) in time for soundcheck.

and, of course, that’s just what i did. i slept for maybe an hour after the gig, and got started plenty early enough to make the 4pm meeting with the guys at the hotel. i packed an extra set of black jeans and three or four black t-shirts (no, i’m not unaware of the roadie dress code) with my travel bag for the weekend, and i was all set. got a shower on the road before i left cleveland, and off i went.

rick alter, the bands’ manager, was travelling with them on this trip, and he was my point of contact – i called him when my iPhone map told me i was about an hour out, and he told me where the hotel was, and i punched it into the phone and headed over. there was no time after getting there to bother with checking in, so i grabbed my work case from the back of the trooper, loaded it into the car, and off we went.

when we got to the show, i talked to kenny loggins’ guitar tech, and got permission to set up on a closed road case just behind his workstation. both the guys had great techs…i forget kennys’ guy’s name, but jimmy’s guy – john mooy – and i became fast friends. “moo” was set up next to the monitor mixer, upstage right, and there wasn’t room for anyone else on that side, and it also made more sense for me to set up upstage left, as that’s where everyone was coming on and off…and since the guys were opening, it made perfect logistical sense to be in that area. i brought a six space rack that had my kickass, top of the line korg tuner in it, along with a lighted power strip and a 3 space drawer that served as my toolbox.

john mooy at his workstation with messina's gibson mandolin

now, the first lesson i learned on this trip – which was a lesson i should have learned by now, anyway – was that you should always use the same tuner as the guy you’re working for. there’s a bit of drift between a korg tuner and the boss tuners that damn near everyone uses on stage, and sure enough – both mooy and loggins’ guy were using little pedal tuners for the guitars they had in their charge. i always thought that the techs that worked for guys like these would be using peterson strobe tuners, but nope – not the case. and rightfully so, really, when you figure that there’s often a little drift between brands. lesson learned…although for myself, i’m sticking to my korg tuners. besides – what little drift there was didn’t seem to be much of an issue for these shows, anyway.

so i set about unpacking guitars and getting everything ready for the show…rusty, obviously, would require the most work, but it wasn’t that far out of the ordinary for me (i mean, i maintain a similar flock for myself for just about every gig). rusty was travelling with pedal steel, dobro, mandolin, and his godin electric. paul carried an acoustic and his white falcon, and jack with his bass. they became my “flock” for the next two shows, as well as (to a lesser extent) richie furay’s white gibson ES-355 that he’d used for decades. essentially, my job was to help get the guys on and off stage as smoothly as possible, and to maintain everything – to help with setup, to make sure everything was in tune…the usual duties. and, i’ve gotta say, it was a blast being a part of a show of that scale. garden state arts center and jones beach weren’t your usual 300-seaters, and every show i’d even been to on that scale was from the other side of the mirror…it was great to actually be working them. being there and being part of the soundcheck, working with the guys on the crew – a real treat.

soundcheck at garden state arts center

the first of the shows i did was probably my favorite of the two – not so much because of the way the band played, the songs chosen, or anything like that…but because the crowd response was just unreal. you’d have thought that poco were the headliner, based on the audience response, and it was pretty clear that a lot of the folks in attendance, whether they were there because of loggins and messina or not, were certainly big poco fans. and the added plus of having richie and george along, joined by jim messina as well (since he was, after all, already on the bill. 🙂 in fact, the only person not there from the stagecoach festival reunion lineup was timothy b – and that was probably impractical for just the three shows they were doing together on the other side of the country. there were certainly enough elements present for some magical moments, though. seeing richie and grantham on the same mic, with richie’s arm around george, from a few feet away…watching jim messina’s daughter, josie, dancing on the side of the stage while her dad was playing “you better think twice” with the band.

so, after the poco set at garden state arts center, we did the frantic run to get everyone’s gear off the stage, separating the backline from the guys’ gear, and wiping down and packing away everyone’s instruments and getting them out through the back of the place and into vehicles and ready for transport. since i was at the mercy of the band for transport, i wasn’t able to stay for the L&M set, and frankly – after the 24 hours i’d had – i wasn’t going to argue with anyone who wanted to call it an early night. so i rode with rusty back to the hotel, checked into my room, showered (finally!!) and fell asleep in almost no time. jack and george were going to see a movie, and asked if i wanted to come along, but i was spent. i just wanted to fall asleep, clean, and not have to wake up for a good long while. which is exactly what i did. i didn’t even bother to turn the TV on.

the next day, we checked out of the hotel at around 11 o’clock, and i left (in my own car this time) to grab something light for lunch and gas up for the ride to jones beach. i drove through brooklyn to get there, and stopped and took pictures at a couple of places along the way, since i had some time to kill before arriving at the venue.

i got to what is now referred to as the nokia theater at jones beach (friggin’ naming rights…whose idea was all this anyway?) at around 3pm and found my way to the parking lot where the few vehicles that had arrived before me were parked. now, for those of you who haven’t been to jones beach before, you may have surmised that the presence of the word “beach” would further indicate the presence of – well, water – and you’d be right. in fact, there’s an underwater tunnel that goes from the parking lot across to the stage area. and, in keeping with the sign that i initially saw when i got out of the car, that’s the path i took to the stage the first time i went over.

talk about creepy. i’m talking freddy kreuger creepy. there were boards on the floor of the tunnel, due to the fact that water leaking in is a perpetual certainty, and it wasn’t lit in the most efficient fashion…well, i digress. it was creepy. ’nuff said.

anyway, i met up with mooy and the other guys (who were already there by that time for quite a while), found my place upstage left behind kenny’s tech, and unpacked my road case and waited for the rest of the guys to show up. i was over an hour early, but i didn’t mind. i walked around the grandstand and took some pictures, listened to soundcheck, and enjoyed not yet being sweaty for the time being. i talked to rick on the phone and found CJ (the tour manager for loggins and messina) and gave him poco’s guest list for the show and waited for the guys to get there. the backline folks had arrived with the gear for the show, so i helped them with the drum setup and, once the headliner’s soundcheck was finished, started arranging the backline on the stage for the guys – who were on their way to the venue by then. once the guys were there, i had an opportunity to take some pictures during soundcheck, and got some great shots of the guys while they were running through soundcheck…one, in particular, taken leaning out over the edge of the stage of everyone (well, everyone but george lawrence, which would’ve just been impossible) standing in a row, singing on mic with rusty in the lower left hand corner playing pedal steel. i’m particularly proud of that one. 🙂

jones beach has a great backstage area, and the caterers really outdid themselves – i ate with george lawrence, jack sundrud, and gary oleyar from the loggins and messina band, who i share some common friends with and had a great time. we were one table away from rusty, paul jimmy, kenny and spouses. great food and great company.

the jones beach show was great – the audience was considerably more subdued than the previous nights’ audience was, but the guys played great. i did have a pressure moment, though – richie broke an E string during “heart of the night”, and i went out to grab his guitar…when he handed it to me, he initially said to just get him rusty’s godin, but when i grabbed it to unplug it and hand it to him, richie balked because rusty was using a combination cable to take advantage of the MIDI pickup. so, i took richies’ ES-355 back to my “bench” and swapped the string out and had it back to him before the end of the song. and it was in tune, too. i felt like a real guitar tech. 🙂

jim messina's touring guitar rack

once the poco part of the show was over, i wiped everything down, put everything away, and got the guys ready to roll…rusty was very gracious and thankful for my having been able to be there and help make the shows easier for them, and we all said our goodbyes and i walked back across to the stage area and listened to some of the show from backstage…had a few drinks and said goodbye to the guys before heading back to the car and getting ready for the drive back to reading (since, after all, i did have to go to work the next morning). i stood for a long time at the parking lot and looked across at the stage while the guys were playing, and thought about how shows of this scale are becoming more and more scarce for most of the folks i’ve idolized for a big chunk of my life – with the audience aging and with more and more people simply choosing not to go to shows at all, most of the bands that are still around are drifting downward to smaller and smaller venues. i mean, i personally don’t really go to larger shows – due, in large part, to the behavior of the audiences. people who go to these kinds of shows can be real assholes, and a lot of them go to shows specifically to let their inner asshole loose on the world, and i choose not to be a part of that. i find that the smaller shows are not only more intimate, but that audiences are usually a lot more well behaved. but i’ve gotta tell you, i really enjoyed being part of these shows – working with an actual crew, with onstage monitor mixers and guitar techs and non-rented backline and lights and the like. i felt like i got something of a taste of what it was like in the day when these kinds of shows were the norm – when there was tour support and an audience and when people actually held rock and roll in a higher regard.

dan may at the winchester music hall, cleveland ohio

it was our first time in cleveland – we’d played around cleveland a handful of times…and while it was technically lakewood (i believe), it was still our first official time in the area.

if you stop by the winchester music hall’s website, they’ve got an impressive history of solid national acts, and almost always have a great lineup of shows. they also have a section on the site where they weigh in on shows that have happened there, and they’re honest about them – black crowes guitarist marc ford, for example, didn’t get very good marks for his show for perpetually bitching about the room and the sound system and playing ridiculously loud all night long, and they didn’t sugarcoat the circumstances when they wrote it up.

that’s some automatic respect on my part. i love bearing witness to fearlessness in others. 🙂

the drive out was great, uneventful – i was originally supposed to be travelling with dan, but when the offer came up to tech for poco on their dates with loggins and messina, then that meant that i had to leave only hours after the gig to traverse a chunk of ohio and the entire state of pennsylvania to get to the garden state arts center for the show the following night.

the lineup for dan’s show was tommy geddes on drums, kurm on bass, anthony newett and i on guitars and keys, and heather on vocals. since it was in the neighborhood, dan added the percussionist who joins us on dates in that area on occasion, david henry, for this show as well.

winchester music hall
the empty stage at the winchester music hall
the winchester is a great room – it reminds me of what i’ve always imagined the jazz nightclubs of the 40’s might have been like, in terms of the way the room was laid out and the general vibe of the place. in terms of general stuff, the sound and soundman were good – friendly, very helpful and knowledgable. i brought my tweed gibson amp for the show, and it didn’t disappoint…although anthony and i continue to have problems hearing one another when we’re spread across a larger stage. i think that’s probably to be expected, to a degree – pulling the guitar amps through the monitors in order to flesh out signal for the two of us could prove to become a dangerous pursuit – the amps have more than ample stage volume for everyone else, and to fold them back through the monitors could be problematic. besides, it’s not that we can’t hear one another, it’s that we can’t hear as much of one another as i think we’d both like, in terms of maintaining some realistic sense of how we fit into the overall mix.

great show, though – pretty solid turnout, nice hang – i couldn’t help but be somewhat focused on the next couple of nights, though.