with JD Malone and the Experts – AVALON CD Release Party

one thing you gotta hand to dean sciarra – when he gets behind something, his energy is pretty much boundless.

most of the time, the label might interject with regard to the big bullet points around the CD release party – the venue, date, stuff of that nature…but dean came to rehearsals, we had meetings around the set list, song transitions – i tried to stress the importance of lighting cues and the like, but i had a hard time getting anyones’ attention, and dean insisted that his guy was a pro and would have matters well in hand.

this turned out to be one of a number of matters that we didn’t really manage to compromise on…and while it left a bit of a taste in my mouth, i deferred to majority rule and let it slide.

the party was in phoenixville…not at the colonial theater (which would’ve been my choice), but in the auditorium at erin riley’s phoenixville school of rock facility. rather off the beaten path, but not impossible to find. we set the party for july 12th, with a full dress rehearsal the prior afternoon with all hands on deck.

we enlisted some help for the show – we invited jay davidson along as a utility keyboard player, and since dean wanted me to be more visible, we brought along john farrell to play pedal steel so that i could focus on the other stuff – especially since i didn’t normally bring the pedal steel out as a rule.  michael ronstadt, who’d played with us live a number of times before was also joining on cello.

and – of course – we were joined by the lovely and talented jayda hampton on vocals.

dean wanted to record the show – both in multitrack audio for possible future release, and a full, multi-camera video shoot for DVD release as well. so this show was going to be preserved for posterity in every possible way. so, with that being the case, dean was pretty adamant about rehearsal – of course, dean hasn’t really gotten the pulse of this outfit yet, where the whole rehearsal thing is concerned. we’ve actually made a conscious effort to limit our rehearsals, for a number of reasons – the biggest of which is we really don’t need to rehearse much.  once or twice a year has really been the norm.  usually, we’ll work out kinks at soundchecks when necessary, and everyone in this band is intuitive enough to essentially get on the train, grab a seat, and ride.

this isn’t a concept that puts dean at ease.  at all.  🙂

now, under this particular set of circumstances, i think we all understood this – and we were willing to spot him a little extra work, as we all understood that this wasn’t just another gig.  so, with the show scheduled for tuesday the 12th, we all convened the day before for load-in, a looong soundcheck, and a full run-through of the set.

my gear onstage during the dress rehearsal for the Avalon CD release party...

now, dean had seen the space before – i hadn’t.  so i reserved judgement until i got there, but i was scratching my head a bit when i walked in and saw the place, initially.  to my eye, it didn’t look terribly photogenic, by any stretch of the imagination.  dean assured me, though, that the backdrop would look phenomenal under the lights…and this was his party as much as it was ours in some respects, so i didn’t bust his chops about it at that point.  besides, what were we gonna do?  move it in 24 hours?  sometimes, it pays to choose your battles, and this one was not only unwinnable, but a total waste of energy at this point.  i decided that if he thought the stage looked great under lights and on camera, he obviously had more information to make that decision than i did…so i wasn’t gonna waste time dwelling on it.

(and…it should be said – in retrospect, he was right.  it did look pretty cool on film.)

JD, working up the Beat Poet Remix of "emmitt meets a demon".

dean brought plenty of nervous energy to the gig – he had come to see us play a street fair in west chester the prior week (which we were using as something of a rehearsal for this show), and we hadn’t really turned in a performance that would’ve been worthy of the CD release show – for a number of reasons, and there’s not much point in rationalizing it now, but we were waiting for a thunderstorm to roll in any minute (the streets were already wet from a heavy rain that had come through just prior to showtime), and there were a couple of cues that got lost between avery and i in a song that dean felt was a cornerstone of our set that we’d never even played before prior to recording it…

so…with the prospects of rolling both audio and video tape for this show, he wanted to make sure everything was well-oiled and with its best foot forward – and rightly so.  i think, though, that he was interpreting the general personality of the band as being at odds with that objective for a bit of the day, during mondays’ rehearsals.  i think that – once we’d been there, gotten through all the technical hurdles, and had run some of the set, he felt better about it…but i’m not certain that, at the end of the night on monday, he was free of doubt.  and honestly, he was probably the only one.  everybody in the band, including our special guests, were feeling pretty loose by the end of the rehearsal.  we were all getting there bright and early the next day as it was, since whatever final adjustments that the sound, light, and video guys might need to make would require us to be onsite, and i was prepared to do a little more run-through, if necessary.   we had to strike most of the stage for a show that the school was presenting the next day, so while we weren’t starting entirely from scratch, we’d had to reset a lot of the stage.

the stage, just before showtime...

the day of the show…well, it was everything you could imagine, just in terms of sheer frenetic activity.  there were caterers, video people, house folks setting up chairs, the whole shebang.  this was gonna be a party, no doubt about it…but the room actually looked pretty damned great.   the only thing that struck me as odd was this huge – and yeah, huge in the truest sense of the word – floral arrangement that was sitting on the piano that we’d hidden behind my backline gear.  i can appreciate the sentiment, but – ok, yeah, i’m a dick, but it was a bit of a vibe killer to have those on the stage.  but, at this point, this thing had taken on a life of its own and it was too big for me to fight it.  and, truth be told, it wasn’t really my fight to begin with.  somebody obviously wanted those up there, or they wouldn’t be there…so screw it.  the show goes on. 🙂

with jay davidson on keys at the CD release concert

now, before i seal the deal and paint dean as having been totally unreasonable in his presentation of the band, let’s be fair – there are some criticisms that were perfectly valid, in terms of the way the band presented itself.  he wanted us to tighten up some of our seques, especially early on in the show, and to be certain – we haven’t always been that professional in that regard.   he wanted to tie the setlist together in a way that made the flow of guests on and off the stage as non-disruptive as possible, and while that didn’t necessarily make for the best setlist – it was hard to argue against it.  i think that there was some natural blowback amongst the folks in the band, who had been blissfully exempt from that kind of direction up until that point, and we went from zero to sixty pretty quickly with this show – some of it necessary, some of it maybe not so much, but hindsight is always 20/20 where this sort of thing is concerned.

either way, we worked out the few remaining kinks, we had a solid setlist, and we were ready to grab a bite to eat and get ready for doors.

onstage with the lovely miss Jayda...

i took refuge in the closest thing to a green room they had to offer, with the rest of the folks in the band, and stayed out of sight while the doors opened and folks started to file in.  it was apparent pretty quickly that any worries about a thin crowd were unjustified – there was a huge line filing in almost from the time the doors opened.  i was torn (for a bit) between the urge to go out and greet folks and the more necessary need to stay out of the rampage and just wait for our cue to take the stage – definitely the wiser and least stressful of the two paths.  a few folks spotted us and stuck their heads in the door to say hello, but it was few enough not to be a distraction.  my good buddy michael tearson hung with us as we waited for the cue to take the stage, which came only a few minutes past showtime.

we planned a three-banger for the opener: still love you right into silver from into just like new – with almost no space in between the three of them, for the sake of impact.  in retrospect, tightening up those seques turned out to be a great idea…there were quite a few moments where JD’s ad-lib circuitry went into overdrive and huge chunks of time went by between songs – now, it was his crowd, and they were on his side…but even without some of the patter, it was going to be a long show – and i don’t know that we really had the luxury, with the setlist being as packed as it was.

we blazed through the set, though – the sound onstage was phenomenal, my onstage sound was probably as good as it’s ever been (i had pulled out pretty much all the stops for my live rig for this show…both my gibson GA-20T and my deluxe reverb were onstage, both fed independently by my pedalboard, and i had a submixer feeding an SWR acoustic amp for my mandolin, dobro, et cetera…it really did sound wonderful on the stage that night).

so we came offstage after she likes, with the full intention of returning for three songs – black yodel, leave us alone (man with a worry), and emmitt meets a demon…easily, the three best songs on the record – and held for the encore for that reason.  now, i never fully made it down off the stage – i went down the steps about halfway and then back up, as i was farthest from my spot, and i didn’t want to take too long to get back into position.

so i get back up, and jim yells over, “we’re going straight to emmitt.”


“yeah – dean called an audible.  we’re going straight to emmitt.  we’re running out of time.”

i was somewhere several miles down the road from furious, on the outskirts of livid.

on lap steel, with john farrell on harmonica, during "she likes"

i felt like an offensive lineman, running the plays sent in from the sidelines with no control over the game whatsoever.  this was bullshit.  we couldn’t run the set we’d all agreed on?  we’re just gonna gloss over two of the best songs on the record because we’re worried that people won’t stay for the whole thing?  what about the people who came from four different states on a weeknight to see this show – what about making this worthwhile for them?  was there a curfew?

i was so pissed that i don’t even remember playing the last song.  i had to work hard to summon some degree of chivalry to come back up the hallway afterward and fulfill my meet & greet obligations…it wasn’t the audiences’ fault, after all – i’m not going to take it out on them.

once the place had emptied out, i packed and started the trek out of the room in pretty quick order – i had so much gear onsite that i had to bring some of it back in jayda’s car.  i didn’t really say much to anyone else, but i don’t conceal anger well, and they knew i was pissed.  i just drove home with the windows down and tried to decompress a little.  on one hand, an argument could be made that i’m a little old to be getting bent out of shape about something like this…and there may be a degree of truth in that.

on the other hand, though…look, sometimes i’m not really sure why any of us are doing this.  it’s certainly not because there’s a shit-ton of money in this business, and i’m too old to be doing it for any of the benign crap that attracts a young man into this game.  at the end of the day, the only reason most of the people who were in that room that night were there in the first place was to see this band – to witness this thing that we’ve managed to forge together on a big stage, under lights, loud and proud in a fashion that they don’t really get to see that often.  it’s supposed to be something special, something that doesn’t happen often enough to allow for ignoring it.  there were people there, on a tuesday night, who’d come from scranton, PA…from point pleasant, NJ…from wilmington DE…from Mt. Airy, MD…

if i had it to do over again, i'd TOTALLY be wearing a knit cap in these pictures.

and yeah, it’s a free show.  but those folks drove for hours, on a weeknight, to come be a part of this.  they deserve the best we have to offer.  they shouldn’t be subject to the perceived curfew of a bunch of folks who might want to leave at the insinuated end of the show.  i’m not there to play for the folks who are leaving…i want to play for the ones who are still cheering for more at the end of the night.  i appreciate all of them, but no one gets anywhere in this business playing to those least interested in what they’re doing – you have to nurture the affection of the ones who get it.  they’re the ones who’ll still be coming to your shows when the others have moved on to the next shiny pebble in the pond.

and, no…to answer your question, i still haven’t quite gotten past it.  i’m sure it’s going to come up in conversation soon, and we’ll put the whole thing on the table and deal with it, but i don’t even wanna talk about this with any of them right now.

aren’t i such a grownup?  🙂

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