Lebanon Opera House

It was another dreary day, pouring rain and cold and overcast. I woke up on the bus and I didn’t want to go anywhere. I didn’t go find a coffee shop to blog in, or go for lunch or anything. I decided I would do everything at the venue. It had a very nice back room with a shower and they had coffee on in there. I was all set.

More than all set really. This place was gorgeous. It was truly a theater with multiple dressing rooms, a lovely main hall with theater seats and all. For a room as large as it was, it had great sound. They had rented a sound system from Atomic in Burlington and Mark had the room sounding great.

Sound check was a whimsical thing mostly spent playing with the lights for Mike’s family, or swapping instruments and jamming. It was the last night of tour and the band was greased and ready to go. We were all both happy and sad to be here.

Tom’s cousin, Joe Cleary came during dinner as he was going to sit in with us on fiddle for a few tunes and we worked them out while we ate (and skyped). We taught him my song, Willow Tree with the idea that we would quadruple the beat during the solos and switch to a traditional bluegrass tune. This is exactly what we did and it worked great. We then jammed into Mike’s “Weekly Time” which is another favorite of mine and Joe picked up on it right away.

Again the lights were amazing and the band was at its best, nailing all the tunes with ease (except the endings maybe) and taking the jams to the deepest of places. The Suskind jam was VERY deep, kind of modeled after a GRAB version Julia played me on the bus the night before.

Surprisingly, we encored with one of my tunes, Jones and then Country Boy, the fastest picking song I’ve ever done. Jones was deep, thick and groovy and Country Boy was like 1000 mph and no brakes. Joe Cleary came up for Country Boy again and nailed it.

So ends another MGB tour. Again I had the opportunity to make music with some of the best players I know and I learned a lot and had a blast at the same time. Plus I got to visit some different parts of the county, meet new people, and see people I haven’t seen in a long time.

Back to reality!

Pearl Street

I’ve played the big room in Pearl Street a hundred times and it’s always sounded cavernous and thin in there but I’ve got to hand it to Mark Allspough, our soundman, who got the room sounding great.

Before sound check I walked to Haymarket and got some coffee and skyped with Cheryl from the basement. It was a gray and rainy day and the atmosphere inside Haymarket was warm and inviting.

I walked over to sound check and we did a few jamming exercises, this time concentrating on changing time signatures during jams, or ignoring time signatures altogether.

We had asked Mark Mercier to sit in with us and he was there for soundcheck so after the jamming exercises we played the two tunes Mark was going to play on, his cover of Columbus Stockade Blues, and Mike’s Voices.

I must say, bringing Mark and Tom Cleary together was big, an event with the equivalent weight of Spock meeting Data. There are so many ways in which these two are cut from the same block. Just to hear them have a conversation could confuse as to who’s saying what, as even their speaking styles are similar.

So when they jammed together it was an amazing exchange. Each has such talent and depth on their instrument and you could see the mutual admiration as they traded riffs back and forth. It was exhilarating for me as these guys represent the cream of the keyboard crop to me.

Anyway, the chemistry of having Mark with us was obvious even in sound check. The rest of sound check was spent jamming to Liggy’s light show for the sake of Mike’s family who came for the afternoon.

After sound check I met up with Dave Wright and his son Ben. Dave was the drummer in one of the first bands I was ever in, in which I played keyboards. We met my niece Lenora and her friend from childhood, Diana, for dinner at the Spoleto Restaurant.

While I was at dinner I got a pleasant surprise: my son Jordan was coming to the gig with a couple of his friends, Sarah and Ken. Woo hoo!!

Pearl Street was sold out and so when I got back after dinner the room was packed, which is great for the sound in there. The crowd was very responsive. They seemed to react to every little nuance and when Mark came up to sit in he got a great response.

The whole night went really well for me and the second set included one of my favorites, Gillian Welch’s “Time (The Revelator).” I love this one because it’s a ballad with great vocal harmonies, a haunting lead vocal and a deep guitar solo in the middle.

The jams were off the hook all night as well. The time bending stuff we worked on at rehearsal was obviously helping us to shake it up and we took the music into unexplored territory yet again.

After the show, Jordan and his friends came and “partied” on the bus along with Dave Wright and his son before we left to do the drive to New Hampshire.

Of course we all felt the end of the tour rapidly approaching. Everyone was making comments about how the band is just hitting its stride and about how deep the jams are getting. It’s such a shame that it has to end after only ten days, but it’s even a bigger shame that it will be months before we play together again.

TLA

Last night was a great gig! We had some folks from The Chieftains sit-in with us during the first set, and that was cool but I thought that second set raged!

It was a rainy day in Philadelphia but I walked to a coffee shop anyway and skyped with Cheryl for a bit. South street is a pretty cool neighborhood.

Sound check was very minimal with most of the time spent doing jamming exercises. The jamming exercises are awesome. They really get the band playing like a band and they get everyone’s ears opened up.

Craig and I then went out to dinner with my friends Shawn and Erin and their friend Ron at a really great Thai restaurant, Tamarind. Craig and Ron got fish that still had eyes. Um… yum?

When I got back to the club the members of the Chieftains were there and we ran over the tunes they were sitting in on.

The fiddle player that sat in (I can’t remember any of their names except Jeff, the guitarist) was excellent. We did some bluegrass and we did Mike’s song Voices and she fit right in over all of it. They had three tap dancers that came out at various points. It was dangerous out there! They were high kicking and covering a lot of ground and I spent a lot of time trying to stay out of the way!

Then for Walls Of Time I let Jeff use my guitar while he sang with Mike and I went out front for a bit to check it out. A rare opportunity!

When I came back on my guitar cable was shot. Casualty of dancers maybe? Anyway Rachel replaced my cable and I was good to go.

After all the fun distractions of the first set the band came out for second set firing on all cylinders. The jams were excellent and somewhere in there we played Jones again and it raged.

The last song of the set was Suskind Hotel and the ending jam was so so so good that I convinced Mike that when we did the encore we should start the Suskind jam again from where we left off. Which we did. It was great fun!

Afterward Shawn, Erin and Ron came to the bus with me and Shawn brought some excellent wine, of course.

All in all it was a great night.

Oh, and thanks to Pete for bringing and arranging the sit-ins to happen!

Charlottesville (VA)

I love Charlottesville, or at least that little section of it that I saw which was the walk-in mall in the center of town. Lots of nice shops and coffee places.

I have to say that I loved the sound check yesterday way more than the show. The sound check was just magical. We were working on various things and the sound was awesome and everybody was playing cool things. Creative ideas were just falling out of my fingers. I love that feeling.

After sound check most everyone went out to eat but I was still full from lunch so I went to a tea place instead and ordered some Yunnan Velvet Tips, a rich smokey tea with lots of caffeine. I skyped with Cheryl for a bit while listening to some musicians warming up, or rather, appearing to warm up by playing and singing along with some tabla loops and what sounded like hurdy gurdy loops.

I probably shouldn’t have had 5 or 6 cups of the YVT but I did. I didn’t feel jacked on caffeine or anything, but when I got on stage it felt forced; somehow the magic of soundcheck had lessened. The crowd seemed tougher than usual. They were paying such close attention and seemed to be into it but when we’d finish a song there was very little response.

Which isn’t to say the music was bad. There were definitely some nuggets in there. 15 Steps, our Radiohead cover, came out very well and had a great jam at the end, and we inserted my Emotional Railroad into a Traveled Too Far sandwich and that was really good.

After the show, on the bus, Maresca put in “It Might Get Loud” which is the movie of Jimmy Page, Jack White and The Edge talking about guitars. It was great to watch. It reminds me of an aspect of being a guitar player that I forget about sometimes which is cranking it up and putting a ton of effects on. Ahhhhhh.

Ram’s Head Live

Well, last night was a very fun night. It was not without some sound issues for me but still it was a very creative night.

We had been in Baltimore all day. Mike, Tom and I met at noon to work out harmonies for the tune that Tom worked up from our first day of rehearsal, and then we had lunch in Fells Point. The weather was gorgeous and it was a very relaxing afternoon.

At sound check Mike noticed that the stage had been set up with a lot more space between us than usual. I was thinking that it would be better for me anyway because it would give me more separation between sounds on stage, but this ended up being a disadvantage for me later on.

I had dinner with Howard and Noah and then we checked out Danny Barnes’ set. I love this guy. What a great player. He’s so innovative.

When we went on I had a hard time hearing anything clearly except my guitar, but that sounded more distorted than usual. I’m fairly certain that my volume was louder than usual so I’m not sure whether I was pushing the amp harder or whether my ears were distorting but I found myself adjusting my distortion pedal all night, cutting back on the drive.

Regardless of the sound issues for me, the band sounded great. It was a playful evening, initiated by the Danny Barnes sit in. He came up for Deranged, a rare and bizarre David Bowie tune taken from a movie soundtrack. In the middle of this we inserted Walls Of Time, the bluegrass tune which seem to fit effortlessly into the middle. At this point Danny, Mike and I met in the middle of the stage and passed our instruments to the person to the left. This put Mike on banjo, Danny on guitar, and me on bass, and we played most of the tune this way. Near the end Mike and Danny swapped and Mike wailed a guitar solo. (He is one of my favorite guitarists…) Then we swapped back and finished deranged.

We broke out the new Tom tune in the first set too. Mike had been looking for a tune in the repertoire that had a repetitive vocal ending that wasn’t the chorus of the song and we found it in this tune. Very anthemic.

Second set we broke out my tune, Jones, for the first time. The groove on this was so thick and when we rehearsed it we only played one verse and chorus, and I ended up rearranging it on the spot.

We also added a guitar/keyboard solo to the verse/chorus progressions in Sugar Shack. It was cool and fun to play over the progression but I’m not sure it adds anything to the song.

All in all it was a great night. It’s hard for me to rate one night against any of the others because they’re all so different from one another, it’s hard for me to say this one is better than that one or whatever. There is stuff I love about each night, and each night it’s something different. Last night it was the playfulness of the jams and high energy of the whole night.

Creek was well represented with many fans there last night including one guy who asked me to play Gypsy Blue. Of course I had to bust his ass a little. “You could at least request one of MY songs!”

I must say that this cold is kicking my ass majorly. I went to bed early and woke at noon today in Charlottesville for our day off. I’ve been very congested in both my sinuses and my lungs and I have a sty on my eye. I know others that have had this same thing and I guess it lingers. This is my fifth day with it and I’m ready for it to be gone!

I’ve been really making an effort these past few months to keep my voice from being too raspy and it was working pretty well during my weekend in California and the first part of this tour but the cold totally defeats it. I have to push so hard just to have sound come out sometimes.

The weather’s gorgeous in Charlottsville today and there’s an outdoor mall right near our hotel and that’s where tomorrow night’s venue is.

Stroudsburg

mgb at the sherman theater
I’ve driven through Stroudsburg many times but had never stopped there until yesterday. If there is such a thing as a typical Pennsylvania city, I’d say that this is one. I woke on the bus in the heart of the city (with my really nasty cold in full bloom I might add) and did my usual exploring and found the local coffee shop (a Starbux) to do my blog and pound my coffee.

After blogging and Skyping with Cheryl I went back to the Sherman Theater for sound check. It’s a very large room with theater seating, but for a room of that size it sounded great. The people working there were very nice and sound check went well. We did a jamming exercise where we’d all play but one musician would pick another to play follow the leader with. These exercises that Mike comes up with are great in that they really get everybody’s ears open. Even when it wasn’t my turn, by focusing on the two who were following each other I found myself paying more attention and my playing being more accommodating of the total sound.

After sound check I had dinner with my friends Shawn and Erin at an Irish Pub up the street. Would you trust “Chicken Curry” from an Irish Pub?? We didn’t either.

Anyway, the show was lots of fun. It was an intimate crowd and the band was in kind of a humorous frame of mind. I wouldn’t call it the tightest show of the tour, but the looseness opened some doors to places we wouldn’t normally go.

Probably the best example of it was in Morphing Again. There’s an intricate little warp in the middle of the song that’s supposed to be a call and answer between the drums and percussion while Mike, Tom and I support it, but we never really fell into it totally, and at the end of it there’s supposed to be a cue into this counting thing that takes us to the jam part. Well, we missed the counting thing pretty seriously. We did recover and get there, but by then the door was open and the jam was off the hook. We went to some unexplored places. The jam is supposed to start in 4/4 and work it’s way back to 3/4 and at the same time start in D and work it’s way back to G. This rendition was going every which way. We’d head to 3/4 and then back to 4/4 and we’d insinuate G but never quite get there. It was all very playful and teasing.

We also broke out Hap Nappy, a Mike tune we’ve been rehearsing for a while but haven’t played yet. That’s a fun one that I think will develop into something big over time.

Danny Barnes played a couple again with us, after having Mike sit in for the last couple in his set again. He’s such a nice guy and such a character. He did a couple during our first set but for me the highlight was the encore, another break out, Country Boy. It’s a lightning fast bluegrass tune with a lot of chord changes and it kind of features the guitar a lot and Danny came out and killed it with us. I’m a huge banjo fan and a closet banjo player and it always tickles me to see a master play. Tickles is the best expression for it because it literally makes me giddy to watch someone that good play.

I also have to give props to the crew on this tour. Once again, the lights were just outstanding. I’ve been hearing great things about the sound out front and Rachel has been taking great care of us on stage. It’s such a joy to work with such a dedicated group. This is our third year together and it really is becoming family.

After the show I hung with my friends Pete and Naomi and Shawn and Erin. Shawn is a wine professional and always brings a bottle of some ridiculously delicious red and last night was no exception.

I woke up this morning to a day off in Baltimore. We checked in this morning and a few of us went walking to find breakfast. We ended up in kind of a greasy spoon joint and I supposed it could have gone one way or the other. It wasn’t the most wholesome looking place, but the food was very good and the folks were nice.

I’m looking for recommendations for restaurants or entertainment on a Monday night in Baltimore, even anybody has any suggestions.

Ok, as Chris Friday said a little while ago, “It’s nap-thirty.”

Night Of The Toad(s)

Wow. Last night was great fun. The progression of this band over the course of a tour is amazing.

Toad’s Place can be a rough room to play sound-wise. There are subwoofers under the stage for the PA system and this wreaks havoc on the stage sound. There were times when the vibration in the floor was shaking my fillings loose! So we were all concerned about that. During sound check we turned the main PA system off for a little bit and you could hear everything crystal clear. But then as soon as the house system gets turned on it turns into a wash of muddy low end, mostly vibrating up from the floor.

However it was so much better once the room got full of people. That made all the difference.

I watched some of Danny Barnes’ set. Wow. I’d seen him before as part of a bluegrass band at Greyfox, but now he’s doing this solo thing where he plays the banjo, but he’s playing along side tracks that he’s got pre-recorded on a Mac, and he’s sending his banjo through some very cool effects. He’s very creative and fun, and he had Mike up of the last couple tunes. Really good!

So, we had him come and play a couple tunes during our first set. Of course the first inclination is to have him play on bluegrass stuff but he really isn’t limited stylistically like that; he can fit into almost any style. So we had him up first for Mike’s “What Things Seem.” So cool trading riffs with him. Then we had him up for Bill Monroe’s “When The Cactus Are In Bloom,” a cool bluegrass tune that we’ve made our own.

And Danny’s a very nice guy too. He has that bluegrass gentleman mentality and you can tell that he’s just a kind soul.

It was Asia’s 21st birthday at midnight last night. (She’s my daughter.) During set break we all did a shot. Yay! We had her favorite song, Willow Tree, in the set and Mike announced her birthday right before. Cool! And then later she came right up front. I love that!

It was great to see the local Creek contingent there too. It really felt like a home town show. Craig and I got to have dinner with Dave Livolsi, one of my favorite bass players on the planet. (You can probably guess the others.)

After the show I was walking around Yale taking pictures of the architecture and sending them to Cheryl. The buildings are beautiful and walking around there at night is other worldly. I’m a big fan of architecture though I know very little about it, and Yale has some of the best. There are lots of strange shapes and gargoyles and ironwork doors and whatnot.

So, here’s a shout-out to my son Jordan, who along with his brother Ian has a gig this week playing at the Holliston High School Senior Showcase. I was helping them rehearse a couple of weeks ago and they are so good! They’ll be playing “Drift Away” with Ian singing and Jordan doing harmonies and playing guitar. Regretfully I’ll be on the road still and will have to miss it, but they’ll probably show it on the local cable station for months afterward. Good luck you guys!

Those were some good comments on the favorite cities. I have to say that I love Providence and had the best experience living there. It is small enough to be able to walk anywhere and I lived (dangerously) on a street that had probably 25 restaurants within a few blocks. Plus there’s the Waterfire thing that they do, which is very cool and there’s just a ton of music in that town as well.

However, after having been in Santa Cruz basking in the sunshine in the middle of february, I have to say that someplace with palm trees is very appealing to me.
Some library at Yale