2021: OBITUWEARY

To paraphrase Jerry Maguire‘s Rod Tidwell – “…that’s MY word!” I’m taking ownership of it, here and now.

Death has been the thread that’s tied together the hours, days, weeks and months that have made up this year, more so than anything else.

Sitting down to take stock of the souls lost over the past 365 days is pretty staggering – it certainly feels like more than a year has passed since we lost Tommy Lasorda and Hank Aaron and Don Sutton…and Ed Bruce and Jamie O’Hara…all the way back in January. A lot of us are still processing John Madden and JD Crowe and Joan Didion and Bishop Desmond Tutu from the past week or so.

Every year brings the loss of folks across the spectrum – media, politics, music, literature, sports – and all of us can probably point to one (or likely more) people we’ve lost this year that affect them especially deeply. I don’t think mine will come as a surprise to anyone:

“the end of an era” doesn’t quite seem impactful enough – but if you visit this particular corner of the internet even semi-regularly, then there’s not much I can add to what I’ve already said about these two and the impact they’ve had on my life.

2021 took a particularly heavy toll in our world this year (musicians and the music industry). In addition to Rusty and Paul, Marc Phillips from the band Hotel passed from COVID complications earlier in the year – Marc and Tommy Calton from the band became friends years ago, and Marc appeared to be in good health until the virus came calling. Nanci Griffith and Tom T. Hall were both huge to me as well – as songwriters and storytellers.

We lost Rupert Neve this year – a giant in the audio industry – at age 94. Lou Ottens – the subject of a documentary telling the story of his invention of the cassette tape during his years at Philips – was also 94 when he passed.

Elsewhere in the industry, there was Walter Yetnikoff (former CBS records head), Phil Spector (I know, I know), Ken Kragen (artist manager, man responsible for USA for Africa/”We Are The World”), Kal Rudman (FMQB publisher/editor), Herbie Herbert (artist manager, Journey/others), Mick Rock (photographer), Richard Cole (road manager for Led Zeppelin) – and, perhaps most senseless, Jacqueline Avant (wife of Clarence Avant) was murdered by an intruder in her own home.

“The business” took a beating this year, for sure. I mean, there were certainly losses elsewhere…

We lost Larry King, Willard Scott, Neal Conan from NPR, and Roger Mudd.

In addition to Lasorda and Hank Aaron, we also lost Ray Fosse, Leon Spinks, David Patten, and the irreplaceable Jerry Remy – NESN’s Voice Of The Red Sox.

We lost Eric Carle (“The Hungry Caterpillar”) and frontier storyteller Larry McMurtry.

Whether they’ll be missed is debatable, but we lost Donald Rumsfeld, G. Gordon Liddy, Sheldon Adelson, Larry Flynt, Ernest Angley and Bernie Madoff this year…elsewhere in politics, there was Colin Powell, George Shultz, Bob Dole, Harry Reid, Max Cleland – as well as F. Lee Bailey and civil rights leader Vernon Jordan.

On screens large and small, we said goodbye to a number of legends: Hal Holbrook, Cicely Tyson, Ed Asner, Charles Grodin, Cloris Leachman…also Gavin McLeod, Olympia Dukakis, Ned Beatty, Dean Stockwell…Tawny Kitaen, Tanya Roberts…as well as Johnny Crawford from the Rifleman and Tony Hendra – the manager of Spinal Tap. Peter Ackroyd, longtime writer for SNL, also passed this year.

But on our side of the fence…the list is kinda crazy.

DMX. Biz Markie.

Stephen Sondheim.

There was BJ Thomas, Don Everly, Michael Nesmith…as well as Lloyd Price, and – within the Nashville orbit, there was Rose Lee Maphis, Stonewall Jackson, Gary Scruggs, Randy Parton…Ed Bruce died early in the year, followed later by his wife, songwriter Patsy. The songwriting community also lost Les Emmerson, Dwayne Blackwell, Charlie Black, Larry Willoughby…Jamie O’Hara, who had some success as a recording artist with his band, The O’Kanes. Tommy West, Randy Parton.

Chuck E. Weiss passed, as well as stalwart touring folksinger Bill Staines of “Roseville Fair” fame.

We lost reggae pioneer Bunny Wailer, Gerry Marsden of Gerry and the Pacemakers, Ralph Tavares of Tavares, Mary Wilson of the Supremes, Wanda Young of the Marvellettes, Sarah Dash of LaBelle, Paul Mitchell of The Floaters (“Float On”), Jay Black of Jay and the Americans, and David Lasley – longtime touring vocalist with James Taylor.

There were a few instrumental giants that left us this year – jazz greats Chick Corea and Pat Martino, bluegrass greats JD Crowe, Byron Berline and Sonny Osborne…Peter Oshtroushko as well.

Robbie Steinhardt from Kansas – there won’t ever be another one like him. Buddy Merrill – who introduced a ton of folks to the pedal steel guitar who wouldn’t have heard it otherwise from his chair on the Lawrence Welk Show also passed this year.

Canned Heat alone lost Gene Taylor (keys) and Frank Cook (drums) – the drums themselves lost a TON of seats. Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones, Graeme Edge of the Moody Blues, legendary Swamper drummer Roger Hawkins, Don Heffington, Kenny Malone, Ronnie Tutt – Billy Conway of Morphine, Marcus Malone (Santana), Ron Bushy of Iron Butterfly. Keyboardists? The great Mike Finnigan passed this year, as well as Ike Stubblefield and Dave Lewis from Ambrosia.

Bassists?

Dusty Hill of ZZ Top, reggae giant Robbie Shakespeare, Nashville sessioncat Bob Moore, and of course – Tim Bogert and Phil Chen.

Guitarists said goodbye to Hilton Valentine from the Animals, Robin LeMesurier of Rod Stewarts’ band, Keith Allison of Paul Revere and the Raiders and Billy Hinsche (touring guitarist for the Beach Boys).

This garbage year will be over in a few hours, and every year I find myself pausing to take stock of what we’ve lost, even if just to say goodbye in my own personal “thanks for the memories” fashion…certainly, this year has taken more from me than most.

But this year I want to take a look around me at the folks who’ve made my life more bearable – the ones still walking among us – and offer a little gratitude for the fact that they’re still here, still walking on this plane, and in many cases, still participating – still contributing – still living.

Dick Van Dyke. Betty White. Mel Brooks. Vin Scully. Chubby Checker. Willie Nelson. Dan Rather. Loretta Lynn. Joni Mitchell. Gordon Lightfoot. David Crosby. Stephen Stills. Carole King.

David Lindley. Emmylou Harris. David Nelson. Bill Halverson. Stephen Barncard. George Grantham. Sam Cutler and Phil “Mangler” Kaufman. Michael Tearson.

I’m forgetting a few dozen, I’m sure – most of these missives are stream of consciousness, and a lot slips through the cracks.

But we all have a similar list, and it seems like a good day to take inventory and breathe a little gratitude out into the world for what we have as we’re saying goodbye to what we’ve lost.

(BREAKING: no sooner had this gone up than word hit the wires that Betty White came up 24 hours short of making it to 2022. As such, I’m giving Betty the final word on this dumpster fire of a year.)

Queen City Diner – and the unseen effects of aging

Aging is another of those things that no one can teach you about… you have to learn it firsthand, from your own experience.

What I can tell you, though, is this: it’s a multi-layered experience.

I suppose it’s easy to focus on the deterioration of the physical aspects, because it’s apparent to anyone paying attention. We bear witness to it all our lives: first our grandparents, then our parents, then our elders, and later – in our friends and in the mirror.

The less-discussed aspect of aging that no one ever bothered to tell me about is coming into much sharper focus these past couple of years…the process of watching bits and pieces of the world you’ve known all your life fall away into the ether.

Similar, maybe, to a polar bear wandering a giant glacier that continually chips off into the sea over the years until he’s left standing on a small patch of ice, surrounded by water… the change is gradual until you notice the water creeping toward you, and once you see it – it demands your attention until it’s impossible to ignore.

I’ve been on the road in fits and starts for most of the past three weeks, and after playing my last show of the month, I decided to pick up some goodies to take back to Nashville with me for the family… Dylan’s favorite ring bologna, Jayda’s favorite chicken pot pie, and a paper sack full of french fries from V&S sandwich shop. Unlike most french fries, the toaster oven loves them – and so does Wendy.

My daughter had told me about the closing of Queen City Diner, and I had no reason to doubt her – but I was still holding out an inkling of hope that I’d turn underneath the overpass onto Lancaster Avenue and find cars parked in the parking lot, just as they had been for as long as I could remember.  I’d been going there since the sign went up, and probably ate a thousand meals there (and that’s a conservative estimate).  I remember walking down the hill from where we lived on Belvedere Avenue with Jill and the kids in the aftermath of a snowstorm to eat during the holidays years ago – I remember taking a handful of the Marshall Tucker crew there in the middle of the night after the band played the Reading Air Show (this was right after my 48th birthday…there was cake and Crown Royal and Fireball and vomiting and photos on my cell phone that I don’t remember and waking up in my car in the parking garage of the Abe Lincoln Hotel and not remembering how I got back there) – and more late night stops after gigs than I could possibly count.  In particular, stopping in with my buddy Mitch Deighan (who I’ve always affectionately referred to as “America’s Last Living Legitimate Hippie”) after Stone Road shows for soup and a plate of “chicken supreme” – grilled chicken with onions, peppers, rice and a light gravy.  And yeah, I could probably make that myself, but – that’s not the point.

Queen City sponsored my kids’ T-ball team the year I coached for the league…the folks who worked there knew us when we came in (especially the night crew), and Wendy loved the way Sayed made home fries…not sure if she’ll get over this one.

Queen City is one of a handful of places in that area that had transcended the passage of time since we’d left – first to Philadelphia and then to Nashville – always very near exactly the same as they were when I last left them.  V&S sandwich shop, Screpesci’s sandwich shop, Boehringer’s ice cream (SINCE 1949) and several others…I know that COVID has changed everything, and I know that nothing stays the same, and yeah, I see the kids and grandkids of the owners behind the counter at Screpesci’s now when I stop there, but I thought QC was as well positioned as anyone might’ve been to ride this thing out.

There was an invented scandal in the aftermath of 9/11 when a rumor started that federal agents had swept in and arrested a handful of people working in the kitchen – unfounded, stupid shit that hillbillies tell each other to stir up old pots of resentment.  I actually had to refute this from a friend who insisted that he heard it from someone who was a restaurant supplies guy who heard it from…I finally said, “Dude…don’t you think that if something like this happened, that it’d be in four inch high letters on the front of the Reading Eagle?  Don’t you think Jim Gardner [news anchorman in Philadelphia] would’ve been talking about this every night for the past week?  You really think that the only people with the scoop are the guys who drop off paper napkins and plastic straws?”

Still, it gained enough traction that a handful of business owners took out a full page ad on the back of the A section of the local newspaper with bold black print:

UNITED WE STAND – WITH STEVE ELMARZOUKI

Then, it seemed unbelievable that something like that would be necessary…now – well, of course it was.

I have no idea what effect COVID might’ve had on the place, or whether perhaps the family just decided to move on to other, greener pastures…maybe business fell off enough that they didn’t want to keep it going.  If they were in Nashville, my first assumption would be that the building was bought by developers for an unnecessary, mixed use eyesore…I mean, in the time since I was there last, a WAWA sprang up across from Screpesci’s that takes up almost the entire block, so maybe it’s not out of the question.

A hasty Google search says that they sold the building, but they’ll continue to operate another restaurant the family owns a few towns away – apparently, the location will become a medical marijuana dispensary.  No formal announcement was made as to why they pulled the plug.

But whatever the cause, another chromosome of my DNA has fallen away.  

This is the thing they don’t tell you about aging.

Features may soften, joints may stiffen, hair may lose its color and fall away (or worse, start growing from awkward places that require constant attention) – and we’re conditioned to expect these things as we get older.

For me, the physical aspects of aging have been largely manageable – but watching the world as I’ve known it all my life fall away has been a hell of a lot more unsettling than the occasional ache and pain here and there.

Ironically, the only place I ever had a conversation that contained any wisdom or insight about this subject was at the counter of this very restaurant… With a gentleman named Frank McCracken, who I knew from his frequent visits to Fred’s music store, where I used to work part time (also permanently closed).

It still bothers me that I can’t remember whose passing we were discussing, but Frank was very resolute in his thoughts about death at that point in time… He talked about how we come into this world as children, surrounded by people older than we are – and how over time, the seedlings eventually become the oldest trees in the forest.

 A lot of folks have a hard time discussing death without interjecting spirituality and the prospect of an afterlife into the conversation, but Frank didn’t even go there – and the part of the conversation that’s haunted me the most to this day was his assertion that once you reached “elder tree“ status, nothing around you was the same as you remembered as a kid…and that by then, you don’t really recognize the world anymore and that the prospect of death was less scary than living in an unrecognizable world.

It was unsettling – both in terms of the subject matter and the fact that I was considering these things for the first time, and in the sense that it sounded like Frank was speaking from his own experience and that he was preparing to say goodbye himself…but Frank is still alive and kicking and leading the Frank McCracken Trio back in Reading, despite his observations that night – so there must still be enough of a resemblance to the world he’s known to keep him tethered for a little longer.

I catch myself wondering, now and then, how much of the loss I’ve experienced over the past two years would have landed in the same way if COVID hadn’t been a factor – I haven’t come to any solid conclusions there yet.  Rusty and Paul’s passings weren’t COVID related, but my ability to play shows with the band and interact with them in these past 20 months certainly is. My ability to travel in the fashion I’ve been accustomed to – shows I haven’t played, people I haven’t seen – feels a little like thievery some days.

And yet – I have to accept the gist of what Frank and I talked about that night at the counter at Queen City…that the world doesn’t stand still for anyone, and we have to make our peace with that as best as we can, and that one day we’ll be gone as well – and that when that time comes, it won’t be as scary because we likely won’t feel as tethered to this world in those days as we once did.

Which makes me wonder whether I’m mourning the loss of these landmarks of my youth as much as perhaps the hastening of the hour at which I’m going to have to come to terms with the approach of this particular milestone.

Feels like the same thing, really.

November

Being self-employed on any level – whether it’s a creative pursuit or not – is often a “feast or famine” proposition…there are long periods of idle anxiety punctuated by frantic scrambles to accommodate everything that comes at you.  I’ve had a friend for years who alternates between worrying whether he has enough work in the pipeline to pay his bills and not being able to answer the phone out of fear of distraction because there’s so much work to do.

I’ve almost always had a “day gig” of some sort to relieve those extremes in my own life, although it’s largely been an exercise in self-delusion…just because one has a regular job, it can often create a false sense of security.  These days, though, it’s been a blessing – working for the company I work for has given me a lot of freedom to say no to things that I’d otherwise have to do in order to pay the bills.  

But then there are months like this November, when it’s just plain hard to say no to the things that came my way.

I had agreed some time back to a show in St. Louis with the Poco next-of-kin, but in pretty short order I found myself with a Boneyard Hounds show the week after that in Philadelphia and was asked to fill a chair up front for one of the “Songwriters and Storytellers” series that I’ve participated in as a sideman in years past…so this year, I’d be participating in the rounds as well as doing my usual “utility” work when the others were playing.  A lot of heavy lifting, but – I mean, I couldn’t say no to that…any more than I could say no to a Dan May show in Sandusky at the Maritime Museum on the 6th, before the real roadwork kicked in.

All of this meant a weekend trip to the Great Lakes region of Ohio, coming back to Nashville to work for part of a week before heading north for that run of four shows, then back to Nashville in time to leave for the St. Louis show with the band, then coming home in time to leave for Philadelphia again – but mileage has never been a deterrent for me.  If you’ve been reading these missives for a while, you already know this.

Just the mileage associated with these runs would add up to a combined total of around 5200 miles.


Sandusky, Ohio is home to me in ways that I can’t really associate with places where I’ve actually lived.

And that’s all Dan May’s fault.

We came to the realization – during this particular show, in fact – that Dan and I have been collaborating for fifteen years.  “Musical Years” are much like “Dog Years” in the sense that one of them counts for more than a typical 365 day unit of time in a lot of ways, and Dan has been one of a handful of folks that have made my life richer for having been a part of that particular collaboration…but with Dan, it goes a little deeper.  Dan has adopted me and his family has taken me in as one of them, and – well, Dan has a large, extended family in both the accepted biological sense and the broader definition of the word.

I’m an honorary citizen of Sandusky, Ohio – as declared by Dan and – from what I can tell – the majority of the population of the city.  And every time we go there, the relationship deepens somewhat…I could pack my car and drive to Sandusky tonight and there’d be a dozen places I could go, where I could knock on the door and be welcomed in.

I don’t think that’s true of my own hometown, really.

So these shows, when they present themselves, are pretty much a given for me.  Playing with Dan is just a layer of the cake…getting to spend time with his extended circle is a fringe benefit that’s become truly special to me over the years.

I left home right out of high school and the disdain I had for the place accompanied me everywhere I went for many, many years.  It never felt like home to me then, and even now it really just serves as a figurative storefront for a place that doesn’t really exist anymore – family has splintered and scattered to the four winds, and that’s probably the main reason I can go back now without a sense of uneasiness…the pins on the map I have in my memory have mostly fallen away after all these years, to the point where it’s largely just another town.

Sandusky doesn’t have the burden of carrying all my mental baggage from my formative years, though, and the town has been a blank slate for me to write my own stories – along with the help of this swath of humanity that’s adopted me.  

Going back there is “a gig”, to be certain – but the “hang” is the attraction for me.  And this show was no exception…a highlight, even.

Dan’s band of supporting musicians has taken on a new member over the past couple of years (and yeah, that sounds like a long time, until you consider the COVID sabbatical) – she came to us as a student of Anthony’s who’d graduated to an instructor role at the School of Rock.  The first time Claudia and I played together was at Sellersville Theater back in 2019, and the connection was pretty much instantaneous – we started playing The Glory Years during soundcheck and she was playing my part as if it were me playing it, and a circuit developed within just a few seconds of that first song.  I thought the first show was just a fluke, maybe – based on some of the other things in the air that particular night – but every time we’ve played together since, it’s been there…and I gotta admit, I struggle to describe it.

As a musician, most of us recognize these connections when they present themselves – it’s not a tangible thing that fits into a social construct (friend, family member, co-worker, spouse, et cetera) that most people recognize.  I mean, anyone who can play three chords can pick up a guitar and play those three chords with anybody else who has the base ability to operate the instrument – but the thing that separates those two random “three chord” folks from the musicians that stand out to us are the people who transcend the mechanics of the process and connect on the next level.  It’s playful and intimate and telepathic and satisfying on a level that’s – again, hard to describe.  But Claude and I landed in that place almost instantly, and it’s been there every single time we’ve played together since, and I treasure that.

with Dan May and Claudia Terry at the Sandusky Maritime Museum

This show was just the three of us – Dan, Claudia and I – and the show was pretty great for three people who’d only played together twice, but the part that I’ll remember long after I’ve forgotten the details of the show was…well, everything that happened after the show.

We went back to Jerry’s house afterward, the guitars came out and we played until…shit, I don’t know what time it was, honestly.  Pizza was ordered, nachos were served, and we passed guitars around and played and sang until literally everyone else had gone upstairs to bed except Claud, Kevin (Claud’s dad) and I.  Kevin plays as well, and towards the end of the night someone had mentioned that a riff I played sounded like Leader Of The Band, so I played it and that opened the portal into the Dan Fogelberg Wormhole – and Kevin started playing the opening chords to The Last Nail and that sealed the deal.  It was All Fogelberg, All The Time until everyone just ran out of gas.

After it was over, I got a text from Claud with a video attached of her dad and I playing The Last Nail from the night before, captioned:  “my dads”.

I packed it in after everyone retired for the night and drove over to the Opfers’ house (I’ve been Team Eddie for some years now, and that’s my home base whenever we’re there) and – predictably – they were long asleep, but I got a nice long breakfast hang with them when I woke up the next morning.  They’d been at Jerry’s the night before for the jam session, along with all the usual suspects, but the hang at the breakfast bar with Eddie and Julie – the quiet time to connect – is really priceless to me.

After a stop along the interstate to take photos of Kentucky Speedway to text back to Danny, it was back to Nashville for a minute before taking off for the Northeast.


I was looking forward to the drive, having gotten a taste of the beginnings of the descent of autumn along the interstate driving south from Ohio.

I realized, though – after only a few miles on the trip north that this musical pilgrimage had fallen at a nearly perfect point in the trajectory of autumn for this year – the Sandusky run was a warmup, but the mountain ranges in southwest Virginia were particularly colorful on the trip northward, and I left early enough in the morning to burn off most of the pre-dawn hours traversing The Nothing (the stretch of I-40 between Nashville and Knoxville that Jayda nicknamed for the void that swallows up everything in “The Never Ending Story”) and I watched the sun come up through the windshield just as I was leaning into the northward stretch of I-81 towards Bristol.  I couldn’t have timed it more perfectly if I’d actually made an effort to line it all up.

Serendipity.

The first show was in Bridgeville, Delaware and my phone took me across 66 and through Washington DC, across to the stretch of route 50 that crosses from Annapolis into Delaware just as the sun was dipping towards the horizon – seriously, I couldn’t have planned the timing of this trip more perfectly if I’d tried.  I got to the venue and hauled my gear in for the first show and crossed my fingers.

I’ve done a bunch of these shows by just plugging the mandolin (or whatever other acoustic instruments I might have along for a particular show) into the same signal path I use for electric stuff – for quieter shows, I’ve managed to get away with it for a long time.  But after that disaster of a show in Wisconsin a while back, I made up my mind to start taking that signal path more seriously – so I bit the bullet and started putting together a pedalboard for the acoustic instruments (banjo, dobro, mandolin, and such) and got a separate amplifier to run those instruments through.  Since I’d be playing acoustic guitar during my turns in the round, that’d be a factor as well, so – I brought ALL OF IT for this trip.  It made for a long load-in and load-out, but the truth is – it made everything easier during the show.  I had discrete signal paths for each instrument, all run off a true-bypass loop pedal – a ToneBone PZ-Pre for acoustic guitar and mandolin, a FIshman Jerry Douglas Aura for the dobro, with delay and tremolo thrown in for good measure.  I’d bought a Boss EQ that I was going to add for banjo, but it was so noisy that I bailed on it.  It made my whole rig sound like it was next door to the airport – I’d assumed that Boss gear was solid enough not to have to worry about that sort of thing, but…well, lesson learned.  I wasn’t really using banjo for this run, so it wouldn’t be an insurmountable issue for these shows.

For the shows, I had a volume pedal in front of me for each pedalboard – those being the only things I really needed real-time access to…I’ve never really been a tap-dancer, I usually set the signal path before the song and run with it…both volume pedals fed their respective pedalboards and amps, pedalboards off to the side and amps well behind the stage.  I’d select the proper path for whatever instrument I was using and roll with it, and it was as close to painless as could really be possible for this array of stuff.  AND – the acoustic instruments sounded pretty great.  No feedback issues, the tremolo actually sounded great on both the dobro and the acoustic guitar when I saw fit to use it, and changing out was as simple as unplugging, replugging, and stepping on a button or two.  The only way it could’ve been easier would have been to have brought a tech along…it’s about as manageable as it gets for one guy.

As material went, I did the usual thing and didn’t really bother to rehearse or re-learn anything…I had a few songs that I knew I’d want to do, but I wanted to just react to what was happening on the stage with the other performers and I didn’t want to lock myself into anything where material was concerned – I did listen to a couple of my older songs on the drive up, just to refresh my memory and brush up on lyrics, but that was pretty much the extent of my preparation.  I knew I wouldn’t need a ton of material to begin with – the most I’d have to do would likely be six songs if we did two rounds of three songs each, and I could play six songs in my sleep.  I knew I’d end up doing two Poco-centric songs for sure, both “Crazy Love” and “Where Did The Time Go” would be in the bag – but I gave myself plenty of rope outside those two.

I did a couple of songs from “Our Mutual Angels” over the course of the run – Brand New Distance and Is That Enough – just because they popped into my head at specific times.  But I also did Craig Bickhardt’s Giant Steps and Craig Fuller’s Sure Do Miss You Now from the Friends and Heroes collection…I did Tom Petty’s Southern Accents one night, as well.  Nik Everett surprised me by showing up for the second night of the run, so I pulled out Uncle Tom’s Cafe for that show, and I did Bitter And The Sweet for another – but those were the only new-ish songs I bothered to do…since none of that stuff was available at the merch table yet.

Seeing Nik was a welcome sight – we both tried a hand at doing the math, and neither of us could remember having seen one another since before I moved to Nashville in 2014…and that it might have actually been at one of the Bob Dylan Birthday Bash shows at Rembrandt’s back in the day…which would easily be ten years.  Nik was the last person I saw before I drove away from the Smyrna Opera House that night on my way back to Sol Knopf’s house, where I stayed the first two nights (as did Jesse Terry and his family).

I’ve known Sol for years, but in all that time I’d never had an opportunity to spend any real time with him, other than at shows – but we got a chance to connect during this trip that we hadn’t really had before.  A couple of great post-show hangs with long conversations, including the story of the night he met his wife and how her father factored into it…I won’t tell it here because I likely won’t do it justice, but…it’s a great story.

Sol connected me with a writer for an interview not long before I made the trip, and he used nearly everything from our conversation – which was surprising, because usually it’s a matter of bits and pieces – but we’d talked specifically about Sol during our conversation, and I made some unsolicited observations about him that I thought were just part of the banter, but that he ended up using in the article.  I told him that one of the things I always admired about Sol was how evident his love for his home state was in his work, how it was clearly part of his identity, and the only other songwriter I could really think of who’d managed to pull off having that same sense of place in their work was Springsteen – that to me, Sol was just as synonymous with Delaware as the Boss was to New Jersey.  Not in a heavy-handed, Jimmy Buffett fashion…but with a modicum of actual grace.

And honestly, after spending some actual daylight driving around the state a bit that weekend…I get it.

If you’ve spent any time there, you get it as well…you don’t need me to tell you. 

Three of the four shows were in Delaware, save for a show in suburban Philadelphia that had JD Malone subbing for Sol (he had a previous show on the schedule) – Claudia came to the show and she and I went out for dinner with JD and Tommy after the show before I headed over the bridge to spend the night at Casa Del Tearson before the last show of the run the next night.  Cindy Pierson (widow of legendary soundman George) and Carolyn Miller came over the next morning with breakfast for a nice hang before I left for the final show.

After we wrapped up the final show of the run, I went back to Sol’s in Smyrna and we stayed up with the family and had pizza before bed.

I got up the next morning at a much earlier hour than I’d normally get up and set out on a slightly different route home.  I decided that, since I was already so far south, I’d deviate from the typical Interstate path home…I was going to follow route 13 all the way south through Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia – across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and into Norfolk and across Virginia to connect with I-81 around Wytheville and home from there.  It was several hours longer than the typical drive home, but I had hoped it’d be worth it…and it was, largely – although I found myself wishing I’d done it during the summer when the days were longer and I had the extra daylight.

I got home in time to dump my gear from the northeast run and re-tool for the acoustic Poco gig in St. Louis and leave some 36 hours later – Jack, Rick and I had decided to rent a minivan for the run and drive up and back together.

The first thing I noticed when I got to Rick’s house to load up was that our rental van had Colorado plates.

I see you, boss.  I see you.

This set was essentially a reprise of the set we’d played at Wildwood a month earlier – a short set of Poco songs for a lifelong fan who was retiring from his position as director of the St. Louis Zoo.  He turned out to be a wonderful guy.  It was also convenient, in that there was a seller just outside St. Louis who’d listed a Source Audio programmable EQ pedal that I’d been looking for – to use on my acoustic pedalboard and he was nice enough to drop it off at the hotel for me.  I got in a nice walk through Clayton in suburban St. Louis (I could see the arch from my hotel window) and Mary (Rusty’s wife) and I closed the bar the night before we left to return home to Nashville.

Another down day at home before reloading the car to head back to Philadelphia for a show with Michael Braunfeld and the Boneyard Hounds – our first post-COVID show as a band.  It was a loud affair, to be certain, and there was a pretty stubborn layer of rust to shake off, but that’s a journey that begins with a single step, and we definitely took it that night.  There was a great crew of friends who came out to the show to support the band, and we did our best to make it worth their while.

Another night at Casa Del Tearson after a nighttime drive through Philadelphia to reacquaint myself with the skyline…and left the next day to cross the river and do a little shopping for the family before returning to Nashville.  I picked up some V&S fries, some Hippies’ ring bologna, some Chicken Pot Pie and some block swiss cheese (which appears to have gone extinct here in Nashville for some reason) to bring back to the kids to jog their memory.  I felt my stomach sink when I drove by the now-empty building where Queen City operated for over a quarter century…I knew to expect it when I turned the corner, but the knowing didn’t do much to quell the impact of the sight of it.  But I stocked up and made it back to Nashville in the dead of the night, leaving a bag of groceries on Jayda’s doorknob in the dead of the night…it was cold enough that I knew it’d keep ok.

Thanksgiving came not long afterward, and I made a point of assembling myself a Pennsylvania Dutch charcuterie plate full of what I’d have expected to find on the long table at Maplewood avenue back in the day – ring bologna, cheese, and kettle chips.  I’d put thousands of miles on the odometer over the previous couple of weeks, but it had been fulfilling on multiple levels…personally and musically…and I was thankful for new memories to add to the archive.  

So why not celebrate with a plate full of processed meat and cheese, huh?