new england with craig bickhardt

"ridin' down 295 outta portland, maine..."

there were actually three dates on this run with craig bickhardt, but since i had the option, i decided to opt out of the first of the three since it fell on a friday night, and it made the trip a little easier to plan. wendy went up with the baby before us, and jayda – bless her heart – decided to come along for the ride when i went up on saturday for the first of the two shows i was joining craig for – which fell on the date of my in-laws’ wedding anniversary – at the chocolate church in bath, wendy’s birthplace.

the drive up was awesome – the weather was perfect, and jayda was great company…it was really nice to have her along. she’s been my roadtrip buddy for a long time, and i knew that we wouldn’t have many more of these opportunities – she’s getting older, and her own life is certainly starting to fill up with her own responsibilities…so it was prematurely bittersweet, in some ways.

as far as the first of the two shows, we were essentially reprising the house concert we’d done at bret gillams’ house the previous spring – which featured craig along with jonathan edwards, although this show would be flipped around, in that jonathan was a guest at the show we did in the spring, and jonathan was bringing his full band and headlining this show, with craig getting an extended co-bill length opening set…but with both acts on stage at the same time in between each acts’ set, doing a couple of songs together. for those two songs, we all actually went down to the edge of the stage and played acoustically, without amplification. wendys’ parents were in the audience, as well as a small handful of family friends as well…craig and i went on as a duo and did a tight, solid set – but i think we were a little off our game for some reason. i’m not quite sure how to explain it, but there are wonderful, sublime shows and there are awful shows, and those two extremes are pretty unusual…the majority are somewhere in the middle, either on the good side or the bad side – this one leaned just a little toward the bottom of the middle. not awful, not bad really – just…ok. solid performances and all, but somewhat tentative in spirit.

when we went down front with jonathans’ band and sat down on the edge of the stage, we had decided beforehand that we’d be doing god’s green earth, a song that craig had written that jonathan had covered some years back, and this old house, which has been a cornerstone of craigs’ set for some time now. when we finished those two songs, i moved to strike my stuff as quickly as i could to clear the stage for jonathans’ band, and went outside to the car, where wendy had taken danny after he’d fallen asleep. we rolled the windows down in the car and sat outside together and listened to the show from there, where we could hear danny if he were to begin to stir – it was a nice night out, and she and i sat on the steps outside the church, next to the car. after the show, i pulled the trooper over to collect my gear and found jayda (who’d spent the entire time inside, and loved jonathan’s show).

we drove back to wendys’ parents for the night, and hung out with jayda and danny for the afternoon before i started the drive to moosehead lake for the show at the blair hill inn.

the view from the open door in back of the concert venue at blair hill inn...

wendy and i had met dan and his wife, the owners of the inn, during our prior run when we played the house concert at bret gillams’ house just outside bath when danny was tiny…and there had been talk during that show of having us come to play at the inn. bret had said wonderful things about the place, and maine isn’t exactly the ugliest state in the union, either…so while i hadn’t seen the place before, i was of the opinion that it would likely be a nice place.

lemme tell ya – “nice” is almost insulting.

the blair hill inn is an 1891 mansion converted to an inn/bed and breakfast that overlooks moosehead lake…i got there just as the sun was starting to set in the sky, and the drive out to the inn was one of those excursions that i’m lucky enough to get to take on a regular basis – when i can get in the car and shut the world out for a little while and find a few minutes of peace, listen to some music, and enjoy the landscape for a while. this drive, in particular, was amazing – late afternoon from portland to greenville, maine. amazing.

so the sun is starting to set as i pull up behind the inn, and i started loading my gear into the large quarters behind the inn where the shows are held there, and they opened the huge double doors at one end of the room while we were setting up and we were able to watch the sun set during soundcheck – it was already a pretty amazing gig, and we hadn’t played a note in front of an audience yet.

bret was there, and emcee’d the show – and gave us a sincere and flattering introduction. i love that guy.

bret gillam introducing craig and i to the audience...

and – i’m sure the setting had a bit to do with it – but as awkward and tense as the show had been the night before, this show was the polar opposite…a great, welcoming crowd in a wonderful setting, and craig and i played an awesome set – relaxed, tight, and connected. it was the perfect antidote to the night before, for me. and dinner afterward was absolutely divine…one of the best meals i’ve ever had.

so i drove back to westbrook, outside portland, that night – it was a bit of a struggle to stay awake, but i made it just fine. maine in the summertime is one of my favorite places to drive, and it’s a good thing – because to say that stuff is a little spread out up there would be an understatement. 🙂