Friday, October 5, 2012

In Motion

My dance calling legs are getting stronger, not so wobbly anymore. Which is a good thing because I have several square dances to call in the near future. And not just small party dances, but three hour long sets with upwards of ten squares (that's 80 people!) My warm-up to this has included a dance at a party in Baltimore, a last minute call for a two-hour dance in Lewisburg, and trying out some new material at a party in Eggleston.  There are a dozen or so dances I am comfortable calling at this point, though I can push that a little bit if I need to. Recently, I've had to make up some new things on the fly, because of odd amounts of people. And they worked! Or at least, most of them worked. Ok, more like, half of them. But there were no major meltdowns or anything. Every time I call, I learn a little more, about what works and what doesn't. 

Playing for the masses in Webster Hall

It's funny how calling dances is both a simple and a complicated thing. Simple and straightforward: it's pretty obvious what you're supposed to do, and really anyone can do this. But complicated, because it really takes feeling it out, a kind of tacit knowledge, to get competent enough that it flows. That you can pick out the right dance for the right situation. That you throw in enough variety over three hours. That you keep the pace up. That you don't get flustered when something invariably doesn't work out. All said,  I'm starting to find it more fun and less draining then it used to be.  If it is at all analogous to learning to play music, it will get increasingly fun, and less like work, until I can't help myself from doing it all the time. 

We were part of the Thrill Jockey 20th Anniversary shows

Other bands used smoke machines and strobe lights

I've spent the last several weeks driving between multiple places for various reasons, some for music, but mostly just to visit people and places. Baltimore was surprisingly inspiring, full of old beautiful buildings and great people. New York was immediate sensory overload, but by the end of my stay, I didn't want to leave. We played some really weird shows at big venues with big bands. It was kind of a mixed experience. But hey, I was on the same bill as Tortoise, and that seems like a big deal. 

Throwing rocks at the Empire State 

I'm taking a break from driving for the moment, and heading to the Mitten State to call one of these aforementioned dances (among other things). I'm also trying out Amtrak as an alternative to a 12 hour drive. I'm taking the 51 Cardinal, through Clifton Forge, Hinton, up through southern Ohio and Indiana. Things I love about the train: the views of the mountains are magical and breathtaking: yellow orange leaves, gray skies, and such depth. The pace: though twice as slow as driving, it is such a comfortable speed. It seems like an appropriate rate for soft, squishy human bodies to travel at. It also has its down sides, notably the cost. But it is certainly a well-called for respite from the car. Especially considering I'll be embarking on a 1,000+ mile trip down to  Louisiana later this month. 

Beautiful vistas of other trains

Sunrise from the Cardinal 51

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Back in Virginia after the mid-west. Staying at a peaceful cabin just far enough from town I can pretend I'm not back in Blacksburg. This morning I saw a belted kingfisher perched in a tree, a red-tailed hawk fly by with a goldfinch in its beak, and a huge fish jump up from the pond (at least two feet long), all in the space of ten minutes. Days have been overcast of kind of rainy all day, which seems appropriate. Been hiking in the mountains some every day. Not being grounded with a daily routine or schedule has me feeling like I'm floating. Which I kind of am. 

I have a few top secret art projects I've been working on, but nothing that's been really engrossing me. I'll probably add some artwork to my website soon. If anyone has any graphic design projects they need done, feel free to contact me. Been learning a bunch of Ed Haley tunes, which all started when I went to the Cowan Creek music school in eastern Kentucky in June. I took a class on his tunes, but have learned a bunch on my own too. Its a fun challenge, and pretty different from most of the other tunes I play. Ed Haley is a compelling figure from back in the day when one could make a living and raise a family as a traveling busker and street musician. He was blind, and was introduced to his wife--also a blind musician who lived in the same county in West Virginia, so naturally they were a good match. The recordings we have of Ed are supposedly just the tip of the iceberg of what he played.  

Going to the big cities of Baltimore and New York soon. Also trying to make it to Asheville and Boone in the next month. Hope my motivation and inspiration for being on the road picks up again soon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Summer Festivals

Spent a week at Clifftop, West Virginia, camping out in the woods with over 4,000 people. Every night I was up until the wee hours playing and listening to music. The soundscapes were so vast and varied and just amazing to walk around and listen to all that was going on. They call it the Appalachian String-band festival, but the variety of old time music is greater than probably any other festival. From the most well known Round Peak style, to plenty of West Virginia and Kentucky stuff, to Missouri fiddlers, Cajun music, jug band musician complete with brass sections, harps, dulcimers, and all means of acoustic instruments I can't name. I met a woman from Russia who came to the festival, and several others from Europe. The interesting, and sometimes perturbing phenomenon of Clifftop is that the contest winners are by and large not from anywhere near the sources of the tunes they play. I try not to be too much a purist about that kind of stuff, but I also don't take it fore-granted. 

The concentration of musical talent is probably one of the greatest that ever takes place. I like to imagine some famous musical star finding their way down to "Hobo Holler", and being blow away by the quality of actual, organic talent--mostly from people who it wouldn't even occur to to professionalize their music. 

I managed to spending quality time with friends I only see occasionally, share many wonderful meals of homecooked and homegrown food, enjoy those magical warm nights of summer, get in a hike, and play music galore--and still somehow not play music with all the people I wish I had.  I learned a few new tunes, including a couple in the key of C. Sang a few songs, but in the presence of such great company, some of my bashfulness about singing returned. Hiked to the cascades for the first time. Competed in the band contest and flat-footing contest with an owl mask on. Square danced to my hearts content. 

I can wax on….but I'll stop there.

I also spent the past week in the upper mid-west, playing a few shows in Minnesota, at a festival near St. Cloud, where the clouds were appropriately breathtaking. We also went to Minneapolis for a night, which I found nice enough to warrant a return trip someday.  Now I am chilling out in Wisconsin for a week with my brother, before heading east to another state I've never been to: Michigan. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

First Tour: Merry Old England

Some observations:

  • Touring is not exactly a vacation.
  • You'll be in a car/bus/train/airplane pretty much every day for a few hours, which gets tiresome. 
  • You'll be in some awesome places you've never been before, but you won't get time for sightseeing. Or if you do, it will be raining.  
  • If you're playing any summer festivals in England, bring rain boots. Seriously. 
  • Brits love a good cheese joke. And you can tell the same one every night to a new audience! Only your band mates and possibly tour manager will know. 
  • People in England are reluctant to square dance, even if they say beforehand that they'd like to do it.
  • A lot of your overall experience, health, and happiness depends on the people booking your shows and the kindness of strangers. 
  • A free meal and/or booze at a gig goes a long way. Most places don't seem to realize that or are too damn stingy. 
  • You'll get to meet some amazing people, who are also amazing musicians. That will probably be the coolest part of your trip.

Seriously though, I had a grand time overall. It was really satisfying to feel myself getting into the zone. My stage presence has improved, and I just feel more comfortable. Thinking about how I used to get nervous, or just feel so depleted after playing a show--but now I get all worked up and energized. I've even been doing a few things solo on stage. And singing!

It was also great to get into such a groove as a band. We have a large repertoire and it can be hard to decide what to play next, and usually it's pretty spur of the moment. But by the end of the week, we had our lineup down pat. It just flowed. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

testing the waters

For whatever reason, I only think to write a blog when I'm in a period of transience. Apparently I don't view my life in a settled state as anything to write home about.

Went on tour to England, which was rainy but fantastic. Spent the past week packing up my belongings, getting my shit in order, putting stuff in a dubious looking storage unit, and preparing to clifftop! Just for a week. Then I'm on the road. My plans are pretty hazy after that. I might be contacting you to sleep on your couch.

Some of the things I am leaving behind:

Goat eating a mountain of honeysuckle: 

Proliferous garden under a beautiful overcast sky:

Flowers I see from my bedroom window: