Pre-Order tickets for Portland (June 24):
2010 Tour Journal
Thursday April 22, 2010. 9:00 AM, Des Moines IA –
I’m starting this little journal at the dining room table of the Lewin family, in Des Moines. We’re driving cross country to get to Toronto for the first concert of the tour. Dixie and I left on Monday morning, drove across California and Nevada the first day. We stopped in Wendover, at the Peppermill hotel and Casino, which like most casinos covers their walls with mirrors and neon dazzle so you feel completely disoriented. It smells of stale cigarette smoke. Luckily the room lacked that cloying layer of old tobacco, and the slightly posh features (in-room Jaccuzzi) helped these weary bones.
We drove through Utah and Wyoming the second day, and arrived in Sidney NE at one of the cleanest Motel 6 hotels I know of. Also, this little town has a classic steakhouse called Dude’s, which I have made a tradition to visit on tours for the last decade at least. Dude’s has been around since 1952 and still has what I imagine to be the same burgundy and gold colored naugahide upholstery as when it was built. These little traditions help ease the boredom of the long continental crossing.
Third day, across Nebraska and Iowa, with dynamic skies and the occasional thunder shower. It’s easy to complain about the long boring flatness of the midwestern drive, but I have developed a fondness for this stretch of travel. The skies go on forever, with clouds creating an ever shifting airscape of vapor and shadow. The earthscape is ancient, with rolling hills fossilized from sand dunes of a lost ocean, long drained as the continent lifted itself up like a leviathan from under the seabed.
We arrive in Des Moines after the eight hour drive, with purple skies and sparse raindrops. The Lewins greet us from their old Victorian house, two cats, a clowny dog, kids bustling, and welcome warm dinnertable conversation well past midnight. I write this in the morning, coffee cup nearby, a quiet pause before the next leg across Illinois and Ohio. – RR
Saturday, April 24, 2010. 11:00 AM, Toronto ON Canada –
We arrive in Toledo OH at the home of Dwight Ashley and his wife Paula, around 9:00 PM. We thought we would arrive at least an hour earlier, but we forgot that we would cross another time zone past Indiana. There’s a stretch along the I-80 corridor just south of Chicago that always gets clogged. I don’t think I have ever managed to traverse this passage without at least 40 minutes crawling through construction traffic.
Dwight and Paula greet us with an astonishing home-cooked multi-course Greek dinner of spanikopeda (spinach in flakey philo dough), pastichio (casserole of ground meat and nutmeg, topped with meringue), braised goat with green beans, dolmas and tomato salad. We linger over this feast with several bottles of Spanish wine, a Rioja and Garnacha, plus an aged bottle of Coteaux du Languedoc with intense tannins that equal its bretty skank.We sit around the outside firepit and talk until midnight, satiated and thoroughly bonded over a shared hedonistic love of food, wine, music and ideas.
I’ve been mastering Dwight Ashley’s releases for the last several years, and we’ve known each other’s music since being labelmates years ago on Hans Fahlberg’s Multimood label in Sweden. Dwight’s albums with Tim Story merge Tim’s sweet, melancholy melodic sensibility with Dwight’s penchant for glitch and gritty dissonance. I like this dynamic tension between the two elements. The duet of Ashley/Story shares a friendship and similar stylistic dichotomy with the German duet Cluster (Moebius and Roedelius). Through Dwight’s connection, I have also been mastering some re-issues of lost Cluster and Roedelius solo albums. I look forward to hearing an upcoming project that combines Ashley and Moebius, about which I should remain quiet for now.
The following day, we get a late start for Toronto, and enjoy an uneventful drive across the border north of Detroit. We traverse the inevitable downtown road construction as we approach the city, and arrive in early evening at the home of our friends Jon Spencer and Leonard Schlichting. Leonard is a noted photographer and graphic artist. Jon was the first person I played music with, when I was 15 years old. We met in San Francisco in 1979 at a concert of Gary Numan and Nash the Slash. We shared a desire to form a coalition to make experimental improvised noise. Soon afterward I met Rick Davies, and together we became Quote Unquote, a distinctly weird and barely listenable amateurish experiment… but we had fun trying. We all remained close friends. Rick and I started a band called Urdu, and later rejoined as Amoeba. Jon moved back to his hometown of Toronto, and we lost contact for about a decade. We got back in touch in the ’90s, and I have taken advantage of Jon and Leonard’s hospitality every time I visit Toronto for a gig.
Today, Saturday, the first day since last weekend that I don’t have to get back on the road and drive all day, a relief. Blissfully, no plans: a walk perhaps, in this vibrant downtown. Overcast today, a bit cool. I write as we listen to Hamza el Din, some of my favorite music, feeling happy to have friends like this, scattered across the surface of this small planet. – RR
Monday April 26, 2010. 12:00 Noon, Toronto ON Canada –
I’m really happy with the concert last night. Good crowd, great space, clean audio, decent performance. I’m writing this back at the house the following day, transferring video from camera to hard disk.
Winding back a bit to Saturday, we concluded the day with an evening ferry ride over to Ward’s Island, a low-lying bit of land off the Toronto lakeshore, with a close knit community of several hundred people, and no cars. Our hosts had lived here for several years, and their old housemate – an art professor, island resident – is celebrating her birthday in a meadow on the far side. Faculty, students, artists and neighbors make a potluck feast and keep warm near a bonfire. Children giggle on swings and play tag on the grass until the night ferry takes us home around 10:00.
Sunday is gig day. I try to get a bit of extra sleep to charge the batteries. After espresso for breakfast (Jon has a great espresso machine, always good crema) and a quick lunch of leftover biryani, we reload the van with gear and head over to St. George the Martyr Church around 2:30. This is my first setup of the tour, and I need to test my ideas for stage lighting. The keyboard rig sets up fine, except I’m fighting some hum in my little modular synth rig. We’re close to the iconic CN Tower, so we’re probably getting more interference than usual from the broadcast antennae on top.
When I check the laser projectors, I see that one of the disks has broken off it’s mount from vibrations in cross-country transit. First I try fixing it with a bit of chewing gum, but the gum doesn’t stick to the pvc plastic of the mounting knob. The lighting tech is helpful beyond the call of duty, and actually drives home to get an Allen key set and 5-minute epoxy, which he blends for me to re-attach the disk. Works like a charm.I’m using weather balloons this time as a cost effective and portable way to create glowing orbs, to add some mystery to the stage. They look like I had hoped, with a hint of mad scientist laboratory, a glow inside from LED lights. One of the LED rope lights blows up when I plug it in, however, shorting out with an electric arc and a puff of silicon smoke. Luckily I have a backup. These rope lights have a specific design flaw, where the rope connects to the DC power controller, so I hope they don’t all commit suicide by the time I finish the tour. It can be a challenge to keep all the gear working as it bumps around the country stacked up in my van.
As expected, several people make remarks about The Prisoner – the sixties TV show with Patrick McGoohan – where robotic weather balloons perform the duty of capturing #6 when he tries to escape, but I don’t mind the association. It’s a rather cool reference, actually.
Now we have a few days off before we drive to Philadelphia. I have to work out where we’re staying, and spend free moments working on publicity and planning for other shows. – RR
Tuesday, April 27, 2010. 12:00 Noon, Toronto ON Canada –
I spent all of yesterday at the computer, learning to use iMovie to edit the raw video from the Toronto show and synchronize the recording from the mixing board. I excerpted four chunks to put up on YouTube and Facebook, and those are uploading as I write this. In a few hours I should be able to provide links to those videos. These moments of downtime are welcome while on tour, time to do laundry, hotel reservations, paperwork. Not very interesting, but necessary. – RR
Thursday April 29, 2010. 10:00 PM, Frazer PA
Utterly exhausted. Drove 9 hours today from Toronto. The GPS device decided that the quickest way to get across Pennsylvania would be via country highways cutting diagonally across the hilly middle part of the state. Maybe it saved 50 miles, but the extra concentration needed to crawl through old towns with stop signs just about wiped me out. Thankfully, we have a good hotel and a decent chain restaurant next door where I had a salad, much needed green stuff. Now, in a few minutes our friend Jeff Towne from the Echoes radio show should drop by and take Dixie and me out for a beer. Tomorrow I’ll do a living room concert over at their studio, and this will probably be one of our rare chances to just get together and hang out a bit as friends, without working. – RR
Monday May 3, 2010. 10:00 PM, Westchester County, NY
The weekend has been full of music, friends, driving, and now a brief pause at my sister’s house near the Connecticut border
Thursday centers around the Echoes Living Room Concert. I like to set up early for these sorts of things so I don’t stress out too much. It turns out that John Diliberto wants to talk between each piece of music, and I generally feel more comfortable when I play straight through, and segue between pieces. We do it John’s way, with the breaks, but the rhythm between performing and talking throws me off a bit. I actually re-start two of my performances because I forget to revert all the changes I make on the mixer to pause for talking. In the end, I’m glad that I have a bit of a perfectionist streak, because I’m quite happy with the results of the recording.
After the living room concert, we all go out to dinner at a good restaurant nearby called American Grill: Dixie, Jeff Towne , John Diliberto and me. Service and food are excellent – I have medium rare lamb with extra vegetables (I crave veggies on these long journeys.) We share a smooth Kaiken Malbec from Mendoza that seems to evaporate into our mouths.
On Saturday we check out of the hotel and drive into Philadelphia around noon, allowing some extra time to get together with Chuck Van Zyl, an old friend who has hosted the Stas’ End radio show since the eighties, long time supporter of electronic music, talented musician himself, and one of the tireless organizers responsible for the Gatherings. Dixie, Chuck and I go to the Metropolitan bakery cafe and order salads, again soothing my craving for fresh veggies.
We get back to St. Mary’s around 3:00 for an early setup, to give me enough time to experiment with lighting. Setup goes almost smoothly, the only glitch being that one of my large weather balloons pops as we try to move it. This 14 foot balloon served us well in Toronto, and this was its second inflation. I don’t know if perhaps these are not designed for multiple uses, or perhaps the stone floor of the church proves too harsh for the thin latex membrane. I didn’t know what to expect if one of these pops. The resistance of the thin rubber is so minimal that it doesn’t exactly explode. It makes a soft but sudden fump noise and puffs us with a rubbery smelling wind, as the tear propagates around its circumference in a fast but noticeable moment, the sort of slow instant that allows one’s mind to replay the image in slow motion. The burst doesn’t bother me so much as it fascinates me. These balloons have a life of their own. I settle for a single 8 footer in the center of the stage, not nearly as impressive as the 14 footer, but maybe a bit more reliable. This 8′ balloon is now on its third filling, and it seems a bit more stable.
Thoughts of Spinal Tap’s tiny Stonehenge cause pause for a giggle. Jokes about condoms for whales also seem appropriate. I ponder how tricky it is to stage an interesting visual experience in a very large space, especially on my chintzy budget. Items that seem huge in a normal setting become minimized on a large stage with over-sized surroundings. This magnificent old church with its vaulted ceilings dwarfs the 8′ balloon. Thankfully, Jeff Towne’s creatively hung triangular screens help fill in the rear and offer a surface for the lasers.
This audience at the Gatherings is among the best I ever see. They are warm and enthusiastic. I enjoy my set this night, although it isn’t without a few glitches. One of the two microphones is prone to feedback, so I make a mental note to tweak the effects next time to reduce the resonant phase-shifter effect. In general I still feel like I am thinking a bit too hard still, this early in the tour. Each transition feels like solving a puzzle, whereas I want it to feel more like a dance move. Often it seems I only reach that seamless flow late in a tour. The next day, when I check the video from the concert, I realize it doesn’t look as rough as it felt. My tendency to seek perfection makes it hard for me to enjoy the flow to the fullest.
After the concert we tear down the gear, pack the car, and hit the road around midnight. We drive to Princeton NJ to stay with Dixie’s long-time friend Carol. On Sunday we walk around Nassau street downtown, do some email at the library, and have beer and appetizers at a brew-pub nearby. I almost get annoyed enough to walk out of the place when we try to get a table, though, because they wouldn’t seat us at a real table unless we were there to eat dinner. It’s very uncharacteristic of me to get this tweaked about poor service. Late afternoon on a Sunday, the place is nearly deserted, and they won’t give us a table even though we plan to order food… we just aren’t calling it “dinner”. Pathetic. The women calm me down a bit, we pull together two tiny bar tables, and learn from the (actually, rather friendly) server, that the policies are in place to keep the annoying frat guys from hogging tables without ordering much, and keeping paying customers from sitting. Whatever. Anyway, the beer was good, the appetizers were decent.
Still craving veggies, I offer to make us a salad back at the house. We shop for fresh produce at the market on the way, and share a late dinner chatting over a big pile of lettuce, arugula and asparagus topped with a bit of thinly sliced seared lamb, paired with a rather light ’07 Arnoux Gigondas.Later, as Dixie and Carol catch up, I work on editing the video from the Philadelphia concert.
Awaking a bit late this morning (Monday) it’s raining a bit outside. I slept through some thunder and lightning. We bid farewell and drive through New Jersey with the (questionable) guidance of the GPS. I know that the best way to my sister’s house is through the center of the state on the Garden State Pkwy, up to the Tapanzee Bridge; but I decide to try the route offered by the Garmin via Newark and the George Washington Bridge. I promised Dixie that I would not swear at the GPS, and I didn’t; but this route through New Jersey is the sort of thing that causes aneurysms. I would like to avoid this route in the future, to say the least.
Now, at last able to relax at the welcoming oasis my sister’s house, we can unwind a bit with family seen too rarely. No need to impress, no need to perform, no need to be perfect. We know each other like no-one else can. We’re quite different – my sister and me – but we share a common vocabulary of the unsaid, non-judgmental, with a penchant for well-ordered beauty and calm exterior. As families go, we’re pretty lucky to have this connection.
Tomorrow Dixie and I drive to Hartford. I’ll set up for my third concert there with the help of Susan Mullis of WWUH. After that, on North to Burlington VT. I will probably wait until then for the next update. – RR
Thursday May 6, 2010. 1:00 PM, Burlington VT
Writing from a little-used condominium where Dixie and I are staying for a few days while in Burlington, owned by the the organizer’s brother.
On Tuesday morning, we leave my sister’s house for Hartford CT, about a 90 minute drive. We decide that if we depart early enough, we can take a detour to visit the headquarters of the dance company Momix, which has occasionally used my music for their performances. We’ve become friends of the one of the principle dancers, Brian Simmerson, and he wants us to meet the founder of the group, Moses Pendleton. Having evolved from the group Pilobolus in the late ’70s, Momix innovated a fascinating hybrid of dance, slow motion gymnastics, puppetry, lighting and props to create a sort of visual magic.
We pull up to the house and barn in a remote part of western Connecticut, but we don’t see anyone. It seems desserted, although cars are parked in front and the big white Victorian house is wide open. A little dog runs out from around the corner to greet us cheerfully, zipping in wide circles around the lawn and driveway at top speed like one of those radio controlled race cars. We circle around back, calling out “hello?” rather sheepishly, looking for the barn where we are told they practice. Then, around again at the front of the house, we see Brian running across the street to greet us. The barn is on the other side of the street, and we had assumed it to be the neighbor’s.
Then Moses Pendleton arrives from far down the road, returning from a morning walk. Moses greets us warmly. It seems we’ve been mutual fans for quite a few years. He talks nonstop, animated about the flowers in his ever-mutating garden. We sit in deck chairs at the center of 16 long radiating lines of daffodils growing in the expansive back lawn, like a ritual landing site, or a pattern on the Nazca Plain. He has a big personality, excited, enthusiastic, seeming to bubble over; and it’s hard to get a word in edgewise. I recognize the lightning rod inside of him, and it’s a pleasure to experience this positive effusion of doing.
Back on the road, we arrive in West Hartford with plenty of time to drop off our luggage at Susan Mullis’ house before heading over to the university to set up for tonight’s gig. Susan has had a radio show called Ambience on WWUH for over two decades, a huge supporter of this music. She has hosted me four times now for concerts, and it was through our common friendship that I met David Agasi (photographer collaborator for Echo of Small Things), Mandible Chatter and several other compatriots.
Susan heads over to the radio station as I load in the gear from the truck. Our arrival seems perfectly timed to a thunderstorm that breaks overhead. A brief torrential downpour catches me as I run in and out carrying gear. Thirty minutes later the storm abates, and I look like I just lost a bet with a carnival dunk tank. My clothes are mostly dry by the time of the concert.
As it’s a Tuesday, I’m a bit concerned that we’ll have low attendance. Susan made great efforts to get the word out, with ticket giveaways and press releases. I run over to the radio station for a quick interview around 3:00, trying to get a few more people out for the show. In fact, the audience adds up to about 60 people – not bad actually, considering the weekday. I wait a few extra minutes to start the show, because I also expect my sister and her husband to show up. They’re stuck behind traffic for over an hour on the interstate, delayed by an overturned truck. I start the show and notice them sneaking in about 30 minutes later. (Apparently they are not the only ones here who made a four hour round trip to hear the concert.) Musically, this performance feels quite good. I sense that I’m getting more comfortable with the details of the set, and my thoughts don’t get as distracted by the running critique of technology and technique.
After tearing down and loading out, we retreat to Susan’s house for a late night snack and a bottle of silky Napa Zinfandel cuvée. We sleep deeply, and drive to Vermont the next day with no incident. Our host, Chip Hart, drops by to meet us briefly after we settle in at his brother’s condo, and he helps get the internet working for us. After he gives us some restaurant tips, we drive into town and have a light crepe dinner at a little place called the Skinny Pancake, near the edge of Lake Champlain. The weather is warm, with a cool breeze. We walk down Church street, a pedestrian lane with no cars and many restaurants, feeling the energetic vibe from the college-age crowd all dining outside in the perfect weather.
Today we have a day off, chance to do laundry and some business via email. Hoping to get a walk in if the weather allows. Thunderclouds hover overhead, and big raindrops splash sparsely on the ground.
Once again I’m a bit concerned about low turnout here in Burlington. I don’t think many people here know about my music, and I feel a whisper from the shadow of uncertainty; trying to overcome lingering doubts about perpetual obscurity, while trying to communicate something quiet and personal in this distracted and overmodulated world. Hovering as they do, in the distance, these doubts bother me less in friendly little cities like this one, even though the audience might be small. However, in the impersonal din of larger cities, a sense of meaninglessness and anonymity can overcome one’s efforts to communicate the magical qualities of being alive. I ponder how to create bubbles of peace amidst this noise, small actions that might seduce people rather than beg loudly for attention.- RR
Wednesday May 12, 2010. 1:00 PM, Westchester County, NY
Almost a week has passed since my last entry, in part because two concerts and much travel do not allow the pause for writing.
As feared, the turnout in Burlington is quite small. When Dixie and I arrive at the Flynn theater to setup, we get the feeling that the people running the theater office don’t even know the show is happening. No posters out front, nothing. It seems the theater has separate turf for every action, and outside promoters get no assistance. Our host had assumed that they would at least put up posters. Everyone there is quite friendly, though, and they let us use their copy machine to improvise some posters, which we place out front. We also place a few on kiosks nearby. However, the effort comes too late for anyone potentially interested to notice.
The house manager at Flynn Space, Brian Johnson, proves very helpful when it comes to setting up and getting the place looking nice. Most of the people who show up to the gig are friends of our host’s, and they make the evening quite pleasant. In times like these I try not to get depressed, and treat the evening like a private concert that allows me to rehearse a bit and perfect some technique. In that sense, the evening is a success and I probably I play better than on previous nights with larger audiences.
After the concert we go to a very nice restaurant called Pulcinella to join a group of classical musicians who had also just performed. Both of our shows are sponsored by the company that Chip Hart works for, PCC. Our events coincided with each other, which may have also sucked away a bit of audience. This minor complexity luckily does not interfere with friendly introductions.
We drive to Sherbrooke Quebec the following morning, driving up the west shore of Lake Champlain and east through the Quebec wine region. We arrive at the Plymouth Trinity Church around 2:30 in the afternoon, and unload gear amidst cold gray drizzly weather with the friendly assistance of our hosts Guy Bergeron and Erich Langlois. This 150 year old brick church has a soft warm interior, with high steps in front and curved wooden pews that form a semicircle around the altar. The acoustics are clear and reverberant, quite nice. I recognize some of the audience from the first time I performed in Sherbrooke four years ago, and some have driven from Montreal. It’s a charming evening with warm energy. The performance feels good, although I decide not to record it because I already have recordings of the previous shows. After load-out we retreat to Guy’s house for delivered pizza and excellent local beer, to collapse exhausted on their inflated guest bed.
We awaken to a cold gray Sunday in a warm and welcoming household, and we linger over a long breakfast with quiche and croissants. With outdoor temperatures hovering near freezing and light rain that sometimes drifts down as snow, we spend the day inside doing email and conversing. Erich is preparing a special meal of osso bucco, which he brings over in the early evening, and we share a slow food meal with risotto, roasted vegetables, cheeses and good wine until after midnight.
On Monday we say goodbye to Guy and Stephanie and move over to Erich’s apartment for the day. Our other hosts are getting ready to move to the far north of Quebec, where Guy is working as a medical nurse in an Innuit community. We take our leave, so they can continue to pack up the house. Erich takes over the hosting duties, and we walk through Sherbrooke with him to do some food shopping and a bit of sightseeing. We share a light dinner of shrimp and veggie stir fry, with a side dish of fiddlehead ferns, a seasonal specialty. We sleep well at Erich’s house that night.
Tuesday is a driving day again, leaving Sherbrooke and heading south, back to my sister’s house near the Connecticut border of New York. We’ll regroup here to do some laundry and catch up with email and phone calls. I need to get my car lubed and oiled, as we’ve driven 5000 miles during the last three weeks.
I need to announce a few things. My Denver house concert is now sold out (that’s a good problem); and the Portland sleep concert is canceled, because our host there has an illness which is preventing him from following through with his plans. I’m hoping that the other Portland shows will get some promotional help from new volunteers, as I don’t think our first host will be up to the task. If you are reading this, and live in Portland, please help spread the word! It would be a shame to have a show in such a big theater without good promotion.
This question of promoting concerts with volunteers leaves room for pondering. The low turnout in Burlington VT offers a useful contrast to the better results in some other towns. Occasionally, a show really comes together: people hear the news, the news spreads, a momentum forms. How can we best get this snowball rolling? My tours rely almost entirely on amateur promotion, volunteer hosts, listeners who ask me to perform, and then hopefully do their best to get an audience to show up. All of this publicity work takes a big commitment, and I try to explain to potential hosts that a successful independently promoted show takes a lot of work.
The well-attended shows seem to have some elements in common. The hosts use every angle they can think of to promote the show, and they never assume that people are going to show up at the concert without maximum cajoling. They don’t assume I’m famous enough to draw a crowd by name alone (I’m not.) They try to make the upcoming concert seem rare and special, maybe a bit bigger than life. They use their network of connections to spread the word, to fellow music fans, to college campus organizations or music departments, to people in media looking for a story about the arts. They print out the publicity that I provide on my website, and hand-deliver it to newspapers, weeks in advance, then they follow up with phone calls. They don’t assume that editors or columnists will take the trouble to search my website.
Successful promoters hang posters at coffee houses and kiosks all over town. Then, they check back every week or so and replace posters that have been covered up or torn down. They make full use of free publicity like the entertainment calenders on college radio and in the local free weekly newspapers. They call the college stations and offer ticket giveaways to take place on programs that play similar music. Most importantly, they contact people they know directly: by telephone, email, or in person. They try to get those friends to join them at the concert, and ask them to tell their other friends about it, to create a spreading word-of-mouth.
You, the audience, are a promoter for each event you go to, by telling your friends and using your contacts to get the news to those who don’t know the music. Without these personal connections, one person’s lone promotional efforts can deflate into silence. This music does not tend to attract professional promoters – they would not make enough money. For the same reasons, I’ve never had a manager, nor agent. I rely primarily on the goodwill of listeners. Without that grass-roots effort, this music simply won’t get heard live. Many of you who are reading these words, whether you are helping with promotion, or if you come out to a concert – you are the person I am thanking right now. I cannot do this without your help, and I am very grateful. – RR
Tuesday May 18, 2010. 1:00 PM, Springfield IL
These days off at my sister’s house offer much needed time to follow some of my own advice that fills the previous few paragraphs. I spend most of Thursday trying to advance some publicity for a few shows in towns that I remember lower turnout in the past. I’m keeping in mind the old adage, “One definition of insanity is when a person repeats the same action over and over, expecting a different result each time.”
Time off with family also means a chance for me to cook a few nice dinners, one of my favorite ways to relax. For one of the dinners I make a morel Madeira sauce from the mushrooms we found in Vermont. This goes atop grilled duck breast, with quinoa and sautéed Brussels sprouts (shredded, sautéed with bacon crumbs, onions and fennel seeds, reduced with a splash of dry vermouth.) The other dinner consists of Moroccan lamb tagine on couscous with sundried tomatoes, and baby artichoke halves topped with pine nuts and Romano cheese.
On our last evening with my sister and her family, we dine in Ridgefield CT at Sarah’s Wine Bar, upstairs in Bernard’s Restaurant. This is where my niece will have her wedding reception in a few months, and the six of us (Dixie, myself, my sister and her husband, my niece and her fiance) have a wonderful preview meal with house-smoked salmon, house-made charcuterie, salad with lobster and beats, duck confit and more, accompanied by a warm Sonoma Pinot Noir and a well-aged 1998 Gigondas from the impressive wine list. I can highly recommend this place to anyone in the area. We realize how lucky we are to be able to share such times together.
On Saturday we say goodbye to my sister’s family and drive an hour to Woodcliff Lake NJ, where I have a concert at the home of Darren Bergstein. Darren published i/e Magazine during the 1990’s (which later returned as e/i, and now has stopped again.) Darren’s efforts to spread the word about ambient and experimental music have helped bring together several disparate scenes, giving the music some visibility and an intelligent editorial voice. In 1994 i/e published an interview with me, written by Bryan Reeseman, who comes to tonight’s show after a 90 minute drive from New York City.
Another old friend shows up from the city, Dan Bremmer, whom I haven’t seen in over a decade. Dan had been a music director at KUCI in Irvine CA, talked me into reviving my sleep concerts in the mid-90s, and promoted some good gigs for me in Orange County. One of those concerts became the “Shamballa” release which I included in the Live Archive downloads. As a budding graphic designer in the late ’90s, Dan designed the first t-shirt I ever tried to sell, a glow-in-the-dark mandala for the Humidity tour (from my Soundscape logo, derived from a blessing in ancient Persian caligraphy.) Dan is looking excellent these days, as intelligent as ever, and he’s now running advertising campaigns for several large companies.
Many other familiar faces fill the room in the basement of Darren Bergstein’s house, about 25 people, and the concert here feels comfortable and fun. I think perhaps the sound may have gotten a bit loud in one section, as resonances can tend to fill a small room like this. When mixing myself, it’s hard to know exactly how it sounds out in the room. But the energy is positive, and after the show people linger until late while I tear down the rig and pack up for tomorrow’s drive.
While I pack, I overhear Bryan Reeseman and Darren Bergstein puzzling over their ongoing efforts to thrive as taste-makers in a confusing post-publishing world of blogging and “free” content, funded only by advertising. I hear conversations like this more and more. This theme seems to repeat these days among almost every creative person I meet. I wonder sometimes, if we give away all content, funding the consumption with marketing budgets, who will remain to make enough money from their content to pay for the marketing that pays for the content? I picture a snake eating its own tail.
To bed at last after 2:00 AM, we manage about five hours of sleep before the long 9 hour drive to Toledo on Sunday. I have a minor concern about dashboard lights on the van for brakes and ABS, which stay glowing after a fuel stop. These remind me how essential the car is to my success and survival on these long journeys. At the next stop, I press down hard on the emergency brake and snap the release quickly, to free it up in case it’s a bit sticky. The lights go off and stay off, relieving my tension a bit. We arrive at the home of Dwight and Paula Ashley around 7:00, greeted with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and homemade smoked trout spread, then a flavorful dinner of Argentine lamb stew and a full bodied Malbec. Blissful home away from home.
Another late night of animated conversation gets us to sleep after 1:00 AM, and we’re a bit tired for the 7 hour drive to Springfield IL, where Dixie’s cousin lives. A few days off here should let us catch up on sleep as Dixie gets a chance to reconnect with far flung family. – RR
Sunday May 23, 2010. 1:00 PM, Louisville KY
Brief post to catch up on things. The day will get busy soon, as people show up and we get ready to set up for the planetarium concert in Louisville.
Our stay in Springfield was pleasant, with Dixie’s cousin showing us the Lincoln Museum and the Frank Lloyd Wright Dana-Thomas House, built in 1904. I could write at length about my love-hate relationship with Wright’s houses. I love the fluid spaces and the warm use of wood, but there is a certain obsessive linearity and dark clausterphobia that feels as if the house isn’t made for actual humans. Yet like most great art, it stimulates the imagination and creates a dynamic relationship with each viewer. I was amused to learn that Wright kept a key to each of the houses he designed, and would occasionally drop in unannounced and rearrange the furniture back to his intended plan, removing bric-a-brac from the walls to keep his vision pure.
On Thusday we drive north to Chicago and land at the home of John Strate-Hootman aka Vir Unis. After a sushi dinner we head downtown together for an interview on the Loyola University radio station, with Luke Stokes. John succeeds in hooking up his laptop to the university network for a simultaneous podcast on Stillstream for his Rabbit Hole Radio, turning this into an interesting radio-meets-podcast event. Luke has been a supporter and friend for over a decade, and he helped find this show for me in Chicago this time, hooking me up with Troy at Psymbolic. I worked with Troy 18 months ago when I performed the Earthdance event in Wisconsin, and he has done a good job getting the word out about this week’s Chicago concert. Hanging out with Luke, Troy and Vir Unis feels easy and the time vanishes. We finish up the interview around midnight, getting home a bit after 1:00 AM. We try to sleep late the next morning, have a sandwich for lunch and get to the venue to set up for Friday’s concert around 2:00 PM.
The people at TransAmoeba studio are helpful and wonderful, the vibe is very relaxed and friendly. There are many good elements about the concert tonight, especially the two groups of acoustic musicians that start the evening. Several elements of the night do bother me, though – the smoking and the talking, and these have become echoed a bit in the blogosphere. Despite the many good aspects to the evening, there’s a sort of cocktail-party environment sets the wrong social cues for deep listening.
A few fans have posted commentary already, below and elsewhere, and I appreciate their protective indignation. I should explain that I requested to have my gear set up in a place where I would not have to move it, and I didn’t want to hog the main stage for the entire evening and force all the other artists to accommodate my needs. By placing my rig in the shadows, I was also able to let the lighting glow with more contrast. The staging doesn’t bother me, only the talking, which makes me feel like an accessory to someone else’s event, like a wedding band or cocktail lounge pianist. It feels demeaning.
There’s no easy way to overcome this problem of audience chatter except for changing the environmental cues. Some other artists have earned reputations for snarking at the audience – such as Robert Fripp or Keith Jarrett. They would stop playing entirely, and request that the offending audience member leave the room, or glower at a person taking unauthorized photos. I can certainly sympathize with these little artist tantrums, but I don’t want to treat the audience like children. These snippy moments also tend to backfire in the retelling, to give the artist a reputation for being a prima donna. I think the environment needs to be more carefully framed so that the appropriate behavior seems obvious. Something about churches and planetariums imply to people that they should listen more deeply. For that reason, I’m looking forward to the next two shows, in Louisville and Kansas City, both of which are in planetariums.
The day after the Chicago show, we drive to Louisville KY, an easy five hour jaunt in mild overcast weather. We arrive at the home of Kim and Jason Clark by late afternoon, a warm return to one of our favorite stops on tour. This is actually the fifth time that Jason has organized a show for me here, and my third in the planetarium at U of L. We start a load of laundry – much needed right now – and head off to an excellent dinner at 732 Social. The chef-owner of this restaurant is a friend of Jason’s, and he has established an attractive casual environment here, with a very focused menu that emphasizes the protein. The only drawback for me is the ambient noise, which is loud enough to make conversation almost impossible unless yelling. The place is bustling, though, and the noise serves to energize rather than deplete.
After dinner we wander through the 21C Museum/Hotel, an amazing downtown environment full of conceptual art. This place is stimulating and bustling with life. The bathrooms have one-way mirrors, allowing users to watch people passing by the hallway outside while relieving themselves, through the falling wall of water which doubles as the urinal. Videos of moving eyeballs intersect the mirrors above the sinks, watching back at bathroom-goers as they wash hands. The title of the installation is something like “Inverse Voyeurism” and definitely leaves an impression. Outside the hotel, three pipes in the ground puff smoke rings at random intervals, and a lascivious sculpture of Pan licking an apple graces the hotel bar.
At the end of the evening we stop by the Beer Store near Jason’s house and taste some lovely Belgian Ales on tap. I learn that the owner used to help the California Guitar Trio on tour, and knows my friend Markus Reuter through the Pat Mastelotto-King Crimson connection at Discipline Global Mobile. We update each other on mutual friends. Late night back at Jason’s we chat about the changing landscape of media and technology. I can learn a lot from Jason about these topics. In fact, Jason’s company VIA designed this very website – robertrich.com.
Today is gig day. We’ll head over to the planetarium to set up in a few hours, after a Mediterranean lunch and some re-introductions to old acquaintances who have helped out here in the past. – RR
P.S. I just chatted with Troy from Psymbolic over the phone. He noticed the online references to the chatter at the Chicago concert, and he’s concerned that it’s the only thing people remember after such a pleasant evening. I concur, and I would try to spend more time if I get a chance, to more carefully describe some of the best aspects of Friday’s concert. I wouldn’t want people to discount Troy’s efforts to pull events like this together, and make some great things happen. My only reason for discussing the audience chatter is to fill in some background to the comments posted here and elsewhere. I don’t want this to grow out of proportion, and I feel deep gratitude for Troy’s efforts to make events like this happen. If we can use this discussion as an opportunity to improve people’s experience in the future, that would be a good result of this dialog. In the meantime let me publicly thank Troy and Psymbolic for their friendship and wide network of warm-hearted people.
Wednesday May 26, 2010. 5:00 PM, Kansas City MO
Today I’m writing from John Bergin’s house, where we stay until Saturday morning. I’ll rewind back to Sunday in Kentucky.
I have been looking forward to the planetarium gig in Louisville. We arrive slightly before 5:00 PM with plenty of help from old Louisville friends Ryan Powell and Lou Rawls, and from planetarium director Drew Foster, who enthusiastically supports these efforts every time I perform in Louisville. When I get my gear set up and plugged in, I notice a loud ground hum. I ask Drew for several 3-prong adapters, for me to try floating the ground of my rig. Works like a charm. Lou gets the sound tweaked quite nicely, and the audio coverage in the planetarium dome is so complete that I don’t need to use my in-ear monitors. It’s a treat for me to play a gig where I can hear the same sound as the audience, without feedback on the flute microphones. I let myself get a bit louder than usual during the performance, because it sounds good in the room. I think most of the decibels are actually coming from the subwoofers, which sound clean, not boomy.
Before and after the concert I have a chance to chat with several groups of listeners who drove long distances for this concert, ranging from Bowling Gree KY, Nashville TN, Indianapolis IN and southern Illinois. Louisville turns out to be interestingly central. The night ends with good feelings, with help loading the van from musicians in the audience, who use the chance to ask gear questions as I tear down. Quick to bed upon returning back to Kim and Jason’s. They have gone to sleep even before we arrive, as they have work on Monday. Dixie and I feel tired but fulfilled.
Monday is low-key, doing email while our hosts are at work. They come home for lunch and take us out to a restaurant owned by their next-door neighbors, the Mayan Café, with excellent ceviche, beautifully plated not-huge servings, light and complex fresh sauces. Then, after Jason and Kim return from work, we go shopping and I cook chicken tagine, couscous, sautéed shredded Brussels sprouts, and spinach salad with lemon-apple dressing. A great ending to another great stay in Louisville. (No wonder I always gain weight on tour.)
Tuesday is a driving day, eight hours to Kansas City. The weather stays easy, and while dark skies brew to the southeast, our path remains sunny and dry. We arrive at the Bergin’s house in late afternoon, where we meet each other in person for the first time. John Bergin has designed most of my CD cover art since the late 1990s. Starting with Below Zero and the two Amoeba albums, he’s done Bestiary, Calling Down the Sky, Open Window, Electric Ladder, Ylang and others. Yet after years of phone calls, we haven’t met until now.
John has an amazing family. His wife Carolyn works as a designer at Hallmark, which is probably the biggest employer of creative people in town. John and Carolyn home-school their kids Henry and Emma, who have grown into politely inquisitive self-directed little firecrackers. The kids have been creating content on YouTube for several years, doing stop-motion animation on their laptops. In fact, 14 year-old Henry has been scripting iPhone applications and is almost finished writing an app for me that crossfades excerpts from the 7 hour Somnium recording in random order. He’ll sell it on his app-store and we’ll split the income.
John has been working on a movie script with tight deadlines, but he took some time this afternoon to drive us around town to coffee shops and a record store to pin some concert posters onto bulletin boards. We discovered with great pleasure that a few of these places already had big posters for the show. Renée Blanche has done exactly what a promoter needs to do – hang posters around town at all the cool hangouts. When we get back home I call Renée to let her know I’m in town, and to thank her for the effort. She tells me that half the planetarium tickets have already sold in advance, so we have high hopes for a good evening on Friday. – RR
Sunday May 30, 2010. 3:00 PM, Des Moine IA
I’m back where I started this journal six weeks ago, at the home of the Lewin family, recovering from two back-to-back concerts: Friday in Kansas City and last night here in Des Moines.
On Thursday back at the Bergin’s house, we try to stay out of the way while John works on updating his script. Dixie and I go for a walk around the neighborhood with Emma to look for mushrooms. We return with a few inedible samples, just for fun, including some small Russula and a Coprinus (inky cap). I show Emma how to make spore prints, and we discuss the Linnean system of categorization for living things. Her curiosity about fungi was triggered when I pointed out a slime mold growing near a shop the previous day. I mentioned to her that slime molds were neither plant nor animal, not even fungi, and that there are many such organisms that fall outside of the simple categories of life. My love for this stuff is rekindled when sparked by the curiosity of youth.
In the evening we arrange for Renee Blanche to drop by and say hello. She joins us all at the Bergin’s dinner table and we get re-acquainted after 11 years, since the last time I passed quickly through Kansas City for an interview on her Sunday night radio show “Night Tides.” She has kept the show running for over 15 years, and this continuity proves essential for getting people out to the concert tomorrow. I learn that this is the first time she has tried to promote a concert, and it’s the first time the planetarium has featured live music. She has put a huge effort into making this happen, and the results are promising.
Renee has a strong spirit, and her positive attitude is infectious. She carries herself with a refreshing vibrancy, pragmatic and idealistic at the same time. I really like her energy. During our dinnertime conversation, she mentions how she realizes that she fills a rare niche, an African-American woman with a radio show that features typically Eurocentric musical styles. She’s excited when she gets callers who don’t sound Caucasian, and she wants ask these rare listeners how they discovered the music she’s playing.
This question of culture and skin color can lurk in the oddest corners of American life. I do notice that most of my listeners are Caucasian males. Why does some music speak more to some cultures than to others? What is a cultural language? I admit that I have a love affair with Indian, North African and Indonesian music. These musical languages speak to me deeply; but does my music speak as well to the cultures of those who influenced me? I often ponder whether music more resembles a universal language, or cultural convention. These aren’t mutually exclusive polarities, but they do inform our vocabulary of experience. Perhaps the continuum from attraction to influence, to appropriation, to cultural imperialism might take the form of a circle rather than a line. Our languages are interwoven.
On Friday, the whole Bergin household comes out to the planetarium to help set up for the concert. Gottlieb planetarium is part of the youth-oriented science center in Union Station, the old train depot that has been refurbished as part of Kansas City’s recent urban renewal. Damon Bradshaw operates the planetarium. He meets us outside and helps us find a parking place near the back door, where we can load in. Jeff Rosenblatt, director of the planetarium, comes out to greet us and calls security to unlock the gate to reach the good parking spot. With many hands helping, load-in goes swiftly. I set up my gear in front of the large projector block in the center of the planetarium, which unfortunately blocks the view from most of the audience. We decide to set up a camera to feed a video projector, so a floating image of my rig hovers on the dome, giving a view to everyone. During sound-check, I notice some rattling in one of the subwoofers behind me, so I disconnect it. It’s still rattling from sympathetic vibration, so I lean a gig bag up against it, and the noise abates. The Bergin’s bring pizza and we snack before the audience shows up.
The turnout is really good tonight. Over 80 pre-sale tickets, a total of about 110 people show up by the time I start, almost a full house. I decide to monitor my performance without earphones again, listening to the dome like I did in Louisville. I like this aspect of planetarium shows, as it integrates the performance experience with the listening experience. The sound system has a bit of a struggle with my signal, though, and I hear clipping in the dome speakers during my second piece. Guessing, I engage a subsonic filter on my graphic EQ, and the distortion decreases. I figure that the cross-overs are not doing a good enough job at rejecting low frequencies from the small speakers in the dome. This planetarium could use a bit of an audio overhaul. Nevertheless, the concert feels like a resounding success, and much of the credit goes to Renee Blanche for her excellent promotional effort.
Back at the Bergin’s, we share a late night snack of cold pizza, and sleep soundly. The household wakes up early because both kids have important soccer matches in the morning, and Dixie and I need to drive north to Des Moines. We pack our bags and clear a bit of space in back of the van to drive John over to the soccer field, so he can join up with the family. After watching a few minutes of soccer we take our leave and drive north. An easy 3.5 hour drive gets us to Des Moines by noon. We drop our bags off at the Lewins’ house, enjoy a light lunch of homemade little pizzas, and head over to the 4th Street Theater, downtown. The owner, Tim, helps us find the stage door. Jim Lewin rides his bike over to help us load in.
The gear sets up fine, and then I turn my attention to lighting. That doesn’t go smoothly at all. I burst two weather balloons after inflating them (thinking perhaps the stage is too rough?) and one of the LED ropes shorts out in a poof of sparks. I give up on the balloons and stick with the lasers, which can only project onto the ceiling because the walls are all black. An old radio friend, John Pemble, shows up early with his brother and a friend. We record an interview that he’ll place on his website.
The audience is small – about 30 people – but some of them have driven hours to see the show, from as far away as Minneapolis MN. I really want the music to be good tonight, to justify this effort from the listeners. I get a bad surprise just before the concert, though, when I learn that the venue is accidentally charging only half-price for the tickets. One of the owners got confused by a typo on their website. I could earn less from this show than the cost of my two popped weather balloons. I try not to lose my temper, because the kids selling tickets are just doing what they’re told. Amazingly, after the show, they pay me the larger amount that I would have earned if they had charged the correct price. The owners ate their mistake and probably took a small loss from the door. I’m pretty sure they made back their losses in food and coffee sales; but their honesty left me with a good impression, and I will happily return to the 4th Street Theater and recommend it to others.
Jim Lewin helps me tear down the gear, we load the car and head back home for a late night snack of bread, olives and cheese, some red wine and good conversation until 2 AM. We collapse to sleep and wake up late. Sunday is calm. It’s Memorial Day weekend, and we’ll have the grill going out back for an evening picnic. Tomorrow we drive again, 11 hours to Denver CO. It’s time to do some laundry and enjoy the day. – RR
Thursday June 3, 2010. 11:40 PM, Santa Fe NM
It’s gets to be a challenge keeping up this journal while juggling long drives with people and performing. Monday is filled with the eleven hour drive from Des Moines to Denver, landing us at the home of Jesse Sola and his wife Kirsten in the south Denver suburbs. Jesse has volunteered to host the house concert, which began at Jim Lanpheer’s house but grew too large for his den. Some readers might know Jesse’s music under the name Numina, which appears on the Hypnos label and elsewhere.
The Denver house concert has become a bit of a tradition on my tours, and I released the live album “Calling Down the Sky” from a special one of these in 2003, when a major thunder storm blew outside. Tuesday’s show is accompanied by very tame weather. In fact, our whole trip so far has missed the rough weather I’ve seen in past years. Dixie and I occasionally remark on how mild it’s been.
To start this gentle day, Jesse takes us over to a chain restaurant nearby for a light salad and sandwich lunch. Then he offers to drive us over to the west side of town to see Red Rocks Amphitheater. I can see why this place has such a reputation. The rocks form epic shapes that angle steeply westward. If the Rocky Mountains were an arrow piercing through a target, Red Rocks resembles the torn shards of paper lifted up around the hole. Today we can’t go into the theater because Tom Petty is scheduled to perform tonight, but we wander around and take some tourist photos. Maybe Jesse will post those on Facebook or something.
We return to Jesse’s house around 3:00 pm and Jim Lanpheer arrives soon after. I set up my gear and test out the PA system provided by Mike Hester, which sounds great. Around 30 people arrive early enough to enjoy snacks and drinks, with a pleasant party atmosphere. Impressively, when I start playing they all settle down quickly to listen intently for 90 minute. This is a great audience, and I can feel an energy exchange take place. I like intimate settings for this reason. In larger venues it’s harder to sense the audience state of mind. I’m pleased with the concert: although it’s not technically perfect it feels good. I modify the set quite a bit and experiment with an extended improvisation in the middle, but I decide to move back into the melodic material to finish the set in a more traditional manner. After the concert we stay up and talk until 3:00 am.
Wednesday is travel day again. We didn’t get much sleep so it’s a bit of a slog. I struggle to stay alert for the 6 hour drive to Santa Fe. We arrive at Michael Stearn’s house for a light fresh dinner of salmon and greens, and then he escorts us over to his studio space, where we stay for the night.
Saturday June 5, 2010, Santa Fe NM
Thursday, we spend the day down in Albuquerque to visit friends. It’s about an hour drive south of Santa Fe through rolling high dessert scrub. Our first stop is to visit an old friend, luthier Bill Richardson at his shop Studio Guitar. Almost 20 years has passed since Bill hot-rodded my junker lap steel guitar with a high-gain humbucking pickup, which helps me get that clean singing tone with the gliss. About five years ago he started building a new custom lap steel for me, but his business got so busy with repairs and calibration that he ran out of time for custom work. So, I’m dropping by to say hello, but also to pick up the parts of this guitar to take home and try building another way. No hard feelings – I’m just looking for some ways to get new guitar tones.
After hanging a while with Bill, we join Jim Coker for an authentic old style New Mexican lunch, a big combo plate of chile rellenos, carne adobado and more. Jim is our host here in New Mexico. He found the venue and has been working on promotion. He also created a very interesting piece of sequencing software for Mac OSX called Numerology, which emulates analog style step sequencers, on steroids. It’s a brilliant application, I only wish I had the extra mental bandwidth to master it.
After lunch with Jim, we drive an hour back up to Santa Fe to say hello to our friend Ron Sunsinger, who has recorded albums with Michael Stearns and Steve Roach. Ron also officiated a native-American style wedding ritual for my friend Rick Davies, over 20 years ago. Ron has a small but busy ProTools studio where he engineers recordings for others, and he has a growing analog modular synth in a similar format to mine, with a combination of MOTM, dotCom, ModCan, STG and Encore modules. We get a chance to compare notes about the different functions of the various modules, enjoying the rare chance to geek out with a fellow enthusiast. After our geek session, we all go out to a late light dinner. Dixie and I order small salads as we had a big lunch.
When we arrive back at Michael Stearn’s studio for bedtime, I spend about a half hour recording the night insects before we go to sleep. It’s quiet here at night and the dessert crickets have a distinct and sparse rhythm.
Friday is gig day. On these days I usually prefer not to schedule very much. However, today we make an exception because our friends here in Santa Fe want to get together for lunch. We go to a Middle Eastern restaurant called Pyramid, the same place where we met four years ago for a group meal, the last time I performed here. I order a filo dough pocket stuffed with potatoes and peas, with shavings of lamb/beef gyros meat alongside.
Fed for the day, we head over to the Santa Fe Complex to set up. The Complex has a clean industrial look, with an aesthetic that hybridizes science with art. At the front where I plan to perform, a geodesic dome fills the space like an indoor yurt, covered in white fabric that looks like it will make an excellent projection screen for my lasers. I set my gear up at the open front edge of the dome, and project the lasers into the interior so they illuminate behind me. It looks good.
The turnout tonight is better than expected. The audience is full of artists and musicians, including my old friend David Doty, one of the world’s experts on just intonation, who recently moved to Santa Fe from the Bay Area. Michael Stearns and Ron Sunsinger are here, as are Woody and Steina Vasulka, who founded The Kitchen, a famous performance and video art space in New York City. Woody is gracious and funny. He comments intelligently about the relationship of music and the interior creative space of the listener, mentioning how some music impinges and enslaves the listener while other music invites an inner creative freedom. I agree with him, that my music often oscillates at the edge of these two polarities. I wish I had time to get to know him better.
I actually find myself feeling slightly self-conscious as I perform my set tonight, because I want to sound as good as possible for these respected colleagues in the audience. Whenever unconfident thoughts enter my head as I perform, I become a bit analytical and I imagine that I play less well. It’s hard to know, from the external ear, if it’s better or worse.
This is an odd aspect of performance – sometimes the personal sense of magic can get blocked by self-analysis. It’s hard to know what the audience experiences. Magic sometimes happens even though the magician doesn’t feel it; or contrary, perhaps the shaman travels but the audience stays in place. These subtleties occur internally, hard to sense or communicate. However, the energy is very positive after this concert. I feel good, though still a bit self-conscious.
We get about five hours of sleep after returning to our temporary resting place, then we drive to Tucson on Saturday, down through western New Mexico and across southern Arizona. We notice a lot of US Border Patrol SUV’s around this area. The Mexican border seems like a hot issue here, and security is a growth industry. Is it the drug-gang wars in Northern Mexico or the perceived threat of cheap labor to our fragile economy that energizes this tension? Odd feelings. Onward to Tucson, where we land with our friend Chad Bush.
Thursday June 5, 2010, 11:00 PM, Mountain View CA
On Saturday evening, after driving to Tucson, we get together for dinner with long-time colleague Jeff Greinke, his wife Isabel, Chad Bush and his girlfriend Becka. We convene at a casual spot called B-line which has good local beers on tap and fresh light food. We jostle for the only six-seat table in the restaurant, which involves a bit of strategy. We cling to this good conversation roost for the next two hours, catching up on our lives. Then we all return to Chad’s house, as we still have more to share. A reasonable bedtime around midnight or one, and an attempt to sleep in, introduces the next gig day.
On Sunday, we start by having lunch with Trevor Schultz and his friends Dan and Chad. I have known Trevor since the early ’90’s when he helped promote a concert in the California college town of Davis, about two hours from my home. Trevor has driven down from Phoenix for my Tucson show today, and he invited us to lunch for the chance to catch up after almost two decades. I order an asparagus salad that turns out to be delicious but tiny. On a gig day like today, this might be all I eat until midnight, so I pad a bit with bread.
Set-up at Solar Culture goes smoothly. The PA system is clean, and I tweak it pretty well even before the sound man arrives. I like the energy of Solar Culture, and of it’s founder Steven Eye. Steven is a sculptor whose work includes fluid bio-mechanoid art-nuveau flavored head-masks, and his venue is lined with a range of work that I might best describe as “Burning Man” aesthetic. His wife Kati is a big fan of ambient-electronic music, and her paintings have a Giger-esque flow with a feminine touch, and a psychodramatic horror vacui. I’m quite enchanted by her more intense pieces, with their space-filling organic curves.
This is my third time performing at Solar Culture, and each time we get a few more people in the audience. Tonight the house feels comfortably full at about 50 people. Despite the off-kilter energy of one or two oddballs, the audience connection is really good tonight. I finish up with a positive charge, pack up and get home around midnight. We stay up and talk with Chad until 3 AM, and hit the pillow half-asleep.
Monday’s drive through the dessert feels half-awake. Caffeine gets me through. Luckily I anticipated this sleep deprivation and booked a hotel near Palm Springs through Priceline. It’s a sprawling “resort” that feels quite empty on this Monday evening. Although the basic room fee was cheap, I chuckle a bit at the $15 resort fee appended to our bill. Everything at this place has a price tag, such as the bottled water placed by the bathroom sink ($4). We eat an acceptable but generic meal at the hotel restaurant and go to bed early.
The best thing about an empty hotel, it’s quiet. We sleep very well for about 9 hours, and I feel rested for a change. The 7 hour drive home feels quick and easy, and we arrive at a house we haven’t seen in almost two months.
It’s always odd coming home after a long absence. It feels disorienting. All the details look amiss, and the clutter that once seemed acceptable now verges on the oppressive. Dixie and I realize that we have some cleaning to do, and maintenance, and gardening, and errands, and bills waiting. I can see why some musicians tour all year long.
Now we turn our attention to the last minute push for the only local concert, in San Jose, in a very big theater. On Wednesday night I go up to our local college radio station for an interview. KFJC is co-presenting the concert and they can help immensely to get a good crowd on Friday. We’ll cross our fingers on this one. The weekend seems to coincide with many family’s “last day of school” and I already know a few friends with kids who can’t come because of summer conflicts. I must admit I’m a bit nervous about attendance.
Wednesday June 16, 2010, 1:00 PM, Mountain View CA
Perhaps it’s time to put a cap on this tour journal. We’re based back home now, in northern California. The show at San Jose CET-Soto theater turned out to be quite nice. The visuals looked especially classy with the lighting assistance of Rob Riddle, who also helped organize and publicize the event. The remainder of our time home this week has been rather domestic, just trying to get moved back into our little house. This next weekend, we’ll head back out for the last few shows of the tour. First, we drive six hours south to Pomona to perform at the DA gallery, next door to Noise Bug. Then we’ll drive north to Portland and Seattle for the following weeks, for the final shows. It also appears that I”ll be flying to Portugal at the end of August to perform on the last night of the Boom Festival.
Someone pointed me to a very positive review of my concert in Tucson. Here’s a link to that.
Thanks for following our adventures! So long for now. – RR