2011 US Tour Post #8- When the music in my head started playing in your ears...

It's getting very near the end....  Hard to believe, but if all goes as planned, Ricky and I will be arriving back in Sacramento next Friday after two and half months on the road playing a gig nearly every day of it.  I'm ready to be home, honestly, but mainly so I can get working on things that are beginning and continuing rather than something that is ending.  It's weird but even after all this traveling and performing and unpredictable sleeping arrangements, I don't feel tired or worn out.  I don't feel the need to stay in bed for a week or anything like that.  I'll be home Friday night and I'll be ready to get going on the next project Saturday morning.  This summer's going to be spent gigging regionally as much as I can, recording my next album, and putting a band together and I can't wait to get started.  If anything, this tour has affirmed once and for all that music is a lifestyle and a living and I don't see any reason to ever do anything otherwise.  In a way, everything this tour embodies isn't ending at all.  I'm just going home to refine the process and make it even better.

I did something last Tuesday while we were still in Providence on our night off that I hadn't really done before which was produce a song for someone else.  My cousin Miles wanted to me to arrange song he had written so after recording a guitar and vocal take from him, I basically banished him from the room and spent the rest of that evening and the following afternoon putting together a track.  It was an interesting exercise building parts around a song that I wasn't really familiar with as opposed to one of my own songs which obviously I would be intimately acquainted with and would have lots of time to think about.  It ended up turning out nicely and I think Miles was pleased with it too.

Ricky, Miles, and I all played Wednesday night as the featured performers at a local open mic night at a coffeeshop called Brooklyn Tea and Coffee.  Apparently "featured" was taken more literally than we had expected since for the first hour or so we were the only performers and for a little while, the only audience members too.  A few other musicians showed up a little later and some jamming ensued which was kind of fun but over all it felt a little bit like a wasted night.

We had our first booking snafu of the tour over Thursday's gig in Boston.  I'd originally booked with a venue called All Asia, but then a few days later I got an email saying that they thought we'd be better off playing at another venue they booked called Limelight Stage and Studios.  Someone obviously wasn't talking to each other because Wednesday night I got confirmation emails from both All Asia and Limelight both telling me that I was confirmed to play at their venue on the same night.  We ended up going with Limelight since that was the one that I had gotten the impression I was playing at to begin with it and was what I had listed on our event page.  Not sure that this was the right decision as Limelight ended up being a club whose main purpose seemed to be for being rented out for karaoke nights.  And it was completely empty.  Actually I should say that the room we were playing in was completely empty but several of the smaller rooms right off of our room were filled with people singing to loud karaoke that was competing very well against Ricky and my acoustic performance.  To make matters worse, the venue had counted Ricky and I as completely separate acts and had put us in the first and third slots with an electric blues trio playing in between us.  It's always an awkward situation showing up to a gig where there is literally no audience.  Do you perform anyway or is there a point?  We went ahead and did our set for the sound guy and the blues trio waiting to go on and mainly did songs that we hadn't performed yet on tour as sort of a glorified rehearsal...one that took an hour to drive to and cost $15 to park at with compensation or even free food included.  It was definitely not one of our best moments.  I felt even more sorry for the leader of the blues band who had actually hired the musicians who were playing with him that night basically to perform for Ricky and I.  We played another short set after they were done and then got the hell out of there.  We've comforted ourselves a number of times on this tour saying, "Well at least that's got to be the worst night of the tour....it can only get better from here!"  So far we haven't always been correct on that one....and it only took a day to prove us wrong this time...

We left Providence Friday afternoon for Springfield, Vermont.  Either we took a wrong turn somewhere and the GPS continued its tour long boycott of u-turns, or New England is just short on freeways, but our entire three hour drive was on neighborhood streets through small town after small town.  And not even towns...  We passed by signs that said "Village speed limit" and warning signs for horse and buggies crossing.  The towns had names like "Russia" or "Poland" or "Rome".  We had taken a wrong turn and ended up in Eastern Europe apparently.  The villages looked untouched for over a hundred years as if the world had gone through two great wars, the automobile, the airplane and the internet and yet the families here still tilled the same farms and sat on the same porches that their ancestors had for centuries.

Springfield was a slightly bigger version of one of these villages, your garden variety New England colonial town.  The venue, the New 802, was located underneath a Verizon Wireless store.  I bet they got great reception in there.  Unfortunately we didn't get the chance to find out as we made the unpleasant discovery that the building had apparently been deserted for months.  Some slightly worn looking show posters from December 2010 were on the walls and the floor was covered in dust.  We found out from the lady in the Verizon store that they'd been gone for at least a month and nobody seemed to know where they went.  Of course nobody bothered to write and tell us this.  Upon further research we found that their website had been shut down and even an email I tried to send came back returned.  The only phone number I had for them apparently was a landline, probably the number for the now nonexistent venue.  The more things go wrong, the more things we found to be grateful for.  At every gig since we've been able to stop and think and thank God that at least the venue was there!  There was a bowling alley at the end of the street that we thought we'd lift our spirits at but even that was closed.  We ended up talking to a few local guys who lived across the street from the former venue and were curious why a strange white van was parked in front of their house.  We gave them CD's and they actually wrote us both on Facebook later to tell us how much they liked our music so I guess even without a gig we still made a few fans!

From there we drove two hours north to Burlington, Vermont which actually proved to be a hip little college town.  We killed time at a little coffeehouse for a few hours where I finally utilized the chess set I'd been carrying around on my back all tour by teaching Ricky how to play.  She said she prefers Candy Land, but I'm sure it will grow on her eventually...maybe....  We met up with our Couch Surfing host afterward.  I don't know how we would do this without couchsurfing.org as a resource.  Most people we tell about Couch Surfing either think it's an amazing idea, or are horrified and assume we must have a death wish.  So far we haven't stayed with any psycho killers yet and David proved to be no exception.  Very nice guy.  Our show in Burlington the next night at the Skinny Pancake was lots of fun.  It was the first outdoor show we'd played on the tour (besides an short-lived set I started in the patio of Chucktown Tavern in Charleston which got rained on after a few songs).  We were in the middle of a fairly crowded restaurant patio with lots of families and couples.  I on a whim asked if anyone had requests and a guy at the table closest to the stage asked if I would play "Waltz #2" by Elliott Smith.  I replied what a coincidence that was since I had covered that song for an Elliott Smith tribute album a few years back called "Coming Up Roses" and he said he thinks he may have heard that very album.  So I may have had a fan in Burlington, Vermont.  Maybe.  We got to play for two hours straight and being the self-indulgent artists we are, we loved every minute of it!

Wow...each blog I write, the harder it is to remember what happened.  Too many cities and shows to keep track of in my head...or maybe I'm just getting old...or some combination of the two.  Anyway, the next day, Sunday, was a driving day with no gig.  We had a ten hour drive from Burlington to Cleveland.  New York's odd shape meant traveling back through the state we had left we'd left over a week ago.  The rest of New York couldn't be more different from the city.  It was one of the most beautiful drives of the tour.  It's funny what a state can get known for.  Driving through hours worth of natural forest made you wonder if the jungle of skyscrapers that is Manhattan really was missing the potential of how great the state could really be (funny I'm saying this after finishing the Fountainhead).  We stopped in Liverpool (not that Liverpool) which was about the midway point of our trip, to see my mom's cousin Jan whom I'd never met before.  Jan seemed delighted to have family stopping through and she, her husband Al, and her daughter Cathy treated us to a delicious Italian dinner.  They were very nice people and I look forward to seeing them again.  We got into Cleveland around 1:30am that night to stay with Cyrano, another Couch Surfing host.

There was no way we could be in Cleveland, the ultimate rock and roll city (still a little unclear why) and not visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum.  While on tour I've seen historic monuments to presidents, world famous works of art, and age old dinosaur fossils but none of it compared to seeing John Lennon's Sgt. Pepper jacket, the actual mellotron the intro to "Strawberry Fields" was played on, and the handwritten lyrics to songs like "Heart of Gold" by Neil Young and "School Days" by Chuck Berry.  After viewing these and countless other amazing artifacts, we actually spent a good deal of the day in the museum movie theater where they were showing the footage of the 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden featuring the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, U2, and Bruce Springsteen.  I wish I could sit and watch that footage before every gig I play.  There's nothing more inspiring to see these legendary artists who have stood the test of time performing songs that will last ten times their lifespan for a tens of thousands of people clinging to ever word and note.  That night's gig at Wilbert's was all the more invigorated as a result.  You watch a show like that and you can't help but channel Bruce and Bono just a little bit...  We had a small but attentive audience who truly seemed to be into our music more than any audience had been in a good little while.

"The Lost and the Free" live at Wilberts- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1ntpkLhziw
"As Your Hands Can Hold" live at Wilberts- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ym1wEN4qbdE

Things were looking up!  Two good shows in a row!  You have to take every victory you can while on the road and sometimes that just means you were able to get eight people to pay attention while you play and half of them buy CD's.  Every good show makes the next one even better because so much of what makes a good performance comes from confidence in knowing that you're connecting with your audience.

We drove after the show in Cleveland four hours south to Cincinnati to stay with my high school music teacher Brian Rivers.  Brian had left Charter a few years after I graduated to move to Cincinnati so it had been several years since I last saw him.  It was great to catch up and he was kind enough to give me the full Cincinnati initiation experience by treating me to some delicious Skyline chili over pasta (this coming from a decidedly non-chili fan) and Graeters Ice Cream.  It was cool getting to perform in front of someone who certainly knew me when, following me and my musical process since I was not fifteen.  The show at Sitwell's Coffeehouse was another great one.  The place was pretty full and everyone seemed to really like us and gave us an encore after we'd already played a good two hours worth of music.  Someone in the audience, after seeing that Ricky was an avid ukulele enthusiast, ran home and brought back a ukulele that had actually been played by Tiny Tim and let her add herself to list of musical legends (past or future) who had wielded the instrument.

Speaking of musical legends, the following day was one that Ricky and I had been looking forward to for most of the tour.  Ricky had outdone herself on my last birthday by getting me tickets to the Bridge School Benefit concert to see Buffalo Springfield and Elvis Costello and a whole bunch of other amazing artists.  I'd let her January birthday slip by, mainly because I couldn't find anything that would come close to equalling that.  While we were in Dallas a month earlier, I found my chance.  We were both aware of the fact that Chuck Berry played once a month in St. Louis at a restaurant called Blueberry Hill.  We'd talked before we started the trip about how cool it would be if our schedule coincided with one of those performances to put us close enough to go catch him.  While in Dallas I saw that it just so happened that our show in Cincinnati fell on the day before Chuck's monthly concert.  St. Louis was six hours out of the way but it was too close to pass up.  Price-wise I didn't even come close to what Ricky got me.  I spent $40 per ticket to see probably the greatest living legend of rock and roll at an intimate venue.  After eating dinner in the restaurant part of the venue, a fifties style all American diner with the walls covered with rock memorabilia, we descended down into the Duck Room where Chuck Berry was to take the stage.  It almost didn't seem real.  We'd played in bigger rooms on this tour.  For all you Sacramentans reading this, the room was smaller than Harlows.  There was an opening act, a very good alt-country band who played way too long and left that impression much more strongly than that of how good they actually were (note to self next time I get to open for someone big)....and then after a short break....HE appeared!  I don't care what anyone says about anyone else, Chuck Berry is the king of rock and roll.  John Lennon put it best saying, "If you were to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry."  He's 84 years old and there was really no getting around that fact as his fingers landed often unpredictably on the fret board of his cherry colored Les Paul sometimes momentarily playing a half step up from the rest of his band (which included his often bewildered looking son).  At one point he started singing the words to the song he'd just finished to the song he was currently playing.  But it was Chuck Berry and nothing can describe getting to hear "Roll Over Beethoven", "Nadine", "School Days", "Around and Around", "Memphis, Tennessee", "Wee Wee Hours", particularly raunchy renditions of "My Ding-a-Ling" and "Reelin' and Rockin'" and of course the immortal "Johnny B. Goode", complete with Duck Walk and everything, by not some underrehearsed overpaid bar band, but by the composer and artist himself who still behind all the cracks that came with old age sounded just like those glorious old records.  Ricky and I were trying to think of a musical legend that would have been alive in their eighties when our grandparents were in their twenties in the 1940's and we really couldn't come up with anyone.  The fact that we were able to still see a musical legend so removed in time from us was almost unprecedented.  If there's one element missing from the current music scene of the past fifteen years or so, it's Chuck Berry.  Then the unthinkable happened.  When the show was over, a good portion of the crowd gathered by the stage door.  Then one of the stagehands commanded everyone to lineup single file across the stage, no pictures, and you'd be lucky if you got an autograph....we were going to meet Chuck Berry!  We were completely unprepared.  We scrambled around in our pockets and purses for any scrap of paper we could find for him to sign.  I was tempted to sprint back to the car for my guitar but was too afraid I would miss him all together.  Then I realized I still had one of my harmonicas in my pocket!  We stood breathlessly in line moving inch by inch closer to the door behind which the king was waiting.  Then when there were two people in front of us, the stagehand came out and announced that Mr. Berry was done for the night.  We were crushed and tried to plead our case but the stagehand wasn't having it saying that Chuck had probably already left the building.  That was our cue to bolt out of the room and out of the building, and run around the corner to the back stage door to see if we could catch him.  We stood with a small handful of other fans waiting with memorabilia and sharpies for about ten minutes and then the door opened and out came Chuck, his son and the stagehands.  The stagehands motioned us to stay back as Chuck got into the driver's seat of his car and slowly began to drive himself out of the parking lot.  Chuck Berry drives his own car...no limo, no driver, just him.  Seemed extremely fitting to me.  As he approached the corner where we all stood in breathless anticipation, he stopped and slowly rolled down the window of his car.  We all nervously approached and he took a sharpie from someone and began signing everything we put in front of him including a piece of paper for Ricky and my harmonica.  Then when his faithful had been appeased, he drove off into the night.  My D harmonica with a barely legible black sharpie scribble that even has faded a bit from being in my pocket is going to be something I keep for the rest of my life and tell my children and their children to preserve as long as there is still a memory alive of "Johnny B. Goode".

"My Ding a Ling" by Chuck Berry live at Blueberry Hill- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlvD8PGzf9c

We stayed the night in St. Louis with another couch surfer named Tim and then after sleeping in the next morning drove to Marion, IN.  Indiana's state slogan is "The Crossroads of America" which is a very euphemistic way of saying "the state that you cross through to get somewhere else".  Apparently Marion is known for two things: the birthplace of James Dean and the site of the last known public lynching which actually took place right across the street from where we performed that night.  What a legacy.  Beatnik's was a very long and spacious room that amplified its emptiness quite grandly.  After several nights in a row of great audiences, it was a bit of a come down to play for nobody again.  As per usual a few people wandered in and out and the owner loved us and was very apologetic about the crowd ("what crowd?" I quipped from the stage...what a brat!), but it was a fairly anticlimactic end to a pretty good week.  I think the momentum from the previous shows still allowed me to put on a really good performance that night.  As I said, it's difficult to keep that up when the end of each song is met with near silence, but I guess that's the trick to the whole business of performing, giving it all the same way you would to your mirror in your bedroom or to a packed Madison Square Garden.  Something really magical happened at that show.  Ricky started playing the beginning of our regular closing song, "Stingy" but for some reason it struck me at that moment to start singing the words to Simon and Garfunkel's song "The Boxer" over it.  Ricky quicky fell in with me and we went through the whole song together.  Those moments of pure spontaneous performance are my favorites.

"Shot In the Dark" live at Beatnik's - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUYtF9_-OXg

We stayed in a place called Kokomo.  Not exactly place I'd want to go to get away from it all, but it wasn't too far off and we had a Couch Surfing host to stay with, a guy named Cody who was a very hospitable host.  We woke up today drove four hours to Chicago where we are now staying with Ricky's cousins.  It's weird to think that this is probably the last journal entry I'll write while actually on the road as I'll more than likely write the last one covering this coming week in the comfort of my bedroom though the road does have a kind of home like comfort for me.  It really has made me realize that home is something you take with you, not somewhere you go.  In some ways, home is this particular set of songs I play almost every night for a new group of strangers.  I feel like it was almost by chance that these particular songs would be mine to carry with me for the rest of my life but isn't that what family is?  Walking through the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame put into focus what I'm aiming for and makes each gig into a step well treaded by each and every one of those luminaries whose footsteps I'm giving everything to follow.  Sometimes to be admitted into the hall, you have to lose your way among the rooms for while, trying out every bed and searching for hidden passages between the walls...