with Boris Garcia at The Historic Blairstown Theater, Blairstown, NJ

right in the heart of scenic downtown blairstown. 🙂

this was one of those “blindside” gigs.

by that, i mean that i heard about it literally days before it was to take place…not that i’m complaining, mind you – save for the fact that i had to bump another gig in order to make it happen. i’m not an advocate of doing that, by the way…but the situation being what it was (considering that i was going on the road with this band for an extended period in the very near future, and i could use every opportunity to play with them that i could scrounge), i had to make a call as to whether or not to do the gig, and i made the best decision that i could, considering…

it was the inaugural weekend at this particular venue – the historic blairstown theater….the prior night, they’d had a screening of friday the 13th, and tonight was boris garcia with buzz universe opening.

if you’ve never been to blairstown, it’s a really cute little town nestled out in the middle of nearly-nowhere…small in a good way, for sure. the people we met while we were loading in and getting ready for soundcheck were wonderful, and the volunteers took care of all the heavy lifting, even…i didn’t have to carry any of my gear into the theater (which was a good thing, actually…the stairs are a killer).

looking into the room from behind the drumkit...

the theater itself has a quasi-sellersville vibe, in that there’s an area directly in front of the stage with no seating, that could be used either for cafe-style seating, or for dancing under the right circumstances. i didn’t do a seat count, but i don’t think there were more than 200 seats in the room – which puts it in a sweet spot that might be beneficial to them. i’ve often lamented the lack of rooms that size in the area. there’s an abundance of tin angel/steel city style rooms that have a capacity of around a hundred, but from there it goes straight to the 300-plus rooms, where you’re typically booking bands that have a much higher price tag – and, as such, can often put you at a financial risk if the show isn’t successful. at 200 seats or so, you can book acts that have outgrown the coffeehouse circuit, but aren’t typically so costly that you’re endangering your bottom line by booking them.

it’s a good number, 200. 🙂

we found out, during load in, that they also have a full complement of backline available, as well…good stuff, too. the sound system is brand new (which can be scary, but they had the house rung out and ready to go in plenty of time…the opening band might disagree, but it’s a new installation, after all)…and the guys running the sound had a pretty good bead on the room…a lot of times, things will get washy in the monitors as the night goes on, but everything was really consistent all night long with the monitor mix – i could hear the vocals really well all night long, and that’s not always the case.

playing with this band has been a revelation, for me…it’s like discovering a love for cuisine that i never thought i’d have a taste for, but finding that i really enjoy it after giving it a shot. i wasn’t sure that this was going to fit when i initially agreed to take on some of the dates, but as it turns out, my inner improvisational child is flourishing with these guys. it’s definitely going to force me to elevate my chops, and that’s a kick in the ass that i could really use right now. i’m enjoying the extra stage volume, the give and take…it’s been really interesting. it’s not something i would’ve seen myself doing even a couple of years ago, but once i’ve gotten to the point where i don’t have to constantly peruse my mental checklist while playing the songs, it could get really good. 🙂

Heroes, Hombres and Troubadors: A Tribute To Robert Hazard

at load-in for the show, larry broido – the guitarist i replaced in the late robert hazard‘s band – walked up to me and said, “you know, for a long time i was really pissed at you. but i’m over it now.”

probably not the most at ease i’ve been getting ready for a gig. 🙂

this show had been in the works for a long time – the brainchild of nik everett and longtime hazard bassist freddie ditomasso, the notion was to bring together players from all three phases of roberts’ career – the early new wave days with his band the Heroes, his later howl-era band, the hombres, and the band that was the core of his twilight touring band during the troubador phase for a tribute show featuring material from the whole arc of robert’s career.

figuring it out...
walking through the backline layout...

during the initial conversations i had with both nik and with freddie, i had protested the notion of doing the show at chaplin’s – not due to personal reasons or ill will or any of that sort of thing, but because the feng shui of the place just didn’t make for a smooth set of transitions for a show like this.

if you’ve never been to chaplins’, it’s what we refer to as a “shoebox” – there are no entrances or exits to the stage, but through the room itself. there’s a green room upstairs, but you can’t get on – or off – the stage without making your way through the seated audience.

for a show like this that would require a litany of people getting on and off the stage, it had huge potential for painfulness – and i certainly availed myself of multiple opportunities to point that out.

but – freddie, bless his heart, had a plan – and for the most part, he made it work.

the show was tommy geddes and kenny barnard on drums, rick bell and michael vernnachio on keys, larry and myself on guitars and various other stringed instruments, and freddie on bass…along with a pretty decent cast of characters playing the role of robert hazard for the evening (or, as it were, singing his songs)…and everyone involved did an awesome job.

at the only real rehearsal we had for the show: larry broido, michael tearson, tommy geddes, jd malone, freddie ditomasso

we had gotten together the night before for the sole rehearsal – i understand that there was one other rehearsal for the performers who were playing during the first set (which as largely acoustic), but i was unavailable for that one, so i had to accompany those folks on the fly…which i’ve done before, and besides – it’s not as though i was unfamiliar with the material, right?

freddie had asked me to sing a song for this show, and for me the choice was pretty obvious.

there was a song that robert had written that we’d played live a couple of times called “summerland” – luckily, one of those times was for scott birney’s radio show…and someone had taped it, so the song was preserved for posterity as such. robert did it at the very bottom of his range, though…which was gonna be a problem for me. but – the solution – i played it on the baritone in the same chord set, which moved it to G – and that was all but perfect, from a range perspective.

(you’ll have to click through the link below to see the video – unfortunately, it’s only available at this site, and their embed code doesn’t play well with wordpress.)

tom hampton performing “summerland” by robert hazard

i also sang “somebody else’s dream” in the second set, but that song was something of an afterthought, for me…i’ve always enjoyed playing it, because it was a showcase for the lap steel, but “summerland” was my personal high point of the evening. i also enjoyed accompanying michael tearson on “i want you” and debuting that for the room…that song being the one that michael had done for the first of the RH tributes that we’d done at steel city with eric andersen. michael had suggested to robert that he cover that tune in the fashion that we ultimately ended up doing it in…slower and more deliberate…and michael has adopted it in the same blueprint since.

other highlights: jd malone tearing down the house with his version of “nobody but the night”….he had everybody in the room up on their feet before the band kicked in, and had them in the palm of his hand. nik everett did an awesome “change reaction”, tearson did “blue mountain” during the so-called electric second set, and kenny goodman – who i’d never met before – came up to close out the night with some of the old heroes material – “out of the blue”, “escalator of life”, and “blowin’ in the wind”…and absolutely killed all of them. in fact, he sounded uncannily like the robert of that era…and i don’t think that was lost on many people in the room that night.

i had met larry at the previous night’s rehearsal, but we didn’t really get much of an opportunity to talk at all, what with trying to run through everything and tighten up the show – but we developed a real musical rappore during the show itself. we complemented one another in a way that doesn’t often happen organically the way it evolved during the course of the night…and i don’t think it was lost on either of us. in fact, i feel like larry is a foil now…we have a really nice, natural vibe between the two of us, and i really enjoyed playing with him.

after the show was over and we’d spent quite a bit of time chatting with the folks who’d made the trip, those of us who had stuck around took some pictures outside and went looking for an open diner to grab something to eat…the diner around the corner from the venue was closed, the phoenix was closed, and the iron hill brewery had stopped serving food as well…it felt like someone up there was trying to tell us that the evening was over and it was time to go home.

the all-star band...
left to right: michael vernacchio, larry broido, freddie ditomasso, kenny bernard, tommy geddes, rick bell, tom hampton

it was certainly a bittersweet drive home…a quiet one, too. i couldn’t bring myself to turn on any music in the car…i was still taking in everything that had happened over the course of the night.