TOMstock (the 3rd semi-annual…)

even after all this time, it feels a little weird to play a show called tomstock and know that i’m the “tom” in “tomstock”. it’s a little more attention than i’m generally used to, i guess.

my longtime friends jon and georgina rosenbaum started this tomstock thing some years ago, when i was still playing solo acoustic shows on a regular basis…and while it’s been too inconsistent to be considered an annual event, we’ve managed to do several of them over the years. at first blush, it’s essentially just a backyard picnic with some doofus with an acoustic guitar playing on the lawn. it goes a little deeper than that, though – it’s become something of a hybrid of a picnic, a family reunion, and an outdoor concert rolled into one event. essentially, a lot of the folks that i’ve gotten to know over the years who live in the vicinity of jon’s house in stamford, connecticut all come to jon’s for food, drink, and an outdoor concert featuring yours truly. but because so many of us got to know one another over bonding around some of our favorite bands through the years, i usually have a lot of fun picking songs for this show.

for this one, i didn’t bother to make a setlist…i never did before, and i didn’t see any reason to start now, really…generally, i just kinda play whatever pops into my head that feels like a good seque – so i did the same thing for this show.

the moment that made this particular tomstock stand out from the others, though, would’ve never happened if i’d remembered all the words to one particular song.

we’ve been playing jack sundrud‘s song hard country during the idlewheel shows, and i knew how to play it, but i wasn’t sure i’d remember all the words…but, obviously, i didn’t let that stop me.

i got through the first verse and the chorus, and started into the second verse, but i couldn’t remember the first line of the second verse. well, i played through the point where i’d normally have started singing, and then everyone who was there in the audience started singing the song themselves…they sang the whole second verse themselves while i played along.

it was, as they say, a moment.

with Mercy Blue – “Rosewood” CD Release party

it’s probably a textbook case of oversimplifying, but josh werblun is a Good Kid.

i’ve known joshs’ dad, art, for some time, and josh has become a member in good standing of what’s left of the philadelphia music scene at a pretty early age…he just graduated at drexel this month, and his senior project was rosewood – a concept album recorded by his band, mercy blue. josh invited me into the studio to cut steel parts for the record, so i got to put some slightly left-of-center pedal and lap steel parts down…certainly not what i normally play, which made it a lot of fun.

pedal steel at mercy blues' CD release show

josh and company were running around like madmen to try and get the record ready for completion in time for their release party, and somehow they managed to pull it off, even if only to have the album downloadable for the guests by the following morning. it’s an easy mistake to make (i know – i made it myself) when you’re doing an album early in your career…overlooking all the things you have to line up to have in place before you announce your latest work to the world. but after you do it a couple of times, eventually you learn to set your release date for at least a month after you think you’ll have hard-pressed copies in hand (if you’re still someone who believes in the whole “physical copy” thing. that’d be me, for one).

so, i found my way to 40th and walnut to the rotunda with my gear and loaded in for the gig…very cool little performance space…and managed to situate myself up there with the pedal steel in such a manner that i had two cables going back to the amp – one directly from the volume pedal for the pedal steel, and one coming from the pedalboard, which would be the lap steel and electric guitar and such. it was a little cumbersome, but it worked – i was close enough to the amp to be able to just reach back and plug in whichever signal path i needed, so everything went relatively smoothly.

i am immune to your charms, young skywalker...

i have to confess to feeling – well, rather ancient when the show started and they called me up to sit in. i actually posted a twitter update during the show comparing it to stephen stills sitting in with green day…and yeah, i felt pretty old up there with the upstarts, but they genuinely wanted me there, and that made it a little easier.

we closed with tom petty’s running down a dream, which ended too soon for me, but with that one finished, the night was a wrap.

it’s rejuvenating, in some ways, to be in the company of young musicians whose outlook hasn’t been stomped under the cleats of the realities of this business yet. in their eyes, the possibilities are endless and it’s all out there, waiting for them to just go out and gather it all up. i mean, i doubt they actually, consciously see it that way…but when contrasted to how so many folks in this line of work (including myself) tend to see things, they’re downright starry-eyed. but it’s not a naive fantasy-based optimism…they know what kind of work is involved, and they’re not adverse to doing it.

they’ll be fine…and ultimately, so will this business of ours, i think. i hope.

the youngers at DelFest in Cumberland MD

so, delfest is a relatively new festival, but it’s grown like gangbusters – this was only the third one, but the lineup was huge and the crowds were pretty amazing. the festival is held at a racetrack in cumberland, maryland…but the mountains that line the side of the racetrack are on the west virginia side of the state line. it’s a great setting for a festival.

this year, the youngers landed a slot on sunday morning at delfest, and they invited me to come along as the utility guy – we’d had a great show at the opera house in jim thorpe the month prior, and we were pretty well rehearsed…so i was pretty excited about the gig.

we all rode up together the afternoon before, and i brought wendy and danny along…we shared a room with randy, the bassist – while todd set up to camp onsite at the fest. randy left to head down to the festival not long after we settled in, and wendy and i ordered pizza and hung out with the little man at the hotel for the night. i thought about heading down to the fest the night before with the rest of the guys, but there wasn’t anyone on the bill that would’ve lured me away from the baby. i guess it’s an indicator of my age and where i am in my life these days that i would’ve rather hung out with the little guy than to spend the night hanging out backstage at the fest.

the dealbreaker for me, as much as getting to relax back at the hotel with the family, was the heat. now, granted – it was the last weekend of may. and yet, it was absolutely MISERABLE outside…even at night. and, frankly, i wasn’t havin’ none o’ that. i’d suck it up and smile through it for the show, but just for the hang before the show?


because you can never have too much lap steel on one stage...

there was a short sunday morning gospel set, and we were the first band on after the gospel band. now, it wasn’t what you’d expect for a worship set at what you’d assume to be a bluegrass festival – it was much more in the “dancing in the pews at the church in the delta” vein, and the band was actually really good. they had a pedal steel player who played a steel with no pedals or knee levers on it…i’ve heard the term “sacred steel” before, and i’m not sure if that’s what i was hearing or not. when i bought the sierra that i used to have, it was set up in what the owner called a “sacred steel” tuning, and it was patently unplayable to me – i had to have it redone by my tech and set up in the standard emmons setup with the E9 tuning before i could even use it. but – i digress. this guys’ playing sounded more like a hybrid between ben harper and robert randolph than what i’d heard in my head when i heard the term “sacred steel”…but maybe that’s exactly what it was, i dunno.

we’d unloaded our gear behind the stage…it had rained overnight, and the ground was wet, but it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been…we actually managed to get everything staged without much of a mess, and i unpacked my gear and staged everything behind the stage so i could carry it straight on and plug everything in with a minimum of fuss – i even had plenty of time to tune everything and prep all the instruments.

at DelFest with the youngers...yes, that's a banjo. 🙂

we had all brought our own amps, opting to use the drums that were provided for backline…after we got there and i got a chance to check out the backline, i opted to use one of the blackface reissue fender twins they had on hand as well, as i could use that amp for both the pedal steel stuff AND the guitar stuff, and it simplified everything for me quite a bit…i could use a single line out of my pedalboard and use the A/B box to select inputs, whether it was guitar or pedal steel. the guys running the stage were absolute pros, and the monitor mix was damn near perfect – and that was without a whole lot of tweaking, because there certainly wasn’t much going on in the way of soundcheck…we essentially walked up, plugged in, did a really quick line check and off we went, full blast.  this is one of the things that separates the men from the boys. 🙂



festival sets always feel short, especially when you’re one of the bands in fine print at the bottom of the poster…and this one was no exception. but i was surprised by the number of people that we were able to attract for a sunday morning slot on a festival show like this one – and they genuinely seemed to love the band, which was great.

after we were finished, we made a quick getaway and loaded everything back into randy’s truck – we were planning on leaving a little later on that afternoon, as we needed to be back home before monday morning, but we did spend some time on the festival grounds for the afternoon and had lunch at the hospitality tent…david grisman walked right by me as we were walking through the maze of tour buses parked behind the stage and alongside the tent.

wendy and danny came down with us for lunch, and danny seemed to enjoy being around so many people – he certainly got his share of attention. later, we stopped for smoothies and he downed almost an entire smoothie by himself…but it was mighty, mighty hot by that time, too.

needless to say, he slept for most of the drive home. he wasn’t the only one who nodded off during the drive, though.