boris garcia tour diary
friday, november 11th – 19 Broadway in Fairfax, CA
saturday, november 12th – Caspar Inn in Mendocino, CA
sunday, november 13th – Nelson Family Vineyards in Ukiah, CA
monday, november 14th – Humbrews in Arcata, CA
thursday, november 17th – Connecticut Yankee in San Francisco, CA
friday, november 18th – Ashkenaz in Berkeley, CA
saturday, november 19th – River Theater in Guerneville, CA
sunday, november 20th – Manzanita Place in Chico, CA
after two solid days of running around like an idiot trying to get everything wrapped up that i needed to take care of before leaving for an extended stretch, wendy and danny dropped me off at the airport at around 3:30…and i was surprised to find that i was the first of the band to get there. bud and steve pulled up to the terminal just as i’d gotten out of the van and collected myself on the sidewalk to go in and print my boarding pass and check my bags, and bob and jeff weren’t far behind. relatively uneventful flight, for the most part – save for the effort required on my part to block out the in-flight viewing of rise of the planet of the apes…hardly must-see TV. i tried on a few occasions to listen to the patently unlistenable Zune music channels – and contemplated how the lines between genres are going to be largely nonexistent soon. you’ve got country acts rapping, pop channels playing lady antebellum, and all of it sounds like it’s mastered through the exact same Waves plug-in as everything else.
so i leaned pretty heavily on my phone for the lion’s share of the flight, kinda coasting in and out of consciousness…waking up every now and then to a scalp massage from the guy in the seat behind me (stirner).
since our noon radio hit was cancelled, our first actual hit would be at 2pm the next day – so that bought us some extra time…but by the time we’d managed to pick up the van and head up the road an hour and a half or so, everyone was pretty worn out from the trip. the van that we landed was a chevy, and – as we’d soon find out – was a poor shadow of what we’d had when we came out for the last trip. it rode like shit, had swinging doors on the side (which seems like a non-issue until you try to use them in a practical sense), and power-nothing…when you went to load in, you had to manually unlock the doors…manual windows…and, frankly, i wouldn’t have been surprised if you’d have had to rock a lever back and forth to make the windshield wipers work.
and it was about as far from a smooth ride as you can get without involving horses or mules. total pain in the ass.
but – it was functional. and as such, once bud and i picked up the van and retrieved the other guys from the baggage claim, we headed up the road to the first of our overnight accomodations – and after hitting the drive-thru next door to the hotel, we settled in for the night.
KZYX in Philo, CA
19 Broadway in Fairfax, CA
we were up and out the door at a decent hour for the first day of our run – although i can’t say that it was a terribly restful night…there was construction going on literally right outside the window of our room…and while that sort of thing typically wouldn’t bother me, i didn’t block it out as well as i normally would. as such, it was a pretty fitful nights’ sleep. at some point, though, i woke up and realized that i didn’t hear it anymore….i’d find out later that this was because it had started raining at some point in the dead of the night, and they’d packed it in as a result of the weather.
we stopped at a UPS store in healdsburg, CA to pick up some gear that we’d had shipped out ahead of the run, and started making our way to Philo to KZYX – where we’d played during our last run as well. it sits on the side of a mountain in a small, nondescript building, but the folks there have been great to the band, and we’re always happy to see them. when we stopped in, though, there was some kind of an issue with a power outage and they were running on generator power- but there was more than enough in the tank for us to be able to get through our visit without any issues…so, as is something of our custom, we were in and out and back on the road in pretty short order.
the radio station in Philo was relatively close to our old stomping grounds in Navarro, so we stopped in to see dave at the navarro general store and grab a late lunch…we were a little crunched for time, otherwise i’d have made a point to stop in and see david dart at his shop – but it wasn’t meant to be on this particular leg of the trip. it was a total ambush on our part, though – dave had no idea we were coming, and it was great to be able to surprise him the way we did. it seemed as though he was genuinely happy to have seen us, and i hope he knew that it was important to us to make sure we stopped in while we were there. (i also snagged one of those odd little ice cream/cookie sandwich things that are apparently local to NorCal…i can’t remember off the top of my head what it was called, but i had discovered them on the last trip, and they made an impression.)
i was trying to change strings on the two lap steels that i’d brought along as we were driving the winding, “intestine-like” stretch of route 128 (to borrow bud’s euphemism for the road) – and to say that it was challenging to change strings in the back of the van as we were driving would be something of an understatement. i’m a little surprised that i didn’t poke anyone in the eye with a stray end of a string as we were driving…it was pretty crazy to try and pull that off as we were driving on that stretch of road. i kept thinking of those Lincoln car commercials that i used to see when i was a kid, where they’d have a jeweler trying to cut a diamond while sitting in the back of a Lincoln Continental driving over rumble strips – i’d love to have seen that dude try to do anything in the back of this van while twisting and turning down the road we were on.
Fairfax seemed like a pretty cool place, although in fairness it probably isn’t a good idea to judge any of these towns when you come in under cover of night and it’s been raining – but the venue was very professionally run with a great soundman, and we were in and set up pretty quickly. once we’d gotten through soundcheck, we decided to go find dinner down the street from the venue. we settled on a small cafe right down the street, since we didn’t have a great deal of time…and we were all really feeling the effects of the time change and the travel by this point as well. by the time we got back to the club, i was dying for a nap, but it was pretty close to showtime. bud tried to grab a few winks on a bench seat over behind where the soundboard was located – don’t know if he was successful or not.
we played that night like a bunch of guys who were running on fumes – we had a few high spots, but it wasn’t one of our best sets…we got through it relatively unscathed, though – no major messes or glitches, just not terribly inspired. i tried to follow bud’s example between sets and get a nap in, but it just wasn’t happening…but we got through it. afterward, as we were loading out, we saw this guy who’d been walking up and down the streets all night….his hair probably hadn’t been washed since labor day, he had a distinctive smell (i’m trying to be nice, for a change), and his coat was perpetually half-hanging off…one of the folks who worked at the bar said hello to him and asked him how he was doing, and he went into this rant about how he’d gotten thrown out of every bar on the street that was still open, because “nobody would give him a microphone and let him sing his song.”
welcome to california, boris garcia.
Caspar, CA (just outside Mendocino): the Caspar Inn
we’d been staying at the good nite inn in roehnert park (just off highway 101) for the first couple of nights…since we had lodging at the next gig, we checked out of our lovely rooms overlooking the Taco Bell just off the highway there, and headed towards mendocino county…one of my favorite places on the planet. i had remembered seeing calendars for the Caspar Inn on the wall at our favorite bar (Dick’s Place), so we were aware of it when we’d come through back in june.
let me tell you straight away, where this place is concerned…if you ever have occasion to play here, don’t be swayed too heavily by your first impressions as you pull up to the place. i feel pretty strongly that you’ll be as pleasantly surprised as we were.
first of all, it sits right on the ocean…you can stand on the porch and see the water not quite a hundred yards away. BUT – it looks very much like those kinds of places that you hear about south of the mason-dixon line…with the jukebox and the chicken wire and the perpetual smell of urine. and, to be fair, it is a bit of a roadhouse, but not in the stereotypical negative sense. Bobby, the proprietor, was being talked up to us well before we even arrived.
As has become tradition – we met someone from Philadelphia there. we stood on the porch and in the street and watched the sun drop into the pacific ocean – which was amazing to begin with – and we stayed and chatted with a handful of characters that we met that night…including a fellow with southern roots named Madrone (or so he said, anyway) and his 26 year old girlfriend with orange hair…the husband and wife bartender (Madrone tells us that he actually dressed as her husband for halloween once – by drawing his tattoo on his arm with a magic marker and decking himself out in Cubs attire) and another lovely gentleman who fell asleep at the bar and managed to stay conked out while people stacked cans of Red Bull and other assorted items on his head for a good ten minutes or so. it really is the kind of place where you feel as if you’ve been coming there for years, even if you’ve only been there for an afternoon. after a few beers and some laughs, we all piled into the van and drove over to the venue for load in.
first of all – BEST LOAD IN OF THE TOUR. we backed the van right up to a pair of double doors that opened right onto the stage. the only way load-in gets easier than that is if we just play in the van itself. and bobby totally and completely lived up to his rave reviews, not only providing lodging upstairs at the inn for the band, but also by feeding us and making abalone for us between sets.
the crowd was sparse, largely due to the fact that the area radio station that has championed the band for years (KOZT) had another event scheduled for that night, and they typically don’t cross promote against station sponsored events. our promoter couldn’t even buy advertising for the show – they wouldn’t sell it to him. still, the folks who showed up were enthusiastic, and we know we’ll have a home there down the road. we played much better than we did the night before, and had a great time hanging out with bobby and company afterward. one of the patrons did manage to break my heart after the show by telling me that he’d just come from a show at another room where Gene Parsons was playing (who, as most of you probably know, was the drummer for the byrds during the clarence white era and the inventor of the Parsons-White string bender). apparently, gene lives in the area and plays around town relatively often.
bummer. another missed opportunity. not complaining, though… 🙂
aside from the load-in being awesome, they also provide accomodations, as the inn is actually set up as such – it was one of the only times during this run that we’d have our own rooms on the run, and i took full advantage of the opportunity to head up to the room early and get some sleep – as i knew we’d be getting on the road somewhat early the next day.
Ukiah, CA – the barn at the nelson family vineyards with great american taxi and the david nelson band
this was the first of a handful of shows that we would be doing with the david nelson band, along with great american taxi, the band fronted by former leftover salmon mainstay vince herman. this was a long show – starting early in the afternoon and going until well after dark, with boris opening at around 2pm, then the taxi boys followed by the nelson band.
we were up relatively early in Caspar to get on the road, and we arrived in Ukiah around noon…tim steigler, the soundman and all-around ringmaster for all things technical for the nelson folks, was already on site and had loaded in the system and was in the process of setting up when we got there. the setting for this show was a large barn on the site of a family vineyard that was established in 1952 – they’ve been having shows there for some time, and it’s become a pretty successful site. in fact, they’re one of the stops on the new riders of the purple sage run that starts right after the nelson band finishes this run of dates. it was a beautiful day to be out and about…a little colder than the guys were expecting it to be, but hey – it is november, after all.
we unloaded the gear that we’d be using (we were using mookie siegel’s keyboard rig and pete’s bass rig, but our own amps and drumkit for our set), and got out of the way for the most part. the boys from GAT showed up not long after we did, and did the same…now, usually, the way things work is that the headliner sets up first, soundchecks first, and it goes in reverse order up through the opener, who sets up last and plays first (obvious enough). with this crew, though, the only act on the bill that got anything actually resembling a soundcheck was the opener – tim had worked with the musicians in the nelson crew enough that – it would appear, anyway – he seems to be able to dial in the line check that happens during the opener’s soundcheck to the extent that there doesn’t appear to be much need for the other acts to bother with soundcheck at all…and i didn’t hear a single complaint from anyone else about monitors or sound for any of the gigs we did with timmy at the helm.
i scouted the stage when we got there and decided, without any real deliberation, that i’d just stick with the lap steel for this show. there just wasn’t enough space on stage for the pedal steel – and since it was something of an amended set,. it didn’t strike me as a huge compromise to just stick with the lap steel for the set. as such, my setup was ridiculously quick – plug in the amp, connect the volume pedal, the sparkle drive and the tuner, and go. timmy had us dialed in (with his usual calm demeanor) in record time, and we blazed through our set – which felt as though it was over before it started…it flew by pretty quickly.
the boys from great american taxi took the stage next, and since we’d already done all the line checks, they were on and roarin’ pretty quickly. vince, the frontman of the band, is one of those larger-than-life characters…he’s a big, gregarious, perpetually smiling teddy bear who just so happens to play and sing his ass off. barry sless from the nelson band sat in with them on pedal steel on a few songs, and added a nice touch.
while they were playing, i was walking around in back of the barn, where everyone had backed their vans in to load onto the stage…it was as close to a backstage area as you could expect in a festival setting, which was essentially what it was, although it wasn’t actually closed off. there were several old trucks out back, including a classic white freightliner tractor with a flatbed trailer on it…and for some reason that i can’t quite put my finger on, i found myself strangely attracted to this thing. i spent a good portion of taxi’s set lying on the trailer with a sierra nevada, using my bag as a pillow and looking up at the expanse of tree branches over my head and just soaking it all in. jeff wandered by after i’d been lying there for a while and told me that “i looked as though i belonged there” – which, i guess i could assume, would mean that even after all this time, i still have “the burly stature of a truck driver” (as was pointed out a decade and a half ago in a review of our mutual angels…if the boot fits, i guess).
and…about that sierra nevada pale ale…that’s just plain good stuff, right there. there was a full cooler backstage, and while i normally don’t really imbibe during shows – i wasn’t driving, and we’d already turned in our set…so there really wasn’t anything to keep me from having one or two – so i did. there wasn’t a garbage can in the vicinity of the cooler, so i kept putting the tabs in my pocket as i’d open them…i wasn’t keeping them for any other reason but to refrain from throwing them on the ground or anything of that nature, and didn’t give it a second thought at the time.
one of the things that i truly love about doing these shows is the humanity parade that you experience in the wake of the nelson band – and i suppose that could be taken in a negative light, but the truth is – these are wonderful people. the stereotype that surrounds these folks is unfair in a lot of instances – these are people who share a common love of music and community, and they understand in a way that most other people are content to ignore just how much one enhances the other. a lot of these folks come to these shows as much to enjoy one another as to enjoy the music, and a lot of them have been friends for decades – and have history with one another going back that far.
but while a lot of the folks who follow the music are veterans, there’s certainly evidence of a healthy influx of newcomers, as well. one of the longest conversations i had during the course of the day was with a girl who was probably my daughter jayda’s age who had moved out to a commune in northern california from her home in oklahoma – her mother didn’t really make any effort to understand (and certainly didn’t approve) of her choices, and she seemed as though she was trying to make peace with that – but i could tell that the weight of her mom’s disapproval colored her enthusiasm for where she was trying to steer her life. talking to her made me sad in a way that i didn’t fully realize until the conversation was over…because for all the misgivings i might have about some of the decisions made by my kids, or whatever worries i have about their direction – or lack of such – in life might take them at times, i’ve tried never to be the person that i know this girl sees her mother to be. it’d crush me to think that my kids saw me the way this girl saw her mother – i mean, i know we’re not as close as we could be at times, but i do hope that they understand that i’m in their corner…and that i’m not the kind of person who would condemn a choice that they were passionate about just because it didn’t fit with my own expectations of them. that’s just tragic…for both of them.
this was the first of several shows we’d be doing with the nelson gang, and they were – as always – ridiculously good. i ventured to the side of the stage from time to time to take a look at the action on the stage, but i spent a big chunk of time sitting on the flatbed, in the dark and staring up at the stars, listening to them from my vantage point on the back of the truck…it was pretty transcendent.
i walked back into the barn with jeff and bob to get a pizza at the food stand inside, and we met a couple of french kids who wanted to know if we had “rollings papehr” – which i didn’t, of course…nor did anyone else on hand (officially, anyway) and i grabbed another sierra nevada to go with my pizza on the way out of the back of the barn.
the guys played a phenomenal set, and we walked around the barn and the road outside chatting with people – including one girl who professed to be from reading, and said that the power was still out at home as of earlier that day when she talked to her mom…unbelievable.
as the folks wandered back to their cars to head off into the night, mark keys (the promoter) gathered everyone together and marched them out a side road to a house adjoining the vineyard, where there was a huge spread of food – we got to know vince a little better, as well as jim (the guitarist) and chad staehly, who also works quite a bit with todd snider – so we hit it off on that level, since i’ve been a fan of todd’s work for a long time. our hosts were incredibly gracious, the food was excellent…and after a while, we loaded into the van to head to the hotel.
i assumed, as such, that the night was over.
i assumed wrong.
when we got to the hotel – the discovery inn in ukiah – the colorado boys had already gotten there, and there was a small posse in the parking lot, playing guitar and singing…the hotel parking lot was something of a courtyard setup, with the rooms surrounding a common lot with a building in the middle that housed a sauna and the hot tubs. bud handed out our room keys after checking in at the desk, so as soon as i threw my stuff into my room, i came back outside to see if any of the other guys were planning on participating in any extracurricular activities, if you will…bob had called mark to see if there was going to be a “hang” after we all got back to the hotel, but bob went up to his room after we got back to the hotel. stephe and i were outside in the courtyard, waiting to see if anyone else was going to trickle out, but after a while, we walked over to where the parking lot kids were and said hello…we stood there with them for a while, until we saw two girls over by the fence surrounding the building where the hot tubs were – one trying to boost the other over the fence. i grabbed my room key from my pocket, went over to the gate, and swiped my card through the reader to let them in. i hadn’t been in there, and had no idea until we walked in that there were hot tubs in this building…i had initially thought that maybe it was an indoor swimming pool or something like that, but when we walked in, there were four separate hot tubs, plus a sauna and a waterfall thingy that was noisy as hell in the main room. the two french kids that were looking for “rollings paper” at the show were there, plus a handful of girls of widely varying ages and a couple of guys affiliated with various bands…in varying states of undress.
i looked over at stephe, and smiled…and kicked off my shoes. “what are you doin’, man?” he says. “i’m going in, dude.”
“damn right, i am, dude,” i told him. “dude, shit like this just don’t happen every day. this ain’t the company christmas party, man…and it’s not like i’ll be back in this position anytime soon. i’m in.”
and before i had time to reconsider, i shed the lions’ share of my clothes and got in the water. i left stephe standing there contemplating whether or not this was something he was interested in or not.
i just settled in with some folks i didn’t really know and struck up a conversation…the one (older) woman in the tub that i got into was wearing a bathing suit, and i asked her if she was just being optimistic when she packed, or if she’d been here before. “this is california,” she said. “i never leave home without my bathing suit.”
to answer the obvious questions, yes – there was nakedness involved. but it wasn’t the typical, overtly sexual rock and roll nakedness…it was just a group of people hanging out with one another, some of whom happened to be naked. one girl, sitting on the edge of one of the other tubs, was strumming a ukelele…there were some things being smoked that might have been of questionable legality in other states, but mostly it was just conversation that was being exchanged.
so…while it certainly seemed like a rock and roll kinda thing in principle, we were a pretty boring lot.
and, after about 45 minutes or so, the room started to clear out…leaving stephe and myself – and the two french dudes.
now, if i left any doubt earlier, their english was – well, a little rough. their intentions were good, but i had a hard time understanding them…and the roar of the waterfall in the room only complicated matters, as i could barely hear them in the first place. so…after another fifteen minutes or so, i started contemplating the notion of getting up out of the tub and getting my clothes on and heading back to the hotel room. we left the friendly french guys there by themselves and i headed over to dry off and hit the hay…it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 3am or so. my hair felt like i’d been using a chlorine-based conditioner of some sort, and i was still a little buzzed from the influx of various sierra nevada products during the course of the – hey…i’d been putting bottle caps into my pocket as i went during the course of the night – how many did i have, after all?
i emptied my pockets onto the desk in my room and counted them up.
no wonder i was feeling very little restraint about jumping into the hot tub. it was a pretty high number.
needless to say, i had no problem at all falling asleep.
Arcata, CA – at HumBrews with great american taxi
we got up pretty early, considering how late we’d be up the night before – the plan was that we were stopping at this little diner in willets called ardell’s before we started the drive north to arcata for the show that night.
we actually bumped into mookie and jim lewin from taxi outside the front desk area of the hotel before we left…we chatted for a few seconds before we pulled out, and set out for the drive…which, from where we sat was roughly three hours. sadly, ardell’s was closed, so we settled on the country skillet – which, frankly, was just fine with me. great little spot, with awesome people-watching.
the drive up to arcata was almost exclusively on highway 101 – which very well might be my favorite stretch of road in the country. the scenery of the countryside in that part of the country just never gets old…i never tire of looking out the window on that stretch of road. i’ve tried in the past to take pictures out the window of the van, and i still do – but still photographs just don’t go very far, in terms of capturing the actual experience of being in the midst of that part of the country. we decided to take a short scenic detour through the humboldt redwoods state park – and if you’ve never been through that part of the country, let me tell you…it’ll help you put a lot of things in perspective.
we pulled the van over and piled out onto the side of the road at a point where there was enough room to get the van safely off the winding, two lane stretch of road, and i grabbed my camera and walked up the hill through the enclave of trees, alternately staring up at the sky through the long, arrow-straight giant trunks with tufts of leaves at the very top…and pulling my chin down and taking in the sheer breadth of the trees at the point closest to the ground. across the road, there was one giant fallen trunk that dropped away from the road and into the forest. i walked over, and followed the length of the tree to a point further up the shaft where it was realistically possible to climb onto it, and walked back up the length of it to the point closest to the road where it was its largest…and also the farthest from the ground. stephe had wandered over by then, and i tossed my camera down to him so he could get a shot of me, standing in a faux triumphant pose on top of the giant tree.
after we’d been there for about fifteen minutes or so, the troops started getting restless and summoned us back to the van so we could start back up the road.
one wasted stop at a pawn shop that we passed along the road, and we were in arcata relatively early…well before the GAT boys. we stopped in and visited for a bit with the folks at the venue, and brought in the gear that we knew we’d be using (without assuming anything regarding shared backline), and walked down the alley behind the club to a small music store there in town called wildwood music to browse for a bit. i think bud might have been in the market for mandolin strings, as well, but i can’t remember. anyway, we poked around for a bit – and bob pointed out an old early 50’s fender champion lap steel to me that was in the back of the place. now, i’ve never been a fan of those things, largely because all the ones that i’ve played have been overly brittle…and this is an instrument that’s usually in need of some rolloff on the top end, no matter which brand you’re playing – i think that anything with the pickup that close to the bridge with a scale length that short is gonna bark at you in that frequency range, but the fenders have always been especially guilty of that. i tend to gravitate towards rickenbackers and gibsons, because they seem most susceptible to taming that flaw…but, of course, your mileage may vary. i know that phil madeira has one of those, and he loves his – and who am i to judge? i just play what i like, and i’ve always just kinda written them off. bob was reaching for his glasses and hovering over this thing, though…and asked me to play it for him while he looked for something to plug it into. i hadn’t bothered to bring a bar with me, because i wasn’t really shopping for anything – but i improvised with a pocket knife long enough to make sure it worked properly, and bob took it to the counter and started negotiations…turned out it was on consignment, and bob made an offer and asked the clerk to call the owner to see if he’d take it…which he did, and he did, so bob walked out with this thing. as it turned out, he was a lot less interested in the steel than he was the pickup in it – thus the reason for his thorough inspection. as it turns out, it was a flatpole telecaster pickup and harness assembly in this thing, with the original caps and the whole nine yards. so, bob left the place a happy boy…as we were walking back down the alley to the loading door, we saw vince from GAT walking towards the place, as they had just pulled in themselves. we went up to help with the load-in, and vince came walking up a few minutes later, beaming and holding his new purchase – a marshall acoustic amp. “i knew it was an acoustic amp because it’s brown,” he chuckled. “all acoustic amps are brown.”
that’s the kind of character he is. 🙂
anyway…the gig. oh, yeah, there was a gig, as i recall…
it was a monday night, so our expectations were somewhat low, but there was actually a pretty respectable crowd – when you consider the whole weeknight thing. and we played our asses off. it wasn’t our crowd, but they were pretty enthusiastic and supportive, and we got a lot of positive feedback from the folks i spoke to after our set. GAT tore it up…their set included a cover of pure prairie league‘s kansas city southern, which i definitely got a kick out of – they played their asses off for a solid two hours, and encored with willin’ before calling it a night.
after the show, i chatted a bit with some of the folks in the crowd as they were leaking out the door before heading into the green room – the smoke in the green room was absolutely stifling…it was actually hard to see the walls in there. i passed a “howdy” message along to vince from a mutual buddy of ours who’d asked me to say hello to him via facebook, lonesome larry williams from WWHP-FM in farmer city, illinois and we all chatted for a while…there were remnants of stuff lying about, including a dish full of cookies. i grabbed one – they were some distant relative of oatmeal raisin, i believe, although my memory fails me – and didn’t taste anything contraband in it, so i had another one as we were all standing and chatting…and grabbed another one on the way out the door. the third one, i noticed after i got into the van, tasted…well, a little funny, but i hadn’t noticed anything in the other two, so i kinda wrote it off. didn’t give it another thought.
we got to our hotel for the night, loaded the equipment into the room, and stephe and i settled in – bob stopped by to chat for a bit, and i got up to get my laptop out of my bag, and immediately felt – weird. not dizzy, but not really solid, either.
i sat back down, and bob says, “what’s wrong?”
“i don’t know, man,” i told him. “the room just took a lap or two around the track or something. i don’t feel sick or anything, but that was a little odd. i don’t know what happened.”
and it didn’t go away when i sat back down, either.
bob knows all too well that i refrain from smoking as a rule – not because i have a problem with people who do, or anything of that nature…i don’t take issue with it at all. i just don’t smoke weed. never have, and never had any real desire to. it’s not the use of the stuff that i have an issue with, but the actual act of smoking that is the barrier for me. i just can’t do it. in fact, the only times i’ve ever encountered the stuff was via either cookie or brownie ingestion…but neither of those times did i feel as i did in this particular instance. suffice to say, it freaked me out a bit.
so when we narrowed it down to the cookies via the process of elimination, bob says to me, “did you see vince eat any of the cookies?”
“yeah,” i replied. “i think he had one of them.”
“well, here’s a general rule that you might want to abide by,” bob said. “if you see vince do something, you probably want to do less of it than he did. you sure as hell don’t want to do more.”
and with that, bob retreated to his room, and i crawled into bed with my clothes on and pulled the covers up tightly around my chin. the ceiling of the hotel room (which was covered in that wonderfully appealing textured paint) appeared to be changing colors, not unlike those ridiculous lamps that you can buy at the mall…and the ceiling itself seemed as though it were only inches from my face, while the window – from which i was separated only by the edge of my bed and a small table and chair – looked as though it were at the end of a long hallway. but it was just as well, as i couldn’t keep my eyes open for long periods of time without feeling nauseous, anyway. when i closed them, though, the whole pink floyd laser eyelid light show began…the strangest assortment of passing colored patterns that i’d ever seen. i lay there, waiting to fall asleep and convinced that i was going to die there in this hotel room on the other side of the country, thousands of miles from my family and friends…i remember thinking to myself that, at the very least, i will have died doing what i personally consider to be my lifes’ work, and there’s at least that – but that there’s tons of unfinished business on my plate and that i can’t resign myself to that just now. i remember repeatedly moving my toes under the covers just to make sure that i was still inhabiting my largely numb carcass, and wiggling my fingers from time to time. after stephe turned out the light to go to sleep, i’d open my eyes on occasion and found that the nausea had subsided, but that i still didn’t trust my eyes, in terms of what i was taking in.
i have no idea what my final thoughts might have been before i finally fell asleep the first time, but i must’ve gone from sleep to some state of semi-conscioiusness several dozen times…i think. i mean, i might have been dreaming that i was waking up, for all i know…but i doubt it. the next morning, i managed to haul myself up from the bed, put some clothes on, and gather my posessions into the back of the van as everyone was loading in – i stood outside the van for a good long while, almost certain that i was going to leave a souvenir of our visit in the parking lot before we left, but i managed to clear my head and put the urge to barf behind me before getting in the van. bob relinquished the shotgun position to me for a time, just in case the urge were to revisit me, but it wasn’t an issue after that initial near-miss.
fucking cookies. i shoulda just hunted down that 24 hour pizza place like chad did and none of this would’ve happened to begin with.
the boys from GAT were on their way north, to applegate oregon and one of my favorite places on earth – the applegate river lodge in applegate, oregon (boris played there on our last run, back in june). we had a down day, though – and 330 miles (250 of which would be on highway 101) to cover, heading south from arcata to san jose, where we’d be settling in for the next couple of nights.
i was never so thankful to be spending the entire day in the car.
notable on this trip, though, was a stop in sebastopol and a visit with bill krinard – founder and mastermind behind two rock guitar amplifiers. bill had a fully restored nash rambler sitting in front of the house…and the visit would’ve been worthwhile if that had been all we’d seen. the guys dropped stirner and i at bill’s house and went searching for food, and bill invited us in to the laboratory.
i wasn’t really prepared for the labratory. it was two walls full of amazing guitars, and a ridiculous assortment of amplifiers – a few oddballs and stragglers, but largely two-rock creations…some production models, some amps that were in for tune-ups from a few notable players (one that belonged to steve kimock and one that belonged to john mayer), and a thing or two that were one-off creations that didn’t have labels…one, in particular, was a replica of the dumble circuit in david lindley’s personal dumble amp.
bill brought it into the room and hooked it up and bob handed me the cable…and turned it up nice and loud.
i played david lindley’s solo from shaky town (on the running on empty album) and simply could not believe my ears. this amp was just plain unbelievable.
sadly, we didn’t have a ton of time, as it was only a matter of time before the guys got back (bearing food…one of the best burritos i’ve ever had, if i do say so myself), and we had to get down the road, to hopefully arrive at a decent hour with our hosts.
but the sound of that amp is still ringing in my ears.
Berkeley, CA – live on David Gans’ radio program on KPFA-FM
Let me just say this – David Gans is one of the nicest dudes I’ve ever met.
And no, not just because he’s done nice things for the band – he’s just a genuinely good soul. An easy guy to talk to, sincerely interested in his friends’ lives, and a gentle soul.
For the uninitiated, David is the Dick Clark of the Grateful Dead nation – David hosts the nationally syndicated Grateful Dead Hour, which can be heard on stations in just about every state of the union as well as shows on Sirius/XM radio and – pertinent to our itinerary, on KPFA in Berkeley…the town that Stirner calls “the left-wing, hippie radical epicenter of the universe”. We’d gotten into town later than we’d originally planned, largely because we had taken our time in getting up and out of the house that morning because we were all tired as hell…but as such, it was pretty dark, so there wasn’t much to distinguish Berkeley from most other cities under cover of night. We stopped at Trader Joe’s to pick up a little something to eat (which can be a little daunting, in terms of finding something to carry out to the van and devour right away) and then headed over to the station.
how do you know you’re in the lobby of a radio station in the “left-wing, hippie radical epicenter of the universe”?
well, for one, they have an actual altar in the lobby with tributes and notes and the like for folks who’ve passed on who’d either worked there, or were friends of the station…and you’d have to be pretty callous to stand there in front of this monument and not be moved. these are people who genuinely care about one another.
so we loaded in at the appointed time – our gig this evening was an actual hour-long live performance, playing to an invited audience as our set was broadcast over the air.
the two folks working for the station in a technical capacity were really on top of their game…we’re not an easy band to mic up or soundcheck in a “hurry up” situation, and sometimes these kind of things…well, let’s just say that we’re a lot easier when there’s plenty of time, space, and inputs. 🙂 nonetheless, though, we managed to get set up and ready to go literally right under the wire – we narrowly escaped a few seconds of dead-air at the top of the show. that’s how close it was – but we played out of the show intro and the rest of the set, plus the interview, went really well. David was the usual gracious host, and the post-set reviews that came in via text and facebook were pretty positive.
i say this a lot….maybe too much…but i just love this part of the country. it’s a perfect storm of the people, the geography, the mood, the weather, the roads and highways, the scenery – all of it. and even under the cover of darkness, berkeley is a wonderful place.
KRSH-FM in Santa Rosa, CA and San Francisco, CA – The Connecticut Yankee
the boys had been to “The Krush” before, on one of their previous jaunts, but i never had – the station has been a pretty staunch supporter of the band, and – ironically enough – the jock who’d be interviewing us also played guitar in a band called The THUGZ (which, in a decidedly non-hiphop twist, is an acronym for Tribal Hippie UnderGround Zone) – who’d be appearing with us later in the week at the River Theater in Guerneville.
on the drive out, the boys decided they wanted to stop just outside Petaluma for a bite at some little hole in the wall place that served Uzbekistani food or some other such nonsense…and, well, you know i ain’t havin’ none o’ that, so i left them there and took a walk a few blocks up the road and found a great little roadside burger stand and had a great organic, grass-fed burger and, since i hadn’t heard from the boys yet, kept walking up the street and around town for a bit, taking pictures and enjoying a rare moment of solitude before bob called me to pick me up so we could head up the road.
the radio show was a bit more routine than the previous nights’ excursion in Berkeley – it was more of what had become typical of our radio hits…a live interview interspersed with a couple of songs performed acoustically. and from there, we made what would be my first ever trip into San Francisco.
the gig itself, at a small corner bar-ish place called the Connecticut Yankee, was essentially a tip of the hat to our esteemed publicist, Dennis McNally, who lived nearby and this gig was more or less an opportunity for Dennis to come hear the band without making it too inconvienent for him. but – with it being a bar and all – load-in was late, and they didn’t want to see us even in the same neighborhood until sometime after 8:30 or so. which, frankly, was fine with me…while there was a bit of enigma attached to the notion of playing in san francisco, i’ve played this place several thousand times.
so, after visiting early and getting the predictable response from the bar owner, we trekked back out into the city…we visited the Haight-Asbury section of town and went to Amoeba Records (which left our resident Vinyl Junkie, steve, literally speechless. it was that cool.) we took a walk up Haight street a ways as well, stopped into a very cool music store for a few minutes and kinda took in the “south streetness” of the area for a bit before heading back over to the gig.
with absolutely no offense intended to the good folks at the Yankee, it was easily the worst gig of the tour. anemic audience, and a tiny stage with so little room that i ended up sitting on my amplifier to play, because there wasn’t room for a chair or a stool. everyone was up each others’ ass, and it was no fun whatsoever. Dennis and his wife seemed to enjoy the first set, and some folks trickled in later who were really supportive and seemed to enjoy the band – but i won’t be disappointed if we don’t play there again.
Berkeley, CA – Ashkenaz with David Gans and the David Nelson Band
so this was the day that we were gonna do the makeup visit to Subway Guitars in Berkeley prior to our show…we’d missed our opportunity on Wednesday, simply because we had so much on our plate, and we hadn’t exactly gotten an early start. we had a 5pm load-in for this show, and we were all up and in the van by 12:30, so i didn’t really foresee any problems in making it happen today. bob needed to stop by a UPS store, and there was one located on the way out of town, right next to a CVS, so we all decided to mill about and grab some stuff that we needed (i replenished my toothpaste supply and bought a brush and a diet coke, everyone else came back to the van with similar small plastic bags) and we started down the interstate towards Berkeley. since steve obviously had a limited interest in visiting subway, we dropped him off on the block between the amoeba record store and rasputins – again, he was like a kid who just woke up on christmas morning. we made one impulse stop at a pawn shop and then started across to cedar street towards Mecca.
my expectations were somewhat low…i’d been a regular visitor to fatdawg’s website and i knew what kind of store it was likely to be. i’d conjured images in my head of a smallish place with walls and ceiling lined with guitars and a funky vibe…and that’s exactly what it was. bob brought his strat, as he was considering having the 5-way switch replaced, and i brought my national steel along, as i’d been having some issues with the amphenol connector (or more likely, the cable itself that came with the steel). i took a deep breath and we opened the door and walked in.
it was even smaller than i’d expected – with guitars hanging in three rows on the walls all around the room, and old archtops and acoustics suspended from the ceiling, and all manners of paraphenelia literally all over the room. guitar parts, various and sundry necks and bodies, as well as books and various flyers and such adorned every surface of the place.
i felt like i’d died and gone to heaven.
the first thing that caught my eye was a danelectro DC-style body with a telecaster bridge and pickup and a cool old P-90 style pickup in the zone between where a neck pickup and a middle pickup might’ve gone, painted a copper color with a longish baritone neck on it…i plugged it into a bass amp they had sitting there in the store and it sounded AMAZING. there was another single-cutaway hollowbody hanging next to it with a single rickenbacker lap steel pickup in it that was less impressive when plugged in, but quite visually striking…and there were more, and more, and more…everywhere i turned, there was something else that i wanted to play that i couldn’t reach.
after we’d been there a while and had chatted for some time with the illustrious fatdawg himself (who came in just after we did), a slight, unassuming elderly black gentleman walked in and went up the steps in the back corner…i thought he looked familiar, but i couldn’t place him. after he’d gone upstairs, i asked FD, “was that…was that freddie roulette?”
fatdawg seemed somewhat shocked that i knew who he was…when he came back down, he introduced me to him – but he was on his way out the door, he had to go drop someone off at church, but he’d be back in just a few minutes…and he’d bring his guitar.
i literally could not believe that this was unfolding right in front of me.
we were discussing my amphenol connector situation with another repair guy who worked there, and were entertaining the notion of trying to find one at an electrical parts place in the neighborhood – but freddie walked back in not long after that with a gig bag over his shoulder, a tiny amplifier, and a small pedalboard. he proceeded to pull out a national 8 string lap steel, plug it in, and start absolutely wailing – playing standards like georgia on my mind and sleepwalk and stuff of that nature – crazy bar slant chords that, from a logical standpoint, should not have worked in any way, shape, or form, but he was making them work – wild slides up and down the fretboard, crazy chord melody stuff…all the while staring down at his fretboard with his omnipresent pipe dangling just over his lap the entire time. it was as if he was aware there was anyone else in the store at all. he must’ve played for half an hour..while he was playing, bud and jeff showed up to pick us up for load-in, and they stayed and watched for the longest time…and freddie was still playing when we left to scramble for the van, to pick steve up and head to the venue for load-in.
to say i wasn’t ready to leave would have been an understatement. plus, i never found out what he wanted for the danelectro baritone.
we got to the venue to find the familiar Ryder rental truck parked in front of the venue, and we were lucky enough to score a parking spot right in front of it. it had begun to rain, and i don’t think any of us were that interested in dealing with carrying our stuff any further in the rain than we had to. when we walked in, tim steigler was already largely set up for the show and ready for us to load-in.
the venue was impressive – a very large floor, a spacious stage, mirrors along the wall on one side – really a wonderful space. the walls behind the stage were covered with protest posters, some clearly used on the street, some from ages past, and it created a somewhat surreal vibe in the place. now, fatdawg had told us a bit about the place and its original owner, david nadel – david was shot in the doorway of the club as he was leaving and died two days later – under what could kindly be called suspicious circumstances.
now, let me say something here – we all hear people say, sometimes ad nauseum, that people’s spirits live on, that they can feel their presence, that they’re still watching over them, blah blah blah….let me tell you something.
within the walls of this room, david nadel is fucking immortal.
there are many folks who knew him, who worked for him and with him, who clearly had a huge amount of respect for him as a human being – who still work here, who still come here, and there are ample reminders of him throughout the place…it’s a huge testament to who he was and what kind of human being he was…and to the legacy he left in his wake.
so there was an immediate air of celebratory reverence in the air in the room, and the air was a little different from the moment we got there. the PA was already up and ready, and we were able to start setting up for soundcheck pretty much right away – and as has become the norm when we work with this particular crew, tim steigler had us set up and dialed in with what seemed like no effort whatsoever…we had great monitors, the room sounded phenomenal…and it was already starting to feel like it was going to be – well, one of those nights.
i walked across the street to chipotle and grabbed a burrito and a corona while the rest of the guys went for Thai food, and came back just a few minutes before showtime…david gans was opening the show, and we’d worked with david during our last tour at a co-bill in sebastopol in addition to having done the radio show together earlier in the week – so we were really looking forward to this gig.
we came up to play with david for his last song, and literally from the minute we kicked in behind him, it was obvious that something had kicked up a notch…it was palpable. and when david handed off the stage to us and we kicked into our set, people were up at the front of the stage and dancing and it just pushed us over the edge. we played one of the most amazing sets that i think we’ve ever done.
afterward, i had a great conversation with one of the folks who’s worked here almost from the beginning of the room, who knew david, and was something of a historian where the place was concerned…it was a pretty magical evening, to say the least. lots of hugs and goodwill and then – back into the van to go grab a few hours’ sleep.
Guerneville, CA – the river theater
the DJ who hosted us at KRSH in santa rosa (andre) is also the guitarist in a band called the Thugz (which stands for Tribal Hippie UnderGround Zone – hardly a typical name for a jam band, but who are we to judge?) – and we were playing with them on the bill at this particular show. Guerneville was the furthest north we’d be playing since coming south from arcata on tuesday in the wake of the cookie debacle – and since we were playing in chico the next night, we were staying somewhere along the highway after the show and getting up early to head to chico the next day.
it had started raining as we were driving towards the show, but by the time we got there, it was coming down pretty steadily – enough that it was hard to really see much of what guerneville was like…it’s a river town, and home of the Russian River Blues Festival…as well as the river theater.
we pulled in back of the place to load in up the ramp, and threw open the van doors and started rolling our gear up the ramp to the open door that led into the side entrance of the hall…i walked in for the first time and stopped in my tracks.
this place was…well, different.
no, not just different. this place was – well, disturbing and amusing at the same time.
it looked like what would’ve happened if bill graham had hired stanley kubrick to direct one of his new years’ eve parties at the fillmore west.
there were various props hanging from the ceiling, mostly stars and planets – with the stray torso here and there. a ten foot tall silver male figure stood atop a speaker enclosure. a mockup of the letters that adorn the hollywood hills floated atop the main downstairs bar. there were various faux egyptian relics strewn about, mixed with seven foot tall gingerbread men, a giant bag of popcorn, and a life-size ice cream cone. part star wars, part the ten commandments, and part alice in wonderland, all rolled into one.
the ringleader was a fellow named jerry knight – who personified every movie stereotype of the music business mogul that we’ve all come to identify with…big smile, gregarious personality, planet hollywood satin jacket, earring – but the fact is, he was a great guy…with a huge investment in the place and a lot at stake in making the place work. it was clearly a labor of love for him, and he was very proud of what he’d managed to do up to that point…and rightly so. it’s easy to make assumptions and jump to conclusions when you’re encountered with somebody like jerry, but i believe the guys’ heart is in the right place.
we arrived at roughly the same time as our partners on the bill, and the affected parties went about settling whose backline would be used for what…i set up well in back of the keyboard rig, as i was expecting to sit in with them during their set (we ended up doing three songs together, culminating with the dead’s one more saturday night), and i was set up and ready to go relatively quickly…which left me plenty of time to wander around and take pictures.
after soundcheck, we went up the street for dinner and ate at a place where a three piece power trio was playing, mostly originals…the drummer looked like doctor house, the bass player looked like ray romano, and the camoflauge-trousered guitarist looked like a strange combination of vanilla ice and henry rollins…i silently dubbed them Social Douche-tortion, and ate as quickly as i could so i could get back to the venue in time to sit in with the folks from the Thugz.
i played three songs with them, wrapping up their set playing lap steel on a cover of the dead’s one more saturday night, before we took the stage – and while we were all chilled to the bone from the lack of heat in the place (jerry had turned on a contraption that looked like a combination of a wheelbarrow and a jet engine that was hooked up to a propane tank before the doors had opened, but he apparently ran out of propane at some point, so it had a pretty limited effect), we stormed the stage and fired right into our set…the highlight of this particular night, for me, was a hyper-extended version of good home that featured the trumpet player from the Thugz, who came up for an impromptu solo during the jam in the middle of the song, which actually worked out pretty well – his timing was excellent, and he came up at the perfect point in the song for his solo. righteous.
just a couple of songs into our set, though – the dance floor (heavily populated with cowboy-hippie zombies from the beginning of the show) parted to make room for jerry and his companion, who were clearly in need of a hotel room…based on their actions on the dance floor. for a buncha guys away from home for almost two weeks, it was a bit much to bear witness to – but, hey…good for jerry. 🙂
as had become custom for me, i made a point of walking the entire floor after we finished to press the flesh, shake hands, introduce myself to folks, and make friends….but most importantly, to thank them for coming to the show. we made some friends this night, and jerry was pretty clear that he wanted us back – so it felt like a success to us.
we got back onto the 101, and found our way back to where we started – in roehnert park, at the good nite inn – right back where we started this run right after we got off the plane and into the van
Chico, CA – Manzanita Place with David Gans and the David Nelson Band
so this was it…the final night of the run, and our third show with the Nelson boys – and frankly, i was feeling a little bittersweet about it.
sure, on one level, i was ready to come home to my family – sleep in my own bed – get back to work on setting the new house in order, et cetera…but after two of these trips, getting to know the other musicians, the folks who work the shows, the wonderful souls who come to the shows and support the bands – well, there’s this wonderful family that’s grown up around this scene over the years, and it feels as though the boys in Boris have been assimilated into the family at this point. they know us by name, they take care of us on the road, they dance during our sets – and as with last time, i made it a point to walk around the hall at the end of the show to thank everyone for coming and take a few minutes to talk and get to know them. there were so many almost famous moments during the course of the night, too – sitting on a folding chair backstage listening to the headliner during the show, holding court with the guys from david’s band in the green room over a great meal, taking pictures with everybody – it was the last night of the tour for them, as well, and we all knew that it’d be a while before we got to see each other again, and…just like russell says in the movie – “nobody wants the circus to be over.”
mark keyes, the promoter who put the bigger shows together for both of the tours that i took part in, has become a dear friend…as well as tim stiegler, the FOH guy, and paul andling, the guy who was doing guitars for the band, was such a nice guy and a good sport…and, after this was all over, i found out that i totally squandered a great opportunity to pick the brain of a guy who’d spent a good chunk of his professional life working with people like T-Bone Burnett in the studio – paul. dude was just so nice, so unassuming, that he kept it under his hat the whole time.
so….yeah. that whole “parting is such sweet sorrow” thing? totally on the head for this scenario.
we got up and out the door pretty early for this run, and – while bud had done the lions’ share of the driving for this run – i got to make a cameo appearance behind the wheel for this drive. i know that when we’d gone to chico for the KZFR interview last time, the drive was a bit of a drag, but we were coming from a different direction then. this time, not so much. it was a little rainy at first, but it wasn’t the worst day we’d spent out here this run.
and, as had become the norm, timmy’s rental truck was already at the gig when we got there…they’d already started setting up the house when we arrived for load-in and soundcheck. the venue was essentially a large, open hall with no actual seating – and the house folks had put out chairs, which mark had to ask them to strike. there was a little friction between mark and the promoters as a result, and i don’t know if the douchebag that purported to run the place ever really got over it…but that was his problem more than anyone else’s. mark got the green room set up the way he wanted, he got the chairs removed as he wished, and pretty much everything else as well. the only real caveat that we had to deal with was that the room had to be cleared by a certain hour, and we had to have the stage quiet and the lights up by 10pm – which was a requirement of the township, more so than the room…and as long as we stuck to our timeline, it wasn’t going to be a problem.
load-in and soundcheck had become pretty routine by now – the Nelson guys were set up first, and we had become pretty adept at setting up around them. i usually dropped my amp in right behind david’s mesa/boogie rig, and dropped a folding chair between his amp and the drum kit. mission accomplished. and…the headliners? i don’t think they soundchecked once the whole run. and yet, they sounded phenomenal every night. and – after soundcheck, the folks started trickling in…jasper and his wife came in pretty early, with a new face – jennifer, a beautiful girl from the baltimore area who’d come out specifically for the shows. i nicknamed her “PBJ”…Paiges’ Beautiful (friend) Jess. (and yes, i did have to explain the absence of the letter “F”…i mean, the F throws off the whole acronym, ya know?)
it seems almost anticlimactic to even talk about the shows themselves – but, i’ll tell you what…it was, without a doubt, the best set i’ve ever seen the David Nelson Band turn in.
they did a version of stella blue, with pete singing, that just killed me. i was in the back, sitting by myself when the song started, and i actually walked out into the hall to get close to the stage and hear this up close…just unbelievable. the room was full of people, all dancing and swirling slowly to the song – i stood just over to one side of the stage, just behind mookie’s keyboard rig, and listened to the rest of the song with tears welling up in my eyes…an absolute textbook portrait of bittersweet, listening to these musicians i respected and admired, surrounded by this newly adopted family of mine…and knowing that we’d be on a plane in roughly 24 hours and it’d be over.
like the pros they are, the boys finished their set – with encore (“box of rain” – another tear-welling moment) – with six minutes to spare before pull-the-plug time.
the lights came up at the end of the show, and the band retreated to the green room, but i didn’t go back right away…as had become somewhat customary, most of “the hang” would move out into the hall during load-out anyway, and it didn’t feel like it was really necessary to bother with heading back to the green room right away. instead, i walked around and talked to the folks who’d come to the show for a good half-hour…including paige and jasper, who’d brought pictures of the bus he was refurbishing that he shared with me…and quite a few other handfuls of folks who’d stuck around a little longer to enjoy each other’s company. this was their family, too, after all.
lots of hugs. lots of smiles. lots of difficult goodbyes at the end of the night…followed by an especially long load-out, punctuated with more goodbye hugs.
as we pulled away (with yours truly driving again), stirner plugged his iPhone into the radio in the van and surfed through a couple of songs, until i asked him if he happened to have a copy of brokedown palace on his iPod…and, of course, he did – so we ended up listening to american beauty a couple of times through in silence in the van as we drove back to san jose for our last night on the west coast before flying out the next afternoon.
Going home, going home
By the waterside I will rest my bones
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
To rock my soul
Fare you well, fare you well
I love you more than words can tell
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
To rock my soul…
this run was a classic example for me of the duality of what we do. when we’re on the road and in motion, there’s literally NOTHING i’d rather be doing. but the expense of it, the drudgery of certain parts of it, the anxiety that sets in when you’re away from home and unable to deal with the things that you need to have your hands on in order to keep your life on track and running somewhat smoothly…but it’s worth it.
it’s worth every minute.