with JD Malone and the Experts – AVALON CD Release Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JDME
the stage, just before showtime...

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

JDME
with jay davidson on keys at the CD release concert

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

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

JDME
onstage with the lovely miss Jayda...

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

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

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

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

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

“whaaaaaaaaaa…ttt?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

aren’t i such a grownup?  🙂

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Tour Diary: Craig Bickhardt and Ronstadt Generations

itinerary:

june 24th: sellersville theater, sellersville PA

june 25th: studios of long valley, long valley NJ

june 28th: eagleview summer concert series, lionville PA

the folks in ronstadt generations have become friends over the past couple of years from a handful of one-off shows here and there. michael, the patriarch of the band, is linda’s brother, and he helms the band with his two sons, petie and michael G…they’ve been travelling with josh hisle for the past few shows we’ve done with them, as well. you’ll probably remember josh if you’ve seen the deja vu documentary from the CSNY tour that followed the living with war album, having been in the movie and subsequently taken under neil’s wing. most recently, they had been part of our “evening of thanksgiving” show that we do every year at milkboy in ardmore.

this was the first time we’d put together something like this – we’ve done on the road and in the round shows before where we’ve done strings of shows with guests, but we hadn’t really done a co-bill like this…with the OTRAITR shows, everything is in the “round” format, and the formula is largely tried and true – it’s just a matter of gathering the right personalities and talent. these were standard co-bill performances, and relied strictly on the two artists – the ronstadts, and craigs’ mighty little touring unit (which, for these shows, included michael G on cello, since he was along with the family and all).

sellersville
tommy geddes onstage during load-in for the sellersville show...

the first gig was a sellersville theater show that we all promoted pretty heavily – it’s a 300 seat room, and it was our first time putting a show there that wasn’t as an opener for a pre-booked headliner…so there was some pressure to put bodies in the seats, as we hadn’t really proven ourselves there in that capacity. we were really happy to have drawn the respectable numbers that we had at showtime – it was quite a relief, believe me. now, what i wasn’t really aware of was that petie was planning to record the show. i didn’t really give it a thought, as we record shows occasionally at sellersville, but it’s usually just as a record of the show, or to review the set…generally academic in purpose.

this was more than just a soundboard recording, though…petie was setting up for a multitrack capture. i just assumed that they were recording their own set, for their own purposes, and it wasn’t really pertinent to us at all. well, as it turned out, they were recording our set as well…but i didn’t really realize it until after the show.

we were incorporating a couple of new songs into the set tonight – one of them a song that craig had written in the aftermath of the nashville floods called men and rivers, and the other an ode to the creative spirit, called crazy nightingale:

in the video, you can plainly see the price tag still hanging from the headstock of my then-still-new-to-me national new yorker lap steel, the one i’d just gotten while on the road with the boys in boris garcia during our west coast run. 🙂

during, and then after the show, i felt good about how we’d played…i wasn’t particularly excited about it – didn’t feel it was exceptional from my vantage point or anything like that – it just seemed like a solid set, good performances, minimal clams. everyone enjoyed everyone else’s music and company, and we said goonight until the following nights’ show.

the next night, when i got to load-in, larry was positively raving about the recording from the show the night before.

apparently, petie’s recording of our set had turned out pretty well. 🙂

ronstadts
ronstadt generations onstage at the studios of long valley in NJ

this venue, the studios of long valley, has been a favorite of mine – fabulous sound system, good people…a little off the beaten path to be sure, but a great place to see a show. our friend carol bernotas from WNTI was there for the show, and her musical DNA is very, very similar to mine, and she’s a pleasure to hang with. jon and georgina rosenbaum made it out to the show, and i had a little something special in the trunk for jon – he had bought a les paul standard goldtop from me, and we’d agreed to do the exchange at this show, since he was planning on being there.

there was only one other date set for our shared run – an outdoor concert series in chester county, just outside downingtown and pottstown in tiny eagleville that’s been happening on tuesdays in the summer for several years, presented these days by jesse lundy and rich kardan at point entertainment.

eagleview
my side of the stage at the eagleview summer concert series with craig bickhardt

it was pretty much the perfect show to wrap up the run…it was sticky and humid outside, but we had a great crowd – and that went a long way towards making the heat bearable. we even had a dancer during our set, at one point…who slowly started removing clothing during the song, but thankfully we ran out of song before he ran out of clothing. 🙂

after the show, we all grabbed a table in the courtyard behind the stage area – the ronstadts, craig, elaine, jake and our crew – and ordered some food, a few drinks, and watched hisle terrorize our waitress for a good half hour…papa ronstadt sat at my end of the table, and we had a great conversation. we had just lost kenny edwards, who played bass for linda and produced karla bonoffs’ amazing debut album, so we remembered kenny together for a short while…he’s a good soul, papa ronstadt. the whole night reminded me that there’s a lot of comeraderie that’s been lost as our business has morphed over the years…i use almost famous as a yardstick for a lot of things in my life, and i couldn’t help but flash back to the backstage scene early on in the movie as everyone was getting reacquainted, running into folks at the arena dock during load-in. a lot of the time in between nowadays is spent in solitude now, and we travel in tight circles because that’s what we can afford…and the hang after this show just reminded me of that.

**************************************************************************************

EPILOGUE: the multi-track recording of the sellersville show apparently turned out so well that craig and pete are mixing it for release as a live album!

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Tour Diary: Boris Garcia Great Northwest Passage Tour 2011

right up to the moment i got on the plane, i still wasn’t sure what the itinerary was. 🙂

i knew what some of the dates would be, and where we were going, but not much about when…or what was happening on which days (there were quite a few radio visits scheduled, some of them on the same days as gigs), but i figured that, since i was travelling with the folks who did know, it wasn’t that important that i know what was happening every minute of every day.

the day we flew out was essentially a travel day – a six hour flight to san francisco, then picking up the van – then a drive out to oakland to pick up our backline rental for the tour, then a drive north to navarro where we were staying for the first couple of days of the trip.

after we got off the plane, i christened myself as the official bus driver of the tour – initially, we were supposed to get a chevy, but the seat belt didn’t work on the passenger side seat, so we went back and got a dark grey ford E350 and loaded the luggage into the van to head for oakland.

slouching towards oakland
racing towards backline rental...san francisco rush hour traffic

the flight was late, and after going through all the runaround that we had to go through to get our luggage from baggage claim, get to the rental lot, and get the van situation squared away, it was almost 4 o’clock – which meant that we’d be hitting downtown san francisco traffic at afternoon rush hour to get across the bay bridge and over to oakland to pick up our gear. that put us at around 5:30 or so when we finally got to oakland – which isn’t a distance that’d normally take an hour and a half, but it certainly did that day. 🙂

the guy who rented us our gear for the tour was a real sweetheart – he runs a rental and rehearsal spot in oakland, and the band had used him before, and i can see why…he’s a great guy, and his gear is really well-maintained – and he really knows his stuff. so we loaded the van with gear and started up highway 101 towards dinner – namely, “the world famous hamburger ranch and pasta farm” in cloverdale, california.

the walls of this place are lined with postcards from all over the country, and the food is ridiculously awesome…and no, it wasn’t because i hadn’t eaten all day. three kinds of sauce, phenomenal cole slaw, and the barbeque…well, it didn’t suck. 🙂

now, the road to cloverdale was relatively tame, as roads go – but the road from cloverdale to navarro…well, that was another story.

route 128 from cloverdale to navarro is an exercise in masochism for a driver – there are almost no guard rails on the road, and it twists and turns like a video game on expert level, and for the most part one doesn’t really go any faster than 20 miles per hour or so…unless you want to die alone at the bottom of a ravine. and yet, the locals whip up and down these roads like it’s no big deal….so much so that there are areas along the side of the road where you can pull over to let people pass you if you’re building up a backlog in your rear view mirror. plus, i didn’t really inspire much confidence among my passengers by snapping pictures through the windshield with my phone (i had made a point of asking wendy to buy batteries for my travel camera, and thanked her by leaving it on the dashboard when she dropped me off at the airport before leaving for maine herself).

we got to navarro rather late, but not so much so that our host had to stay up for us…dennis has a bed and breakfast literally less than a quarter mile from the amphitheater where we were playing on saturday and sunday, and he was willing to put us up upon arrival the night we got there…the next day, we had to get up really early to head out for two radio interviews, plus a gig that night in sebastopol.

day one – first day of radio, plus aubergine in sebastopol, CA

i woke up rather early myself, for a couple of reasons – one of them being that i knew i had some business to tend to back east, and that my 6am here was 9am there, and that i needed to get through some of it earlier than later…so i was up rather early, and in and out of the shower as such as well. we were all loaded into the van and on the road by 8 am.

the drive from the bed and breakfast where we were staying out to mendocino was just ridiculously beautiful. tall redwood trees lining both sides of the road, with a sign that warned of the need for headlights 24 hours a day. we wound down and around the shoreline, past cliffs and beaches the likes of which you just don’t see much further south than maine or new hampshire on the east coast…and there’s still a palpable difference between there and here.

and yeah, i was taking pictures through the windshield. sue me.

KOZT
the band with the staff at KOZT in fort bragg, CA

our first radio stop for the morning was about an hour or so away in mendocino, at KOZT-FM. the hosts there, russ and kate, were known quantities to the rest of the guys in the band, as they’ve been through here before, and they’re very supportive of them. as it turns out, the program director there (tom yates) apparently has a long history in california radio – the walls are lined with gold and platinum albums that he picked up during his tenure at KLOS, and they’re some big ones – debut albums from foriegner and boston, ELO, and a number of others – including a special one awarded to him with the following placard on it from the gang at capricorn records and the marshall tucker band:

yates
"kickin' ass and takin' names for the marshall tucker band."

kickin’ ass and takin’ names, indeed. 🙂

anyway, they already had the front office littered with microphones when we got there, all set up and ready to go. we set up in a line, similar to how we’d probably set up if we were to play the grand ole opry back in the day, and ran part of a song so that they could get levels and mix everything. russ and kate both were in the room with us, and did the interview jointly – and it was pretty apparent to me as we got underway that kate, for certain, was a huge fan of the band. she knew the material from the new record well enough to discuss lyrical content, and her enthusiasm was pretty obvious. we were on during the morning shift for almost an hour, which certainly showed a commitment to the band on their behalf. it wasn’t hard to sense that this particular station wasn’t your typical commercial radio station – their mission certainly wasn’t solely in pursuit of profit. they genuinely seem to love what they do. they aren’t just playing what they’re told to play, or what they’re paid to play…that’s for sure. and they definitely seem to get this band. i cooked up this fantasy in my mind about tom, the former KLOS guy…that he got sick of what major market radio had become, and he fled north to mendocino to work at this small market FM station where none of the rules of his old life applied, and he’d settled in here to get away from all that. now, that very well may be true, but the truth is – i have no idea. he and i exchanged pleasantries, and that was about the extent of it.

dicks place
at the bar at dick's place in mendocino...

from there, we took a short detour down into the actual city of mendocino to visit dick’s place and have a quick beer. bob was pretty adamant about stopping there on our way back, and once we drove into mendocino, i could see why…i thought places like this only existed in movies where they could be cinematically invented somehow – but this place is absolutely idyllic. dick’s place looks like it’s been there for centuries – like an old watering hole in a fishermans’ town…which it probably is, really.

from dick’s place, we headed towards KZYX-FM in philo, CA for a 1:30 radio hit. this station was literally on the side of a hill in a very rural area, but our host here was equally enthusiastic about the band. we played in the control room at this station, into a small handful of mics, but it was a bit of a revelation playing in such close quarters – there was no struggle to hear each other whatsoever, and it definitely had an effect on our performance. it was a shorter appearance, but a pleasure nonetheless.

we paid a visit to dave, the proprietor of the navarro general store, amongst all this as well – dave is the presenter of navarrostock, the show we were playing on both saturday and sunday, and he owns and runs the store as well. the store itself is one of what are probably less than a dozen buildings that occupy what could be considered downtown navarro, whose population is listed as 67 on the city limit sign…dave made us a meal and we got ready to drive to sebastopol for the gig that night.

aubergine
my command center, behind maestro burroughs, at aubergine in sebastopol

the place we were playing – aubergine in sebastopol – has a lot of…shall we say, character. it’s part nightclub, part clothing boutique, and when we got there, we walked in to a band with three female frontwomen wearing sequined minidresses…they played the happy hour set, and we were billed that evening, along with david gans, who was playing a solo acoustic set right before us.

the thing that impressed me about this place was how good it sounded with the ceilings as high as they are in the room – that’s not a combination you often encounter. high ceilings tend to have a great deal of room ambience, and it’s easy for sound reinforcement to end up getting lost in the room…but that didn’t really happen at aubergine, and that was quite nice.

the downer, where this gig was concerned, was that – literally within walking distance of the club – harmonyfest was happening…a literal buffet of hippie and jam bands, all of whom attract the very demographic that this band normally appeals to. so, needless to say, there was a very sparse crowd at aubergine during our set. in the time since, our running joke is that we played to the five hippies who couldn’t afford to get into harmonyfest. 🙂

the upside to that, however, is that we got to finish really early – so we loaded out and got ready to head back to navarro. i ducked into one of the portapotties in the parking lot, only to have stirner come barging in to get to the antibacterial handwash stuff on the opposite wall from where i was doing my business…so the rest of the guys were standing outside, watching the thing rock back and forth…probably not an image from this trip that will stand out for any of us…or at least that’s my hope. 🙂

day two – navarro amphitheater, navarro, CA – day one

the drive home from sebastopol was brutal – no two ways about it. if we’d played the full night, i’m not sure how i would’ve made it. as it was, everyone in the fan was falling asleep and the chatter was dying down just as we were getting to the harrowing part of the road back to navarro – and it was a struggle to stay awake.

as such, i slept until almost noon on saturday.

navarro
bud burroughs onstage during soundcheck - day one of navarro

bob finally came upstairs to wake me up – we had to vacate the premises at around 1pm, as there were cleaners coming in. we were turning the bed and breakfast over to the folks whom we were sharing the stage with at the festival (the david nelson band) – and we were staying at a hotel in ukiah, ca that night and into monday – or so we were thinking. (as it turns out, the DNB fellas decided to stay only one night, so we went back to the BNB the following night…)

we were due for soundcheck at 3pm, so we went straight to the venue after leaving dennis’ place and had lunch…i also started meeting some of the folks who were going to be recurring characters during the course of the weekend.

there was stringbean – one of dave’s hired hands – and his dad, garbanzo. then there was poobah, whose dress and persona fell somewhere between wavy gravy and jon lovitz of the old SNL cast from the 80’s…another “dave”, the security guy, who rode with the pre-altamont hell’s angels and tools around these days on a bike with a sleeper casket behind it that he built himself. and then, there was uncle john.

uncle john
got a lot to talk about...here beside the rising tide...

uncle john was a burned-out roadie who landed in the anderson valley after travelling with various bands for years…his wife passed away just a short time ago, and i’m not sure he’s managed to compartmentalize that yet – but his bright, smiling blue eyes offset his weathered, often drunken exterior….a total sweetheart.

this is a theme that began to present itself time and time again during the course of this trip…there was something of a burnout subculture that managed to coexist completely peacefully with everyone else – in total harmony. in fact, i saw uncle john walk up to the guy at the barbeque grill and take a small jar out of his pocket and hand him a pretty significant amount of weed with a smile and a handshake…i walked up to him and said, “y’know, uncle john, you would never see that happen back east unless money had changed hands.”

he gave me the short course on growers’ honor, and how they treat each other with respect – and how they exchange weed with one another, critique each others’ work, et cetera…it was heartwarming and totally surreal at the same time. yet, it was a peek into how the culture here operates that was pretty enlightening, to say the least.

it almost seems anticlimactic to talk about the show itself – everything sounded amazing onstage, thanks to tim steigler & the guys who were taking care of us (including steve, a native mainer who was born in augusta, went to school in presquyle…and still had his accent in spades). the only odd thing that came up was that, for some reason, the fender deville amp that i’m using for the tour was plenty loud during soundcheck with the master on 3, but i ended up with the master up around 7 just a song or two into the set…i changed the battery in the one stompbox i was using, but that didn’t do anything about the problem itself – and then by sunday, the problem had moved on. not sure how that came about.

we stuck around for the other band for a while, talked with some of the folks who’d come out…but kept it rather short, as we had to take up residence at a hotel in ukiah that night, and had a bit of a drive in front of us.

now, if route 128 to navarro were a video game, route 253 from boonville to ukiah would be the uppermost level of the game. deer abounded up and down the stretch, and it was easily the most hazardous of the roads we’d driven on in the time since we’d gotten here. and yet, all i could think about when we got checked in to the hotel and settled was: …i can’t wait to hit that stretch of road in the morning when the sun is out.”

day three: navarro, day two – and a chance encounter with greatness

we woke up pretty much when we felt like it on sunday – since we had cell signal and internet service, we all got caught up with email and phone calls. i talked to wendy to find out that they were at the old port festival with danny, who was in the middle of an ice cream cone when wendy picked up the phone…it was good to reaffirm that they were enjoying themselves, too.

we had stayed at the vagabond inn in ukiah – not exactly four stars, but pleasant enough. i drove over to pick up a few things at a department store early on, while everyone else was still asleep – got back in plenty of time for everyone to wake up and get themselves together for the drive – we stopped at a convenience store and picked up some munchies and got back onto route 253 to make the trip back to the festival site.

the drive back to navarro…well, it didn’t disappoint, that’s for sure. there were sections of the road where the pavement stopped right at the edge of the white line and the drop was straight down – and by straight down, i mean a hundred yards straight down. unbelieveable drops and no guardrails. terrifying consequences if you faltered, but the views were just amazing. at this point, i’d long since given up on the thought of taking pictures during the drive, as i’d realized after looking at some of the first batch that they weren’t coming close to capturing what i was actually seeing from my vantage point – it was really an exercise in futility…although i’d still take a shot at it from time to time.

since we had left most of our backline onsite already, setup for the show was a breeze – this was as light as i’ve ever travelled to begin with, and for me it was literally a matter of rolling the amp into place and plugging in a volume pedal, a tuner, and my sparkle-drive that i’m using for a little crunch. pull up your seat, tune up, and go. it was – well, it was a nice change. 🙂

mister dave
bud burroughs with david dart, master luthier...

right before we hit the stage, a kindly fella walked up to the side of the stage with a pair of hard cases in his hands…we had heard from a couple of people earlier in the weekend that we’d probably meet david dart at some point during the weekend, and he was just about to announce his arrival. he showed up right after our soundcheck with a pair of mandolas – two of three that he’d just built, one of them having been sold right after he finished them. bud saw him before i did, as i was still onstage moving gear around when he got there, but i met him right after i came off, and we struck up a conversation…and it was at that point that i found out that he also built a lot of other instruments – namely, a small army of them for my hero david lindley – including a saz, a flatback oud, and several weissenborn-style guitars. he’d built similar instruments for ben harper, as well – among others.

needless to say, he now had my full attention.

we talked for a while before we were scheduled to start our set, and he invited us to stop by to visit his shop…which was less than a hundred yards from the site of the show.

yes, you read that correctly.

so we exchanged pleasantries for a moment, and we went to work…he said he’d stop back by later and we could all walk over together.

the show went relatively well, save for a slight technical glitch that i never really got sussed out – the day prior, i’d played the whole show with the pre at around 9:30 and the master volume at “4”…around 10:30, on this particular control panel. on sunday, though, for some reason i was getting no volume out of the amp with the same settings…in fact, i ended up with the master at “7” or so for most of the show, and there was no headroom when i tried to run it clean. i was assuming it to be a tube, but it cleared up after the show when i went to test it after reseating the tubes and powering it back up. so, i figured, it’s gotta be one or the other…right?

anyway – bud burroughs from the band and i were both really excited about the opportunity to go over to david’s shop, and we were packed and ready to go not long after our set was finished – so we met david and his wife, peggy, and walked over to david’s house-slash-shop-slash studio to have a look around.

dart2
with bud burroughs and david dart in david's workshop in navarro, CA

there are things that you encounter in life that really defy your own ability to describe them – we all have our vocabulary of descriptors to fall back on, and sometimes they’re adequate…and sometimes, the best you can hope for is that they might be able to convey some of what you were feeling when you were experiencing the thing you’re trying to describe. that was the case where my time with david dart was concerned.

david is a kung-fu master of stringed instrument making…he’s been at it for over forty years, and he’s in total command of his craft. his vocabulary of instruments is staggering, as would be necessary for pretty much anyone who builds for someone as masterful as david lindley…ouds, saz, lutes, every member of the mandolin family, and – of course – weissenborns, in addition to flat-top acoustic guitars, ukeleles, and any number of other specialty instruments. he had three weissenborn samples on hand that afternoon, including a koa and a mahogany model, plus his own personal weissenborn – all of them beautifully crafted instruments with their own character. the two mandolas he built (one of them an F-hole model, one with the oval soundhole) sounded even better in the shop, away from the incidental noise at the concert site…and played by a master of the instrument like bud burroughs, they absolutely sung. i played all three of the weissenborns that he had on hand, and particularly loved the koa one, although both of the mahogany models were phenomenal as well – they had a distinct midrange, for sure, but they had a wonderful bottom to them as well, and they really cut when you laid into them.

so bud and i probably spent an hour or so at davids’ shop, playing various instruments (including a fascinating acoustic dreadnought that he built with a bi-level top – it was angled where the bridge joined the top, and the rear chamber was wider than the front of the guitar…it’s not the kind of thing that you can describe, really – you’d have to see it)…and his wife, peggy, shot some video of bud and i playing in the shop. after a while, i invited david and peggy to come back over to the general store and let me buy them dinner…so we walked back over to the festival. i had discovered the day before that there was a spot right up the road, where the “city limit” sign is, that the sound from the stage was just phenomenal…and davids’ shop was right across the street from that spot.

we walked back down, grabbed some food from the barbeque pit, and sat and ate on the deck at the general store (just across the parking lot from the festival itself)…and i enjoyed one of many great conversations that happened on this trip. he’s a wellspring of information, has a perpetual twinkle in his eye, and is a truly kind soul.

after david and peggy headed for home, i went over and caught the rest of the nelson band‘s set, including their version of the grateful dead’s box of rain, which david played lead guitar on (all the B-bender guitar you hear on that track is him)…after they finished and came off the stage, i finally got an opportunity to talk with some of the folks in the band – first of them being pete sears, who was incredibly complimentary to me personally, and to the band. pete came to this band from hot tuna, which is where he landed after many years in jefferson starship. i had told him that the fourth album i ever bought was the earth album – the one that had count on me and runaway on it, among others…he was so gracious and forthcoming about his experiences, and a pure joy to be around – as were the rest of the guys. one of them went so far as to say that we sounded like the jam session between david lindley and jerry garcia that never happened – and that’s really high praise to me.

after the show was over, we’d all assembled under a tent next to an RV just behind the stage area, and nelson (who was celebrating his 69th birthday that day) held court with a handful of band members, and some of the fans who’d stuck around – including one guy named jasper – a cat that looked like a haight-asbury version of rob zombie, who had this girlfriend who dressed up like a geisha…crazy oriental outfits and all – and was hard not to look at…and, of course, uncle john was around, and garbanzo – whose son, stringbean, has worked at the store for a long time (the story is that since his son was nicknamed stringbean, that he had to have a “bean” nickname as well, so he was saddled with “garbanzo”)…garbanzo was definitely feeling the spirit, too…he loved EVERYBODY for the remaining hours of that night, believe me. dave – the security guard, that is – the former hell’s angel i mentioned earlier – had left early because he had a long ride home, but poobah was there, and eager to hold court as well. in fact, i’m not sure that bob will ever forget the joke he told about the guy on the moped who kept passing the corvette.

i was really impressed with barry sless, david’s guitar/pedal steel guy – very soft spoken, but immensely intelligent and talented. and mark keyes, the guy who was largely responsible for handling the details of putting the band together for the show, was also a great guy. in fact, when i talked about how much my son would love living here and being a part of all this, he went so far as to offer him a job, sight unseen and as a total unknown quantity.

i know i sound like a broken record, but the refuge of humanity that calls this part of the world home really made an impression on me.

so the party continued under the tent for quite a while – the nelson band folks were driving that night, so we were moving back into dennis’ bed and breakfast right down the road for the night – so no one was in any hurry for the party to be over. we were enjoying everyone’s company, food and conversation, and i didn’t really want it to be over. i kept flashing to the scene in almost famous when they brought out penny’s birthday cake and everyone was standing around under the canopy, playing music and carousing…and it felt a lot like that to me. the folks in david nelsons’ band are wonderful people, and the folks in navarro are equally awesome. i loved every minute we spent there.

day four: KMUD in Garberville…and the drive-thru tree

we had a ridiculously early rise-and-shine the next morning to drive to KMUD in garberville, CA (out in the humboldt county area) for a radio visit there, but no gig that night – we were meeing bud’s sister and brother-in-law in san jose, who were putting us up that night.

KMUD
setting up for an on air music & interview segment at KMUD

KMUD has strong ties to the grateful dead community – from what i understood, dan healy helped to start the station…but i’m not certain of their lineage or anything of that nature. they’re great people, though – apparently they have some kind of internal policy that anyone hired for support staff must be named christina, because there were three of them in the office that day – christinas, that is. they wear their grassroots beginnings on their sleeve there, and they’re proud of their lineage and the community they’re in – which was something of a recurring theme among most of the folks we encountered during the tour.

when we got to the station, they had dome a preliminary setup in the studio where they wanted us to play, and we settled in to get ready to fine tune mic placement and the like…the guy who was setting the room up for the performance seemed a little stressed for some reason, but he set us up like a pro and we were dialed in relatively quickly…or so we thought. we didn’t find out until later that the first song we’d played on the air (walking barefoot) had been broadcast as an instrumental, because the vocal mic hadn’t been turned up until somewhere midway through the song…ah, well. F.U.S.H., i suppose. (File Under “Shit Happens”).

it was a good visit, though – they like the new record there, and it’s a good relationship – when we finished, we went looking for food and found a great little taco stand in garberville that the disc jockey had recommended to us…we ate, and then wandered up and down the main drag in garberville for a bit…some cool shops, including a guy who builds instruments there whose name now escapes me – he had a pair of mandolins in the shop that bud played, but they weren’t of the caliber that we’d seen just the day before. nice, but not david dart nice. 🙂

we had a pretty long drive from garberville to san jose – we were meeting bud’s family for dinner at a chinese place in san jose, and then heading back to their house to crash for the night. we had another now-typical drive through the california landscape, out of garberville and down the highway…some of the sights furnished by nature were side by side with some manmade oddities that were just as fascinating…seeing a tree large enough to drive a car through only a few miles from a school-bus monster truck with the “south park” logo on the side of it.

we got to san jose while it was still light out and had dinner at a restaurant that bud’s family frequents that was quite tasty, and then headed back to the house to settle in for the night…we got a chance to soak up some sorely-missed internet connectivity and enjoy john and glenda’s company – i had something of a personal agenda for the next day, but considering how tired everyone was, i wasn’t really sold on the notion of seeing it happen. sometimes, it really is better to just sleep in after a healthy helping of all this.

day five: moe’s alley in santa cruz, ca and the first official band groupie

as i’d expected, no one was eager to crawl out of bed on tuesday and go running up the highway to subway guitars in berkeley…so we stumbled out of bed and into consciousness slowly and reluctantly. we decided that we’d go into santa cruz a little early and check out some music stores in town before going to the show – we’d gotten wind of a couple of good ones, and we figured that’d satiate the music store bug without having to make the trip to berkeley – and we’d be right in town for our load-in.

well, there were two of them that got our attention – the starving musician and steve’s.

steve's
behind the counter at steve's in santa cruz...sigh...

the starving musician was a great all-purpose kinda store…but with some pretty decent used pieces. they had some great amps in stock, and a few guitars that warranted attention as well…great guys on staff, too. but steve’s – that was the guitar place. almost ALL used gear – great used gear – at good prices, too. and steve (it’s his middle name, by the way…he goes by jamie) really knows his stuff. i saw four or five guitars that i’d have been proud to own, and at fair market prices…including a 70’s takamine acoustic (going back to when they were still using the martin script logo) in a 000 size for around $400 or so. it had one minor ding on the front, but was in great shape otherwise. when we all piled into the van after leaving there, we lamented the fact that we had nothing back home that even remotely compared to a place with the vibe, the selection of gear, or the knowledge that this little place had.

bud wanted to drive down to the oceanside before we left for the gig, so we parked down close to the beach and jeff and i decided to grab a quick bite while the rest of the guys went down to the ocean. i took advantage of another fleeting opportunity to check in with mommy and danny and jeff and i wolfed down a pair of meatball sandwiches while we waited for the guys to drift back up to the van to drive to moes’ for load in and soundcheck.

in the parking lot, we bumped into a buddy of the bands’ from new jersey who came out to see the band, as well as a radio guy who’d been really supportive of the guys’ music as well…took a few pictures with some folks and got ready to start loading in.

moes
posters in the foyer at moe's alley in santa cruz, CA

moe’s is a nationally known club that leans in the direction of blues, funk and jazz, but also supports acts that fall under the jam umbrella, among others. appearing there within 30 days or so of our date were jimmie vaughn, ambrosia, and ivan neville among others. it wasn’t a terribly large room, but it was very nicely maintained, had great sight lines, and brent – our soundman – was one of the best i’ve ever encountered. he knew his room like the back of his hand, he was very methodical, and was talking to us in the monitors from step one, telling us exactly what he was doing the entire time…”ok, acoustic guitar up in the drum wedge by twenty percent, starting now…good? ok, moving on to vocals – stage right vocal – who wants it in their mix? ok, stage left wedge, here it comes…” i know it seems like a minor thing, but it’s amazing what a difference it makes in terms of feeling like there’s constant progress being made, and with no guesswork about what’s going on. i’d welcome any opportunity to work with him again. he was wonderful.

after soundcheck, they sent us to dinner while the opener got their soundcheck in…they were called the north pacific string band, and they seemed like a quick setup – upright bass, fiddle, banjo, guitar, no drums. so we got ready to walk around the corner to the deli where we were eating, and as we’re haphazardly filing out, a woman approaches us from a parked truck across the street – not necessarily homeless looking, but pretty haggard nonetheless. she didn’t really directly interact with any of us on the way in, but apparently they were pretty quick to chase her back out into the street once she’d gone inside. when she came back out, she asked if anyone had a cigarette they’d sell her for a quarter. none of us smokes, so no one had anything – and when she heard that, she got – well, irate, i guess? she grumbled something under her breath, and what she said next is still being debated within the band…she either said she was going to kick his ass…or lick his ass….and none of us are sure which, but she tossed in an offer of fellatio right afterward, so the popular opinion leans toward the latter. needless to say, we kept walking, and then she grumbled at us some more as we made our way down the street and she headed in the opposite direction.

yeah, man…this band is gonna kill ’em in santa cruz. 🙂

we had a great meal at the deli down the street, including some killer soup, and wandered back up to hear the opening bands’ set…which went a little long by east coast specifications, but i’m not sure if that’s just the way they do it here, or if they overplayed their hand. no matter, they were nice guys and we were glad they were there…they’d been good for a few bodies in the room, and they weren’t awful, and they and their crowd stuck around for the headliner, too – that’s a class act in my book. 🙂

this was our first gig since aubergine that wasn’t the navarro festival, and i’d leaned towards being rather skeptical with regard to what our draw might be like based on our crappy experience in sebastopol (which was as much the fault of being concurrent with the first night of the festival as anything, i’d find out as the week went on). while moes’ wasn’t packed, we had a pretty respectable crowd for being that far from home. after our set, i made a point of walking around to everyone left in the room and thanking them profusely for coming out, and for staying out…on a tuesday night! the people that were still there at this point were people who were aware of the band, who were happy to see us for the most part. there were a handful of folks who were there because, well…that’s where they go.

during soundcheck, brent had said something that i actually quoted him on…”santa cruz people…well, they’re just really comfortable wherever they are.”

we had a great hang in the parking lot with a couple of folks who we’d befriended during the gig and the opening band…thankfully, Quarter Cigarette Lady had moved on to supposedly greener pastures and we loaded the van to head north a couple of hours and shave some time off the drive we had in store for the next day. we checked into a hotel in fairfield california at around 4am and dumped all the gear into one room and promptly passed out.

day six: the applegate river lodge in oregon…”a legend slept here”…

i got up really early on wednesday, because i knew how much ground we had to cover, and since i was custodian of both the gear and the van keys, i had the van loaded and ready to roll by 9am – which not only made everybody else happy, but i got some heavy kudos for my packing job…we did have quite a bit of extra room that hadn’t been there before, if i do say so myself.

today was probably the longest trek of the trip – up interstate 5 through northern california past mount shasta, through some of the most beautiful terrain i’ve ever seen…and into oregon for a couple of days, beginning at tonights’ gig at the applegate river lodge…and yeah, i know what it sounds like. and, on the surface, it kinda looks like that, too…but the father and son tandem who run the place have a history of bringing national acts into the room for shows, including a lot of bands that fall into the psychedelic/jam/improv category. but i have to admit, i’d never heard of the place, and it doesn’t look – at first blush, anyway – like a room that sees a lot of national acts come through there.

now, to clarify – just because it doesn’t necessarily have the accoutrements of a concert hall doesn’t speak in any way, shape or form to the place as a whole. i’ve seen some pretty amazing stuff on this trek already, and this place did not disappoint. it sits right on the applegate river (thus the name), and the patio has a view of the river and the old-fashioned steel-beam bridge that goes over it…and the lodge itself is a pretty amazing work.

we got there and richard gave us a short tour of the place, including the room where bud, steve and i would be sleeping that night…the cattlemen’s room. i walked in and put down my suitcase and took a seat on the sofa and…i don’t remember anything after that. i was out cold in a few seconds. i fell straight asleep. yeah, it could be said that i must’ve been tired to have fallen asleep that quickly sitting straight up, and that’d probably be true. the guys in the band, apparently in thanks for my having loaded the van earlier that morning, unloaded all the gear and loaded it into the lodge for the show…i didn’t wake up until i heard steve’s bass drum pedal coming up through the stairwell. i woke up and went downstairs and thanked them for the break, and got my gear set up.

i was travelling relatively light for this trek, out of necessity – since we were flying out, pedalboards and ultracases and the like were off the table. we discussed it beforehand, and decided that it’d be best if i bring a lap steel for the gigs and a dobro for the radio stops, and that’s what i brought…so all i was doing for setup was plugging in a volume pedal, a tuner and an overdrive pedal…then tuning up. that was the extent of my load-in. that being said, i caught up with the rest of the guys pretty quickly, once i got downstairs and got started. we had to wait for more gear to show up before we soundchecked, so we essentially set up and got stage levels and went to dinner to wait for soundcheck.

we ate on the patio, overlooking the river – and in retrospect, if i had it to do over again, i’d have just ordered a bucket of the sauteed mushrooms they brought out for appetizers…the best i’ve ever had, anywhere. as good as dinner was, the mushrooms really threw down the gauntlet. i’ll remember them long after i’ve forgotten what i actually had for dinner.

we played a pretty kickass show that night – the extended jams in the middle of some of the songs like good home and point of grace are starting to feel a lot more natural to me now, and i’m finally starting to loosen up to the point that i don’t have to think so much about what’s going on in the songs…and that’s important to me.

we did two sets, and i went outside and sat on the porch and listened to the river during the intermission…and fell asleep again. bob came out and woke me up to come back in for the second set, and then after the show was over, i went out again and sat there after i’d broken down my gear and was ready to load the van…i told jeff that i’d be on the porch when they were ready to load up, and i went out and sat with my feet up, listening to the water rushing by…

richard came out after a while and started a conversation…we talked a little about some of the other bands they’ve had there, and how his son duke will occasionally sit in with them, as he did with us. then, he mentioned how much they love staying there…and he said, “y’know, when lindley plays here, he’ll come up on a wednesday for a saturday gig and stay into the next week sometimes.

“lindley?”, i said….”you mean david lindley?”

“yeah,” richard says. “he loves it here.”

he went on to say, “yeah…he’ll come down for dinner or whatever and hang out for a bit, but then he’ll go up to his room and you can sit out here on the patio and hear him playing down here from the window from his room. he loves that room up there.”

applegate
the cattlemen's room at the applegate lodge...known forever to me as the David Lindley Suite.

“that one up there? the cattlemen’s room?”

“yeah. that’s where he stays when he plays here.”

i just sat there and let that soak in for a minute…see, to me, this would be the equivalent of sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House. i was spending the night in david lindley’s room!!

now – ok. yeah. i’m a little old for this kinda shit. sure, i am. and yet, i still have my heroes. some of them have become friends over the years, and there’s a sense of validation that comes along with that for me, but lindley – along with rusty young and a couple of other players – belongs on mount rushmore, as far as i’m concerned, and finding out that i was spending the night in his room…that woke up my inner twelve year old hero worshipper, big time. as tired as i was, i must’ve stared at the ceiling for an hour before i finally managed to fall asleep.

the next morning, i skipped the shower because – well, there weren’t any. there were jacuzzis and such, but no showers, so i figured i’d wait until we got to the hotel in portland to get a shower later that day and grab one before the gig. so i got dressed and went downstairs and sat on the porch swing in the yard after i put my luggage in the van and…listened to the river.

day seven: KRVM and KLCC in eugene, or & the good foot in portland, oregon…and “garbanzo in blue”.

KLCC
that's one hell of a Legal ID, there...

the landscape became a lot less remarkable between applegate and portland – we left early to head to eugene to make a couple of radio station visits, first at KRVM (“keeping real variety in music”), and then over to KLCC a couple of hours later…then that night, on to portland to play the good foot.

as has been the case with most of the days that involved radio visits, there was a need to be up and out and on the road relatively early, and this day was no different…we got to eugene a little ahead of schedule and managed to located the first station (housed in a building adjacent to the high school in the rear of the campus) and met our host as we were piling out of the van – he’d just arrived moments earlier himself. they were in the middle of their fundraising campaign, and our appearance was part of that endeavor. we kept our visit somewhat short, because our host had actually come in on his lunch break to interview us on the air (he normally does his shifts in the evenings), and he had a limited amount of time. but, we said our goodbyes and headed into town for the next radio bump.

since we had some time to kill, we decided to hunt down some music stores as we had in santa cruz…the guys went iPadding, and found a couple of candidates – one of them being mckenzie river music, and the other being the oddly named buy and sell music…and they were both pretty amazing, and both for different reasons. mckenzie river music could stand right alongside mandolin brothers or elderly or any other purveyor of vintage instruments in the country – their inventory was that good. but the sticker price on most of their stuff seemed to harken back to the pre-nosedive days of the early 2000’s…just not terribly realistic, considering the current market. they had two “tuxedo” rickenbacker steels in stock marked at $1200 – a good 30% higher than current market value for a clean example, and one of them had replacement tuners. they were incredibly nice to a bunch of smelly east coast musicians who were clearly not going to be walking out the door with anything that day – although bob struck up a negotiation with one of the salesmen for a boogie guitar amp that he took a liking to, and i’m not sure that negotiation is finished yet.

at the buy n’ sell, they had a couple of lap steels in stock…a dickerson, which i’ve never really cared for and this one was no different – and a national new yorker that was in the best shape of any i’ve ever seen. practically not a scratch on it, and it sounded like heaven. the tag hanging from the tuner said $695, but the tag on the case (stowed conveniently along the wall underneath it) had an $895 price on it. bob asked the clerk what the deal was, because he was still under the impression that it was $895 – so he asked the other clerk what the story was on the price on it, and he said, “oh, yeah…they asked me to mark that down like, four months ago.”

so bob takes me aside and asks if i’m interested in the steel…i said, sure – it’s in beautiful shape and the price is right…i’m just not in the position to do anything about it at the moment.”

but bob, that dude – he’s a negotiator. he’d make shatner look like small potatoes. so he goes back in, right before we’re ready to leave for the second radio hit, and comes back out with the tweed case under his arm.

i think i’m gonna let bob negotiate every future transaction that i might conceivably have to participate in. he’s good, that guy.

tripp
with KLCC air personality Tripp Summer in Eugene, OR

so…on to KLCC we went, to do a short on-air with tripp sommer – we were scheduled for a short hit right after the news break coming out of fresh air…so we got a short burst of home over the airwaves while we were assuming our collective positions and getting ready. the on-air room at KLCC was probably the most spacious one we were in that was a consolidated broadcast booth….which is to say that the on-air host and the console were in the same room that we were…some of the stations thus far had isolated us in separate rooms and mixed us like a live performance, and some just had us gather around whatever mics were in the control room…and we’d done both without much mental overlap. this control room was like a horseshoe bar…and they had these oddly shaped neumann mics, the likes of which i’d never seen before. the capsule appeared to be mounted at a 90 degree angle from the shaft of the mic. strange.

nonetheless, we had a great interview before piling in the van to make the mad dash to portland…bud reserved rooms for us at the days inn in vancouver, washington (ironic to me in that the higher-profile vancouver that belongs to canada is only a few hours north of there, as well) and we sprinted down the road to portland to make load-in and soundcheck, with hopes of heading back to the hotel afterward to get a shower in.

it was the bands’ first time in portland, and we were playing the good foot lounge – a funky basement of a room with a great vibe and a very familiar smell. 🙂 i felt like i’d played there a thousand times the instant i walked in, and i had a feeling it was gonna be a good gig. dave cameron met us for load-in, and stuck around for the show – he’s been a friend to the band for a while, and was probably largely responsible for the showing we had for the gig. we got in there and set up pretty quickly – in large thanks to the soundman joel, who was born and raised…in reading, pennsylvania. not exactly a famous breeding ground for great audio engineers, but the coincidence was noted.

garbanzo
we have christened him "garbanzo in blue".

there was artwork hanging on the walls all around the room – including a painting of what appeared to be an inebriated redneck smurf sitting in a chair with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. jeff pointed it out to me at one point and said….“that looks like garbanzo.”

i had seen it before, but i didn’t associate it with anything – but i went back over and looked at it again, and…sonofabitch. it did look like garbanzo!

actually, it looked like a combination of garbanzo and gollum from lord of the rings…as a smurf. it was uncanny and a little unsettling at the same time.

so – we headed back to the hotel to clean up and get ready for the gig…and we’d planned on grabbing something to eat before heading back to the gig, but we didn’t really have enough of a time cushion for it. once we got back to the club, steve and i grabbed a slice of pizza at the place next door to the club and headed back into the room, where the opening band was literally just beginning to take their gear off the stage. (now that’s timing…)

we played our asses off in portland – again, not a packed house…but far more people than you’d expect to show up on a weeknight 3,000 miles from home, and more than enough people to take up the awkward space in the room – you know, enough people to make milling about a conscious effort…but not so many that it was a pain in the ass. and certainly, i don’t think it was lost on anybody, either…we’d certainly had enough time in on the road at this point to have worked out any kinks or anything of that nature, and it felt pretty relaxed. i was still having the weird volume issue with my amp, to the point where i just threw my arms up and cranked the shit out of the amp and let go of any illusion of playing the amp with any clean headroom. i was roaring through most of the second half of the night…and it was certainly noted by my bandmates at the end of the show, too. 🙂

we headed back to the hotel after the gig and wheeled our gear into our rooms in the wee hours of the morning (we didn’t leave anything in the van anywhere we stayed, with the exception of bud’s sisters’ place in san jose) and got a few hours’ sleep before leaving in the morning to head south. i had gotten up early and washed out some underwear and socks in the sink and took them down the hall to the laundry room to dry them (the clerk the night before had told us the washer was broken), and had put them in the dryer at 8:40 or so, and they were still wet at 9:30 when we left.

day eight: sengthong’s in dunsmuir, ca

it was quite a ride from portland, oregon down to dunsmuir for the final actual gig of the tour, and we got up pretty early to leave the hotel – which was actually in washington state. we planned on leaving at 9:30 – i was hoping to get a shower before we left, but steve was in the bathroom for half an hour and me, being the new guy, let him go first. steve is like letting loose a renegade power washer in the shower…no surface anywhere in the bathroom is dry when he’s done…never seen anything like it. anyway, we loaded up and started down the road heading south, through portland and towards the last show of the run – at sengthong’s in dunsmuir, california.

we weren’t really sure what to expect – the venue website is essentially a modified blog template that acts as their entertainment calendar, and after our experience stopping for gas in yreka, just up the road, we were a little suspicious of this part of the country in general.

i think it’s safe to say that we were pleasantly surprised on all levels.

dunsmuir is the kind of town that i’ve always romanticized in my head – very small, and pretty much devoid of the influence of wal-mart and their ilk – the largest buildings on main street are the theater (closed), the hotel (condemned), and the true value hardware store directly across the street from the venue.

bob, who owns the place (plus several other properties on the main drag, as well as the “band house” we stayed in) moved there and opened the place as a restaurant, named for his laotian wife – who makes some of the best thai food i’ve ever eaten anywhere. i’m not sure at what point he decided to start having music, but i think it’s a new venture for them…but the folks who were at the gig were really enthusiastic.

technically, there was an issue that clouded soundcheck that we just couldn’t put our finger on – later, it finally revealed itself to be the pickup in the acoustic that we were touring with. we were getting a crackling, popping sound anytime someone stepped on an area of the stage too hard…it was truly surreal, and it led us down several wrong paths at first. but, we abandoned the acoustic for the show and just used bobs’ stratocaster for the whole show, and it actually worked out quite well.

we really…really…dug into the extended jams for this show – probably partially because of the instrument situation, but i think everyone was feelin’ it, too. interestingly, a lot of the crowd were just regular folks – not your typical followers of the jam scene…and they loved it. there were three couples who were up and dancing all night, and i told one of them at the end of the night that i’d never seen anyone dance to “good home” all the way through who wasn’t wearing tie-dye. again, a smallish but mighty enthusiastic crowd…probably the smallest of the tour, next to the first night at aubergine, but they really seemed to enjoy the band.

we packed up and hung out with bob and a handful of the folks who were still around after the show before heading back to the band house…we’d gone over and dropped off our gear before heading back for the show, so it was just a matter of bringing in the backline and instruments before settling in for the night. there was a washer and dryer (which i literally screamed upon seeing), so i collected laundry from everyone and stayed up for a while doing laundry…bob came back while the washer was running, and we stayed up talking until almost 3am. we were exhausted, but we were also exhilirated and giddy about how well the run had gone…we’d been everywhere we were supposed to be within minutes of when we were to get there, we’d gotten through the gigs without any major issues, and we’d been well received by everyone we’d encountered – to include some pretty high praise from folks very important to the band.

the next day, we had an afternoon radio hit in chico, california that served as the last official stop on the itinerary – so it was pretty satisfying to drift off to sleep with the dryer humming in the background.

day nine: KZFR in chico, california – or, the “almost famous” radio interview

this was the last, actual, honest-to-goodness last official function of the tour…after this, we were gonna head to bud’s familys’ house in san jose and camp out for the night before getting back on the plane at SFO on sunday afternoon. i had personally lost count of how many hours we’d collectively spent in the van by this point in time…but i was still enjoying taking in the countryside and the occasional people-watching (although we’d had a couple of brushes with weirdness in that department – from the lady who couldn’t decide if she wanted to kill us or screw us in santa cruz to the dude with the word “homo” tattooed on his forehead in the bizarro town of yreka). we were headed to chico – which i knew nothing about (as could be said with most of this place), but seemed rather non-threatening…when we drove into town, there were kids playing in the fountain in the center of town – trying to beat the heat. most of the folks we encountered were friendly, as had been the case for the whole run.

we got to KZFR that afternoon for our hit, and took the elevator up to the floor that the station was located on – the guy who was on the air welcomed us in and showed us where to set up…there was something going on out in what appeared to be the “live” room that was borderline “spoken word” in nature…i didn’t catch much of it, as we were busy getting ready to play. the disc jockey who was on the air at the time was about as laid back as i’d encountered on this whole run…to the point where you almost wanted to finish his sentences for him because you were tired of waiting. wonderful dude, though…and very passionate about music – to the extent that someone that laid back can be passionate, anyway. it was clear that he really loved what he was doing and all…but his words just took sooooo looooong to come out. 🙂 i couldn’t help but think of the deleted scene from almost famous where the band found themselves on a late night radio station and the DJ fell asleep during their interview…i wondered a couple of times if he was gonna nod off during the conversation, but again – he was a great guy and was truly happy to have us there. just perhaps a little tired, though. 🙂

when we finished the interview, though, the general manager of the station – a fellow named rick – stopped in and told us that he was on his way back from the golf course and heard us on the air and went out of his way to stop in and meet us. that was flattering, for sure…he invited us to play a station event that’s happening there in late october on the spot, even. i’m sure he and bob will be in touch, as that’s only a few days away from their planned return to the area anyway. he passed out bumper stickers and t-shirts, adding to my already formidable collection (and reminiscent of another almost famous scene, when william drops his bag and an entire cross country trips’ worth of souvenirs tumbles to the manhattan sidewalk…”i kept thinking i was going home,” he told dick, the bands’ manager. “me, too,” dick said. “that was fifteen years ago.”

we stopped alongside I-5 one last time for bob to do a “phoner”, and then drove to oakland to return our backline equipment to our benevolent servant, clayton call – and we’d brought clayton a little present, too…a souvenir of our trip, a trip that clayton didn’t take with us, but we rewarded him with a metaphorical passport for a trip of his own when we dropped off the rented equipment that night. clayton had been especially good to us, and it certainly didn’t go unnoticed or unappreciated. i don’t foresee a time when he isn’t our go-to backline guy, especially considering that he’s been there for us for not only this trip, but apparently he was the man for the prior trips as well.before we finished making our way to our last overnight stay – where the whiskey came out and we stayed up well into the night with bud’s brother-in-law, talking around the kitchen table before we all traipsed off to bed, one at a time at first, and then all at once. the next day, we had to get up somewhat early to make sure everyone cycled through the bathroom before leaving for the airport…and i’d learned my lesson by now – i wasn’t waiting for an invitation. i was gettin’ IN there when the time came. 🙂

day ten was a maze of van returns, carrying luggage up and down escalators, fighting with cocky, arrogant ticket desk jockeys, and watching in horror as steve tried to cram his stuff into an overhead compartment and bring someones’ belongings crashing down on them in the process…this is after vanishing right out of the TSA gate and leaving his bags on the floor next to the conveyor where the trays are stacked – because he thought he’d heard someone page him to the courtesy phone.

he truly cracks me up, that guy. if we room together next tour, i’m gonna get a shitload of mileage outta that courtesy phone business. at least as much, if not more, than the guys have gotten outta this whole “steve hittin’ on a transvestite” business.

anyway, we touched down in PHL at around 10:30 or so…wendy pulled up to the curb with the little man in tow in the backseat, sleeping contentedly with no idea of what was going on around him….the drive home, by comparison to every mile i’d ridden in the couple of weeks before, seemed to take almost no time at all. i didn’t unpack much when i got back – knowing that i’d be getting up to leave for work in a matter of hours, and that i had everything i needed already inside the house (i maintain a complete set of travel “stuff” – non-clothing items, toiletries, et cetera – and everything i needed to resume my life was on hand and ready for me). it was a tired but satisfied sleep, for sure – we’d gotten everywhere we needed to go at a reasonable hour, we made shows out of some nights that probably wouldn’t have been shows without our presence or effort…and as far as i’m concerned, it was a great success – and we had a blast.

next year. if not sooner. 🙂

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

right in the heart of scenic downtown blairstown. 🙂

this was one of those “blindside” gigs.

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

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

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

looking into the room from behind the drumkit...

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

it’s a good number, 200. 🙂

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

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

Heroes, Hombres and Troubadors: A Tribute To Robert Hazard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tom hampton performing “summerland” by robert hazard

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

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

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

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

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

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

with Shannon Corey at World Cafe Live, Philadelphia PA

so, no – we’d never met. certainly not in person, anyway. we exchanged a few emails and texts, she sent me some tracks to learn, but no phone calls or anything like that. we met for the first time when i showed up at her apartment a couple of hours before the gig to run through the songs for the set.

so in that regard, my debut with shannon corey really was a blind date in some respects.

we’d exchanged some thoughts about instrumentation and what her expectations were on the few songs that i was to play on (all on mandolin, making this one of the lightest load-ins i’ve had in a long time), so i listened to the songs to figure out what key they were in and to see if there were any hooks or licks that i’d need to learn that were integral to the song, and got ready to head over to shannon’s apartment to run through the set with our cellist (and one of the dudes who recommended me for the gig), michael ronstadt.

soundcheck...
soundcheck at world cafe live...michael ronstadt on cello with shannon corey.

now, what i didn’t realize was that it was essentially just the three of us, musically – but two of the cuts were acoustic guitar songs, and it never occured to me to think that somebody wouldn’t be covering that part – i just assumed that shannon doubled on guitar and piano.

but, noooooooo.

as it turns out, not only did she not play guitar, but she didn’t cover those parts with piano, either. so it’d be up to michael and myself to execute those songs with the cello and the mandolin. which meant that i actually had to learn the songs. like, now.

i was ok with two of them, but one of them, doing fine, actually had a descending guitar part that i’d have to replicate on the mando…i listened to it a couple of times through, and we worked it out. it wasn’t difficult, i just had to memorize the arrangement and make sure i had my signposts in place.

so michael got there and we ran through everything a couple of times and got ready to head to the venue.

shannon was opening for a guy named jon mclaughlin – who i’d assumed was the jazz guitarist, but as it turns out, there’s a kid with the same name whos’ apparently garnered enough notoriety to be playing a 700-capacity room in a major urban area. just another little nudge from father time to let me know that i’m not a kid anymore. 🙂

i was a little concerned going in, as i’m not entirely sure that they were expecting the number of musicians that would be showing up for this gig in the opening slot…but turk, the soundguy at WCL is a buddy of mine, and if there were any concerns or problems with our lineup, they didn’t convey them to us. the headliner was touring as a duo, and the stage was pretty sparse…so it make soundcheck a pleasure for all of us. i love the monitors in the downstairs room at WCL – i don’t know for sure if they’re clair brothers boxes or not, but they sound like they very well may be – some of the best monitors i’ve ever heard have been on clair brothers stages, and these boxes look almost exactly like the signature shape of clair monitor fills. guess i should ask Turk about that next time i’m there.

so, soundcheck finished, all there was to do was wait – which is, generally speaking, customary. but in this scenario, it essentially served as time for shannon to work herself into a frenzy – she was wound pretty tightly by the time we were to walk onstage. not sure, specifically, what to attest that to…as i don’t really know her that well (as noted earlier), so i just took my mental notes with me onstage and tried to execute the tunes as best as i could, under the circumstances.

the show itself seemed to go pretty well – nothing stood out in my mind, where glaring errors or such were concerned. and she seemed genuinely happy with the way it had gone after we were finished, so – alls’ well that ends well. after the show, i had a few minutes to catch up with my buddy josh hisle and his friend dan collins, who were there for the show – it was good to see JH, as i hadn’t seen him in ages…nice to meet dan, as well.

so…in the end…client happy, show solid, no parking tickets, home relatively early – win/win. 🙂

with Pure Prairie League at Carlisle Theater, Carlisle PA

i say it a lot, and it’s true – i don’t really get nervous for gigs anymore.

well…mostly.

this gig, i was a sweatin’ just a little.

anytime i get to play with someone whos’ been an influence, a hero, someone that i’ve been listening to since a time when i couldn’t have really foreseen becoming what i’ve ultimately become – there’s a little bit of that nervous energy goin’ on.

especially when i know i’m going to be called on to do something that’s not one of my strong suits.

mike reilly from pure prairie league has become a friend over the past couple of years, and we’d talked about my sitting in with them for one or more of the shows on this run through central pennsylvania they were doing – but, as it had turned out, i had a show on saturday night with craig bickhardt, and when the opportunity to get jd malone into the studio with phil nicolo to do this record between phils’ stints on the road, that ruled out the possibility of the previous night’s show in scranton/wilkes-barre, too – so we were left with the carlisle show, a double-bill with the firefall guys – which once again included david muse, back out on the road again after some health problems that sidelined him for a while.

in discussing the setlist with mike, he’d mentioned that he’d like to have me play mandolin on two of the songs – pickin’ to beat the devil, and i’ll fix your flat tire, merle. now, i’ve never focused a lot of attention on my mandolin playing – it’s always been something of a secondary instrument for me, because i’ve never been in a position to have to lean on my skills in that department. well, now i needed to step up my game a little.

so, with plenty of notice, i figured i’d better brush up a bit and work on this a little…both of those songs were uptempo bluegrass-flavored numbers, and i figured i’d better work something out for those songs beforehand as opposed to hoping that i’d be visited by the ghost of bill monroe at the last minute or something.

well…i learned something very important about myself in the process, lemme tell ya.

now, a lot of you know that i’m left handed. if you didn’t, now you do. you may also be realizing, as i bring this up, that i play every instrument that i play in the traditional right-handed fashion. when i started out on drums as a young pup, i played drums the same way – right-handed. i did that for a couple of reasons…one being that every drummer i knew was right-handed, including the drummers that i saw at shows and on TV, and i wanted to be like them. as i started learning guitar, it was the same thing – i never had a formal teacher, so the people i was learning from were all right-handed, and i just thought it looked funny to play guitar left-handed…hendrix, paul mccartney, dan seals, the dude from air supply – not taking anything away from any of them, but the notion of trying to play guitar left-handed just didn’t appeal to me at all.

and besides – the thing that occurred to me then that’s stayed with me for all the years since was that, when holding the guitar in the normal fashion, isn’t your left hand doing the most complex work? i was certain that the fretting hand would need to be the hand that you were most adept with, and i thought everybody else had it wrong. in all these years, playing all these different instruments, playing right-handed as a lefty has never been an obstacle to me.

that is, until i started working on my mandolin picking technique.

i figured there had to be some trick, some shortcut, some technique i could practice to get that thing down, right? i mean, i’ve been playing mandolin for a long time, but i’ve never put myself in the position to get serious about perfecting that particular technique because…well, i haven’t needed to.

this gig, though – in particular, these songs – would require that i be able to play mandolin that way…with a degree of right-hand speed that i hadn’t ever really had to call on before.

well, ok…no big deal, right? i’ll just practice…when…well, when exactly?

between the studio schedule working on JD’s record, putting in my hours during the day at work, and making sure that my son would still recognize me when i walk through the door – well, that left late at night after everyone had gone to bed for a couple of days leading up to the start of the work on JD’s record, but not much else.

hey – i at least had the fact that both songs were in A going for me (easiest mandolin key EVER). whether that’d be enough or not remained to be seen.

so, after wrapping up overdubs on JD’s record and loading into the car to head to Carlisle for the show, i entertained thoughts of asking wendy to drive so i could at least run some scales and loosen up, but it was rainy and somewhat miserable out, and i didn’t want to burden her with driving in the weather as it was…and besides, i was gonna need to spin the wheels pretty quickly to get there in time for soundcheck, so i drove myself.

when we got to the theater, i spotted jon rosenbaum unloading merchandise from his car and taking it into the lobby – so we went inside and said hello before heading down into the room, where the firefall guys were already in the middle of soundcheck. i walked down and chatted with sandy, bill and steve for a bit before bumping into a newly short-haired david muse, whos’ looking and sounding good after returning to the band not too terribly long ago.

the PPL boys started trickling in not too long afterward, and we slid right into soundcheck after the firefall boys had finished up…i was originally only going to sit in on the two mandolin songs, but they extended an invite to play acousstic on anything else i was comfortable with playing on…so i ended up playing about 80 percent of the set. they opened with tears and kansas city southern, and i came out for early mornin’ riser and stayed up until let me love you tonight and came back for six feet of snow and stayed through the rest of the show.

so how did the mandolin thing work out, you ask?

well…ok. not great, not awful, but passable. i learned a few things about my approach, working up to this gig…in terms of what pick i should be using, what posture works best for me, and the like. i’ve built up my right hand speed significantly since starting to work on it, but i’m still a ways away from being the tremolo picker that i’d like to be. and, other than the combination adrenalin-and-holyshitness of the moment, i think i did a decent job. 🙂

and – there’s something of an open invite to come back and do it again, so that’s always nice to know. the guys in the band are such great musicians, and i got to stand next to john david call all night long and watch him play…that alone is worth the extra hours of mandolin practice.