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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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