I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and isn’t having too much trouble getting back in the groove in the New Year. Everybody wants to be in Florida in January. Record snow fall and freezing temperatures around the country makes that even more so this year. But, though there’s been no snow, it hasn’t been exactly balmy here in the Sunshine State either. More hard freezes than usual are not doing the citrus and ornamental plant industries any good. My tangerines in the back yard have done just fine, but then they get a lot of protection from the big oaks towering overhead and the lake nearby.

My music year is off to a fast start with a very eventful January. First, the final tallies on the Folk DJ Radio Chart came out and “Welcome Home” finished as a top 40 album for 2010 based on worldwide airplay. Maggie Ferguson at WXOU in Auburn Hills, MI picked it as her Best Regional Album of the Year, Lilli Kuzma at WDCB in Glen Ellyn, IL picked it as a top 10 favorite and Al Kniola of WVPE in South Bend, IN rated it in their top 30 albums of the year. I am, to say the least, thrilled! January has been BUSY!! Ten shows here in Florida in January is a record pace for me. House concerts have been the bedrock of the packed calendar and four of those shows (yep, four) were “virgin” house concert presenters. This put me in front of a lot of new faces and introduced them not only to my music and the rich Florida Folk music scene, but also introduced them to house concerts, the very best way to hear and appreciate original acoustic music. Thanks to Gina Killgore, Barbara Sheen Todd, Alona Smith and Pat Feeley who hosted great shows in their homes and enjoyed their introduction to the world of house concerts.

Special thanks go to Pete Gallagher and Randy Wynne of WMNF in Tampa. Both welcomed me on their radio shows to promote my packed schedule in the Tampa Bay area. Pete and Pat Barmore host the Florida Folk Nights on Tuesday and Thursday every week in St. Pete Beach and Bradenton and they were kind enough to make me the featured act at both events while I was in the area. And, another great supporter, Shelley Eckert, booked me in at Sacred Lands in St. Petersburg and the Pinellas County Folk Festival at the Heritage Village in Largo during my Bay area run.

A real highlight was a wonderful house concert hosted by Barbara Sheen Todd at her home in west St. Petersburg. Barbara’s first house concert effort, her home on the water makes a beautiful setting. Barbara is a long time supporter of the Florida Folk scene and was the initial VP of the Will McLean Foundation. We had a full house of around 45 and Barbara marshaled a considerable corp of assistants from her friends and fellow Rotarians to prepare an elaborate spread of food and refreshment. It was a real treat and I hope to be able to share some video soon from that event. Thanks so much Barbara for a fantastic evening!

Everyone in the Tampa Bay area should know about, get tuned into and support The Hideaway Café on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg. John and Nicole Kelly have a very special room there and the line up of acoustic music they have booked (as many as 6 nights a week) is awesome. As it started out (and remains) a recording studio, the sound is absolutely stellar with John hovering over the knobs and faders with the care that only a dedicated professional sound engineer can give. Friday the 28th we recorded a live show there in front of a standing room only crowd. The Winterlings opened the show for me at a little before 8 pm and really got the crowd warmed up.

In addition to the recording being done by John I was also shooting video from two stationary cameras. It would have been better if I had actually turned them on. I thought I did, really! But, you have to punch “record” twice, not just once like I did. So when I looked at them on about the third song I was disappointed to see no red lights shining. The second set, however, did get videoed and it included a very special treat. My friend Gove Scrivenor (who has recorded with the Carter Family, Doc Watson, Emmilou Harris, John Prine and so many more and toured with Jimmy Buffett and Delbert McClinton) came to the show and did a short three song set to get the second half of the night underway. Gove, of course, was fantastic and you can look forward to seeing him at the Hideaway for a full show soon. Stay tuned for news of a potential Live CD release (if the recording works out as planned)! Get on the Hideaway Café’s mailing list, check out their website and go support this great listening room in St. Pete. Ellis Paul will be there in February – get your tickets now as he will sell out quickly.

Alice Schaeffer hosted me in her Music4Me&You series down in Ft. Myers on Saturday January 29th. Alice has hosted several Florida favorites, including Garrison Doles, Roy Schneider and Annie Wenz, as well as “foreign acts” like Stevie Coyle, Walter Strauss and more. The set up there is great and Alice has cultivated a loyal group that trusts her musical tastes. I was able to fit in a surprise guest there as well. My Nashville friend, David Llewelyn and his Swedish sweetheart and music star in her home country, Ida Kristin, were spending some time in the warmth of Naples and drove up for the show. I got them to do three tunes at the beginning of the second set to introduce themselves to Alice and her audience – they were great! It was a very fun evening with an enthusiastic crowd and I was treated to what Alice tells me was a very rare standing ovation at the close of the show. I’m looking forward to returning for more shows down in the far southwest of Florida.

This month I head out to the Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis. I’ll leave on Friday, February 11th and play at the Mockingbird Café in Tallahassee that evening. Saturday I’ll stop in Cullman, AL at Berkley Bob’s for my fourth show there. Then Sunday I’ll be outside of Nashville in Whites Creek in the Treetop House Concerts series. Check my Facebook events page or my website for more details. Folk Alliance will be busy this year as well. I overbooked my showcases and ended up with eight. But they’re spread over four days so it won’t be too bad. Memphis promises to be cold this year so I’ll start hitting the EmergenC early and taking my woolies. Here’s my showcase schedule for those of you who will be at the conference:

Wed 12:40AM Rm 1922 - Access Presents The Timothy Hay Loft

Thu 10:30PM Rm 1710 - LilFest II

Thu 12:00AM Rm 1723 - National Media/Americana Rhythm

Fri 3:00PM Rm 1827 - Cynthia's Music/Ceili Productions

Fri 11:10PM Rm 1914 - Access Film-Music

Fri 12:10AM Rm 1929 - Texas Sugarbaby

Fri 1:15AM Rm 1927 - ListeningRoomNetwork (ConcertsInYourHome)

Sat 11:00PM Rm 1806 - Soona Songs

I’ll be back in Florida throughout March with the Will McLean Festival and a few other shows including Central Florida Folk’s “Last Sunday Concert” (formerly the Leu Gardens Series until the city trimmed its budget).

Then in April I head to the Midwest for shows in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin. Hope it has warmed up some by then! You can always keep track of me on my calendar which appears on all of my websites and social network pages.

Drop me a note to let me know how you’re doing and I hope to see you at a show soon. Remember, the world needs more house concert hosts, even for very small weeknight shows. Take a look at this video (click the secure link to connect) from my friends at ListeningRoomNetwork.com / ConcertsInYourHome.com. It tells you how simple and easy it is to enjoy great acoustic music with good friends in the comfort of your own home. Try it, you’ll like it!

All the Best,

Doug

Well, I’m sitting here in my “music room” with a cup of coffee gazing out at the sun glinting off of the fog over the lake through the cypress trees and Spanish moss and thinking about another year, another decade really, that has come and gone. Benjamin Franklin said “Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man.” With that in mind I look back at 2010. January 1, 2010 was the official release date for “Welcome Home,” which I say with some pride is my best CD to date. It rose to the top of the Folk Radio Charts worldwide and it appears it will end the year in the top 50 albums of 2010 in that genre based on international radio play. It received critical acclaim as an album and certain songs (“Yellow Butter Moon”, “A Mother’s Tears”, etc.) got particular attention. However, I was particularly pleased that every single track on the album got repeated radio play somewhere in the world. Most times it seems a few songs are the standouts and some never see the light of day. It’s especially gratifying that all of these songs caught someone’s attention on some level. During the course of the year I played 96 shows and that counts festival appearances as only one show even though I may have played multiple days for multiple sets. Those performances took place in 11 different states (FL, AR, GA, SC, NC, WV, VA, AL, TN, MS and TX). Looking ahead, 2011 will include shows in all of those states again, plus appearances already booked in 9 others (KY, CO, NE, WI, IL, IN, OH, MI and LA). And, who knows what else might find its way onto the calendar! Some of those shows were particularly special, like the show in April opening for The Claire Lynch Band and being invited back on stage during the show to perform “This Old House” with Claire and “the boys.” I returned to Suwannee Springfest after too many years away. At Will McLean I was joined for separate sets by the Gatorbone Band (in the form of Lis and Lon Williamson and Tim Higgins) and The Roadside Revue. In a Nashville house concert I was joined by 3Penny Acre and David Glasser for a lightning version of “Yellow Butter Moon.” I was backed by Brian Kalinec in my set at HP Hops House in Houston. I returned to Kerrville, the songwriter’s Mecca. All in all the road was good to me this year. I certainly met a lot of wonderful people and was treated to kind hospitality wherever I went. I “blew a flat in Baton Rouge and had to change the tire, in the parking lot of a Big Lots discount store” (sorry Kris, couldn’t resist). Also, as I was coming over the mountains from Va. into Tn. and on to NC I realized I had steel belts protruding through the inside of a front tire – not good when you’re towing a 6,500 pound trailer behind you on winding mountain roads. But, without mishap I got it replaced with a “used” tire in brand new condition for, get this, $18 in Burnsville, NC. Gas prices weren’t great, but they were lower than they are going into 2011. I wrote a lot new tunes in 2010, a few of which have made it onto my regular set lists – “When the Hummingbirds Return,” “I Wish,” “These Rocks” to name a couple. In 2011 Judy and I will celebrate 27 years of wedded bliss (ok, ok, it wasn’t all bliss, particularly not for her!). We’ve lost people we love, but we’ve also gained some along the way – certainly our grandkids, Chase, Hunter and Kendall. My daughter Jessi, son-in-law Derek and Kendall have been living with us for nearly six months now as they try to buy a house in this foreclosure / short sale market. It has been among the finest times of my life getting to watch Kendall grow day in and day out and share their lives with them. Chase and Hunter joined Judy and I for part of my SE tour this year traveling with us in the camper from Nashville to WV and into VA where I dropped them all at the airport in Richmond to fly home. They can’t wait for the next one! I’m so blessed to be surrounded by good friends and family, get to follow my heart playing my music for any who will listen and to get to share that deepest part of me with all of you. The sun has pretty much burned the fog off the lake now and the last sip of coffee in my cup is cold. Time to get to the chores of the day, watch some college bowl games on TV and prepare to start again with a fresh new chapter tomorrow – 2011. “Year's end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.” ~Hal Borland. God Bless you all and I look forward to seeing each and every one of you somewhere along the trail this year.

Notes from the Road - Day 2 - Saturday, July 24, 2010 Man is it hot! When I first started this annual SE tour part of the reason was to get out of Florida's heat and up into higher country. However, I'm rethinking the timing here. Not only is booking more difficult in the summer here (a lot of the established series shut down in the SE for the summer), but this year in particular the weather forecast for everywhere I'm going is hot and more hot.

I headed out of Bainbridge around noon after making some stops at the grocery store, etc., things I didn't have time for on Friday. I wound through backroads Georgia north and west towards Alabama. Watching my external temperature guage I twice noted it rise above 100 degrees. The fields, the ones that weren't being irrigated, literally shimmered in the heat of the sun. Each day some rain has been forecast, but so far I've seen neither a cloud nor a drop. Just as well, it would turn to steam immediately and make things even worse. Nevertheless, in the cool A/C in the car I enjoyed the drive west to Auburn.

I actually lived in Auburn the first couple of years of my life. My Dad went to Veterinary school here when I was a toddler. We lived in a trailer park somewhere in Auburn and I had a sturdy tri-cycle that did it's best to maim me. It broken my left ankle and nearly cut off my left pinky finger in separate incidents. This is the first time I recall coming back through here since then.

Using my trusty Navigatrix I found an inexpensive campground just a couple of miles from where I was to perform. Easy in, easy out - just like I like it. I crossed into the central time zone so I picked up an hour. I'll lose it again tomorrow heading north. I had time to relax a bit, eat an early supper and then change into clothes suitable for my evening performance.

The Gnu's Room is a nice find. I found it by snooping on Roy Schneider's calendar for places he's played out this way. A very eclectic place, The Gnu's Room is a bookstore dealing largely in used books, some collector's items, and serves a large variety of exotic coffees. Just before showtime the staff cleared the front reading area and set up chairs for the guests. Tina, my host and owner of the shop, had warned me that the crowd would be light in the summer - shows are much better attended when the college is in full session. However, we had a nice comfortable crowd at 7 pm and more trickled in as I got into my first set.

I was flattered that some had taken time to check out my websites and had specific song requests. A fellow songwriter (a Kerrville winner and touring performer who lives in Auburn) Dave Potts came out for the show - always nice to get support from others in the biz. Interestingly, a young lady in the audience (also named Tina) perked up when she learned I was from Leesburg, FL - her father was born and raised there. Such a small world. Due to the requests, my selected material varied a bit from the set lists I had prepared. However, I'm always happy to give folks what they want to hear - requests are always welcome. I continue to be pleased with the very warm reception my newer material is receiving. When the Hummingbirds Return, Cresent City Lament and I Wish were all hits with the crowd. In the small room a sound system was unnecessary, something I prefer when its possible. Every possible inch of every wall, hallway, nook and cranny of the bookstore is stuffed with racks, stacks and shelves of books, so it made the room very acoustic friendly in that there was no bounce or echo like you might get in an empty room with a hardwood floor. At the same time, that lack of natural "reverb" makes you work harder to keep the guitar perfectly in tune and carry notes longer vocally to compensate. It was a wonderful evening and a very enjoyable show. CDs have, again, made their way to new homes. I'll look forward to coming back to the Gnu's Room on future tours trough the area.

The downside of picking up an hour was that when I finished playing at 9 pm it felt like 10 pm and I was definitely getting a little droopy. Fortunately my rolling home away from home was only a couple of miles away. I stopped only to fill up the truck for tomorrow's drive and then got right back to stretch out, have a little nip o' whiskey and drift away. I'll have a couple of days off now, but tomorrow I'll roll north towards Chattanooga where I'll be "based" for the next week. Hopefully I can find someplace where the temp gets down to the low 90's!

Notes from the Road - Friday, July 23, 2010. And so it begins. I hit the road about 10 a.m. - first stop Bainbridge, Ga. for a KOA Campground show. The new owners booked me for the date back a few months ago and were very enthusiastic. It was over a five hour drive from home at my ponderous 60 mph, plus stops for gas, food, etc. Though the "Navigatrix" on the dash wanted me to head west on I-10 from I-75 I continued north to Valdosta before turning westward. That way I got the benefit of cheaper Georgia gas prices and got some backroads travel. The melon fields are green and bulging with fruit. Cotton looks good too, as well as the corn and other truck crops. There are really some magnificent old houses in tiny towns in Georgia. Southern architecture at it's best. Two and three story frame houses, all white of course, with bay corners and tin roofs that defy imagination as to the difficulty of the installation. Broad porches surrounding the entire structure, just begging for a rocking chair and a glass of lemonade (or something stronger) with simple railings and sturdy stairs. About halfway I called the campground to estimate my arrival. The new owners were not there and would not be this weekend which seemed strange. The manager had not heard of me and did not know I was coming (UH OH). Since I had sent posters and postcards for distribution I was particularly troubled. He promised to investigate the situation, but would be ready for my arrival. I pulled in at about 4:45 and met Harold, the manager I had spoken to. Nice fella, VERY talkative. He had my posters and postcards on the desk in front of him and explained that they had gone unnoticed in the owners' mail. It seems the owners have had some personal emergencies and everything had been thrown off kilter at the park. The park itself was not well populated and many of the guests were residents living in the park while working what jobs they could in the current state of the economy. Harold had already distributed cards in the park, called on Church friends and distributed fliers at a local grocery - good man. However, despite his best efforts, the blazing heat and swarming gnats of the sinking Georgia sun doomed me to an inauspicious start. My small crowd at the park Gazebo and I were well relieved when Harold suggested we move into the air conditioned rec room inside the office though it is usually claosed after 5 pm. There, with no need for a sound system, I entertained my new friends with an hour and a half of song and story, actually a very enjoyable show and exceptionally well received. CDs went home with the audience and I packed up my gear. Even at 10 pm the air was so hot that I sweated as if it were noon. A cold shower never felt so good. Saturday is another day. I'm off to Auburn, AL for a show at The Gnu's Room. More to come . . .

The first formal written review of Welcome Home is in from Don Sechelski of "The Muse's Muse."

CD REVIEW: Doug Spears - Welcome Home
By Don Sechelski - 01/24/2010 - 08:32 PM EST

Artist: Doug Spears
Album: Welcome Home
Label: Cypress Moss Records
Website: http://www.dougspearsmusic.com
Genre: Acoustic folk/pop
Production/Musicianship Grade: 10/10
Songwriting Skills: 9/10

CD Review: Fourth generation Floridian, Doug Spears, knows the traditions and customs of Florida as well as anyone and he shows it on his new CD, Welcome Home. From the swamps of North Florida to the beaches of Key West, Spears brings the sights, sounds, and even smells of Florida alive in these well written and performed songs. Doug is joined by a variety of musicians on Welcome Home which was exquisitely produced by Jason Thomas.

Moonshiners found the swampland to be a good place to hide their stills and the first cut, Yellow Butter Moon, celebrates their product. "Yellow butter moon shine down through me with a light so true. There's love and life in the burn and bite of that yellow butter moon." Lis Williamson plays a nifty clawhammer banjo along with Doug's guitar and Jason Thomas' fiddle. Rob Ickes' smooth slide kicks off Teppentine, a story about the men who distilled turpentine from the sap of pine trees. It was hot unpleasant work and much like the coal mines, the workers paid all their wages back to the company store. Spears is a storyteller of the first order. His descriptions are vivid and true.

There are so many first rate tracks on Welcome Home. Spears' songs are beautifully crafted with lush imagery and very singable melodies. Some of my favorites are A Mother's Tears about Florida native Lewis Powell who was hung as a co-conspirator with John Wilkes Booth and Banks of Old St Johns which features some very tasty acoustic guitar from Gabe Valla.

You don't have to be from Florida to enjoy and appreciate the excellent performances on Welcome Home. Stellar songwriting, perfect vocals, superb musicians and masterful production combine to create a rare album. This is not Margaritaville, it's a whole lot better.


You can see the review on line at The Muse's Muse

Radio play for Welcome Home is cranking up - Thanks to: Steve Jerrett, KOPN Radio, Colombia, MO; Al Kniola, WVPE, South Bend IN; Taylor Caffery, WRKF, Baton Rouge, LA; Ken Batista, WYEP, Pittsburg, PA; Diane Crowe, WMCB, Greenfield, MA; Maggie Ferguson, WXOU, Auburn Hills, MI; Gerry Goodfriend, CKUT, Montreal Canada;  Bill Hahn, WFDU, Teaneck, NJ; Sonja Hedlund, WJFF, Jeffersonville, NY; Craig Huegel, WSLR, Sarasota, FL; Roz Larman, KPFK, Woodland Hills, CA; Eddie O'Strange, 
783 KHz AM, Wellington, New Zealand; LAUREL PAULSON-PIERCE, KRBS, OROVILLE, CA; Norman Whitman, WYSO, Yellow Springs, OH.

Notes from the Road – Southeast Regional Folk Alliance (SERFA) Day 3

Saturday, October 17 – After having to get up early on Friday for the workshop gig I elected to sleep in Saturday and miss the first workshops. Around 10 am I wandered up to get some breakfast and a gallon or two of coffee. I finished in time to hear the closing minutes of the “road dog” workshop headed by Jack Williams and Still on the Hill. Next was the presentation by Still on the Hill and people from the Folk Arts Center itself about Arkansas folk life, history and heritage. I was really glad I kicked myself out of bed for that! Very interesting and, as usual when Kelly and Donna are involved, high energy fun! Amazing instruments and techniques were demonstrated and at the end we were all assigned parts in a mass folk instrument ensemble. Quite unique!

Even though I’d had breakfast only a little while before I followed the crowd in for lunch and still ate my share. Meals are great gatherings at these events, always someone new to get to know. All of the meals have been provided buffet style and have been adequate, but it has been a challenge for those who are vegetarians – not me, of course. I’ve enjoyed the convenience and the staff has been first rate taking care of us.

The afternoon schedule included organizational meetings and mentoring sessions which, while interesting, were not how I wanted to spend my afternoon. Craving some fresh air, I walked out through the extensive and elaborate crafts village where shops offered goods for sale which are produced on site in traditional ways. There was a clothing shop that made 1800’s style men’s collarless shirts on at a time by hand on a foot pedal singer sewing machine. I HAD to have one of THOSE! In fact, I picked one that would be perfect to wear for my official showcase that night. I wandered through jewelry stores, a luthier shop where they were making various musical instruments, a soap shop, wood crafts, etc. Soon I’d satisfied my fresh air craving and headed back to the room to put new strings on the guitar and practice a bit.

Saturday night was my official showcase onstage in the conference center. Like FARM, there is no other activity taking place during the official showcases, so everyone attends. Also, the Folk Arts Center allows outsiders to attend the show for an admission fee. These are 20 minute sets, one right after the other from 6:45 until 10:30. My slot fell after Kim Richardson who I met earlier this year at the national conference in Memphis. She is an excellent performer, very high energy, very funny, a great writer, guitarist and vocalist – not an easy act to follow so I really needed to be sharp!

I chose four songs figuring that with my stories between I’d get 3 done with one in reserve. Kim Richardson did the expected blockbuster job and had the crowd really fired up when it came time for me to step to the microphone. Taylor Cafferty, one of our radio luminaries in attendance, had been tapped as an emcee for these events. He gave me a warm and kind introduction (some of it was even true!) and away I went. Since one of the focuses of the conference had been the building of community through music and having a “sense of place” I began by telling the audience a bit about where Florida through “State of Dreams.” Then I took them to the Keys for the story of the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 and “Hemmingway’s Hurricane,” followed by a bit of Florida moonshining history and “Yellow Butter Moon.” At that point I got the two minute warning and, not having a 2 minute song, I gave a quick intro and did an abbreviated version of “This Old House.” I leave it to someone else to evaluate the performance, but the crowd response was excellent and I really enjoyed the set myself (which I always take as a good sign). I think I will have a couple of videos of the show available and should be able to post some clips in the weeks to come.

So, with my performance done (and once my adrenaline allowed me to sit) I settled in for the rest of the show. Unfortunately I missed most of Laurie McLain’s set as well as Ed Peterson’s. But, based on prior experience I know they were both excellent. As with the previous evenings, there was one exceptional performance after another. Any one of the performers should be welcome in any venue or house concert in the country with stellar results. K.C. Clifford, Jamie Michaels and Louise Mosry all really impressed me. I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite act for Saturday, but if forced I’d have to go with Bill & Kate Isles from Minnesota. Bill’s song “Hobo’s in the Roundhouse” just floors me every time I hear it as does “Fences.” And, their total shtick and back and forth exchange on the “Kamasutra Polka” is just hilarious.

Soon it was time to head back to the room, have a little coffee and get ready for the private showcases. Only two for me on the last night and everyone approached things with a relaxed approach. I started with a solo set in Bill & Kate Isles’ showcase room following Ben Bedford and K.C. Clifford. While Ben and K.C. played their sets I warmed Kate and Ben’s wife, Kari Abate, with a little of the Irish Whiskey I miraculously had discovered in my bag – wonder how THAT got there?! When it came my turn to play I shared “Welcome Home,” “Break Some Stones” and “It Must Be You” with their crowd which, interestingly, included some of the “outsiders” who had purchased tickets to the official showcases and had managed to find their way back to the cabins for the private showcases – very nice!

I ran over to the Concerts In Your Home room to hear a couple of tunes from Roy Schneider – this guy has the stuff! Make sure you catch his show sometime. I was to finish up in our Florida showcase room and I got there in time to hear a couple of Larry Mangum’s tunes which is always a treat. Gloria Holloway and David Russell were there and we started talking about old cover songs. Larry had done one at the end of his set so while we worked on the Irish Whiskey, David and I played a couple, “Long Black Veil” and “Go My Way” I think were the two. I repeated “It Must Be You” to hear David play lead on it and he did a wonderful and tasteful job.

Things were really winding down, but I had one more stop to make. Kari Estrin always has a last night session at her showcase room and I wanted to stop by and say thanks for all of her hard work. I was too tired to play anymore and there were plenty of guitars already uncased anyway. Fran Snyder played a tune, then Roy Schneider put one on us, followed by David Llewellyn and Louise Mosry. About there the Irish Whiskey and my ability to stay vertical ran out simultaneously. I said my goodbyes and trudged back to the room for a last night of not enough sleep. Larry, of course, was already dead to the world so I quietly squared myself away and conked out myself.

The Departure and Travel Epilogue

Sunday, October 18 - Rest assured that 8:30 came WAY too early. Larry had already made coffee again (good man) and was loading up, anxious to get back to Florida. After infusing some caffeine I began to organize and pack. It’s always so much easier to pack to go home than to leave home. There’s no choosing what to take and you are less concerned about what condition things arrive in at the other end. So it’s more of a “stuff and haul” affair, much quicker. I was soon packed, loaded, showered and ready for Breakfast. I stepped out into the most beautiful cool, clear, sunny morning imaginable – figures, just when its time to leave.

I sat and ate breakfast with Kim Page and her husband Leon and Garrison Doles came over and joined us for coffee as well. We rehashed the conference / retreat and solved most of the world’s problems in short order. It’s a burden to be so wise and all knowing!

Goodbyes take a while, so many friends to hug and thank. But soon the airline schedule dictated that I get started on my 2 hour drive back to Little Rock. I am exhausted, but at the same time energized. The tremendous talent I saw here challenges me to work even harder at my craft and continue to grow as an artist. This was a superb atmosphere for making new connections with other artists and getting a sense of the heart of the Southeast Region moving forward. While actually booking gigs at conferences is great, validating your artistic focus and sharing it with your peers pays untold dividends, financially and otherwise. I see writing and gigging collaborations on the horizon with so many of these fine folks. Thanks again to the SERFA Board under Kari Estrin, John Stoecker and Denise Williams for putting on a great conference. Thanks also to the unsung heroes who worked hard getting the event set up, but were unable to attend themselves, Betty Friedrichsen and Christine Stay and Aiden Quinn of Friction Farm. Lastly, a huge thanks to the Ozark Folk Arts Center – you really treated us great and made us feel so welcome in your home!

Lastly a couple of travel notes. When things are done right (like how the airlines have treated me with my guitar, etc.) I try to give credit where credit is due. The same applies when things are done wrong. Travel Note #1 – avoid the Dallas / Ft. Worth airport at all costs. It is a poorly organized, poorly run and over crowded nightmare. If your only choice is to travel through DFW I suggest you buy a horse. It’ll be faster, much more comfortable and far less infuriating. It ranks right up there with O’Hare and Miami for being a giant pain in the @#!! and makes Atlanta seem like a walk in the park. Travel Note #2 – if you work in the “service industry”, remember that the word “service” literally in your job description. The two ladies working the counter at the Starbucks in DFW across from Gate C20 get my award for least likely to succeed at anything in life if they don’t improve their attitude. When the “Peter Principle” hits you at the counter at Starbucks you are really in trouble. They were obviously annoyed that I would ask what the flavor of the day was and when I was unfamiliar with it and asked whether is was light, medium or bold the woman at the counter sarcastically and with great teenager style attitude declared “I don’t know.” I was also informed they didn’t have any decaf brewed at the moment and were unsure when or if they would. Sure seems like in a time with record unemployment these two would be thankful for a job and be more cautious about losing it. Ok, that’s off my chest

Alright, as I write this I’m finally home in Orlando at 12:30 am, sipping a little o’ the Irish and waiting for my eyes to slam shut involuntarily. Tomorrow I’ll get my Kendall fix!

Photobucket

– see you soon!!

Doug
"It's not how far you've come, it's what you've done with the miles"
Doug Spears
36 Interlaken Road
Orlando, Florida 32804
407-257-4242
dcsnole@yahoo.com
www.dougspearsmusic.com
www.reverbnation.com/dougspears
http://www.myspace.com/dougspears
http://www.sonicbids.com/dougspears

Notes from the Road – Southeast Regional Folk Alliance (SERFA) Day 2

Friday, October 16th – OK, so where was I? Oh yeah, I was asleep. So, this morning I had to get up early because SOMEBODY (Kelly, it was you! Or was it Donna – don’t remember) tagged me for the panel in a workshop on writing about your home place, your culture, etc. at 9:45 am, so sleep was curtailed long before I would have liked! Anyway, Larry got up before me and made coffee (he’ll make someone a lovely husband – oh, hey Christy!) so I was able to open my eyes at least partially.


After a quick breakfast I headed over to the workshop. There were 8 of us on the panel and 12 folks in the room (including the panel) – hmmm . . .. me thinks others felt SLEEPING was more interesting!! On well, that was my knee jerk reaction as well. However, I have to say that the discussion amongst those in attendance was lively and very intriguing. As usual, when I’m on the “teaching” end of things I tend to learn more than anyone else. I swear that Steve Blackwell was in the room. Someone asked, “how do we get people to get out in their own back yards?” For those of us familiar with Steve’s music, does that sound familiar?!! The discussion evolved into the role of music, folk music in particular, in building and maintaining community. Much food for thought in what was brought up regarding the lost art of shared music, ‘self entertainment’ and the passing on of art forms generationally by participation. All of these things played such a large role in people’s leisure / social time before radio and TV and now are rare at best.

While, I was a firm and continuous grouser about the geographical location of this conference and the effect distance was likely to have on attendance, I have to concede that “I get it.” The Folk Arts Center here is uniquely suited for the purposes of SERFA – in fact, it is dedicated to the very thing we all pursue as folk artists, the preservation and perpetuation of our art form. I am proud of our Florida contingent, 6 artists (plus some spouses) and 2 presenters strong. While we had the furthest to travel we have demonstrated the strength and vitality of the folk community in Florida and have carried the banner proudly. Other than Arkansas, we may be the best represented state in the region, though I do not have the official numbers on that. I hope that next year even more folks will make the commitment and take the journey, it is a wonderful place.

I don’t know the actual attendance numbers, but I’m guessing around 75 – 100. In that group are some prominent radio personalities from the region: Taylor Cafferty of WRKF in Baton Rouge who has 25+ years experience as an independent folk dj; Mike Flynn of Folk Sampler, a syndicated folk radio show carried by over 160 stations; and Michael Jonathon, the originator and host of the Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour which is broadcast on radio and televised in 180 countries around the world. It is a unique opportunity to get to interact with these folks one on one and share music with them.

I took some time off to practice and rest in the afternoon. We’ll still haven’t had any sun and the chilly weather with no sunlight starts to drain my batteries in a big way. But, I re-energized by supper time and headed to the restaurant for a bite with the gang before the evenings showcases got under way.

The official showcases were quite good one and all. Jack Williams turned in his usual outstanding performance to tremendous applause. 3 Penny Acre, a four piece group from Fayetteville was also outstanding. Ben Bradford and his bride, Kari Abate, showed why he topped the folk charts with his music this year in their set just before the break. However, it was David Llewellyn that truly blew me away. First, David is just now recovering from a near catastrophic collision between his left hand and a power saw only six weeks ago. It very nearly took his thumb and the entire side of his left hand off and required extensive surgery, pins and a cast to reattach – really not good for a guitar player!! He has only had the cast off for a couple of days and will start rehab next week. Nevertheless, he played beautifully through the obvious pain and floored me with his song of a Welsh coal minor taking his young son down into the mines for the first time to begin a life of hopeless labor. For me it was the stand out show of the evening.

I missed the last few showcases to, again, get some rest and tune up before my private showcases for the evening. I started off in Kari Estrin’s Suite at 11:30 with a very nice crowd that included Kari, David Llewellyn, Ed Peterson (Nashville), Andy Cohen (Memphis), Jan Seides (Austin), our own Gloria Holloway, Ronnie Cox and a couple of others. I was informed by Kari that my song Hemingway’s Hurricane won an award from American Songwriter Magazine! I didn’t even know and haven’t been able to find out what or when! So, I played that and, at Gloria’s insistence, several other of my Florida tunes in my allotted time.

Next I headed over to Bill & Kate Isles Present for a round with Bill & Kate and a young writer I’ve just met here, Adam Klein. They were running a bit behind so I got to hear a little of Lauren Lapointe’s set with them and our Larry Mangum. When it was my turn we swapped into the seats and, again, enjoyed a fine audience that included Gary Gordon, Ben and Kari Abate - Bedford, Jan Seides, Kim Richardson, Louise Mosrie, Pete Leary, and a member of 3 Penny Acre who’s name (because I have a small and weak mind) I simply can’t remember. It was a great round and Bill video’d a part of it so hopefully I’ll be able to share that at some point.

Then to Concerts in Your Home with Fran Snyder. Due to the schedule lag at Bill & Kate’s I was about 15 – 20 minutes late getting there which is death for having any crowd. So, Fran, Lauren Lapointe and I sat and swapped songs, guitar pull style, passing Fran’s nice Taylor back and forth instead of uncrating our own. I neglected to mention Fran in my rehash of the official showcases for the evening – he also turned in a stand out performance there. If you haven’t visited Concertsinyourhome.com, you should. It is the ultimate house concert resource in the country. Check it out!

Ok, so its 1:30ish – time to go get off my feet. Larry is already in bed again with the lights out (poor old fella), but I went ahead and turned a light or two on, poured myself a bracer and sat talking to old sleepy head for a bit. After doing a little computer work and reading a few stories in Bob Patterson’s book I called it a night around 3:30. Hmmmm, short of sleep again tomorrow I guess. Ah well!!

Doug
"It's not how far you've come, it's what you've done with the miles"
Doug Spears
36 Interlaken Road
Orlando, Florida 32804
407-257-4242
dcsnole@yahoo.com
www.dougspearsmusic.com
www.reverbnation.com/dougspears
http://www.myspace.com/dougspears
http://www.sonicbids.com/dougspears

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Notes from the Road – Southeast Regional Folk Alliance (SERFA) Day 1

 

          Well, on to the next Folk Alliance Conference, this time in Mountain View, Arkansas at the Ozark Folk Center, a State Park facility dedicated to the preservation of the folk arts.  It is a terrific facility, if not ideally located to encourage maximum attendance being in the farthest northwest corner of the region, and I’m really looking forward to it. 

 

          My day started at 6 am EST, which is actually 5 am where I was headed.  With my daughter, Jessi’s, considerable help I had everything prepared and packed the night before, so I rolled out of bed, showered and headed for the airport.  Miraculously my travel from Orlando through Dallas connecting to Little Rock, AR was uneventful – was able to get my guitar on board without hassle (thanks American Airlines), my flights were on time, my baggage came through and my rental car was ready and waiting.  I even ran into Cheryl Paige and husband Leon in the airport at Little Rock (they were waiting for a shuttle that runs once a day up to the center, but I got a good deal on a car and preferred the independence.  So, by a little after 2 pm (Central) I was winding my way northwest out of Little Rock toward Mountain View.

 

          Though the day was grey and overcast, what a beautiful drive.  Once out of Little Rock I traveled through farmlands and small towns climbing up into the Ozarks.  Its cool here (low 50’s) and the leaves are in full change.  Folks in Arkansas are not aggressive drivers so in those parts where there was any traffic it was a low key affair.

 

          My room mate for the trip is Jacksonville’s Larry Mangum who arrived a day earlier.  He had left a phone message asking that I acquire some liquid refreshment of the adult variety before I got to Mountain View, which is a small little place and has no liquor stores.  I should have taken care of that before leaving Little Rock.  I passed 62,000 churches of every conceivable denomination, at times three or four next door to each other in a row (ok, maybe only 50,000, but A LOT) and not one liquor store of any description.  No beer or wine in the supermarkets either, I checked.  I thought of stopping at one of the Baptist churches to talk to the groundskeeper (they always know where to get locally manufactured whiskey), but just thought I’d better press on.  I have a little sippin’ tonic with me and I’ll have to share it sparingly.

 

The drive took about 2 ½ hours and the last part through the mountains was particularly winding and climbing.  However, I enjoy the mountain roads and the scenery.  Saw a couple of deer, a red fox and a big hawk soaring the thermals over a big lake impoundment near Greer.  Really pretty.  But I was getting tired (traveling does that you know) and anxious to get to the center in time to join everyone for supper, so I pushed on through without dawdling to admire the landscape much.

 

Upon arrival I got checked in, registered, found Larry and the room, tossed my stuff out of the car and hustled over to the restaurant for supper.  I was in hyper mode and really had to work at winding down as all I could think of was things I needed to do.  I wolfed down my buffet meal while said my hellos to all the familiar faces - Jack and Judy Williams, Ronny Cox, Ray Lewis, Kelly and Donna Mulholland, Jaime Michaels, Lauren Lapointe, Denise Williams, Gloria Holloway, Daniel and Ellen Boling, Kari Estrin, John Stoecker, Bill and Kate Isles and on and on and on.  My apologies to the many I didn’t list specifically.  Then I hustled over to the main conference area to put my materials on the exhibit table, spread out the bags of Cracker Crunch (what I’m calling my Chex mix now) and then whirled back to the room to change before the evening showcases.  Whew!!!

 

I finally managed to settle into relax mode (after a phone call with Ron Litschauer about the mastering progress on Welcome Home and a call home to my bride).  I went up to hear the first of the official showcases (mine slot is on Saturday) and enjoyed nice sets from Lauren Lapointe (Savannah, Ga.), Chico Schwall (Oregon) and my buddy Larry Mangum, who did a particularly good set including his tribute to Gamble Rogers, I Knew the Last Troubadour.  Then I ducked out for a little rest (coffee) and practice before my private showcases for the evening.

 

My first showcase was a songwriters’ round in the New Mexico room hosted by Daniel and Ellen Boling.  They really went all out setting up the room with chairs, lighting and décor.  I was honored to be in the round with Jack Williams and Ronnie Cox, two of the best on the circuit.  Jack is an unparalleled writer, singer and, particularly, guitar player.  Ronnie, though better known as a actor (Deliverance, Beverly Hills Cop, Murder at 1600 and, most recently, Imagine That) is a tremendous touring folk musician who has earned a lot of attention in the past few years for his musicianship.  We had a wonderful 1 hour round swapping tunes for a full room.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and had looked forward to it as one of the highlights of this conference.  I wasn’t disappointed!

 

Following us came Kelly and Donna Mulholland, Daniel Boling and Jamie Michaels.  I was able to stay for only part of their set as I had a show to do in our Florida showcase room at 12:30 a.m., so at the appropriate time I slipped out.  The Florida Room is being hosted by Ray Lewis from Jacksonville.  I was following Larry Mangum and enjoyed hearing some new tunes from Larry.  When it came my time Roy Schneider (Naples FL) had joined us in the room.  I had missed Roy’s official showcase earlier in the evening so after a couple of tunes I invited him to step in for a couple.  Wow, great stuff!  Roy was a finalist in the Kerrville New Folk showcase this year and I can see why.  What a treat to get to hear some of his material!  Then I took back over and finished out the set at 1:00 am. 

 

Now, a day that starts at 5 am and ends at 1 am is a long day, I don’t care who you are.  So I headed back to the room (where Larry was already trying to get to sleep), had a small snort of that fine amber liquid I’d brought along and read a few stories in “Forgotten Tales of Florida” just released by my friend Bob Paterson in St. Augustine.  By 1:45 it was lights out in more ways than one!!  More tomorrow.

 

 

Doug
"It's not how far you've come, it's what you've done with the miles"

Doug Spears

36 Interlaken Road

Orlando, Florida 32804
407-257-4242

dcsnole@yahoo.com

www.dougspearsmusic.com
www.reverbnation.com/dougspears

http://www.myspace.com/dougspears

http://www.sonicbids.com/dougspears

Notes from the Road – Midwest Folk Alliance Conference – Day 1

Good morning from Bolingbrook, Illinois, southwest of Chicago. It’s cool (40’s – 50’s) and rainy since we got here (Judy’s tagging along for this one), but relief from the hot and humidity is welcome regardless of its packaging. We arrived just after noon yesterday on Southwest (one of my favorite airlines – very musician friendly) and though it was rainy and windy at Midway we landed on only the second bounce (ok, it was a jarring landing, but any landing you walk away from is a good one).

The FARM conference has a long history having begun meeting in 1991. This is my first visit, precipitated by my selection as an official showcase artist, and I didn’t really know what to expect. I had heard mixed reviews by folks who had attended this conference in the past regarding the size of the gathering, the programs and value to the artist. But, FARM has experienced a renewal of commitment under its leadership and, though I have nothing to compare it to since I’m a Newbie I’m thrilled to be here.

The attendance is around 120 with a very good representation from venues, house concert presenters and Folk DJs – on a percentage basis compared to artists, about the same as the National Conference in Memphis. In just the first few hours I’ve gotten to spend time with folks I would not otherwise have met or would only get to see for a minute or two in the madness of the National Conference.

The first night they presented a new feature of the gathering. Concerts In Your Home (Fran Snyder) produced a special invitational showcase for non – official showcase artists and some special guests. Ten acts were presented over about 2 ½ hours. Though all were quite good and entertaining, I have to admit my favorites were Claudia Schmidt and Joe Jencks. Great talents both and certainly folks I would recommend without hesitation to any venue, house concert, festival, etc.

This morning things start of with workshops and peer group discussions on various topics. I’m looking forward to some of the business oriented workshops and to sitting over coffee with new and old friends alike. My official showcase is tonight. One thing that distinguishes the smaller regional conferences over the national is that the official showcases are done one at a time in one room – no other activity at the same time and, therefore, everyone is in attendance. That’s a good feature for the artists chosen and somewhat guarantees that the folks you really want to hear you are in the room (illness or exhaustion excepted). While I have a table display set up in the main hallway of the conference, its not one that I have to be with so I’m free to roam.

Stay tuned!

Notes from the Road – Trenton Ga to Cullman AL to Knoxville TN to Parsons WV If you'd like, view this at http://dougspearsmusic.blogspot.com/ to see it with pictures, etc. included. What a week! Lots of shows and a bit of road time. Let's catch up. Friday, August 28th – Cullman, Alabama The way I've worked this trip I'm leaving the camper set up in Trenton, GA at the Lookout Mountain West KOA and traveling to and from my gigs from that home base. Brian and Allison, the owners, became great friends and fans last year and agreed to have me stay an entire 8 days with them this year and I've GREATLY appreciated it. If you are campers and want to head to the NW Georgia / Chattanooga area you will make a big mistake by not stopping in and staying with Brian and Allison. Their's is not the average KOA – it is what the model should be. They made a decision to change their lifestyle to focus on family and friends. They treat that campground as their home and you as an honored guest in it. This is not a "corporate" campground like some where the bottom line is all. To be sure, they are there to make a living, but they are intent on giving every guest more than the value of the fee they pay to stay. Please stop in there and tell `em I sent `ya! Friday night was my show at Berkley Bob's Coffeehouse in Cullman, AL. I "poached" this gig off of the Bluesgotus calendar when I saw they were playing there back in June (thanks Bill & Eli for the tip!). I frankly didn't know what to expect and kept myself ready for anything. It turned out to be a special treat and I made a lot of new friends. Bob Keefe, the proprietor, used to live down our way and played the Florida Folk Festival once back in the Cousin Thelma days. He's had Berkley Bob's now for about 7 years and moved to this particular location a couple of years ago. What a great room! A 100 year old brick building with high ceilings covered in stamped tin tiles – the place just oozes charm and warmth. Coffee's, teas, deli items and baked goods are the fare served up by Bob's daughter behind the counter. A nice sized raised stage in the corner farthest from the entrance looks out on tables, couches and arm chairs with books, teas, coffees and other items for sale lining the walls. The coffee / tea station is to the right of the stage and I had the usual concern about the overwhelming noise of the cappuccino machine and blender (smoothies) kicking in just when I het a soft, soulful song. I worried for naught. This is a REAL listening room – the folks know that if they go over and order something that will require noisy apparatus to prepare then they'll have to wait just a bit until a space between songs, etc. before the equipment will be used – VERY impressive. I had a solid crowd of a little over 50 who listened to every word and note, signed up on the email list, bought CD's and generously supported the gas fund. Bob has enthusiastically invited me back and I intend to take him up on it for sure. This is one of the true small listening venues of the southeast. Thanks Bob and all my new friends in the great state of Alabama! Saturday, August 29th Trenton GA is, of course, just 10 – 15 miles southwest of Chattanooga, so I had a short commute to my Saturday night show at Charles and Myrtles' Coffeehouse at the Christ Unity Church in Chattanooga. Andrew Kelsey is the host of the series which has been going strong EVERY WEEK (that's right, 50+ shows a year) for 16 years. The opportunity to play Charles & Myrtle's is a privilege and I was looking forward to it. The Church is a small house converted to the purposes of the congregation. There is seating for about 80 arranged in a short, upside down "T" from the performance space (which becomes the pulpit on Sunday). I was thrilled to walk in and immediately see Bill & Barbara Derby, our good friends and expatriots from Ormond Beach who now live in Blairsville, Ga. A two hour hike for them to come see me – THANKS GUYS!! Again, this is a true listening room environment. The folks come strictly to sit and listen, many with their eyes closed a good part of the time, swaying to the music. You know, an old storyteller and song writer like me just eats that up with a spoon – what a treat. A major plus is Andrew's home baked cookies – WOW! Totally addictive and loaded with all the good (bad for you) stuff. The appearance at Charles & Myrtles' also includes an appearance at their Church service the following morning. It is a lay ministry which features a different speaker each week either from the congregation or someone traveling through. This is a very liberal, relaxed, Christian based fellowship that includes much laughter and song, as well as mediation and personal introspection. If you can believe it, ASCAP & BMI make the Church buy a license because they use some contemporary music in their service (i.e., Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens, etc.). I'd REALLY like to hear the PRO's defend THAT! They brought me on for a two song offering ("Do You" and "It Must Be You") which was very well received. Andrew invited me to come "do it again" and I intend to get that on the calendar soon. Thanks Andrew! Sunday, August 30th Time for a goodbye show here in the KOA. These are, by definition, small shows for 25 or less. But, you can never judge the quality of a crowd by its size. In my two years of doing these campground shows I've learned "the ropes" of making it work, for my type of act at least, and these are some of my favorite shows of the tours. Like a house concert, they are small and intimate, but with the plus of being in a beautiful outdoor setting designed for this purpose, like a festival performance. Again, the folks that come to these are there strictly for the music and want to here every word and note. They are generous beyond measure and love to purchase CD's. From a purely economic standpoint I do nearly as well with these shows as I do weekend shows at a coffeehouse with an admission fee. From an artist enjoyment standpoint they are second only to house concerts in the pleasure I derive from the people and the music. This show here at the KOA was no exception. A good crowd on Sunday night, 25 or so, and a full offering of tunes from the soon to be released (no really, soon now, I promise) CD Welcome Home, my 2007 album Break Some Stones, as well as older material and newer stuff not currently on an available CD. Another "perk" of these shows is that you are meeting folks from different parts of the country, not so much locals. There was a group this night from the Houston area who were thrilled to hear I'd be in their neck of the woods in November and have already made plans to attend my shows there. I really love these shows and the folks I meet in them. Monday, August 31st On the road again . . . I didn't get started as early as I would have liked due to work that had to be done in connection with the new CD, etc. So I pulled out just before noon to make my way north into West Virginia. I knew I wouldn't make it all the way, but I wanted to get as far as possible so that I could get in and settled in Parsons sometime Tuesday morning. I learned last year that pushing the big Ford to haul the trailer at 70 mph plus, particularly in the hill country, destroys what little fuel economy you can get out of a V8. So the time v. $$ trade weighs in favor of keeping it around 60 mph and accepting the longer drive time. I had pure interstate highway driving up through TN and Virginia. Still, scenery was nice and the driving was fairly easy except around Knoxville which can get a little congested. Once I crossed into West Virginia two things changed – one good and one bad. The bad first – gas prices jump .35 per gallon immediately after crossing the state line!! They must have a serious gas tax going on up here. But, the good is that the driving converted to a state highway system with gorgeous scenery. As WV is owned nearly 70% by the federal government, much of the drive is through national forests. I crossed great dams, rivers, man made lakes, etc. and the Allegheny Mountains (part of the Appalachians and forming the border between Virginia and West Virginia) which were breathtaking. By 7 pm I had crossed the New River Gorge, passed Beckly and Fayetteville and was looking for a likely place to stop for the night – cheap, comfortable and easy were my criteria for a campsite. I saw a sign for the Summerville Dam National Park and turned towards it. Now, I made a large mistake at this point. As it was nearly dusk I was looking to make sure I didn't miss the turn to the park. I came upon "Camp Site Road" and quickly turned right. Bad, bad move. Camp Site Road is a private road of residences and is a narrow rock road that drops STEEPLY down the mountain a couple of miles to a dead end with ditches on both sides of the road. Remember, I'm towing a 24' behemoth behind the Expedition. Well, thank goodness for 4 wheel drive and an ability to back a trailer. I saw my chance about a mile down – one gravel driveway went steeply up to my right while another dropped down to my left almost straight across. I switched into high 4 wheel drive on the fly, hit the gas up the steep drive on the right and ground to a stop as the trailer cleared the road. After a quick assessment of my angle and a deep breath I put `er in reverse and let her go slinging the rear of the trailer into the descending drive across the way. Again, gravel flew as I ground to a halt. Now, low 4 wheel drive was needed to bear down and pull the trailer up and around onto the road heading back the way I came. Now I REALLY needed to get to the campground and a little brown whiskey! Soon I crossed the Summerville Dam and then came to the camping area right on Summersville lake. Cheap, very comfortable and (but for my own folly) very easy. I checked in and received a site right on (I mean 10 ` close) the lake. The site was perfectly level so I had no set up – just left the trailer hooked to the car and plugged in the electric. I had a nice quiet dinner looking out over the lake as night fell and then sat and picked the guitar for a bit as I sipped that amber libation I had been craving after my backing adventure. Cool, sleeping with the windows open and the blankets on – can't beat it. Tuesday, September 1 I got up early to get under way. I made a pot of coffee and stepped out to appreciate the early sun on Lake Summerville. The water is crystal clear and the mountains and trees rising around me were as peaceful as I could ask for. The blue wing teals make their home here and are fat from the offerings of the campers in the area. I got out a few slices of bread and within seconds I was surrounded by 30 or more beautiful ducks wrestling for the bits I tossed their way. The experienced ones watched the arc and caught the bread in the air before it hit the water. I have lots of pictures and will post a link when I've got a chance. Only two and ½ hours from Parsons I pressed on and arrived at Five Rivers Campground by 11 a.m. I was soon settled in and connected to the internet to do some promotion for the shows in the area on Wednesday and Thursday. The campground sits right on the Cheat River, just two miles upstream from the 2 acre parcel we bought here last fall. At this time of year the river level is dropping though still plenty of water for fish and that peaceful moving water sound across the polished rocks. Very cool here – low 50's to high 40's at night and 70's during the day. Clear blue skies – magnificent! I spent the day working, as described, with breaks to go wade the river a little, skip some stones, take a supply run to local grocery and scare up a little firewood. Whiskey and a warm fire looking out over the river – this is living! Wednesday, September 2 I played a new venue last night ½ hour down the mountain in Elkins, WV. Elkins is an "artsy" little community which includes Davis & Elkins College, a small private liberal arts school. I'm playing at a local music venue, El Gran Sabor, an authentic Venezuelan restaurant. The food is wonderful and the building is another charm oozing edifice with wood floors and an outdoor courtyard up front. The owner, Rob Masten (along with his wife, Derdlim, the master chef and, in Rob's words, "the boss") is also a musician and teaches music both at the local high school and at Davis & Elkins. The restaurant has a terrific music room in the back of the building where the bar is located. A full stage with good sound and nice lighting sits back there and looks out over a seating area large enough for at least 50 or so. The live music runs Wednesday and Friday from 7 to 10 and focuses on original music of various genres. I had a great time playing the room, though it is not what I'm typically used to. On this night the smallish crowd, though paying attention to the music and appreciative, were not a pure listening crowd. Sitting mostly around the bar there was a great deal of conversation and noise during the show. Consequently, I couldn't establish my usual audience connection, tell the stories between songs, etc. that I usually do. Nevertheless, the crowd was hearing me, was generous in terms of the gas fund and very complimentary during breaks. I think the room has wonderful potential and I'll look forward to playing here again in my new "home away from home" neighborhood. Rob is a very outgoing and helpful guy who can be of great assistance locating other rooms to play within a reasonable driving distance for future trips. It's all in the attitude with which you approach it and the effort you invest to develop it. I think El Gran Sabor is well worth it. Thanks Rob! Thursday, September 3 OK, you're up to date. I've spent the morning writing this in the cool, beautiful WV weather with a campfire crackling and the Cheat River gurgling. Tonight I play the Purple Fiddle in Thomas WV less than a ½ up the mountain and then head out early tomorrow for NC (house concert Saturday night), SC (campground show Sunday) and home on Monday. I may wait until I get back for the last installment, but you never know so stay tuned.
Notes from the Road – Trenton, Ga. to Knoxville, TN Had a bustling day Monday. I’ve brought all my computer gear (including my color laser printer) so the camper during the day is like a home office. I had posters, postcards, etc. to print for a show in WV next week, so I did those and ran in to the post office in Trenton to get those in the mail. Trenton is a quaint little town. On the way back I saw an old fashioned town graveyard so I stopped and wandered a bit. The graves in the front of the cemetery were the oldest and they worked back from there. The markers and monuments bore dates as early as the 1830’s. You could tell which families had moved on or died out as their plots were crumbling and weed covered. You could also tell who the prominent families in the community are by the conditions of their plots. I saw graves for folks that had lived remarkably long lives for the period of time – one lady was over a hundred when she died in 1911. I also saw grave stones for young people, less than 20 and some infants. When I wander a cemetery like this I always wonder about who the people were and what things they’d experienced. Probably not as fascinating as I imagine. Monday night’s show in the campground was terrific. I learned last year that weekday shows are the best for the campgrounds. I always walk around during the day to say hello to folks and make sure they know about the show. There are few campers here during the week, but with only one exception every single camper was present. These are the small, intimate crowds that every songwriter lives for. And, surprisingly rewarding financially as well. There is no admission, of course – just a tip jar and CD’s. But, without exception I’ve found that these folks generously toss appreciation into the tip jar (many times what you normally see in a coffeehouse type setting) and hungrily buy CD’s. Had I charged an admission fee, some would not have come in the first place and those that did would not have been able to buy the number of CD’s that the full crowd did. I really like this approach for weekday “filler” shows when you would otherwise be idle or playing a coffeehouse on a tips / sales basis anyway. I used my new, compact Fishman SoloAmp sound system and really loved it. What a treat to have the whole system in one rolling bag weighing 30 lbs! The sound coverage is excellent and no feedback unless I turned directly into the unit from very close range. Really makes set up less of a chore. Tuesday was a work day getting email done, checking in on the status of the Welcome Home Project, conference call with my “folk mom”, Kari Estrin, in Nashville, accounting work, etc. – yep, dull and boring. But, I took a break at lunch time and went to tour the Chickamauga Battlefield which is close by. It is the oldest of the national military parks, dedicated in 1895. Covering 8,000 acres it is also one of the largest. I started in the visitor’s center with a 20 minute movie that explained the general troop movements, etc. Like most of those productions it was unnecessarily corny and dumbed down, but nevertheless gave the basic information to let you guide yourself through the park. One of the first things you come to on the self guided car tour is the monument erected by the State of Florida honoring those regiments of the CSA from our home state. Impressive monuments exist throughout the park marking the places where each State’s troops engaged in action, where certain soldiers were wounded or killed, etc. These battlefields always have a profound effect on me. The park is so peaceful, hardly anyone there during the week, dozens of deer roaming and grazing unconcerned with my presence. To think of this place shrouded in the smoke of battle and soaked with the blood of young Americans leaves me with an eerie sense of sorrow, duty, honor and incredulity all mixed together. There are so many that think they understand why that war was fought and what goals it accomplished I won’t dare offer my viewpoint. It was interesting that the bookstore in the visitor’s center had volumes covering all viewpoints and I overheard two different people registering formal complaints with the guards on duty regarding what they viewed to be historical inaccuracies being perpetuated by the exhibits. But, one thing is clear to me - we don’t learn much from history and continue to make the same blunders time and again. Wednesday was an up and on the road early day – time to appear on WDVX’s Blue Plate Special in Knoxville. The station’s studio is located in the Knoxville Visitor’s Center and has a formal performance stage set up in the lobby with the gift shop and coffee bar. Every day at noon the station presents a live performance broadcast. It’s very popular with the locals. About 60 seats are set up (including the standard lunch tables) and folks come in for the lunch hour and the show. By 11:45 am there were few seats left and those were gone by Noon. It was a very enjoyable show and performance to this pure listening (and munching) crowd. The host, Matt Morelock, does an excellent job keeping things organized and moving. The show draws acts from the very big names in folk and bluegrass (Doyle Lawson, Tim O’Brien, David Olney, etc.) to lesser mortals like me. They record the show and provide you with a CD and I videoed the performance as well. Hopefully the links work and you can see me do “Yellow Butter Moon” in front of the Blue Plate Wall of Fame. Its Thursday as I write this and its rainy out. That’s OK, because I’ve got lots of work to do. Stay tuned for more!
Notes from the Road – Havana, FL / Trenton, GA. Back on the road again – time for my SE US mini-tour. Two and one-half weeks in the camper doing shows in north FL (1), GA (2), AL (1), TN (2), WV (2), NC (1) and SC (1). I got on the road Saturday morning to head to Havana, FL, just outside of Tallahassee, for a gig at The Mockingbird Café that Lis & Lon Williamson put me onto. The 4 hour drive was a slugger along I-75 with 2,000 truckers and 5,000 morons through lightning, thunder and rain most of the way. There was one REALLY bad accident in the Gainesville area. Don’t know what happened first, but it appeared that there was a bad crash in the southbound lanes and then some idiot rubberneckers in the northbound lanes cracked up while trying to see if there was any visible blood on the southbound side. You know, as a species we aren’t getting any smarter at all. But, I made it to north Florida unscathed. I checked into the Big Oak campground just 10 miles from Havana, had a quick bite to eat and then headed over to get set up. Boy, did I get a surprise when I got out of the car and started towards the Café! There outside the patio entrance were Pete Gallagher and Pat Barmore up all the way from St. Pete / Tampa. Now, of course, my ego said “WOW, drove all that way to hear me!” In reality, there was some booking confusion. Lorie (the proprietress) had me booked and advertised, but Pete & Pat thought they were booked. Stuff happens! After a few minutes of head scratching it seemed like the sensible thing to do was just split the night. Pete & Pat had driven 5 hours themselves to get there so it made no sense to just say “sorry” and send them home. Problem solved. And, really to my advantage since my SoloAmp system won’t handle a duo, so Pete & Pat had to set up their Bose system – less work for me!! The Mockingbird is truly a lovely venue and the food is absolutely AWESOME. They had a special rib-eye steak that was just killer and the cheesecake with fresh berries was to die for. Their house specialty, black beans and rice, is also just as advertised – delicious. The café is quaint and spacious inside and the patio entrance is quite charming. All of the staff goes way out of their way to treat the performers as part of the family and get you anything you need throughout the night (including slippery elm tea – great for the vocal chords). We had a warm, receptive and generous crowd, a true listening crowd. I made some new friends and reconnected with some old ones. It’s always nice to have local performers drop in to catch your show – Mimi Hearns and Grant Peeples were in the house. Pat, Pete and I switched ½ hour sets from 7 – 10 and everyone had a great time. I’m really looking forward to playing The Mockingbird again soon. Sunday was my long drive day. I needed to get up to Trenton, GA where I’ve wangled a week’s stay at one of my KOA friend’s campground while I play gigs in TN and AL. It makes much more sense (gas wise and time wise) to leave the camper in one spot and drive to the gigs – nothing more than two hours away. I’ll play a couple of shows in the campground during the week as well. Works out great. I got underway around 10 am and took the back roads up through GA towards Atlanta. The corn was harvested back in the early summer and those fields are brown and in stubble, but the peanut fields and truck crops (beans, peas, etc.) are lush green and endless. The cotton is coming in as well and will be harvested in September. Some of the prettiest peach orchards and pecan groves I’ve ever seen lay along the route I drove. I should have stopped for pictures, but you know me. To say this is Bible belt country is a vast understatement. You can’t swing a worn out guitar strap without smacking a Baptist, Methodist or more fundamentalist type country church. I really enjoyed the first half of the day’s drive. I stopped in Dawson, GA for lunch at a great little Mexican grille. Had to stay away from the cerveca and the tequila though – Georgia back roads on a Sunday afternoon is no time to get stopped by the local sheriff with beer breath! Then I hit I-85 to I-285 around Atlanta and I-75 to Chattanooga – back to the world of morons and Nascar wannabes. I was more than ready to hit the campground when I pulled in around 6:30 pm. My hosts had left a map pinned to the front door showing me to my site. I got settled in, had a little pre-dinner cocktail while I wandered to see who my neighbors were, then had that wonderful ribeye steak meal from The Mockingbird (they fixed up an extra one to go so I’d have it when I got to my next stop!). The weather here is cool, clear and wonderful – goodbye heat! Stay tuned – more to come.
Notes from the Road – Gamble Rogers 2009 From Friday, May 1 to Sunday, May 3 we gathered at the St. Johns County Fairgrounds in Elkton, FL, west of St. Augustine for three days of music celebrating to life of one of our own, the late, great Gamble Rogers. I hope you are familiar with Gamble’s life and work. If not, here’s a little bit about him. Florida Times Union columnist, Ron Johnson, wrote in his Friday edition: The son and grandson of influential architects, Gamble Rogers was described as both a "modern troubadour" and the "resurrection of Will Rogers and Mark Twain". Rogers was a master performer--enchanting an audience with Travis-style guitar finger picking and relating downright rib-tickling tales about the inhabitants of the fictitious Oklawaha County. The Atlanta Constitution called Rogers, "an American treasure worthy of inclusion in the Smithsonian". Rogers was just hitting his peak when he died, on October 10, 1991, trying to save a man from drowning. The recreational area in Flagler County, where the accident occurred, was later renamed, "The Gamble Rogers Memorial Park". Gamble was universally revered and loved by his fellow musicians and fans alike. Gamble never met a stranger and his gracious assistance to young up and coming artists is legendary. Known for many philosophical witticisms like “the Lord gives me grace, but the devil gives me style”, “sorry is as sorry does” and “life’s what happens to you while you’re making other plans” Gamble was the perfect blend of master storyteller and musician. Many songs have been written honoring Gamble, but my personal favorite was written by my friend Steve Gillette who I think fully captured his spirit: I remember Gamble Rogers, He was a gentleman with a guitar, He’s gone on a little further now, A little deeper in the stars, He went down into the water, To help to save a drowning man, And he left this world, Holding out his hand. It’s been my great privilege to participate in this gathering for many years now and have been looking forward to this second edition in the new location at the St. Johns County Fairgrounds. Friday, May 1 You may recall that I’ve been having trouble with my car battery when I hook up my camper lights to the car. Or, maybe you don’t. For you it doesn’t really matter. As for me, I unfortunately did not remember it until Friday morning when I was preparing to load up. Shoot! Off to Costco I went to get a new battery. While I was there I also picked up one of those portable jump start units – handy looking thing. I didn’t have time (or rather didn’t want to take the time) to install the new battery (in an Expedition its not as easy as it should be), but at least I’d have the new battery and the jump start unit in case I got stranded. Back home I loaded up my gear, my Samplers for presales of the new CD and some things I might need if called to Tallahassee for the arrival of the new granddaughter (yeah, the little bugger is still stuck in there despite continual warnings of imminent commencement of the birthing journey). Off I went and was surprised to arrive at the fairgrounds nearly ½ hour before I expected. All was in order. I was issued my artist’s pass and given directions to my campsite. I drew a wonderful spot – right next to Larry Mangum. That wasn’t what made it so wonderful, though it was clearly a bonus. Rather it was the shade from the big oak that would protect my roof from the broiling sun most of the day. Bill & Eli Perras thought it looked pretty good too and, though without access to power or water, they elected to join us there under the oaks. We were soon engaged in a songswap over at Larry’s with Charlie Simmons, Jack (oops, can’t remember), Bill & Eli, Jen Weidley, Chuck & Pat Spano, Grant Peeples and probably others that at this writing two days later I can’t recall. I introduced Grant to the wonders of Gorilla Snot (it’s a real product, I’m not making it up) – a pine resin product that helps you keep your grip on your guitar pick in sweaty or other conditions adverse to guitar pickers. I believe it changed Grant’s life, though probably not as much as some of you might have hoped. The weather Friday was magnificent – cool in the shade and breezy, crystal clear and springtime fresh. The songswap would have gone longer, but Larry started serving some red wine which at that afternoon hour brought on the drowsies in some. Me, I had to go check my CD’s in at the product table and circulate among the other arrivals so I put away the guitar and set off. In truth, I figured on finding someone who was camped over close to where the fish fry was to take place at 6 p.m. Succeeded too, as Al Scortino, reliable for such as this, had parked his Casita within spittin’ distance of where the line would form. So, with a beer in hand (that vendor opened early and was doing a brisk trade) I ambled over and infiltrated the Ashley Gang crowd. Sure enough, we got some of the first fish out of the oil and feasted our fill. The evening schedule featured some of my real favorites. My good friend Jack Williams started things off with his usual stellar set that left folks hollering for more and all the guitar pickers considering another line of endeavor. He was followed by Tracy Grammer and The Rowan Brothers with wonderful performances. Then our own one man band sensation, Ben Prestage, came on to prove that all that caterwauling about how good he is actually sells him short. He’s a serious showstopper. Those guitar pickers in the crowd that had managed to recover from the humiliation of watching the mastery of Jack Williams were beset with a new wave of discouragement regarding their own abilities and I’m sure many a guitar came close to violent disposal or cheap sale. Once the main stage wrapped up I discovered one significant negative to my beautiful campsite. Turns out the evening contra dance that often doesn’t end until people are too exhausted to stand was taking place on the Pickers Stage with 100 feet of my rolling abode. Not to worry – I was running my AC unit and I came equipped with foam ear plugs for just such a situation. The campsite songswaps were more active and widespread than I can recall in recent years. It was terrific. I started over with Jerry Mincey’s crowd, then filtered down to the Mayhaws’ area where I found Lis Williams and Lolly Rogers (Gamble’s daughter). Lis sang some harmonies with me on Banks of the Old St. John’s which was fun. She was not camping and soon made her preparations to head out. She had a tin cup of Irish Whiskey that some provided her and that she hadn’t finished. Knowing exactly where it would be most welcome she blessed me with its care and disposal, swearing me to faithfully return the cup to its owner when its contents were expended. A fine and bonnie Lass she is! I next found myself at the rough camping segment of the Ashley Gang – Al, of course, long since absent and gone back to the Casita to enjoy AC and deep slumber. David Russell and his lovely bride Ann were there, David kind of sitting right in the middle of things adding accompaniment to whatever was being played. Since we had played it at Folk Alliance together back in February (check back at those Notes for the background on that) he joined me very capably on This Old House. Glenn Smith and his far better half were there with a tune or two. Larry Mangum slide in from the dark at some point. Soon Jack Williams showed up to trade licks and an encyclopedic recall of a vast catalog of old tunes with Russell. Grant Peeples was in there too, begging more Gorilla Snot. He took to putting a gob of it on the bill of his cap so it would be handy whenever he needed it. Of course, all of the Ashley Gang was there, Michelle, Norm and the couple Garfinkle (Al in abstentia of course already sawing logs). Again, I know there were many more that I’m overlooking and please pardon me for the omissions. By a little after 1 a.m. I realized that I was exhausted and stumbled my way through the campground lights back to my traveling bedroom. I’ve been carrying my cell phone waiting for the stork to call, but nothing yet. Tomorrow I’m on the Old Town Stage. G’night. Saturday, May 2 I woke up way too early, but I think I got enough sleep to survive anyway. I stumbled over to the artists’ hospitality area for some coffee and breakfast. All kinds of folks were wandering through and really don’t remember everyone I ended up chatting with while I was there. The hospitality for the artists at Gamble Rogers is always first rate and gracious, just like the festival’s namesake. I spent a fair part of the morning in the camper restringing the guitar, making a set list, practicing, working on some new tunes, etc. And, of course, I kept checking to see if there was any baby alert – nothing. I went on back over to the hospitality area for some lunch, chatted a while with the Dean of Florida folk, Frank Thomas, and numerous others filtering through. I also ran into my old friend Bob Higgenbotham who plays the festival every year – we only live about 45 miles apart (he in Winter Haven), yet we see each other more often at Gamble than anywhere else these days. That’s a large part of the joy of these gatherings is connecting again with so many great folks. I got to be part of a terrific line-up on the Old Town Stage. Magda Hiller had drawn a good crowd over and I got to enjoy her set. What a great, great performer she is! She had Jack Schwade with her which added another layer to the high luster of her show. Charlie Robertson, who was to play after me, was doing a quick stand in as emcee and asked me what I wanted said as my introduction. “Aw Charlie,” I says, “just make some lie up that’ll make me sound good.” So, Charlie hops up on the stage and hollers “Please welcome one of the truly great Florida songwriters, Doug Spears.” Now, I ask you, since I told him to lie . . . hummmph! I gave ‘em 6 good ‘uns – This Old House, State of Dreams, On the Other Side, Marker 26, A Mothers’ Tears and Yellow Butter Moon. I also told them about the new CD (I love bragging about the stellar line-up I’ve got on there) and afterwards several folks grabbed me to buy the pre-sales sampler. I stuck by to hear Charlie’s set – he is just one of those amazing songwriters who can see every little thing from every possible perspective and picks the one that should be obvious, but which you hadn’t considered to write about. It just knocks your socks off. He also is given to unpredictable commentary that makes you laugh until you hurt. You shouldn’t miss any chance to hear Charlie perform. Next I hustled back to the camper, dropped the guitar, etc. there and headed over to the Big Top. Missy Raines (my bass player on 8 tracks on the new CD - brag, brag, brag) has rolled in with her exciting band, Missy Raines and The New Hip, for their two mainstage performances. Husband, Ben Surratt, was hustling about running their sound and I took a seat at the railing right behind him. I let him get everything settled during their first couple of tunes then leaned forward, tapped him on the shoulder and handed him a cold beer I just acquired from that busy vendor on my way in. It seemed one of the more welcome hellos he’d had! At his invitation I circled around at sat at the board with him for the show and thoroughly enjoyed Missy’s set. What a GREAT band – I mean top to bottom superb surrounding Missy’s incomparable bass. Their album, Inside Out, just released on Compass Records, is terrific CD that I highly recommend to everyone. However, I have to admit that for me seeing Missy play is so wonderful I close me eyes when I listen to the CD so I can imagine her groovin’ around through the tunes. Just how much she loves what she does shouts out from every twist, turn and hop and the sounds she produces from that big stand up bass are not to be believed unless you hear her while seeing it with your own eyes. After they finished I went around backstage for a hug and a hello. Ben’s beer had already drawn jealous glances from the band and I feared that my failure to bring a whole tray might put me in jeopardy, but Missy fended them off for me. By this time, with a beer or two in my gullet, I began to feel a bit peckish. Over at the hospitality hut I sat and chatted with Ben and Missy a bit about life in general and the progress of the CD project. Then the more serious hunger began setting in. They weren’t yet ready to lay out the supper spread yet so I wandered back over to the Big Top looking for Jason Thomas (my producer and fiddler for Gatorbone and Claire Lynch) who was to have arrived to warm up with Gatorbone for their 7 pm set and bring me some material from the CD. To my dismay I found that Jason was stuck in a major traffic back up on I-95 and would not be making it for the show – shoot! So, I hooked up with Lis & Lon Williamson and Lolly Rogers for a little supper. Then I settled in for the excellent Saturday evening line-up. My absolute favorites, Gatorbone kicked it into gear at 7 pm. They were sans Jason Thomas (who ended up turning back in the face of hours of backup on I-95), but they still rocked! There is no finer singer than Lis Williamson, nor a better rhythm gypsy jazz guitar player. And, if you lined up 25 guitar players and had them perform the same licks I could pick Gabe Valla out blindfolded. The tone he creates is so clean and crystal clear that it can’t be confused with any other, truly one of a kind. Lis and Lon sent goosebumps through the crowd with their duo performance of Love Hurts – WOW! And, Kurt Johnson is a stellar addition to the group on pedal steel and keyboards. The rest of the night had a high bar set by Gatorbone!! Willy Claflin came next with his recreation of Gamble’s signature music and stories. He ain’t Gamble, but he’s close! It was a fitting and well received presentation for this crowd. Jesse Winchester alone on stage is a treat for any lover of the pure craft of songwriting. His songs have been recorded by everyone in the business and have been sung, hummed and enjoyed by every one of us, whether we knew it at the time or not. His easy going, homespun Memphis manner is deadly and the audience was charmed from the first note. Next, my bass player (I love saying that!), Missy Raines and The New Hip laid another stellar set on the crowd to close the night. Call it “jazz-grass” or whatever you like – this group is HOT! Stop, Drop & Wiggle, Basket of Singing Birds and Inside Out seemed like crowd favorites. This is a group that makes you move. The musicianship and arrangements are stunning. Back out in the campground the song circles and jams were in full swing. I started out right at my own camper with Ron & Bari Litschauer, Stan Geberer, Jeannie Fitchen (Ned lending moral support) and Clyde and Lorelli Walker (though Clyde elected to assume the position of listener and star gazer in the background). Ken Buchanan brought a couple of chairs over and sat to enjoy the show. John Alison soon joined us with his tasteful backing and beautiful OM and then Jack Williams ambled in to add his signature licks to the mix. Several others migrated in whose names I don’t know and for a while there it got to be a pretty sizeable jam. However, the Roadside Revue folks and the Walkers needed to head home to the Walker abode in St. Augustine and things broke up at the camper around 1:30 or so. I had played enough, but felt like listening some more so I wandered the grounds with a little refreshment in hand. I sat at the Ashley Gang area for a bit and listened to David Russell, Michelle, Carly Bak and others swap tunes and licks. Over at the Mayhaws settlement a HUGE crowd had gathered. As I pushed into a spot where I could lean and watch Grant Peeples was holding court. Jack Williams was in there as well. Dale Crider and Rod MacDonald were in the mix and many, many more. Starting to droop I began the wander back, stopped by Jerry Mincey’s fire and chatted a bit, then meandered on back to the bunk on wheels - 3:30 is late enough for me! ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ . . . . Sunday, May 3 As you might guess, I slept in a bit waking just in time for lunch . . . barely. I headed over for a burger and a hot dog at the hospitality area (and a LOT of coffee). I wasn’t to play until 3:40 on the Florida Stage, but I had plenty of cleaning up and departure preparations to take care of, so I got busy. As I cleaned and organized I ran into one and another friends and began the goodbyes. Sunday was a good bit warmer, more like the usual Gamble weather we’ve had for the past few years, but the breeze kept blowing which helped a bit. Before I knew it 3:00 was upon me. I headed on over to hear Charlie Robertson who preceded me on the Florida Stage as I got ready for my set. I started off with Banks of the Old St. Johns, Heminway’s Hurricane and State of Dreams, then by prearrangement Ron & Bari Litschauer and Stan Geberer joined me and we rocked ‘em with Teppintine, Withlacoochee Dreamer, There’s Always a Middle and Steam Train. I love playing with those guys and they add so much to the performance. When we were finished Rod MacDonald closed the Florida Stage and another Gamble Rogers Festival was in the can. I went and collected my CD $$ and product from the sales area and quickly loaded and hooked up to the rolling behemoth. Many more goodbyes were exchanged. However, with the afternoon heat I was glad to get into the airconditioned car and I was off for the run home. See you next year Mr. Rogers!
Notes from the Road – Barberville Spring Frolic 2009 If you’ve never been to the Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts in Barberville you really are missing one of the most interesting, quaint villages in Central Florida. The Settlement consists of many acres of land covered with historical buildings that have been moved to the grounds from the central Florida area. Native crafts (blacksmithing, woodworking, turpentine manufacturing, quilting, etc.) are demonstrated on the grounds periodically and twice a year the folk music community descends for a couple of days of terrific acoustic music. The stages are set up inside some of the buildings (the Church and the Barn are my favorites) and some are outdoors under canvas canopies. In all, 6 stages of music run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the Barn stage continuing on until 11 pm on Saturday night. Friday, April 24 In the past I’ve not camped at the Spring Frolic as the weather tends to be hot and, in some years, very wet. It’s only about 1 hour and 20 minutes from Orlando, so it’s not a big deal to go back and forth. However, this year the weather is predicted to be very comfortable and I hate to miss the late night pickin’ in the camping area, so I’m hauling the camper on over. Judy has to stay home and care for her dad so I’m flying solo on this trip. I got hooked up and underway by about 3:30. It’s a pretty easy drive, just east on I-4 to Lake Helen, into Deland, take the bypass around downtown and catch 17 north up through Deleon Springs to Barberville. The only interesting part of the drive is the last few miles on 17 – otherwise just regular old highway and town roads. I’ve been having a problem with my car’s electrical system when I tow the trailer. For some reason hooking the trailer lights, etc. to the car puts a tremendous draw on the battery and it starts with difficulty after just a short time. I stopped in Deland to pick up some supplies and shut the car down – mistake. When I came back out and tried to crank back up all I got was that rapid clicking sound that lets you know you’ve got trouble. Lucky for me there was a guy parked next to me in a big F150 Ford pick-up chatting on his cell phone and, learning of my situation, agreed to assist with jumper cables. Vvvrrrooommm – On the road again . . . I swung into the campground right at 5:30 and quickly located a somewhat shady spot right next to my friend Doug Purcell. In no time I was unhooked and set up (I let the car continue to idle for about 20 minutes after disconnecting the trailer to let the battery recover). Soon I was sipping a beer and chatting with all the musicians that had gathered early, enjoying the evening breeze and the cooling air. Joe and Katie Waller are the pair responsible for this bi-annual event. The job of organizing a festival of this size is a herculean, thankless task and they do a magnificent job. Besides the setting in the historical pioneer settlement, another unique aspect of the program is that all stages are 100% acoustic – no sound amplification of any kind and all acoustic instruments. Some find that daunting, but I love it. The acoustics in buildings like the Church are fabulous and its so much fun to be able to perform free of microphones, speakers, wires and such. It really creates a connection with the audience that is “house concert like” though in a more formal setting. In addition, there are no Emcees – each stage has a large clock on a stand directly in front of the performer and you are expected to start and conclude your show on time. While you might think that would lead to time problems with no one in charge, the opposite is actually true – the musicians are fastidious in respecting the time schedule and everything runs . . . well . . . like clockwork. That was a Joe Waller innovation a couple of years back and was a master stroke! I circulated and sipped a while and then decided to fix a little something to eat – a heaped turkey sandwich did me just fine. I brought some boiled peanuts and some ice cream for later if I get snacky. Time to hit the song circles. I quickly settled in with James Hawkins, Leigh and Steve Humes, Mike Worral and Larry Mangum. We began swapping tunes, some truly great tunes. Larry’s got a new one which I’m guessing is called ‘These are the Times of Our Lives’ that’s gonna be a crowd favorite. I kept dreggin up old ones that I rarely play and have never been recorded. Mike Worral is also one heck of a writer who I’ve not had the chance to sit and appreciate before. It seemed like in no time at all the tequila had suffered mortal injury and, well, it just got late all of a sudden. Everyone started to sag around midnight and I settled back into the camper for a late night snack, a little reading and some serious zzzz’s. Tomorrow things get under way. Saturday April 25th With all the windows open (no electricity in this camping facility, just open ground and trees) I woke to the melodious sounds of Triad (Doug Purcell with Carl and Barbara Wade) as they rehearsed for their 10 a.m. set. Charley Groth was also there and soon he was running tunes with the various folks he had joining him for his shows. I made coffee on the gas stove (the old fashioned way) while I washed the night from my face. Then, armed with coffee, I ventured forth to check in at the musicians’ table and start thinking about my day. I’m starting off with a noon show in the Church, one of my favorite stages. I’m a little nervous about my voice – it still seemed a little weak last night, apparently still recovering from my Will McLean illness. I restrung my guitar over a second cup of coffee and then fixed myself a little breakfast (hard boiled eggs and fruit). Now with third cup of coffee in hand I began to consider my set list for the first show. I tested the voice and it really seemed ok, though not full strength and I didn’t want to strain it. So I eased into Banks of the Old St. Johns, Teppintine, Hemingways Hurricane, Marker 26 and Steam Train. Everything seems fine, so I’m ready. The Church, while one of my favorite stages, is sometimes not as well attended as others. Audiences can be really small – in past years often as few as 8 to 10. However, today folks are out and looking for music (and, hopefully, for me). I had around 30 or better for this first show, a great turn out. Lots of old friends, but many new faces as well. The voice really worked well (a few cracks and yodels, but nothing embarrassing) and the set went without a hitch. I added many new names to my mailing list and sold a couple of CD’s too. Terrific start. After chatting outside the Church with a few folks I headed over to do my songwriting workshop with Larry Mangum. I never find one hour workshops to be very productive in terms of really imparting much information on the craft itself, but I was looking forward to this one because I enjoy Larry’s company. We had a small determined group in attendance, but as it came time to start, no Larry. Hmmmm . . . Oh well, we got started anyway and really had a nice one hour session – much more productive than the typical. The attendees were all business and knew what they wanted to ask and learn about. Quite a pleasure even without Sir Mango. Wonder what happened to him? With that work done I was in need of nourishment. They have a hospitality area for the performers serving stew, cornbread, etc. and it fit the bill just fine. I sat and chatted with some old friends and as I was finishing up I happened to look over at a table under one of the Chickees and there was Larry Mangum! So, I went over, chastised him (to his great embarrassment) for ditching the workshop (which he totally forgot as he was sitting in with some other musicians on their set) and informed him that I would be taking his half of the workshop fee. What is half of zero anyway? Also sat and chatted a bit with Ron and Mary (soon to be Mr. and Mrs. Johnson) about their upcoming CD release and the status of mine. Lots of time to kill now as my next set isn’t until 7 pm. I headed back to the camper to take care of some housekeeping issues, write a little of this stuff here and otherwise chill. My laptop battery had expired so I went over to the Settlement schoolhouse and sat in one of the old desks (a tight fit) and plugged into an outlet to recharge while I worked. An older fellow came over and talked to me for a bit. Turns out he is from Pierson and as an elementary school kid had gone to school in the very building in which we sat. In fact, he allowed as how he had gotten the only “F” in his life in that very classroom – it taught him not to argue with the teacher!! Interesting fellow and I enjoyed out chat. Back in the camping area I sat over with Doug Purcell, Rick Kennedy and Denise Adams while I constructed my set list for my evening Barn set. The evening lineup in the Barn is quite special – everything else shuts down except for the dance stage and you always have a great crowd for the Barn on Saturday night. I always appreciate being included. I settled on a song list of On the Other Side, Withlacoochee Dreamer, State of Dreams, Welcome Home, This Old House and Yellow Butter Moon. That accomplished I practiced a bit back at the camper. Raven Stands Alone stopped by for a while as did Bill & Eli Perras, Brian and Tia Smalley and a couple of others. Idle time passes so quickly and soon I grabbed my gear and headed over to the Barn. I got there in time to hear a little of Hannah’s Whirl (my friends Tami and Paul from Tampa) and Garrison Doles (my great songwriter compatriot from Orlando). Then, show time! As expected I had nearly a full house (was full if you counted the lingerers outside the back doors where the breeze was cooling the evening down. In that room I felt like I needed to push the vocals more to be heard throughout the room (and beyond) and I found that while I’m recovered from my Willfest ills my voice is still a little weak from lack of use. So, I had some more noticeable cracks and yodels early, but again nothing terrible or embarrassing. I truly enjoyed the set and the crowd response was awesome. There were mailing list fans there that I hadn’t seen in quite some time and lots of new faces as well. So much fun. James Hawkins and Cold Harbor came next with their usual terrific set, then The Ashley Gang, another of my favorites (Al Scortino is, in my opinion, one of the best songwriters I know) and then the ever popular and superb M.T. Pawkets. What a great line up and a real treat to hear. Joe & Katie Waller with Jackson Creek finished out the night, but I confess that I had not yet eaten and I was feeling the considerable gravitational pull of that tequila. So, I ducked out and repaired to the campground for nourishment and refreshment. Of course, others were already there and the song circles and jams were in full swing. So after my bite to eat I headed back over to the Cold Harbor campsite where my badly wounded tequila bottle had been left to languish. Larry Mangum, Mike Worral, Mike McKee, Raven Stands Alone and a couple others were in full song swap. I just listened for a bit, but then drug out the guitar. We were soon joined by James Hawkins, Leigh and Steve Humes (whose chairs, etc. we were already using in their absence), Ron & Mary Johnson, Jonathon and Sherry Hodge, Charlie Groth (and I’m sure I’m leaving someone out). Great, great, great song swap with some great players who could back any song that came up – quite a treat. I had a fair amount of help with the libations - the tequila finally succumbed to the beating it had sustained and lay dead on the field of battle. By midnight I was no longer able to concentrate enough to finish a song so off to bed I went, though I could hear others continuing on for hours after that. Nice cool evening with a refreshing breeze coming through the windows – holler if I snore! Sunday September 26 Surprisingly, it got pretty cool last night and at one point I woke reaching for the blanket. I really slept well and didn’t roll out until around 8 a.m. I made coffee and worked a little on this epic chronicle for a while before venturing out. I visited hither and yon with these and those, circling back for more coffee when appropriate. Everyone is really enjoying the weekend of magnificent weather, great music and good friends. But, you already sense the restlessness that comes with knowing today it all ends and soon it’ll be time to pack up and head out. My sole set on Sunday wasn’t until 2:30 back in the Barn, so I had plenty of time to futz around with things. I got my set list together – today I thought I’d do Annie’s Chairs, The One Not There, Break Some Stones, Okeechobee and, the only repeater for the weekend, Hemingway’s Hurricane. After establishing what I would play I cleaned up (as best I could with no running water, etc. – shower is first priority today when I get home) and then headed over to the Settlement buildings to recharge my computer battery and get some lunch from the hospitality area. I sat down to lunch and solved many of the world’s problems with Chuck and Varney Hardwicke and Joe Waller. The only feature of the Pioneer Settlement that I am not fond of is the large aviary full of peacocks near the Barn and Sugar Cane stages and right across from where we were eating lunch. Peacocks, though beautiful, are noisy, irritating birds. This is even more so in the spring when they are full time engaged in activities of the amorous nature. The males are strutting, fanning and preening while the girls look just about as bored and put off as when us males try to show off by proving who can drink the most beer. They kept screeching and calling to the point that I was having murderous fantasies involving a guitar string garrote, colorful feathers and a BBQ. Having finished lunch and settled most all of the pressing problems of mankind I headed back to get my gear for my show. I did not really expect to have much of a crowd for this show since I had stiff competition on other stages and the Sunday crowd tends to be lighter in any event. I got to the Barn in time to hear Triad (Doug Purcell, Carl Wade, Barbara Shaeffer and Rick Kennedy) do a very nice set including Will McLean’s Hold Back the Waters. Bill & Eli Perras, Bluesgotus, followed with a great set of their originals accompanied by Bill’s exceptional guitar licks, Chuck Spano’s tasteful percussion and Eli’s heartfelt and expressive vocals. Wonderful stuff. To my surprise and pleasure I had a very nice crowd for a Sunday afternoon and the song selections fit right in with the mood. Having learned my lesson last night I took it easier and did not push the vocals so hard – all went well. Such a pleasure to play for lovers of the music there to listen and let you into their hearts. Well, time to load up. Everyone was breaking down by the time I got back to the campground. My first order of business was to go fill up with gas so there’d be no stopping once I hooked up to the behemoth and started home. Alas, the strain of getting to Barberville Friday with the mysterious power drain on my battery had proved too much and the car just wouldn’t start. Fortunately Carl Wade had jumper cables reasonably handy and we used Doug Purcell’s car to get me cranked. I went on to the gas station and violated one of the usual rules – I left the car running while I pumped the gas. If I hadn’t it likely would not have restarted. No incident however and soon I was back at the campground putting things away and hooking up to get under way. Goodbyes were shared all around. Many of us will be at Gamble Rogers next weekend, but some I won’t see until the Florida Folk Festival towards the end of May. That’s as it is for this family of musicians and none of us would have it any other way. Still no Granddaughter – ARRRGGGG!!! Next weekend, Gamble Rogers near St. Augustine at the St. Johns County Fairgrounds. Hope to see you there!
Notes from the Road – Will McLean Festival 2009 The kick off for the festival year here in the State of Dreams is the annual Will McLean Festival held near Dunnellon, FL the first weekend in April. It has been my privilege to perform at the festival for many years now and it is one of my true favorites. Conceived by Margaret Longhill to honor the memory and music of Will McLean, the festival features Florida’s best musicians and songwriters in a three day celebration of our roots, history and heritage. Including an award to honor the best new song written about Florida, which goes this year to my good friend Garrison Doles (I was thrilled to win the award back in 1997), the festival is a gathering of good friends, fans of the music and lovers of the State in an idyllic setting overlooking the beautiful Withlacoochee River. This year is its twentieth anniversary and, as always, the line up is truly stellar. Thursday, April 2, 2009 Now, the festival doesn’t actually start until Friday and its less than two hours from home, but I’m anxious to get on site, get the camper set up, start chillin’ with good friends and start pickin’ some tunes. So, we got things organized at home, got the camper loaded and headed out by late afternoon. We were halfway there when I realized we had left my performer’s packet with my tickets, etc. at the house – figures. Well, hopefully someone will know me at the gate and I won’t have to pay to get in! The wind was annoying all the way to Dunnellon – gusting and blowing the camper around on the road like a big metal sail hooked to my bumper. Passing semis and buses was exciting to say the least. But, we managed to get there without sideswiping anything. The Roadside Revue gang (Ron & Bari Litschauer, Dawn DeWitt and husband Charles, Stan Geberer and companion Cathy) had saved us space in their enclave along with Clyde and Lorelli Walker – great group of folks. We were soon settled and immediately into the social activities. Ron quickly provided me with a plastic cup with a good three finger measure of amber liquid. Hello’s, hugs, laughter and friendship all around. There is traditionally a potluck on Thursday night for the early arrivals, but we didn’t come prepared for that so we repaired to the camper for a meal of leftovers from home. Then the guitars began to pop out. We had a great circle from dusk on with Ron. Bari, Dawn, Stan, Clyde and me and we were soon joined by Keith Hope and Mindy Simmons. I had a warranty issue with the cup Ron had provided me – the silly thing would not retain the liquid that had been poured there. Seemed like every time I turned around the darned thing had let the precious amber leach away into the night, so I had to keep rooting around in Ron’s camper to refill it!! Quite mysterious. Suddenly, right around 11 p.m. a few ominous drops of rain fell and we all scrambled for guitar cases and cover. Time to turn in anyway. What a great beginning. Friday, April 3, 2009 I don’t perform until Saturday, so Friday is a free day to relax. I had to run some errands in the morning, but got back in time to catch Clyde Walker on the Crypress stage accompanied by Ron Litschauer and Stan Geberer – great set. They were followed by the wonderful harmonies of Hannah’s Whirl (Tami & Paul, my friends from Tampa). I’m starting to feel a little tickle in my throat, but I think its dust and irritation from stopping by my folks’ house (mom’s a smoker). So, I think I’ll head back to the trailer, practice a bit and perhaps sip a little of the old home remedy to clear the vocal chords. I plinked and plunked, thought about a song list for Saturday, chatted with the passers by and generally soaked up the beauty of the campground here on the banks of the Withlacoochee. No rain in the forecast until maybe Sunday, so that seems promising. Judy came back and went down for a nap so I went for a walk about. I checked in my CD’s at the FOFF booth, bought Judy a Willfest T-shirt and checked out the vendors a bit. I’m still feeling that tickle in the throat and its starting to worry me. Back at the Roadside Revue enclave I chatted with the various inhabitants and relaxing in the afternoon breeze. It was soon supper time and we were feasted on burritos with the best chipotle sauce I’ve had in some time. Roadside Revue was scheduled on the main stage at 7:30 so I made Judy and I some coffee, took our chairs and headed that way. These guys, besides being dear friends, have always been some of my favorite performers on stage. Not only is the music great, but the chemistry they have together is simply awesome. I’m never sure who is having more fun – those of us listening or them on stage. Clyde Walker added his fingerstyle wizardry to a tune or two and the half hour passed much too quickly. However, during their rendition of Steve Blackwell’s “Gravel Road” I realized, unmistakably, that disaster has struck – I have a cold and it’s starting in my chest! I was singing along and noted to my great dismay that the high notes simply weren’t there – DAMN!! While I had planned to stay for the night’s line up on the Magnolia Stage and then play around the camp fires to the wee hours I took the safer course and headed to the trailer to begin consuming cold remedies and get some rest – we’ll see what happens. I HATE colds!! Consequently, I missed the rest of the evening main stage line up. The word I got was that the Mayhaws, in particular, were exceptional. I emerged from the camper again at about 10 p.m. to let folks know that I wouldn’t be out and about that evening. Everyone leaped to my aid, of course, insuring I had whatever I needed to fight off this dastardly cold. One of the vendors was close by (I hope I’m remembering his name right, Tom Brown) whose specialty is a wide variety of hot sauces, pepper jams and pepper glazes – really good stuff. He made sure I was equipped with the right pepper stuffs to keep my sinuses clear (not yet the problem) and provided me with honey and limes to go back to the camper and make a good old fashioned hot toddy (I had the whiskey, of course). I said my good nights and hot toddying I went, fingers and toes crossed for a good result. Saturday, April 4, 2009 Not a good start – I am VERY deep of voice this morning and my first attempts to make musical sounds come from my vocal chords sounds more like a really bad attempt at producing sound from an out of tune fiddle. I load up on more zinc, Echinacea, green tea extract, vitamin C, B-12, Mucsinex, Zicam, Advil, eye of bat, toe of newt (yeah, I’m at the desperate point for sure). I mixed another hot toddy (who cares if its 10 a.m.) to supplement my coffee and the heat does soothe my throat loosening it just a little. Judy headed on out to catch some of our favorites on stage leaving me to wrestle the vox gremlins. I restrung my guitar while imbibing the warm liquids and made my first attempts. It was immediately obvious that singing in my usual key was out of the question so I began a chordal Easter egg hunt looking for a key that my limited range would allow on certain songs. Assuming I’m able a accomplish this it complicates the performance because I will need to be mentally converting chords and changes to different keys than what I’m used to playing without really even thinking about it. A large task for a pea brain such as I. I knew certain songs were out due to the range they require regardless of where you start. I wanted to have Ron & Bari Litschauer and Dawn (d’Otter) DeWitt join me on Teppintine, Steam Train and Hemingway’s Hurricane so I worked those out first – very deep, Barry White sounding versions I might add. Then I attacked a couple of other tunes that I could open with before they joined me on stage. Armed with a battle plan, I went over and ran the tunes a time or two with the gang in the new keys. It seemed to go reasonable well. However, I did notice that as I was singing in that low range my voice appeared to be loosening a little. They went off to attend to other tasks and I went back to the camper and continued working the tunes. My voice was getting a bit more high range! However, it was also losing low range. Uh oh – time to change keys again!! Back to the drawing board. I readjusted, staying with the same somgs and about 1 p.m. I went over and shared the news with the guys that we were changing keys. They are professionals, but not above complaining! So we ran another little session in the new keys. Now, I didn’t go on the main stage until 4 p.m., but I had agreed to MC the stage from 2 – 3:30. I did my shtick making announcements and pattering while the stage reset between performers and then intro’d the acts as they came on. All the while I’m noticing changes in my voice – not getting normal, but changing in pitch and range. Oh boy! About 10 minutes before we hit the stage I broke the news to my compadres that, yet again, there would be changes in key. With doubtful and somewhat trepidatious looks they focused on my directions, said silent prayers and off I went to open my set. As we set up my sound my friend Raven Stands Alone recited a powerful poem, I Am Florida, which made a great introduction to the songs I had chosen. The moment of truth. With a little warning to the crowd that I may sound like a frog caught in car door at times I launched into Withlacoochee Dreamer – a few little vocal “yodels” but not too bad. I followed that with Yellow Butter Moon – again, no real catastrophe. At that point I hauled they guys out on stage. The energy you get playing with a band tends to transcend your preconceived notions of limitation and I started to push the old voice and give in to the music. What a fun set! We worked those three tunes for all they were worth and I let the voice growl through those points where I might have otherwise babied it – caution to the wind. Stan Geberer even jumped in on the closing number, Steam Train, and added that magnificent harmonica punch he carries. Judging from the crowd response it was a huge success and my thanks to the guys & gals for backing me so gamely and professionally – what a thrill! However, I knew with the closing notes of Steam Train that my vocal chords had just taken a serious beating and if I had to sing one more line I wouldn’t have made it. I let it all out there on the stage on that one and clearly put my set on Sunday in serious doubt. Again we’ll have to wait and see. Roadside Revue followed me on the Magnolia stage (which was very convenient since they were already set up to assist me) and put on yet another bang up show. As part of this set they introduced a new Dawn DeWitt song, Withlacoochee Way, that she literally wrote on Thursday – quite brave to test drive it on stage so soon. It’s a great song and I predict will be a hot contender for the Will McLean award next year. Mission accomplished for the time being, we repaired to the Roadside Revue enclave for some vittles. Sweet and sour chicken, roast pork, rice, black beans (with some of that great hot sauce from our friendly next door vendor), salad, brownies – we eat better camping that most folks eat when they have friends over for supper! Of course, libations began to be consumed. Ron & Bari remained more conservative as they had additional duties later backing Frank Thomas in his set and Amy Carol Webb in her Will McLean tribute set. Sated with food and drink we trundled back to the main stage to catch Frank Thomas (the grand master), Grant Livingston and others leading up to Amy Carol’s slot. I confess that I missed much of the music as I kept getting pulled aside by this one and that to chat and catch up. And, I kept slipping back to the coffee concession to keep some warm on my throat. However, I knew that I was not going to recover and did not want to bail at the last minute leaving the stage slot tomorrow morning up in the air. So, I went ahead and gave the news to Margaret that I was bowing out of my Sunday performance. Jackson Creek (Joe & Katie Waller) will fill in ably. I’m disappointed, but at the same time glad to have performed well on the main stage today and not have the pressure of waiting out my vocal condition over night. Amy Carol Webb’s set was awesome, as always. She has a well perfected stage persona that energizes the crowd like few I’ve seen. In keeping with the “tribute” these of the performance she was variously assisted by Jeanne Fitchen, Mindy Simmons, Ron & Bari, Annie Wenz, Grant Livingston and others throughout the show. A magnificent set followed by another one from Rod MacDonald, one of the few with the chops to hold a crowd after Amy gets done with them. Obviously, campfire singing and playing is not in the cards for me tonight, so I settled into the role of appreciative listener. Judy opted for crashing early, so I left her behind with her book and bed and wandered to this fire and that hearing new tunes and saying hello. I got to hear a new song from Doug Purcell that really is going to do well. I saw my pals Mike & Goody Haines. Wandering down towards the river I passed the Cypress Stage which, after hours, becomes a well lit song circle with Tom Ellis at the helm and I could see Glenn Smith in the group as I sauntered by. I was looking for the Blackwell / Still Friends compound and on the way ran into my buddy Ally Smith who was hanging at a campfire of mostly the sound crew entertaining them with her wonderful voice. And then I found the Still Friends crowd. Lots of good friends and folks I hadn’t seen in some time. I heard, unfortunately, that Carrie Blackwell was similarly afflicted as me and had retired early. But the rest of the crowd was there and kickin’ it proud. But, finally, the cold and aching throat dragged me away and to the camper. I dosed up yet again and set to the task of dreaming next to my bride. Sunday, April 5, 2009 Good call on giving up my slot – I’m sick as a dog. I couldn’t sing if my soul depended on it. I’m afraid that the Singer’s Saving Grace I was squirting in my throat yesterday simply numbed it up (it’s largely alcohol) and deadened the pain letting me sing when I really shouldn’t. That’s the thing about pain – it has a purpose and when you mask it artificially you expose yourself to greater injury. In any event, my throat feels tight and swollen and my chest is turning into a brick. So, we’ll probably just go ahead, pack up a little early and head on home. It has been a wonderful festival though. Terrific weather, warm but not uncomfortably hot during the day and cool at night. The rain has stayed away this year (it poured on us Saturday night last year). It has been an ideal 20th anniversary of this great festival and I’m already looking forward to the next one. As always, the entire staff has done a magnificent job under the direction of Margaret Longhill with the assistance of her sister Chris Lyle and a cadre of others. A production of this size is no small endeavor and they pull it off without a hitch. We went ahead and got things organized to depart, then headed over to the main stage to catch Still Friends, Larry Magnum and Mike Jurgensen before hitting the road. It turns out I’m not the only one ailing – Carrie Blackwell – Hussey also lost her voice as did Clyde Walker. So, the crud is going around, watch out! After great sets from Still Friends, Larry Magnum and Mike Jurgensen we finished our preparations, said our goodbyes and hit the road. Judy and I celebrate 25 years of marriage this month (April 21st) – it has been 25 wonderful, happy years for me (though only about 4 for her!). We will take a week to get away to the Caribbean to relax and reflect. Next stop musically is the Barberville Spring Frolic – hope to see you there!
Notes from the Road – Cracker House Concert @ Tisa & Raven’s I headed to Jacksonville Friday, March 13th, for a house concert hosted by Tisa Noble and her beau, Raven Stands Alone. If you’ve frequented the Florida festival circuit you’ve often seen Raven, sometimes in Native American garb, ably backing various performers on the flute. About a year ago, shortly after the Will McLean festival he managed to capture the lovely Tisa’s heart and she soon moved to Jacksonville to be with him. The have a lovely house in a quaint neighborhood a little Southwest of downtown Jacksonville. I’m spending the weekend with Lis and Lon Williamson at their Gatorbone encampment near Keystone heights, so I went there first to drop off my camper, say hello and settle in, then headed on to Jacksonville up Highway 21 early enough to beat most of the rush hour traffic. Most – I caught a particularly clogged part right where 21 hits I-295 and that took about 15 minutes to creep through. Other than that, smooth sailing. I had not been to Tisa & Raven’s before and this is a new house concert series, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was in for a real treat. Though the house is quite small, they have a large covered wood desk on the back which adjoins the long, double wide driveway along the side of the house. It was immediately obvious that this is where they spend all of their time. There’s counter space, Raven’s prized stainless steel grill, a refrigerator that stays fully stocked, couches, chairs, tables, plants – the works. Very homey and inviting. In fact, Raven allowed as how their friends sometimes drop by the house, find them not at home and hang out on the deck anyway – it’s that kind of place. The perfect place for some food, friends and acoustic music. We had reservations for about 40 and given the arrangement of the deck, etc. I didn’t need to set any sound amplification. Totally acoustic, just the way I like it! Folks started filtering in around 7 p.m. for a little pot luck, treats from Raven’s grill, etc. We soon had a full house and at around 8:20 Raven commanded silence to start the music. What a GREAT crowd! Listeners, as you always want at a house concert, and enthusiastic. There was an old friend I had not seen in over 10 years, Wilbur Wood, who brought a party of 4 all the way up from the Gainesville area. Ron Johnson was also in attendance and brought a buddy along. There were a few others I recognized from the festivals or the Jacksonville area, but for the most part the rest of the gathering were folks new to me – also something I love! I played for a little over an hour and included, as one always should, a couple of requests by the hostess, Tisa – Mournful Eyes and Colors, her favorites. I also had a request from my old pal Wilbur for one of my more obscure tunes – an off beat little humorous number titled Port-O-Let which recounts the meeting of one’s true love in the most unlikely of places. I closed up the program with Steam Train and yielded the stage to a fervent jam session lead by Ron Johnson – Rock On!! There was a young 13 year old there playing fiddle that I was particularly impressed with – I’ve got her name written down somewhere, but Raven will pipe in here and fill it in. She’ll be one we’ll be seeing on the festival stages soon. What a terrific night. Thanks so much to Raven & Tisa for inviting me in and I’m looking forward to staying in touch with all the new friends I made. Watch for the next show in the Cracker House Concert series – it’s going to be a great series that will grow stronger and stronger!
Notes from the Road – Folk Alliance 2009 Day 4 [2/21] and Leaving Memphis Last day – unlike festivals where you are really all about playing music, enjoying the camaraderie of the other artists and soaking up the atmosphere, as a performer here you are all about making an impression, putting your best foot forward, getting the right people to see you perform, making contacts and strategizing. In other words, though you do get some (emphasis on the lesser quantity implied by the word) chance to visit with artists and friends from across the country / world, this is WORK and you have to approach it as such. Those artists that attend something like this and stay in their comfort zone, i.e., just hanging out with people / artists they know, sitting in their room when not performing and waiting to be found as opposed to making sure they get found, get little or, more likely, no benefit from attending. As a consequence, if you are really working at it, by the last day you are major league EXHAUSTED – and, I AM! I was up and at it by the crack of 11 a.m. – hey, I’m old, give me a break!! Much like yesterday I started with CAFFEINE then moved to E-MAIL then focused on personal hygiene. I’m a folkie, but I’m not an animal – a shower a day is not too much to ask. I had a protein bar (yum . . . NOT) and got my stuff together for the Exhibit Hall. I needed to go out and get another batch of bottled water so I wanted to hit the set up period for the Hall, then take the trolley up to the local grocery. An aside, just to satisfy my desire to serve the consuming public. The Marriott Convention Center here is perfectly situated and designed to host this event and, I’m sure, will remain the venue of choice for this conference for years to come. Furthermore, what I’m about to say is NOT a criticism of the Folk Alliance Board’s choice of the venue (or the FA Staff’s). However, Marriott, as a business enterprise, is, in my humble opinion, vastly over rated and charges far too much for what they provide? I say this not based just on the experience here in Memphis, but everywhere I’ve stayed in a Marriott around the country. As far as this week, here’s the deal. The rooms are ‘discounted” for the event to about $140 per night, which all things considered is not too bad of a rate. BUT (and it’s a big BUTT) everything is designed to suck more dollars out of your wallet. For instance, at Marriotts you are not allowed to use a lobby luggage cart to bring in your bags. To use a cart you must be assisted by a bellman who, of course, expects a tip for his efforts that you didn’t need or want in the first place. They tell you it is for “insurance reasons”, but it’s odd to me that Comfort Inn, etc. have no such insurance issues and provide as nice or nicer rooms at half the price. Where other hotel groups provide free wireless internet, the Marriott charges $12.95 a day. Where far less expensive hotels have parking available at no charge, Marriott charges $12.00 per day to park (not valet – park it yourself). And forget about food and beverage in the hotel – a bottle of water is $3.00 (which is why I go buy a case of water for $4.99 up the street). By the time its all said and done with taxes, fees, etc. the actual cost per night is more like $200. Consumers have the ultimate power in a capitalist economy – I suggest we start using it wisely in these troubled economic times. For my part, Marriott will not get any business from me except in those circumstances like this where I simply have no choice. Enough carping. My errands accomplished the Exhibit Hall opened. Though less crowded on the final day and less intense it was still a very productive day. Lots of opportunities to get in front of folks I had not yet talked to, hand them a Sampler CD, etc. Needless to say I will not be hauling home any Chexmix or tangerines – every single scrap scarfed! And by the time 6 p.m. rolled around I was most definitely ready to be down with the booth. Three days is quite plenty thanks so much!! I packed it up quickly and efficiently taking the gear directly to the car [no need to haul it twice] and headed back up to the room to get my feet up for a few minutes. At around 7:30, David Russell and I caught the trolley up to Union and then wandered down to 2nd to get dinner at the Flying Fish. Outstanding! Ice cold oysters on the half shell, catfish, shrimp, red beans and rice – oh boy. And all washed down with a cold beer. Heaven. Then back to the hotel to work up a couple more songs for the night’s last showcase. David is backing me again and giving me a bigger sound to help draw folks on in. Tonight I’m in Bill & Kate Isles’ room and, as before, had the folks I wanted to see show up to hear a quick set. David and I went a little more laid back for this set, in keeping with everyone’s energy levels and the winding down vibe. We pulled out some of my older tunes, This Old House and Annie’s Chairs, plus my Memphis inspired Sinner’s Song and finished up on the up tempo of Yellow Butter Moon. Gloria Holloway was in the room for this set (thanks Gloria!) and a couple of new contacts from the Texas and TN areas. Fun set – and now it’s MILLER TIME. Though I was dog tired I deposited my guitar back in my room, got a drink and wandered the performance halls to catch a last minute showcase or two, say some goodbyes, etc. The end of these four days of madness is always bittersweet. You are SO glad to be done, yet disappointed that the energy high is over. Wrapping Up and Loading Out I was able to drag myself out of bed by about 10 a.m., probably about 6 hours of sleep, and start gathering my stuff that was strewn about the room. When you come to one of these conferences the most important item to retain is the conference program which contains in it the full address, email, etc. of every attendee, who the showcase presenters were, etc. It is a gold mine of information for the future. Once I made sure I had that in the bag, everything else was easy. I made a couple of trips to the car to get all my stuff there. Bellmen were running about like ants trying to make the most of the torrent of departing attendees. Even if I had wanted one I couldn’t have gotten one. Beautiful weather out for the drive home – cold, in the 30’s to low 40’s, but clear and sunny. Very Nice. I was out of the hotel by a little after noon and headed over to Westy’s for one more bowl of Gumbo then homeward bound. See you next year Memphis. There are a couple of folks who always deserve high praise and much thanks for this event – Folk Alliance Director Louis Meyers and Staffer Cindy Cogbill. There are other staffers as well, but I don’t have as much contact with them and don’t know them by name – thanks to them too. The FA Staff works absolutely, positively non-stop for the entire conference. ANYTHING that someone needs no matter the time day or night is attended to quickly and graciously. Cindy, in particular, has always been a “make it happen” person for me and I can’t say enough about the job she does, always with a smile as big as Tennessee pushing at her cheeks. Louis and Cindy, my sincerest thanks! So, its back to Florida I head with lots to do (the follow up is, of course, the truly critical work so that all done so far isn’t for naught) and much learned. See you soon.
Notes from the Road – Folk Alliance 2009 Day 3 [2/20] Well, after being up until 4 a.m. I THANKFULLY slept in until after 11 a.m. I grabbed a little lunch and picked up my second shipment from DiscMakers (the CD jackets) at the front desk. The sampler really looks nice – thanks go to Beth Thomas for the great design. If you need graphic design work I highly recommend her so feel free to ask for her contact information. I burned discs and put track labels on the jackets while I restrung my guitar. Then, I went down and attended a couple of the panel discussions (music biz stuff), but before too long, it was time to hit the Exhibit Hall again. Another VERY busy, high traffic day in the hall. I made some extremely good contacts with house concert presenters, venue owners and promoters. My chexmix is, as always, a huge hit and, with my picture and showcase schedule on the label, really gets my name around. The tangerines have also been a very nice addition. Amazingly, I will be out of both before too long on Saturday. I had over 180 bags of chexmix and a bushel of tangerines. The chexmix is essentially gone – I’ve got less than a dozen bags left – and I’m down to one table basket of tangerines. Unbelievable! The Hall is a vital element of the marketing I do here, but it’s a grueling three hours each day. By 5:30 all you want to do is push the hands on the clock on up to 6 and get out of there! I wandered over to a popular local eatery (the name of which I’m too brain dead to remember, which is embarrassing because I eat there every year) and had, what I think, is the best Gumbo outside of Baton Rouge. I sat with Clint Bear and his wife, custom guitar makers from Indiana, and had a wonderful meal with excellent company. A couple of draft beers didn’t hurt things either. But, too short as I needed to get back to the hotel and start preparing for the night’s showcases. I had two showcases Friday night, both “important” in the sense that they were the ones best situated in terms of time and location and I knew I would have pretty good attendance for both. David Russell and I got together at about 9 pm and spent an hour or so working up the 5 or 6 songs I would be presenting. With David backing me I made sure to keep the mix fairly high energy to make the best use of his guitar chops. We ran Teppintine, Steam Train, Yellow Butter Moon, Hemingway’s Hurricane, On the Other Side and This Old House and got good solid arrangements set for those. We also touched on a couple of others, just in case the situation called for something a little different. The first showcase was in the suite of Soona Songs, an independent record label based in Austin. We had a nice group of listeners when we started, but as David and I really cranked up the energy we soon pulled a very nice crowd in from the hallway. With all due modesty we WOWED ‘em! Great set. Then we pushed our way through the crowded halls up to the “epicenter” of the private showcase network – Ronda Barton’s collection of three showcase rooms that are probably the most coveted slots at the conference. We were in the SOS Annex and, as we had an hour earlier, gathered a crowd with a high energy set. It was a lot of fun having David on board to back me – in fact he’s going to do it again Saturday night in my final showcase. Excellent results for the entire day. Man, am I beat! I want some quiet, a little brown liquor and some serious shuteye. It’s a little earlier than yesterday – I’m going to be horizontal and out by 3 a.m.! Tomorrow is another day, the last full day, so a little rest is essential. See you tomorrow.
Notes from the Road – Folk Alliance Day 2 [2/19] Thursday – Today I have my first showcases, the first full afternoon of activity in the Exhibit Hall, the Folk DJ reception and more. Wish I had slept better. I woke up at 7 a.m. (that’s only 5 hours of sleep for those who didn’t read yesterday’s entry) worrying about my shipment of CDs from Discmakers. Since I was awake, I went ahead and labeled 20 CD sleeves that I planned to put the discs in when they arrived. I also practiced some, thought about set lists and looked at the showcase schedules. At 10 I could wait no more and I went down to the front desk to check on the delivery – thank goodness it was there! Disks in hand I went back t the room to burn the CDs. It went smoothly, but it was time consuming burning the discs one at a time. I practiced some more while I fed the CD drive on the computer and stuffed the discs into their sleeves. I did 30 so I would have some for the DJ reception and for the booth in the afternoon. They will go quickly to DJs and presenters so I’ll have to burn more tonight – sure wish they were in the nice jackets I ordered with them. There was a snafu in my scheduling – I ended up having a showcase during the first part of the DJ reception. With all that was going on, attendance at this first showcase (Concerts in Your Home) was light. But, it got me rolling and that’s the main thing for an afternoon showcase. Afterwards I hustled over to the DJ reception and mingled with the considerable crowd handing out Samplers and talking about the upcoming release of Welcome Home. I got genuinely excited response to the description of the project and those involved – surprisingly, some already had heard “the buzz” from various sources prior to the conference! That’s ALWAYS good news. On to the Exhibit Hall – what a mad house!! It was wall to wall folks from 3 to 6. I had figured on getting some time to chat with Kelly & Danna (Still on the Hill) during the day, but even though we kept rubbing butts (talking back to back to booth visitors in close quarters will do that to you) we barely got to exchange more than a smile. When 6 came I was EXHAUSTED and ready to get a little down time before the evenings showcases. Back at the room I checked my email, practiced a little, made some “to do” notes, burned some CDs, ate a vastly overpriced room service salad and coffeed up for the long evening to come. I had reconnected with an old acquaintance during the day, David Russell. David grew up in the Orlando area and I knew him 20 years ago through a service club we belonged to. He was a contemporary and guitarist with Gamble Rogers, Paul Champion, Jim Bellew and many others and moved to North Carolina many years ago, dropping out of the music scene. Now he’s getting active again and we chatted for a while in the Exhibit Hall catching up. I may get him to back me on my showcases on Friday – we’ll get together after my last showcase tonight, pick a little and see if we fit well. My first showcase of the evening was a writers round with Ben Bedford and Bill & Kate Isles – great fun. I always like the give and take of that format and this was a great group for it. Then, on to my next showcase, a full solo set in the Kari Estrin Suite. This was a later show, 1:30, but we still had good traffic in the hallways. I had the son of some friends in Florida come to that one and it was fun getting to play for the “next generation” of the home folks. By 2 a.m. I was deadly tired, but still “jazzed” from performing. David Russell and I retired back to my room for a little bit ‘o the Irish and some tunes. David is one hell of a guitarist and has not lost his chops at all. We picked for over an hour and then exhaustion set in. David’s going to join me tomorrow night and we’ll get together to run the tunes a few times early in the evening beforehand. Well, 4 a.m. is late enough for this old folkie – G’night!
Notes from the Road – Folk Alliance Day 1 [2/18] And so it begins. The crowds have gathered, the elevators have slowed to a crawl and the folkies have seized control of the Memphis Marriott. I rolled out at a reasonable time and set to getting prepared for the marathon of the next few days. First I checked and found that I STILL had no reply from DiscMakers about my Sampler – Stressed Out!! I sent an email to my main account manager who, though he has nothing to do with the “short run” department, has always been able to make things happen for me in the past. Unlike his cohorts in the department working on my project he got right back to me and promised to get to the bottom of the problem. So, I’ll have no samplers to hand out today for the opening of the Exhibit Hall – Damn! I practiced for part of the morning which helped my mood some then went down and checked in when the official registration opened. You get a big package of material, the most important part of which is the program with all of the schedules the roster of attendees, etc. You get a lot of sampler CDs from the record companies (and some independent artists), flyers from local restaurants hoping to cash in on the crowd and various other goodies of varying interest, value and use. I sifted through the pile, kind of like sorting your mail to get rid of the junk, and was soon down to a manageable collection of worthwhile material. At 1 p.m. I went on down to load in at the Exhibit Hall. I’ve got a great booth location with a great booth mate – Kelly and Donna of Still on the Hill. We’ve got a corner location on the main isle as folks filter in among some of the highest traffic exhibitors like Martin Guitars, The Roots Agency (who represent my friends The Claire Lynch Band, etc.), etc. Kelly and Donna were MIA for this part, so I arranged our tables and set mine up. Looks pretty good – I’ll have to post some pictures. I put out my chex mix and tangerines and immediately began to draw visits from the other exhibitors – glad I brought a lot. The electronics gremlins struck again. Even though I had tested all three CD players before I left Orlando, only two worked, so I’ll have to schlep up to Walgreens for another one just like last year. I’m running into all kinds of folks now – friends from all over the country, musicians, DJs, presenters alike. It’s a little dose of old home week before the major “selling” to new folks starts. After setting up I slipped out to get that CD player and grab a late lunch – Napoleon’s on Main Street. Wonderful soul food – rib tips, collard greens, okra and pan fried corn bread. Not exactly heart healthy, but what the hell. I went back up to the room to check on DiscMakers and my Samplers. As usual, Matt Warnicki, my main account manager, got some results. Turns out part of their equipment broke down and the jackets for the CD blanks weren’t ready. However, he’d “put the spurs to it” and the jackets will get here Friday morning. In the meantime, the discs themselves are ready and were being shipped out separately so I could start burning the music onto them and just use CD envelopes for Thursday’s events. Not the best situation, but something at least thanks to Matt. At 5 p.m. the Exhibit Hall opened and the onslaught began. One of the first faces through the door was my Tampa Florida buddy, Gloria Holloway. Hugs are one of the BIG perks of being a folkie!! I circulated through the crowd saying hello while keeping an eye on my booth to assist those stopping to hear some of the music. Roger Wise, a radio DJ from out west, stopped by to say hello and to give me the great compliment of saying that he’s including one of my songs (How’d You Know) in a special one hour love songs program he’s working on – very nice! I also met some new friends from the Austin area who showed serious interest in getting me out that way for a house concert – also very cool. The Wednesday “pre-view” of the hall is usually very low key, but this time around I think it was as productive and many of the regular days in the past. At 7 pm I headed back to the room to rest a little and get ready for the evening’s music. Since I didn’t book any showcases on Wednesday night (thinking I’d be working hard burning CDs) I mapped out who I wanted to catch. I started with Jack Williams and Still on the Hill at 9 pm and from there caught: The Malvinas, Wil Maring and Robert Bowlin, Bill & Kate Isles, Jeff Talmadge, Randall Williams, CJ Crowdery, Freebo, Ruth and Max Bloomquist, Cary Cooper (with her husband Tom Prasado-Rao assisting) and, finally, Stevie Coyle. Wonderful shows by all. Enjoying the music is only part of the purpose in attending others’ showcases – it’s also where the presenters, DJs, etc. that you want to meet are at as well. So, I was well armed with showcase schedules (on my chex mix of course) and was disseminating my propaganda whenever possible (NOT during a performance of course!!). By 1 a.m. I was way past pooped and headed back for some shut eye. Tomorrow promises to be a hectic day burning CDs, attending some of the panel discussions, the DJ reception (always a mad house), the exhibit hall in the afternoon, three showcases and more. Think I’ll load up on some vitamins and let them do their magic whilst I snooze.
Notes from the Road – Arrival in Memphis [Tuesday, 3/17] For some reason I didn’t sleep well in Jasper – too much on my mind I suppose. So I was up early and working on various stuff, both Folk Alliance stuff and non. It was kind of ugly outside – cold, overcast and gloomy. I had some breakfast then hit the road. Only about three hours to Memphis, so no real rush. From where I started in Jasper it’s an easy, but boring drive – Rte 78 northwest through Elvis’ birthplace, Tupelo and straight into Memphis. Tuned in Kate Campbell’s song “Tupelo’s Too Far” on the iPod – “I wish I could take Route 78 and be there in no time, rest beneath the sweet gum trees and leave all my cares behind – but Tupelo’s too far.” – very cool. Lots of iron ore scars in the landscape (and listened to Kate’s “Deep Tang” for that – man, that girl’s soooo good!) and road construction as this is the future route of I-22 through Alabama and Mississippi. I had a sound like sand hitting my windshield which I first thought was coming from a truck up ahead. However, looking closer I saw it was ice, very small hail or big sleet – yuck! Then patches of rain, not hard, but enough to make you concerned about ice on the road. So, take it easy, turn the iPod up and chill (literally). Just before crossing into Tennessee outside of Memphis I stopped to get some lunch. There was wireless available so I signed on to check on my Sampler discs being shipped from DiscMakers – nothing. Uh oh!!! The order shows “scheduled” and was planned for shipping yesterday (2/16), but if that had happened it should have some tracking info for the delivery. I emailed everyone involved. I need those BADLY for the conference and they are blank, so I’ll need to burn them on my computer which is a time consuming process. Ok, blood pressure is up. Rolled on into Memphis to the Marriott and checked in at about 1 p.m. – nope no shipment from DiscMakers shipment. Gggrrrrrrr . . . The Marriott was in the process of being decked out by the Folk Alliance staff and volunteers – banners, signage, registration area, etc. There weren’t many folks here yet, but those that were had their hustle on. The Marriott is one of those hotel chains that charges you for EVERYHING – very nice and we got a decent convention room rate, but nevertheless pricey once you add $12 per day for parking, $13 a day for internet access, etc., etc. And, you can’t use their luggage carts for “insurance reasons” – funny how none of the cheaper hotels have insurance issues with me using their baggage carts. Could it be mandatory tips for the bellmen? Everybody has to make a living, but not at gun point. So, in protest, I simply parked in the garage and made three trips to bring my stuff in – so there! All settled in I wandered to see who was in a scope out the layout this year. Everything was about the same except that this year they banned posters by the artists (thank goodness). In the past you tried to get here as early as possible so you could run around with 30 – 40 posters and try to find prime, visible space throughout the conference area to display your showcase times, etc. It was a mess and very ineffective. This year they went to a video poster system. Anyone wanting a display paid $25 (much cheaper than the posters) and there are 15 video monitors running 24/7 throughout the conference center. Ads come up on the screen for about 10 seconds each on a rotating basis. Looks good, much easier and, hopefully, more effective. I said hello to the FA staffers that I’ve come to know well, a few artists who had arrived early as well and then headed back to the room to work on my materials (and stress about my sampler CDs). I worked, rehearsed some songs that I’ll be performing in my showcases, etc. Since there really wasn’t anyone that I had seen that I could have dinner with I opted for room service and kept plugging away. About 9 p.m. I went down to the early arrival party in the bar. My manager / consultant, Kari Estrin, had arrived. I chatted with her and several artists that had finally flowed in. A very nice, relaxed time reconnecting and having a couple of cold drafts. Everyone seemed to be on the same page – last night to get a reasonable night’s sleep before the madness starts full force tomorrow!! So, by 11 p.m. I said my goodbyes and went back to get horizontal and carefully examine the inside of my eyelids – aahhhhhhhh . . .
Notes from the Road – Folk Alliance 2009 – Traveling to Memphis PRELUDE It’s February and time to head to Memphis. I’ve made a personal commitment to attending the North American Folk Alliance Conference each year and establishing a presence there. This year I am committed to six showcases, a ½ page ad in the program, a video ad displayed on 12 monitors daily around the convention center, a sponsorship in the Folk DJ reception, a ½ booth in the Exhibit Hall and, of course, the time and energy to work the conference to its fullest start to finish. It’s a TON of work, but it’s the way for me to broaden my audience and my touring range, so here I go again. For those who are unfamiliar with Folk Alliance, since 1989, Folk Alliance has served as the headquarters for North American Folk Music and Dance. With over 2000 members worldwide and an annual conference that is one of the five largest music conferences in North America, Folk Alliance continues to grow and mature. Over the years, Folk Alliance has grown to include record companies, publishers, presenters, agents, managers, music support services, manufacturers and artists that work in the folk world. Folk Alliance has six regional affiliates that provide the grass roots efforts in their respective markets. This primary national conference is a gathering of all of the contacts that a touring folk artist needs to get in front of the desired audiences. I’ve been getting ready for several weeks – it’s a lot more than just showing up. I began promoting for showcase opportunities about six months ago. I’ve got six very good private showcase slots – Concerts in Your Home (the principle source for house concert presenters and performers to network), Soona Songs (an established independent record label from Texas), Bill & Kate isles Present (Bill has been the point man for the private showcase effort since the beginning – being part of his showcase is a plum and I’ve got two slots), Kari Estrin Management & Consulting (the leading folk music career consultant who I’ve been working with for the past year with great results) and Ronda Barton’s SOS Annex (Getting a slot with Ronda is the brass ring at folk alliance – she runs three showcases that are the best attended here). Six quality showcases was my goal – more than that seems to stretch into a quantity over quality issue both in the terms of attendance and performance. This gives me plenty of performance time without it getting stale. In addition to setting up the showcases, the booth is a major commitment. I have a “half booth” meaning that I am sharing a booth with another artist. This year I’m very happy to say that my booth mate is Still on the Hill - Kelly Mulhollan and Donna Stjerna. I am a big fan of their music and we have many friends in common including Jack Williams and Steve Blackwell. In the booth, I have a 6’ table on which to create an interesting display for the 1500 attendees who will cycle through. I have a full color banner as a back drop, sign boards for the table surface with quotes and info, three CD players with headphones that will have my Break Some Stones album, a special three song sampler of new material created just for this event and studio rough mix clips from my new album, Welcome Home, that will be released in the spring. In addition, there are post cards with my showcase schedule, business cards, a guest book, etc. I will be giving out copies of the three song sampler in preprinted CD jackets that have a bio and contact information on them. The CD jacket and disc imprint were designed by Jason Thomas’s wife, Beth, and are being shipped to me at the Marriott in Memphis by DiscMakers. The discs are blank and I will burn the samplers as needed – that way the marketing piece can be used later in the year at the SERFA and FARM conferences too. More bang for the buck. A key element of the booth is food – folks here are foraging constantly for snacks. Jack Williams advised me my first year out to come up with a good, portable snack – something unique and regional, if possible – that will not only get folks to linger for a moment at your booth, but also make them remember you. I’ve managed to kill a couple of birds with one stone. My mother has a special chex mix she makes using standard chex mix, plus mixed nuts, worscheshire sauce, butter, pepper, chilli powder and other top secret ingredients. The mixture is baked (toasted) and has a real tasty kick. I’ve made my own modifications to include a little more kick (!!!!). I’ve cooked up about 35 pounds of the stuff and have 200 baggies to dispense it in. The baggies will have a 3 x 4 mailing label on each one with my picture and my showcase schedule on it and a business card will be inside – slick, huh?. As a plus this year, I picked a over a bushel of tangerines off of my backyard tree yesterday and have lugged them along – I suspect those will be quite popular! The other key aspect is communications. Folk Alliance posts a list of attendees who have registered for the conference. For those folks who I particularly want to meet and have see me at my showcases (mostly presenters, media folks and radio DJs) I send hand written invitations with my showcase schedule, my exhibit hall booth location, etc. Thankfully, all of this work is now over – time to load up and go! Monday, February 16 I had actually intended to leave on Sunday and swing through Nashville on my way west. But after spending all day Saturday driving to West Palm Beach and back for a recording session I realized that I was trying to cram too much in. It really took me all day Sunday to get organized and ready to go and even then I still had to pack my clothes, etc. Monday morning. But, I eventually got it all done and was on the road by about 9:30 Monday morning. I took the Turnpike to I-75 north, but was delayed by a serious accident on I-75 near Ocala. The south bound lanes were completely closed and traffic was being funneled off to detour around the wreck that involved several cars and had required an air ambulance to land. While it had no actual effect on north bound traffic, the rubber neckers couldn’t help themselves and traffic slowed to a crawl for many miles. With the delay it was well after lunch before I hit Georgia, the land of cheaper gas ($1.72 as opposed to $1.99 at home). My Lady of the Dashboard (my infamous and wicked GPS) took me west at about Tifton and I wandered through the west Georgia back country. The cotton fields have all been chopped, the dirt stilled littered with the cotton leavings. The peanut farms have all been plowed and planted it seemed and there are fields of late winter crops that are dark green, but I’m not sure what they are. The peach orchards are brown, leafless and barren. There are a lot of interesting old home places and grand houses along the way. A very enjoyable drive actually. I crossed into Alabama and made my way northwest toward Birmingham. My goal was to get past Birmingham before shutting down for the night to avoid big city traffic in the morning. I made it to Jasper, about ½ hour beyond Birmingham by about 8:30 Central Time, found a hotel right on route and crashed – I’m beat!! Tomorrow – on to Memphis!
Studio Diary – The Welcome Home Project – Nashville Sessions (Sunday) After not getting to sleep until 3 a.m. you can bet that morning came WAY too early. I was always up before Jason, but then with his touring schedule, etc. he’s more used to sleeping in than I am. Once the light starts coming in around the curtains I’m awake and there’s no going back. So, I went down and got some coffee and little “continental” (i.e., free, cold and available) breakfast in the lobby. We stayed at a Comfort Inn not far from Missy & Ben’s for economy, a feature I’m more and more fond of in most things. Once sleeping beauty (NOT!!) arose, we headed on over to the studio to work with Rob Ickes on dobro and lap steel. Rob is one of those “child prodigy” types that has been high in the music scene all his life. He was one of the founding members of Blue Highway roughly 15 years ago and remains with them today. If that name doesn’t ring a bell with you then you need to go check out www.bluehighwayband.com. Rob has 10, count them TEN, IBMA dobro player of the year awards between 1994 and 2008. He has played with every major artist you can think of including Merle Haggard, Alison Krauss, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, David Lee Roth, Toby Keith, Reba McEntire, Ricky Skaggs, Patty Loveless, Earl Scruggs, Steve Wariner, Marty Stuart, David Grisman, Peter Rowan, Marty Raybon, Jeannie Kendall, The Oak Ridge Boys, Claire Lynch, Lynn Morris, John Cowan, Harley Allen, The Cox Family, and Mary Chapin Carpenter – and NOW, Doug Spears!! He is recognized as one of the most innovative dobro and lap steel players on the scene. I can tell you that he is a lightning quick study and the material he laid down to compliment the themes of the five songs we worked with him on is absolutely magnificent. Something I’ve learned and come to genuinely appreciate is that the truly great players come to a project like this to contribute to the song, not demonstrate what a hot player they are. They are interested in the story behind the song, the mood or feeling you are trying to convey and look for ways they can make that come through – even if it means that they need to lay back, lay out or just serve as a foundation for other instruments or the vocals. While all players of this stature have an ego, they tend to leave it in the gig bag. They take direction, criticism and correction EXCEPTIONALLY well and are committed to giving you the best they have. In fact, it is typical for them to play a part, have everyone in the control booth giving it the thumbs up and have the artist say “nope, I can do that better – let’s run it again.” In any event, Rob’s parts on the project cover some very bluesy, rockin’ HOT HOT HOT material as well as some very deft, delicate, melodic pieces – you are going to be blown away I promise!! After we finished Rob, we went back to working Missy. We kept her at it on another 4 songs until around 11 p.m. Man, this girl can play!! She epitomizes what I said above – she settles for nothing less than her best on any given piece no matter how many times she has to play it, how long it takes or what time it is. I genuinely don’t know how she maintains the energy that she does. I am just so thrilled and honored to have her on this project. And, not only that, but as we were working on the last song it occurred to someone that we’d never taken a supper break – OOPS!! Never fear, besides being a stellar musician Missy is also a magnificent cook. Rooting around in the fridge upstairs she whipped up some deviled eggs, hoppin’ john, cask iron skillet corn bread and green beans which we inhalled like air in a sinking submarine. Plus, Ben makes a mean martini which we garnished with some jalopeno stuffed olives. We sat, chatted, petted kittys, told jokes, told lies, laughed and relaxed until I suddenly realized that, again, it was nearly 2 a.m. Man, I’m getting too old for this --- well . . . maybe not!! It was another thrilling, fun, educational day. There is so much to learn about the interplay between instruments in arrangements and how to plan for the “space” for each without leaving gaps in the mix; about how to deal with issues that come up between what you originally envisioned and the realities of what you are hearing in the studio; about diplomacy in the relationship between artist, producer and engineer; about the capabilities of the equipment, when to use it and when not to; and on and on. It is a privilege to get to participate in the process and get the benefit of the experience these guys have. To get to do it on a project of my own material is just indescribeable. Tomorrow we get to work on harmonies with Grammy nominated Claire Lynch, one of the most coveted voices in the biz. So what that I’m only getting 5 hours of sleep a night, I can sleep when I’m dead --- just hope I’m not drawing closer to that than I think!! Studio Diary – The Welcome Home Project – Nashville Sessions (Monday) Well, roll out, shower, coffee and back at it. We grabbed some breakfast sandwiches on the way and actually got to the studio a little early – Ben hadn’t even come down to unlock yet. We’ve got Claire Lynch coming in this morning to do harmonies on 5 songs and I have meetings set up after lunch with my career consultant, Kari Estrin, and the graphics designer for the project, Nancy Terzian. So, a full schedule before we catch our flight home at 5:30. I always make the mistake in judging studio time to think that vocals take less time than the instruments. It’s actually the opposite. With the vocals you end up working line by line, sometimes phrase by phrase, getting the harmony just like you want it. A pro like Claire works faster than most, but its still a grueling process. In case you aren’t up on Claire Lynch you should check her out at www.clairelynch.com. She’s been in the biz since the mid 70’s and has really done it all. She has fronted bands from Hickory Wind to The Front Porch String Band to the current Claire Lynch Band. She is an accomplished songwriter with cuts by Patty Loveless, the Seldom Scene, Cherryholmes, Kathy Mattea, the Whites and Stephanie Davis. I was quite flattered that she complimented my songs and my “intelligent lyrics.” As a session vocalist. her exquisite harmonies have graced albums by as Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Patty Loveless, Pam Tillis, Kathy Mattea, Jesse Winchester, Sarah Watkins and Ralph Stanley. She is a Rounder Records artist and has two Grammy nominations to her credit. Claire hit the studio door right on time in a blur of wavy blonde hair and energy. Coffee was high on everyone’s agenda and Ben had us all set up shortly. We got lyric sheets ready and started running the songs. An hour and a half into the session we had only finished one song and it was immediately clear to me that I was not going to be able to keep the post lunch appointments I had made – calls and apologies were made in a break. Kari Estrin decided to come on by the studio to get a flavor for what we were doing, say hello to Ben, Missy and Claire, meet Jason, etc. And, we pressed on. Claire was the consummate pro insisting on perfection in her parts. We stayed lazer focused right up to the fail / safe time to leave for the airport and at that point we left Ben with Claire finishing up the harmonies on the last song. Hugs, pictures, goodbyes and out into the cold, wet Nashville air we went. It wasn’t until we were in the car rental return that I realized I was hungry – and for good reason since we’d managed to forget lunch and work straight through!! We got our bags checked and wedged into one of the airport eateries for what I was sure would be awful BBQ. Not so, quite good actually and the Sam Adams to wash it down didn’t hurt anything either. Nashville’s airport is unique in that the little restaurant and some of the gate lobbies sport live music, mostly guys in boots and big hats doing their Garth, Keith and Hank imitations. Not sure that’d be my idea of a great gig. With only a slight delay due to equipment issues we were wheels up by 5:45 and headed back to the State of Dreams. Tired doesn’t even start to describe it – nor does satisfied, excited or many other adjectives I can think of. I was still running the songs in my head and checking off what was left to do on which ones during the flight home. We really knocked a big hole in what remains of the studio work and actually got more done in Nashville than we thought we might. Soon we’ll be at the point where we are just doing minor “fixes” and fills. Then on to the mixing and mastering phase. Ron Litschauer just added some new mastering gear, spurred on by the promise of this project, that really is top of the line allowing the finest polish to the finished mix. He’s been breaking it in on mixes of Yellow Butter Moon which is complete and ready for that end of the process. I’ve heard the most recent and it is a fine piece of work. Jason’s wife Beth and 5 year old son Jacob met us as we left the secure area of the airport here in Orlando. Though I’m glad my child rearing years are over I do miss those exuberant home coming welcomes! Jason comes and goes a lot and will actually only be home for a couple of nights before flying out to New York to play dates there and in Philadelphia. Consequently, Jacob was fairly well glued in his arms soaking up the available Daddy time. We chatted while the bags were brought out and then I left them to go get my car, get home to Judy and get horizontal – SLEEP!! So, with Nashville behind us we move on to the next steps in the process. Stay tuned.
Wow, so much packed into a couple of days! This will be a bit of a long one so read it at your leisure in such amounts as you like. I’ll post it in pieces and see how we do. Jason and I flew into BNA (Nashville) Friday night on Southwest – cheap fares and very musician friendly. It was a full flight and there was not so much as a stutter about my guitar. Much appreciated. We got in and headed to catch some dinner, talk about the sessions, etc. A good meal, a couple of drinks and off to the hotel where I watched the end of the Sugar Bowl (sorry Bama) while Jason worked up track charts. “Track charts,” for the uninitiated, is a measure by measure, bar by bar chart of the song using the “Nashville numbering system” that allows the studio musician, engineer, etc. to know what’s happening where at all points in the song. It’s the roadmap for Jason’s direction as to what he wants to hear from each instrument and where. It makes things much more efficient and, since in the studio time is money, cheaper. Saturday morning we got to The Rec Room Studios at 10 a.m. to get rolling. Ben Surratt is the owner / engineer and had coffee, muffins, water, the whole deal. Rec Room is in the spacious basement of Ben’s home that he shares with his wife, the ultra talented Missy Raines, whose band, The New Hip, is the newest addition to the Compass Records label. They share their home with a small menagerie of cats including the senior member of the corp, Kitty Boy, who even has his own MySpace page myspace.com/kittyboy_eugene . The studio is spacious and wholly self contained – about 1200 square feet with a sizeable control room looking into the main, very large isolation room, 3 additional small isolation booths, storage areas for gear, a separate sitting area with couches and chairs, a kitchen area, bathroom – very nice. Since it’s in the basement, below ground level, with stone walls, etc. it’s a very quiet space with no distractions. Excellent mics, preamps, monitors, etc., together with the best ProTools digital gear make this an ideal spot to work on a high quality project. It is a favorite spot for various acoustic artists in the area including, of course, Missy, The Claire Lynch Band and many more. Ben has been often recognized for excellence in trade by the Nashville recording establishment. You can see more about the studio and “Bengineer” at http://www.myspace.com/therecroomstudio. We got started with Missy on bass. By way of background, you can check out Missy and her work at www.missyraines.com. Missy is undisputedly one of the best stand-up bass players in the country and has been featured in numerous prominent acoustic bands over her years in the business. Her new band is The New Hip and their debut release on Compass Records will come out February 10th. They’ll be in Florida at the Gamble Rogers Festival in May. Please check her out, sign the guestbook on her website and tell her I sent you! You’re going to really love her bass tracks on seven of my songs on this album. She is high energy and very animated in her approach – some very tasty stuff! We worked with Missy and got 3 songs done by about 2 pm and then headed out for a quick bite to eat at a nearby deli. By the time we got back Jim Hurst had gotten in from his home in Kentucky about 1 ½ hours away. Jim is a big barrel chested guy with a good old boy trucker demeanor – in fact Jim used to drive trucks in between his musical endeavors. It’s hard for me to fathom a guy that plays guitar like he does ever doing anything else. He is a two time IBMA guitarist of the year, in the 1990’s he did extended stints as guitarist for Holly Dunn and later Tricia Yearwood’s and is now the lead guitarist and banjo player in The Claire Lynch Band. I’ve seen quite a number of hot players in my time, but Jim resides in a different stratosphere. What impresses you immediately in the studio is how immaculately clean and precise he is and what solid tone he produces in the mic. He adds a deep groove and inventive energy to everything he touches. Jason had some ideas for the feel he wanted from Jim on various songs and Jim took that direction expanding it into some very special pieces. He added very unique fingerstyle parts to four songs in styles ranging from straight folky to blues to some real funky / rocky / jazzy licks. Jason then had him pull out the vintage Gibson electric to add some backing work to a fifth song. It was truly stellar material and was meticulously arranged by Jason. We worked with Jim from about 3:30 p.m. all the way to 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning!! Then Jim loaded his gear into his car and disappeared into the darkness back to Kentucky – but not before we got some pictures and stuff. Please, Please, Please!!!! Check out Jim’s music at his website www.jimhurst.com and, again, sign his guestbook telling him I sent you. His newest solo release, Box of Chocolates, should be in your collection. Even in a long, grueling session like Saturday (10 in the morning until 2 a.m. the following morning) the studio is a light hearted and energetic place. It really adds to things when the folks involved love what they do and find a common chemistry not only in the music but in their other interests. This group shared a wicked and whimsical sense of humor which at times had us taking a break due to crippling laughter over some comment, story, studio faux pas in front of the mic, etc. It was a crowd that a lifelong committed smartass like me felt immediately at home with. Let’s take a break here and I’ll turn to Sunday’s session in the next entry.
Okay, so a bit more about the project and our preparations for the upcoming Nashville session this weekend. First, some detail on the “non-music” aspects of the project. The photography for the project is being done by Bob Patterson in St. Augustine. With the title “Welcome Home” Bob has selected an outdoor location with features that suggest “home” themes that also captures the interior native beauty of Florida. Bob’s photography is well known and some of the most memorable images of his good friend, Gamble Rogers, were the product of his sharp creative eye. Another great piece of the puzzle on a project like this. The graphic design will be done by Nancy Terzian of Bucking Horse Design in Nashville. I was introduced to Nancy by Kari Estrin, a career management consultant I’ve been working with, and I’m very impressed with her portfolio of prior CD projects. At this point we’ve only corresponded by email, but I plan to meet with her while I’m in Nashville on this trip. She is used to working with DiscMakers, my preferred manufacturing source, so it is an all around good fit. As I suppose is obvious, the budget for this project is larger than previous efforts. However, Kari Estrin will be handling radio promotion after it is released and even in this more frugal economy the CD should be financially viable. The trick is to keep an eye on that budget and produce a top end product within its confines. That can be a sensitive subject, but fortunately everyone involved here understands the math. There was a very interesting article in Kiplinger’s Magazine recently about independent music projects like this. It is an interview of a friend of mine from Nashville, Tom Kimmel, about the economics of releasing an independent CD. If you are interested, the link is http://www.kiplinger.com/magazine/archives/2009/01/my-story-tom-kimmel.html. The last little mundane detail is that I’ve formed a new record label to release this CD – Cypress Moss Records. Once I get the website up and running you may get an email from that domain – it’s not spam, just me. Jason’s wife Beth is also a graphic designer and she’s working on a logo for the new label. Back to the music. We have a couple of tracks that are largely complete. Yellow Butter Moon is ready to go to the final mix stage as is the new recording of Banks of the Old St. Johns. Both of these feature Lis and Lon Williamson, Gabe Valla and Jason Thomas backing me and are really stellar cuts. The rough mixes are up on my MySpace page so you can test drive them and let me know what you think. Also, Welcome Home is largely complete with the wonderful contributions of the Still Friends clan, though we may add some fiddle and guitar work to that one to “fatten it up” some. Withlacoochee Dreamer is an interesting and somewhat embarrassing story. I’ve had that song for a couple of years and it was a top 10 Will McLean entry (#6 I think) a couple of years ago. When Jason and I met after he had listened to rough tracks of all the material on Withlacoochee Dreamer he commented, “isn’t that the melody from Gordon Lightfoot’s Home from the Forest?” Ewww, I hate hearing something like that!!! I’m a HUGE Lightfoot fan, but haven’t heard that tune in years. I went and found the CD and . . . oh boy!! It wasn’t the whole melody, but the first three lines of the verse melody were dead on. ARRGGGG!!!! So, back to the drawing board. I reconstructed the verse melody around the same chord pattern, deleted a verse and added a bridge. The result (once my embarrassment faded) is a much better song. We’ve put Lon Williamson’s bass work on that along with some fabulous Lis Williamson harmonies and a really nice fingerstyle guitar accompaniment by Bob Rafkin. We’ll add some Rob Ickes dobro to that and we’re all set. Jason and I met last night for a couple of beers and some track planning for the Nashville sessions. The challenge in a trip like this is to plan who is going to do what on which songs so that you efficiently use your studio time and don’t have folks sitting around twiddling their thumbs in between. In addition, Jason has some definite ideas for what he wants to hear on the various songs we are working with so he’s working up track sheets for each player to give them some direction. He’s off with The Claire Lynch Band now playing dates tonight and tomorrow night in the Carolinas and will have a chance as they travel to talk with them some about the weekend’s work. The biggest problem I have at this phase is choosing between options. With players of the caliber that Jason has lined up here it’s rare that I hear anything I don’t love! I feel a little better that Jason confesses to much the same weakness. What a luxury to have absolute confidence in the musicians to take the direction given and maximize it for the benefit of the song! We’ve talked a lot about the story behind each tune and the emotion being conveyed looking for the right instrumentation and approach to compliment each one. We’ve chosen to pick up the tempo on some tunes and slow it on others for similar reasons. We’ve also added some transitional dynamics to make the melodies and instrumentals more lively and interesting. Jason’s guidance has been invaluable in really looking much more critically at the material and how it’s presented. I can’t wait to hear (and for YOU to hear) the results!! That’s enough until Nashville. We fly out Friday afternoon and I’ll let you know how we do!
Hey! Hope you are all recovering nicely from the Christmas festivities and are looking forward to turning over a new leaf on Thursday. Challenges though there may be, 2009 promises to be an exciting new year. As some of you may know (or may not), I’m in the studio phase of a new CD project titled Welcome Home. The CD will have 11 – 13 of my songs on it, all with Florida themes and including a wide range of rather amazing musicians / singers. This “studio diary” will be my way of letting you know where we are in the process, what’s involved and give you a glimpse of what it takes to put out a significant project like this. I hope you enjoy these entries as much as many of you tell me you enjoy my “notes from the road.” The original concept for this project was to collect my best “Florida” material all onto one CD. The final number of songs is not yet determined simply because we want the flexibility to “reject” cuts if in the end a song doesn’t seem to fit with the others. A few of the songs have appeared on previous albums, but have been rearranged and / or rewritten so that everything is a fresh take on the song even if it has previously been recorded. These songs include Steam Train, Teppintine, A Mother’s Tears, Banks of the Old St. Johns and Marker 26. These are all new recordings of these tunes with new instrumentation and, in some cases, revisions to the lyrics and melodies. The other songs on the CD have never been recorded. They include: Welcome Home (for Steve Blackwell), State of Dreams, Yellow Butter Moon, Hemingway’s Hurricane, Big Bald Cypress, On the Other Side, Withlacoochee Dreamer and Okeechobee. I’ve been performing most of these tunes in my shows and at festivals for varying periods of time, but even these have undergone some scrutiny and revisions to both lyrics and melody. Consequently, everything on the project has a “fresh” feel. I began recording tracks for the project in August. I have worked for a long time with Ron Litchauer at Acoustic Music Productions in West Palm Beach. Ron does a superb job and I saw no reason to change that successful piece of the puzzle. I do my tracks in a “live in the studio” fashion, meaning that I record my guitar and vocal simultaneously. Many artists (probably the majority) record the guitar and vocal separately. This makes it much easier to “fix” mistakes by going back and simply redoing the small part, sometimes just a note or two, that weren’t performed correctly. Doing it the way I do “fixes” are much more limited because the vocal mic is picking up some guitar sound and the guitar mic some vocal (called “bleed”). Consequently, I can’t go back and just fix a guitar part without also singing the vocal and vice versa. As a result, fixes are rare and only when absolutely necessary. In most circumstances when I fix something it involves “puching in” just before the error and then playing the song out from there fresh. Punching back out so that what is happening with both guitar and vocal matches exactly what exists on the original take is very difficult so it usually just requires, in essence, a new take of the song from the part I want to change forward. Though it is more cumbersome, to me it gives the recording more of a “performance” feel with respect to my lead vocals and rhythm guitar. New for this project is a producer – a guy who listens with a critical ear, decides on arrangements, sets the sequencing of the songs (the order they appear on the CD) and, in general, assures the best possible performance from everyone involved. I have an excellent producer here, my friend Jason Thomas who many of you know as the fiddler / mandolinist for the Grammy nominated Clare Lynch Band and, here in Florida, for Gatorbone. Jason’s training and skill as a musician have blessed him with an amazing ear for arrangements and a steadfast insistence on quality in all musical aspects of the project. In every planning or recording session I learn something new from Jason and its exciting watching him direct the progress of the studio work. At this point we have done a lot of work at Ron’s studio in West Palm and at Gatorbone Studio’s in Keystone Heights. I am THRILLED to have Lis & Lon Williamson and Gabe Valla of Gatorbone appearing on many of the songs. They are just some of the most talented musicians of the many Florida has to offer, the real cream of the crop, and I can tell you from the early rough mixes that their contribution here is stellar . Another very special aspect of the project is that the title track, Welcome Home, the song I wrote for Steve Blackwell when he passed a couple of years ago, features the members of Steve’s own band, Steve Blackwell & Friends. Carrie Blackwell-Hussey, Dan Leach, Japhy Blackwell and Andy Leach all contribute to this very special part of the album. Dan, Carrie, Japhy and Tiffiny Coffey (who also contributes wonderful harmonies to the song) continue to perform as Still Friends and if you get the chance you should not miss them! Other Florida artists who will appear on the album include Jason Thomas (of course), Bob Rafkin and Billy Varner. More may be added as we put on the finishing touches, but those are the ones we’ve already got committed at present. Coming up next weekend is a VERY exciting component of the project. Jason and I fly up to Nashville for three days of recording at Rec Room Studios where we’ll be working with (drum roll please) Claire Lynch (twice IBMA vocalist of the year and Grammy nominee), Jim Hurst (multi-time IBMA guitarist of the year), Rob Ickes (many time IBMA dobro / slide player of the year) and Missy Raines, leader of the award winning group The New Hip. This brings the best of Florida together with the best of Nashville and we are looking to produce something truly special with this amazingly talented team. That’s more than enough for now. I’ll post more information about other aspects of the production (photography, graphics, manufacturing, etc.) as I go along. I’ll also let you know how we do in Nashville this weekend. We are shooting for a release date of April 3rd, in time for Will McLean in Dunnellon. Stay tuned!!
Notes from the Road – Clearwater House Concert 12-13-08 Well, after a great night’s sleep in the cool air of the camper Friday night I woke a little late and set to finishing yesterday’s Notes, slurping coffee and otherwise lazing about. My check out time from Sun ‘n Fun was 11 a.m. and, though they don’t usually enforce those things very tightly, I endeavored to meet that deadline. Hook up went without a hitch (sort of a pun there I guess) and I was on the road again. Windy, VERY windy. When you’re hauling a huge aluminum box behind you it acts like a sail catching every possible gust and snatching you sideways. If I didn’t have the load levelers and sway bar on here I’d be swatting traffic in adjoining lanes like a flipper on a pinball machine. I’ve spent enough time hauling this behemoth over the years that I barely notice it anymore. However, my route this morning would take me over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge into St. Pete and I admit I’ve never towed the monster a couple of hundred feet up into gusting, swirling winds before (imagine that low ominous music that foreshadows trouble coming in your favorite TV show). No worries, mate! Though the Bay was frothing with white caps the wind seemed to subside as I climbed the Skyway and I crossed without incident. In fact, the day was crystal clear and I quite enjoyed the view from the bridge as I made my way up one side and down. The old bridge exists only at each end these days serving as a very nice fishing pier and State Park. The old Skyway was a lot different than this new incarnation. The top span had steel grates on the roadway which let you literally look down at the water below and made your tires roar menacingly as you crossed. Seems like the incline up and down was steeper too. When I was a senior in high school here in St. Pete a few of us thought it would be quite daring and fun to ride bicycles down the Skyway. We were lazy, stupid teenagers so we never gave any thought to riding UP – naw, we loaded the bikes in a buddy’s van and drove to the top during a time we had assumed would be low traffic. Turns out there’s never traffic low enough for a moronic stunt like this. So, at the top we stopped the van, jumped out to sound of horns blaring as the swerved to pass, grabbed the bikes and pointed them downhill. If you’ve never ridden a narrow tired, butt busting ten speed bike downhill at upwards of 70 MPH – well, DON’T!! We made it without injury or citation, but only because Darwin apparently took the day off. Needless to say no one was hollering “let’s do it again!!” I got to my new campsite, checked in, had a little lunch and decide on an afternoon snooze. I was out and sleeping hard when loud pounding on the camper door bounced me off the ceiling. A kind and well meaning neighbor had stopped by to let me know that the front left tire of the Expedition was flatter’n a flitter. Yeah, not talking low, leaking or on the way to flat – down on the ground like a dime store toy flat. Thanks goodness that didn’t happen on the road with the trailer in tow! Never having had a flat on this vehicle in the four years I’ve owned it, it took me a little while to figure out how to lower the spare which is suspended up under the year by a cable and get out the gear to change the tire. Some huffing and puffing, seriously dirty hands and a little quiet cussing and I was ready to go shower, change and make my way over to the show. Rick Kennedy and Denise Adams and their curious assortment of dogs and cats live just off of US 19 near the Mainlands golf course in between Pinellas Park and Clearwater. It’s a nice house with a great room that serves very well for a house concert space – high ceilings and good, lively acoustics that make amplification entirely unnecessary. Rick has become a ukulele aficionado and I got the full showing of his various interesting and ornate ukes while Denise bustled about getting refreshments, etc. ready for the guests. At the appointed hour we began – a small crowd, but if you judge everything in life in terms of quantity instead of quality you miss the finest there is. This was an exceptionally good group which, with only two exceptions, all folks that had not heard a full show from me in the past. So, I have several new members of the fan club and CD’s were bought by all! I must confess that the centerpiece of the performance was Owen, Rick and Denise’s aged Pekinese, that toddled about seeking fallen crumbs from guest’s plates. Early in the show, as I was building the intro to “As the Crow Flies”, Owen (who apparently had snagged a few cheese puffs when no one was looking) yarfed under Denise’s chair and set them to frantically, yet quietly, cleaning the offending deposit from the floor. Now a kinder performer would have proceeded as if nothing had happened diverting attention from the small disaster, but NOOOO – I made it into part of the song. Owen, apparently feeling much better after ridding himself of the cheese puffs, wandered around behind me and sprawled on the carpet, squirming feet straight up in the air to the music, as I sang this soulful, introspective piece. Not able to avoid the humor of it all I converted “as the crow flies” in one verse to “as the dog lies” to a roar of good natured laughter. You just gotta roll with the punches! Two set of music, great German chocolate cake and wonderful company. A great night and a wonderful way to close a house concert weekend. Thanks so much to Rick and Denise for hosting me and to my good friend Doug Purcell for setting it up. Today I head on back home, but I may try to drop by Sweetwater Farms on the way for their open mic and performances. I have the directions, etc. but it’s a matter of deciding how to get the behemoth down there and parked, we’ll see. All the Best folks!
Notes from the Road – Mother’s Musical Bakery 12-12-08 Spent my day keeping out of the wind and occasional rain. I did run some errands to pick up a new sewer connection for the camper (now THAT’s exciting shopping – maybe I’ll do a reality show), topped off the gas tank at BJ’s to make sure I get all the way back to the really cheap gas north of Tampa on the way home, spent a few bucks in Kohl’s (one of Judy’s favorite stores) and then putzed around back at the camper. At 5 p.m. I headed out for an early dinner at Bonefish Grill (pretty good – longfin tilapia with mango salsa) then on to Mother’s. I really didn’t know what to expect not having been there before. What I found was a very nice, cozy room with stage, sound, lights and gracious hosts, Jennifer & Dennis Brock and their three kids who pretty much ran the place themselves. The oldest (probably in his 20’s, a musician himself) ran the sound and the early set up. The youngest, a daughter, can’t be more than 10 and expertly took orders from folks as the tables filled. She’ll be running one of the big three auto makers by the end of next year and doing a MUCH better job of it. The middle son was a jack of all trades checking the sound coming through the outside speakers, delivering orders, anything that needed to be done. A very happy family and team! Dennis Brock opened the show with some very nice fingerstyle guitar work and old folk favorites. Unfortunately I missed a good part of that because an old college friend came out to the show that I hadn’t seen in a few years and we slipped across the street to chat for a few minutes before I was scheduled to go on. But, I know that the crowd enjoyed it a lot. At 8 p.m. I came on for two sets of my original tunes and stories. There was a table of regulars sitting right in front of the stage who warned me early on that they came in for dinner and a little music, but always left a 8:30, so don’t be offended. Well, when I finished my first set at around 8:50 they were still planted right there and even stuck around to talk a little in the break. I had old friends and new friends (including new MySpace pals Mark and Heather who cruised down from St. Pete) in the audience and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves immensely. This is a cozy spot and one with real value to the local folk community. I hope this becomes one of the regular haunts for the FOFF crowd, the Sarasota folk club and ME! I’ll look forward to coming back again. Thanks so much to Carl Wade for setting the gig up for me!
Notes from the Road – 12/11/08 Sarasota House Concert A few months ago I was contacted by Jo Legg down in Sarasota about performing for a “roving” house concert series in which she participates. It combines two social events – a supper club where a set group of friends meet monthly at a rotating host’s house for a dinner with the host providing the main course and the others bringing the side dishes, deserts, etc. The other facet is the house concert attended only by those who are members of the supper club. Each member of the club pays a fee which goes to the entertainer. It’s an excellent concept that I recommend highly. The weather truly sucked in Orlando this morning as I made preparations to leave. However, the rain gods were kind enough to let me get mostly loaded before cutting loose. It was only in hooking up the camper to the car that I finally got a dose of steady pelting. I was on the road by 2 p.m. and, ironically, the rain stopped within 20 minutes of me getting on the road. But, I got $1.51 per gallon gas just before the I-75 exit north of Tampa – WOOHOO!! I guess this is the “little gas piglet tour” at those prices. Hey OPEC – Kiss My . . . oh . . . uh . . . harrumph . . . but I digress. I’m staying tonight and tomorrow at Sun ‘n Fun just off I-75 in Sarasota – HUGE RV park and a lot of full time residents. This isn’t your State Park or festival type venue and even with my white hair and beard I look quite young around here. But, a very nice and comfortable place and I brought home with me so I’m all set. By a little before 5 p.m. I was on site, changed and ready to get some grub (they’ve got a restaurant on the premises that ain’t half bad and pretty cheap too!). Then, off to the show. House concerts are my favorite type of show. It is basically just what it sounds like – a concert in someone’s home. They can be small, like this one at the Legg’s home (14 people) or quite large (50 – 100 people). It all depends on the available space, indoors or out. Typically folks attending the show pay $10 - $25. The show generally consists of two sets by the entertainer of 30 – 45 minutes each with a break in the middle for coffee, CD sales, etc. Smaller shows can be done fully acoustic (no sound system, mics, etc.), but some settings require a little amplification (provided either by the host or the performer). It is a very relaxed, intimate show that allows for a lot of interaction between the audience and the artist. And, it is always a treat for both since everyone is there to hear and appreciate the music. If you haven’t been to a house concert, research shows in your area and go – you’ll be instantly hooked. If you’ve never thought of hosting a house concert consider it. It’s simple and fun – if you’d like to know more about the nuts and bolts, let me know and I’ll point you to some great resources on the subject. Favorite tunes in tonight’s show (though they LOVED them all, OF COURSE!!) seemed to be Yellow Butter Moon, Hemingway’s Hurricane, Sinner’s Song, Break Some Stones and This Old House. I played two sets of 30 minutes + or – each with a break in the middle for DESSERT!! Alas, I am dieting (sort of) in an effort to lose enough weight so that I cease having my own gravity, so I didn’t partake of the assorted chocolate and sugary edibles waved repeatedly under my nose. But, I drank some coffee (decaf of course) and tried to convince myself that the desserts probably weren’t that good anyway (since folks were taking seconds and thirds – might have even seen one fourth – I doubt I was right about the low quality of the fare). A terrific show with wonderful new friends. So now I’m back at the camper sipping a little brown whiskey (but not snacking – NO SNACKING – ARGGGGGGG!!!) I figured I’d check in with you guys and let you know what I’m up to. Right now I’m up to tomorrow so time to get some Zs – Night night.
Notes from the Road SSAMC Sunday, November 16, 2008 Brrrrr!!! This camper does a good job of holding the heat in, but since I didn’t have any heat (no power) it got a little chilly in here. I can feel a draft which probably means I left the outer tool hatch open which leads to the space under the bed – not smart. It was nice under the covers, but it took some self coaxing to get up and go make coffee. However, the gas stove under the coffee is providing some warmth so I guess it was a fair trade off. I’ve got two more sections of two hours each to teach today. They are back to back starting at 2 p.m. and running until 6 p.m. I had such good attendance yesterday I’m wondering how many will show up today. But, first things first – coffee, a couple of hard boiled eggs, some whole grain bread and some cheese, the most important meal of the day. I spent a while catching up on these Notes (as you could tell from my postings this morning) and then ventured outside. Crisp, cool, breezy and clear – a beautiful morning. Others with early classes were already hustling about gathering their instruments and heading to their class sites. I ambled over to the main clubhouse building and mingled with the group huddled around the much in demand coffee pot they had set up there. Since that’s the only place where electricity is available I took the opportunity to recharge my computer battery. I sat, drank coffee and chatted with Barry Brogan, Jim Davis, Jim Strickland, Lynn Wadley and various others who filtered in and out. I soon realized that with classes running from 2 to 6 I’d better get my camp broken down and the trailer hooked up to the truck before my classes so that I didn’t end up doing it in the dark. So I gathered my computer and headed off to take care of my chores. At two I went over to area two (how apropos) where my class was to meet. Still chilly and breezy, I moved the chairs into a sunny area for more comfort. For a while I didn’t think anyone was coming, but suddenly they began to appear and I ended up with another good sized class. About half were folks from the previous day again (gluttons for punishment those), but the other half were new comers. We looked at sources for generating song ideas (one of my favorites is to read books of quotes, sayings and expressions – lots of good stuff there), examples of the use of language to set a scene and entice your listener, the use of narrative perspective (first person, third person, etc.) to give a subject a fresh viewpoint, etc. It was a really good discussion with everyone engaged and participating. At four I headed over to area five (not as apropos) for my last class. Now, I’ll admit that I was expecting / hoping that no one would show up for that last class. The temperature was dropping with the sun and lots of folks were already clearing out – an early start home wouldn’t be so bad. But, a group met me as I was arriving in the class location comprised of the very talented and enthusiastic teens of the Amundsen (sp?) and Morris families. All weekend these kids have been coming to every one of my classes and it has been a special treat. We also had some “old veterans” joining us, Dennis Devine and Barry Brogan, along with a couple more first timers – another full class. For the benefit of the new comers I gave some nuts & bolts comments and oriented them to my hand out materials, but to make this section more entertaining I started having everyone play songs, either ones they had written or personal favorites by others. Wonderful music and great commentary on styles and influences from Dennis Devine. Just a great way to end the weekend – leaving early would have been a let down, whereas this capped the weekend perfectly. Thanks guys! Charlie Groth, Carl Wade, Barbara Shaeffer, Doug Purcel, Dan & Diana Ost and a few others were headed to the Western Sizzler for a bite to eat before hitting the road and asked me to join them. A good meal was a good idea and I accepted. After some great conversation and a few laughs it was time to get on the road again. Trailer in tow I pointed the rig northeast towards home. See you soon! Doug Doug Spears 36 Interlaken Road Orlando, Florida 32804 407-257-4242 dcsnole@yahoo.com www.dougspearsmusic.com http://www.myspace.com/dougspears http://www.sonicbids.com/dougspears
Notes from the Road - Sunshine State Acoustic Music Camp Saturday, November 15, 2008 Corrections and additions from Friday first – another of the early arrivers was Doug Purcell (how did I omit that!). Doug is at the camp every year and, as the reigning FOFF Prez, has an important role at the camp – FOFF provides a number of youth scholarships for these teen and preteens to attend. Whenever Doug and I are together we bill it as “Doug squared”, though given our respective girths it’s more appropriately “Doug rounded!” Doug has teamed up with Carl Wade and Barbara Schaffer to form a new trio, Triad. Watch for them – I think they may even include a Spears tune or two in their repertoire! The weatherman had predicted a little rain on Saturday and, for once, he was right. I woke to a drizzling mist and low moving clouds. Now that sounds worse than it was. While our classes here are designed to given outdoors at designated shady spots around the grounds (notice the alliteration there), there was a plan B. There are cabins on one end of the area the SSAMC occupies with covered front porches and which are conveniently numbered 1 through 8 (corresponding with the designated outdoor class areas also numbered 1 – 8). In the case of rain we were to report to our correspondingly numbered front cabin porch and conduct our classes there – smooth as silk. Though the rain broke just as my first class at 11 a.m. was to begin, we opted to stay near the porches in case of a passing shower. Before heading over to my class at 11 a.m., in consideration of any poor student that might end up down wind, I thought perhaps I should shower and remove the layers of sweat accumulated from the load up, travel, set up, night humidity, etc. of the previous day. Now, do not misunderstand what follows as complaint – any campground with bathrooms and showers of any condition are a luxury, particularly when your campsite has no water or power. Nevertheless, in the interests of full and truthful reporting, I should say that the showers were “assorted.” On the men’s side (I can’t report on the Ladies’ side as such behavior is not tolerated around here) there were three showers, kind of “locker room” style along one wall. Privacy is not a feature that is offered. The shower to the far right end of the wall was stone cold. Though it was still warm outside, it seemed as if this water was being brought in from some mountain beer brewing operation and there was no way I was dousing myself in that. The second shower dribbled (and that’s generous) a tepid stream that in order to get my head under I would have had to place my cheek (face!!) against the wall. You would have had a hard time rinsing your hands in it, much less a full fledged scrub. The last shower on the left had magnificent, paint removing pressure. However, where the first was stone cold, this one was scalding (hand reddening) hot. Yikes!! So after testing all three multiple times wandering around in nothing but shower shoes (OK, so you didn’t need that image I’m sure) I settled on scalding hot. Essentially I willed my hands to endure it while I splashed and spritzed the rest of me, soaped, rinsed and got out just before first aid for my fingers became necessary. I don’t think I’ll be doing that again tomorrow, odor be damned! I was thrilled that my classes, both morning and afternoon, were well attended – a dozen or more in each segment. I was particularly thrilled to have at least one return student from last year (thanks Andrea!) and more than four of those teens and preteens I mentioned above. And, I ESPECIALLY gratified that about half of my morning class came back for my afternoon class as well! Too cool! We covered various aspects of songwriting including issues relating to basic tips and techniques, resources, generating ideas for both lyrics and melodies, rhyme schemes and more. The class doesn’t follow the outline necessarily, but molds to what those that are attending want to work on. I’m often unsure who learns more, them or me! I know I certainly enjoy it and have so much fun talking about one of the things I love most. I finished up at 4 pm (after another more serious rain squall moved through) and made my way back to the camper to dump the guitar, etc. and check on the football scores. I got the Gaytor game (oops, sorry about that) and listened as they pounded SC in the swamp, while eating some stew, etc. sitting out under the camper awning as the temperature began to drop. The FSU game won’t come on until 8 pm, so I’ll probably miss that. Saturday night at the SSAMC is the instructors’ performance and Charlie creates a schedule starting at 7 pm. As it turns out, Charlie has scheduled me as the “chase act” – dead last. I don’t mind – it lets me hear all the others, hang out, chat, etc. So I coffeed up and settled in. A lot of folks came in just for the show, including my dear friends Goody Haines and Shelly Eckert. This is a much loved event in the area and people go to some lengths to support it year after year. Expert sound was provided, free of charge, by Mike McNeil. It’s hard to imagine a better setting. It is truly impressive the collection of talent that agrees, for little more than gas money (less than for some) to contribute their time and energy to this very worthwhile endeavor. The show was excellent top to bottom. Charlie always kicks it off with a few tunes and then we cycle through the entire faculty with 10 minute slots. There clearly were stand outs, but it does a disservice to mention some and not others as all were truly exceptional. The telling point is that the clubhouse building was filled and folks were sitting outside on the deck until the bitter end. I came on at nearly 11 p.m. and very few folks had left from the 7 p.m. start. After my two song slot (Yellow Butter Moon & Hemingway’s Hurricane, both of which will be included on my upcoming album), ably assisted on bass by Jim Davis, all the instructors gathered back on stage for the finale – “Keep on the Sunny Side.” A tremendous show all around! Outside the temperature continued to fall under the bright light of a waning gibbous moon. A crowd collected outside the clubhouse and a great jam ensued with the teens and preteens front and center playing traditional tunes, newer stuff, originals – the whole gamut. Joe and Katie Waller, as always, were the unofficial jam ring leaders and, in their skilled fashion, made sure everyone was included and got to participate. I hung in for an hour or so, but soon I could hear my pillow calling my name. Back at the camper I closed the windows against the chill and snuggled up under warm blankets for a little reading and then lights out. I have two more two hour sections to teach tomorrow afternoon so the sleep is much needed. Wonderful sleeping weather! Night – Doug Doug Spears 36 Interlaken Road Orlando, Florida 32804 407-257-4242 dcsnole@yahoo.com www.dougspearsmusic.com http://www.myspace.com/dougspears http://www.sonicbids.com/dougspears
Notes from the Road – Sunshine State Acoustic Music Camp Friday, November 14, 2008 Last year I was honored to be invited by Charlie Groth to teach songwriting in his Sunshine State Acoustic Music Camp in St. Petersburg. For 19 years Charlie has organized and hosted this camp for folks of all ages to come and learn various aspects of the acoustic arts at a very nominal fee – it is a true labor of love, not a cash cow by any means. Charlie marshals together instructors in guitar, mandolin, fiddle, autoharp, dulcimer, banjo, harmonica and on and on. It is a wealth of opportunity for young and old, beginner to advanced. Two full days of classes (typically 2 hours in length to give actual time to cover something worthwhile) take place at the Boyd Hill Environmental Studies Area in south St. Pete. Apparently I didn’t screw up too bad last year, because Charlie asked me back this year. For this 19th edition of the SSAMC the date moved from its traditional October to the third weekend in November. That comes with two advantages – it avoids conflicts with October festival dates (Lake County for one) and it takes advantage of cooler weather, which is much appreciated by campers since there are no hook ups for RV’s here and the nights can be a bit hot and sticky in October. I got on the road Friday, camper in tow, and was on site by a little after 4 p.m. (Gas Hog Report: I bought gas just east of Tampa for $2.01!! I’m hoping to break the $2 barrier on the way home.) Lots of folks were already there – Joe and Katie Waller, Doug Purcell, Dan and Diana Ost (all the way from Austin!), Carl Wade (he was just setting up camp and then going back to get Barbara – you can’t rush the queen), Bill Perras (sans Eli – she’s still recovering from her surgery), Barry Brogan and more that I’m omitting due to forgetfulness. I got a great spot nestled in full shade under the oaks (with Joe Waller’s kind assistance) and within minutes was set up and ready to mingle. The camp is a little smaller this year, the state of the economy to blame. Nevertheless, it’s a healthy and energetic crowd. One of the things I like so much about this camp is the number of youngsters here – about 10% of the students are teens and pre-teens. These aren’t the “aw mom, why do have to go there with you crowd.” They are the full blown, way into the music, want to learn something and play music well into the night crowd! There is nothing more encouraging about the future of our culture than to see a segment of our youth truly interested in the traditional folk arts and SO talented. That positive energy and renewal exists no matter who is President and no matter the state of the world in general. Friday is just a get settled in, hear a little organizational speech by Charlie (Charlie, stick to the music old friend – speechifying ain’t your thang!) and then jam circles, song swaps, etc. Despite the later fall date it was still a bit warm and humid, though nothing like it world have been last month. Jim Davis, his brother and I slipped away after Charlie’s big speech to go grab a bite to eat. We ended up at Big Tim’s BBQ on US 19 only a couple of miles from the camp. Big Tim’s is a Pinellas County institution of more than 30 years. When I lived in this area we got take out from there at least once a month. Not in the best of neighborhoods, Tim’s is not big on ambience but the BBQ is first rate and on this occasion so was the company! Back at the camp I dropped in on the main jam up near the clubhouse building and played along for an hour or so before heading back to the camper to review my materials for the upcoming classes. Last year I put together an outline for the classes which is stolen (with credit of course) from various songwritng books and seminars I’ve enjoyed over the years. While I had intended to rework it in detail this year, other things took priority and in the end I “spruced up” last year’s edition, adding some info and thoughts that have come my way since last year. Ok, battery powered fan on, windows open, CONTACT!!! - ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ Doug Doug Spears 36 Interlaken Road Orlando, Florida 32804 407-257-4242 dcsnole@yahoo.com www.dougspearsmusic.com http://www.myspace.com/dougspears http://www.sonicbids.com/dougspears
Notes from the Road – Winter Garden Friday Music in the Gazebo, White Springs Music and Dance Fest and Gatorbone Friday, November 7th – Winter Garden Florida Man is this great weather for doing outdoor shows!! Though you’d think a cracker boy like me would thrive on the heat, I am a HUGE fan of the cool temperatures that we enjoy here in the Land of Sunshine from now until early March. I just love it! The City of Winter Garden contacted me not long ago about playing their Friday Music in the Gazebo series and I accepted for Friday, Nov. 7th. I didn’t do my usual promotional job for this show because I wasn’t too sure what the circumstances would be. As it turned out, I should have been more diligent in letting folks know about it because it was truly a wonderful setting. The Gazebo sits on Plant Street in the heart of the quaint and charming downtown business district. There are restaurants and shops (including my personal favorite wine bar – The Attic Door – Hey Lisa!) on both sides of the street. The Gazebo itself is in the park and fountain area in the center of the street so that traffic and foot traffic pass on both sides. I played a two hour show from 7 to 9 pm while folks wandered, shopped, ate at sidewalk tables or sat around the Gazebo and the fountain under a crystal clear sky in the cool night air. Families came with their kids, couples cuddled on benches and some folks brought chairs and gave it a “festival feel.” I felt something like an island in the stream as activity (cars and people) flowed by on both sides while listeners gathered in the “eddy of the current” in front of me as I worked my way through a pretty healthy portion of my original repertoire. A number of times I was “drive by clapped” as folks cruising slowly along in their cars with the windows down took in a song clip on the move. If the name “Sonics” weren’t already taken it would be the perfect moniker for this drive in (and around) musical revue. I look forward to being invited back and will be sure to let everyone know the next time – it’s a show you will really enjoy! It happens every Friday, so check it out and see who’s playing! Saturday, November 8th – White Springs Music and Dance Fest Ok, so after getting back home Friday night we crashed and then got up Saturday morning to get on the road for real. That meant unloading the sound gear from the night before (grunt, sweat, cuss), loading the camper with some clothes, coffee, etc., hitching up and hauling out for Stephen Foster and the first White Springs Music and Dance Festival. Elaine McGrath, the Events Coordinator here at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park began planning this fest after she got such a good response from the “fall” edition of the postponed Florida Folk Festival last year. The weather makes this an irresistible time to be out enjoying music and the campgrounds and Elaine put together a great line up for this first effort which included Frank Thomas, Jim Carrick, Dale Crider, Tom Shed, The Dune Hoppers, Grant Livingston, Val Wisecracker, Lucinda Gale, Jerry Mincey, Chuck Hardwicke, Sunset Pete and Pat Barmore and, of course, me. Two music stages and a dance stage kept things lively from 11 am until 10 pm. As with most first time events attendance was a little light, but nevertheless strong enough to demonstrate that this is going to become a prime fall Florida event. Again, the weather (I know, enough already about the weather) was absolutely perfect, high brilliant blue skies and temperatures in the 70’s and falling with the setting sun. I was on a brand new professional touring clam shell stage set up in the general location of the Azalea Stage during the Florida Folk Festival – right behind Bell Tower. Great lighting and sound – thanks guys! I got to meet several new friends who came out for this inaugural event and thoroughly enjoyed sharing my songs with the gathered crowd spread out across the leaf strewn grass as the pines and oaks cast long shadows in the setting sunlight . Thanks Elaine for including me in this terrific line up! Back at the camper (in a new performers and vendors camping area) I got the firepit going and sat, flask in hand, of course, enjoying the night air and the sounds of campfire jamming. I wandered and listened a little, but instead of jamming I opted to sit and noodle on the guitar by my own fire pit just enjoying the night sounds and passersby. By 11 or so it was getting pretty cool so I put it all away and headed inside to get under the blankets and sleep well. Nothing like cool weather and warm blankets for serious sleeping! Sunday – The First Gatorbone Concert Sunday we pulled out of White Springs at about 10 a.m. and headed generally east and a little south out along highway 100 through the north Florida pine woods. Passing through Raiford we rolled into Keystone Heights and headed just north along highway 21 out to a little slice of heaven called Gatorbone – them home of our very good friends Lon & Lis Williamson. You may know them as the core of various stellar acoustic ensembles including VTW, the Driftwoods and, of course, Gatorbone. Out in the peace and seclusion of a 20 acre encampment on Little Lake Gatorbone, Lis & Lon have settled into a simple life most of us only dream about. In a rustic home that Lon has built largely by hand they play music, build exquisite mandolins and record both themselves and other artists like me in a growing home studio. And, most recently, they’ve added a cozy covered stage to the property, nestled up under the arms of a protective old oak that drape to the ground around its edges, where Sunday they kicked off what they hope to be a long and successful series of concerts. Friends and family started filtering in around 3 p.m. Grant Peeples from Tallahassee kicked off the show with a few songs from his exceptional repertoire of original material and got folks settled in as the sun began to sag westward. Then Gatorbone took the stage a little after 4 p.m. There just isn’t a better group of musicians I’ve seen either in Florida or the southeast – maybe beyond. Anchored by Lis’ rock steady guitar and claw hammer banjo and Lon’s bass, they lay out a tight blend of Americana that includes both cover tunes and originals. Jason Thomas (who tours with the Claire Lynch Band) is immaculate on fiddle and mandolin. Gabe Valla is nothing short of stunning on guitar and mandolin. Add to that soaring vocals and harmonies and Gatorbone is simply mesmerizing. If you’ve not made a point to catch their show at one of the festivals or when they’ve played in your area you’ve made a serious mistake that I expect you’ll rectify soon! After the show folks stayed well into the night swapping songs, trading licks on various instruments, devouring the food that everyone brought along to contribute and just generally enjoying the home place and the company. Things finally wound down towards midnight and Judy and I shuffled out to the rolling home away from home to crash. The temperature dropped down well into the 40’s and we slept well under the blankets in the remote peace and quiet. Monday was a busy day at Gatorbone. We were taking advantage of the timing to work on my new CD, Welcome Home, which is to be released in the Spring. Jason Thomas is producing, plus adding his fiddle and mandolin. Lis and Lon are adding bass, banjo and harmonies to various songs and Gabe Valla is contributing some magnificent guitar pieces. The project is being recorded primarily in West Palm Beach at Ron Litschauer’s studio where I’ve done my last two CD’s. However, logistics. Jason’s schedule, the musicians who are appearing on the album (an exciting list I might add) and other factors are requiring that we record “remotely” at Lis & Lon’s and various other spots to get what we need. We worked a long and full day and made great progress. At one point poor Lis’ was “in the box” (the bedroom where the vocal mic’s are set up to record in isolation) doing harmonies while we sat out at the control board in the living room on headphones communicating only through the sound system. It’s hard work, but so much fun, particularly when you get to work with true friends who are such talented professionals. You can hear some of what we’re doing on my MySpace page at www.myspace.com/dougspears - check it out! We had dinner – wonderful chicken enchiladas that Lis made from scratch (yeah, she’s a hell of a cook on top of everything else) and continued working until about 11 p.m. Then we hit the road again to get back to our busy, rat race lives here in Orlando arriving at a little before 2 a.m. Whew! I’m Beat! Gotta rest up and get ready for The Sunshine State Acoustic Music Camp next weekend in St. Pete. I’ll be teaching songwriting and will head over Friday afternoon – STAY TUNED!! Doug Doug Spears 36 Interlaken Road Orlando, Florida 32804 407-257-4242 dcsnole@yahoo.com www.dougspearsmusic.com http://www.myspace.com/dougspears http://www.sonicbids.com/dougspears
Well, I’m already home, showered and comfortable at 5:30 pm Sunday after a weekend at the Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts – the Barberville Fall Jamboree. This is a very unique, twice a year event hosted at the Settlement. It is unique in that all of the music performances take place in and around historical buildings that have been moved to and preserved on the site and are, with one exception, all acoustic. Only the Depot Stage (on the porch of the old Pierson train depot building) has microphones and speakers. It is a very rewarding environment for performers that can project their sound (both instruments and voice) in an acoustic environment. I love it because of the freedom you have when you are not tied to the microphone or the guitar cord. Your ability to move and connect with your audience is wonderful. Before moving to the “blow by blow” I need to take a moment to thank Joe and Katie Waller who take on the enormous task of producing the music aspects of the event. This means booking all of the artists, scheduling more than seven stages, plus jam tents, workshop areas, hospitality, etc. This is not a high paying event for the artists - in fact, the budget for the event from the Settlement’s available public funding is incredibly minimal and playing this festival is a labor of love for those that can afford it. But, Joe and Katie and the great staff of volunteers make sure that the artists are well taken care of and feel appreciated, even if not well paid. Joe and Katie work tirelessly beforehand and throughout the festival making sure all details are attended to and the result is one of the best organized, most efficiently run festival programs around. This year the settlement opened up a new camping area for the musicians with the goal of providing more space, shade and easy access. With that in mind, though I don’t usually camp at this festival as I’m only a little over an hour away, I hauled the camper over Friday afternoon and got in around 4:30 pm. The weather was cool and overcast as I turned into the grounds and began sorting out where I wanted to set up. A lot of folks were already there – Joe & Katie, Steve & Leigh Humes of Cold Harbor, Al & Cindy Scortino, Doug Purcell (our reigning FOFF Pres.), Jen Weidley and many more. I selected a shaded space that was not too easy to get into, but having lots of practice maneuvering the camper I was able to slide it tightly into a cozy, shaded spot next to the front gate. I was soon enjoying a cold beer and relaxing with friends as others, including Larry Mangum, James Hawkins, Lucinda Gail of the Makleys, with Asa, of course, Ben DeHart, Barry Brogan, Charlie Groth and many more that I apologize for not having enough brain capacity to mention by name here, came trickling in. Soon there was a campfire going and the new camping area was properly Christened. Now I slipped away with Doug Purcel to grab a bite to eat, but it turned into a longer meal than either of us had expected. He was to meet Carl and Barbara Wade / Schaffer (Something Special) at a restaurant a couple of miles away on SR 40. We got to the place, got a table and began ordering for ourselves while Doug kept checking with the wandering Carl and Barbara by telephone to track their progress up from Sarasota – they weren’t making the progress they’d hoped and we (the Dos Doug’s) had finished drinks, appetizers, our meals, another drink, paid the check, left the tip and solved most of the problems of the free world before Carl and Barbara’s “Big Red” rolled into the parking lot. And, then we started all over again! Consequently, it was well after 9 PM before we got back to the camp and I was fading fast. I got the guitar out for a while and played in the shadows of the considerable camp fire crowd that had gathered, but I spiraled in before long and got cozy under the blankets in the trailer for some much needed shut eye. I slept in late, first peeking out of the trailer at the gorgeous weather at about 9 AM. I wandered over the to Settlement to get coffee, etc. and was amazed at the number of folks – it was wall to wall people already! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better Barberville crowd. After a cup of coffee and some sausage biscuits I wandered back to camp and sat with Carl, Barbara, Doug & Charlie for another cup of the good black stuff and listened to them preparing their material for the day’s performances. It soon occurred to me that I should be doing the same thing! So, back to the trailer, some water on the face and get at it. My first set Saturday was in the Church at 1 PM. It’s my favorite stage there acoustically and I had a full house. What a fun set! I didn’t prepare a set list all weekend, opting instead to just play whatever I felt like at the moment. Since I’m working on the new CD I tended towards the material I’ve been recording and enjoyed getting to play those tunes in that environment. Afterwards I headed over to the hospitality area for a late lunch. A difference for the performers this year was that instead of meal tickets to use at the food vendors, the volunteers prepared food for us in the kitchen of old school house building. Now, I heard some grousing that this was just a way to cut the cost of the music, but for me it was a welcome change. The food we had was better, healthier and served with a genuine smile! There was chili, vegetable stew, chicken and some killer desserts – I definitely approve! My second set on Saturday was on the Family Stage adjacent to the school house and the vendor area at 3 PM. I came after the Cracker Tenor, Ben DeHart, a tough act to follow. Another fun set with a great crowd enjoying the beautiful day. Then, Miller time! Back at the camp I wandered over to the Cold Harbor camp area and chatted with Steve, Leigh, James and others. Soon the guitars started coming out and the songs passed around as the sun started to fade. We all knew we’d get an extra hour of sleep because of the time change so folks were ready to pick long into the night. I took a short break at one point to get Leigh Humes to microwave a big chicken pot pie I had brought along (THANKS LEIGH!!!) which James Hawkins and I polished off between us. Then I brought out a bottle of Tulamore Dew (Irish whiskey for the more pure among you) with some cups and set it in the middle of the circle. There was all the Cold Harbor folks, including Pasco Pete, Larry Mangum, Steve Worrell, Tom Stevens, Barry Brogan, Ben DeHart, Grant Peeples, Joe & Katie Waller and more. Songs and great guitar licks and swapping guitars and laughter and, well, just all good things. Hours and the whiskey flowed by until well after midnight until it was just James, Leigh & Steve, Grant and me left. James, Grant and I decided to wander down to the RR crossing to get a close look at one of the frequently passing trains. We walked the tracks for a while chatting about this and that, but no train! Oh well, we walked over to the convenience store and got Subway Subs and ate them out on the grass still hoping for a passing freight. Still no train so back to camp and I hit the pillows around 2 AM. A very special night of friendship and music. Now, Sunday turned a bit overcast and moist. My schedule included 3 sets: 12 noon in the Church, 1 PM on the Depot Stage and 3 PM at the Bridgehouse. The Church was full again, assisted in some part by a slow drizzling rain that drove some passersby in for shelter (hey, whatever it takes!). The Depot crowd was sparse as the seating area is not covered, but there were a couple of dozen die hards with umbrellas and those who were not deterred by the light moisture. By 3 pm the drizzle was heavier and the totally open air Bridgehouse “stage” (basically an uncovered spot under the oak trees) was rained out entirely. Back at the camp, those who had not started early in the morning to avoid the rain were folding up wet tents and stowing wet gear. I said my goodbyes, hooked up the trailer and headed home. However, the rain did nothing to dampen my spirits – this was a great weekend and one of the best Barbervilles of the many in memory. I’ll be looking forward to the Spring Frolic in April!
Back on the road, this time to Murfreesboro, TN for the Southeast Regional Folk Alliance conference on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University. The conference ran from Friday, October 17th to Sunday, October 19th. Here’s the recap. As you may or may not know, Folk Alliance (the primary organization promoting and preserving folk music and dance in North America) is divided into regions. The conference for North America as a whole occurs in February of each year in Memphis. Then, in the fall the various regions (Far West, FARM (Midwest), Southwest, Northeast and Southeast) hold their respective conferences. SERFA (southeast) is the last region chartered and this was its inaugural gathering. SERFA includes a large geographic area - Florida, Georgia, SC, NC, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas. The conference is an opportunity to network with artists, presenters, radio and media and for artists to showcase for presenters (venues, house concerts, folk societies, etc.) with hopes of booking shows. It’s also just a heck of a lot of fun! We met on the campus of MTSU in Murfreesboro about 40 miles east of Nashville beginning last Friday at noon. MTSU has a major communications program which includes degrees in sound engineering and live performance production, so the facilities were really well suited for the gathering. The day (and the weekend generally) was spent in workshops on various subjects from guitar techniques, to vocal techniques, to songwriting, to technical information on recording and production, to promotion / booking / website management and on and on. Breaks and meal times were the networking / socializing opportunities. Then the evening to the wee hours were filled with the showcases both at MTSU and back at the hotel, the nearby Doubletree. This initial conference was fairly small (about 100 attending), but VERY well organized, thanks to our President Kari Estrin and her “SERFA Six” (Denise Williams, Betty Friedrichsen, John Stoecker, Christine Stay and Charlie Dahan). It was a magnificent job and a terrific kick off for what I’m certain will be the strongest regional presence in Folk Alliance in coming years. I had the welcome chance to renew and expand old acquaintances and make so many new ones. Unlike larger gatherings where you only meet a fraction of the folks there, I doubt there were 10 folks at this conference that I didn’t get to spend time with in one way or another. I admit I was questioning whether the expense of attending would be worth it, but I was worrying without reason! Besides making some very promising booking contacts I got some great information from the workshops and feel part of an authentic, larger folk family. I was particularly blown away by the level of talent present for the conference. As is typical for these conferences there were “official” showcases for artists selected by the SERFA committee, private or “guerilla” showcases for artists selected and presented by various groups back in the hotel from 11 pm to 2 am and a “fast pitch” showcase Sunday morning for artists selected, again, by the SERFA committee. I performed in three guerilla showcases and the fast pitch showcase. I watched a lot of performances in the course of the two and ½ days. My usual experience is that you see an even mix of weak, average and strong performances in these showcases. However, this SERFA crowd was strong across the board. While some were clearly stronger than others there were no performances that wouldn’t have been well received on any festival or house concert stage throughout Florida and the rest of the Southeast. I was quite impressed.! So, “how do I get involved in SERFA?” So glad you asked! Start by getting on SERFA’s listserve at http://lists.serfa.org/listinfo.cgi/serfa-serfa.org and their Yahoo Group at http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/SoutheastFolk. Next year’s conference will be October 14 – 18 in Mountainview, Ark. at the Ozark Folk Center (www.ozarkfolkcenter.com) – put that on your calendar now! See you soon! Doug Spears 36 Interlaken Road Orlando, Florida 32804 407-257-4242 dcsnole@yahoo.com www.dougspearsmusic.com http://www.myspace.com/dougspears http://www.sonicbids.com/dougspears
Notes from the Road – The Gas Hog Tour 2008 – Day 25 – Homeward Bound Sunday, August 3rd The trouble with staying up so late for me is that I can’t sleep that late. By 8:30 am I was up and wandering. Lis had set out the French press for coffee, but I was not at all confident in my competence with the device. So, though my every pore cried out for caffeine, I sat on the back deck and began these notes. Lovely moring, humid but comfortable, and my body soaked up the awareness of being back on native soil. Before long Lon was up to let the Labs out (two big beautiful black Labradors) and he’s an expert at the French press, so my coffee jonesing was soon quelled. Shortly thereafter the queen of the manse arose and, with refilled mugs in hand we went out to Lis’ “magical mystery garden” to the left of the driveway out front. Lon brought seed for the bird feeder and Lis instructed as to how to arrange it in the manner the birds liked best. Soon we had plenty of feathered company to entertain us as we sipped coffee and enjoyed the morning. Next I was treated to a tour of Lon’s workshop where he builds the finest mandolins you are ever likely to see (Lis refers to the workshop as the boy’s club and stayed behind at the house to attend to other matters). We looked at the various woods he has on hand and talked about his plans for certain pieces. Lon is building ukuleles too and has a couple of orders waiting. Plus he still does some guitar repair work – busy boy! By this time it was already afternoon – time does fly when you are so in the moment, enjoying the company of good friends and soaking up life. But, I had the last leg to drive and get home to Orlando and Judy. So, reluctantly, I loaded my minimal gear, gave and got my goodbye hugs and, for the last time this trip pointed the behemoth toward the open road. Lon and Lis had advised on an alternate route home away from the interstate, through the Ocala National Forest and I anxiously took their advice. Fisrt, I filled up the tank one last time ($3.73). Then I wound through Keystone Heights, dropped down past Interlachen and hit SR 19 right at the bridge over the Oklawaha / The Cross Florida Barge Canal. It was the ideal way to end the journey rolling along through MY FLORIDA, listening to Grant Peeples new CD “It’s Later Than You Think” (quick plug – BUY THIS CD, it’s outstanding!! Lon and Lis produced it, played and sang on it, etc. and Grant is a rare talent as a songwriter. If you want it straight from the gut, honest and true you’re going to love this album.). I cruised past Salt Springs, Juniper Run, through the forests, some of which remained black from fires of the past year and some of which had the brilliant green of new growth rising around the blacked trunks of the long leaf pines and scrub oaks. I ultimately emerged at Eustis on my true home turf in Lake county and then took 441 through Apopka into Orlando and home. Judy had stayed over on the coast with our grandsons last night and I beat her back to the house, but our dog Aulie was there to greet me and Judy soon followed. I could have gone another week or two on the road, at least, but still there is no place like home. And, so it ends, much like it started. As I drove the last hour back into Orlando my mind was, again, in quiet thought remembering places I had been, new friends and the treasured friends I’d been blessed to spend time with. I thought again of those I’ve lost, wishing I could share these experiences with them, but at the same time knowing they were there with me the whole time. Gas prices are a bit lower than when I left, but still in the upper middle range of those I saw in this three week journey. I sold a lot of CD’s, (nearly 100 but I didn’t keep an exact count) and we’ll have to see how the books balance. I somewhat doubt I broke even, but I may have come closer than I think. It was a tremendous tour and I am so blessed to have the chance to do what I love, travel and share our Florida folk music with those not as fortunate as we that live here in the “Land of Sunshine and the State of Dreams.” If you have missed any of these “notes from the road” postings (and are a glutton for punishment) they appear on my main website at www.dougspearsmusic.com under the “Updates” tab, in my MySpace blog which you can access even if you are not a MySpace member through my profile page at www.myspace.com/dougspears, and they are also posted on my Yahoo Group board at http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/dougspearsmusic/. Hope to see you soon!
Notes from the Road – The Gas Hog Tour 2008 – Day 24 Saturday, August 2nd Having stayed up late solving all the world’s problems we all slept in a bit. But soon enough Hank’s two big standard poodles roused the household. With the large guest list Hank opted for breakfast out rather than rustling up several dozen eggs, etc. at home. Sandra Bullock was, unfortunately, still not home and sent her regrets for not being able to join us for breakfast and a big send off. We had a HUGE breakfast at a great local restaurant. The waitress was quite sweet – in my “up too late and up too early” condition as everyone ordered coffee as asked, melodramatically, for a BIG cup of black coffee. When the drinks arrived everyone else got the standard tan restaurant mug of coffee, but she had rustled around in the back and found me a really big blue mug for mine – very funny. Any remaining world issues were adequately resolved over breakfast – peace, tranquility and prosperity will reign I assure you. Bruce and Laura said their goodbyes and left from the restaurant while the rest of us went back to the house. I showered quickly, loaded my guitars and other belongings back into the behemoth parked out front and finally managed to lumber away at around 1:30 pm. On to Jacksonville! Now the plan was to go to Lis & Lon Williamson’s fabled homestead on Little Lake Gatorbone in Keystone Heights where I was to spend the night after our show at The European Street Café. Those of you that are more geographically attuned than I was in my still somewhat foggy condition have already thought to yourselves that I was going to pass the location of the show and travel some distance to the Williamson abode before turning right around and backtracking to Jacksonville. I was thinking that Keystone Heights was closer to Jacksonville than it was. When I put their address into my GPS I was shocked to see that instead of arriving around 4 pm, in plenty of time to change, chat, load guitars and head to the show in time to do sound check, etc., I would not get there until a little after 5 pm! Uh oh. I called Larry Mangum, our host for the show, who lives in Jacksonville and was on the road himself returning from the birthday gathering for Frank Thomas (HAPPY BIRTHDAY FRANK!!), to see if I could stop at his house, change and then just continue on to the show in the behemoth. Then I’d follow Lon & Lis home afterwards. You have to stay fluid on the road! Larry’s got a great place in Jax just a couple of miles from The European Street Café and we hit the house within minutes of each other. I had a few minutes to poke around while I was waiting my turn in the facilities and perused Larry’s studio / office adorned with all of his memorabilia from his many great bands he’s fronted over the years. One really caught my eye – a picture of the Larry Mangum Trio with a young, suave Larry with a big, mod, swept back hair do, beard, mustache, hippie gauze white V-neck shirt, gold neck chain, etc. He looked for all the world like one of the BeeGees, no kidding! We were at the show in plenty of time and I found a parking spot for the “touring coach” next door behind the ABC Liquor Store (how apropos). Lis and Lon soon arrived and we sound checked etc. as our crowd began to flow in. I have been looking forward to this finale show to the tour with Lis and Larry for a long time. Ray Lewis has done a dynamite job making a go of this series in Jacksonville. He has worked tirelessly and selflessly to provide a first rate venue for this music and we greatly appreciate his commitment – THANKS RAY! The room was at capacity when Lis kicked off the show with Florida Cracker Girl and for the next hour and a half we traded songs, jokes and stories. A wonderful crowd. What a homecoming! Thanks to all who came out! After the show Lis & Lon led the way back to Gatorbone. It is necessary to clarify a little. Lon was driving and using the GPS to get him back to the interstate. However, Lis was in disagreement with the Lady on the Dash and directed Lon onto a different route. Poor Lon, getting conflicting directions from two women at the same time and ending up quite turned around. I actually pulled into the lead at one point with my GPS homing in and got us the highway so that Lon to retake the lead position. Wow, I’m dizzy just thinking back through it. Out in the seclusion of Gatorbone we got out the brown whiskey. Lis whipped up some blueberry pancakes and bacon and we sat out under the trees behind the house to eat. Afterwards, drinks refreshed we walked down through the woods and sat by the lake listening to the night and chatting about all sorts of random stuff. Lis kept seeing falling stars, but it could have been the scotch – not sure. In the end we didn’t get to bed until about 3 a.m. Ah, the sleep of the well fed and the well satisfied. Tomorrow it’s one more tank of gas and home to my bride and Orlando.
Notes from the Road – The Gas Hog Tour 2008 – Day 23 Friday, August 1st I got up at Bill & Barbara’s with all good intentions to be on the road to Savannah by 9 am. However, the hospitality and excellent company at the Derby B&B was just too wonderful to rush away from. After coffee out on the deck watching the humming birds Barbara served a magnificent breakfast that I’m sure knocked a little whole in the weight I had managed to lose on this trip. Though I hated to leave I had a long drive to Savannah (about 6 hours) and needed to get under way. So, well supplied with a large travel mug of coffee and a carefully wrapped stash of Barbara’s fresh brownies from the night before, I ground out of their driveway at just before 10 am. The drive to Savannah was largely Interstate and not overly interesting. However, I always use that mindless driving time to work through song ideas in my head and sing anything worthwhile into a little portable recorder that I carry. A little beyond the halfway mark I reached Dublin, Ga. That area is where my grandfather Spears was born and raised. I had visited my great grandmother there once when I was very small, but still remember the cotton field, the old house, the outhouse (yep, still in use), etc. Though I really didn’t need gas yet, I pulled off and refilled, mostly just to set foot in that area again. I rolled into Savannah (actually Tybee Island where my host, Hank Wiseman lives) a little after 4 pm. After being introduced to David and Nancy, Hank’s friends from the Asheville area who come down and help out with the monthly concert series, and getting the grand tour of Hank’s lovely home out on the Island, we loaded my gear into David’s car and went for a quick bite to eat before heading out to the show. The Savannah Folk Music Society is a labor of love for Hank and his cadre of volunteers. In addition to an annual Festival, several solo concerts during the year and other workshops, activities, etc., they put on the monthly First Friday for Folk Music, a three hour program featuring three artists. There is a minimal donation for admission which goes to the Folk Society to support their various programs and the artists play for product sales only. However, the audience here has a long standing reputation as voracious CD consumers. When you consider that they draw a monthly crowd of more than 200 folks to these shows, CD sales can be quite significant. On the program for the evening was Bill Shulman (a local favorite on a vintage Martin twelve string), followed by veteran national touring artist Bruce Piehoph from Greenville, SC and, concluding the evening, the guy with guitar calluses an gas pump calluses, Moi. A near sell out crowd, not more than a dozen seats available speckled through the audience in this great auditorium at a Presbyterian Church in Savannah – wonderful sound, lighting, large stage, etc. And a crowd that was there for one thing and one thing only – to hear the music, what a treat!! Bill Shulman’s set really got the crowd warmed up with old favorites, some humorous numbers and a couple of sing alongs. I can see why Bill is so well liked and appreciated by his “home crowd.” Then Bruce Piehoph took the stage, and I mean TOOK it. Bruce is an astounding writer and presenter of his vast collection of original material that has filled 17 albums (that are still available) over a career of 40 years. This was Bruce’s third appearance at First Friday and the crowd responded to him like a returning member of the fold. Just an outstanding performance – I was privileged to get to see it, much less be saddled with the task of following it! But, follow it I did and to a tremendous reception by this attentive crowd. Based on comments following the show from the crowd around the CD table, favorites seemed to be Teppintine, Yellow Butter Moon (a new song I’ve been playing this trip), This Old House, Sinner’s Song and Break Some Stones. Wonderful folks, including Sandy Branam, a renowned Savannah artist who produced water color paintings of each performer during their set! I’ll have a copy of that posted soon. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and have been invited back which I’m looking forward to immensely. And, the CD buyers did their part in helping to defray my enormous gas bill for this tour. Thanks SFMS!! Back at Hank’s digs on Tybee Island (Sandra Bullock is his next door neighbor – she sent word that she was so sorry to miss my show but was having babies and shooting movies elsewhere – NOT!) Bruce and his lovely bride Laura joined us and we sat nibbling snacks, swilling beer and comparing notes on mutual friends until the wee hours. As you might guess we solved most of the world’s problems and concluded we were all geniuses before the beer ran out. As a consequence of the long day I was physically and mentally incapable of completing these notes and left them for later submission. But as it turned out my last couple of days would be quite busy indeed – MORE TO FOLLOW >
Notes from the Road – The Gas Hog Tour 2008 – Day 22, July 31st I slept in this morning until almost 8 am. The soft patter of the rain and the night sounds of the trees surrounding my campsite made for a very peaceful snooze. However, I knew I had a lot to do today, a “day off” in that there’s no performance. Laundry, cleaning the camper, doing the dishes and doing internet promo work for the two remaining shows of the tour were all on the agenda. Again, COFFEE!! The tasks described took the morning and into the early afternoon mostly because the internet work for the upcoming shows can be laborious and time consuming. There were also general emails to read and respond to, folks who were at the show last night to chat with when encountered, etc. It was almost 2 pm straight up before I put the Ford in gear and lumbered forth. The Lookout Mountain KOA was a wonderful stop and I hope to hit it again on a future trip. The drive to Blairsville, Georgia, where I’m to stay with my good friends Bill & Barbara Derby, was an interesting route. The Chattanooga / Lookout Mountain KOA is actually situated just over the Tennessee / Georgia line in Trenton, Georgia. But to get to Blairville, almost due east, I had to first go north, back into Tn., then east into NC, then south back into Ga. – go figure. But, after Chattanooga (which was a madhouse traffic wise) it was a very pleasant drive. The route took me through the Cherokee National Forest along the Ocoee River. The Ocoee is dammed at several points by TVA projects creating some beautiful lakes and stretches of white water rapids alongside the winding state highway I traveled. Multitudes of rafting businesses had buses loaded with hundreds of white water adventurers lining the roadway either on their way to drop off a load at the upper end of the runs or to pick them up at the end. Plus, private vehicles were parked all along the shoulder of the road and folks were loading and unloading kayaks, canoes and rafts from their roofs not always mindful of the passing traffic mere inches from their bathing suit bottoms – more than once I thought I’d scored a tourist only to miss by the slimmest of margins. In about a 2 ½ hours I rolled up to the driveway of Bill & Barbara’s new home. Barbara, ever the editor, wished to point out that in a previous blog I mistakenly reported that they used to live in New Smyrna, which I know is wrong – it was Ormond Beach not far from Chuck and Pat Spano. She also noted a couple of misspelled names, but who cares – you know who the folks were no matter how I spelled ‘em. What a lovely place Bill and Barbara have here! Nestled into the wooded hillside is a cozy chalet styled tri-level home on two acres of natural privacy. I got the nickel tour and was thoroughly impressed with the new digs. I particularly like the high open ceiling in the main living area – the acoustics are wonderful as I learned after dinner when I got the guitar out for a little while. Bill & Barbara Derby, if you don’t know them, are among the most devoted fans of both the Florida and national folk scene. They got “turned onto” this music a few years back and just can’t get enough of it. I am so fortunate to count them among my own fans and, more importantly, friends. Barbara initially announced (having read my daily blogs during this tour) that we’d be having rice and beans for dinner – I’m sure the stunned look on my face rewarded her evil little joke. I was quite relieved when Bill fired up the grill and brought out some huge chicken breasts – now we’re cookin’. I can tell you that the Derby B&B for Hapless Touring Musicians is a five kudo operation. It’s wonderful to be spending the night out of the camper with good friends. I did play a few tunes after dinner just to stay ready for tomorrow night’s show in Savannah and we told stories, jokes and generally visited until it was time for fresh baked brownies topped with ice cream and coffee on the side – do I know where to crash or what?! Delicious! I’ve retired now to my suite to type these quick notes before I drift away to the sounds of the tree frogs outside. If you know Bill & Barbara I seriously recommend that you wangle an invitation to visit them up here. If you don’t know them, I’ll introduce you at the next festival – they still come back to Florida for a lot of them. I for one still count them among our Florida Flock, Georgia address notwithstanding! Tomorrow it’s off to Savannah – more then.
Notes from the Road – The Gas Hog Tour 2008 – Day 21, July 30 First and foremost, happy birthday to my Daughter, Stacey!! Don’t be thinking you’re too big for the traditional birthday spanking!! Though I stayed up late last night watching part of a movie on my computer, still a little wound up after a very enjoyable show, I woke at 7 am and set about the business of getting on the road. First things first – COFFEE!! While I sipped that wonderful cup of ½ hazelnut, ½ dark roast and half caff, I sent you guys my daily (or in that case semi-daily) missive. Then I put feet to shoes and hands to labor. Not much labor though. Traveling alone in the camper I do the minimum in terms of setting up and, consequently, there’s not much to tearing down. But I did take time to reorganize a bit and rid myself of the refuse of the last few hundred miles of driving (empty water bottles, withered banana peels, soiled napkins, etc.). Plus, “my adapted grand kids”, Aaron and Cody were up not long after I began, still in their matching Batman pajamas (complete with capes) and, along with their Boston Terrier, Chico, were right in the mix. I got finished with everything except unhooking the water and power and then went to shower and change. I had promised Aaron and Cody that we’d have our picture taken together and I didn’t want to look like the park vagrant for that. Mike and Michelle were so good to me the two nights I was there and Michelle sent me off well provisioned with a grilled chicken sandwich and a bag of cookies – nice, nice folks. Aaron offhandedly, in his best five year old impersonation of a grownup, “wondered if I’d like to go fishin’ sometime” and had I not had to be in Chattanooga tonight, I’d have taken him up on it. I hope I see the family again soon and will think of them often. The drive south was reasonably uneventful. My route took me through the outskirts of Nashville before turning me southeast. Gas prices hovered in the $3.70’s, though I saw one station (too late to take advantage) that had regular for $3.49. There were a lot of trucks traveling I-65 and I-26 and, though the terrain was more forgiving and I got better gas mileage, the trucks were intimidating at times, particularly when they fly past you on both sides at once buffeting the trailer with their air wakes. As I was driving through the heart of bourbon country, past the distilleries of Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Maker’s Mark and others, I was tempted to pull off and take a “tour” to calm my nerves. But instead I admonished myself “buck up little camper” and persevered. I hit the Lookout Mountain KOA right on schedule at 2:30 pm. Coming in I could tell that the park was at peak slow – very few campers dotting the hillside park. It’s a beautiful place with lots of shade and well kept grounds. The owners, Brian and Allison could not have been nicer getting me situated and making sure I had everything I needed. Brian took me to the pavilion where I was to perform. It was small, probably 30 x 30, but covered and in a good location. Given the low occupancy and the size of the pavilion I made a command decision – in the tradition of Barberville and the River Gazebo at The FFF in White Springs, we’re doing this one all acoustic. Brian liked the idea completely. I got my camper situated in a perfect site, fully shaded and right across from the showers and the wireless internet antenna. Then I did a little email work for upcoming shows, showered and had my preshow meal (but not beans and rice as I was mindful that the intimacy of this show might prove embarrassing if gaseous emissions pressed forth mid song). I then showered and went back to the front office to retrieve the left overs of the post cards I had sent promoting the show. Borrowing Brian’s golf cart I drove the park chatting with folks and making sure they knew the when and where for the show. Then, having hit all I could catch out and about I settled back in to get ready. I love not setting up the sound system!! Just a table with my product, tip jar appropriately “pre-seeded,” a stool for my picks, water, etc. and a guitar stand. I had restrung my Collings and elected to go with just the one guitar and retune as necessary – keep it simple. At 7 pm sharp the folks I had met and handed cards to, as well some others that had been chummed up by Brian and Allison appeared with their chairs in hand and ready for an outdoor house concert. What FUN!!! Small kids were there dancing on the upbeat songs and starring wide eyed at this guy playing guitar and singing right to them. Adults swayed and tapped feet to the music, even singing along as they learned the lyrics. Stories and jokes and impromptu reactions and remarks – it was remarkable. And so were the CD sales and tip jar proceeds. The crowd was never more than 20 people (including kids) and really only about 12 adults start to finish, but every single one bought CD’s ( mostly the give me all you’ve got type), signed my mailing list and generously hit the tip jar with non-ones. I talked to them about house concerts and a couple are anxious to stay in touch to set something up back home. It was just the best!! In all this exuberance over how fun it was I forgot to tell you – it rained nearly the whole time!! These folks came in through the rain to have fun and boy did we!! I won’t soon forget this show. It’s still raining now, though it has slowed to a drizzle, and I’m sitting under my awning enjoying the night sounds and the dripping of the water from the trees. Tonight I eschewed whiskey for wine, a nice pinot noir, and I hope you are suitable envious. I shan’t stay up so late tonight, the wine will see to that. Tomorrow I’ll wander over to Blairsville, Ga. to spend the evening with Bill & Barbara Derby who recently moved there from New Smyrna. They graciously invited me to swing through on this trip and I’m taking them up on it. Looking forward to seeing the new digs and relaxing a bit. Then it’s Friday to Savannah and Saturday to Jacksonville – the home stretch. I’m not tired of the road, but I’m not adverse to getting home either. More tomorrow.
Notes from the Road – The Gas Hog Tour 2008 – Day 19 & 20, July 28 & 29 Let’s see, where was I??? Oh yeah, Berea, KY – nice little over night stop. Had very little to do to break camp so I was underway by 9:30. The original plan was to be in Louisville, KY (Shepherdsville actually) by noon with time to get the lay of the land and begin promoting for Tuesday’s KOA show there. However, I noticed that the brand new tires on the brand new axles I just had installed on the camper before I left were wearing very unevenly on the front set of tires, enough that I was becoming concerned about them making it back to Orlando. So, I checked the GPS and found a tire place near the Interstate and pulled off. After checking a number of things the tire guy (what are they ‘mechanics’, ‘technicians’, ‘rubber analysts’, what?) surmised that the front axle was slightly misaligned and was causing the rapid, uneven tire wear. Well, I have a warranty back in Orlando, so I didn’t want to have this guy do any serious work. I just had him switch the front tires to the back and the back to the front – let the other set wear for a while until I get home and can get this sorted out. So, with my little tire sidetrack, plus a stop to get a prescription refilled, reload on water, gas up, etc. I actually didn’t pull into Shepherdsville until about 1:30 pm. Nice KOA park and they’ve done a nice job promoting the show. The real question here will be how many folks there will be in the park mid-week. Unlike Cherokee, NC this is not a high traffic tourist area and the park is not even half full as best I can tell. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of folks to play for if I can get them to toddle on over Tuesday night. Now I had another issue to attend to – in Bristol, TN I discovered that one of my speaker cables is shorting out. So, I needed to pick up a spare. Once I got in my campsite I did a little google research and found a chain music store about a half hour away. I made the run to get that and a couple of other nic-nacs and got back to the campground around 4 pm. Wow was it hot!! In the high 90’s and they say tomorrow it’ll hit 100! I may need to get back to Florida to cool off! I sought the shelter of the AC for a little rest before going out to scout the possible show sites. At about 6 I took a sweltering stroll in the late afternoon sun and determined that there was really only one logical spot that would be shaded at 7 PM on Tuesday and had available power for the sound system. With no rain in the forecast the fact that it is out in the open towards the front of the park should not be a problem. So the Tuesday night concert will be in the shaded grassy area adjacent to Site 309. Dinner time – thick juicy pork chops with seasoned lima beans and broccoli – YUM! My next door neighbors have two little boys, Aaron and Cody, who have adopted me obviously concluding that no old guy in my condition should be left unattended. Cute kids. Used some of my WV firewood that I stocked up with in Parsons before leaving there to build a small, warm night fire and picked some tunes. As usual, folks will always stop by to hear what you’re doing and I’d tell each one about the concert on Tuesday. Before I knew it 11 pm rolled around and it was time to crash. Too tired to even start my “NFTR” post so I just shut off the light and snoozed out. Tuesday, July 29th Eight AM, coffee, time to get to work promo’ing the show. Aaron and Cody invited me over for pancakes and bacon (courtesy of their folks Mike and Michelle Smith) and so I got my morning sugar and caffeine high going. I went on down to the campsite I’d selected for the show and set up my speakers and sound board (covered in case of rain) with signs promoting the “sundown concert” at 7 PM. I gave the front desk some additional postcards promoting tonight’s show for anyone who came through today and I put up a dozen or so additional posters in key locations (i.e., the bathrooms and pool area). At about 3:30 I’m going to walk the campground and hand out cards to anyone who’s around. Wish me luck! . . . . LATER ON . . . So now I’ve handed out about 30 postcard invitations and chatted with folks about the show. It’s still hard to tell what kind of turnout I might have. The heat is going to deter some, but that’s why I emphasized the “shaded grass” next to Site 309. I’m going to bring my super, duper, blow your shorts off, stage fan which should help me with the heat a little. Nothing left to do but get ready to play. I’m going to have my early rice and beans pre-gig meal in a few minutes, then I’ll go ahead and do a sound check down at Site 309 (starting to sound like the scene of a paranormal gastric event of some kind isn’t it? OH NO, NOT SITE 309!!!!). I also plan to hook my iPod up to the system about ½ hour ahead of time and let the music help with the draw (hopefully). I’ll let you know how it goes. MUCH LATER ON . . . As I said in Johnson City, some days you eat the bear and some days the bear eats you. Well, that old bear meat is pretty tastey let me tell you! I had one of the best listening crowds and nearly the best CD sales of the tour – on a Tuesday night. The heat did get things off to a bit of a slow start, but two or three songs in I had a nice little group of 30 or so. The audience had shade right from the get go, but I was in the sun for the first 30 – 40 minutes. People kept filtering in and out and I had the usual “cheap seaters” sitting at their campsites and enjoying the music from afar. Though I’d rather have them in close, it creates some lighter moments when you get clapping and whistles from 100 yards away, to the left and to the rear, after a song – pretty comical at times. The sound system was carrying wonderfully out across this meadow-like spot and as the sun continued to descend it was really a beautiful setting. I had a symphony of crickets accompanying me (or me them) as the light turned soft in the trees. The crowd was terrific and I really enjoyed the show. 9 PM seemed to come too quickly. It was still light, but fading fast. I wrapped it up and the crowd showed their appreciation by buying CD’s and padding the tip jar. Four couples bought everything I had, both CDs and the DVD of my Octagon Arts show back in 2006. I chatted with the group, took an offered beer from one of those that had come best prepared, got hugs from some and had pictures taken with others. Great night. So now I’ve had my wind down time sitting at the campfire next door with my “adapted” grand kids, Aaron and Cody, and their folks Mike and Michelle Smith. I learned something sitting there by the fire – the hub for UPS air is in Louisville. As we sat by the fire I noticed a real increase in air traffic on landing routes into Louisville. Mike said “well, it must be just after 11 because the UPS planes are coming in.” And boy did they ever! It was if they were landing single file with only a minute or so between them and we were right on the glide path – high enough so as not to ruin the peace of the fire, but noticeable. Well, tomorrow Chattanooga!
Notes from the Road – The Gas Hog Tour 2008 – Day 18, July 27 My next show is in Louisville, KY Tuesday night, so I’ve got a couple of days “off.” My stay here at the Bristol KOA is up today and my stay in Louisville doesn’t start until tomorrow. So my plan is to head up to Berea, KY today and hit a cheap campground there leaving me only a couple of hours into Louisville on Monday. Part of the “master plan” with the KOA gigs is to stay for free as much as possible. The only nights I’ve paid for so far were the first night in SC and the four nights that Judy and I were in WV. In WV we paid less than $15 per night so that didn’t hurt the budget much. Between what I’ve saved on hotels and meals I’m still within range of breaking even on this tour, although last night certainly didn’t help. We’ll see. Gonna have one last cup of coffee and get hitched up. I’ll add to this later on once I hit Berea. Well the gas saga continues, but for the better. I was able to buy a few gallons today at an all time low for this trip - $3.59 – and that was in northern Tennessee before I crossed into Kentucky. Kentucky is generally higher in the $3.85 neighborhood, but it varies considerably from town to town, as much as .20 per gallon just a couple of miles apart. Very odd. The day has been clear, sunny and hot. It was in the high 80’s to 90’s even at higher elevations. The drive from Tennessee was beautiful up through the Cumberland Gap crossing large lakes created by the dams of TVA projects on these graceful, dignified rivers. I stayed off the Interstates for the most part and took to the state highway systems where possible, all four lanes so good roads and easy driving. I was in Berea (say it like “tortilla”) and set up on my campsite by 3 pm. I had a serious sagging spell at that point and took a siesta in the cool AC. I’m fixing dinner right now (back to beans, rice and veggies now that I’m batching it again – I cook fancier when Judy’s around, otherwise I just keep it simple) and then I plan to pick a little outside once the sun goes down, maybe work on the new tunes some more. Only four shows left – Louisville, Ky., Chattanooga, Tn., Savannah, Ga., then back onto home turf to finish up in Jacksonville with Larry Mangum and Lis Williamson. This tour has been a great adventure and a substantial learning experience. You can’t pay your dues as a songwriter and performer without doing the road thing and I hope to do more and more each year. It’s tiring, but so rewarding. Someone left a pile of wood in the fire ring on this campsite – it was obviously started, but extinguished almost immediately. Probably rain. In any event, it let me get right to the fire without unstrapping my firewood container, etc. on the back of the trailer. I got out the old Martin and played a little, but my heart wasn’t in it. I really wanted to sit and watch the fire and get into my cups a little. Such a clear sky tonight with the big dipper right overhead. If it weren’t for the sounds of the interstate so close by it would really be beautiful, but the crickets are cranking it up a notch as if competing with the road noise. A few fireflies out, but not many. A black & white cat wandered up and, I guess, didn’t realize I was there because I shook the ice in my cup and the cat came three feet off the ground. The fire is getting down to a soft glow and so am I. Tomorrow I’ll wander on up to Louisville, just a couple of hours, and start promoting for my show there Tuesday night. I think I’ll turn in – g’night.
Notes from the Road – The Gas Hog Tour 2008 – Day 17, July 26 The show last night here at the KOA in Bristol, TN (Blountsville actually) went well. This is a nice park and the folks here had put in some effort to drum up interest. While I had some of that “sit at the camper and listen safe from the CD sales and tip jar” stuff going on I still had a nice crowd under the pavilion and sold a reasonable number of CD’s – even the tip jar did well, so no complaints at all. I relaxed and had fun with the show, even throwing in “Port-O-Let” since there were no kids present at that time (if they were hanging out at the camper that’s what they get!!). Though I missed Judy already I still slept pretty well. There is a lot to be said for hauling your own bed around with you. I’ve been very comfortable on this trip and it lets me know that more of this traveling lifestyle in the years to come will suit me just fine. Today, as advertised, was cloudy with a misting, drizzling rain off and on. The good news is that it kept it cool. I sat under my awning and did computer work (even posted some pictures as you probably discovered at http://photobucket.com/DougSpears - go take a look) and worked on some songs, etc. It really was a very nice, relaxed, productive day. Around 4 I went and took a much needed shower (odiferous maximus – or was that a skunk?) then at 5 I headed out for my Johnson City show about a half hour away. Now, the old saying goes that some days you eat the bear and some days the bear eats you. Well after tonight’s show I’ll be bear poop in the morning. The Acoustic Coffeehouse in Johnson City is a mainstay of traveling acoustic artists coming through this area. But it can be a difficult room as it is near a college and it is a “watering hole” (specializing in microbrews). Last year, though it was a weeknight with cheap beer and a lot of traffic right in front of the “stage” (i.e., the spot on the floor in the room where you stand) I did pretty well with CD sales, etc. However, this year it was close to the gig from Hell. I got there early to reacquaint myself with the room, the sound board, etc. and have a bit to eat. I made some notes on song ideas, put together my set list and got myself mentally ready for what I hoped would be a well paying show given that I was featured on Saturday night instead of the mid week slot I’d had last year. I did not prepare myself for what was coming. The first mistake I made was not knowing that there was a major music festival event in town this weekend, Belle Cher, and those folks that would ordinarily have come out to see me were elsewhere (as more than a few pointed out by email in the last couple of days). Two - Beer – they love their beer here – so do I for that matter, but REALLY!! Most folks chose to sit outside so that the sound of a solo artist on an acoustic guitar would not impede their beer drinking. Those that stayed inside were mostly polite, but largely disinterested. It was, sum and substance, a bar gig. I don’t do bar gigs anymore for this very reason – original music won’t carry the day and folks are not there to listen at all. So, while the tip jar did reasonably well (mainly because when the line for beer backed up they were standing right in front of me and I was singing directly to them – pretty hard not to throw some of dad’s cash in the jar when the old guy with the nice guitar is staring right at you!!), CD sales were abysmal and I just wasn’t having much fun. But, you have to admit, what other job in the world is there that a bad day is defined as one where you get to drink free beer and sing songs? Nobody EVER said this was an easy road to travel and you’ve got to expect some speed bumps here and there. Chalk one up to experience and move on. So, after talking a while to the two or three folks that were actually listening and enjoying the show (and taking full advantage of my freebie privileges on the beer – if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em) I packed up and wound my way back to the KOA (topping off the gas tank since I saw a $3.81 price along the way) where I’m sitting outside, listening to the crickets and writing to my favorite folks (that’s you guys). Tomorrow I’m going to head on into Kentucky at a leisurely pace. My next show is Tuesday night in Louisville Kentucky. Sleep well my friends.
Notes from the Road – The Gas Hog Tour 2008 – Diary Day 14, July 23, to Oops – my post for yesterday left out the name of the falls we went to since I was having a senior moment – It was Blackwater Falls. Sorry for the gap in the info. Spent the day looking at property around Parsons, West Virginia which is halfway between Elkins and Thomas (where the Purple Fiddle is) – 14 mountain miles either direction. At Parsons, the Cheat River joins with the Shaver Fork and the Blackwater rivers. The water is crystal clear and flows quickly in white water riffles over, around and between the rocky bottom and shores. In places the river is about more than 50 and in most areas is similar in the width to the Suwannee at White Springs when it is up to normal levels (not low like it has been for the past couple of years). The water is cold mountain spring water. It looks like trout and small mouth heaven. It’s popular with kayakers and canoes. Parsons itself is a small, quaint little town, only about 1,600 residents. It is the home of Kingsford charcoal and sits below the great ridge of wind turbines north of town just before you reach Thomas – owned by Florida Power by the way. It’s the kind of place with one decent grocery store, a Rite-Aid pharmacy, a couple of gas stations and an assortment of small local businesses huddled around the late 19th or early 20th century style red brick courthouse, city hall, etc. There is one motel and it’s for sale. I’ve been told there’s not a single bar in town. A lot of churches however, mostly Methodist or other conservative protestant sects. While it might not sound like my kind of place there is an irresistible charm about it. Judy had found a couple of listings in this area that interested her. We located one yesterday on our way up to Thomas. It was three acres on a small stream with a worn looking little box house and some outbuildings. Not bad and the price was pretty good, so it had possibilities. However, I wasn’t chomping at the bit to make an offer. The other listing we needed a realtor to actually find. It is two acres fronting on the Cheat River (192’ of river front) just on the outskirts of Parsons and we headed there today just before lunch time. As we rounded the corner on the road to the property the realtor pointed and said “there it is.” Ahead, between two attractive houses on similar large lots was the two acre parcel with tall lush trees along the river and starring back at us from the lot were five deer, four bucks with horns still in velvet, who were grazing peacefully in the drizzling rain. We watched the deer for a while (and I snapped some pictures I hope to share at some point) until they decided we were too curious and moved on away. Then we walked down to the river bank through the trees. This is it!! The river here is wide, 50 yards +, with lots of white water giving you the gentle sounds of the swift current wherever you are. There are beautiful trees and a sloping bank down to the water’s edge which is speckled with the smooth river stones of varying sizes that you prized so much as a kid. Though we looked at a couple more pieces of property today, we were smitten with this piece and went back to the realtor to make an offer. By the time I return to Florida I hope I’ll be under contract for this terrific piece of land which, even at the asking price, is cheaper than any subdivision 1/6 acre lot you’d find anywhere in Florida – amazing. The trip back to our campground was an adventure. The realty office was in a little town called Belington and I asked my trusty, sexy voiced GPS to guide us home. Yeah, the same GPS that took me to the one car ferry in Virginia – OK, I’m a slow learner. We were soon turning up “roads” (i.e. two rut trails with some marginal gravel on them) until we were impeded from further progress by a locked iron gate and a no trespassing sign – apparently the blessed lady of the GPS knows no such obstacles and as I turned and headed back out the way I came she tersely advised “recalculating.” I was tired and really wanted to get back to the camper and relax, but we went one way and the next trying to get back out of the middle of nowhere and I began to think we’d be spending the evening huddled in the Expedition. Suddenly we crossed a narrow passing over a small creek that I recognized! We turned around and went back – I was right! We had passed the entrance to our campground from the other direction (no sign facing the National Forest, because who in his right mind would come that way)! Somehow we had passed over the ridgeline and down through the National Forest arriving at our campground from the well protected rear. I could swear I could faintly hear the GPS smirking derisively. Speaking of National Forests, I learned today that West Virginia is owned 70% by the government as protected lands. Interesting. Finally back to our campsite and the comforts of “home.” A little dinner (ham, corn roasted on the grill and asparagus) and a little dvd on the computer. See you tomorrow. Day 15, Thursday, July 24th Getting a slow start. The camper has developed a plumbing leak in the bathroom that I can’t identify yet and all of our towels have been used soaking up the water. I guess there’ll be no showers this morning. I need to get into town today to get the brakes on the Expedition looked at – there’s a vibration I don’t like particularly when I’m having to haul the camper up and down mountain roads. We also need to get to phone reception so we can check on our offer on the property. And, I have some MySpace work to do promoting my shows this weekend and next. Lots to so – coffee up! What a beautiful day – clear skies and the temperature has dropped into the 70’s. Eat your heart out Florida folks! Headed out to Elkins and on the way Judy negotiated via cell phone for the river acreage – and struck the deal!! All we have to do now is go sign the papers. But, first things first. That brake thing is really wearing on me – don’t want to put that off. We got into Elkins and found a repair shop that could look at it right away. No big problem, just as front brake job. We went and found some WiFi while they did the work so I could send emails to promote my Jonson City, TN show Saturday night. An hour and a half later and we’re on the road again. We headed on to Parsons and decided to go by the property first to confirm this is what we wanted. One of our deer was waiting on us – a six point velvet buck – as if to confirm the decision. We walked the property again and talked about how we would orient the house. The sun rises over the river which will be the rear of the house and sets behind the mountains which will be the front. We got down in the river, not as cold as we’d expected though cool aplenty, and soaked in the beauty of the place. It really is everything we’d hoped to find. So, on to sign the papers at the real estate office and WE’RE UNDER CONTRACT – WOOHOO!! What a great bonus for this trip! We went on back to Elkins in search of WiFi (I had more promo to do) and to pick up a couple of things we needed. What a terrific day. Back at our campsite I got cooked dinner (grilled chicken with yellow rice smothered in tomatoes and okra and steamed asparagus, yum!!) then took a walk while Judy cleaned up. Down at the fishing pond a couple that lives close by were doing pretty good – six catfish (one a 22 incher) and a few bluegills. I was informed upon inquiry that last week the Misuses hooked at bass over six pounds. I was further instructed that the bass in question was not consumed as table fare, but was in the freezer awaiting proper display in a place of honor. I concur. Tomorrow we get back underway by 9:30 a.m. so that I can get Judy to the airport in Charleston and then head on to Bristol, TN where I have a show tomorrow night. Judy’s already sawing Z’s as I type – think I’ll join her. Night! Day 16, Friday, July 25, 2008 Up and at ‘em – gotta load up / hitch up the camper and get on down the road. Tonight I play in Bristol, TN (a KOA gig). But first I have to swing down through Charleston, WV and drop Judy at the airport. She’s had enough of me and is plying home while I finish out the tour. I had to fill up with $4.09 gas in Buckhannon before heading towards Charleston – Ouch!! If I can just get across the state line into Va. I’ll be back in the lower prices. We hit the road at 9:30 and, with a couple of personal stops, made it to the airport by noon. Again, folks just look in consternation at this big rig rolling through the departing flights aisle – kissed Judy goodbye and kept on going. Going to miss her for the last 10 days of the trip here. The drive to Bristol was quiet and uneventful. I-77 going out of WV is a toll road and the worst maintained one I’ve ever seen, very rough! $4.50 in tolls before I hit the Va. Line and I can’t imagine what they’re using the money for. Somebody’s stickin it in their pocket I guess. As soon as I hit Virginia the gas prices plummeted. I was able to run the tank down to almost empty before filling up with my record low price for the trip - $3.69! On into Tn. Prices seem to hover around the $3.85 mark, still not so bad given the current situation. I’m already at the KOA and have set up my gear, had a bite to eat and am chillin’ before show time. This is a medium sized, very nice facility and, the good news is its jam packed. It even looks like the management has been talking up the show too. The pavilion is small, but will still seat 40 or so under cover and many more in the surrounding grass area. It is right in the middle of the campground so I could have a lot of that “sitting at the camper and listening without coming over” stuff going on. We’ll see – wish me luck! So, now you are back up to date and I’ll pick up again tomorrow from here.
Notes from the Road – The Gas Hog Tour 2008 – Day 13, July 22 The Purple Fiddle, Thomas, WV. What a great little venue. Located in the historic DePollo Store (circa 1890’s) this high ceilinged eclectic room is just a pleasure to play. The weather cooperated for us after all and cleared by mid morning, though the ground around the camper remained quite slick and muddy (clay). I nearly slipped and busted my keester a couple of times. After showers and some guitar maintenance we loaded up and headed east along US 33 to Elkins where we stopped for lunch. Now, last year when I came through I spent only a couple of minutes driving through a little part of Elkins and, for some reason, just wasn’t attracted to it. But, spending more time there this year I really like this small, somewhat artsy community. We had some lunch at a little WiFi café (hence, my posting yesterday) and I caught up on email while Judy perused the local real estate listings. She marked things of interest for later investigation and we headed on up through the mountains towards Thomas. Halfway to Thomas from Elkins is a little town (1,500 people) called Parsons. It sits right at the confluence of the Black River and the Shaver Fork River forming the Cheat River. Judy had marked a couple of real estate listings in the area so we took a minute to poke around. Wow! The rivers here are gorgeous! We found some promising properties right on the river and are going to come back tomorrow to check them out with a realtor – I’m pretty excited! On up to Thomas and, since we were running a little early, we passed on through and went to take a look at _________ Falls just a couple of miles beyond Thomas in Davis. Absolutely breathtaking! I took a few pic’s and, if I can work out the bugs in transferring them to my computer, I’ll post them at some point. For some reason the first batch of pictures (everything through Cherokee, NC) did not transfer correctly and appear to be useless. However, the pic’s I took at the Edisto and beyond are still in the camera so we’ll see if I can do better with those at some point. The Purple Fiddle has changed a bit. John has built a new stage with complete lighting and great sound up in the front of the space by the street – the old stage was on the back wall near the bathrooms and the bar. His theory, and a good one, is that this location is better for the performers and increases the attention and draw from the street outside. In any event, it’s a terrific set up. We got settled into our room at the Fiddler’s Roost next door (part of the compensation) had a bite to eat in The Fiddle and then I went about setting up and doing my sound check. 8 PM – show time! Unlike last year I had decent crowd at 8 and it improved even more during the first half hour so that I had a healthy group for the evening. The Fiddle charges the patrons for the music (which goes to the musician) and with good CD sales and an active tip jar I had a good night financially. But, more importantly, I had a great time playing the show. The crowd was a “you can hear a pin drop” listening group and responded so well to the stories and the songs. It was another very memorable show. Judy took some pictures, but she was pretty dubious about how they turned out so we’ll see. Gas prices have serious cut into the tourist traffic in Thomas this summer and John tells me that the financial picture is grim. If you know of anyone traveling this way be sure to tell them about The Fiddle and encourage them to put it on their route. This is a classic little venue that it would be a shame to lose! After the show we chatted with some new fans, had a beer or two, packed my guitars and then settled into our Roost room. Though it was pretty warm until the sun went down the temperature is dropping nicely. With the windows open we can hear the river across the road and the occasional passing car or truck. Cozy under patchwork quilts it’s time to drift off. See ya tomorrow. Wednesday, July 23 Rained again hard last night, but without the thunder storms and wind we had back in Buckhannon. Thomas is a good bit higher in elevation, 2500 ft. =/- vs. around 1000 ft. down in Buckhannon. It is cloudy this morning as well and we may get some more rain today. The need for coffee and food finally drove us down the street to the Flying Pigs for a little breakfast – chorizo, eggs, toast – mmmmmmmmm . . . In a few minutes we’ll head back to the Fiddler’s Roost and pack up. We’re going to spend the next couple of days looking at little pieces of heaven (river property) in hopes of finding something affordable that suits our desires. I’ll lay off the posts for a day or two here, but will keep making entries so that I can do a catch-up post on Friday when I take Judy to Charleston to fly home. Then I’m on to Bristol, TN for shows there and in Johnson City. Stay tuned!
Notes from the Road – The Gas Hog Tour 2008 – Day 12, July 21 Lazy start – I’ve been up a while doing the email thing and other computer work. Judy on the other hand is snoozing away. Though it was cool outside last night we kept the AC on for “white noise” as the campground we are at is a little “close” in terms of the size of the sites and we could hear folks around us. Didn’t even touch a guitar yesterday, but today I’ll need to restring and get ready for tomorrow night’s show at the Purple Fiddle in Thomas, WV. The Fiddle is a great, eclectic music room in north central WV and is a favorite stop for acoustic artists traveling this way. I played The PF last year and am looking forward to my return there. It’ll be a Tuesday night show (last year I was on a Wednesday) so the crowd may be unpredictable. Last year I had a really nice crowd (40+), though at show time there were only 3 folks in the room. After a song or two folks suddenly started flowing in, so I’ll see how it goes this year. With travel cut down by fuel prices and the economy I have to be prepared for a thinner showing. If you know anyone in northern WV, send them the info for the show – I can use all the help I can get. So, on to WV. Took I-77 straight up towards Charleston (WV that is) and then turned to the northeast along US-19 to hit I-79. Time for gas and, uh oh, I’ve hit the high dollar part of the country. I was seeing prices of $4.20 and up after leaving $3.72 in Wythesville – almost turned around and went back. Finally saw one at $4.17 and put $50 in the tank (just less than 12 gallons) hoping to see better prices to the north. VERY DEPRESSED!! We hit Buckhannon around 3:30 pm at wandered on past it on US 33 to Middle Fork River Campgrounds – the only camping in the area I could locate by the internet or GPS. It isn’t much, but it’s cheap – less than $15 per night – so what the heck. It’s in the mountains of West Virginia, has hot water showers, and is quiet (hardly anyone else here) so how bad can it be? I’ll let you know. Went down into Buckhannon to pick up some groceries, reload on water, etc. Gas here is only slightly better - $4.09. I still think this is the coolest little town. I think the jury’s still out as far as Judy is concerned – we’ll see. My Internet access is now very limited, so I’ll send what I can, when I can in diary fashion. Time to cook, more tomorrow Tuesday, Day 13, July 22 Wow, thunder storms in Florida can be impressive and West Virginia’s are no small thing either. A serious one with powerful wind and rain hit us sometime early this morning. Wish I had tied down both sides of the awning on the camper – who’d have thought I’d get this kind of wind when I’m pretty well sheltered on all sides by either the trees or the mountain. The rain is not helping my morning plans and if it doesn’t quit it won’t help my crowd for the show tonight either. Hmmmmm . . . To Be Continued . . .
Notes from the Road – The Gas Hog Tour 2008 – Day 10 and 11, July 19 & 20 Ah Edisto – this is a magical place here in out in the backwaters of SC. We rose slowly with coffee and a light breakfast. Judy continued to nap while I ventured out. Very first thing I ran into Cary and Susan Taylor, old friends and essential members of Jack’s / Ronnie Cox’s band (Cary on bass and harmonies, Susan on banjo / guitar and harmonies). Truly kind folks and among my favorites in this crowd. I went ahead and settled our chairs in a good shady spot and continued to chat with this one and that one. The morning comfort soon dissolved as the heavy, humid air around the river began to heat up. An occasional breeze kept it reasonably comfortable in the shade. We sat in a little group of Bill and Barbara Derby, Chuck and Pat Spano and, eventually, Paul & Tami. I had my old Martin out noodling with tunes and played requests from our group for a bit. Paul & Tami joined in and offered a tune or two. But as the heat rose the cool, black waters of the Edisto beckoned. Judy and I grabbed available tubes and headed up river with Daniel Bolling, our songwriter friend from New Mexico. It’s a reasonable walk, about ¾ of a mile or so, to a spot through the woods where a landing has been built with a ladder reaching down to the flowing, dark tannic water. The water is a bit low (though not nearly as low as we’ve seen it in past years) making the entry (a rear facing sitting flop into your tube) a little precarious. I almost went over backwards, but made a nice save to keep from being the butt (pun intended) of more serious jibes on the float down. You’ve got to watch for submerged logs and stumps which in certain circumstances can prove an unpleasant snag in the below water line parts of your anatomy. In years past the river was low enough that in places logs were out of the water so that you had to scramble over them as the river pushed you insistently against them. Two years ago when we were here for Jack & Judy’s wedding the river had sandy shallows that left you doing a little “butt dredging” if you didn’t position yourself well in the current. But none of that on this trip – all obstacles submerged and / or avoidable. A wonderful float down (20 or 30 minutes) among the sweet gums and the cypress (and one overhang with poison ivy that needs to be avoided). Cooling and refreshing. Back at the encampment we settled back under the trees and played some more tunes. Judy disappeared for a nap at some point (she hasn’t been sleeping well so this is her chance to catch up a little). Lon & Lis Williamson had pulled in as we were headed out for our float down the river and I soon spied them headed to the pavilion, instruments in hand. Now Saturday night at these gatherings is the “big show.” Danny Harlow, a fanatic about “doing it right” sets up a full sound system that will accommodate as many as five players at a time with first rate mic’s, monitors, the whole schmere. Danny control,s the sound all night, even when he’s on stage, and does as well or better in terms of the quality of the sound as any festival you’ll attend. Then Jack sets a line-up of the artists on hand and, after the pot luck dinner at 6, the show gets underway at about 7:30 or 8 pm. There were, by Jack’s count, 125 attendees this year so the pavilion and the surrounding grounds next to the river were well packed with devoted fans of this music – what a treat!! It was still a little (ok, a lot) warm under the pavilion when the show started. There are ceiling fans, but instead of moving the air it was more like they were early mixers churning pancake batter – there’s some thick humid air on the Edisto. One attendee commented that she’d come out of the river yesterday afternoon and didn’t know when her bathing suit would ever dry out – November I told her with due dispatch. Jack and the band kick off the evening with a few tunes, including a breathless . . . ummmm . . . out of breath . . . ummmm . . . well, I don’t know how she does it, rendition of Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere” by Susan Taylor – she forgot, nor slurred, nor skipped a single city at full speed while playing along with the band. And we flowed on from there. Florida, as I mentioned before was well represented and Jack, serving as MC, commented and complimented throughout the evening about the strong and vibrant, though little known, folk community in our sunshine state. Steve Blackwell was mentioned along with FOFF, the concerts series in Tampa (that’s you Gloria), Orlando, South Florida, Jacksonville, etc. and the wealth of songwriters and musicians that hail from our home grounds. Hannah’s Whirl, Lis and Lon, Tom Shed and I all put on our best shows and had the crowding hooting for more from the Cracker Nation. Paul and Tami did us proud following right after Jack & crew; Lis and Lon graced us with their ever more prolific out pouring of originals (I don’t think there’s anyone I’d rather sit and listen to); Tom included Will McLean’s “Dance of the Sandhill Crane” in his exceptional 3 song set; and, I shared “This Old House” (the new version), got the crowd rocking with “Steam Train” (with a vigorous assist on mandolin from Danny Harlow) and, since Jack had mentioned Steve Blackwell, I ended with “Welcome Home.” This is a dream audience to play for – so energetic and totally into the music. Now, the later acts came on towards midnight to 1 am. An old favorite of mine, Dana Kurtz (huge, powerful blues voice) has been joined in the past six months by young Mammi Mensch – a deep voiced young charmer with a soul heavily steeped in traditional music. They, and particular Mammi, just knocked me off my pins – oh my what talent!! Then to finish off the night, one way or another, came Eric Swartz. If you haven’t seen this guy you need to screw up your courage and check him out. He is an outstanding vocalist, a magnificent guitarist, a genuinely honest and true soul, and, without a doubt, one of the funniest, most creative and evocative songwriters I’ve ever come across. I had heard just a little of Eric at Folk Alliance, but I had missed the boat – this guy is the real deal. His set, in which Jack joined when he could quit laughing, had you alternately sitting gape jawed, crying laughing and awed by what Eric was laying on you. If this guy gets within 200 mile of you, go see him. But, leave the kids at home – Eric’s style is brutally honest, direct and evocative – i.e., there are some words and images you don’t want popping out of your 12 year old’s mouth. But there is an honesty and commitment in what he does that will win over any adult, guaranteed. The big show finished up at around 1:30 am. Being old and worn out as we are, Judy and I retired to the luxury of the camper and the AC. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. Sunday, July 20, 2008 Slept in a little – finally rolled out at around 8 am or so. Since we didn’t crash until around 2 am that’s actually not enough sleep. But we took it easy getting up, having something to eat, etc. I got dressed and, first thing, broke camp (taking down the awning, raising the stabilizers, hooking the camper up to the car, etc.) so we’d be ready to hit the road soon. Then we went out to say our goodbyes. We usually hang out a while on Sunday, but this year (since I’m on tour) I wanted to bite off a chunk of the 8 hour drive up to north West Virginia where my next gig is. I took time, since I’d done the sweaty work, to take a plunge in the cold river water, cool down and bathe with the environmentally friendly soap I had brought for just that purpose – Ahhhhhhhhhh . . . Time to go – goodbye Edisto and all you wonderful folks. Thanks so much to the Eubanks family that host us here for these gathering. Mary Lib is the “queen mother” of the gathering and her sons, particularly Neil, work hard all weekend to make sure everyone has anything they need. And, of course, the spirit of Gus Eubanks, Mary Lib’s husband, who passed a few years back, is with us always. You guys are the best! See you again soon. Now the road with two of us is different – not better or worse, just different. We talked / gossiped a bit about all kinds of stuff. Then I turned on the iPod and set the cruise control. Judy settled into a Stephen King book she’s reading. I was vigilant about getting the maximum benefit from the lower gas prices in SC – drained it down and got 25 gallons at $3.77 just south of the SC / NC Border – woohoo!! We headed north up I-26 and I-77 past Charlotte. As we got up around Winston-Salem the road grade began to increase and the Ford really started to work. As we passed Statesville and neared the Virginia border the mountains began to rise on the horizon and the views made it hard to keep my eyes where they needed to be. Into Virginia we crossed the Blue Ridge Plateau and then descended a little to Wythesville where I had decided we’d put in for the night. We pulled into the campground I had selected and I set the camper in place while Judy went to take a shower. I got out the grill and soon we were eating steaks with green beans and sweet potatoes (I eat more hardily when Judy’s about). Tomorrow on to West Virginia.
Notes from the Road – The Gas Hog Tour 2008 – Day 9, July 18th Off to pick up Judy in Columbia, SC and then head down for the Edisto gathering with Jack & Judy Williams and crowd. Enjoyed my stay in Cherokee and will miss the cool down in the hotter summer climes of rural South Carolina. I was concerned about getting out of the mountains on the gas remaining in the tank so, despite my resolve about gas prices beginning with a 4, I put five gallons in at $4.08 – ok, I stopped at $20 so not quite five gallons. I just couldn’t take it anymore with the sale amount numbers spinning madly while the gallons display just crept along. Left Cherokee the same way I came, past the Harrah Cherokee Tribe Casino then on through Maggie Valley. I needed to be at the airport in Columbia at 3 pm, a 4 hour drive, and having left at 10 am I had plenty of time so to try to conserve fuel I set the cruise control at 60 and ambled along I-40 towards Asheville then took I-26 south towards Spartanburg. Just northwest of Spartanburg I saw a sign for gas at $3.76 per gallon – hot damn!! Jumped off and filled the tank ignoring those pesky admonitions about not “topping off” the tank. I got every drop of that “cheap” gas in there that I could. I made another stop shortly thereafter at an Engles grocery to restock the fridge, etc. and then cruised on to Columbia hitting the airport right on time. I pulled up to the Spirit passenger area and Judy was waiting at the curb. Apparently a 24’ camper rolling through the airport there is somewhat unusual as folks were stopping and starring a bit. And, I think they were even more mystified when the comely Miss Judy sashayed over and hopped in the grungy looking rig driven by an old, bald, white bearded guy. Eat you hearts out boys. As we neared Orangeburg, SC we hit some pretty serious rain – a real gully washer. But I could see that it was coming from the river and that likely it would already be past when we arrived. Sure enough it was dropping its last as we pulled into the family encampment on the Edisto. Our hostess, Mary Lib, met us in her truck and had us park along the entry road until she confirmed where her son Neil had planned to put us. We walked on over the river shore area to greet Jack & Judy and the other early arrives. They had roasted a whole pig, split in two, and everyone was greedily picking at the melt in your mouth tender pork. To hell with hellos, let’s eat!! Lots of old friends here and Florida is well represented – Tom and Aimee Shed, Chuck and Pat Spano, Bill and Barbara Derby (they’ve moved to Georgia, but we still count them as ours) and Hannah’s Whirl, Paul and Tami from Tampa. Lis and Lon Williamson will pull in sometime tomorrow, so the Sunshine state is on board. Daniel and Ellen Bolling are here from New Mexico, Ronnie Cox and Eric Schwartz from California, Dana Kurtz from New York and so many others. After eating some great food, Neil directed me to my spot right in the middle of things by the main cabin facing the river and we got the camper squared away. By then I was drenched in sweat so we changed into swim trunks and plunged into the icy waters of the Edisto – Ahhhhhhh. Jack and a motley crew had set off with tubes to go up river and make the mile and a half float down. We dropped our chairs in the shade, I fixed myself a libation and we enjoyed the evening breeze as the sun began its descent. Once the Williams flotilla returned, Jack grabbed his ever more worn and beaten up Martin and headed for the dock to get the music rolling. The dock was soon overflowing so everyone moved to the pavilion where a circle was established and we began to play old tunes of one sort or another on into the evening. Danny Harlow, brandishing fiddle, mandolin and tenor guitar, was, as always, the crown jewel in the arrangement adding color and texture to every guitar. Judy and I cashed in early, around 10:30 and headed to the trailer. Lots more music tomorrow here on the Edisto.
Notes from the Road – The Gas Hog Tour 2008 – Day 8, July 17th I’ll keep it short today – not much to report, a very laid back, chore day. I did dishes, laundry, cleaned up the camper (yeah, that’s right, I pick up Judy tomorrow in Columbia, SC) and did some minor repairs that I had been meaning to get to. I also pulled down all the posters I put up yesterday – since they just said TONIGHT!! wouldn’t want folks showing up and me not be there. Bad form that. I did work some more on some new songs that are coming along. Inch by inch. I get a line or two and get stuck, move to the next song and get a line or two, then get sidetracked on a different idea. Ah well, no one said songwriting was easy. I did my usual computer work sitting under the canopy of the camper looking up at the trees and listening to the sounds around me. Folks stopped occasionally to compliment me on the show last night and a few wanted to know if I’d be playing again tonight. I told them they were welcome to come back by after dark and sit around the campfire with me as I would surely be out playing a little. While I was on the computer I made arrangements for some studio time to record the “Florida” album I have planned for release in January. It’ll be titled “Welcome Home” and will feature my specifically Florida material, new and old. I’m aiming to have those available for Christmas, so put that on your list for gift giving and getting! Its early evening as I’m writing this and I’ll need to think about dinner soon. One great advantage of being in the camper is that I haven’t eaten out once since the first night when I stopped at Waffle House. I’m eating much better (healthier and less) than I would be otherwise and a whole lot cheaper. It takes about $100 gas the truck up, but I can gas myself up for mere pennies (potty humor, sooorrrrryyy). I’m looking forward to the gathering with Jack Williams in SC. There’ll be a lot of music and folks I haven’t seen in a couple of years, as well as a number of folks from our far flung Florida folk flock (that’s Norm McDonald’s term right?). We’ll do a little river floating and just generally laze about in the Edisto River heat. It gets so hot there that, as one of Jack’s songs says, “I can break a sweat with just the thought of settin’ down.” That’s where getting in the water saves you. Then Sunday we’ll hit the road for West Virginia. I have a show up at the Purple Fiddle in Thomas and we are going to look for some property around Buckhannon while interest rates and prices are both low. Ok, well, I’m thinkin’ rice with field peas and steamed mixed veggies for dinner. See you tomorrow from SC.
Notes from the Road – The Gas Hog Tour 2008 – Day 7, July 16th Well, today was a road dog, take you fate into your own hands kind of day – and well worth it. For starters, I went up to talk to the manager about the location of my show. Their choices were (a) next to the pool under the game room which has a little raised stage or (b) under a small pavilion on the other side of the recreation area where do they do the kids activities, etc. However, between those two was a large bricked area with seating and a fire pit, but no cover or shade – but, high exposure / traffic. I had noticed yesterday that just at 7 pm the sun dropped behind the ridgeline to the West and, consequently, shade was not an issue. And, the forecast was for clear skies, no rain in sight, so cover was not an issue either. Therefore. I pitched doing it out in the open on the big bricked patio area (about 2500 square feet or more) – they were hesitant, but relented under my persistence. That settled I went about promoting the show. I brought lots of extra blank posters and had wrote them as the “sundown concert TONIGHT!! 7 – 9 pm. I put those on all the restroom / shower buildings, on the walkways to the nature trail, etc – about 15 posters in all I’d guess. I also went ahead and set up my sound system, etc. midday so that it was visible and put additional posters on the speakers, etc. (I covered them with garbage bags, etc. just in case the forecast was wrong). Then, after I’d showered and gotten presentable. I walked the campground and approached anyone who was outside with one of the postcards that I removed from the front desk (I left some with the promise that they would attach them to the registration papers like the guys at Natural Bridge had done). I probably handed out 50 postcards, chatting with folks as I went, and ran into a dozen or so more who already had them from the front desk (they kept to their promise) and said they were looking forward to the show. So, would it make a difference? Oh man, did it ever! I had a terrific crowd – festival stage like – and it expanded and contracted as folks came and went given it’s high traffic location. I put a lot of energy into the performance and fed off the energy coming back from the audience. That’s a show I wish I’d recorded! CD sales were excellent as were the gratuities in my big plastic goblet I put out for that purpose. If all the shows were like this then this would clearly be a financial success. Maybe I can see a system developing here for these shows?! I met folks today from all over the country and one couple from the Netherlands who enthusiastically signed up on my mailing list and bought both CD’s and a DVD – everything I had. I also met two groups of folks from Florida and one from Orlando – in fact the young lady (probably 11) was clearly smitten, hung in for the whole show, went to her dad twice to get more tip money and signed up on my mailing list. As it turned out, she goes to the same elementary school that Tanner did near us on Edgewater Drive – the folks you meet on the road! Anyway, things could not have gone better and I thoroughly enjoyed the show, the people and the night. I’ve built a little campfire and am sitting beside it in the dark to type this – excuse any typos please. There are campfires dotted here and there throughout the grounds and you here distant laughter, kids playing, a bottle clinking here and there and the usual sounds of the night. I see couples here, and not always young couples – some look my age – with 4, 5, even 6 kids. The older kids are helping with the younger ones and the parents are herding the broods firmly, but gently. I envy them. I love kids, particularly babies and toddlers, but I was never a patient parent and, consequently I think I missed out on a lot of what these folks experience on trips like this. I can tell the sounds are dying out. People are heading off to bed or going inside to read, etc. I’ve freshened my drink (a little Dalmore – single malt Scotch, wonderful stuff and affordable) and I think I’ll sit here, watch the fire burn down and soak up the night. See you tomorrow.
Notes from the Road – The Gas Hog Tour 2008 – Day 6, July 15th So, on to Cherokee, NC – a six hour drive west through Virginia, into Tennessee then South into North Carolina. A lot of up and down, the up being the toughest when pulling the trailer, but the down being of equal concern because the trailer also pushes when it gets gravity working on it. It was particularly “hairy” once I got off the Interstate and dropped onto the winding mountain roads through Maggie Valley and on into Cherokee. Maggie Valley and Cherokee have both turned into a true tourist cliché. Maybe they always were, but when I was a kid coming up here with my folks it seemed a lot nicer and less cheesy. Now it’s like the 192 corridor between Kissimmee and Disney – an enormous Woolworth’s full of endless unnecessary plastic objects and “authentic” souvenirs mostly made in China. The tribes are exacting their revenge for our transgressions in whatever small ways they can. I passed the Harrah’s casino in Cherokee – ironic that we got the Native Americans drunk and stole their land and now they are getting us drunk and stealing our money. There is some symmetry in that, though far short of justice. The Cherokee KOA is the biggest, most “plush” campground I’ve ever seen. The Raven River runs down one side and there are stocked trout ponds along the other. I don’t know how many campsites there are here, but if I had to guess it would be more than 300. There are 5 swimming pools! Now, personally I prefer the State Park type of set up when I’m really camping, but for what I’m doing this is looking pretty good. All of the RV sites are concrete pads with fire pits / BBQ’s and there are a lot of them. There are many empty spaces (which I would expect mid week), but at the same time there are a whole lot of folks here. I don’t perform until tomorrow night so I’m going to spend the day tomorrow “drumming up” my audience and doing the things that, in my humble opinion, perhaps the park should be doing already. There was some confusion at the front desk – they didn’t have me reserved for a RV site, though they had my promo materials out and obviously knew I’d be there. But, they were very friendly and helpful and got the whole thing squared away in short order. It’s much cooler here than in Virginia – 15 degrees or more. I’ll be sleeping with the windows open tonight! I was all set up in my campsite by around 5 pm and then poured myself a little “welcome to NC” libation before walking around and getting oriented. The river is gorgeous, but then I’m partial to moving water of most any kind. Heck, I think water running off the roof looks good. But this is really pretty - quick running water, smooth stones, a little white water, etc. I took a few pictures and will post those at some point. I built a fire in my pit and went ahead and cooked some chicken on the wood fire which I ate with some black beans and collard greens – excellent! Then, with a little more Irish whiskey in hand, I got out the guitar intending to work on those new tunes that are coming along. However, as I was just warming up a fellow came by and asked if I wanted to pick a little. He went and got his banjo and dobro and we got to it. Before long we’d drawn a little crowd (all of whom I was certain to inform regarding my performance tomorrow night) and ended up playing until almost 11 pm. A lot of fun – Jason’s his name and he’s from NC about 2 hours away. So, I think the “drumming” is off to a good start. The cool air is sifting through the windows and I can just hear the river in the distance. Yawn . . . see you tomorrow.
Notes from the Road – The Gas Hog Tour 2008 – Day 5, July 14th A day off! Sort of. No performance, but a lot of camper clean up, repair and computer work to do. So, I didn’t do any of the “local interest” poking around that I thought I might, but I spent the day outside in the gorgeous Virginia weather. Warm, probably in the 80’s, but with a fresh, gentle breeze most of the time. The have a lot of flies here, which is a little annoying, but it also gives you something to do – fly killin’ was my passion when I was a kid. I went into Lexington to get some hardware I needed to put the real fix on the camper awning issue that started last Thursday. I think I’ve got that tightened up now and shouldn’t give me any more trouble. As I said I hung around the camper and the campground most of the day doing computer work and just enjoying the air. Talked to folks in the park as they or I meandered around – you always meet the nicest people in campgrounds generally. Since it’s during the week there aren’t a lot of people so it’s pretty quiet. Took some pictures with my new camera that I’ll download and share at some point. The evening was particularly nice. I fixed myself dinner at around 7 pm, then built a small campfire outside and got out the guitar. As the light faded the fireflies started appearing at the edge of the woods and were soon around the fire with me. Very bright yellow like a thousand little bug lights (how appropriate) and there were a couple of birds (couldn’t see well enough to say what kind) that were swooping through picking off the fireflies in mid-blink. I wonder if that’s the firefly’s only purpose, to light up so that a bird can eat them at dusk! Wouldn’t that suck. Played tunes by the fire and worked on a couple of new tunes (plus started one about the fireflies, sort of) for about an hour and a half, but the comfort of the bed was soon calling and I surrendered at about 9:30. I did some more computer work (it’s endless, just ask Judy) and drifted off to sleep to sound of tree dwellers of all types all around me. Tomorrow, on to Cherokee, NC.
Notes from the Road – The Gas Hog Tour 2008 – Day 4, July 13th Ah Sunday, the day of rest – yeah, right. I roused for coffee at about 7:30, made some breakfast, did a little computer work and was loaded and ready to roll a few minutes before ten. Pretty good, a four hour plus drive to Natural Bridge / Lexington and do it all again. Talked to Judy shortly after I left – did I mention that she stayed at home and is going to fly up (love those frequent flyer miles) and meet me for the middle week of the tour? I bet I didn’t tell you what she was staying home to do, right? Well, she had work of her own to do, which was why she originally decided not to join me for more of the trip. But, since she was going to be at home, she is also mowing the lawn with my little lawn tractor, doing the taxes (a lot of the issues with which are my music expenses / income – notice I listed expenses first) and other miscellaneous chores that I’m evading by being hundreds of miles away. One issue this morning was the lawn tractor – we had a brief lesson before I left, but it was too brief and some remedial instruction was required. There are numerous quirks and safety features to circumvent and one was keeping her from cranking the danged thing. I talked her through it with all the understanding and loving patience that a traveling musician who’d like to enjoy connubial bliss with his comely spouse again in the near future can quickly muster. I could tell that it was getting pretty hot in Florida, and I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout the sunshine. But, I spoke to her again later and it seemed the machine had succumbed to her considerable charms and whacked the grass as directed until the rain rescued her from further labors. Having left her there to do all the work while I sing for my supper I am diligently focusing on the audience and proclaiming my tireless (tiresome?) motto: BUY A CD, SAVE A MARRIAGE!! Could be that the motto was never more true. Back to the road – I dallied a bit near Richmond to pick up a few things I needed, including some $3.99 gas, and plodded on towards Natural Bridge. About 50 mile away I hit a hellacious rain storm – I’m talkin’ a real frog strangler. Folks were pulling over and sitting it out while the rest of us proceeded at a cautious crawl up and down the more mountainous part of I-64 West. I never paid much attention to those “grade warning” and “runaway truck ramp” signs before, but pulling the behemoth motel behind me they became suddenly, simultaneously, important and terrifying. Plus I’m thinkin’ “rain + small campground + Sunday evening + . . . well, you get the picture – I’m heading for a pocket full of water and not much else. No, No, No! says the good little (naïve and annoying) angel on my shoulder – think positive! Anyway, I get to the campground at around 3:30 pm. I can see there’s not too many folks in the park, but I expected that on a Sunday night. I went to check in and low and behold, right there in front of both of the check in folks, was a stack of the park maps they give to everyone when they check in and stapled neatly to every single one was my post card that I sent them promoting tonight’s show – now that’s what I’m talkin’ about! I was quickly in my very nice, convenient, shaded site and headed over to the pavilion to set up – in the rain, of course. Now this is a much smaller and newer KOA. So the pavilion was also quite small and not as “up town” as the previous two. Nevertheless, the staff was all over anything I needed and were genuinely excited to have me there to play. Set up was quick (getting’ pretty good at that), went and showered (are you sensing a pattern here?), fixed a quick ham, broccoli and rice with hoppin’ john dinner and set about restringing my Collings, my main guitar, as the strings were as dead as shoelaces after the last couple of days’ adventures. Now, unfortunately I left my glasses in the car. I’m sitting on the bed in the camper putting the new D’Addario’s on the guitar. If you’re a guitar player you’ll probably know that this brand of string has a little color coded ball at the end which tells you which one goes where – If you’re not a guitar player just hang in there, this’ll only take a minute. Do you know what happens if you inadvertently reverse the D and G strings (because you’re too blind to see the difference between a tiny black ball and a tiny green ball in a dimly lit camper)? Well, first the “D” string won’t stay in tune and it buzzes slightly. And the “G” string resists every effort to get it to come up to pitch until the tuner is so tight you think you’ll have to put a wrench on it. Being the genius that I am I thought the tuner was freezing up on me and given what I paid for the guitar this was causing those little short words to slip out again. Never did I think that maybe I had made an error in string selection until the D string I had put in the G position popped with a sharp crack like a bullwhip and scared the you know what outta me – what a putz. Having survived the exploding G string incident (hey, where have I heard that before?) I headed over to do my show. The rain let up in time so that the beginning was dry at least. A number of folks walked over right at 7 pm with their camp chairs slung over their shoulders. I noted with amusement that they simply laid their chairs on picnic tables and sat on wooden benches while I played the first song or two. I then took it as a good sign when they went ahead, set up their own chairs and got comfortable. A nice show with a nice crowd, again some good CD buyers (not the near perfect sales of last night, but strong nevertheless), and very friendly bunch. For the second night in a row a teenager bought a CD – I love it when the songs reach the younger crowd. The rain came back towards the end of the show and trapped a few of us under the pavilion where we sat and chatted while I organized my gear to load out when the rain let up. So now with brown whiskey in hand I settle in for the night. I’m glad I have a couple of days off now because the throat is feeling a little ragged. On a couple of my songs with higher notes I noticed I was “reentering puberty” a time or two tonight. I’ve got some slippery elm tea that patch that right up. I’m going to stay here in natural Bridge tomorrow and then head down to Cherokee, NC on Tuesday – about 6 hours away. Next show is Wednesday night there in Cherokee. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ . . .
I headed out from Wilmington at around 10, but soon realized that I had left some essential gear at the campsite and had to turn around. It was 30 minutes wasted, but I was soon underway. Beautiful day and the farther north I got the prettier it got. When I finally crossed into Virginia I was in fine spirits, working on a couple of song ideas and making good progress. My gas prices stayed right around $3.93 today – I’ve still managed not to break the $4 barrier. You know, even with the high gas prices, things may work out financially. Even if I’d have done this tour without the camper, I still would have been driving. While using less gas, I would not have cut the gas bill in half plus I would have had meals and hotel rooms. Other than the Waffle House stop the first night I’ve fixed all other meals in the camper. And, I’m not paying for camp sites – part of my KOA deal. So, while the expense in gas is significant, so is the savings. It took about 5 hours to get to Virginia Beach, but a nice drive. Had another gas station incident – manners and consideration for others have gone completely out the window. I guess I should just let it slide, but I just detest inconsiderate behavior. Once again, I don’t think I so much as dented the person’s indifference. The KOA in Virginia Beach is huge and even nicer than the one in Wilmington. It has a very large covered pavilion (at least the size of the main stage at Willfest at Sertoma) with a large raised stage, stage lights, etc. – very impressive. I could pull my truck right up to it so the load in / out was easy. It’s very warm here, but not like Wilmington. Here there is a constant refreshing breeze and it’s quite comfortable. The campground has more than 300 campsites and they are FULL! Lots of folks, so I was excited about the show. Now the catch is that I did my usual advance promo routine and printed / sent handouts, etc. in advance asking that they be given to everyone who would be in the park tonight. When I checked in I found those materials simply sitting off to the side hardly used. They had a “today’s activities” board out front and my name wasn’t on it. Yep, I was a little peeved, but you roll with the punches. Still, it seems like they’d want to maximize the crowd too. Obviously I’m not charging enough. I went ahead and set up, took a shower, fixed myself a little dinner (Hoppin’ John with long grain rice and a small salad) and dressed for the concert. I got back to the stage plenty early so I could crank up the sound system (ran my iPod through it) to let people within earshot know something was about to happen there. At 7 pm a small but enthusiastic crowd gathered. Given the number of folks in the park the crowd should have been at least three times the size it was and my irritation at the park staff for not pitching in on promotion increased. But, BREATHE DEEPLY and remember – the ones sitting in front of you are the ones that matter, and only they matter. So I put my best into it and, as it turned out, I sold CD’s to nearly every person that attended – a very good night and helped knock a hole in those expenses! I do enjoy the atmosphere of these campground gigs – very “festival like.” The people, particularly the small kids who just love sitting up front for a live performance, are laid back and friendly. Of course, you’re at the mercy of the weather, but then that’s true to a degree even with an indoor show – if the weather turns bad it hurts the turnout. This is a very elaborate KOA. They have a humungous trampoline / moonwalk / bouncy thing that was to be half the size of an Olympic swimming pool. It tapers to the ground at the edges, is inflated, and is probably 5 or 6 feet high at the top of the “hump.” It’s like an inflated cow pie (or dinosaur pie) painted in the KOA logo and colors. The kids just go nuts on it. The bouncing, from a distance, sounds like thunder at times. There are also lot of planned activities, particularly for the kids, a doggie park, and at night they have an inflatable movie screen that they set up in field next to the pavilion and when I finished playing they started a movie. Pretty cool. (BTW – not many people showed up for the movie either. I guess the handwritten white board sign by the store where you check in just isn’t cutting it – DUH!) Anyway, I’m pooped and I need to get an early start if possible tomorrow – on to Lexington / Natural Bridge for my show tomorrow night. Then a couple of days of RnR before dropping back down into NC for a mid week show. I’m hoping to hang out at the Natural Bridge KOA for at least one extra night and poke around the area some – lot of history up here. Humphhh, that’s dumb, there’s history everywhere, but you know what I mean – the history you read about in school (or were supposed to). More tomorrow.
Notes from the Road – The Gas Hog Tour 2008 – Day 2, July 11th I got an easy, reasonably early start from St. George and headed on towards Willmington, NC and the first show of this run. The crummy highways continued through SC, but ended and turned into nice, smooth, well maintained roads the minute I hit NC. Wonder what’s up with that? Anyway, things were going reasonably well until I jumped off the highway to get gas that I saw advertised for $3.87 a gallon. I was only down a half tank, but a lower gas price is not to be ignored – by me or, apparently, anyone else in the entire state of South Carolina. What a mob! And, folks seemed to have no concept of my maneuvering limitations pulling a 24’ trailer. This was a large, trucker friendly kind of station, but nevertheless with all the people there it was tight. It took a little while to get to a pump and then once I was done it took a little while for someone to come along in the heavy stream of traffic that was kind enough to give me room to get out. Then some jackass shot across from another pump and stuck his nose in front of me so that I couldn’t move up and get out of other people’s way. I felt compelled to get out while everything was frozen in place and go tell him just what a jackass he was – I don’t think he learned anything, or cared. So, back onto I-95. The next little hiccup came when it was time to get off 95. My exit was closed for construction – hmmmm. Not to worry, I’m using a little Garmin GPS and I simply punched “detour” and it locked in on a new route. Here’s where I learned, again, the limitations of those handy dandy little units. It took me on a course on back roads (in NC, so nice, smooth back roads) and as I was nearing Willmington it took me down a winding road past some very large sod farms. I rounded a corner and suddenly the road ended at a river crossing – not a bridge mind you, but a small, one car ferry. The ferry operator took one look at me and my long rig and just shook his head. Apparently I’m not the first GPS user to be duped in this fashion. So, with a bit of jockeying and a few little bitty short words of the profane variety, I got the rig turned around and headed back the way I’d come. The GPS protested in its most stern “recalculating” voice, but eventually accepted that I wasn’t going the way it wanted so it generated a new route (that I double checked against and old fashioned paper map) and rolled on to Willmington. The KOA here is very nice with a great, friendly staff. They had all my posters up and had been handing postcards with the show time that I had sent to everyone as they checked in. To my surprise, and pleasure, they have a regular stage built in the center of the campground, covered, with picnic tables surrounding it, etc. I went ahead and did all the sweaty work setting up, showered and then settled into my home on wheels to tune up and get ready for the show. RAIN. BUCKETS AND BARRELS OF RAIN. Now I had planned for this possibility and had covered my gear, but rain does not help draw a crowd to an outdoor show. It let up at show time and I had a core group of about 20 with umbrellas when I got things started. A few more came in as they heard the music. Then RAIN, not as hard this time, but hard enough. At that point about 10 or so gathered up on the stage and I sat and chatted and played tunes for them for the rest of the time. While I sold CD’s to that crowd, needless to say it was not the first night’s revenue I was hoping for. But I enjoyed it nevertheless and picked up a few new fans in the bargain. That’s the real payoff anyway. When the rain quit I stowed my gear and settled back into the camper to listen to the thunder rumble as I sipped a little whiskey. Tomorrow’s another day – Virginia Beach, VA. More from there.
Notes from the Road – The Gas Hog Tour 2008 – Day 1, July 10th And so it begins. My summer tour this year will include shows in 7 states, 12 shows in all, and will cover 4,000 miles in three weeks time. With gas prices at $4 can you say STUPID!!! Geez, I think I heard you! I booked this quite a while back before it was obvious that gas prices were racing the space shuttle to the moon. It’s actually worse than it sounds. A portion of the tour, 7 shows, are hosted and sponsored by KOA Campgrounds. What that means, for those of you who are missing the obvious, is that not only am I driving 4,000 miles, I’m doing it in my Ford Expedition towing my 24’ camper. Now that time I KNOW I heard you. I better sell a lot of CD’s or this will be a financial train wreck of the first order. Oh well, live and learn, die and forget it all, as my Grandmother used to say. I got on the road later today than I had hope, but as usual I stayed too busy (and / or too lazy) to get an early start a few days ago organizing and loading up. So I left it all until last night and this morning which didn’t let me get on the road until about 1 pm. My first show is Friday night in Wilmington, NC so I made a campground reservation in St. George, SC to put me within about three hours of the show tomorrow. I’m at a great little campground called Jolly Acres in St. George run by some very nice folks whose names I didn’t linger on long enough to remember in my haste to get checked in. However, they are wonderfully accommodating and if you’re heading this way sometime I highly recommend that you stop in. I have mixed feelings about long distance driving. On the one hand it is exhausting and gives you a tremendous case of TB (tired butt). On the other hand it gives you a lot of quiet thinking time. I thought about a lot of folks today, friends and family both. Some thoughts are just triggered by the quiet and letting your mind wander. Others are triggered by a billboard or a song on the radio (or in my case my iPod – in the shuffle mode I got a couple of good Steve Blackwell songs laid on me today). There’s a lot to be said for the luxury of quiet thought. I wouldn’t want to do it all the time, but in hunks of time like this I think it’s a very good thing. One guy I always think about these days when I’m on the road is my musician buddy from NC, David LaMotte. When he was in FL in December I picked him up at the airport and the first thing he wanted to do was get something to eat at Waffle House – I know, that’s what I said too. But, as David explained it, Waffle Houses are cheap, a good source for protein if you are not a meat eater (as he isn’t), fast and they are totally consistent (whether that’s good or not I’m still not sure). And, they are EVER PRESENT – you can’t get off at any exit on any major highway and not see one. So, when David’s on the road he hits them frequently. Tonight, as I entered SC, I hoped off and hit a Waffle House – that one’s for you Dave. Something needs to be said here and it pains me greatly. I have long been a dedicated complainer about our department of transportation in FL and the condition of some of our highways (I-75 and I-95 in particular). I have been grossly unfair to our DOT. I-95 through Georgia and SC is undoubtedly the worst highway there is and I manage to forget it every year. In SC in particular there are some potholes so big that folks were fishing in them – from boats! They jarred my poor camper so badly that one side of the roll up awning broke loose (gotta work on that in the morning). In any event, our highways are so far superior I am ashamed of myself (a little anyway) for having complained about them. So, you can look forward to, dread, ignore, delete, block, etc. three weeks worth of Notes from the Road. I don’t get back to Orlando until August 3rd. Judy is joining me for the middle week when we hook up with Jack Williams, et al in SC on the 18th and will accompany me to my shows up in WV. Then she’ll abandon me again for the final week which ends up in Jacksonville on Aug. 2d in a show at The European Street Café with Larry Magnum and Lis Williamson. I should be well worn and road weary by then. Stay tuned! Doug Doug Spears 36 Interlaken Road Orlando, Florida 32804 407-257-4242 dcsnole@yahoo.com www.dougspearsmusic.com http://www.myspace.com/dougspears http://www.sonicbids.com/dougspears
Notes from the Road – Florida Folk Festival – Sunday, May 25, 2008 Oooooohhhhhhhhh – 10:30 a.m., what the heck am I doing awake? Guess we missed the breakfast today (only goes until 9:15). COFFEE!!! I’m on the Seminole Camp Stage for my last show today at 1:00 p.m. and I need to restring a guitar. This humid weather kills guitar strings at an alarming rate, everything starts sounding like you’re playing shoe strings. I think I’ll play my custom Orange Blossom made by my friend Doug Montgomery at the Guitar Factory in Orlando – it has a huge sound and the Seminole Stage is all acoustic so it’ll carry well. As I was lying here this morning trying not to wake up I was thinking how important this festival is to me. You know it’s the longest continuously running folk festival in the country. When I first started playing here I wanted the prestige of being included in this group of wonderful musicians, to have my name next to those of Gamble Rogers, Will McLean, Jim Bellew, Paul Champion, Vassar Clements and so many others who were the giants of Florida Folk - kind of a badge of accomplishment. Then it became one of a dwindling number of opportunities to play in front of larger crowds In a festival setting. There have been years when I considered (and sometimes did) skip the festival because it is always so hot here on Memorial Day weekend and coincides with other festivals in other parts of the country. But like a kid looking back after he has been out on his own a few years, now I think of White Springs as the place I come back to time and again to be with family and friends – home to me, my Florida heritage, my Florida Folk family and much more. You know, this is the 56th edition of the FFF and last night in the Amphitheatre the MC, Wayne Martin, was calling out to the thousands on the hillside to see who had been coming to the festival for how long. There were many who had been coming for 15 – 20 years. As he kept creeping up the calendar the numbers responding dwindled. He finally asked if anyone had been coming for 50 or more years. There was a guy right behind me that hollered out that he had been at every FFF for 51 years, the first time with his parents when he was 3 years old. When you’re sitting on that hillside under the stars peeking down through the pines and oaks surrounded by people so appreciative and supportive of Florida’s musical heritage and talent you can’t help but feel like you are among the best people there are anywhere. Ok, enough of waxing philosophical – time to get ready to do some pickin’ and singin’. More in a bit. Well, I knew today was going to be a tough situation. I was following Ben Prestage at the Seminole Stage and he is quite the buzz at this year’s festival – well deserved I might add. So, I knew that (a) he would have a large crowd gathered and (b) when he finished they would mostly get up and follow him over to the side to buy CD’s, chat, head to other shows, etc. I was correct on both counts. However, I managed to generate enough guitar sound with the intro to Steam Train as folks were getting up and milling about that I was able to keep a good crowd in place for my set. Man was it hot! They’d oriented the performer so that I was standing in full sun playing to folks sitting under the thatched roof Chickee. I was sopping wet before my first tune was done. However, the group I had retained continued to grow as folks came back to the stage or I caught them as they passed by. I got a good strong 7 song set in with tunes off of both current CD’s, as well as a new song I’ve been getting great response to, As the Crow Flies. Really enjoyed the set and the crowd – my last for this year’s festival. We went on back to Nelly Blye’s for one last round of the great food over there, listened to Amy Carol Webb’s set on the Old Marble Stage, then headed for the ice cream guy – what a day for that! It was still not as hot today as it has been in past years and there was a breeze that would come and go while you were in the shade, but it was warm nevertheless. Ice cream in hand we headed back down to the Seminole Stage to hear Mindy Simmons, wonderful as always, another set of The Ashley Gang and the Jackson Creek (Joe & Katie Waller). Great sets by all and the breeze was nice sitting under the Chickee instead of standing out in the sun. Now it’s shower and nap time. I don’t know what tonight will have in store – I’m starting to wind down. We’re going to head back to hear Gatorbone at 8 and probably the Daughters of Florida (Amy Carol, Mindy and Jeannie Fitchen at 8:45. Whether I will have enough juice to hang out and pay any music is a big question mark at the moment. My mind is already turning to the tasks of getting things packed up to go so that we get home at a reasonable time tomorrow. We’ll see. So, here’s the thing – we went back, got dinner, ate in the beer garden while we listened to Patchwork (over the somewhat distracting play of the beer attendants on guitar and mandolin) the settled in and watched a GREAT set by Gatorbone. Those guys are TIGHT! I enjoy listening to them as much as anyone I saw all weekend and beyond. I was finding new energy - uh oh. In the beer garden we had run into some new fans, Florence and her boyfriend Jerry from Destin, and they invited us over to their campground (Suwannee Campground just outside of White Springs) for a fire circle. Once I checked out of the CD booth and said our goodbyes to those who were available, we decided “what the heck” and went on over to Suwannee to visit for a minute of two. Well, there were a lot of folks there and they insisted that the guitar come out and before we knew it – well, you see what time I’m posting this (nearly 1 a.m.). While it’s not that late by ordinary standards, given that I was up until 4 a.m. last night it’s a whole lot later than I thought I’d be. But it was a lot of fun and we were made very welcome by all – some who are from the Tampa area and plan on coming to my shows over there in a couple of weeks. Very nice folks. So that’s it, another FFF wrapped - a really great festival weekend with wonderful weather, tremendous music, dear friends and a spirit that carries you up and beyond. Thanks so much to Elaine McGrath, our festival director without whom none of this would continue to happen. Kudos to Tom Shed who really got the sound issues from the past couple of festivals under control – the sound on all stages was very good all weekend, the first time I’ve been able to say that in a long while – GREAT JOB TOM!! That boy worked himself to a frazzle and it paid off. Thanks to Frank Thomas for including me again in his River Gazebo line-up. Thanks to all the hard working volunteers doing every crummy job you can think of with enthusiasm and a smile – you guys are great. And, most of all, thanks to all the fans of Florida Folk music that came out to support the art and create / sustain the community – GROUP HUG! And, if you weren’t here (and particularly if you’ve never been to the Florida Folk Festival) we hope you’ll come be part of the magic next year. All the Best – Doug Doug Spears 36 Interlaken Road Orlando, Florida 32804 407-257-4242 dcsnole@yahoo.com www.dougspearsmusic.com http://www.myspace.com/dougspears http://www.sonicbids.com/dougspears
Notes from the Road – Florida Folk Festival – Saturday, May 24, 2008 Up and at ‘em. Kelly’s RV Park has a pancake breakfast each morning so I started with the breakfast of champions, sugar and caffeine – the blueberry pancakes were great! My set today is on the Ann Thomas River Gazebo Stage that perches above the Suwannee River in the Stephen Foster Memorial State Park. It is my favorite place to perform here. The weather is PERFECT – clear, breezy and comfortable. I’m really looking forward to this! Tradition is a huge element of the Florida Folk Festival and the Gazebo Stage is at the center of that tradition. For decades Frank and Ann Thomas have hosted that stage and invited only those writers who have a body of musical work about Florida and received the Thomas Seal of Approval. It’s all acoustic, no microphones or speakers, so you have to be ready to project to the considerable crowd that comes in under the gazebo structure itself and then spills out to the surrounding walkways and hillside bleachers that were added after Ann passed away and the Gazebo was named in her honor. Being included in Frank’s line-up is a premium, sought after slot and I’m always thankful and honored to be included. The crowd at the Gazebo builds during the morning with the most dedicated of the audience coming early to get prime seats and staying right there all day. We arrived in time to hear the last couple of songs by Bill & Eli Perras and then I busied myself off to the side of the Gazebo down a little foot trail warming up for my set. By the time I was introduced the Gazebo was pushing capacity and folks were backing up along the walkways leading down from the parking lot. As groups of kids swam in the Suwannee off of the canoe launch platform far below us I took the stage. My set included a lot of songs that I haven’t recorded yet (like Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams (#3 in the Will McLean judging this year), Hemingway’s Hurricane (#6 at Willfest), Withlacoochee Dreamer ( #7 at Willfest last year) and Welcome Home, my tribute to Steve Blackwell). Those songs will all be on a new CD titled Welcome Home which is scheduled for release in the late fall or winter. Playing Welcome Home was particularly special since Steve’s daughters, son and band mates were all there, now performing as Still Friends – got to sing the chorus looking right at Carrie Blackwell Hussey, such a treat! The crowd was exuberant and primed for more good things to come. Right after me came The Ashley Gang with some of their crowd favorites, River Road, The Ashley Gang, Joe Hotel, etc. I’m particularly jealous of Al Scortino’s The Ashley Gang – one of the best written historical songs around. Great show, even without Paul Garfinkel who was unable to make this show. Then came Still Friends - Carrie Blackwell, Japhy Blackwell, Dan Leach and new band member, Tiffiny Coffey. In addition to their own new tunes they played several of Steve’s songs including Steve’s song about Stetson Kennedy’s home in Caloosahatchee, Steve’s tribute to Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, The Real Magic Kingdom, Carrie’s protest song about big sugar in the Everglades that she wrote with a couple of contributors and, finally, at Frank Thomas’ personal request, Steve’s song The Line which, with Carrie’s knock you dead in your tracks vocals, is just one of Steve’s best works. Still Friends take my breath away, they are carrying on Steve’s music and tradition in a way that I know makes him so proud. If I don’t say so myself (actually, Norm McDonald of The Ashley Gang said it), between the three of us (me, The Ashley Gang and Still Friends) that was one hell of an hour of music! With our friends Paul and Tami (Hannah’s Whirl) in tow, we headed for Nelly Blye’s Kitchen where all that cholesterol laden goodness I wrote about yesterday simmered away. Today my menu was fried catfish, collard greens, white lima beans and okra-tomato gumbo with cornbread – OINK!! We chowed down to the sounds of our St. Augustine buddy Bob Patterson who is among the finest guitarists, songwriters and storytellers on the planet. Great show from Bob as always. With full stomachs and a few laughs from Bob stashed away we waddled back down to the Gazebo for The Roadside Revue’s great set – as you can tell we are big fans and end up catching a couple of their sets every festival – you should too. But now the nap clouds are rolling in – those low hanging shapes formed by your eyelids drooping down insistently across your eyes. So we’re here back at the camper for a few winks and maybe a shower before we head back for the Saturday main stage starting with Del Suggs at 8:15 and culminating with Amy Carol Webb at 9:45. Then campfiring some more tonight. More later. Ok, so it’s later – a LOT later, presently 4 a.m. For obvious reasons I’ll keep this relatively brief. I need some sleep! As planned, we got back for Del Suggs who put on a great show. He did some new tunes I hadn’t heard, but he also threw in some old favorites – Magic Chair and Wooden Boat. If he’d have included Broken Places, my favorite, it would have been perfect. Terrific energy. And, they announced that, due to his work on behalf of various charities, Del has been nominated for the Harry Chapin Award – that is a HUGE deal! Congrats to Del for giving so much and being nominated. Harry was a shining example in a world with few who can measure up. Harry’s World Hunger Foundation received more than 50% of his annual income (I’ve actually heard the number was closer to 70%) – who can we point to among today’s “stars” that come close to even a small percentage of that. Del, my friend, I’ll immensely proud of you! Charlie McCoy was up next – that boy hasn’t lost a step! Wow! I still have a cassette tape of Charlie that I made off of an 8-track we had around the house when I was a kid (and not as young a kid as I’d like to claim). For many, the harmonica is simply a kazoo with more holes. In the hands of artists like Charlie McCoy it is an instrument worthy of any piece of music written. Superb. And, of course, closing the evening out was Amy Carol Webb. I was back stage before she went on and she was a little harried because she had come up one guitar stand short for what she needed. My car was nearby and I retrieved my compact stand for her to use. Consequently, my guitar stand has done something I’m never likely to do – accompany Amy Carol on stage – sniff, sniff, I’m sooooo proud!!! Exceptional show from Amy, as you’d expect, with guest spots by Ron and Bari Litschauer, Lon & Lis Williamson with Jason Thomas, Carrie Blackwell Hussey with Dan Leach (doing Steve’s song Mystery Tree) and Jeannie Fitchen with Mindy Simmons – Stellar all! Then on to the campfires. We stopped first at Goody and Mike Haines’ campsite shared with Carl and Barbara Wade and Doug Purcell. Doug has learned my tune Sinner’s Song and I couldn’t wait to hear it. I loved his rendition and am so flattered that he’s learned it! James Hawkins sat in a s well and we swapped tunes for an hour or so there before moving on. Next we hit the Gypsy Commune site assembled by Joel Kelly, Margie Laroe, Norm McDonald, Steve and Michelle and various others – a real tarp city. As it happened, Ron and Bari had just arrived and we joined the existing circle which included Norm, Michelle, Glen Smith, Linda Smith and, later on, Cathy Dewitt. We stayed there until 3 and wandered back towards the car, made a quick check at Ron & Bari’s campsite to see if there was any damage – Dawn was wearing beads which is never a good sign – then headed on back here to the trailer. We could have easily stayed up all night playing and it was tempting. But I do have that Seminole Camp Stage gig at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow so I guess I’ll close my eyes for a bit. What a great Day! You shoulda been here if you wasn’t! See you tomorrow.
Notes from the Road – Florida Folk Festival, Friday May 23, 2008 “Well I woke up this moanin, Lord the rain was fallin’ down . . . yeah I woke up this moanin’ and they was clouds hangin’ down . . . raindrops on my rooftop I hope it’s better than it sounds . . . “ Yeah, I got the “rain the first day of the festival blues. Not heavy rain, just steady. I really hope it clears before noon so that folks will come on out. C’mon weatherman do that voodoo that you do! Been up for a while playing some tunes and watching it rain. Surprisingly it’s not depressing – it’s very cool and comfortable out, peaceful and quiet. However, it will be no picnic getting to the stages today if this keeps up. Gonna go have some coffee, wash up and head over to see what’s happening – more later. Amazingly enough, the rain stopped, but it stayed overcast – not the fry your brains hot brutal sun we’re used to for this fest. Wonderful. It’s still pretty muggy, but by comparison to past events quite comfortable. And the crowd seems to be the usual for the opening Friday. A lot of folks can’t make it until Saturday, so Friday, though well attended, is a little slower. Got over to the fest grounds at around 11:30, dropped off my CD’s at the FOFF sales booth and then made my way around to the Under the Oaks Stage. It’s a stage I’ve never played before over near the ranger information building and in the middle of all the food vendors – a great location for midday and id did not disappoint. I had a very solid set before a healthy and responsive crowd. In fact I’ve rarely received as much after show congrats from audience and other performers alike. It was a good time to be “on” because following me was Amy Carol Webb. So not only was I playing for my folks and wanderers by who I pulled in, but also for her fans who came early to get a good seat. It was a high quality, demanding crowd and I had a blast performing for them! And, of course, I had the bonus of getting a big hug from Amy and getting to hear her set while I shoveled down a blue crab burrito from one of the nearby vendors. After Amy’s set Judy headed off to see The Ashley Gang (friends Al Scortino, Norm McDonald, Michelle, et al) and I went over to the Seminole Camp stage to hear Sam Pacetti. Sam is one of those rare talents – an absolute peerless wizard of fingerstyle guitar. I’ve known him for many years and he never ceases to amaze me. Watch for that name and if he’s ever within 1 ½ of you GO! You won’t be disappointed. He was followed by my pals Lon & Lis Williamson, Jason Thomas and Mickey Abramson – a/k/a Gatorbone. Jason is the fiddler for the renowned Claire Lynch Band and spends much of his time on the road (actually, in the air all over the world). But he is at his best with Lis & Lon, two of the finest musicians and people you’ll ever see or meet. This group has a ton of fun together and the crowd is just drawn into it. The style is Gypsy Jazz to western swing to bluegrass to folk and its ALL GOOOD! Another don’t miss act. Since we were right by the food vendors at the south gate (all of the churches in the cooking pavilion) we went ahead and pigged out for an early dinner. This is southern cooking at its very “cholesterol be damned” “to hell with weight” “ eat ‘til it hurts” best. We’re talkin’ fried chicken, collard greens, peas, okra, cornbread, sweet potato pie, etc. – yeah, you got it, OUTSTANDING!! And, the bonus was that we got to eat all that while we listened to our buds, The Roadside Revue, do a great set on the Old Marble Stage. I just doesn’t get any better. We came back to the camper for a bit to rest and clean up, then headed back to catch Ben Prestage on the Amphitheatre Stage at 7:30. Blues and Travis style picking that’ll knock your socks off – that’s Ben Prestage. From the Southeast coast area he is another talent that you simply should not miss if you get the chance to catch him. High energy, exceptional guitar work, self accompanied by foot operated drums he is a modern day one man band. He got a standing ovation and an encore – well deserved. Next was a FFF standard and favorite son, Jim Carrick. Another magnificent finger style player, Jim favored the hill side Amphitheatre crowd with old standards, including Michael Smith’s “The Dutchman.” Terrific set. Time to hit the campfires. We couldn’t get parked where we wanted so we had to hike in. The first place we came to is where we ended up staying all evening – with Joe and Katie Waller, Jim and (opps, braindead) Robertson, Lonnie & Marsha Hardesty and, later, the MT Pawketts crowd, Jeff Frieberg, Kace Montgomery, et al. We jammed and swapped tunes until near midnight before better judgment sent us packing. We did stop in at Ron and Bari Litschauer’s campdite for a nightcap and a song or tow, but then off to bed. Tomorrow it’s the River Gazebo Stage with Frank Thomas at noon – more tomorrow – G’nite!
Notes from the Road – Florida Folk Festival – Prologue, Thursday, May 22, 2008 Memorial Day weekend is upon us and it’s time for the Florida Folk Festival in White Springs just north of where I-75 crosses I-10 in north Florida. We spent the morning getting clothes together, planning limited meals, getting instruments together and loading the camper – it’s all the nit-picking that builds the anticipation for any trip or festival. We got on the road around 1:30 pm, later than we intended as usual, and were a little concerned about the overcast skies and drizzling, intermittent rain. Weather.com says we can expect scattered showers throughout the weekend in White Springs. At least it’ll b3e a little cooler than it usually is for Memorial Day weekend. The first shock was stopping to fill up with gas. I think I’ll rename the substance “GASP.” I should have filled up in town before getting on the highway. On the Turnpike it was $3.99 for regular – nothing regular about it. I didn’t fill up all the way since the pump shut me off at $75.00 and I didn’t have the heart to swipe the credit card again. So we decided to assuage our pain with coffees and ice-cream (also pricey by the way). It’s a good thing that folk music pays so well (wish I could put a laugh track into this thing). However, I made my first folkie pal sighting – Barry Brogan was “lurking” (and those of you who know Barry know what he looks like when he lurks) near the ice-cream machine. We exchanged quick hellos, but were both anxious to get back on the road. We pressed on through the Turnpike and onto I-75 – traffic was nuts. I was dragging the 24’ Coachman and pushing 75 – 80+ mph the whole way and was constantly getting nasty looks from folks passing left right and otherwise as if I were crawling long, LORD HELP ME, at the speed limit. Around the Ocala area I closed in on a van with a license plate that read “FOLKY” and had a Friends of Florida Folk bumper sticker, so I was sure I’d know them. Yep, Bill Messer and Marg Chauvin from down in West Palm – We honked as we blew by, Billy being a much more conservative driver than I. We roared into White Springs just after 4 pm. Just in time too as my $75 worth of GASP was already depleted. Checked in at the main office in the square near the park entrance. As I walked into the building I could hear my buddy Grant Livingston playing on the house stereo system. At the artists’ check-in I found Bari Litschauer and Verni Hardwicke handling my part of the alphabet so I got to say some more hellos and get checked in on a first class basis. On to the campground – we don’t stay at the campground on the festival site at Stephen Foster. It gets very crowded and most folks that stay there come in a week or more ahead of time to get their traditional spots. I get a camping pass so I can go campfire hopping at night, but for the sake of a good night’s sleep we stay at Kelly’s Campground just a couple of miles from the festival entrance. It’s very convenient and quiet, plus they always give me a rock star’s reception here. I’m not kidding, they always call me to get my reservation, call again later to confirm it, get me a spot near the showers like I like and then fawn over me when I arrive. You’d think I was SOMEBODY the way they treat me here (I have a feeling the treat everyone that way, but I like to think it’s just me). I HIGHLY recommend Kelly’s if you’re coming up for the festival or any time of year. After we got set up and settled in we headed on over to the festival grounds to see what was cookin’. Everybody’s streaming in. We got our campground pass and ran into Grant Peeples at the front gate. We cruised on around past Tom Shed’s massive motor mansion to the humble but hearty Roadside Revue site shared by Ron & Bari Litschauer, Stan Geberer and his lovely Kathy, Clyde and Loreli Walker and, later, Dawn and Charles DeWitt. That had out the hors d’oerves and tequila – HOME!!! We stayed and chatted a bit. Ron and I planned recording sessions for later this year on the two CD projects I’m working on. We gossiped some – the good kind, not the petty kind (ok, maybe a little). We called Dawn on the cell phone back in West Palm to see when they were likely to get on the road and to make her jealous because we were already funnin’ it up. We even sang an impromptu and pretty maudlin version of Happy Trails to her to end the call. Tequila is a magnificent substance. Back to the camper to get some dinner and chill. I don’t think we’ll be campfiring tonight – I’m going to hang close to home, practice for tomorrow’s set on the Under the Oaks stage at 1:30 pm, sip a little whiskey and otherwise relax. That’s how you spend your first day on the road to the Florida Folk Festival, the granddaddy of them all. See you tomorrow.
Notes from the Road – Gamble Rogers 2008 Sunday, May 4th – Another good night’s sleep and another beautiful clear day. A bit warmer today and it promises to get down right hot as the sun climbs overhead. But with no hint of rain in the forecast and the comfortable evenings we’ve had it’s hard to complain. The breeze is still blowing so in the shade it’s still really nice. But I can tell the stages are going to get warm. I don’t play until late afternoon so I can afford to be lazy. After finishing up my post for yesterday while I had my coffee and sending it out to all you anxious readers (ok, a wide range from the semi- mildly anxious to couldn’t care less), I cleaned up a little and headed over to the hospitality building for an early lunch. Ran into John William Davis who was busying himself restringing a 1930 Regal slot head parlor guitar. Poor John, not a happy camper. To say that he detests restringing that slot head (which is apparently a little tricky) would be a vast understatement. He finally resolve to replace only every other string thereby cutting his work in half while, hopefully improving the sound – not sure how that worked out, but I wouldn’t have dared suggest any scenario that would have put him in a position to change all six strings! Also spent some time talking to Chuck Hardwicke – like most all of us, Chuck was particularly impressed with the Carolina Chocolate Drops Friday night. But we also agreed that all of the talent booked for the festival was truly first rate top to bottom (including each other, of course!!). Magda Hiller danced through sporting a new short hairdo, very becoming. The food and company were great and before long I looked down and realized that I had to go shower, warm up and get ready to play. The last day, even more than others, don’t leave much opportunity to catch anyone else’s shows, but I did see a little of each of Jamie Defrates & Susan Brown, Frank Thomas, Roadside Revue and The Larry Mangum Trio – all excellent. My show was on the Florida Stage and, unfortunately it faced so that he tent walls blocked all possible air flow so that it was going to be sweltering behind the mic. The good news was that I realized it in time to return to my camper to retrieve my handy, dandy industrial squirrel fan. Recommended to me by my bud Mark Harris (Peters Road Swamp Band) this little jewel creates a silent hurricane of cool refreshing air flow. Saved my life today! I stayed cool and comfy throughout my show. An expectedly small crowd for a late, last day show, but very enthusiastic and appreciative. Plus, with sound by Tom Ellis it was a treat to get to finish up on this Stage – great job Tom, Thanks! I played a couple of new tunes mixed in with some of my familiar material and included, in honor of Gamble, my version of “The Dutchman.” Fun set. I went over, collected my remaining CD’s from the product sales area (pretty good CD sales, particularly with everyone adjusting to the new layout) and headed to the camper saying my goodbyes as I went. As I was breaking down the camper I could hear Bob Patterson’s wrap up show wafting from the main stage. We were on the road by about 5:45 p.m. So, it’s another Gamblefest come and gone. For my money, the new venue is a good fit. I don’t know what the attendance numbers were, but I thought the whole event was particularly well run and came off very smoothly. The volunteer corps was outstanding, taking care of everyone’s needs and keeping everything moving forward and on schedule. I wish I knew all the folks to thank, but I know that Paul Linser, Bob Patterson and Lis Williamson deserve a good portion of the credit – muchas gracias my friends. Can’t wait until next year.
Notes from the Road – Gamble Rogers 2008 Saturday, May 3rd – First, thanks to Norm and Mary on the Folkme list for adding the YouTube clips of all the performers I described yesterday – nice touch! Another gorgeous day – a little bit warmer with less breeze, but still so much more comfortable than Gamblefest’s in the past have been. I was able to sleep in a little after being up late around the campfire. Felt good! The performers’ hospitality area here is excellent – food is wonderful and the folks manning it are just terrific. I’m sure it make it more pleasant for the staff as well since it’s in its own little building complete with kitchen, etc. We’ve got table cloths on the tables, even candles! Very up town! I admit that I was focused on getting ready for my own set yesterday and did not venture out to the stages until after I played. I did, however, get a scouting report from Judy and Jessi who said they particularly enjoyed Grant Peeples, Magda Hiller, Chelsea Sadler and Mindy Simmons. No surprises there, always great performances. Obviously, everyone knows Magda and Mindy. For those who aren’t familiar, Grant is a Tallahassee area songwriter with a wonderful style and a riveting growl to his voice (see Ron Johnson’s review of Grant’s new CD in his last Strings and Things column). Chelsea is a young singer – songwriter from Jacksonville whose voice I find really compelling. She was a finalist at the Suwannee Springfest competition this year. I was on the Bean Creek Stage at 2:20 following Bob Patterson. Bob is just one of the best there is. An impeccable musician and a storyteller in the Gamble style – I know his old pickin’ pal is always grinnin’ when Bob is on stage. Bob had ‘em eatin’ out of the palm of his hand and the crowd continued to grow as I took the stage (probably folks getting’ there early for Red Henry who followed me!). I really enjoyed the set throwing in a couple of songs I hadn’t played in a while. Saw a lot of familiar faces in the crowd, including the incomparable Raven (what would you compare him to?) on the arm of his new lady love, Tisa Noble (that’s Tisa of Willfest campfire fame, the one that has the huge area with lights, flowing drapes, etc. with the assistance of her daughter Cassaundra and Ally Smith) – Way to go RAVEN! A very fun set with good sound, etc. And I got to chat for a minute or with Gabe Valla and show off my Collings OMH to him – forget it Gabe, not for sale! It’s hard to tell how the total crowd numbers are doing here at the new location. But, it does seem like the outlying stages are getting more attention and have better attendance than in past years. For me, this feels more like a grass roots, homespun folk festival than the amphitheatre did, at least since all the fancy renovations. Hopefully this is a more economical alternative and will give the festival a new home for years to come. After I put my guitar away I got a beer (of course, priorities after all) and headed over to catch some of Stevie Coyle’s show (see yesterday’s post for the FYI on Stevie). Talk about impeccable musicianship – this guy really knows his way around the fret board and has a right hand technique that is absolutely fluid. Stevie is also a Collings man (wish I could play mine like he does), a 000 size slot head that really sings. He told me later that the guitar fit his tastes so perfectly it was as if it actually selected him. For my money (and they ain’t cheap) not a better guitar around. Then another beer (priorities again) and over to catch my buds, The Roadside Revue, on the Old Town Stage. They’ve got a great new tune the name of which I haven’t gotten yet, but it’s about a fly that hitched a ride in the van all the way from Micanopy to Key Largo – funny, energetic stuff as always. They were followed by The Larry Magnum Trio who “wowed” them with Larry’s great songs and vocals and lead playing by a guy who I did not get to meet but who Larry always turned to at the instrumental break and hollered “PICK IT WHITE TRASH.” I’m guessin’ that guy’s available if anyone’s looking for a great lead player! Back to home base to clean up a tiny before dinner. The Roadside Revue gang, Ron & Bari Litschauer, Dawn & Charles DeWitt, Stan and Kathy Geberer (Ok, not married, but deal with it Kathy), along with their families, etc. came, accoutrements in hand (i.e., potent libations and mixers from south of the border) for a little happy hour action before dinner – what a hoot! Dinner in the hospitality area was excellent, particularly the white bean / red pepper salsa that made a wonderful side dish to everything! Then back to the camper for a few more happy minutes with the Mexican libations before wandering on over to the main stage for the evening shows. Wonderful line-up! Amy Carol Webb put on her typically great performance, joined on one tune by Mindy Simmons and Jeannie Fitchen. Gatorbone (Lis & Lon Williamson, Jason Thomas, Gabe Valla and Mickey Abramson) was exceptional. I think those guys rival the best in the business in the bluegrass / western swing genre. Lis’ vocals are to die for and her rock steady right hand technique has been my envy for quite some time. Mike Cross was up next. I saw him for the first time out at Winfield (The Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas) in the mid 90’s and was really looking forward to his show here. I had to chuckle about his photo in the Gamblefest brochure though – Mike hasn’t looked like that since high school! Nevertheless, the pudgier, less haired, over-alled current incarnation does not disappoint on the stage. Whether its lightning fingerstyle, bottleneck blues or rousing fiddle work, it’s all magnificently done and with a homespun, side-splitting humor that, I’m sure, keeps Mike in high demand. Last for the evening was Robin & Linda Williams and Their Fine Group. Another favorite of every folk fest and room in the country these guys are just top shelf. Linda opened the show with a classic, but introducing the band, including her “current husband” Robin (they’ve been married 35 years). These guys are full on fun from the first note. You can see a bit of them in the Garrison Keillor movie, A Prairie Home Companion, in which they play, well, themselves playing one of, well, their tunes – go figure! I headed back to the camper at about 10:30 and got the fire going. Ron & Bari soon appeared and we started pickin’ a tune or two. I swear we’d only played part of one song when I looked up and there must have been 30+ folks pulling up chairs and settling in (man, we needed more Tequilla!). With Dawn on bass, Stan Geberer on harmonica , Bari on banjo and mandolin and Ron on guitar and mando, the tunes started to fly. In the circle (well, the part up next to the fire because folks were stacked three and four deep) were those I’ve mentioned already, plus Rod McDonald and a drum wielding pal, Larry Mangum, Kathy DeWitt (no relation – this is the Patchwork / radio one), another of Kathy’s band mates (I swear I’ve got to get better with names) who really belter out some great tunes, Chelsea Sadler (and her friend whose name I didn’t get either, but who was doing some great back up guitar and harmony work), Jamie Defrates and Susan Brown, Jeannie & Ned Fitchen and a fella I’ve known for years, tall, blonde haired guy, wielding a mini dulcimer and bearing some terrific brownies ---- ARGGGG!!! I gotta start takin’ some Ginko-Bubba to help this memory thing!!! I know I’m forgetting some folks and I apologize – this is your brain on tequila. Plus, a stellar group of listeners stacked all around including Mother FOFF, Jean Hewitt, Deb Watts and many, many more. Great campfire and it carried on until around 1:30 or so. And there were others still going after we subsided – Grant Peeples and Carrie Hamby were still at it and a really dedicated group of six or so were out in the middle of a field under a light pole – you could see them glowing yellow in the distance, sounds of rapid fire bluegrass of the booming bass carrying on the still night air. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ . . . . .
Friday, May 2, 2008 – The weather is BEAUTIFUL!!! If you ain’t here, you’re messin’ up BIG TIME! The new edition of the Gamble Rogers Folk Fest kicked off Friday at the St. Johns County Fairgrounds a bit west of St. Augustine on SR 207 just outside of Elkins, Fl. For years the fest has been held on Anistasia Island at the amphitheatre on A1A. But circumstances (cost and others) forced the festival to move to new quarters to survive and continue on. Frankly, it seems like a good move. The fairgrounds are spacious and in many ways more “Gamble-like” since the amphitheatre went Hollywood in the past couple of years. This feels like home and exudes the kind of down home warmth that typified Gambles music and stories. We got on the road early today and it took less than two hours to get on site. Lis Williamson had helped me out with arrangement s for a campsite (thank ya mam!) and we were all set . Once we got the camper situated we strolled the grounds, located the stages, said hello’s to many, many friends and then kicked back to enjoy the afternoon. I was a little concerned that our campsite was completely unshaded and the sun was beating down, but the weather stayed in the mid 80’s and a consistent breeze kept everything wonderfully comfortable. So I sat under the awning, sipped a little libation and restrung guitars – even picked a tune or two. At 6 p.m. we joined the throngs for the renewed Friday night fish fry. What a feed!! Exceptional food – fish with hush puppies, cole slaw, baked beans (with some jalopenas for a little kick). Excellent!! The volunteers working that duty really earned everyone’s thanks. The long line for the food moved at a trot – literally – as everyone hustled to get the loaded plates out to us all. Outstanding guys – really enjoyed it! Then a great line-up on the Big Top Stage to kick things off. The Aaron O’Rourke Trio came on at 7 p.m. – WOW! You hear that the trio is centered around the mountain dulcimer and you think melodic, old time, plucky / strummy music – WRONG!! Aaron is to mountain dulcimer what Jimmy Hendricks was to electric guitar. You can sit right there and watch him and still not believe what you’re hearing. Unbelievable music. And lest you think Aaron is the only hot picker up there, Mickey Abraham on mandolin is world class as well. If you get a chance to see these guys do yourself a favor and get there. Mary Flower was up next. This amazing musician who currently makes her home in Portland, OR. Is an incredibly uanassuming virtuoso in intricate syncopated Piedmont styled finger picking and bluesy lap-slide guitar. I had heard of Mary, but had not seen her perform. Another WOW!! She has such a great relaxed and familiar stage presence interlaced with personal humor – simply a treat! Mary will be in Orlando Monday night at Fodor’s in Orlando sponsored by CFFI. Check the Central Florida Folk, Inc. website (http://www.cffolk.org/ ) for more details. Stevie Coyle then took the stage. A co-founder of the high energy California group The Waybacks, Stevie left the group to tour solo. Another amazing guitarist, Stevie’s show is a combination of immaculate guitar work and zany humor that hits everyone in the audience “right where they live” at some point in his non-stop banter and lyrics. Stevie puts out a newsletter that is as entertaining as his stage performance and you can subscribe for free at http://steviecoyle.com – highly recommended. Wrapping up the formal stage shows for the night was the amazing Carolina Chocolate Drops – three kids (everyone less than 30 is a kid to me) from North Carolina who are adept students of traditional music heritage and bring those styles to the present with astounding energy, versatility and infectious vibe. Their show includes fiddles, banjo’s, guitars, resonator guitars, jugs, jars, drums, fifes, mouth harps, harmonicas, stomping feet, clapping hands, dancing, amazing vocals and huge smiles on every face in the crowd. I had the chance to see them in Memphis two years ago at Folk Alliance and their ability to create music even simply with rhythm and rudimentary instruments, some of which they make themselves, is inspirational. Another don’t miss act. With the stage closing down we headed back to the camper, got out the fire pit and fied her up. I had no sooner sat down, evening libation in hand, than folks began to gather - Larry Mangum, Ray Lewis, Larry’s old rock n’ roll buddy Jack, Woody, Chris ____?, John William Davis, Tina ______(damn I’m bad at last names!!), Grant Peeples and others ended up circled round the fire swapping tunes, jokes and jibes. Incredibly talented people all. I was particularly blown away by John William Davis’ friend Tina whose voice, guitar work and songwriting were just awesome. And, as we passed midnight we went from Grant Peeples’ birthday to Tina and Larry Mangum’s birthdays – all around one small campfire – too cool! Not a terribly late night – everyone started easing away around 1 a.m. or a little after. What a beautiful night. Nice and cool, not a cloud in the star heavy skies and the smell of wood smoke. Sure hated to call it a night.
Notes from the Road – Barberville Spring Frolic Saturday, April 26th – Gorgeous weather and a perfect Saturday morning to kick off another annual Barberville Spring Frolic at the Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts just west of the intersection of Highway 17 and SR 40 in Voulsia County, Florida (that’s a little northwest of Deleon Springs / DeLand, almost due east of Ocala and west by southwest of Ormond Beach). Every Spring musicians from throughout the State gather with craftsman of all types to celebrate our native culture on the historic grounds of the Settlement. Thanks go to Joe & Katie Waller for their herculean and selfless efforts in organizing, scheduling and supervising the music – outstanding job guys! A little bit about the Settlement: The Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts, Inc. was established as an educational institution whose general nature and objective is to render constructive, educational, and cultural services to the community through collection, preservation, conservation and exposition of objects which are the cultural heritage of the community. A dedicated program of preserving artifacts, buildings and local history is ongoing. This program consists of permanent and rotating exhibits, workshops on identifying and cataloguing artifacts, research of local history topics, and a program for interpreting history, and the exhibits and collections. Growing attendance over the years has created a demand for more space and the Settlement moved local and regional historically significant buildings onto the property. As a result a historical "village" setting emerged. Featured structures include: 1982: Pierson Railroad Depot (c. 1885) 1983: Astor Bridgekeeper's House (c. 1926) 1984: Turpentine Comm./Store (c. early 1900s) 1988: Turpentine Still (c. 1924) 1989: Pottery Shed (c. 1920s) 1992: Lewis Log Cabin (c. 1875) 1994: Midway United Methodist Church (c. 1890) 1996: Huntington Post Office (c. 1885) 1997: Quarters House (c. 1920s) 1998: The Pastime touring boat (c. 1910) Through the years, additional workshops were built to exhibit various historical trades and lifeways: Print Shop, Wheelwright Shop/Carriage House, Woodwright Shop, Blacksmith Shop, and Timucuan-Myacca and Seminole Villages. There is also a myriad of farm animals and birds in residence, including a rambunctious pen full of peacocks who in the Spring are in full strut and very vocal. You’d really enjoy this place and if you haven’t been there, particularly with kids or grandkids, you are missing out. I arrived at around 10 a.m. Saturday to check in and get ready for my set in the Church at 11 a.m. A beautiful Spring morning – blue skies, sun was shining, peacocks were caterwauling, Port-O-Lets were fresh . . . ok, too much information. I followed Rog Lee in the Church before a small, but appreciative early day crowd. The Church is one of my favorite venues in the Settlement – the acoustics are awesome. The set included a new tune, As the Crow Flies, which was very well received and folks stuck around afterwards to buy CD’s, which is always appreciated! Judy and I went ahead and had lunch at around 11:30 or so and just beat the rush. By the time I got our thick burgers and huge, fat hotdogs the lines were 20 or more deep. Timing is everything! After we finished we ambled over to the Bridgehouse stage for the end of Barry Brogan’s set, followed by The Ashley Gang and then Susie Cool and the Coolottes (minus Stuart Hall who on conflicting reports was either kidnapped by a group of etiquette terrorists or finally arrested on those outstanding warrants). Excellent sets by all. I also slipped over to the Barn Stage nearby to hear a little of Bill & Eli Perras’ set. I wasn’t able to spend time with Bill & Eli this weekend, probably because they’ve gone big time after the publication of their great review in Sing Out! And, consequently, they are now being hounded by the folk paparazzi – a tough crowd indeed! My next set was at 2:30 on the Sugar Cane Stage following Pete Easton and the Possum Pickers. Man has that group grown!! There were so many musicians on stage (well actually, on and around the stage – couldn’t get even half of them actually on the platform) that if the crowd had gotten the least bit unruly I think the band could have taken them! I’d hate to be a roadie for that crowd! Had a wonderful set there with my “fan of the day” Sherry singing along to every song I did from my 2005 Truths & Lies CD. Sherry made every one of my three performances on Saturday and bought a copy of my newest CD, Break Some Stones. So, I suspect she’ll be singing along with all of those tunes by the next festival. What a wonderful compliment! And, we learned just after my set that one of my original MySpace pals and devoted fan, Kim from Eustis is engaged to Hartley from Leesburg! Congrats guys! After that set we slipped over to the Family Stage and heard a little Jackson Creek (Joe & Katie Waller, etc.), chatted with old friends and dawdled in the shade. All of this fun was working up an appetite and, since I needed to eat early anyway, we decided to head over to the Blackwater Inn on the St. John’s at Astor for an early supper. Fingerling catfish!! Yum . . . . We got back in time to catch Ron & Mary (that’d be Johnson and Matthews for the uninitiated) on the Barn Stage. Great set with tunes both old and new. Ron included his song, Rescue Train, about the great 1935 labor day Hurricane that hit the Florida Keys, the same subject as my tune, Hemingway’s Hurricane. Ron and Mary always put a lot of energy into their show. Nice job guys. I had to skip out after that to go tune up for my last set. The best part of the day was the evening line-up on the Barn Stage. I played at 7 p.m. to a sizeable and enthusiastic crowd. Then I got to kick back and relax as some of my all time favorites performed: James Hawkins and Cold Harbor, then The Ashley Gang, then M.T.Pawketts and last, but not least, Jackson Creek. This was first rate music in a unique and wonderful setting. And to think, all of this could have been yours too for a meager $6 admission for the entire day! If you weren’t there you really missed out! Sunday, April 27th Judy decided to stay at home and work on Sunday so I was flying solo for Sunday. My first appearance was at Noon teaching a songwriting workshop with James Hawkins and Ron Johnson. I got on site a little before 11 a.m. and went over to see Stevens, Worrell and McKee on the Sugar Cane stage. Great show. These guys are all three first rate pickers and Worrell is equally lethal with a guitar or a mandolin. Check them out. I grabbed one of those big fat hotdogs and an iced tea and headed back to the Barn Stage to hear Mullet Run followed by Salt Lick Serenade. Excellent presentations of standards and old favorites. Much fun to listen to and the audience was stomping feet, clapping hands and singing along enthusiastically. The songwriting workshop was a relaxed affair where we played some tunes, told the stories behind some of our songs and talked about the process a little. It’s always hard to decide what to do that might be meaningful in a one hour workshop, but they always seem to take on a life of their own and lead you to where the folks want to go. So, I always enjoy them. Now I had a break from 1 until 2:30 when I returned for my last set at the Barn Stage. I found a grassy, shady spot, took out the guitar and noodled around on it while I enjoyed the weather. Even go a couple of melody ideas sitting there. It also gave me time to plan out my last set which I decided would be an “all Florida” set of my historical / State based material. I got to the stage in time to hear the end of another Stevens, Worrell and McKee show while I got tuned up and then took the stage for the final time for this edition of Barberville. True to my plan I played four of my Florida tunes (Banks of the Old St. Johns [my Will McLean winner in 1997], A Mother’s Tears, Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams [my 3rd place Will McLean finisher this year] and a new tune about moonshing in North Florida, Yellow Butter Moon. Then my audience stepped in with a request – always welcome of course – for Annie’s Chairs. And then I finished out with my song for Steve Blackwell, Welcome Home. I stayed long enough to pack up and sell a few more CD’s while I listened to Starbird in the background and then headed for the car (I’d promised Judy I’d get home early and take her to a movie). And so ends another terrific Barberville Spring Frolic. They do it all again in the fall in November there in the Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts so mark your calendars for November 1 & 2!! Thanks again Joe & Katie for a wonderful, well run event!
I have limited Internet access here, so I’m going to keep this diary style and post in one long entry. Bear with me. When I left Suwannee Springfest last weekend we came to Dunnellon and dropped off the camper on site in the campground where “Willfest” is to be held this year. The campground is eclectic, but very nice. There is a lot of shade, plenty of sites with water and power hookups and many sites right on the Withlacoochee River. We got a site centrally located and then sent out emails to folks we knew were coming so they could camp nearby if they wanted. The plan had been to come over Thursday night for the annual potluck dinner for the early arrivers then settle in for the festival Friday through Sunday. However, events conspired against us and we didn’t get back until late morning on Friday – Oh well. Friday, April 4th – This is a day that Judy and I expected to be a little difficult, and it was. This would have been our son Tanner’s 18th birthday. It’s still so hard more than four months later to accept and comprehend that he’s gone. But we were surrounded here by so many good friends, family and music that it helped ease the strain. Putting the word out on where we were camped did the trick. Ron & Bari Litschauer and Charles & Dawn DeWitt (Roadside Revue) got in on one side of us. Clyde & Lorelei Walker were just beyond them. Joe & Katie Bailey (Jackson Creek) were right behind us. And, Joel Kelly, Marjorie LaRoe and Dan Gribben (Work Release Program) were on the other side of us. Norm MacDonald was tucked in next to Dan Gribben and Al & Cindy Scortino (The Ashley Gang) were just one site over. Ally Smith, with Tisa, Rob and Cassaundra, were right across the road in one direction, Ron & Nancy Hagen in the other. So, as I said, we were surrounded by wonderful friends. I was scheduled on the Main Stage in the evening at 8 p.m. right before the Dean of Florida Folk, Frank Thomas. I followed Carrie Hamby and Singing Biscuit – tough act to follow, let me tell you. They had the crowd fired up before they left the stage. I had wondered how many people we would have, particularly on Friday night, since this was a different venue for the festival. The answer was - big crowd, actually bigger than usual for the first night under the big pole barn style pavilion. So, at 8 p.m. sharp they brought me on. What a fun, well received set! My folks were there with a close family friend, as well as my brother and sister-in-law, and it made the performance all the more special. Since we were sitting within both sight and sound of the Withlacoochee I started off with Withlacoochee Dreamer, a song I wrote last year (a top ten winner at Willfest last year) and which will be included on an “all Florida” CD I hope to release later this year. I followed that with Break Some Stones, the title cut of my 2007 release which recently won another award, this one from the Great American Songwriting Competition. Then I played Welcome Home, the song I wrote for my friend Steve Blackwell who passed away September 2006, dedicating it not only to him, but also to Bobby Hicks who passed away earlier this year. Both Steve and Bobby are beloved members of our Florida Folk Family and are sorely missed. Then Ron Litschauer honored me by joining me on stage with his mandolin. We kicked it up a notch with Teppintine featuring Ron’s “workin’ man blues” style approach that makes that song a stand out on my 2005 Truths & Lies CD. From there we did This Old House, always a crowd favorite, and finished strong with a driving rendition of Steam Train. An excellent set, wonderfully well received and so much fun. With the “work” behind me I visited with so many friends outside the pavilion while listening to Frank Thomas (assisted by a cast of several, including Ron who switched to guitar for Frank’s material). After the stage closed at 11:30, I slung a guitar over my shoulder and, refreshments in hand, began to wander. I sat and played for an hour or so over at Ally/Tisa/Rob/Cassaundra’s. They went to great lengths to decorate their campfire area with wispy white cloth strung on a high line between trees, Christmas style lights, rope lights on the ground and even solar powered ground stake lights. I told them that it looked like they’d had a rear-end collision with a WalMart stock truck on the way to the festival – very nouveau-folkie / redneck kitsch. They are such a great crowd, love those folks. Then I filtered back to Ron & Bari’s where a serious, high energy jam was going on driven by Roadside Revue, Bob Patterson and Clyde Walker. Some serious hot pickin’ goin’ on there. I listened to that great music for a while, then wandered off into the dark looking for Tom Shed’s campsite down by the river. As it turned out I found it, but didn’t know it. I saw a motor home like his with a screen room next to it about where he had told me it would be and there was a song circle proceeding inside. But when I stuck my head in I saw neither Tom, nor anyone I recognized, and, though everyone is welcome everywhere, it was getting late enough (after 1 a.m. by this point) that I didn’t want to do the old “introduction to new folks dance” so I just kept on going. Turns out that was Tom’s circle after all and he was just inside doing host duties of some kind. Anyway, I wandered back past the Cypress Stage where a large song circle was in progress with many folks I know (Tom Ellis , Mike Jurgensen, Dan Leach, Glenn Smith, Lee Hunter & Arvid Smith (Tammerlin) and several others). However, I was starting to sag, so after listening to several tunes, rather than jump in and start playing I decided to go get horizontal (about 2 a.m. or so). I’ve got a packed schedule tomorrow, so best not do it with little sleep. Great night – I got comfortable and drifted off to sleep to the deep resonance of Dawn DeWitt’s bass next door (they said that circle didn’t break up until about 4 a.m.). More tomorrow. Saturday, April 5th Got a great night’s sleep and woke to a beautiful morning. Coffee, a little campfire (for atmosphere, certainly not heat), conversation with passers-by, then time to start some rehearsing. I had three shows today, two of which were as one of the winners of this year’s Song Contest – a new tune, Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams, was #3 and Hemmingway’s Hurricane was #6. My other set was on the Cypress stage and Ally Smith agreed to sing harmonies for me there so we spent an hour running those tunes to get set for that. At noon I was on the Magnolia Stage to present Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams, get my award plaque, etc. Malcolm McKinney from Southeast Florida was #2 and Debary’s Rog Lee took the top spot. At 1:30 p.m. I was at the Cypress Stage in time to hear Still Friends (Carrie Blackwell, Jaffe Blackwell, Dan Leach and another woman who, unfortunately, I haven’t yet met). These guys are just the cream of the crop and are in fine trim. Carrie’s vocals just knock you out and it’s great to hear Steve’s songs continue to live on. Great set guys. Then Ally and I gave the crowd Mournful Eyes, Lies, Sinner’s Song, Annie’s Chairs, This Old House and Hemingway’s Hurricane. I love playing for the crowds at Wilfest. They are among the most appreciative, respectful and giving anywhere. After I finished at the Cypress Stage I hung around to hear Bob Patterson’s set. Bob, of course, hails from the St. Augustine area, was a close friend of Gamble Rogers and an integral member of the Florida Folk community. He is the master of the twelve string guitar and spins a tale like Gamble himself. Bob is the consummate showman and I envy both his talent and exceptional stage presence. If you’re not familiar with him, catch Bob’s show soon in St. Augustine or at any of Florida’s best festivals. Then on to the Azalea Stage where all top ten song finalists presented their songs. What a great group of tunes. Rog Lee and I both had two songs in the top ten. He was #1 and #5 and I was #3 and #6. So, I lost to him TWICE in the same contest!! Every song I heard was exceptional, particularly Larry Mangum’s “tale of Dale Crider and Gamble Rogers.” I was honored to be included in this group of terrific writers and songs. Now with all of my work for the weekend done I went and got rid of my guitar, grabbed a little flask of refreshment that Lis Williamson had returned to me earlier and headed back to the Azalea Stage to hear a terrific line-up there of some of my favorites. Ron Johnson & Mary Matthews came right after the song contest presentation and did an excellent set of tunes – one of their best shows I’ve heard. Excellent driving tunes with Art Crummer on Dobro and solid vocals from both Ron & Mary. Great set guys. I only heard part of Jerry Mincey’s set (that’s when I went to dump my guitar, etc), but what I heard was outstanding. Jerry was followed by my good friends, The Roadside Revue. It was kind of tight on that small stage for the full band, including Daffy Dawn DeWitt’s stand up bass, Bitty Bari’s banjo and mandolin, Captain Ron and his guitar, plus their guest fiddler, the amazing Wayne Martin. But, I’ve never seen folks have more fun playing music, nor a crowd have more fun listening to it. Their spirit, energy and wit are irresistible. Next up, James Hawkins with Steve and Leigh Humes, plus a dobro player that I’m sorry to say I didn’t get the name of. Sound troubles delayed the start a bit, but James made up quickly for lost time. This group has got a terrific, very tight sound. Just when I think they’ve hit their stride they get even better yet. The last set I saw on that stage was Hannah’s Whirl, my friends Paul and Tammy from Tampa. Excellent set guys!! Their rendition of Steve Blackwell’s Mystery Tree is very stirring and Paul’s Tarzan Pants had everybody rolling in the aisles. Carrie Hamby was up next and I hated to go, but the storm clouds were forming and the word was that a major blow with up to 50 mph winds and heavy rain was headed our way – yikes!! I went back to the camper, pulled everything in and battened down the hatches before cooking dinner for Judy and I as the rain started to fall. Now our plan had been to eat, clean up and get back over to the Magnolia Stage to hear Mindy Simmons, Amy Carol-Webb and Lis Williamson’s shows. However, the rain persisted and while we could have gotten to the stage easy enough with umbrella’s, etc., I was concerned about the forecast of high winds and making sure the camper was ok. So, we never made it to the stage. As usual, the weather report never materialized and though the rain kept a low steady pace, the wind never appeared (thank goodness). Well, 11 p.m. and still raining – no campfiring for me tonight. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ . . . Sunday, April 5th Well, another VERY good night’s sleep. I’d love to stick around for the music today, but Judy and I both have busy weeks coming up so we’ll try to pull out by noon at the latest. A few notes before we get under way. The report from all was that all three of my intended shows last night, Mindy, Amy and Lis, were outstanding and played to a huge crowd that did not wimp out in the face of bad weather predictions like I did – HATE that I missed it!! Not only that, but apparently the true stalwarts among us took advantage when the rain stopped at around 1 a.m. and got the fires going. Some played all the way until 6 a.m. – now THAT’s FOLK MUSIC!!! We spent a while saying our goodbyes to all the folks around us and the many more that filtered by as we got the camper ready to go. Our review of the new location is all thumbs up. Though the old location at Sertoma near Dade City is very intimate and familiar, The Withlacoochee campground is larger, heavily shaded and has the great advantage of the frontage on the river. The stages all worked out well, particularly for a first time effort in a new location. Many, many thanks to Margaret Longhill and all of her crew for putting on yet another (the 19th!!!) amazing Willfest. Can’t wait until next year.
Notes from the Road – Suwannee Springfest – Saturday, March 29th Never seen better festival weather, absolutely gorgeous! Much the same routine this morning though Judy and I rose at about the same time – right at the crack of 8 a.m. Made coffee, built a fire and chatted across the path with a neighbor who had been deep into the tequila and other reality altering refreshments yesterday. He declared that he was sure there had been two moons last night and then hopped into his rented golf cart which backed (much too fast past one tree ripping the windshield from its mounts and then slammed into a tree behind him badly denting the rear cargo grate. I don’t think the moons have set just yet!!! Seems good things happen when I’m out relaxing like this. Yesterday a news interview and today a new songwriting award. My friend Jan Seides in Austin emailed me to congratulate me on winning an honors award in the Great American Song Contest. “Break Some Stones” finished in the top 20 in the Folk / Acoustic category out of approximately 2000 entries. Cool! Our daughter Jessi, who is a Junior at FSU, came over this morning to join us for today and tomorrow. Her boyfriend drove her and dropped her off. One criticism I have for the fest is the difficulty you go through trying to get through security just to get to where you pay to get in. Despite explanations, she could not get past the front gate (the one out on the highway) to get down to the ticket area without me coming out to get her. Even beyond the front gate there were two more security check points (this because I already had a sticker on my car showing I had entered earlier and was, therefore, suspicious entering again), not to look for contraband of course, but to be sure someone wasn’t smuggling in “festival illegals” without paying the required fees - still before you even get to ticketing. This is poor commentary on the perceived character of the crowd attending the fest. OK, rant concluded. I haven’t caught up to a lot of the folks I know that are here – Clyde Walker, Marie Nofsinger, etc. But I have bumped into many friends including the stellar Larry Mangum from Jacksonville and Ray Lewis who does such a great job promoting music in and around the Jacksonville area. Larry came over Thursday night to root for Chelsea Saddler in the songwriter finals. I tried to convince him to stick around and swap some tunes, but he had to get on to the drive back to Jax. Ray, however, is here for the whole program and I’ve bumped into him several times. And, I met Patti Petow, my MySpace friend and music promoter from St. Pete, who I’d never seen face to face before. Check out Patti’s MySpace page. She has an interesting internet video hosting business for musicians and others that is quite unique. I also got a chance to talk a while with Gloria Holloway. It was really different because Gloria was standing on an earthen ledge in the amphitheater so that she was up almost on eye level with me. Not used to talking eye to eye with her – never above a “short” joke, am I? My listening schedule today was all at the Amphitheatre Stage. At 3 p.m. was Guy Clark who was, as always, personal, engaging and relaxed. He was backed by Verlon Thompson on guitar, a great songwriter in his own right. Based on shouts from the crowd, Guy played one old favorite after another. Only one new tune came during the one hour set – kind of a sequel to LA Freeway. Good song. I’m always a little disappointed when you have the opportunity to hear a great songwriter like Guy Clark who you can be certain always has a sack of new songs he’s carrying around and yet all the crowd wants to hear are the ones they have at home on the CD which they’ve played a gazillion times. I’m waiting for one of my idols like Guy to step out for a one hour set and announce that at least half of it is going to be songs you’ve never heard before. Guess that doesn’t necessarily sell CD’s unless they’re on a new one you’ve just released. Nevertheless . . . Jim Lauderdale was next – last year’s Grammy winner for best bluegrass album. At various points in the show he was joined by Josh Pinkham and the Pinkham family and the Infamous Stringdusters. Great set, though the sound mix for them was difficult given the number of instruments and folks coming and going. So, the sound turned out a little “muddy” for much of his set. Nevertheless, very enjoyable. Now, Claire Lynch was next and since I had seen them on Friday I considered going to get something to eat, etc. while they did their show. But, I enjoy Jason’s work so much I decided to stick with them. Boy, am I glad I did! They put on one helluva set including a tremendous swing tune written by the group’s guitar player which featured Jason on the mandolin. To my delight, they covered a song by our good friend Don Oja-Dunaway, one of favorites of his, Kennesaw Line. Then they concluded the show with a rousing version of Wabash Cannonball that included a solo by the bass player bowing the standup bass in a bluegrass tune – I know, you’ll have to take my word for it. Just an outstanding set. Last for my listening pleasure and amazement was David Grisman and his quintet. Calling what he does “Dawg Music”, I didn’t realize that his nickname, Dawg, was given to him by his close friend Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. "Dawg Music" is his mixture of bluegrass and Django Reinhardt-Stéphane Grappelli-influenced jazz, as highlighted on his 1977 album "Hot Dawg". It was Grisman's combination of Reinhardt-era Jazz, bluegrass, folk, Old World Mediterranean string band music, as well as modern Jazz fusion that came to embody "Dawg" music. Grisman, along with New Grass Revival are generally considered the modern day interpreters of the new bluegrass-influenced fusion sound, sometimes called newgrass. (quoted from Wikipedia). Man, what a show. Such a combination of astounding musicians and masterful arrangement. It was so high energy and intense that at the end of their one-hour set, plus encore, I was pooped! Grisman says that if you go to his Acoustic Disc website every day there is a different tune of his you can download for free – I have a new addition to my daily ritual. Though I’ve got a couple of his CD’s already he is very prolific with about 20 CD’s still in print. He says that if you go to the site every day for ten months you’ll have them all! After Grisman’s show I came back to the camper, built a fire, chatted with Judy and Jessi, played tunes per their request, chatted with passing neighbors and sipped wine until near midnight. Don’t know if I’ll see any shows tomorrow since my plan is to get the camper loaded and drop it somewhere in Dunnellon near the campground for Willfest next weekend. I’m primed and ready to play. This has been a great weekend. Very relaxing, great music, friends and weather. But, Monday is bearing down and time to start looking towards the next adventure. Stay tuned.
What a gorgeous day. This was one of those days so perfect that you instinctively know to be thankful. I started relatively early, around 7 a.m. I’d been awake for about an hour laying here in the camper dozing and thinking. That’s usually when song ideas, rewrites, etc. start to percolate and that’s what happened today. So, I got up, put some coffee on and went out to build a fire. It was very cool, 50’s, quiet and beautiful. My fire was one of the first going. I eased back inside (careful to leave the queen in slumber), got coffee, my old Martin 000-18 and a long sleeve shirt (hey, I said it was chilly) and parked out by the fire. You know, I could get used to this. The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park is just a great facility. There is so much going on here all the time, even when there’s no festival. Right on the Suwannee so there’s canoeing, a large crafts village (retail area), a well stocked country store for supplies, a nice restaurant, horse stables and riding trails, you name it. If you’re looking to get away for the weekend of camping this is the place to come. Campsites are almost all shaded and there’s lots of area for both full hook-ups, primitive camping and everything in between, including rental cabins. It’s really first rate. Once Judy roused an hour or so later, I got the computer out so I could send out my “Notes” posts, answer email, etc. I’ve discovered that there is wireless here in the park, but reception is spotty so I got my cell phone out to connect up (it’s set up to work as a wireless, hi-speed connection). I had a missed call and a message which turned out to be from the Ocala Star Banner wanting to interview me for a piece on the upcoming Will McLean Festival. So, I returned the call and spent a half hour or so on the line with ace reporter (I hope) Tony Violanti. Hopefully I didn’t say anything too stupid. Then I logged on and did my internet thing. You know, sometimes you’re just too comfortable where you’re at to actually get going and go hear some music (I know, I know, I’ll rot in . . . etc., etc.,). I wrote, practiced, sent emails, ate lunch, wrote more, napped – wonderful. So, the first act I saw was Josh Pinkham and the Pinkham Family at 3:40 p.m. To say that Josh is a hot mandolin player is like saying a nuke is just a big firecracker – wow! And you know what, daddy Pinkham’s a damned fine guitar / banjo player his own self. Plus, mom is a great soulful, bluesy vocalist. Wouldn’t want to challenge those folks to a family talent contest! Next, The Claire Lynch Band with my friend Jason Thomas on fiddle and mandolin. Of course, many of you know him from his work with Valla, Turner, Williamson, his appearances in Winter Garden at The Attic Door, etc. The CLB was terrific. Claire has such a tremendous bluegrass voice and the band is exceptionally tight. Jason is without a doubt one of the cleanest (if not the cleanest) fiddle and mando players out there. This gig with Claire Lynch has been his biggest break yet (I would think) and so well deserved – man what a talent. After that I got a chance to chat a bit with Lis Williamson and then head back to the camper for supplies before getting a bite to eat and watching Gatorbone over on the Florida Stage. While I was ambling about I bumped into John William Davis who regaled me with his story of driving from his home in Georgia out to Swallow Hill in Denver in his old beat up Volvo to play a gig with Jack Williams. Sounded like the pouring rain and threats of flooding in the Midwest were quite harrowing as he traveled through. Glad he got there and back without incident. The vendor area for this event is huge. There is a lot more variety for food than is usually the case at most festivals (except, of course, the Florida Folk Fest, which has the advantage of the Nelly Bly’s area). So I had a fried gator tail burrito (see what I mean) and headed over to the Old Florida Stage. Gatorbone was superb. Their sound is just one of my favorites. Lis has one of the best voices out there and I’m so jealous of her right hand technique on the guitar – gotta get her to give me a lesson or two (or 12). I am also always impressed with Lon’s vocals, particularly on his own material. Since Jason was here with Claire Lynch he got to rejoin Lis & Lon for this set. However Gabe Valla couldn’t make the trip, so Mickey Abraham from the Aaron O’Rourke trio sat in on Mando and Guitar. This guy’s another hot, hot player. He and Jason got into a little “deliverance-esque” challenge and respond on mando and fiddle. Jason topped him, breaking into a little “Andy Griffith” melody right in tempo. But, it was ruled a low blow and the duel was a draw – too funny. Next on my list was the Wayback’s on the Amphitheatre Stage. I became an instant fan two years ago when they just blew me away at Gamble Rogers. They have such energy and presence with tremendous instrumental and vocal technique. However, they are one member short for this fest. The older (notice I did not say old) member who plays acoustic guitar and leads most of the banter is, for some reason, absent. He really seemed to be the center of the group and without him, though they were still great, I was a little disappointed – didn’t have the same synergy on stage. So, then back to the camper around 10 or so, built a campfire and played tunes, drank wine and wooed Judy for a couple of hours before turning in. A great part of the entertainment each day is watching the antics of the hordes around us in the campground. This is a partying bunch – not necessarily loud and raucous, in fact quite polite and accommodating. However, far from sober and very amusing to watch. Lots of kids too just having a grand time getting to stay up late and dash about unencumbered. All in all, quite an interesting gathering. More tomorrow – stay tuned!!
This is a little different for me these days – here at a festival solely as a spectator. Kind of nice actually. I played this festival the first 4 or 5 years it ran, but I haven’t been invited back in the past few years. However, I love this campground and the folks that run this event so I thought it was time to check it out again. Springfest is a production of Magnolia Music & Events, a/k/a our old friends Randy & Beth Judy and crew. It has grown into a huge, successful music extravaganza blending Folk, Celtic, Bluegrass, Folk Rock and other genre’s. This year the headliners include The Waybacks, The Claire Lynch Band, The Aaron O’Rourke Trio, Guy Clark, Verlon Tompson, The Steve Grisman Quartet, Peter Rowan, Roy Bookbinder and many, many more, plus a sampling of our own home grown talent including Lis & Lon Williamson, Clyde Walker, Tammerlin, Marie Nofsinger, Sam Pacetti, Cathy Lee and Annie Wenz. We pulled in at around 5:30 p.m. (later than I had planned) so we missed Gatorbone (Lon & Liz Williamson) on the Amphitheatre Stage – dang!! There’s a bunch of folks here! The festival has really grown. We got set up in our campsite, showered and then headed over to watch the songwriter contest finalists. We missed the first one as we had grabbed some supper and brought it with us to eat while we watched only to find out that the Music Hall Stage (a huge, much nicer edition of the old room) is actually connected to the restaurant now and they don’t let you bring food in. So we sat outside and ate, thereby missing the first finalist, Dean Johanesen (sorry Dean). However we saw the other 5. It was unusually “Florida heavy” this year as four of the six were from here at home. The other two were from N.C. Five of the Six were youngish (which for me could mean anything under 40), some only in their teens and all quite talented. The one, more “life experienced” fella was Steve Simpson from N.C. As Steve took the stage and began to play his first tune I realized I knew him – he’s a regular a the Swannanoa Gathering in N.C. and I’ve had the chance to swap tunes with him the past couple of years. As it turns out, age before beauty – Steve took the top spot and will return next year as a featured performer. The second spot went to Cheryl Watson of St. Augustine and third to the other Carolinian, Amanda Lightfoot. Another of the finalists, Chelsea Saddler from Jacksonville, the youngest of the six, was particularly good with a very strong, engaging vocal style. If you get the chance, catch her around Jax. Credit where credit is due – the “heavy lifting” here was done by Gloria Holloway from Tampa, Donna Green-Townsend (Executive Producer at WUFT Gainesville) and Mitch Lind (Wings & Strings). They had the tough chore of judging these six finalists and choosing the winners. That’s not a job I ever want! After the contest finals we stayed in the Music Hall to hear our friend John William Davis, last year’s contest winner. He’s another one that, if you’re not familiar with him already, you need to hear. Terrific lyricist and excellent guitarist. In particular, look for his song, “They Oughta Move to Texas” and his “yankee” song, both of which will have you in stitches. Great 1 hour set by John. Now there was music on many stages going on until the wee hours. But it had been a long, tiring day so we opted for the comfort of the camper, a little grain squeezins (ok, I opted for those, not Judy) and some solid sleep in the cool night air. See you tomorrow!
I have some good news! I received a call from Margaret Longhill of the Will McLean Foundation yesterday and was told that my new song Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams earned the "Bronze Medal" (third place for you non-olympians) in the annual Will McLean awards and my song Hemingway's Hurricane placed sixth. Some of you may know that I won the Will McLean award in 1997 for Banks of the Old St. John's and many of my other Florida tunes have placed in the top ten over the years including Teppintine, A Mother's Tears, Steam Train, and Withlacoochee Dreamer. However, this is my first time back in the top three since 1997. I will be performing several times at the Will McLean Festival (info below), but I am told by Margaret that I will be featured opening night, Friday, April 4th, at 8:00 p.m. and that I'll be asked to perform both of my new songs that won awards at noon on Saturday. I'll post a complete schedule when it becomes available. In the meantime, here is the info on the festival and the foundation. I hope to see you there!! Also, below the festival info I'm including the lyrics to the two 2008 award winning songs - Enjoy!! April 4th, 5th, and 6th , 2008 ..>..>..>..> The annual Will McLean celebration honors the work of Florida's Troubadour, who wrote songs, stories and poems about his native state. Although Will McLean died in 1990, his songs will live forever in the hearts of those who love this "blessed, bloodstained, flowered land." The Will McLean Foundation Established in 1990, the Foundation is a not-for-profit organization; its goals are to: -promote, in Florida and elsewhere, the works of Will McLean and other Florida artists; -provide for research, education, performance and training to promote understanding and appreciation of the works of Florida's artists; -provide facilities, programs and educational materials to promote involvement, by non-professional and professional communities alike, in the artistic and educational fields; - provides loans, scholarships and grants to students, organizations and/or specific individuals in the community for the promulgation of artistic productions in specified area. The Board of Directors and the Executive Committee consists of all volunteers who labor tirelessly, donating hundred of hours every year, to fulfill McLean's dream of passing on the history of Florida to the next generation. Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams ©2008 Doug Spears When you can see the Suwannee lying bright and black by the light of a winter's moon, When you see the sunrise out across Paynes Prairie with the spoonbills and the loons, When you smell the orange blossoms in the springtime and you know that the honey crop's gonna taste so good, Then you know that you're livin' in a land of sunshine and a state of dreams. When there's Zellwood corn lined up in rows just as far as your eye can see, When the strawberry farms down around Plant City are growing thick and green, When you're catchin' bass out on Okeechobee and redfish in the Gulf around Cedar Key, Then you know that you're livin' in a land of sunshine and a state of dreams. Oh way down upon the Suwannee River, Never that far away, That's where my cracker heart will live forever, All my tomorrows and my yesterdays. When the whips of the cracker cowboys pop and echo out in the scrub, When the hot sandy soil beneath your feet seems to seep right into your blood, When the thunderclouds come rollin' in the summer and the wind in the Spanish moss just feels so good, Then you know that you're livin' in a land of sunshine and a state of dreams. Oh way down upon the Suwannee River, Never that far away, That's where my cracker heart will live forever, All my tomorrows and my yesterdays. When you can hear the notes ringin' loud and clear out of Gamble's old guitar, When you sing the songs of Will and Steve just remember where you are, And take a moment in grateful silence to be thankful for the greatest gift by far, To be livin' down here in the land of sunshine and the state of dreams. Don't you know that you're livin' in the land of sunshine and the state of dreams. Hemingway's Hurricane ©2007 Doug Spears Labor Day, '35, Pressure falling, rising tide, South by southeast, great wind with no name Remembered as Hemingway's hurricane, Remembered as Hemingway's hurricane. Doughboys who fought World War I, Hard times upon them, Depression brung, New Deal jobs in the Florida Keys, Highway to build, the Overseas, Highway to build, the Overseas. Now who left you there and who knows why, Old Papa demands with a firey eye, Careless or callous, no less blame, After three score and and ten relive the shame, And remember Hemingway's hurricane. Send down the train she's starting to blow, Too little too late no where to go, Shacks and shanties, plywood and tin, Oh Lord watch over the souls of these men, Oh Lord watch over the souls of these men. Now who left you there, who knows why, Old Papa demands with a firey eye, Careless or callous, no less blame, After three score and and ten relive the shame, And remember Hemingway's hurricane. Then in 2005 another killer 'cane blows, And New Orleans drowns as the levies let go, Was it careless or callous, more whitewash and blame, And after three score and ten we get more of the same, And remember Hemingway's Hurricane. Labor Day, '35, Pressure falling, rising tide.
Notes from the Road – Folk Alliance Day 4 February 23, 2008 – After getting to bed so late I woke up a 8 a.m. realizing I had another hour to snooze before breakfast at 9:00, so I settled back in for a couple more winks. When I next opened my eyes it was 11:30 – oops. Well, no eggs, etc. so I just had a protein bar and a banana with my coffee in the room. I had my first showcase today at 2:00 p.m. in the Cassidy House Concert suite. I was standing outside the elevator on the floor of that suite getting my song list together when Jack and Judy Williams popped out. And, who was with them but Paul Arnone & Tami Wingard from Tampa (Hannah’s Whirl) who decided to come all the way up just for a one day Folk Alliance initiation experience – what a nice surprise. I was honored that their first order of business was to come catch my showcase, quite special. I had a good turnout again with folks who I had sent invitations to in advance of the conference and others that I had met at my booth in the exhibit hall. Once my showcase was done and I had chatted with those who had attended for a minute, I dropped my guitars back in the suite and headed on down for my last day in the exhibit hall. There were less people in the hall today, but still very good traffic. I continued to meet new people and to promote my last showcase at 11:00 p.m. tonight. I spent some time talking to Wanda Fisher, a radio DJ from New York who has played my CD’s on her show. I also spent some time with Jim Photoglo (writer of the Dirt Band’s “Fishin’ in the Dark”) and Deborah Lader (Sons of the Never Wrong), Dalis Allen (Kerrville), MJ Hogan (David LaMotte), Beth Wood and many more. The 3 hours passed very quickly and before I knew it it was time to shut it down and load out my gear to the car. Not a single chex mix left! In all I gave away around 100 CD’s with promo material, etc. For my money, the exhibit booth was well worth it. I grabbed a quick bite to eat with Kari Estrin, a management and career consultant from Nashville, who I have been working with for a little while now. Kari has worked with some of the best folk artists in the business and is widely respected for her individualized approach to developing artists. She seems to have the knack for asking you the right questions to help you realize what your true goals are, define your musical identity and find the path best suited to your personal needs and professional objectives. I’m benefiting greatly from having her advice and assistance. After dinner I got some much needed rest and “centering” time to get ready for my last showcase – 11 p.m. in the Soona Songs suite. Soona Songs is a Texas based independent label representing the best in Texas folk, which is truly outstanding. Though the conference gathering dwindles on Saturday night, I had a great crown including some friends, Jack & Judy Williams, plus MJ Hogan (booking agent and assistant for David LaMotte), Vivian Nesbitt (Art of the Song, Albuquerque, NM) and several others. I played some of the “main” tunes” off both current albums and some stuff from “Break Some Stones” that, now in retrospect, was more personal and emotional given what has happened in my family in the past months. It was difficult, but it let me release some feelings artistically that have been pushing to the surface all week. All in all an excellent set which prompted Marilyn Duncan, President of Soona Songs, to compliment “. . . you are an amazing songwriter!” Ok, so I didn’t argue – can you blame me?!! With all the work behind me I finally dissolved into true enjoyment of the music and drinking a little bit, something I’ve gone easy on this week – this is actually work after all. I wandered room to room listening to some truly great music wherever I went, including my MySpace pal, Jan Seides, from Austin that is coming to Florida in August and we hope to do some shows together. I happened by the GoGirls Suite where I was asked by someone there (who had been trying to catch one of my showcases, but kept missing) to play a tune. I borrowed a guitar, retuned, and played Break Some Stones with outstanding accompaniment by Kim (oops, can’t remember – from California I think), another client of Kari Estrin’s. Hugely well received and I ended up hanging there until I could no longer stay vertical or even slanted. I finally have spiraled in at a little before 4 a.m. – I’ll conclude and send this out sometime tomorrow . . . er . . . uh . . . today . . . ummmmmm . . . well, you know what I mean! >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Notes from the Road – Folk Alliance Day 3 February 22, 2008 – Long, LONG day, but very productive and fun. Had the usual “cattle call” buffet breakfast with everyone down in the main conference area on the second floor. Did a lot of the “Hi! How are ya! stuff – my cheeks are sore from smiling. Went to the second SERFA meeting. It now looks like the plan for 2008 will be either a “retreat” for organizational purposes and team building or a series of small one day music events in several states, including Florida, to raise awareness, membership and funding for a full inaugural conference in 2009. I’ve volunteered to be part of the group to investigate those possibilities (against my better judgment, of course). From SERFA I went to do some restringing, shower (no details on that, aren’t you glad?) and get ready for my 2 p.m. showcase in the Lilfest room. Lilfest is a festival and concert series in the Chicago area that invited me to take place in their showcase line-up. Nancy Emerick who runs it is a wonderful person and we had a nice little crowd for an early afternoon showcase. The Director of a festival in Alaska was there and showed some genuine interest in having me come out there next year. Wouldn’t that be something! I was followed there by Sons of the Never Wrong, a trio that has been a significant name in contemporary folk for many years – I just saw a little, but what a great show. At 3 p.m. back to the exhibit hall for three more hours of meetin’ and greetin’ – lots of traffic today. Got to see a lot more folks that I haven’t seen in a while – Vance Gilbert, Cliff Eberhart, Ronnie Cox, Joe Jencks and more. Again, the chex mix was huge and I had a lot of interest in the new CD, my touring schedule, etc. I have already booked one firm date for my summer tour and have three others that we need to work on dates, etc. The exhibit hall has, again, been well worth it, but it is a LOT of work, very tiring, etc. The “tangible” results this year are better than last year in terms of bookings, DJ interest and attendance at showcases, but I think that’s as much a product of consistency (the second year in the hall) and other PR that I’ve done in the past year. I was pooped at 6 p.m. and just grabbed some food to take back to the room to eat and recharge before my evening showcases. I did slip back down to see a showcase by Sally Spring, a magnificent artist who I’ve met here – she and her husband put on quite a show! Otherwise, I rested and thought about set lists for my two evening showcases. My first evening showcase was at 10:30 p.m. was in the Houston Association of Acoustic Musicians showcase and it went very well. I was honored to have Bob Baker of “The Buzz Factor” drop in for that one. Then on up to the CMT suite for my 11:30 showcase there. Louisiana DJ Taylor Cafferty was on hand for that one as well as some folks from the Atlanta area that had come by my exhibit booth and some others. Both good showcases with a wonderful response. I went back up to Kari Estrin’s, HAMM’s and CMT’s showcases to see some folks I had promised to drop in on, including Ronnie Cox backed by Jack William’s old band. Good shows all. I didn’t hit the pillow until nearly 2:30 a.m. YAAAWWWWNNNNNN!!!!! See you tomorrow.
Notes from the Road – Folk Alliance Day 2 Thursday, February 21, 2008 – This was a pure work day. No showcases, just networking and exhibit hall work throughout the day. The weather has turned very cold and nasty. Staying inside today was a very good thing. Like most mornings, I spent some time reorganizing and looking at the schedules. Once I went down and got my exhibit booth ready for the day I headed up for the Folk DJ’s reception. I was one of many sponsors for this annual event “honoring” the folk DJ’s from around the country. In reality, it is an invitation to all the DJ’s to come have some food and liquid refreshments so that all the artists can bombard them with CD’s, press materials, etc. It is a mad house. As usual, the room was too small and no one could move without bumping into someone else. The main advantage of sponsorship (other than signage at the event) is a special table reserved for CD’s of the sponsors. Consequently, even if you don’t meet every DJ face to face, they will likely pick up one of your CD’s from the table. Once again, Florida Folk Radio was well represented by Michael Stock, Randy Wynne and Rick Pietrzak. It is time well spent, but it’s exhausting – it is what I’d imagine speed dating is like. My exhibit booth location this year is excellent. I have a lot of traffic and and getting great exposure. The only problem is that I’m also out of my chex mix “goodies” already – very popular. So, I had to make a Walmart run this evening to pick up some generic stuff to use once I run out tomorrow. I spent a couple of hours tonight putting together another 75 packages. I hope that gets me through tomorrow and Saturday. I’ve made a lot of new music pals including a trio called Wild Blue Yonder who have the booth next to mine – nice folks from Knoxville and a great folk / new grass sound. I spent a few minutes with John McCutcheon this afternoon – I’m a big fan of his and he’s a truly gracious “big name” on the circuit. I also spent time today with Jack Williams (and his lovely wife Judy), Cary and Susan Taylor (who are backing Ronnie Cox this year in his shows), Susan Werner and an old buddy of Dell Hoyt’s, Hank Wiseman (Dell, you reading this? Hank said to give him a call!!). It’s truly a small world. Tonight I sat in on showcases by Nick Annis, Wild Blue Yonder, Si Kahn and a couple of others whose names won’t come to me this late at night. There is just so much great music here that it’s a daunting task just to decide what to listen to and make yourself go to bed when you know it’s all still going on. Well, tomorrow’s a busy day so I’ll quit here. Three showcases tomorrow, plus the exhibit hall, SERFA meeting and more. Sleep!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Notes from the Road – Folk Alliance Day 1 Day 1 – February 20, 2008 Good first day. I got a decent night’s sleep and spent the morning finishing up my display items for the exhibit hall booth. After I registered (saw Bill & Eli Perras in line) I grabbed some lunch and met a couple of artists from other parts of the continent – one from NJ and one from Canada. Then I attended the first hour or so of the SE Region (SERFA) organizational meeting. The plans are to have an inaugural event late this year, probably in Atlanta (last I heard). There’s another meeting Friday morning so I’ll hear more then. Our old friend from South Florida, Betty Friedrichsen, was there (though she lives in NC now), as well as Gloria Holloway – Florida continues to be a well represented state in the Region. I know that Jean Hewitt (who I saw this morning at breakfast) will be at the meeting Friday. The “best represented” areas seem to be NC, VA and TN, though all but MS and LA had someone present. The goal of the Region is to foster awareness of the folk arts and lend support to venues, radio, artists, etc. Memphis was cold, clear and beautiful for the last couple of days, but it doesn’t matter much to me as I don’t get out of the hotel. This is fun, but a lot of work (hence the reason, or at least one of them, that Judy opted to stay home this year). Got my booth set up during the load-in around 3:30 p.m. and was all set for the opening party and exhibit hall preview from 5:00 – 6:30. I met a lot of great folks, as always, and enjoyed seeing old friends from other parts of the country that I don’t get to talk to face to face very often. Mom’s special recipe trail mix is the usual hit. I can tell that I’m out of shape – I tire out so early. I grabbed a light supper and headed back to the room for a couple of hours before practicing a bit for my showcase and venturing out to see a couple of other folks’ shows before mine. Tonight’s showcase was at 11:00 p.m. in the Concerts in Your Home room. I followed Will Maring and Robert Bowling who were excellent. I had a great crowd and a very enjoyable show – I guess all those mailers and the schedule on the outside of the Chex Mix paid off. It was nice to do a showcase without struggling with the effects of a bad chest cold like last year! I played “This Old House”, “Do You”, “Sinner’s Song”, “Break Some Stones”, “On the Other Side” and “Steam Train.” All were well received and I got a lot of great response – it felt good. I didn’t get to see many other acts, but I did catch a bit of Tom Kimmel’s show (he’s coming to Orlando to Leu Gardens this summer). I also heard a song or two from Jeff Talmadge who’s from Roswell, Ga., another songwriter I met a few years back. I stopped in to hear a couple of young bluegrass groups, but nothing that particularly caught my ear. I missed sets by a couple of my favorite folks, David LaMotte and Chuck Brodsky – I was just too tired. Slept in a little this morning and almost missed breakfast – it’s the only free meal here so it’s important to get it if you can! I don’t have any showcases today, so mostly I’m working the exhibit hall drumming up a crowd for my showcases tomorrow and Saturday. I have six showcases this year, just the right number I think. Some are only doing one or two and some are doing a dozen. I had too few last year (only three), but I think six is the right number to keep from wearing myself out and still have a chance of getting everyone I want to hear me to at least one show. I’m also a sponsor of the Folk Radio DJ’s reception which is today just before the Exhibit Hall opens up so I need to attend that as well. But after 6 p.m. today I’m on my own and can catch some of the music – looking forward to that. There’s a lot of acts here that I’ve never heard of before, so I’m going to try to catch what I can. I’ll let you know what catches my ear. ‘Til tomorrow!
Notes from the Road – 2008 Folk Alliance Time to get on the road again for the 2008 Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis. I got started Saturday afternoon after two full days of preparing print materials and exhibit table equipment. First, a stop at my folks’ house in Citra for a great dinner and a Sunday morning fishing trip on Lake Lochloosa with my dad – 15 to 20 good sized speckled perch in about three hours. Pretty good! And, while we were out fishing, my mom put together my exhibit hall snack bags, a baggie with her signature trail mix and a label on the outside that has my showcase schedule on it. About 100 bags – good job mom! Leaving Citra Sunday afternoon I headed to Valdosta and dropped off some CD’s, etc at Hildegard’s, a very nice coffeehouse music venue there. I hope to book something there in a few months, we’ll see. Then, on to Atlanta (Marietta actually) to crash for the night. The weather really turned bad before Macon and there were several bad wrecks that slowed things down. I was very glad to get to Marietta and out of that mess. Monday morning I dropped by Ragamuffin Music in Roswell, Ga., another great listening room that will be hosting John Gorka next month. I’m also looking to book something there towards the summer as I plan my tour schedule. Then on to Nashville. The last time I was in Nashville I couldn’t get in to play at the Bluebird, but this time I did. It’s such a storied venue that it’s always a pleasure to get to take the stage there even for just a couple of songs. Nashville has a distinct energy to it, some of it great, some of it purely depressing. Then Tuesday on to Memphis. It is amazing the devastation of the recent tornadoes that struck this area. Wide swathes of trees along I-40 that look as if they were cut for timber except that many are uprooted instead of cut and many are twisted and snapped like twigs. Large crews of workers were out clearing the debris. The tornadoes here seem less predictable than they are in Florida – they must not have enough mobile home parks here to attract them. So, here I am in Memphis at the Downtown Marriott. It’s Wednesday morning and the day will start with registration at 11:00 a.m. I posted my showcase schedules last night and said hello to some folks (Vic & Reba Heyman, Randall Williams, Kari Estrin, Dalis Allen and some others). I have a meeting starting at 1:00 p.m. to discuss the long awaited launch of the southeast regional folk alliance conference and my load in for the exhibit hall is at around 4 p.m. Opening party at 5:00 p.m. in the Exhibit Hall. I have one showcase tonight, three Friday and two Saturday, so I’ll be plenty busy. Stay tuned!
Last day already - it goes by so quickly. I went over to the festival grounds at around lunchtime and before going to eat I went to the River Gazebo to see the Blackwell group, now performing under the name Still Friends (remember that for the next festival!). They were superb with Dan Leach's solid guitar play, Japhy's artful horn color and Carrie's "knock you dead" vocals. So exciting to have them back out on the circuit. At lunch (some great BBQ ribs!) I listened to Gabe Valla with a good sound crew on the "Under the Oaks" stage – excellent and much more enjoyable than the sound crew misery on the Amphitheatre the night before. I also caught part of Bill and Eli Perras' set on the Amphitheatre stage and they were belting it out with the assistance of Tony Macaluso on bass. Their sound for that set, the part I saw, seemed fine, but the sound miseries on that stage (as well as the Old Marble Stage) continued throughout the afternoon. It really had an ongoing serious negative effect on the enjoyment of shows in those prime locations. I was scheduled to follow Clyde Walker on the Azalea Stage at 4 p.m., no small task. Clyde did his usual impeccable job with assistance from Ron Litschauer and Stan Geberer. When they finished I was able to corral Ron and keep him on stage with his mandolin to assist me with Steam Train and Banks of the Old St. Johns – thanks Ron!! This was a really fun set, made more so because folks had been coming up to me all afternoon requesting particular songs. So, my set was all requests. Unfortunately, I had more requests than I had time, so I didn't get to all of them. Sorry folks, next time! The sound on the Azalea stage was very good and I thoroughly enjoyed the show. Fortunately, by the time the evening program started the sound issues, at least in terms of what was being heard by the audience, had been resolved. The artists on the stage continued to have monitor troubles and complained of being unable to hear each other well. But, it didn't effect their performances as far as I could tell. Magda Hiller opened the night with a wonderful set, including her show stopping duet with young daughter Wyatt on "the chicken song." The act that really got my attention was the Aaron O'Rourke Trio. From Tallahassee, Aaron is a young (20'ish) mountain dulcimer player backed by Mickey Abraham on guitar and mandolin and Mike Snelling on bass. WOW!! Read the trio's bio on the FFF website and see all of the awards and accolades. These guys can PLAY! Stunning. As some of you may know, Bobby Hicks was scheduled to appear on Sunday night, but he has been hospitalized due to severe lower back pain. Please keep him in your prayers. Jim Carrick was called upon to fill in and put on a great show. Then Frank Thomas took the stage with The Roadside Revue and his great, great nephew for a memorable set of songs and stories. And, with Bobby Hicks ill, Frank called upon Jeanne Fitchen to come out and play Bobby's I Am Florida, Need I Say More. A perfect way to lead up to the traditional finale led by Doug Gauss. So, that's another Florida Folk Festival, the 55th straight, complete. I made the judicious decision not to go out playing the campfires so that I could get some sleep and make it to the breakfast this morning. Everyone gathered, ate and said their good byes. This fall edition of the festival was a great success and I'm sure all who attended enjoyed the wonderful weather and the amazing music. Many, many thanks to Elaine McGrath, The staff at Stephen Foster and the Department of Environmental Protection for all the hard work and support! See you there for number 56 in May 2008!
Saturday was another beautiful day! Very comfortable all day in the shade and warm in the clear sunshine. I started the day on the "main stage", the Ann Thomas River Gazebo. With no sound systems to deal with no one had showed up yet when I arrived at about 9:30 for my 10:20 set following Frank Thomas. It was a breath taking morning high on the banks of the Suwannee under the oaks, pines and cypress. The river is fairly low so it's running strong and swift. I sat on a convenient tree stump and warmed up for my part of the show – it just doesn't get any better than this. We had a very nice crowd to open the stage. They have reconfigured the Gazebo since last year. The winding steps leading straight down to it, which were always packed with people standing to listen making it hard to get in and out, are gone. The only way in is along the long sloping ramp off to the opposite corner of the parking lot. The area where the stairs had been has now been redone in very comfortable, wood, stadium seating down along the slope. The Gazebo footprint itself remains the same, but now there's room for more folks and you don't have to bring a chair to be able to sit like you used to. Frank Thomas has had a flu bug and played only a couple of tunes to get things started. Then he turned it over to me for a little longer than usual set of my Florida material. Wonderful audience and a wonderful response. As far as I'm concerned we could have formed a round and sat there swapping Florida tunes all day – what a great spot. The Gazebo is clearly my favorite stage here at the FFF and, as always, I'm honored that Frank included me. I spent an hour after the Gazebo show in a taped interview with a student from University of North Florida, Belinda Dalzell, who is gathering material for a book on the St. John's River and its tributaries focusing on the music, arts and culture surrounding the river. She had heard my Banks of the Old St. John's and wanted to include that in her collection of material for the book. Delightful young woman from New Zealand and she has fallen in love with Florida Folk Culture through her work on this project. Looking forward to reading it! After the interview I went down to the food area by the Old Marble Stage and gorged myself on fried chicken, collard greens, lima beans, corn bread and sweet potato pie, washed down with ample amounts of iced tea. Overeating cholesterol rich foods is alive and well on the Suwannee!! It's no accident that you have to walk so far to get to and from that food area – it's the only thing that keeps you from just eating yourself to death down there. They've had ongoing sound issues this year at the OMS, so I can't really even say who was playing there while I ate – I couldn't hear it and the sound mix was poor. But, as always, I ran into a lot of old friends and caught up on the latest from each. On my way back past the Amphitheatre to get to my car I made one of the most wonderful discoveries I could have imagined. Steve Blackwell's family, Carrie, Japhy, Sue (with spouses and grandkids all in tow) and Dan Leach were seated against the trees and they called out to me as I approached or I might not have seen them. Dan, Carrie and Japhy are performing at the festival under the name Still Friends – what great news for the Florida Folk family to have them back on stage!! At 6:30 last night I sat and listened as Stetson Kennedy presented Fellow Man and Mother Earth Awards to Dale Crider, Frank and Ann Thomas and Steve Blackwell. Each award was punctuated by song. Bob Patterson (with Carrie, Dan and Japhy's help) presented Apalachicola Doin' Time. Then it was all the Blackwell clan who sang Steve's song written about Frank and Ann, Thank You for Teaching Us, and Steve's thoughts about his own ancestors down through time and the prospect of joining them in The Line. Carrie's astounding voice rang through the Amphitheatre and embraced the entire audience. Then they brought the house down with their well known arrangement of Amazing Grace with Carrie's extraordinary vocals bringing goose bumps, tears and joyous grins to all assembled and a well deserved standing ovation. I daresay it will be remembered as THE MOMENT of this Florida Folk Festival. The evening's program was highlighted by Gabe Valla, one of the most talented guitarists I've ever seen. And, one of the most humble and genuine folks around. Such a great performance, but unfortunately marred by unending problems with the sound – feedback issues, level issues, you name it. It was the same last night as well as I mentioned. I don't know enough about sound to give any particularized critique or advice, but I do know this. The main stage at the most heavily attended folk music event in the state should rate the very best in sound presentation and engineers. Unfortunately that has not been the case either this year or in recent years past. Nevertheless, in true Gabe style, Gabe put on an excellent show and I wish we could have just brought him out into the audience, built a fire and listened to him play with out all the technical distractions. I did hit the campfires for a bit last night. Ron Johnson and I swapped new tunes. Interestingly, Ron selected the same topic as me for a new song, the great Labor Day storm of 1935. His is called Rescue Train, an excellent piece, and mine is, of course, Hemingway's Hurricane, which I posted about previously. It was fun to hear them back to back and contrast the approaches to the same subject. Next I sat in at a circle generally around Bill & Eli Perras, Tyler Stump and Maryanne Dinella's campsites. Bob Patterson, Clyde Walker, Ron & Bari Litschauer and others were kicking in tunes and I joined them for a couple of hours. But by 1:00 pm or so it was time to get horizontal, so I heeded the demands of the body and with the soul well fed headed back to the camper. More to come, stay tuned.
Well, here I am and if you're not then you're there I suppose. For those of you unfortunate not to be attending this special wildfire induced fall version of the Florida Folk Festival it is truly awesome. The weather during the day is very comfortable (70's) with high clear blue skies and gentle breezes. The nights grow quickly nippy, dropping into the 50's. The tent campers are whining just a little, but their joy over the evening campfires is making up for it. Paul Garfinkle of The Ashley Gang in their opening set at The Amphitheater last night dubbed it "The Florida Frost Festival." Well, no frost really, but you get the picture. I didn't get what I'd call my favorite stage times this year – yesterday 10 a.m. to open the Song & Story stage and today at 10:20 on the Ann Thomas River Gazebo right behind Frank. I guess Elaine or whoever the schedule master was figured old guys are up early anyway, but I've got some news. We old guys may be up early but its only because of certain biological necessities – then we go back to bed!! And, our fingers don't really start working until noon. Oh well, Sunday I have a 4 p.m. set on the Azalea stage, so that's a good one. The good news is that the sound on the Song & Story stage is handled by Tom Ellis, et al and the stage itself is run by Bill Messer. So I had exceptional sound (unlike some of the other stages I heard) and was in great hands. And, cool as it was I had a nice little crowd as well, to my surprise actually. I played the new tune, Hemingway's Hurricane, to excellent response, which was a little risky since I was still tweaking the lyrics, etc. just before getting on stage! Heard some terrific music through out the afternoon and evening. Stand outs were M.T. Pawkets (with Katie Bailey-Waller subbing in quite capably on fiddle for Jonathon), The Ashley Gang (sans Norm McDonald and Mrs. Garfinkle, so it was just a trio last night), Willie Green (though the sound mix was sub par and the cool air was really creating serious tuning issues for him) and, as you might guess, Sam Pacetti who, though seemingly a little blasé about the show, was the exceptional guitar wizard we've come to expect. Well, that's enough for a first day summary. I'm fixin' to get ready to get started getting' packed up to head over for my sunrise set (Ok, so I'm exaggerating) on the River Gazebo. More to come.
Well, it's been too long between postings here. I'm currently at the Florida Folk Festival in White Springs for the next three days and I'll try to keep you updated. Usually held on Memorial Day weekend in May, the festival was postponed this year due to wildfires burning very close to the festival site. So, Veterans Day weekend was the alternate. It starts this morning and the weather is BEAUTIFUL! Instead of the blazing hot (no pun intended - really) temps of the usual May date, it's cool, crisp and clear. Should make tuning quite interesting. I'll let you know more later. In the meantime, I've got a new song and I thought I'd share the lyrics and The Story Behind the Song. A powerful late summer hurricane is tracked for several days before it makes landfall on a southern U.S. coastline. Inexplicably, government officials fail to set an evacuation plan in motion until it is too late. Those who are able escape, but the have-nots are left behind. Roaring ashore with 200 mph winds and a 22-foot storm surge, the storm overwhelms low-lying areas. Hundreds die. You might think I'm describing Hurricane Katrina, but I'm not. I'm talking about the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 that struck the Florida Keys seventy years to the week before Katrina. More than 250 of the 400-plus victims of that earlier storm were World War I veterans who had been sent to the Keys by the Roosevelt administration to build a highway to Key West. A relief train stood by in Miami to evacuate the men in the event of a hurricane's approach, but by the time government officials called for it, it was too late. They were the forgotten members of the Lost Generation, traumatized veterans of the Great War, WWI who grasped for one last chance at redemption under Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Six hundred of them were shuffled off to the Florida Keys to build the Overseas Highway to Key West. On Labor Day weekend 1935, the most intense hurricane ever to strike the U.S. took aim on their flimsy shacks, and the two men responsible for evacuating the veterans from harm's way waited too long. After the storm, Ernest Hemingway took his boat from his home in Key West to aid the veterans in the Upper Keys but he found few survivors on the wreckage. His public cries of outrage bound him forever to the storm. Outraged by the needless deaths, novelist and Key West resident he initiated a public outcry that led ultimately to Congressional hearings, which were widely condemned as a whitewash. Hemingway published a vehement protest essay in New Masses, a communist journal, and it was one factor landing him on the FBI's watch list years later. (The foregoing taken from The Publishers Notes and a Review of Phil Scott's book, Hemingway's Hurricane, Ragged Mountain Press 2006) After Katrina, many songs were written about the failure of the government officals to act responsibly and I was looking for a different perspective. I found this one right here at home. As we all should know by now, those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it and 70 years after the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 hostory repeated itself with a vengence in New Orleans. Interestingly, Katrina was only the third strongest hurricane to hit the US in the 20th century - the Labor Day Storm of 1935 was the strongest. So, here's the song, Hemingway's Hurricane - let me know what you think. Hemingway's Hurricane ©2007 Doug Spears Labor Day, '35, Pressure falling, rising tide, South by southeast, great wind with no name Remembered as Hemingway's hurricane, Remembered as Hemingway's hurricane. Doughboys who fought World War I, Hard times upon them, Depression brung, New Deal jobs in the Florida Keys, Highway to build, the Overseas, Highway to build, the Overseas. Now who left you there and who knows why, Old Papa demands with a firey eye, Careless or callous, no less blame, After three score and and ten relive the shame, And remember Hemingway's hurricane. Send down the train she's starting to blow, Too little too late no where to go, Shacks and shanties, plywood and tin, Oh Lord watch over the souls of these men, Oh Lord watch over the souls of these men. Now who left you there, who knows why, Old Papa demands with a firey eye, Careless or callous, no less blame, After three score and and ten relive the shame, And remember Hemingway's hurricane. Labor Day, '35, Pressure falling, rising tide, South by southeast, great wind with no name Remembered as Hemmingway's hurricane, Remember Hemingway's hurricane.
Well, I’m in Brunswick, Ga. tonight and tomorrow I’ll be back on Florida soil for the first time since Friday, July 13th. I’ve traveled over 3,000 miles, touched the soil of nine different states, played 9 shows and spent 5 wonderful days working with some unbelievable songwriters and guitarists at The Gathering in North Carolina. I met many, many truly wonderful people, discovered an interesting little town in West Virginia and made many new friends. It’s been an indescribable, pleasure-filled three weeks. The Swannanoa Gathering takes place each year in North Carolina on the campus of Warren Wilson College just outside of Asheville. It is 5 weeks long split up into various instruments and styles (including old time, fiddle, guitar, etc.). This past week was focused on contemporary folk and guitar. Seminars on various types and styles of guitar work, song writing, performance, etc. occur each day from 9 to 5 followed by concerts, open mics, song swaps and jam sessions to the wee hours of the morning. The real problem is that there is far too much to learn and do. I spent my time in a guitar class with Brooks Williams (http://www.brookswilliams.com/) learning how to use various chord form and structures to give more color and variety to songs and arrangements. It could easily have been a 3 hour per day course by itself - fantastic! I also worked with Cliff Eberhart (http://www.cliffeberhardt.net/) looking at melodies, their structure and what makes them interesting - again, a magnificent course that could have been a retreat all by itself. And I worked separately with two superb songwriters, Kate Campbell (http://www.katecampbell.com/) and Tom Kimmel (http://www.tomkimmel.com/) and examined different perspectives of the craft of song writing, as well as methods, tools and resources. These sessions included specific song evaluations and critique. Again, tremendously fascinating. After 5 days of pretty intense study and work (plus night time activities) I’m exhausted. I’m ready to get home and see Judy, but I have to admit that, given my druthers, I’d just do some laundry, spend a night in my own bed, pack some bags for Judy and take her back out on the road with me. And, that’s almost what’s happening. I was notified this week that I’ve been selected as one of six finalists in the Avalon Music and Arts Festival Rising Star Competition which will be held next weekend in Paw Paw, West Virginia. So, Judy and I fly out early Friday morning so I can perform that afternoon and enjoy the festival weekend. The six finalists all receive some nice prizes and the winner from those six will get some additional cash, a set on Saturday and an invitation to return as a booked performer in 2008 - Wish me luck! Hope to see you soon!
Thursday, July 26th Wandered down out of Thomas along Highway 219 to where it intersects Highway 33 at Elkins. Twisting, winding mountain road and very scenic. Its amusing to a flatlander like me to see signs warning “55 MPH Radar Enforced.” Hell, I can’t bring myself to get the speed over 40 most of the time given the curves and turns, sometimes hairpins doubling back in the opposite direction. But, sure enough, I look in the rearview mirror and I see a stack of 4 to six cars waiting anxiously for a straight stretch so they can blow past me. No wonder Nascar is so big up here! There is definitely LeMans talent here on these mountain roads. Elkins is a pretty little community. I jumped off for a minute to look around and refuel when I saw a sign for gas under $3. An artsy kind of town with a small college, art shops along main street, little cafe’s, etc. Might be a nice place to live. Next town was Buckhannon and I started to pass on by, but something just seemed to pull me back. I dropped off 33 and meandered around downtown for minute or two and it literally jsut seemed like home. Real small town America main street, brick buildings, Courthouse with clock tower kind of place. There was a little mom and pop hotel just off main street and I checked in. I’m only about 1 ½ hours from Charleston here so I think I’ll camp out here for two nights (the room rate is great and the room is very comfortable) and check this place out in more detail. Had a bite to eat (and a drink or three) at a little place call Allbughers on Main Street. Russ, the new manager and, as it turns out, a bass player, filled me in on the area – he’s a WV native and his family has had property around Buckhannon for generations. And, they had some live music later in the evening – a blues guitar player with a harmonica accompanying. Not bad, but a little too “electric” and techno for my taste. I gave Russ a couple of CD’s – next time through who knows? Friday, July 27th Spent the day scoping out the area. Went over to West Virginia Wesleyan College and down to the Buckhannon River. Then south out of town out into the farmlands and hill country. Overcast, rainy and beautiful. Circled around back through town and went over to Weston. Another nice little town, but not the same feel as Buckhannon. Then wandered out along Stonecoal Creek to Stonecoal Lake - not a soul out there, so peaceful. Went back to the room, practiced a bit, took a little nap and then walked downtown to get some supper. I’ll hate to leave this little town tomorrow. Saturday, July 28th Back on the road again. Rolled into Charleston at 1 pm and was lucky that my room was ready for early check-in. Realized something bad on the way over here - it looks like I left my three way guitar stand at the Purple Fiddle, SHOOT! Guess I can get them to mail it to me, but it’ll be a pain tonight without it. Even thinking about going to pick up a substitute - there’s a guitar store close by. Went ahead and re-strung. I want to go set up early at around 3:30 pm so I can shower and relax a while before the show. And, I’m interested to check out the space. Got to BK a little before 3:30. Herb, the general manager, was there to greet me and make the necessary arrangements for me to set up. The room is very nice. Again, high, stamped tin ceilings, wood floors and brick walls. And the staff is very accommodating. I got set up, had a bite to eat and headed back to shower and get ready to go. By 6:30 pm the house is packed. However, they aren’t there for the music, but rather the food, which I can tell you is quite good. Consequently, the room is very, very noisy and not what I’m used to playing. I have no opportunity to connect with the audience and introduce songs - at all - believe me I tried. I rolled with it, played things at low key (even when there would typically be more energy) and made the best of it. It wasn’t that no one was listening - the response was actually quite good and sold some CD’s.. But it was listening with only one ear and not my favorite atmosphere to present my material. Nevertheless, it was a profitable night $$ wise. And, Bobbie Watson’s niece, Beverly, and a friend came by to actually listen. Great meeting them. While I really like the room, it really needs to evolve more towards being a true music venue before I’d be anxious to come back. However, if you’re ever in Charleston you should check the Bluegrass Kitchen out - great food and a generous, wonderful staff So, running out of gas rapidly and ready to get some shut eye. Tomorrow, on to Asheville, NC and the Swannanoa Gathering.
Notes from the Road - The Purple Fiddle, Thomas, WV Tuesday, July 24th Onward. Out of Columbus I headed south-southeast dropping down into West Virginia at Parkersville. I’m surprised at how much I’m enjoying the driving. As I mentioned, I’m breaking it up into smaller chunks so that I never drive more than 4 hours in any given day (a recommendation from a veteran of the road, Diedre McCalla). I kept off the Interstates and stuck to highways that took me through beautiful farms and woodlands. Saw hawks and falcons soaring, deer alongside the roads and more corn and maze than you can shake a stick at. Decided that Clarksburg WV was a good stopping point and got a cheap room for the night. Wednesday, July 25th The drive from Clarksburg to Thomas (a little under two hours) was awesome. Winding, twisting mountain roads along streams and across rivers. Truly gorgeous and a bit of rural Americana. Kept passing little out in the middle of nowhere road side bars and was sorely tempted to stop – maybe on the days between The Purple Fiddle and the Bluegrass Kitchen down in Charleston. Thomas is a tiny little town - barely shows up on the maps. If I had to guess I’d say there’s less than 5,000 people that live here - maybe a lot less. However, it is building a reputation as a tourist area and, in the winter, is a ski destination. Here in the summer season it’s quiet relaxation and the cool mountain air that provide the draw. The Purple Fiddle itself is a treasure! If you try to imagine a Cracker Barrel restaurant that really is rustic and quaint, instead of just pretending to be, you’d be on the right track. Hundred plus year old architecture and wood work, quirky nicknacks and decor, mismatched tables, chairs, couches, church pews, school seats, all under a high stamped tin ceiling and wood floors. The room would probably not hold more than 60 seated without rearranging things a bit. It has a full, professional, raised stage with sound at the back of the room. John, the owner, runs sound - excellent. The Purple Fiddle is in a historic building that once was DePollo’s Store, built in 1915 and a local fixture from then until 1994. The purple Fiddle occupies the first floor of the three story brick building with the owners living overhead. It became the Purple Fiddle in 2002. The PF was recently written up in Goldenseal Magazine, an eight page spread. With live music 4 to 6 nights a week this is a folk and traditional music paradise, with some blues and country thrown in for good measure. I got set up early, settled into the Fiddlers’ Roost B&B next door (part of “the deal”), practiced a little, had dinner at the PF (also part of “the deal”), did my sound check, showered and got ready to play at 8 pm. At 8 pm straight up there were exactly two people in the room that didn’t work there - NOT GOOD. Kip, one of the staff members, said “man, this is unreal. I’ve NEVER seen it this slow. Usually we have a dinner rush, but tonight . . . oh man, I’m sorry!” You see the cash part of “the deal” was based on the cover charge at the door, so no folks, no $$. So I drug my feet for a couple of minutes. At about 8:15 we had a “burst” of about 10 folks so we were up to an even dozen. I went ahead and kicked the show aff with “Annie’s Chairs” and followed it with “Thrift Shop.” Before those two tunes were done we had over 40 folks in the place. It was like someone dropped the flag and they poured in! Terrific listening crowd – this is a first rate room. Folks are mostly tourists in the area on vacation or on their way to somewhere else and the Fiddle is the place to be. What a GREAT middle of the week crowd! I really love this place. Thanks so much to John, Michelle, Barbara, Kip and Mike for making this a real highlight of my summer tour. Now a couple of days off before Charleston and the Bluegrass Kitchen. Stay tuned.
Notes from the Road - Rumba Café, Columbus, Ohio Monday, July 23rd Rolled into Columbus at about 2 pm. Something I’ve noticed about the cities north of the Mason-Dixon: while they have just as many billboards as we do, their signage off the interstate is harder to see. I don’t know if its sign ordinances, the rolling terrain or what, but you get off the highway, drive sown a side street that does not look anything like a place where a hotel would be and then all of sudden BOOM, there it is. That happened here. I’m on a little narrow side street seemingly in the middle of nowhere and all of a sudden there’s the Comfort Inn. The gig at the Rumba Café has been difficult to schedule. I was originally to be part of Jason Quicksall’s Cowtown Songwriters’ Round on Thursday, July 19th, right after Johnson City, Tn. Then they shifted the night to Monday, July 23rd. Then a booking glitch changed it from a songwriters’ round to and evening of solo longer sets. I was initially booked to start at 9:30 followed by Victoria Vox at 11:00. Then Jason emailed me that Victoria need to go on at 9:30 and I’d be on late at around 1:00 am - yuck!! I told Jason that on a Monday night that sounded really bad to me (i.e., I have trouble staying up that late). So he switched me to 8 pm. Then when I showed up last night it turned out that the fourth act of the night had gotten stuck in NY due to airport delays and there would only be three of us (including Jason) performing. So, I ultimately went on at 9 pm -which was good because the Rumba has a little bit of a later evening crowd. Did you follow all of that? Welcome to the world of booking for a solo folk singer!! The Rumba is another TERRIFIC fledgling music room. They host a wide variety of music 5-6 nights a week, but tend towards the folk, singer / songwriter, newgrass type artists. It is “U” shaped with the stage in one corner of the base of the U. Full lights, ceiling mounted sound, excellent stage monitors and a dedicated, enclosed, center of the room sound booth with engineer. Outstanding sound!! Pretty good crowd particularly for a Monday night, a little loud (not necessarily a listening room atmosphere, but they were hearing the music and responding) and great music all the way around. I played for an hour, followed by Victoria Vox (excellent - look her up on the net!) and then Jason Quicksall, our host and the local favorite and an terrific writer and performer. I’d love to come back to the Rumba - really a great room. If you are in the Columbus area please check it out and support what they are doing. They’ve not been open a year yet, still they are building a good following and working hard to establish themselves as a home for independent music in Columbus. Columbus is lucky to have this room! Today, I drop back down into WV by way of Tn. - I’ll pass right through Johnson City again. Wednesday night I’m at the Purple Fiddle in Thomas. Victoria Vox was just there on Sunday and she says its really a wonderful place - looking forward to it! Stay tuned.
Notes from the Road - Connections in Pittsburgh Saturday, July 21st Again, a nice drive over from York to Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania is a beautiful state and I’ve only seen a narrow corridor of it. I understand that the upper portions of the state are really breathtaking and wish I had more time to wander. Maybe when I get the motor home . . . . Now I have to admit that my first impressions of Pittsburgh weren’t stellar. My borrowed GPS routed me south of the city to the West Miflin area where my hotel is located. There are some pretty tattered looking areas that I came through to get where I was going. And, my first impression of Connections wasn’t much better. A bright blue building that sinks below street level with little signage to identify it in an old area of Pittsburgh in between the campuses of Pitt U and Carnegie-Mellon. I could only peek through the edges of shaded windows to the dark interior (it wasn’t open yet) and saw nothing inside to lead me to believe that this was going to be much of a show. I could not have been more wrong. When I came back at around 6:00 pm to set up I found a truly exceptional music room. John and Esther were there and had set up their first rate sound system on the raised, spacious stage. The high, open structure ceiling offered terrific acoustics to a very comfortable room with tables, chairs, couches and upholstered arm chairs which, with folding seating (also available) could hold 120 easily. The room is provided and maintained by The New Hope Church (an independent, progressive congregation) and during the week provides a comfortable study and gathering space for students of Pitt and Carnegie-Mellon. They offer their wall space, which is substantial and appropriately lit, to local artists to display their work. They have focused their first year on the physical aspects of the space (doing a truly first rate job I might add) and are now in the process of building the weekend music program. Greg Voss is the man in charge, ably assisted by volunteers like David who video taped an interview with me before the show and recorded a pod cast which will be posted on the net in the future. Another volunteer, Ryan, manned the full coffee and snack bar in the back of the room behind the stage. The music program is still in its early stages and has not yet built a consistent following. Consequently, the crowd for the show was small, but wonderfully attentive and appreciative. From my involvement over the years with building concert programs and small venues like this, I am well aware of the time and commitment it takes to find the right promotional avenues to produce the attendance necessary to support this type of venue long term. Greg Voss and his staff are committed and I know they are going to see the fruits of their labors very soon. I would welcome the opportunity to come back and play this room again. If you are in the Pittsburgh area please check out Connections at 3495 Bates Street - South Oakland - 412.621.6760. They are on MySpace at http://www.myspace.com/connectionscoffee and on the web at http://connections.hopepage.org/Welcome.html. As I mentioned, Greg Voss is the main man here. You can reach him by email at gvoss76@comcast.net and by phone at 412-621-6760. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND CONNECTIONS!!! Sunday, July 22nd I’m going to wander towards Columbus, Ohio today - maybe stop in Wheeling, WV and find a cheap room with laundry facilities. I’ve got a week of dirty clothes to take care of. Ahhhh, the glamour of the road!
Notes from the Road - Beyond Coffee - York, PA Friday, July 20th The drive from Harrisonburg, Va. to York, Pa. was very beautiful and interesting. Rolling farm land, historic landmarks, grain silos, rivers (including the Potomac), picturesque streams and more. The roads took me through Virginia, the peninsula of West Virginia, Maryland and then into Pa. I borrowed a Garmin GPS unit for this trip (a very neat little accessory) and it routed me through Gettysburg about 50 miles southwest of York. I stopped and walked a part of the battlefield looking at the markers and historic monuments. I was surprised how much it affected me. After so many years of reading and studying the Civil War I felt a deep, solemn reverence for where I was and what had happened there in July of 1863. It almost seemed obscene to me that tour buses and hucksters were patrolling the roads through the park profiteering off the blood of our ancestors. I guess I’m just a curmudgeon, but it seems to me that given the price that was paid by our ancestors, all of them both North and South, we owe them the honor and respect of getting off our fat behinds and walking this ground (the very aged and handicapped excepted, of course) to absorb the magnitude of their sacrifice. The nature of that war and the manner in which it was fought had a profound impact on who we are today. It shouldn’t be just another tourist attraction. Ok, enough preaching. York is an interesting place - the home of “York Peppermint Patties” and York fitness equipment (barbells, etc.). I understand that there are less than 100,000 within the city itself, but has a larger suburban population. Beyond Coffee West is a free standing coffeehouse in West York of of Highway 74. It is relatively small, seating for about 25 - 30. My host Janice and the lovely Barista, Erin, were exceptionally gracious. Terrific coffee, sandwiches and treats. And a great burgeoning music venue - packed house and you could have heard a pin drop throughout the entire show. There’s plenty of parking and, if you are in the York area and missed this show, make sure you catch one of their live music nights - great little room! Thanks Dana for booking it an dhope to make a swing through again down the road. Tomorrow night, Connections in Pittsburgh (Oakland area). Stay tuned.
Notes from the Road - Acoustic Coffeehouse, Johnson City, TN. Wednesday, July 18th The drive from Nashville was uneventful - between 4 and 4 ½ hours. A little tiring. Before I got to Johnson City I rolled over 1000 miles so far on this trip. I didn’t get started form Nashville quite as early as I had planned, plus I lost an hour as I headed east. Got into Johnson City, checked into my hotel and then headed over to the coffeehouse to grab an early dinner (part of the deal). They have a light menu of sandwiches and appetizers - pretty good. The Acoustic Coffeehouse is two buildings side by side. One side is the café’ / beer bar area where they have performances, open mics, etc. There is indoor seating for about 50 and outdoor seating front and back with outdoor speakers to carry to the music out. There is room outside for, literally, an unlimited number of folks. The other side is a pure performance studio with stage, lights, etc. It seats around 100 and has great paneling and art on the walls. I had my choice of which side to perform in, but since this was my first time through, had only a dozen or so folks coming to the show from my mailing list and since the music from that room does not go to the rest of the house or outside I felt like I might have trouble getting a crowd in there. So, despite the traffic in the café’ area I opted for that – an was glad I did. This little place does a whopping business on Wednesday nights - easily over 100 folks there inside and out. All seats inside remained full throughout the evening. While it was a bit noisy at times, the crowd responded particularly well. The tip jar and CD sales said they enjoyed the music and I’m looking forward to going back soon. The Acoustic Coffeehouse is a textbook “eclectic” music venue. Johnson City itself sits in the far northeast corner of Tennessee, about an hour northwest of Asheville, NC and just a couple of miles from the Va. state line. It’s a beautiful area and everyone I talked to loves living there. In fact, it is one of the friendliest places I’ve been - everyone so anxious to help and treating you like a long lost friend. Special thanks to Jim Benelisha and Indie, my hosts and to MySpace friends Ann, Laurie, Kathy and Daryl who came out for the show and brought their friends, family, etc. I finished up a little after 10 pm and then sat with new friends for a beer or two (excellent, wide selection of draft and bottles) before packing it in - Newcastle draft, excellent! Thursday, July 19th Another 4 hour drive over to Harrisonburg, Va. That’ll leave me just three hours tomorrow up to York, PA. This was a beautiful drive out through the rolling hills of Virginia from Bristol, through Roanoke, Lexington, etc. Harrisonburg is in the Shennandoah Valley. History all along the way. Enjoying the day off. Need to restring guitars tonight and practice a bit. Lots of song ideas cooking. Next, Beyond Coffee in York, PA.
Notes from the Road - Nashville, Tn. Sunday, July 15th I got into Nashville at about 1 pm local time (picked up an hour headed west). I’m staying right at the start of music row on Demonbreun (good luck pronouncing that). I’m going to be here for three days, so I settled in. I went to the Bluebird from 6:30 to 9:00. It’s a really a special place. Sunday was what they call "songwriters' night" which seems redundant since that's what the place is all about. Folks from all over the country (literally - one guy was from Salt Lake City) come to auditions once every couple of months and, if selected, they come back to play on a Sunday songwriters' night (just three songs) sometime in the next 6 to 18 months. If they are well received they can then get booked, maybe, to come back for an afternoon show during the week (4 pm), be in a "songwriters' in the round" night, etc. I walked in at a little after 6 pm - standing room only!! I got lucky and got a single seat back by the sound guy which is always the best spot sound-wise in the room. On a Sunday night for unknown songwriters (not even a list published) the crowd was unbelievable. At precisely 6:30 the lights dimmed slightly and the place went tomb quiet for the "feature" act - a Nashville country writer with his band. They were good, but loud and you couldn't hear the words very well. They were really mostly about the lead guitar, the bass and the drums, the energy which were very good. They played for 45 mins. then there was a break while they cleared out and they got ready for the songwriters. The songwriters play three songs each and I stayed for the first 6. They go until 1 am and I was just too tired. Heard some good material and some interesting styles. I talked to the bartender (who's also a songwriter - imagine that) about the open mic on Monday. He said my chances of getting to play tomorrow night are very slim. They go on a "draw out of the hat" system, so I don't have to be there early. But, because they always have too many show up, if you've been there before and didn't get to play you get priority the next time you show up. So, first timers rarely get to play. We'll see - at least I'll get my "priority" ticket for my next trip through (perhaps on my way to Memphis next February for Folk Alliance). I also dropped by a place close to the hotel here that has a Sunday open mic (The Hall of Fame Lounge), but it was a bit dismal - no one there, smokey bar, some teenager punk rocker types on stage fumbling around like they were lost -- I'd rather get some sleep. So I crashed. I have to admit that being here is energizing (songwriting / music wise). I can imagine make periodic trips here for a couple of days at a time. We’ll see. Monday, July 16th The new CD’s arrived!! Break Some Stones is in hand! The Digipaks look great. ORDER YOURS NOW on my website and I cover the postage. Arrived at the Bluebird Café at about 5:25. I wasn’t worried about getting there early since it’s a lottery drawing anyway. Mistake! The line was incredible, well over a hundred folks. It was hot and by the time I got inside, no seats, no standing room, nada. Sixty-three, that’s 6 freakin’ 3, songwriters showed up to play in a max of 32 to 35 slots on one song each. In the words of the younger generation - Ohmygawd. The only place I could stand out of the way of the waitresses was in front of the door to the restrooms. Apparently that’s not unusual since they have a ceiling mirror angled specifically to allow that area to see the stage! I met, personally, everyone who had to “make water” for about 45 minutes there. I hope they all washed their hands because there was no getting by without touching. So, I didn’t get to play, got my stamp for a guaranteed spot the next time I come and hauled butt. I went over to Lyrix Music Bar & Café’ for another open mic. Lyrix has been around about 14 months and is building a week long live music presence. Tanya the owner, Tammy the bartender and Jack Scott the host of the open mic could not have been nicer - great folks, great location, etc. But, a major difference from the Bluebird is the audience. Lots of folks, but NOT a courteous listening crowd. On Mondays Lyrix have songwriters’ night from 7 to 10 and then an open mic following. This was definitely the type of songwriters night where each songwriter gets as many of his / her friends to attend as possible. These friends drink, talk and laugh throughout everyone’s performance, including the one they came to support, and then leave the minute their friend is off stage (unless, of course, they stand in front of the stage and rudely schmooz with their friend while the next act is trying to present their material. I really like Lyrix in terms of the room, location, staff, etc. But, if they don’t control the crowd and make it a listening room they will never be an alternative to the Bluebird for serious performing songwriters. It may be different on other nights, but Monday was not good. I played my two songs at Lyrix and then headed back to my hotel. While I was in line at the Bluebird someone came up and handed me a flyer for an open mic at The Hall of Fame Lounge (where I stopped by briefly last night, but did not stay) and, since it is literally next door to my hotel I stopped to check it out. As it turned out it was being run by Bob Lever, originally from the St. Pete area and a MySpace friend of mine, and I got on the list as the last player. Very small, but exceptionally attentive and appreciative crowd composed mostly of other writers and industry folks. After it closed down we all sat around the bar and continued to swap tunes for a bit (as well as swapping business cards, etc.) for another hour or so, then back to the hotel. Disappointed, but not surprised, not to get to play at the Bluebird, but all in all a good night. Yawwwwnnnnn . . . . ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. Tuesday, July 17th Took a walk this morning from my hotel down Broadway to the river, along the waterfront and back. Great architecture and history here - very interesting just looking around. Got me thinking about a song - “There’s something about this town . . .” I’ve called in and gotten on the list to play the songwriters’ night at Douglas Corner Café tonight. The PR stuff in the city guides say “Douglas Corner Cafe is one of Nashville's most respected venues for live music, 6 nights a week! Established acts, top writers and a wide array of musical styles makes Douglas Corner Café’ a favorite among locals and visitors alike.” We’ll see. [Hours Later] Well, they were right. What a great place! This is a songwriters’ hang out of the best kind. Respectful, attentive and very appreciative audience, great stage, lights and sound and wonderful staff. Met some great folks and made some great contacts. For the pickers / writers among you who might wander through Nashville and want to play this songwriters’ night, a little tip. The website tells you to call a number starting at 2 pm and a message machine takes your name. You play in the order that messages are received. I had already been told that if I didn’t call by 2:10 the line up would be full. I got through at 2:02 and I was 23rd on the list!!! The fella that runs it, Donnie Winters, confided in me that the line actually opens up earlier at around 1:30. So, start dialing early and often. Otherwise, you’ll be towards the end of the evening like me. Nevertheless, many folks stick around for the whole show here. Unlike most open mic type events where each player gets up individually, this one is done “in the round” style. Four writers get up at a time and set up at four separate mics. You then play your songs “round robin.” It was a great format and made things move along a little quicker. Really loved this place and, judging from the response from the folks in charge, there’s a good chance I’ll be coming back for a songwriters’ round, showcase or something similar. Excellent night. Gotta get some sleep and head out to Johnson City tomorrow for my show at the Acoustic Coffeehouse there. It’s about a 4 ½ hour drive so I don’t want to start too late. G’nite!
Notes from the Road - Atlanta, Lena’s Place Coffeehouse Here is the start of my running diary of the next three weeks on the road. I’ll try to write a little every day though I’ll only post the day after each show - no sense in clogging the boards with too much drivel! Friday, July 13th - Fortunately I’m not the superstitious type so starting out on a Friday the 13th did not daunt me. While I did note a series of irritating little snafus that delayed me getting on the road, I’ve planned my trip schedule out so that I don’t drive more than four hours in any day. Don’t know if that negates “road warrior” status, but I want to keep this fun! So, I’m in Valdosta for the first night. The drive was really nice. I had a connection installed in my car so that I can listen to my iPod directly through my car stereo (not the FM broadcast thing, but a real direct connection). I let it surf randomly through the more than 850 songs I have on there. Heard some great Greg Brown, James McMurtry, Cheryl Wheeler, David Wilcox, Mickey Newbury, Todd Snider, Steve Blackwell, Amy Carol Webb, Johnsmith, Tom Kimmel, Nanci Griffith, Tom Prasado-Rao, Steve Gillete, Ann Hills - and that’s just the ones I remember sitting here now. I resisted the iPod thing for a long time, but I must admit its pretty cool. Tomorrow night, Lena’s Place Coffeehouse in Atlanta. G’night. Saturday, July 14th Believe it or not it’s cooler her in “Hot-lanta” than it is back home. The traffic on I-75 and I-85 (or 285 or 475 or 675 . . . oh, whatever) was a real treat. Two serious wrecks and back ups at every interchange (even on a Saturday) turned a three hour drive into a 4 ½ hour trek. But, that’s one reason why I’ve left myself reasonably short drives. Imagine if a planned 7 hour drive turned into a 10! I’d be climbing out of the car right at show time. Planning does pay. Lena’s Place Coffeehouse is a monthly acoustic music series run by the Central Congregational U.C.C. Church and has been going strong since 1984. They provide a terrific sound system and engineer in their fellowship hall and all the comforts of home with coffee and homemade treats. It’s very similar to the Woodview Coffeehouse in Lecanto and as well attended. Sue Witty, a local Atlanta musician, started out the evening with her band and then turned the stage over to me. What a great listening group - so attentive and appreciative. What a treat! I love gigs where the crowd just becomes part of the show and when its all over spends time talking to you like old friends over CD sales and mailing list sign ups. Truly enjoyable and a great start to the tour. Since I don’t have the new CD’s in hand yet (UPS has them on the truck as I write this) I had folks fill out mailing labels and I will ship them in padded envelopes I brought with me as soon as I get the box delivered in Nashville Monday. That arrangement suited everyone just fine and I’m pleased to have a post office trip to make next week. Tomorrow - on to Nashville
NEW CD RELEASE BY DOUG SPEARS COME OUT OF THE BLOCKS FAST WITH AMERICAN SONGWRITER MAGAZINE AWARD

Doug Spears' new 2007 release, "Break Some Stones", is coming out of the blocks fast. Just before its release in July 2007 its title track, "Break Some Stones", won the coveted American Songwriter Magazine Lyrics Contest and is published in the July / August issue of that leading publication. "Break Some Stones" is a "live in the studio" solo recording which features a straight on rendition of 14 great original songs.

Doug Spears is an Orlando, Fl. based performing songwriter whose acoustic music draws on elements of contemporary folk, Americana, bluegrass, country and folk rock. The result is a sound that is fresh and new, yet immediately familiar causing one reviewer to call it "retro contemporary, yet neo-traditional." His work combines vivid, lyrical images set to memorable melodies, delivered with a unique guitar style and powered by rich vocals often compared to John Denver.

Spears is no stranger to winning awards for his songwriting. In 2005 Doug released "Truths & Lies", a collection of 12 songs ranging from regional, historical pieces about Florida's past (including "Teppintine", "Steam Train" and "Banks of the Old St. John's") to insightful, personal pieces like "This Old House", "Mournful Eyes" and "It Must Be You." Very well received, "Truths & Lies" earned excellent reviews and songs included on that album earned numerous awards. “Banks of the Old St. Johns” won Florida’s Will McLean Award in 1997. “This Old House,” “Annie’s Chairs” and “Swimmin’ Against the Tide” earned Doug finalist slots in the 1998 and 2000 South Florida Folk Festival Songwriters’ Competition and the 2000 Suwannee Springfest Songwriters’ Competition. More recently, “A Mother’s Tears” earned top 20 finalist status in the AAA / Americana category of Unisong International’s 10th Annual Songwriting Contest for 2005-06, while another track, “Teppintine,” earned an Honorable Mention. Songwriter Universe Magazine selected “This Old House” for its “Top 5 songs of the Month” in January 2006.

In a land of transplants and transients, Doug Spears is a rare fourth generation Florida native. Born in Leesburg, Florida, his best childhood memories tie back to the farm house his grandfather built just west of Leesburg in the 1920's. He took up the guitar at age 12, learning on an old Gibson J-45 loaned to him by a family friend, and soon began writing his own songs heavily influenced by the wealth of songwriter poets of the time. Doug's songcraft has matured into the skillful painting of lyric portraits of complex characters, places and events, in both difficult and joyous circumstances, delivered with a deft and subtle touch.

Doug Spears will be touring throughout the U.S. in 2007 and 2008 to promote ”Break Some Stones”, starting with a three week tour in July and August 2007 that includes shows in Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and North Carolina. His current schedule, links to purchase his CDs and booking contact information can be seen on his website at www.dougspearsmusic.com and on his MySpace site at www.myspace.com/dougspears.

Well, three terrific days over in the Tampa / Sarasota area are behind me now. It’s Sunday morning and Judy’s still sleeping. We’ll have an unhurried morning (for once) and then head back home to Orlando. What a great trip over here! So much fun and good friends – thanks so much for all of you that came out. The support and attention we received here was very special and much appreciated. Ka’Tiki Thursday night was, as it always is, a wild, wonderful night of music and friendship. Pete Gallagher and Pat Barmore are terrific hosts and keep the deep spirit of the Bay area folk and acoustic music thriving under the big chickee over looking the Gulf, including the traditional musical tribute to the sunset. We had a big, very receptive crowd and I made a lot of new friends, reconnected with some old ones and had the privilege of sharing my music with them all. Thanks to Jak Kelley, Shelly Eckert, Lori Cherry, Ms. Goodie, Donnie Elliot (who I had not seen in many years), Annie, Fred, Dwayne Slayton, Michaela and so many others for coming out and making the evening such a treat. As an added bonus, Pete and Pat’s buddy, Robbie, was there drawing caricatures and did a couple of me – they don’t make me look like a cross between Brad Pitt and Travis Tritt as I had asked, but then that was a bit much to hope for. And, I was joined at the mic by a tremendous local harmonica player (whose name I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t get) for a rousing rendition of Steam Train as my finale number. Great night – thanks again Pete and Pat! Friday morning Ally Smith and I were on WMNF with Bill Dudley for Live Music Showcase. We played tunes and chatted and I’ve already heard by email from many who listened in. WMNF’s studio is the most incredible live broadcast facility I’ve been privileged to play in. It’s a full sound, recording style studio set up that could easily accommodate a very large band, stage of the art gear and isolated control booth to insure the best possible live production. It really is an incredible resource for the Bay area music community. And, Bill Dudley, as always, is a most gracious and professional host. Thanks for having me on the air, Bill – hope we can do it again soon. Friday night we headed to Safety Harbor for an evening at Taste on Main Street. This was my first time there and, honestly, I did not know what to expect. What a wonderful little place! The owners (and their immediate family) were all very enthusiastic, welcoming and accommodating. I wasn’t sure how I’d do drawing to this little café in Safety Harbor, but we packed the house! Thanks to my MySpace friend, Trish, who brought out her “blonde brigade”, Bruce (who, it turns out I was in college with and didn’t know it) and to Shelly, Tami, Paul, Richard and others who helped spread the word. As the evening progressed there was much rearranging of tables and chairs to accommodate everyone. What a treat to play for such an attentive crowd. Plus, the food there is outstanding! If you haven’t dropped in on Taste before please go check it out. There are many upcoming shows by wonderful Tampa area artists and this is a spot that certainly deserves the support of the Bay area music community. Saturday morning we hustled down to Englewood to spend the morning with Jimmy Jay on WENG 1530 AM. Jimmy is a true old pro. So many years in the music business as a performer and he brings a great, relaxed attitude to his radio show, Who’s Home on the Suncoast, each Saturday morning at 10 am. We played tracks off my new CD which will be released in a couple of weeks, Break Some Stones, as well as Jimmy’s favorite from my Truths & Lies CD, Steam Train. Plus, we chatted through out the hour about life as an independent musician and songwriter. Jimmy, it was a true pleasure – thanks for having me in! Saturday night we wrapped up the busy weekend at It’s A Grind on Clark Road in Sarasota. Once again, it was my first time there and I was surprised how much bigger the place looked in the internet pictures than it did in real life!! However, as usual, everyone rose to the occasion. Again, we packed the house thanks to the thriving and supportive Sarasota folk community. Particular thanks to Margaret Lewis, Brad, Doug, Diana and Dan Ost, Carl and Barbara Wade, Mike, Rich and Terri LaPenna and many more whose names, I apologize, just won’t come to my fogged and weary brain. We were bringing in chairs from outside and it was really cozy before it was all over, but what a great group to be up close and personal with! It is always such a privilege to share my work with such an attentive, receptive and appreciative group and I thank you all so much for coming. I think we kept the staff at It’s A Grind from going home on time, but all things considered I don’t think they minded much. So, today back to Orlando and a couple of weeks “off” before we head Out on my eastern states mini-tour. As you might know from previous updates or from my website, I’m headed out July 13th for shows in Ga., Tn., Ohio, Pa., W.V. and N.C. (including a few days at the Swannanoa Gathering in Black Mountain outside of Asheville) getting back home August 6th. DiscMakers has promised faithfully that I’ll have the new CD, Break Some Stones, in hand for the trip and we’re excited about hitting all the new spots and making new friends. All the Best to you all and see you again soon.
A local Orlando business mogul once said, "He who doeth not tooteth his own horn, his horn doeth goeth untooteth." So, in the vein of "shameless self promotion" I am happy to announce that one of my newer songs Break Some Stones has won the American Songwriter Magazine Lyric Contest and is published in the July / August edition. If you have a subscription you should be receiving it in the mail now (if you haven't already) and it will be on the news stands at the end of the month. I get some cool prizes (a basic Martin guitar, a year's supply of D'Addarrio Strings, and various other stuffs) and I'll be one of six finalists for the annual first place award. But mostly I get my song in print in the magazine all over the US and Canada. Break Some Stones is the title cut on my new CD that is being mastered by Ron Litschauer as we speak and will go to DiscMakers next week.
Infusion Tea Show Recap What a great room the new Infusion Tea is! Light, airy, roomy and comfortable with very music friendly acoustics. Its on Edgewater Drive in Orlando (College Park) a couple of blocks south of Princeton next to Long’s Bookstore. I really enjoyed the show there last night and appreciate all who came to out enjoy and be part of it. Infusion Tea will now seat upwards of 40 very comfortably. I set up a minimal sound system with a single Speaker positioned so that it covered the room very nicely. My friends Paul & Tami (Hannah’s Whirl) came over to spend the afternoon with us and were kind enough to open the show with a few of their original tunes. They produce wonderful harmonies together and you should catch them at a festival or Tampa area venue soon. We had a great crowd thanks to my MySpace friends, my folk network friends and those on my email list. I appreciate each and every one of you coming. If there was something you saw, heard or experienced that particularly “stuck with you” please leave me a note on my MySpace site or at my Yahoo Group (http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/dougspearsmusic/). If you missed the show, please stay tuned for my next visit. All the Best – Doug
Day 1 – Friday, May 4th Since I don’t have access to the internet this weekend in the campground (haven’t figured out how to use the new Blackjack – cell phone – as a modem yet) I’ll keep a running diary and you’ll get it all in one whack. We pulled into the Anastasia State Park at around 2:30. Back in January I had reserved on line the LAST available campsite for a travel trailer (ours is an older 24’ Coachman), but it turned out to be a decent spot, not far from the walk thru to the Amphitheatre grounds where the festival takes place. We got settled in, immediately saw some of our folkie buds, and then headed back out to find the High Tide Café’ where I’m playing Saturday at noon. High Tide is on Old Dixie Highway in St. Augustine. It is an eclectic little café and gallery that just won the #1 spot in the voting for Taste of St. Augustine. It’s going to be an interesting set up as the café occupies and old house and, therefore, there are no larger open areas that would be an obvious first choice. Many folks set up outside on the porch, but frankly I think it’s a bit warm for that. So I’m considering doing a “strolling” type gig, room to room, and see what happens. At least that way I won’t have to set up sound and be rushed to tear down and get back for my 4:20 set on the Old Town Stage at the festival. The new Amphitheatre is impressive. Huge covered seating area that would accommodate, I’m sure, several thousand. It made the first night crowd of a few hundred or so look deceptively small. Amy Carol Webb opened the night with her usual high energy flair. I truly envy her stage “aura” – she draws every single person in and commands your willing attention and participation. It’s like the old Jedi mind trick from Star Wars – truly mystical. Ron & Bari Litschauer joined her for one of her popular numbers (sorry, don’t know the name - the recounting of finding the homemade biscuits and the firm, but loving waitress she encountered on the way to Willfest a couple of years back) and Wishing Chair joined her for one of her two encores. For her second encore she played Steve Blackwell’s “The Real Magic Kingdom” which was a special treat and continuing tribute to our dear friend who, as always, is right here with us in the music. I saw some new folks I haven’t seen before. David Jacobs-Strain from Oregon put on a spectacular blues show with amazing guitar work and powerful vocals. Wow! Watch for his name and check out some of his recording. I really enjoyed the warm, unassuming style and grace of Caroline Herring. She is a southern songwriter who I would liken to the style of Gillian Welch and Nanci Griffith. I can tell she’s someone who you’d enjoy sitting around the living room and swapping tunes with anytime. The Burns Sisters rounded out the night with their usual high energy and ultra tight, amazing harmonies. Alright enough of this – I need to get focused on playing tomorrow. It’s going to be a busy day! Saturday, May 5th – So, I got to High Tide a little before 11 am to scope it out again and make a final decision as to whether to set up a small sound system or not. As I walked through I noticed that all the floors were wood, very little in the way of fabric on the window, etc and very high, hard ceilings – you thinking what I was thinking? Yep, the acoustics were very good and sound really carried. I got out my guitar and “sound checked” a couple of spots and made the final decision to just go acoustic. That left me time to grab a sandwich. They do those pressed sandwiches on a variety of freshly baked breads and I now know why they won the Taste of St. Augustine – it’s terrific. Folks started flowing in at noon and I picked a spot near the two largest areas where sound would project well down a hallway between. It was an unusual situation for me in that I wasn’t introducing songs or having my usual patter with the audience. So I just played and played. The audience, as they came and went, were very appreciative and complimentary, stopping to ask the “who, what, when, where” and buying a few CD’s that I had placed on a table near the main traffic area. I picked up one true fan there. A young man (Trace, aged approximately 6 or 7 years) was absolutely transfixed. He kept edging out of the “kids” area in the very back of the café, where his mother had him and his younger sister, so that he could see me down the hallway. He finally convinced mom to let him take his small chair and put it in a corner just a few feet from me. He planted himself there and sat stone still and wordless through at least 8 songs, eating the sandwich that his mom brought to him and clapping after every tune. I suggested that he should get his mother to bring him out to the festival, but he explained quite solemnly that he couldn’t because he had “lost his privileges” (his words exactly). He wouldn’t tell me what he’d done, but I commiserated and told him that I occasionally lose my privileges too. So, as it turned out, The High Tide Cafe was a very relaxed (and profitable – always good) two hour warm up for my 4:20 pm set back at the festival. If you’re up this way, check them out – great food and very nice folks working hard at a tough, tough business. My set back at the festival went exceptionally well. It was at the only indoor stage (that translates to air conditioning!!) which is in the Amphitheatre building. The sound was excellent and I got to debut a new tune “Sinner’s Song” which was very well received. So well, in fact, that I might make it the next installment in my “The Story Behind the Song” postings coming soon. We went out for an early dinner with a group of friends, Chuck and Patricia Spano (whose Live at Eagle Rock series I will open for Laurie McClain next Friday in Ormond Beach), their family and two folk “super fans,” Bill and Barbara Derby. We ate at the famous (or infamous) Gypsy Cab Co. It’s yet another spot you shouldn’t miss in St. Augustine. The evening performances were superb. I will admit to another personal favorite – VTW. Lis and Lon Williamson with Gabe Valla (but absent my friend Jason Thomas who has been drafted as the new fiddler for the Claire Lynch Band – way to go Jason! You’ve earned it) were joined by Tuck on Dobro. These guys are TIGHT! Lis (this year’s Will McLean Award winner) is a rock solid rhythm guitar and banjo player with a stunning voice. Lon is equally rock solid on bass and showed off his own pipes on a couple of tunes. I like that they are playing more original stuff and I particularly liked a couple of Lon’s tunes, including “Under the Radar.” I expect that now that Lis is concentrating more on writing that we’ll get to hear a lot of her work too. Gabe Valla is absolutely “knock your socks off” spectacular on lead guitar. These folks, besides being extraordinary musicians, are just great people too. If you ever get a chance to see VTW (which stands for Valla, Turner, Williamson) in any format do not, I repeat DO NOT, miss them. You will instantly be a devoted fan I guarantee. VTW was followed by 17 year old Josh Pinkham and his family. This kid has been playing mandolin since he was 11 and I doubt there are many veteran pickers out there who can keep up with him. Very impressive. The Burns Sisters then came on for another stellar set. The legendary Michael Smith followed and had the whole amphitheatre singing the chorus on “The Dutchman,” possibly one of the greatest pieces of musical poetry ever written. And, The Lovell Sisters rounded out the evening. Judy retired early at that point and I wandered over to Ron and Bari Litschauer’s campsite. We never got out a single instrument, but instead sat and told stories, made jokes (most of which can’t be printed here for sure!) and laughed until the wee hours. Much fun with good friends. Sunday, May 6th I got drafted as a judge in the “I Remember Gamble” songwriting / storytelling contest with Charlie Simmons and Jim Carrick. 12 terrific entrants played songs and told stories over the course of an hour and a half and three winners were chosen. Sorry, but you’ll have to visit the festival webpage for the announced winners. Well the rain held off Friday and Saturday, but today it struck fast and hard right about 1 pm. A torrential drenching with an impressive lightning display put an early end to Wishing Chair’s set on the main stage. Even under cover the wind drove the rain in on sound equipment as everyone capable scurried to help the crew cover speakers, etc. with tarps to protect them. But the rain lasted less than an hour and things picked back up. I caught a show on the Old Town Stage by my old friend, Don Oja-Dunaway. Great set including a couple of my favorite tunes. Don is the resident musician at the Milltop Tavern in St. Augustine. If you’re up there, stop in and catch his show. Ask for “Halloween in Marblehead” and tell him I sent you. With the sky still looking questionable I figured discretion was the better part of valor. We loaded the camper and headed out sorry as always to be heading back to the real world, but already looking forward to: Friday, May 11 – Live at Eagle Rock in Ormond Beach Saturday, May 19 – Infusion Tea in Orlando (College Park) Friday – Sunday, May 25 – 27th – Florida Folk Festival in White Springs Ain’t May a great month! See you soon.
Notes from the Road – Collings Shop Tour and Last night in Austin Well, its time to pack up and head back to the sunshine state. I’ve really enjoyed Austin, but it’ll be good to get home and start preparing for Gamble Rogers and other upcoming events and projects. I’ve finished a couple of new songs while I was here and will be polishing them to get them “performance ready” (i.e., get to where I remember all the words and chord changes). I went and toured the Collings Guitar shop yesterday southwest of Austin. It was pretty interesting to see where my OMH2 was made and see the whole process. Collings is particularly painstaking about building their instruments. Whereas the big boys (Martin, Taylor, Gibson, et al) will finish hundreds of guitars a day, Collings finishes just 6 per day. In their words they have only one standard – perfect. They profess not to ever send out an instrument that has any flaw in its construction whatsoever and they are very sensitive about that. As an owner I find that reassuring. A couple of interesting things. First, while terribly expensive, Collings is still producing as many Brazilian rosewood instruments as the market calls for. The wood does not come form long held stashes of the wood as I had believed (since harvesting those trees is no longer permitted). Instead, it comes from forms of reclamation of still existing wood in Brazil – stumps of trees that were previously cut, logs found in river beds, etc. Some of the graining in these woods is quite dramatic (as in my 2004 model) and, due to its natural aging, it has some of the best tonal qualities of any instruments they’ve produced. Also, Collings entered the mandolin business about 5 years ago and their models are now among the most sought after for their quality on sound. Last year Collings began making electrics, both hollow body jazz models and solid bodies. Their “niche” in the solid bodies is producing a much lighter weight electric than the other makers do. After the tour I came back to the hotel, got Judy and went downtown to see the Bats take off at dusk – Austin has the worlds largest urban bat colony in the world. Sure enough just at dusk tens of thousands of bats flowed from beneath the bridge over the river right downtown while hundreds of folks stood and watched – happens every night, pretty cool. We strolled the main music district drag down 5th and 6th streets and caught some acts here and there. Its mostly rock, a lot of punk and hip hop too, some country, etc. I was a little disappointed that there weren’t more singer / songwriter or acoustic acts, but then it was Friday night in a tourist / college town – what was I thinking? So now we’re packing up and will head to the airport in an hour or so. See you soon! Doug
Notes from the Road – Cheatham Street Warehouse, San Marcos, Texas Well, I saved the best for last. Last night, Wednesday April 25th, Judy and I trekked down to San Marcos, Texas, about 45 minutes south of Austin towards San Antonio, for Kent Finlay’s Songwriter Circle at the Cheatham Street Warehouse. The Warehouse is a true, beer soaked into the wood, Texas honky-tonk. Don’t let the ramshackle exterior or rough, weathered, seemingly makeshift interior fool you – this is a revered music room that has stood the test of time. Stealing freely from their website, Kent Finlay opened the doors of Cheatham Street Warehouse in June of 1974 as a music hall, to develop, perpetuate and promote Texas music in its most natural state - the honky-tonk. During the last three decades, Kent has earned an impressive track record for developing new writers and artists - George Strait and Ace in the Hole played their first 50 or 60 gigs on this very stage. A myriad of others have graced this stage including Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie Nelson, Gatemouth Brown, Asleep at the Wheel, Guy Clark, Billy Joe Shaver, Todd Snider, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Butch Hancock and on and on and on and on . . . . Cheatham Street Warehouse is renowned for its quality sound and it seems that the old wooden walls enhance the sound like an old beloved fiddle. Al Barlow said, “Cheatham Street Warehouse is the Ryman Auditorium for Songwriters.” Kent Finlay, who has himself been called the “Godfather of Texas Songwriters,” hosts one of the premier songwriter nights in Central Texas. It is the nucleus of Cheatham Street Warehouse and while the packed houses and sold out advance tickets for big shows may pay the bills, the Songwriter Circle is the reason Kent continues to keep it open. The songs must be original compositions by the performer, no cover material whatsoever. And here’s the very best part - The songwriters who perform at Kent’s Songwriter Circle have always been treated as equals – and with equal reverence. It is a “golden rule” listening night – and Kent begins the night with a polite but stern admonition that everyone who attends pay as much attention to the artist on stage as they would expect others to listen to them. This has kept it from becoming one of those places were people go to play and then pack up and leave as soon as they finish performing. The pool tables shut down, cell phones are off and people shut up – conversation during the music is clearly not welcome or tolerated. It is heaven on earth for a performing artist!! Because I had been warned that the performer’s list fills fast Judy and I got there early and caught the end of a local band that had played from 5 to about 7:30 for happy hour. Songwriters toting guitars began filing in and just before 8:00 the bartender, with appropriate ceremony, picked up a clipboard and whacked hell out of a cowbell hung over the bar – sign up had begun!! Have you ever seen a nonchalant stampede? Well that’s what I’d call it – everyone trying to look cool and not over anxious, but wanting to be sure to get on that list. Fortunately, I had chosen a seat near the bar so I was able to easily get in the first part of the line. At that, I was still 9th on the list that only had 18 two song slots, many were disappointed not to get to play. The show started promptly at 9 with a good crowd of performers and listeners and ran until midnight. It was my best performance of the three nights. I played That Old Songwriter’s Gone, my tribute to songwriting great and Texas favorite, Mickey Newbury, and This Old House. The response was incredible and I made many new friends, including Kent Finlay who was very complimentary. At midnight I would have gladly pulled up a ring of chairs and swapped songs with Kent and the other writers until all hours. I hated for the evening to end. If you are out in the Austin / San Marcos / San Antonio area DO NOT miss the Cheatham Street Warehouse! No place to play tonight. I might go catch some music at one of the hundreds of choices. On Friday I’m going to tour the Collings Guitar factory and take my OMH2 for a little check up. I’ll let you know how it goes. All the Best – Doug
Notes from the Road – Ruta Maya Coffee House – Austin, Texas Last night I dropped in on another legendary acoustic music venue in Austin - the Ruta Maya Coffee House. It is located in an eclectic arts center just southeast of downtown. The complex houses Clear Channel Radio (5 stations broadcasting from one location), a Gibson Guitar showroom of vintage instruments, arts instruction in acting, writing, etc., a theatre and a playhouse, and more. Very Interesting architecture makes the center worth arriving early and strolling about. We even sat in on a few minutes of an acting / screen writing class. Whereas the Cactus Café is more of a straight up singer-songwriter venue, Ruta Maya is very counter culture and off beat - think Austin Coffee and Film in Winter Park times twenty (both in size and vibe). The stage is huge (I did remember the camera this time, but can’t download the pic’s from it until I get home) with a back of the room full time sound engineer who records your mini set if you like for a $5 donation – great sound. The room is huge, kind of warehouse style with high ceilings and open duct work, pipes and wiring. In addition to the first floor seating there is also a balcony over the bar area that itself would seat at least 30 or more. The house band opens the open mic and will back anyone in the OM that wants them to – they are quite good, though as you might expect their style tends toward modern rock, punk, etc. However, I heard them back some much more delicate styles of music very well and could see they were clearly excellent, well rounded musicians. Tuesday night at Ruta Maya is kind of a “double open mic” – it starts with a poetry OM from 6 – 9 and music from 9 – 12. We got there a little early and caught a few of the poets. Some were actually quite good while others seemed intent on finding all the possible rhymes for the F word – bongos and berets would have been appropriate for some. I’ve seen a couple of bumper stickers out here saying “Keep Austin Weird.” Well, these folks were doing their part. My 3 song set went very well. I played On the Other Side, One Last Selfish Act and This Old House. If the recording turned out decent, I’ll post it so you can check it out. I did not have the band back me (seemed a little risky on original tunes), but a couple of the band members tracked me down afterwards to get names and emails, compliment me on the tunes and take a long, loving look at my Collings OMH2. I suspect that the former was merely an intro to the latter. Nevertheless, I had a great time and recommend Ruta Maya to you if you’re out this way. Tomorrow night – Cheatham Street Warehouse. Stay tuned. All the Best – Doug
Notes from the Road – Cactus Café, Austin Tx Hey Guys! Last night, Monday April 23rd, I dropped in on the Open Stage at the Cactus Café located in the Student Union Building at the University of Texas here in Austin. This is one of the premier acoustic music rooms in the country. Austin's Cactus Cafe has played host to a veritable who's who roster of singer/songwriters. That roster includes Townes Van Zandt (who called it his home), Guy Clark, Nanci Griffith, Shawn Colvin, John Gorka, Ellis Paul, Loudin Wainwright and on and on. It's one of those venues that, as a fan, you could probably show up at any night and expect great music. As a performer, you can rest assured that the sound system wasn't made for rock bands (something you come to relish on the road), and they actually know how to make acoustic guitars sound as great as they should. It did not disappoint. Open Stage on Mondays there is hosted by Graham Weber and Abi Tapia. Graham was manning it alone last night and is a gracious and efficient host. This is a strictly enforced listening room with a full bar and a good crowd even on a Monday night. The talent was typical for an open mic type event, everything from beginners to professionals with CD's, etc. dropping in on their way through town. Judy and I had a great time. I played my newest song, Break Some Stones, and then my older standard, This Old House, with great crowd reaction. Graham told me after my mini-set that he wished I was going to be in town longer so they could have me back – maybe in the future! I forgot to bring my camera (idiot – I always forget that) but Judy took a pic with my cell phone. I'll post it in my pic's if I can figure out how to get it onto my computer. More to come! All the Best – Doug
Well, another Barberville Spring Frolic has come and gone. If you made it to the festival, hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. If you missed it then I hope you feel appropriately disappointed and vow to make sure and attend the Barberville Fall Jamboree in November. As always, Joe and Katie did a magnificent job of putting the music together and it was another very special event. If you are unfamiliar with the Barberville festivals, Barberville is about 14 miles north, northwest of DeLand near the intersection of US Highway 17 and State Road 40. The Barberville Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts is west of US 17 on SR 40. It is located on the grounds of former Volusia County Schools surplus property known as the Central School of Barberville (c. 1919), which was first leased from the Volusia County School Board in the year of the Settlement's incorporation, 1976. The Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts, Inc. was established as an educational institution whose general nature and objective is to render constructive, educational, and cultural services to the community through collection, preservation, conservation and exposition of objects which are the cultural heritage of the community. It consists, in part, of many historical buildings moved to and maintained on the property including the following (showing the year they were moved to the site as well the original year of construction): 1982: Pierson Railroad Depot (c. 1885) 1983: Astor Bridgekeeper's House (c. 1926) 1984: Turpentine Comm./Store (c. early 1900s) 1988: Turpentine Still (c. 1924) 1989: Pottery Shed (c. 1920s) 1992: Lewis Log Cabin (c. 1875) 1994: Midway United Methodist Church (c. 1890) 1996: Huntington Post Office (c. 1885) 1997: Quarters House (c. 1920s) 1998: The Pastime touring boat (c. 1910) There is also the original schoolhouse that has been fully restored and other outbuildings of various types. The music takes place in some of these buildings as well as on festival type tent stages set up specially for the events. In the fall, demonstrations of blacksmithing and other historical trades take place throughout the weekend. Saturday started out with a major faux pas on my part. I had noted that I had two shows scheduled, one at 1:30 and one at 2:30 --- wrong! I also had one at 11:00 on my favorite stage, the Church (wonderful acoustics!!). So, when I showed up at about noon thinking I was plenty early I was immediately greeted by fans and other musicians asking if everything was alright and where I had been! Very embarrassing, I’ve never done that before! But the group before me and the group after filled in nicely and the show proceeded without a hitch. My afternoon shows went very well and I enjoyed seeing familiar faces and new ones alike in the audience. The weather was a bit on the warm side, but nice breezes kept it very comfortable in the shade and in the buildings. Sunday started out UGLY. Frog strangling rain and thunderstorms drove the crowd to cover in the morning and disrupted the schedule a little. But, by noon the rain was over and the skies began to clear. The rest of the day was beautiful and very comfortable, if a little precarious as a result of strong gusting winds that made things interesting at times. In fact, the tent type stages had to move to more stable structures as the wind quickly threatened to turn the tarps into steel framed kites! I had two shows and a songwriting workshop and enjoyed them all immensely. Terrific performances by so many that as usual its hard to list all of the great acts I saw bits and pieces of. I continue to be very impressed with the sound of James Hawkins and Cold Harbor – really superb. Also, M.T. Pawketts with Jeff Frieberg, Kace Montgomery, Wayne (brain won’t give me the last name), Joe Ramierez and Jonathon and Sherri Hodge, never disappoint. By specially noting those two I don’t mean to slight anyone else – there was just so much great music all around on every stage its impossible to fairly list and comment on them all. Be assured if you missed it, you REALLY MISSED IT!!! Thanks again to Joe and Katie for all your hard work and for all who came out to this wonderful event. See you again soon.
I was just notified that Outbound Music has selected my CD, Truths & Lies, as one of their featured albums on their home page from now through April 9th. Check it out at http://www.outboundmusic.com. Outbound has great internet radio programming so bookmark the page while you're there so you can go back and listen again and again. Thanks for Listening!
There’s simply no way to succinctly describe the experience of the annual Will McLean Festival at the Sertoma Youth Ranch near Dade City. I’m back home and exhausted, but filled to the brim with the friendship and music shared over the weekend. If you weren’t there you missed a terrific festival and should make your plans right now to be sure to be there next year. Here’s a recap. I went over Wednesday morning a dropped my camper off in a good site. I’m glad I did because all of the sites went quickly and by late afternoon Friday people were already being turned away if they needed water and electric. Tent campers can always find a clear piece of ground somewhere. I came back Thursday afternoon to settle in and get into Willfest mode. We had a nice relaxed song circle at Ron & Bari Litschaer’s campsite Thursday night and turned in at a reasonable hour for a good night’s sleep. The real crowd really swelled Friday morning and the Cypress stage opened at 1 pm. Now, I’m not going to run through all the great performances I saw for fear of leaving someone out. However, I have to say that James Hawkins and Cold Harbor really impressed me with a really tight set - escellent! But all of the music, and the sound by Tom Ellis, was exceptional throughout the afternoon. Then at 7:30 pm the Main Stage opened with a set from Chris Kahl followed by wonderful performances including Val C. Wisecracker, Cathy DeWitt’s exceptional group, Patchwork, and special guests for the festival, Still on the Hill. If you are reading this and not recognizing these names then you should know that you are missing the very best in folk and acoustic music and entertainment around. Get away from your TV and conventional, industry controlled radio stations and get out amongst the people! Friday also included a “new talent” showcase on the Azalea Stage. Congratulations to my good friends Paul and Tami from the Tampa area who were selected best new talent in the showcase and invited to perform the next day - way to go guys! Friday night also included the usual campfire pickin’. Two great friends I made last year at Willfest, Tisa and her daughter Cassaundra, camped near to my trailer and invited my buddy Ally Smith to bunk in with them. So, Friday night we sat around Tisa’s fire and played tunes to the wee hours (about 3 am), but still managed to get a good night’s sleep and prepare for Saturday. Saturday was truly wall to wall folks!! So many good friends and fans of this music that it was hard to find time to get to spend a moment or two with them all. Again, just terrific performances on all stages all day long. I followed my buddy Bob Patterson with a set on the Azalea stage and was joined, impromptu, by Ally Smith on This Old House - she is simply one of the best vocalists around and her harmonies are to die for - thanks my friend! Saturday night’s Main Stage line up included stellar performances by Rod MacDonald, Amy Carol Webb, Magda Hiller (whose very small daughter Wyatt joined her on stage for a song that stole the show) and Grant Livingston (Grant - never follow children or animals on stage!!!!). Saturday night also included a special tribute to Steve Blackwell with many family and friends presenting his songs and honoring the spirit of this very special friend who left us last year. It was a celebration that proved that Steve is not gone, he’s right here with us always. Now, the Saturday night campfires were really great. I stopped in and played some tunes with James Hawkins and his crowd, then wandered over to the Blackwell Punta Gorda Guitar Army encampment for a bit. Then, with all good intentions of turning in at a reasonable hour (particularly with the time change) I strolled back towards home, stopping a Tisa and Cassaundra’s campsite to chat a minute and say good night. Well, I did get the guitar out and play a tune or two. Then a group of folks including Emmett Carlisle, Dennis Devine, Raven and few others ambled in. Ally Smith got her violin out and more folks joined the circle. Before I knew it it was 4 am! I started to put away my guitar when out of the darkness strolled two of my favorite incorrigibles, Bari Litschauer and Dawn DeWitt (sans their husbands who had the good sense to leave them to their own devices and go to bed) and kicked the party into a new gear. There was much hootin’ and howlin’, some dancin’ and side bruising laughter. I finally stumbled back to my camper a 6 am and they were still going!!! One thing you have to remember about camping at one of these festivals is that you could end up next to a late night, raucous group like this making sleep somewhat difficult. I advise a good set of foam ear plugs and perhaps a shot or two of your favorite sleep aid before turning in. Just ask Bill and Eli Perras who were camped just across from the site of all this early morning merriment and had to open the Cypress stage at 10 am Sunday morning!!! But, the Cypress stage is right where Tisa, et al were camped and thus revenge was sweet. Eli opened their set at 10 am by screaming into the microphone Wake up over there, get moving, come out and let’s see you, you kept me up all night and now its my turn WAKE UP!!! Eli, you’re a piece of work girl! Desperately needing intravenous caffeine and sugar I was invited to Mark Harris’ motor home for his special twisted egg bread french toast - WOW! Ably assisted by his main squeeze, the lovely and vivacious Josie, the stuffed many of us full of syrup laden french toast and I finally got to where my eyes would stay open and actually communicate to my brain what they were seeing. Now, cooking is only one of Mark’s talents. He is also one hell of a musician playing bass, percussion, guitar, mandolin, flute and probably just about other instrument you stuck in his hands. He sits in with a number of groups, principally the Peters Road Swamp Band, but freely assists others (inculding me from time to time) as a backing musician. He played with Ally Smith all weekend in her sets and they were terrific! Sunday was, again filled with non-stop exceptional entertainment on all three stages and great workshops as well. I performed on the Main Stage at 2:30 and, with the able assistance of Ally Smith, played my tribute song written for Steve Blackwell, Welcome Home. The festival wound down to the finale at 5:30 pm with all available performers gathering on the Main Stage with the heart and soul of this event, Margaret Longhill, to sing Will’s great song Hold Back the Waters. Then it was time for many, many goodbyes, hugs and handshakes before turning to the chores of loading up the camper and heading home. So, sadly, its over again for another year. If you missed Will McLean this year, don’t make the same mistake next year. Mark the dates off on your calendar now and start the anticipation clock running. Hope to see you there. Coming up next for me . . . Yalaha Country Bakery on April 7th and The Barberville Spring Frolic on April 14th and 15th. Stay tuned.
Yesterday (Sunday, March 4th) I went down and performed at the Myakka River Seafood Festival hosted by Clear Channel's KIX 98.9 FM radio at the Charlotte County Fairgrounds. What a blast! The show was put together by local Charlotte County musician and instrument builder, R. J. Malloy, (and one of my MySpace friends) and Kix 98.9's Downhome Cookin host, Larry Temko (also a MySpacer bud of mine). They did a great job putting together the show. The sound was superb (Thanks Wayne!!), the weather was perfect and the crowd was wonderful! The seafood was pretty good too! You should tune in to Larry T's show - he's really playing some great music, including independents like yours truly. Read his blog at http://www.larryt989.blogspot.com/ . I'm looking forward to doing more shows with Larry in the future. There was also a great write up promotion the festival in the Sun Herald by Chris Porter. You can still read that at http://www.sun-herald.com/letsgo/LGNewsstory.cfm?pubdate=030207&story=lg12.htm&folder=NewsArchive It was truly a wonderful day. Thanks to Kathie, my MySpace friend of the month, who brought her family all the way from Okeechobee (a 1 1/2 hour drive) just to see my performance - now THAT's a fan!! The sound engineer, Wayne, recorded the show and if it came out well I'll try to post some clips when i get them. THANKS FOR LISTENING!!
Doug Spears On The Road - Folk Alliance Diary - Day 4 Well, it’s a wrap. I made Judy drive for a while this morning I jotted down my thoughts (blearily I might add after another night of short sleep) and listened to some of the CD’s I picked up from various artists. We went downstairs this morning to get the last breakfast buffet, say our goodbyes and share last minute contact info with anyone we somehow missed. As always it’s a mixture of relief to be going home to get some rest and disappointment that its over. Yesterday, the final day of music events, etc., was not a wind down, but a finale. Finally comfortable in my surroundings and used to the routine I was able to “work the room” much more effectively in the Exhibit Hall than I had any of the prior days and with great results. I met many wonderful people and left an impression with them of myself and my music that I think will stick, particularly with some follow up. I made many new friends that I can help get introduced to our folk scene in Florida and help bring their music to you - very exciting and satisfying. You will be pleased to know that the perception of the Florida Folk community is very, very good. People who were at this conference like Gloria Holloway, Michael Stock, Randy Wynne, Cathy DeWitt and others have represented us so well over the years. I heard many others mentioned by name as folks who’ve been so active and have given us a truly sterling reputation. We owe much thanks to those I’ve mentioned as well as Robby Greenberg, Amy Carol Webb and many, many more who I’m too sleep deprived to name at the moment (and to whom I apologize for failing to give credit where so richly due) for putting our best Florida foot forward in past years. It’s a little surprising to me that we are perceived as having such a wide spread, strong folk music market and community in Florida. Sure, I have always appreciated the number of well run festivals we have each year. But, I guess, as is human nature, I always imagined that the “folk grass” was greener elsewhere in terms of venues who regularly support this music on a weekly basis and house concert series with a lasting track record. I have come to appreciate, from listening to attendees from all over the country, that we are blessed with a vibrant folk community that, while it can always build and grow, we should be very proud of and should jealously protect. I repeatedly was asked about the Will McLean Festival, Gamble Rogers, the Florida Folk Festival and the South Florida Folk Festival. Many lamented the closing of Main Street Café’ in Homestead, but also heard a lot of encouragement regarding other venues, including Leu Gardens in Orlando and the many UU Church series’, including Octagon Arts that are so well regarded. I think I’m more happy than ever to be a native Florida Folk Musician. As you might expect, the level of talent here is astonishing. So many great musicians, writers and amazing singers from all parts of the country, Canada and abroad. The is an ever growing wealth of diversity in musical roots, genres and styles that are finding a home under the folk banner. There were special tribute programs to Mickey Newberry, Townes Van Zant and a couple of others. Well, so its over for a year. I’m definitely planning on returning next year now that I’ve “learned the ropes” a little. And, depending on other time commitments, I may try to hit one or more of the regional conferences - but I suspect that time will get too tight for that. I highly recommend the conference to all organizations, venues and promoters and fans of this music and to artists who are at the point where they want to take their career experience to the next level. It is not cheap by any means, but it is well worth the time and investment. See you back at the ranch!
Doug Spears On The Road - Folk Alliance Diary - Day 3 I’m a little rushed this morning, so I’ll keep it pretty short. First, a GLARING omission in the Florida Folks I’ve bumped into since getting here. The very first, and most frequent, person I’ve seen here is WLRN’s Michael Stock. In fact, I saw Michael at registration the first day and he was the one who directed me to the health foods store to load up on herbal cold remedies. Thanks Michael! We all have seen and felt Michael’s enthusiasm for this music and its very apparent in his presence here. We had a Southeastern Regional Folk Alliance meeting this morning at 9:30 am (sadistic!). Our region is now “officially” recognized and a conference is planned for April 2008. Likely venues seem to be Atlanta or the Asheville area. If you would like to be on the listserve for the SE region, send me an email (after I get home next week) and I’ll get the info to you so you can stay current and participate in the inaugural conference. The initial focus will be on gathering participation and commitment from the venue / presenter / promoter / consumer side of the equation. The artists, everyone agrees, are easy to get on board. Its having and nurturing the venues to long range success that is the key. Yesterday was a good working day. The Exhibit Hall was much more active and I met a lot of very interesting people (presenters, venues, promoters, radio and print media, etc.) and handed out a lot of CD’s, DVD’s and promo materials. My showcase in the afternoon went very well and my voice held up fine, though I was singing everything a half step lower than usual - no problem hitting the low notes. I feel even better today, so my slots today should be fun. I have a slot on the Exhibit Hall stage (kind of a formal open mic set up so it’s a 15 min. set) in the afternoon and another guerilla showcase slot tonight at 1:30 am. Saw a lot of great music yesterday and last night. My friends, Scott and Michelle Dalziel from Iowa (The Dalziels) are awesome - great energy, harmonies, writing and vibe. They are the whole package for sure. Zane Williams from Nashville was impressive with some of his award winning songs and I liked the energy and stage presence of Ken Gaines from Houston. Dave Potts also has a great deal of charm and unassuming with coupled with some great lyrics and skillful delivery. Its still a very overwhelming gathering and I’m enjoying it immensely. It would be an easy thing to get caught up in the sheer numbers of tremendously talented artists out there and get paranoid about all of the things you could be doing, should be doing, are too late to do, etc. But, it would be a great mistake. There is so much to do and absorb you have to take what you can carry and leave the rest for another trip. If you ever make this trip as an artist and expect to come away with X number of new gigs or promotion commitments you are missing the big picture and you will likely be disappointed. This is about the experience and the exposure. I hope to have time for my last entry in this diary tomorrow morning, but we will be in a push to get on the road towards home. So it may get delayed until tomorrow evening or Monday. But, I’ve made it this far so I’ll finish it one way or the other. Until then . . .
First, thanks for all the good wishes and recommendations for cold and throat remedies. I think they are working and I hope that the voice will be up to my Showcase today at 4 pm. I took some great advice from a good friend in south Florida who responded to my diary posting yesterday. A shining star of last year’s Florida Folk Festival and a veteran of many of these Folk Alliance events (I’m sure everyone now knows who she is), she said get to bed at a reasonable time and get some sleep - it’ll all still be there tomorrow. She was right - I feel much better today! The second day of the conference (really the first “official day”) was a getting acclimated day for most. You can see artists trying to find their “rhythm” in the common area on the second floor of the hotel in the area around what is called “Performance Alley.” This is a series of a dozen or more meeting rooms where the official showcases of the conference take place in the evening and where many seminars, workshops and meetings are scheduled during the day. The area is plastered, and I mean PLASTERED, with posters from artists promoting their showcases, albums, etc. Even though I felt I was a little late in getting some of my materials posted, I now see that I was kind of at the end of the front of the pack. With the enormous amount of material that has now been posted I doubt that anyone reads or takes note of any of it. A poster has to be pretty distinctive to catch anyone’s eye. The first day in the Exhibit Hall was a little slow, but we’ve been told to expect the crowds on Friday and Saturday. I’m having a little trouble turning on my “sales” persona and reaching out to people as the pass by my booth. If they show interest in my materials then I’m right on it, but I probably need to get more proactive today to pull in those who are breezing by too quickly. I have a fold out display board on an easel behind my table with pictures, posters, showcase schedule, press quotes, etc. on it. On my table I have my Truths & Lies CD displayed along with the video of my Octagon Arts performance (opening for Michael Smith) and a promo CD of studio rough cuts from my new CD project to be released later this year. I’ve got two CD players ready to go with headphones qued up to songs I want folks to hear. I also have print materials (a “one sheet” with press quotes, etc. and contact information), a printout of my SonicBids press kit, postcards with my showcase schedule, a jar with individual bags of homemade chex mix (thanks Mom), business cards, etc. It looks pretty good! There was a special reception for Folk DJ’s in the afternoon. I was lucky to get to be one of the sponsors for the reception so I got to put CD’s etc. on a table at the entrance for the DJ’s to pick up and was recognized as a sponsor during the program (a little sucking up never hurts). The reception was like “speed dating” - Hi, how are you, what is your station’s call sign, what type of folk music do you like to play, can I give / send you a CD, nice to meet you, NEXT!! I gave away a lot of CD’s (20 or so) but really spent time with a few DJ’s that I found interesting to talk to - probably not the “recommended” approach, but I enjoyed it more. I saw some great writers and performances yesterday and ran into more old friends and acquaintances. I’ve finally met, face to face, many of my artist MySpace friends from all over the country - very cool! Good news for the Leu Gardens series. I’ve been selectively passing out a little flyer I made up for the series to artists I think would be a good fit. I think that David LaMotte is going to commit to play the series in December this year, and there is sincere interest so far from GREAT artists like Johnsmith, Tom Kimmel, Chuck Brodsky, Small Potatoes (they’ve been there before), Dierdre McCalla, The Dalzeils and more! There’s a pretty good Florida contingent here - so far I’ve bumped into Glorira Holloway, Cathy DeWitt, Michael Stock, Randy Wynne, David & Leni Engels and Rich Pietrzak. I know there’s more and I’ll see them over the next couple of days. Well, time to get back at it! I’m rarin’ to go! Doug
Doug Spears On the Road - Folk Alliance Blog Day 1 I’m going to give this a run and see if I can keep up with it. For the uninitiated the Folk Alliance Conference is a four day gathering of folk artists, venue owners, festival organizers, promoters, agents, record labels, radio stations, publications and service providers. There are workshops, panel discussions, meetings, receptions and an exhibit hall during the day and performances from late afternoon through the early morning hours each night in dozens of separate showcase rooms throughout the hotel, The Marriott Memphis Downtown. It is an opportunity for folk artists like me to get seen and heard by people who might want to bring my music to a different part of the country to their radio station, venue, festival, etc. And, its an opportunity to learn from the veterans of the road and the music circuit - both in actual personal discussions and by just watching what they do. The “biggies” are here, like Pete Seeger, Tom Paxton, Buffy St. Marie and more, as well as the current “hot hands,” like David Wilcox, Johnsmith, David LaMotte, et. al. In other words - it’s a big deal for the folk music community. We got into Memphis yesterday at about noon. I thought that would be early since registration for the conference didn’t start until after 1 pm and the Exhibit Hall Load in didn’t start until 3 pm. The Conference officially opens Thursday (today). Well, I was quite wrong. It immediately became apparent that many people had been here for a full day or so already. I had been advised to put up posters for my showcase slots in the approved areas - almost all of the space was already gone! However, I managed to put up a dozen or so posters in semi-good spots. And, I got my Exhibit Hall Table set up without much hassle. Now, the bad thing has been that I’ve had a bad cold for the last three days, so I’ve been pounding vitamins, herbal remedies and commercial cold remedies by the truckload. My first Showcase slot was last night at 1 am. My voice held out Ok until my last song, “This Old House,” and then it went out in a big way. So I’m headed back to the health food stare this morning to get some stuff to help my throat before my next showcase on Friday afternoon. So far the conference is somewhat overwhelming. Last night for the opening showcases there were masses of people moving through the hotel and stepping in and out of ongoing performances. I saw Rosalie Sorrells (briefly), Johnsmith, Eric Schmidt, met Jim Photoglo (of “Fishin’ in the Dark” fame), saw some old friends and met some new folks. The tough thing about this for me is to remember that I’m not here to be an observer - I’m here to work the crowd and make contacts. Its hard for me to stay on track and make sure to get people’s names and organization affiliation, give them info on me, maybe a CD, etc. I’ll work harder at that today when the Exhibit Hall opens and I’m at my booth. Well, I’ve got to get going to the health food store. Gotta heal up this throat!! More later. Doug
The internet is a wonderful thing. Check out this link. http://www.twangtownusa.com/mboard/msg/810.html

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