benefit weekend?

well….yeah, ok. so not every show i played these past three days were benefits…my net financial gain might indicate they were, but only two of the three were – saturday for cystic fibrosis, and sunday for the red cross haiti relief fund.

friday night was a very rare band show for my buddy kyle swartzwelder, opening for chris bruni at the kennett flash. it was kyle and myself, tommy geddes on drums, phil d’agostino on bass, nate gonzalez on keys and accordian, and lanie hughes on fiddle. (why, yes, it was quite a list for an opener. but it was all good, believe me.)

it was big, in the sense that outside the rhythm section and the frontman, there were three melodic instruments onboard – myself, the fiddle, and the keys/accordian – so i think that infused the set with just a hint of trepidation on our collective parts, because we were all taking a lot of care to avoid stepping on each other. i don’t know if that’s something that the audience sensed, but it felt tangible to me – i don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, and considering kyle’s songwriting style, i think a little trepidation on our collective parts actually works to the materials’ advantage. when i hear kyles’ music, i hear this casserole of a laundry list of artists that i admire – varying parts of lyle lovett, a little jeffrey focault, a smattering of the intimacy of the best of b.w. stevensons’ music, and maybe even a little bit of jimmie spheeris at times. he’s one of the folks that i work with who i endeavor to try and make sure that the pedal steel makes the trip – because it suits his songs so well – but so often, space is an issue, and for this show it was just too many folks on stage, too little space to get it up there with everyone. it was ok, though, as the lap steel can make some of that stuff happen, but it’s not the same. there’s a new song that he sent me the week prior to the show that’s going to be phenomenal when he fleshes it out, but i couldn’t talk him into taking a swing at it for the show.

were the shoe on the other foot, i wouldn’ta done it either. who am i kidding? 🙂

we had a really good set, though – songs felt good, i felt good about what i played, and – are you sitting down? – blake allen even came out. on a WEEKEND, no less!


the following day was a full band date with jd malone and the venerable “experts” at the auction house in audobon, NJ, for a private cystic fibrosis benefit that jd was booked for by a couple who’d seen him at the bethlehem musikfest the year prior.

we got together the sunday prior at east side studios in manayunk to run through some new material, and to look at some covers that we’d never played together before – and i told jd afterward that if we ever had to get together to run anything important or serious, that we’d have to leave avery coffee at home, because i spend the entire rehearsal laughing at the guy.

i’ve said this to other folks about avery in the past, and i may have said it here before as well, although i can’t remember – avery and i are the perfect foils in jd’s band..if, for no other reason that we couldn’t step on each other if we TRIED. our styles are so different, and the things we end up playing on specific songs are so far afield of each other, that it ends up sitting in totally different places in the mix – to awesome effect.

one of the new songs we added for this show, avalon, is going to be one of JD’s best. ever. it’s got a kathleen edwards-meets-REM thing going on that makes the hair on my neck stand up. we ended up playing it twice at the show, in fact, when we needed another encore at the end of the night.

getting there was a bear – there was a fender bender in the vicinity of the roosevelt boulevard exit off the expressway, a single car accident, and it had traffic backed up all the way back to before the 422 merger. the accident had long been cleared by the time i passed it, and yet traffic was still crawling along at 18 mph or so the whole way up to that point. to be fair, it had started to snow by that point, and that was probably a factor too, but it was plenty frustrating either way. and yet, i managed to make it in just enough time to get set up and ready for the show with a few minutes to spare. if i’d had more time, i’d have certainly stopped for gas before going to the show, but it was pretty clear that i wasn’t going to have time to do that once i got caught up in the traffic on the way to the gig.

anyway, the folks who put this show together were salt of the earth – really sweet people. they had a respectable turnout, too, all things considered with the weather and all. the food was great, and the band played a great set – oddly, i was able to hear avery really well, even from the other side of the stage – which isn’t always the case, but we had a nice, workable stage volume, and i could hear everyone really well. that kind of balance isn’t always easy to come by.

so we played our asses off, they asked us to do several encores, which we were only too happy to oblige, and we packed up and got ready to roll out. it was just after midnight when i left – i walked out with tommy geddes, said goodnight and got in the car and took off. i have a new app on my iPhone called ‘cheap gas’ – which calculates the cheapest available gas by proximity to your location at the point you open up the app. once you select the one you want to patronize, you click a link and it opens up a map from your location to the gas station you’ve chosen.

now, most of you reading this are already aware of this, but in new jersey, all gasoline points of sale are full service – if not all, then damn near every one of them. it never occurred to me when i postponed my gas purchase until after the show that the whole full service thing might preclude many of them being open for 24 hours – that just didn’t cross my mind. so, i left the gig with enough gas in my tank to fill a condom, in search of an open gas station, without so much as a thought of the possibility that the station that popped up on my screen might be closed.

but it was.

so, i kept driving…

now, in retrospect, i couldn’t tell you where the hell i was or where i’d gone…but i stayed on what appeared to me to be a main thoroughfare, and happened upon a Lukoil station about another mile down the road, on the left hand side that was open.

it was 12:40.

i pulled in, told the guy to fill ‘er up, popped the tank, and let a huge sigh of relief wash over me.

as i was paying the guy at the pump, he told me that i was lucky. “i know”, i said. “i was almost empty.”

he said, “yes…and twenty minutes from being stranded.”

as it turns out, he was the only open gas station within miles and miles and miles of that spot…even on weekends, most of them close before midnight. all of them but him.



sunday was the haiti benefit show at sellersville theater – featuring bigger thomas, scot sax and sharon little, dan may, lizanne knott, slo-mo, john conahan, and dan faga’s band, I & I. now, i’m sure you could find somebody who might have a problem finding something to like in that lineup, but you’d have to look hard.

there were two sets, each featuring a little of this and a little of that, with a break in between…and one of the most elaborate stage plots ever put together in this humble little room, i’d be willing to bet. their plan, from the outset it appears, was to have everyones’ gear onstage, plugged in and ready to go, with everything ready for whatever might happen..since there would likely be interplay between the folks on the bill. and sure enough, slo-mo and hoagy sat in with I & I during their set, john conahan sat in with us during dan mays’ set, and i played lap steel on the last song of scot sax and sharon little’s set. then, at the end of the night, everyone who was still in the room got up at the end of bigger thomas’ set and did a reworded version of the specials’ song “a message for you, rudy”, which was changed to “a message for you, haiti”. since slo-mo was up for that one, i elected to play mandolin on the finale – C isn’t my favorite key for mandolin, but there were an assload of soloists on the stage, and i was more than happy to just chop through it, which i did.

for dan’s set, kurm wasn’t available, so my buddy ronnie cremer boldly offered to learn the two songs we were doing on bass, so we wouldn’t have to move anthony over to bass for the show – the songs we were doing really needed both of us to be on our usual posts (“a thousand angels” and “lights out in tupelo”), and ronnie came in and friggin’ nailed it. ronnie has perfect pitch, as does anthony, which made for some laughs in the dressing room, when carlos sang a note and they both said, in unison, “c sharp”.

i heard a snippet of the final song from scot and sharons’ set during soundcheck, and it kinda stopped me in my tracks – so i asked scot after soundcheck if he’d mind if i sat in on that one (which, most of you know, i practically never do…i’d rather be asked than to foist myself on anyone), and scot gave me the thumbs up, which was awfully brave of him, since he’d never heard me play (to my knowledge, anyway) – they had to brave some strange technical issues early in their set, but they’d gotten through that by the time the last song came up, and it turned out nicely, if i do say so myself…

bigger thomas tore the roof off the place – i had initially thought that perhaps the reason they went on last might have more to do with the fact that the organizer of the show, roger appollon, was in the band. and that might’ve been a factor, the truth is i don’t know. but i sure as hell would’ve hated to have to go on after those guys. i’ve never seen the audience in that room react to a band the way they reacted to these guys…people were up and dancing who, frankly, probably shouldn’t have been up and dancing. it was a great thing to watch.

it was easily the longest day i’ve ever put in at sellersville…since i was bringing some of the backline, i had to be there early for setup, and i was still there coiling cords and helping to clean up at almost midnight that night…but it was a really rewarding day. when the dust had settled, we raised twelve thousand dollars for the american red cross and their haiti relief fund. dan came onstage with jack quigley, the owner of the theater, before the final song to present the check to the red cross representative who came to the show. it was a triumphant moment, let me tell you. it felt great to have a tangible moment like that at the end of this show – something you could point to as an instant gratification of sorts, an actual reward for the day we’d put in. it certainly made a nice punctuation mark to an entire weekend of shows that were either gratis shows or benefits…and reinforced that there are a lot of reasons to do what we do that are bigger than ourselves.

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