Day 51: Interstate Tour 2018
I slept in a wee bit to achieve something close to 5 hours, headed over to The Lions Club stand for a coffee and had some copies made for my noon workshop, “The Dulcimer Expansion Project.” The volunteers in the ODPC office are always cheery, fun and I like to visit with them while I’m in there on festival business.
Though it had been very nice summer weather for the past few days, all eyes were on the weather as the weekend's forecast looked to be a rainy one. There was a slight chance of rain for the evening concert with a large possibility of an all-day shower on Saturday. We all did our little no-rain dances and hoped for the best.
The day was filled with teaching, manning the booth in the vendor barn and assembling the crew for tonight's highly-anticipated performance. As of last week, I still had no idea what I was going to do as a follow-up to last year's epic show (if you're arriving to the story late, check out the video here.) Then, it hit me. The news cycle of late has been largely depressing, and my song "Never Too Late" had been featured on an album called "After The Fire" that was produced by the folks in The Squirrel's Nest. Everyone knew the tune and we could put together a small ensemble and end the show with something that would give the audience a nice upbeat finale. I'd used a MIDI dulcimer to record the track, so all the strings were digital. How sweet it would be to hear the song with the real deal!
I quickly tabbed out an arrangement and contacted Lynne Ellen Kaiser, letting her know what my thought was. She loved it and passed the music on to daughter, Kelly and we connected, going over arrangements briefly. The whole thing would be hush-hush so we'd keep it a surprise saved for the show.
We had begun to plot it out earlier in the week and the line-up would be The Kaiser Family; Ken (guitar), Lynne Ellen (bass), Kelly (violin), Greg (banjo), The Mom Family; Sharese (violin), David (mandolin), Liesl (violin), Rey (violin), Jason Yanity (bodhran) and Sarah Morgan (backing vocals and mountain dulcimer). So, when someone requested the tune in the jam on Thursday night, we all slyly looked at each other and considered it a public rehearsal, without letting on that it was what we were planning on performing the following evening.
Rehearsals went great - they're all incredible musicians, cool as cucumbers - we worked with Sarah in the second session and I'd been sending PDFs and song links to everyone so they'd have reference, but we were also adding a new ending to the tune, so that had to be plotted out. Then, I got an idea that we'd end with all of us singing a capella and then I'd tag with "The Mickey Mouse Club Alma Mater", and we'd do a really dramatic string-heavy finale that would make Walt Disney weep. So, we practiced that and it was all-around agreed that we'd put together a highly worthy follow-up to last year's show.
Now, I've been pretty much back-to-back with shows since The Indiana Fiddlers Gathering on June 22nd and my left thumb began acting up heading into the set. I put on some compression gloves with copper and planned to wear them during the performance. Usually, when my hands start getting a little pain-y, I slip these on and the symptoms go away. No diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis, but I definitely get more aches and pains than I used to. I think it was Bette Davis that said, "getting old ain't for sissies."
No rain. The Friday night show rolled through with nary a drop, until it was time for me to go on. Weather alerts forced a rain delay as we were directed all onto the stage as something akin to a microburst came powering along. The backstage area was highly exposed and we had all of our instruments, so everyone remained on-stage as I got situated and the stage crew set up microphones and stands.
Once all tuned-up, I went back to encourage everyone and marvel at the ferocity of the rain-bullets thudding to the ground, sending the folks who were sitting in portable chairs before the stage retreating back into the grandstands, where the lights were turned off for safety. The stage crew pulled some of the cables back out of the range of the rain, which had coated the front half of the stage, and the monitors, with a thin sheen of water. The doppler had shown that this would pass quickly and we'd start up soon. It lightened up a smidge, and then came down with even more force, leaving one hardy individual sitting in the middle of the track with an umbrella, patiently waiting for the show to begin. I want to find out who that was - they've got a CD coming.
Emcee Scott Freeman called it, "alright, let's go" and I gave everyone a last thumbs-up, went to sit down, buckled up and did a little sound-check dance (they had to switch my wireless receiver from one d/i box to another) before greeting and thanking everybody for being patient, and then I debuted a newly-written song (like, five minutes before the show) called "The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Blues." It was difficult not to spot Micaela Jane Piui in her squirrel outfit at the rear of the stage as we huddled up there waiting, but she came alive and strutted to the front of the stage, head-piece in place, and grooved to the short tune, much to everyone's delight.
For my second song, I'd be debuting a new tune that'll be on my next album, Quarters, called "Too Strong For This", which we had jammed on Thursday night, encouraging me to attempt it here on the big stage. The Kaisers and The Moms got into place, just as another volley of raindrops shattered the relative quiet, thundering down upon the metal roof of the grandstands and the stage. I looked around at everybody, smiled and counted us in.
The rain let-up after a little bit, but there were still no monitors, so everyone held back just as little bit in order to hear the mountain dulcimer, which was plugged directly in and serving as a guide. It was surreal to perform one of my songs with what amounted to a live string ensemble surrounding me, and it was easy to lose myself in the song and sell it. Incredibly invigorating - and we hadn't even gotten to the finale yet!
The applause was louder than the rain had been during the beginning of the song and I breathed a quick sigh of relief. The first time that I perform a new tune, it's always a little nerve-wracking.
I called Sarah up and, while she got situated, I introduced the song and asked the audience to join us in singing. I looked around at everybody again and then kicked off the tune by myself, playing through the verse chords once. The second time through, everyone joined in.
I love singing with Sarah - her voice is so pure, so smooth and haunting - and we've sung together on the Evart stage before, but this was really fun because she chose such interesting harmonies. Kelly, David, Greg and Liesel all took solos during the middle section as a group of Squirrels gathered at the front of the stage and swayed back and forth. They joined in singing the last verse and the chorus, the audience joined in, and I signaled for the music to stop as everyone continued to sing a capella.
I then switched to ukulele and, along with a big orchestration cued by me raising the ukulele neck up and down, we led everyone in singing "The Mickey Mouse Club Alma Mater", in which we all get to pretend like we've just watched an episode of "The Mickey Mouse Club" and "now it's time to say goodbye..." I do this to close most of my shows, but I've never heard a full grandstand sing it before - it was absolutely electrifying.
With a raucous reception, Scott asked for another one and we quickly conspired to play "Hangman's Reel" as one last number.
After the show, it was generally felt that we had pulled it off, I certainly thought so. It was a beautiful experience on so many levels, and the rain even added to what made it feel so special. Once again, we had banded together with the mutual goal of creating a memorable moment and had succeeded, despite the weather and the kind-of improvisational situation we had. Another total possibility for a train wreck that never came, but I had faith that it wouldn't be a train wreck. The old adage goes, "surround yourself with people who are better than you." It works, I tell ya. It keeps you on your toes.
By the time I had come down after the show and jammed at The Squirrel's Nest for a bit, I was cooked - starting to feeling a little fizzy around the edges. Despite that, I hung out with Butch Ross and Andy Young for a spell, trading jokes, before we each said, "yo, it's time to get some sleep" and headed off to our respective camp sites.
Another great day. Tomorrow would be busy, too. As I crawled into bed, I began to anticipate what the response would be around the festival. I just hoped that everyone got the message. Life is weird right now, but try to have hope anyway. Hope's what gets us through anything.