springtime in new england w/craig bickhardt

tour itinerary:

march 18thone longfellow square in portland, maine (with firefall)

march 19th – house concert w/jonathan edwards in arrowsic, maine

march 20th studio 99 in nashua, new hampshire

march 21stO’Shea’s in cape cod, mass.

so, this was a working vacation in some ways – wendy and danny came along, and we stayed at mark and joanne’s house in westbrook (just outside portland) while we were there, which was really the only way i could have pulled it off. money being what it is, we were working on a shoestring to begin with – so we hunkered down, planned out our food purchases, and we actually made it work. wendy and danny got to spend time with family (brother/uncle, aunt mary, and all the cousins we were able to round up), and i got to play four shows in a row with craig – which, i have to say, had a pretty significant effect on the interplay between the two of us. by the last show on sunday, we were tight. and we had a great time while we were out, too.

one longfellow square

i’d heard about this room before, and i knew that poco had played there in the past. first of all, it’s a great room. the soundman has been there for a solid run, and he knows the room inside and out…the guy who runs the room is a genuinely nice guy, and treats acts well, and appears to genuinely love the music he presents. the room itself is laid out in something of a “pie slice” form – which is to say that the stage sits at the pointy end of a curved seating layout that kinda fans out from there.

now, because of the travel limitations – which is to say, because i didn’t have a lot of room in the car for gear – i was travelling about as lightly as is possible for me to travel. i brought a lap steel, a mandolin, and the baritone guitar…an amp and my bag, and that was about it. for these shows, it was enough, really. i mean, i wouldn’t have minded having the dobro along for some songs, and my pedalboard would’ve made my life easier, too…but you gotta adapt, you know? bottom line, though – what i brought was plenty, really. the show didn’t suffer as a result of anything i didn’t bring…or at least i didn’t think it did.

steven weinmeister and jock bartley of firefall in portland, maine

i got there early, and sat in on firefall’s soundcheck – steve and i have been facebook friends for a while, and it was the first chance i’d ever had to really talk to jock or to bil hopkins, their bassist (who’d just gotten a new instrument for this run of shows, and was very proud of it). news of paul cotton‘s departure from poco was still very much on everyone’s mind, and everyone had been speculating as to who would replace him in the band…as it turned out, craig had apparently gotten the inside scoop already, but was keeping it to himself…as it hadn’t been announced yet and no one wanted to fuel any more speculation than was already going on.

jock bartley is something of an anomaly – so often, guitarists become prima donnas about what they will or won’t use in terms of backline…i’ve seen jock three different times, playing through three different amps, and somehow he always sounds like himself. and – judging from the general mood at this show – he seems rather nonplussed about what’s available and what isn’t. i’d like to think i’d be the same way under those circumstances, but…well, i haven’t been tested yet. 🙂

craig and i had a great set – and i got some serious kudos from craig’s friend, brad strause:

“Just wanted to say how tasty your playing was. You two sounded so complete and full without drums, bass, etc. I’ve been rethinking my own band, thinking about paring it way down, back to just basics, and what you were able to do has inspired me to look for ways to do something similar. I’ve heard alot of shows there and have played it myself – You guys got an exceptional sound and balance that night. Hope to see you again.”

not too shabby, huh? 🙂

arrowsic house concert

life is a parade of characters that drift in and out of your life, and if you’re lucky, some of them stick and you get to call them friends. some of those characters, though, really are larger than life. bret gillam is one of them.

i met bret, our host for the house concert on the second night of our run, the previous night at the one longfellow square show, and – well, bret makes an impression. we all know those guys who talk excessive amounts of shit, name drop all day long, and spin yarns that don’t compute in hopes to impress either you or themselves or anyone in earshot…but this guy is the real deal. he’s lived it, and his home is a testament to an amazing life. his walls are covered with pictures from a storied past as a scuba diver who’s written books on the subject, whos’ worked as a technical adviser on hollywood movies, and has spent his life amassing enough stories to fill book after book, should anyone have the time to write them all down.

bassist michael burd, myself, jonathan edwards and craig bickhardt

bret has a close friend in veteran folksinger jonathan edwards, who – it was rumored – would be stopping by the gillam household for craig’s house concert to sit in on a couple of songs. jonathan had covered craig’s songs on records he’d done in the past, including “on God’s green earth”, one of my favorites. we got there early, before the guests started showing up, and got to peruse the huge collection of photos on bret’s walls – photos from movies bret had worked on (including the deep with jacqueline bissett, among others), photos of himself with david crosby, with legendary diver bev morgan, lauren hutton…the list goes on and on. we took up residence back in brets’ study with jonathan and michael burd, a bassist friend of bret’s who came in cold, without really knowing any of the songs, and did a masterful job.

the crowd was a typical house concert crowd of friends and family, with a few folks who were aware of craig’s repertoire, but friendly and supportive nonetheless…once jonathan came up and michael strapped on the bass, i was definitely missing my boy tommy geddes – would’ve been nice to have had him there, but the four of us sounded pretty damn good. jonathan did “sunshine” and “shanty” and sang the lead on “god’s green earth”…it was as if the four of us had been playing together for a lot longer than – well, since that afternoon. 🙂

the director of bath, maine’s chocolate church arts center was in the audience at the show, and booked the lot of us to play at the chocolate church in the fall…on wendy’s parent’s anniversary, no less.

studio 99, nashua NH

by most peoples’ accounts, these kinds of gigs are supposed to be automatic losses. it’s the first time in a city, no local support on the bill, and no momentum of any kind (radio or TV success, newspaper or print media coverage) preceding the act into the market.

from an attendance perspective, the show definitely lived up to that…and yet, it turned out to be one of my favorite CB gigs that we’ve ever played together.

craig running through a song before the show in nashua, NH

it happens this way, usually, because of the specific faces that end up in the crowd. our mutual poco buddy garry came to the show with his wife, and we had ryan and dennis kelly in the audience, a father and son pair of musicians who play locally in new hampshire (their band, smokestack lightning, has a growing following and they’re actually pretty damn good)…the show turned into a storytellers-esque evening of requests, Q-and-A, and general discussion and crosstalk between the audience and the two of us. it was part concert and part workshop, and we did songs we’ve never done before – a great example being the song “troubled shores”, which craig told the story of in as much detail as i’ve ever heard him reveal in an introduction to a song.

nashua is a beautiful town, and the venue – studio 99 – is a gem waiting to be discovered. it’s an open floor, high up in an old office building right on the main thoroughfare in downtown nashua, with big windows behind the stage that look out over the river. the only drag was the occasional sound of a motorcycle roaring by the building on the street below, but we were troopers about it, and made it part of the show.

i’d happily go back to every room we played on this tour, and this one was no exception. new hampshire is such a beautiful state.

o’shea’s olde inne, cape cod MA

i might have neglected to mention that, during this run of shows, that wendy and danny came along for the ride, and we all stayed at wendys’ parents home just outside of portland, ME – so for each of these dates, i drove back to portland and slept it off there, leaving for the next show the next afternoon. i was actually grateful for this in a lot of respects, as i got to see places from the road that i hadn’t seen on our prior drives up to maine, and this trip wouldn’t be any different. the last night of our run was out on cape cod.

this room was really the perfect place to wrap up this run – the owner, joseph o’shea, is a music fan in the truest sense of the word, and presents live music in this room every day of the week, whether it’s a celtic jam on weekdays, bluegrass bands, or various other kinds of acoustic music on other nights of the week. our show was an afternoon show on sunday, as there was a jam that night, and it also gave us all time to relax a bit after the show and actually enjoy each other’s company for a while before preparing to head south again.

we had a great set, and sat down to enjoy dinner with the band who hosted our show and the man who hosted the afternoon, mister o’shea himself. the food was absolutely phenomenal, and the company was wonderful…it was just the right number and blend of people around the table. no one tried to dominate the conversation, the subject matter was stimulating, and it just felt…well, like that’s where we all belonged that particular afternoon.

wendy and i really made a trip of this run, bringing danny along and spending time with him at his grandparents’ house….watching him “speedcrawl” up and down the hallway, chasing his ball, or tearing all the tupperware out of the cabinet under the sink – i think he and his mommy enjoyed being at home…hosting visits from her brother and cousins on nights of the shows and showing danny off. we were on a tight budget during the trip, but we came out of all of it a little in the black, and we all had a great time…played some wonderful shows and met some great new friends.

yeah…we did it for the stories we could tell, as they say.

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