Archive for March, 2010

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Choose Your Own Adventure, pt. 2

March 16, 2010

Yo yo yo yo. OK. I need to get the second part of this down before the newest memories I have made knot the old ones up like a shoelace.

The following morning, we woke up in Lusk, WY and continued our trek south into Colorado. This was the day I had been waiting for all tour, because this was the day I would finally get to see some mountains. Although those mountains wouldn’t fully materialize until we got into Colorado, I can’t overstate how beautiful out drive through Wyoming was. Driving through Wyoming is like driving through a painting. I had Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet on my iPod , which was perfect foreground music (and if you are into newgrass infused songwriting, pick this amazing album up (and Ben Sollee’s “Learning to Bend” (thanks John) as well)). The sky was huge and blue and the giant sun made the rolling hills of unfarmed prairie grass actually glow. My blood was already surging with excitement and it wasn’t even noon yet.

I can’t say where we were when I finally caught a glimpse of the Rockies (or the foothills for that matter), but at that point my eyes locked in on their target and my silence actually became audible to the rest of the guys in the van, who acknowledged my enthusiasm with their smiles. Because Abigail Washburn and the SQ enhanced my Wyoming morning, I thought some orchestral music might reflect the one dominant emotion that the endless line of mountains inspired: Reverence. Listen, every time I drive into Chicago and I see the city claim its shape over the haze, I feel love. But gazing at a mountain range for the first time was like looking at God’s personal skyline. So I turned on Elgar’s Enigma Variations (followed by Brahms Symphony #4), turned off my mind, and simply existed in the infinite present.

Side note: mentioning classical music in a blog about my experiences in a rock band is not meant to create any kind of division. Every non-classical musician (except for Jazz)that I’ve met always hoists “classically trained” musicians onto a pedestal. I have played in rock bands as well as professional orchestras since grade school, and the one thing I can offer to both camps is this: it’s all the same. You can find just as much sex, drugs, moral righteousness, moral ambiguity, self-affirment, self-destruction, etc. in one phrase of Classical music as you can in Rock. The biggest mistake most people make is creating a division in their mind that Art musics aren’t just as relevant to the same personal reservoir of base emotions that pop musics cater to, and vice versa. An important lesson I’ve come across is that Rock listeners should do themselves a favor and actually go see an orchestra play, whether it is the CSO or their own community ensemble. I guarantee it will be a wonderful experience. That, and it is embarrassing that any orchestra in our country (much less the major city orchestras) should be having any financial hardships due to low attendance. And for the Classical concertgoer is concerned, I offer this: putting on airs of superiority and elitism only feeds your own ego and will drive the younger generation away, who might actually connect with the music on a more genuine level than you do. And as a personal note, Yo La Tengo’s “Little Eyes” was instrumental (haha) in changing my stage uniform from a tuxedo to tight jeans.

Back to the story.

Whether it was the elevation or the euphoria the beautiful scenery induced, Boulder had all of us on cloud 9. We found awesome lodging at a place called the Boulder Outlook Hotel. The cool thing about it was that it was a “zero waste” establishment, meaning that everything they provided was either compostable or recyclable. They were awesome to us, and we’re very grateful.

 After checking in, we grabbed a bite to eat at VG Burger (amazing vegan restaurant) where we met some new friends that would have a good influence on our time there. Thanks to Grace, who invited us to a Boulder songwriters soirée where we got to play for a wonderful group of people. She also invited us on a hike the following morning to watch the sun rise from a vantage point on a mountain in Chautauqua park. That was easily one of the coolest things I’ve ever gotten to do, and I nearly passed it up. Again, I’m habitual, and I upon being invited to take the hike, I initially declined so that I could go running instead. I am so glad Scott hit me on the arm and said “Dude, when is the next time you are going to be able watch the sunrise on a f-ing mountain?” Point taken.

After a bit of a late start the next morning, a handful of us started our hike upwards. After a few hundred yards, E. and I had a laugh at our lungs’ inability to keep up with the enthusiasm of our legs. But after some slow, controlled deep breaths, we adjusted to the altitude and got going again. We followed the worn trail as it winded up the mountainside to an area with large boulders suitable for sitting on. We took a seat and gazed out at the new day. The view was absolutely amazing. But almost as amazing was the attitude of everyone else we passed on the trails that morning. Everyone just seemed genuinely happy with themselves and their world they carved out for themselves as they took their morning coffee at 6500 feet. I’ve always really loved bustling city life, but I could easily see myself setting up shop out in Colorado someday.

The shows we played in Boulder and Denver were fantastic, and our performances were received with great enthusiasm. A special thanks goes out to our friends at Topo Ranch (check out their awesome organic clothing at http://www.toporanch.com )where we played an inspired in-store performance that actually led to an ER visit. Use your imagination.

Our time in Boulder was over too soon, and we had to leave on Wednesday night after a gig in Denver. We headed east to play the following night in Columbia, MO. We stopped briefly at a hotel somewhere in west Kansas, but decided to drive through the night into brightness of the following day. Now, I normally like to skip over the mundane “news reports” of our traveling, but I bring this up to illustrate a point. Watching the sunrise on the mountain a few days before was impactful for me not just because of its beauty, but because it was the first time I experienced one without the feeling of dread. Ever since the first time I pulled an all-nighter in grade school, I have hated the feeling of not dividing my days with sleep. Whether it was staying up to finish a paper in college, or partying like it was 1999, I always hated the sun for pulling off my comfy blanket of night. I’ll compare it to this: When I would get in trouble when I was a kid (and holy god I did) I had to sit in the principal’s office. There was a large window where the rest of the kids would walk by, and whether or not they were my friends, each had a look on their face of compassion overridden by the consolation that they led innocent lives and would thus appreciate their goodness with the reminder of seeing one of their own who had fallen to the other side. That was seriously the feeling the rising sun used to give me. Glad to have that monkey off my back.

The following days have been a wonderful whirl. 7 gigs in 6 days in 5 states. I especially love the traveling, and for now I feel like I can live out of a suitcase indefinitely. Despite adjusting to a little sleep deprivation, everyone else is feeling the joy of life on the road as well. I especially love it when I can wake up early and go for a run and see each town more intimately (It was hilarious adjusting to the thin air in Colorado the first time I ran there). I am more awed every day at finding out just how huge our country is, and how different people are from state to state and town to town. And even more important, is when you take the time to really talk to people, you find out how genuinely wonderful perfect strangers can be, and how incredibly similar we all are.

More to come as we make our way south to Texas and finally to the Southwest…..

Phil

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Choose Your Own Adventure pt. 1

March 13, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010 3:00 PM

   Yo Yo Yo.  I should have sat down days ago to write this, but that which kept me away from my computer is the essence that is central to the theme of this story.

     Last Saturday, we played a show in Sioux Falls, SD. It was a great show with an enthusiastic audience at a very nice venue (Latitude 44). After the show, the band gathered in the van to have a discussion as how to spend the following two days where we didn’t have any shows planned. We discuss everything in great detail on every move we make as a band, and while each conversation is important and beneficial, I am so grateful for this one in particular and for the profound impact it has had on my perspective.

     We have a good friend named Gary Shawver who we stayed with earlier in the tour while in Omaha, NE. While staying there, we were able to keep hard at work on both our musical responsibilities of rehearsing and writing, as well as the ever-increasing business end of the operation, which requires us using every path of communication the 21st century has to offer. With two successive days open on our calendar, it made a lot of sense to drive back south to Gary’s and keep our nose(s) to the grindstone. So I was surprised when the suggestion was made by Cara (who never ceases working on both managerial operations as well as setting and fulfilling the sustainability goals for the band) to head west early for our show on Tuesday in Boulder, CO in the spirit of adventure. We now had two clear choices: Prudence or Adventure.

     Anyone who knows me will know that my initial reaction was to head for Omaha. I rely on my habits, and whenever I have any free time, I fill it with practicing my violin, running/exercising, and reading. In Omaha, I felt we could really keep the ball rolling through rehearsal and office work, and I was certainly not alone in this view (Todd and E. are as prodigious as booking agents as they are on the stage, and between laptops and cell phones, the world is their office). But the mere description of the potential sights we would see if we traveled west to Colorado via South Dakota and Wyoming wet my appetite, and I could feel the collective consciousness of the band shift westward. As simple as that, we chose adventure.

We got an early start the following morning and headed for the Badlands. The promise of new sights and the novelty of being in a new state were enough for me to tolerate the never-ending sea of the great plains that set the stage for the start to our adventure ( I’m not sure why I even felt that affected by this; I was born in Cincinnati and raised in the Chicago suburbs—flat land is my home). Anyway, before long we reached Badlands National Park. It was a cold day to begin with, and the force with which the wind hit me as I stepped out of the van almost knocked me over. But within 2 seconds of looking out I didn’t care. I kept saying, “how was this formed? How was this made?” and other nonsensical questions whose answers I hoped would balance out the awe that I felt. It was actually perfect that there was a little bit of old snow on the ground because it accented every ridge of the giant basin and highlighted the infinite details of the landscape. I don’t know how long or short we stayed, and this distortion of time has stayed with me for the days since then. And I like it.

     From there, we pressed on to see the Crazy Horse memorial monument in the Black Hills. It is hard to fathom just how gigantic this mountain sculpture will be upon its completion. Everything about it is larger than my imagination can comprehend, especially the mind that created it: Korzack Ziolkowski. Because we got to the park just as it was closing, we couldn’t spend much time learning about the monument, so E. bought the documentary “Carving Crazy Horse” (which he had seen before and loved) for us to watch in the van. If you can, get this DVD from your library or order it. I loved watching the larger-than-life imagination and work ethic of Ziolkowski on film. The man and the monument are sources of endless inspiration and I can’t believe I knew nothing of either prior to this trip.

     For the sake of thoroughness, I should say we visited Mt. Rushmore after Crazy Horse. There’s no doubt it’s a cool monument, but the sheer magnitude of Crazy Horse had me feeling a little desensitized when I gazed up at the four faces of our forefathers. And I really have to laugh at that; One of our country’s most treasured patriotic symbols literally cannot measure up to an unfinished project (honoring a race of people that our government all but erased) that has refused every cent of state and federal funding that has ever been offered. We stayed about 10 minutes before regrouping and heading westward.

     The only thing left to say about that Sunday is that as we passed the state border of Wyoming in the middle of the night, we got out of the van and literally stepped into another world. I had no vocabulary to speak about what I was looking at, so I just laughed. We couldn’t see 10 feet into the pitch black night in front of our faces, yet above us was an inverted bowl of light. What could I do but laugh? With that view of stars upon constellations upon heavenly bodies upon galaxies, my cognition crashed and we all ran around on the desolate highway yelling into the solid black night like little children with no cares in the whole wide world.
End of pt. 1

Phil

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Thursday into Friday

March 5, 2010

Yo Yo. It is 2:41 A.M, and although it is now technically Friday, I still measure my days by when I awake in the morning. So for now, I am writing this on an extended Thursday night while riding in our van, somewhere in Southern Illinois.

We are just over one week into our 6-week tour, and I have to say, I am loving all of it. I know that traveling around playing for great people in new and exciting places seems like a “what’s not to like” situation. However, the actual performing takes up a comparatively small percentage of the time spent touring, and it is how one spends this travel time that will ultimately determine the satisfaction level of the time on the road. For me, the most important qualities to keep at hand are: a sense of humor, a good imagination, and the ability to feel at home wherever you are.

Before I expound on this, I need to clarify just how full of crap I am. It isn’t like we’re like the troubadours of a past age who were propelled forward by a wild bohemian spirit. I am writing this on a laptop computer, linked to the wi-fi antenna on the van that is spacious enough for me to stand up and stretch my arms while watching DVD’s of Arrested Development for the 20th time on the 27-inch TV screen that swings down from the ceiling. But then again, even while this is the age we live in, all of the facebooking and blogging and DVD watching are not enough to pacify the needs of our higher consciousness, especially those of our 8-man band.

What I am finding amusing right now is that while I have one bandmate simulating an airplane landing in his eardrums via iPod, and another on snoring practically on my shoulder, I feel completely at peace in my own head, as if I am on some kind of retreat. There is something mystical about gliding through the pitch-black middle of the night and– no joke– not knowing (or caring) where we will sleep tonight. This is the ability to feel at home wherever you are. As I look at farmhouse after farmhouse in the most desolate of areas, my imagination does its mental gymnastics to imagine how the residents of those lonely houses spend their days. And as for a sense of humor is concerned, there is no lifestyle imaginable where that trait isn’t a vital survival tool.

3:20 A.M. I was tired hours ago. Today was a long one too. Woke up at 6:30 and ran about 4.5 miles through a beautiful St. Louis morning. We then had a great rehearsal and arranging session from about 10 AM to 2PM before we hit the road for Carbondale, IL where we played a fun show at Tres Hombres. Now, we’re off to Iowa to play with Tea Leaf Green at the Redstone Room tomorrow night (technically tonight, but again, indulge me).

OK, if there was one thing I learned in college, it is that if I stay up late enough to think that I am tapping into some new creative reservoir, it means I should have gone to bed hours ago. Anyway, I’ve borrowed enough time already from tomorrow, so I’m off. Goodnight, and have a pheasant tomorrow.
Phil

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Lincoln, Nebraska

March 3, 2010

Yo. It is 10:22 in the AM, and I am eating cereal that I bought at about 3 in the morning on the way back from Lincoln, NE last night, during an inspired raid of a Bellevue Hy-Vee. Gross, I just remembered the waves of nausea that swept over me as I fell asleep due to drinking half a bottle of kombucha before Scott noticed it had been expired since October. Anyways,….the night leading up to my lapse in consumer judgement was pretty cool, especially for a cold tuesday in the middle of the middle of the midwest.

Rolling into Lincoln had me wishing I was more of a college football fan. Memorial Stadium is amazing in its sheer size, and it nearly caused an accident as the driver in the car in front of us was apparently so inspired to slam on the brakes to take photos that he figured it must have been worth the risk of being plowed over by our loaded 15-passenger Dodge Sprinter. Yes, that’s sarcastic, but when I think about the size of that stadium in proportion to the rest of the city, I have to imagine that football season must be to Cornhusker fans what summer is to me: the joy of its return is somehow worth the pain of its absence. Ok, i should be talking about the show.

The venue was at a place called Knickerbockers. It is pretty much a dual room venue with one bar room and one music hall. We got there with plenty of time to spare, so we went out for some Thai food. I don’t know what inspired it, but most of us doctored our dishes to be the spiciest concoctions we’d ever had. I wish I had taken a pic of our faces at the end : red-lipped, runny nosed- watery eyed and sweaty hair. It was awesome.

When we got back, the warmup band was on. They’re called Ruha, and they hail from Syracuse, NY. They were fun; they had a kind of Widespread Panic vibe, and they got the crowd in a good mood.

Our set went great. We played for about an hour and a half, despite sound issues (which are par for the course in these types of venues) in the monitor mixes. But I was really happy that we had a crowd to play for on a Tuesday, and was even happier that they were singing along to songs. As always, the set was over as soon as it began, and in the end, we were all mentally planning our return to Lincoln to play again.

I need to finish this up so I can pack my bags as we set to drive out of Nebraska. I’ve been here for a few days, and I have really enjoyed all of it. Every single person I’ve met has been approachable and kind, and despite their lack of attention to expiration dates on new-age beverages, Nebraska has been great to us.

Phil