The Song and Blinding Mode
I had barely been back home in Orlando before it was time to pack up Rita and head for Des Moines, Iowa, which was the first official stop on the 2015 Summer All Out Tour. Just before leaving, I made sure to get photos of the menagerie on my iPhone so that I could share with others. Through the magic of Facebook and other social media, our pets have become as recognizable as we have. Especially if you're a parking lot kitten at the Gateway Dulcimer Festival that everyone wants to adopt but instead goes home with the dreadlocked dulcimer player. Samantha Snows was a pretty famous cat in music circles. I'm glad that I gave her one last squeeze before leaving on June 4th. There's no way that Jae or I would have ever guessed that she'd be dead about three months later. Sammi's passing in September caught us both away from home, grief-stricken and full of guilt for not being there when she was passing from this earth. But the full-throttle tears and resounding pain of heartache have slowly yielded to the more gentle and uplifting memories and smiles of the little black kitten with the curious silent meow or her trilling mewls of joy that were unleashed immediately upon any gracious back scratch. It just goes to illustrate some of the risks inherent in traveling on the road for long periods of time. The clocks back home don't freeze until you come back. There's a lot that you're going to miss.
Yeah, bummer way to start a blog, huh? Way to go, Bing-O, put 'em in the mood.
But, seriously, until I began touring, it hadn't yet dawned on me just how formidable a proposition, and execution, it could be. The 2015 All Out Tour was named for its "all-out" attitude; I was going to go all-out and play as many places as I could for as long a period of time as possible. By the time we were rolling north, our loopy route would slink through 26 states, over 7 major North American mountain ranges over the course of what would ultimately amount to 21,151 miles, portions of which were spent in a rental car, tear-assing between Illinois and Indiana, but that part comes later.
It's a long time to be on the road. It's a long time to be away from your wife and home, your pets and friends. Your favorite theme park, you know. But the reward is in the mission and the mission is the music. Playing it, writing it, sharing it, teaching it, enabling others to do the same and keep the cycle alive, it's all what I live for, to paraphrase Ursula from "The Little Mermaid." It's what I do. Those moments on-stage or in front of a class, in a hallway or across a dinner table, on a front porch or in a backyard; these are the moments of connection where the roots-inspired life takes hold in the rich, fertile soil of the human spirit. Mix that with the universal language of music and you've got the soundtrack for real America. Not the jingoistic, garishly painted, megaphoning America of political power but the United States of Here We Are, doing our best to carry on traditions that have been watered down over the years as cultures collided and humanity began to homogenize.
That's why I love the road. The emotions and deep spirituality of this kind of work are always informing and infusing everything from the teaching to the creating of the evening's set-lists. But the physical part of it, especially in the incredibly diverse geography of the North American continent, you can really experience quite an extraordinary spectrum of locales in the states and, being the ADHD-riddle chap that I am, these thrilling changes of scenery (and altitude, which always comes as a weird surprise) make for inspiration of the highest sort. This might get a little free-form, a little expressionist on you, but as I look back on the past 151 days, much of it is still sort of drifting together to form concepts, thoughts, memories and ideas. And much of it was so freakin' awesome that it's hard not to find it in the highlight playlist of my brain.
It was an incredibly long journey from Orlando to Des Moines, Iowa. One of the things that struck me about the approach to Des Moines was that you're in the middle of nothing but farmland forever, no sign of a city anywhere on the horizon, and then suddenly, wham!, where does this city come from? It's the strangest thing and I asked the locals about it, they all think it's weird too. Had a blast there!
Last year at Gebhard Woods Dulcimer Festival (Morris, IL), weather cancelled Sunday music and I didn't get to perform. This year, I got one song in and then the weather cancelled Sunday music as well as shutting down the whole festival. It's here that David and Annette Lindsey, formerly blamed for inclement weather following them to festivals, pin the bad weather arrival on me. This goes back and forth for the rest of the summer. It turned out to be me. Fact. Rita and I played a game of Race The Wicked Storm Front all the way from Morris to Charleston. Scariest driving of the tour, 60 mph gusts, big "Twister"-looking clouds, chunks of debris cartwheeling across the farmland towards us as we careen along tilted at an insane angle, my hands steering sturdily into the whomping wind. Good times, good times.
Getting to know Charleston, IL was a lot of fun. Everything took place at Jackson Avenue Coffee where Dano Reible makes sure that the local musicians have a place where they can pursue their passions. Plus having head-sized coffee drinks with names like Heart Murmur and lots of finger-foods plus an amiable community following made it a real cool stop on the tour. The slamming pick-up band that closed the concert was a huge highlight.
The intention was to go see "Jurassic World" on opening day with Steve and Tiffany Ash, but the showing sold out of tickets before they could get theirs. They saw the next showing and we compared notes on the flick (I liked it) at Tilted Kilt. Hello, Ft. Wayne! Always good to be back in town for a Folkcraft event; Second Saturday clinic, in this case. At some point in time, the alarm went off in the hotel where Folkcraft put me up. Went downstairs, milled around with everyone, went back upstairs. Turns out, it was me, vaping in the hotel room. Oops.
While in town, I performed at Summerfest for Woodburn, Indiana's 150th anniversary and you may not be surprised to find out that it stormed during my set. Not only did it storm, but the grey/black skies coughed down a huge lightning bolt that caused a tree to explode all over the fire department lawn, not 800 feet from the stage. The sound guy was making the "we're done" motion long after I had begun unplugging and tearing down my gear. That's as close as I ever want to get to lightning. Period. The police came along and ushered everyone in the area into the storm shelter, where we remained for about twenty minutes as the storm hurtled past. Mother Nature, you and me have got to stop meeting like this.
Always a fun time at Coshocton Dulcimer Days in Ohio though it, yes, rained again (a few suspicious glances were cast my way.) Ohio truly is one of my favorite states. I hung out with my good friends Rose and Blake, went to see "Inside Out" in Akron, did a small Mexican restaurant mini-tour, you know - as you do. Then headed out across Pennsylvania and camped in some neat places including Bald Eagle State Park. It's around this time that film composer James Horner died in a plane crash. Artists die all the time but a handful of them will have a certain key to parts of your heart and spirit and Horner was that for me. To think there will be no more of his scores. It was enough to pause and reflect (and play some Horner homages in the concerts for a while.)
On my way to the Old Songs Festival in late June, I stopped at Chenango Valley State Park and was treated to some serious decompression meds.
It was great to be back at Old Songs where I once again managed to get a recording of my set in the 100-year old Dutch Barn. Highlight here was the transcendent presentation between myself and Stuart Fuchs and Joe Bruchac. I had never met either of these guys before and we were to present a Native American flute workshop. Joe, whose knowledge of indigenous people and their cultures is heartfelt and extraordinary, took the lead with greetings and stories; Stuart, who comes from a very yoga, very eastern studies sort of space, picked up the pass and led the group into deep-breathing also storytelling with the flute. My approach was a mixture of educational and slightly irreverent (when you're sitting in between these two cats, either you're going to take it to the next level or you're going to quick-step and shuffle in a different direction and that's exactly what I did. 50 minutes passed like mere seconds yet felt like we'd been there in a golden moment of shared stillness and meditation. I do believe everyone's heart rates were down after this session - I wish I had videotaped it. There was The Other in that interaction between the three of us and the result was truly magic. Big awesome highlight of the whole tour.
Oh. And it rained at Old Songs. Just sayin'.
Spent a good amount of time in the midwest playing at cafes and clubs and they were all quite fun, but not as memorable as having a whole room full of kids sing along with me to "Let It Go" from "Frozen." Again, some memories are in glorious HD, always ready for crystal clear retrieval. Though every tour is a little different, some things remain the same and that is when I turn hood towards Pennsylvania Dutch Country, ride a few coasters, visit with dulcimer clubs and perform my annual marathon show at the Garryowen Irish Pub in Gettysburg, PA. I may never accept another gig anywhere else during this time of year because it's such a precious progression right on up to the craziness that is my 8+ hours of unrated, turbo-charged, joyful abandon. July 4th weekend, people know where to find me.
The other biggie this year was doing the three-day intensive with Stephen Seifert right before the ODPC Funfest in Evart, MI. I'd never really "hung out" in Evart before, so it was a real treat to get to know some locals, enjoy some of the local traditions (Michler's malts and burgers for one, or two) and instruct some folks while also bellying up to the bar and bowling on Tuesday night. It set the mood perfectly for the insanity that is Funfest. I became an official "squirrel" at the Squirrel's Nest, which brought with it a "thing bing" t-shirt made like the rest of the squirrels'. How sweet is that?
Whenever I'm at the Ozark Folk Center, I always lose about five pounds from walking up and down those big ol' hills. Still had a blast this year.
And I got to ride Fury 325 at Carowinds on the North and South Carolina border. Rode it until I thought my head was going to sink into my chest. It was wicked.
If you were to track my progress in real time and then speed it up, I'd imagine that Rita would look like some kind of Whirligig bug, zipping to and fro, then reversing directions and heading straight back in the same direction. No points on creative routing, but I did see many different parts of this amazing country. Michigan seems to be having some magnetic effect on me as I did a lot of events up there this year including the Midland Folk Festival and that incendiary version of "Drowsy Maggie" that I played with Sonas during the concert. Another highlight! To have the opportunity to jam with incredible musicians is part of the payoff for all of these miles on the road.
Scored tickets for FFS in Los Angeles early in the month. BONUS!
(Let it be said that this blog has languished for a year with the intention of refining it. It never happened, but there is a lot of stuff here that begs a look. Also, it mirrors being in the road now. Here's a quantum leap in the timeline. )