with craig bickhardt at minstrel coffeehouse, morristown new jersey

i don’t think i’ll ever again cut a gig as close as i did this one.

and by “cutting it close”, i mean walking in the door after the act has been introduced and is just about to play his first song.

frankly, i don’t know that it’s actually possible to cut it any closer than that and still play the show…any later than that, and you’re gonna miss at least one song, and that doesn’t count as a full gig, technically. so there.

since joining the ranks of the generally unemployed after the holidays, i’ve been looking here and there at potential day gigs, but these days find me doing mostly temp work – and so it was the day of this show, having just started an assignment. so after getting out of work, i hustled home, took a shower in record time, and bolted out the door and down the road. i’m not sure i took into full consideration how far away from home this show really was, but i didn’t spare a moment from the time i barrelled out the door at work until i was in the car on the way to the gig. then, of course, you factor in friday traffic, and that complicates things somewhat…i guess i’m lucky that i made the show at all.

the minstrel coffeehouse is a traditional-leaning room, and out of respect for that, craig and i discussed what instruments to bring beforehand, and mutually decided that we’d go with a minimalistic approach – for this one, we’d stick with mandolin, dobro, and only the baritone guitar as instrumentation, with the baritone being able to go through the house PA with the tremolo pedal on the front end – and this was fine with me. under the circumstances, it was a good thing, as i was able to walk in with everything i needed in one trip, and was set up and ready to go in record time.

somehow, though, the pesky radio from nashua, NH, appeared to have followed us…

during the studio 99 show in nashua, we had this underlying radio station interference that came through the PA system during the entire show…it could have been a lot more obtrusive, but even at the low volume it was coming through at, it was annoying. the soundman said that it wasn’t the first time they’d had it, and that it seemed to be there more often than not…so we didn’t give it another thought. tonight, though, it wasn’t perpetual – it only seemed to show up when i plugged in the baritone guitar, at first. later, then, to a much lesser extent, the dobro. the only thing that wasn’t in doubt was that it wasn’t happening when only craig was playing…it was a bear to pin down precisely what was driving it, as i’d do the exact same thing twice and one time, i’d get it and the other i wouldn’t.

maddening as it might have been, though, it was showtime, and the only thing i could really do was adjust. so i stuck with mandolin and dobro for the first set, and we put the rig under the microscope during the intermission. at that point, we put a bit of shielding tape around the cable going into the volume pedal…but we were still getting the RFI with the baritone guitar. our solution then became simply to not use the baritone for the rest of the night, as the signal seemed to have gone away with mando and dobro; there was no RFI present for either of those instruments.

still, save for the loss of the baritone and its ultra-sensitive magnetic pickups for songs like carrying a dream and this old house, i think we played a solid show. after the new england dates, the vocal blend i have with craig is as tight as ever, and i feel more relaxed behind him now than i ever have. playing with craig as sporadically as i historically have, it’s kinda like going back to the same place once a year and trying to remember the driving directions…if i don’t go somewhere regularly, i may as well have never gone at all. sometimes, it’s like that with certain folks that i play with that i might only do one or two shows a year with…in some ways, it’s like mapping out the songs all over again if i don’t get to play them often enough. thankfully, i can still fall back on my intuition to get me through the tricky spots. plus, i actually listen to and enjoy craigs’ music between gigs…that helps as well.

as we were saying our goodbyes and walking out, craig mentioned to me that during his SKB days, he had an ernie ball volume pedal go microphonic on him while he was on the road and that he’d taken the pedal out of the loop and the interference had stopped…that threw me for a bit of a loop, as i wouldn’t have thought in a million years that the issue could boil down to the volume pedal. strangely, though, the problem has only occured those two times…if it happens again, though, i know what i’ll do for step one of the troubleshooting process.

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