Just a reminder that Amazon (US only) is selling the Nomad Series albums as a digital download for $5 until the end of August.
We hope that you are all coping with the end-of-summer/back-to-school stress. Here is a beautiful video for Angels In The Wilderness that Jeff put together using some of the thousands of images that he has captured over the past many years on the road: maybe this will help you cope. Enjoy.
The last day of a very long eight weeks on the road this summer and we are dead tired. The ride from Northern Vermont to Southern Pennsylvania is not a straight line and there are many, many mountains to wind your way through, over and around: a drive that is not very conducive to sleep. It would have been easy to sit around the bus all day and try to preserve energy for the show, but one quick peek out the window was all that was needed to motivate each of us to do some exploring. This town may have one of the oddest names of all the towns and cities that we have played over the years, but it’s also one of the most fascinating and visually striking. This is an old coal mining town (originally called Mauch Chunk) that became the transportation hub for most of the coal that was being pulled out of these mountains in the 19th and early 20th century. It was an extremely wealthy town back then. The town grew about as fast as it could but it was limited by the size of the holler that it is in so rather than sprawling outward it grew up the sides of the hills and buildings were stacked tightly side by side on the streets. By the mid-20th century the bottom had fallen out of the coal industry and the town was broke. Most of the buildings were boarded up and deserted, which was oddly a blessing in disguise. When money began to flow back into this town there was a 100 years worth of untouched architectural gems, lining the streets and adorning the hillsides. The overall impression is of a small Victorian era town that you might stumble on in Europe, with these odd American flourishes thrown in for good measure. The name change came in the early 1950’s when the widow of Oklahoma native Jim Thorpe made a deal with the bankrupt Mauch Chunk to move his body to the town and erect a memorial to “Americas Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century” if they would change the name of the town to Jim Thorpe…makes sense, right? The town slowly got back up off the matt (with the same spirit that drove its new namesake) and is now a bustling tourist Mecca. It’s an amazing micro-world and well worth winding your way through the Poconos to check out.
I spent the afternoon on the Lehigh River which flows right through the town. I had lots of fun with the smallmouth bass…it’s a beautiful river and I could spend many days exploring its banks. The gig was in the original Mauch Chunk Opera House, an old vaudeville theater. It is definitely a haunted place, as is much of the town, with a great and mysterious energy. I think we had our best audience tonight (and there have been lots of great audiences on this run), they were loud and boisterous and full of Friday night. We needed them and they came through in a big way. We had a terrific show.
Tomorrow we head home to spend the last couple of weeks of the summer with our families and then the horrible routine of school days starts again. This has been a great little tour. Part of the reason is the area of the country that we’ve covered and the venues that we’ve played, but ultimately it comes down to the audiences and they have been overwhelmingly generous with their energy and enthusiasm. Thank you, thank you, thank you…without you everything in our world stops. There are lots of tour plans for the coming year and we still have the Nomad Series book on its way as well as a vinyl box set so please keep in touch through our website or Facebook page….we hope to see you soon.
August 15th: A beautiful day in a beautiful town. Portsmouth New Hampshire has been around a long time and even a casual walk through its winding streets will reveal some buildings and houses built back in the early 1700s. The city has worked hard at incorporating its’ harbour and waterfront into the towns fabric so that the downtown spills effortlessly into all sorts of public parks and boardwalks and bike paths built along the waterfront. This harbour has been a working harbour for over three hundred years it once saw slave ships and was home to a great whaling fleet: it is still a working harbour which makes it all the more impressive that the town has been able to turn so much of this valuable land into public use. It’s a beautiful, well developed, historic city and worth a visit.
Tonights’ gig was an outdoor show in Prescott Park, down on the harbour. The forecast was for rain but it never came. We had a full day of sunshine and ambling. The show itself was part of a summer long series of free concerts in the park and the beautiful weather brought out a very large and enthusiastic crowd. We had a really fun show (despite a couple of train wrecks in the second set caused by me) and the audience came along for the ride, hell, they were even in the driver’s seat for a lot of it.
August 16th: Another easy and relaxing day…this time up the side of a mountain in northern Vermont. Days on the road don`t get much easier than this one: a beautiful new performing arts center, in the middle of one of those fabricated ski-resort “towns“. We just sat around and breathed in fresh air all day. Al went for a bike ride up the mountain, I checked out a small mountain stream that was gurgling nearby, it was crystal clear but a little too shallow to do any fishing at this time of year, but it was so crisp and clean looking I wanted to breathe it in, it almost looked fake, almost like it was generated to give a bit more authenticity to the “town”. The venue was a beautiful sounding and looking room, lots of money and thought has been poured into its’ construction. Add to all of this an enthusiastic audience and you have the makings of a very good day.
This morning I woke up on the bus, crawled to the front lounge and peaked out the window at the crumbling facade and of the St Charles Hotel in Hudson New York, our hotel for our day-off. What I could see of the town from the bus window also looked a bit sketchy. “Another day off in paradise”, was my first thought. But once I finally dragged myself off the bus and began to walk around I quickly saw that this town has something special happening. I love the fact that so many of these once magnificent, and then crumbling and crime ridden, towns and cities along the Hudson valley have now begun to turn the corner and are once again becoming vibrant, exciting communities. There is still a real edge here, it still feels like a New York State town, but it also has a New York City vibrancy to it (albeit on a much smaller scale). The venue tonight, Club Helsinki, was housed in the building where the town use to maintain its busses. It has been transformed into this beautiful earthy, brick, stone and wood masterpiece of a dinner club. The performance space is small but it has a great energy and it looks beautiful….only in New York, and then you remember that you are two hours outside of the city. The beauty of these towns is that they really came of age in the mid 19th century, so they have these great bones of magnificent stone and brick buildings. These buildings have been ignored for decades but since they were built so well they are still standing and, because of the workmanship, more impressive than when they were first built. Add the building technology of the 21st century and a 21st century architectural aesthetic and the result is some beautiful re-imaginings of some 150 year old buildings scattered throughout this town. This place has a great vibe…one day it will be overrun and that edge will disappear and the “I Heart The Hudson Valley” t-shirt shops will open up, but for now it is a great place to visit….just stay away from the St Charles Hotel.
I figured that I had to give the Hudson a try so I went down to the river to try to find my way to the bank….it wasn`t easy. There is about fifty feet of riverfront that is open to the public at the foot of the town. The rest is taken up with private yacht clubs; private boat slips; some kind of industry that utilizes very large chains and large piles of gravel. Eventually I cut through a factory yard and made it to the bank. I stood there amongst the effluvium, with the smell of oil and diesel overpowering everything else and cast my line into the Hudson. There were fish jumping all up and down the bank: extremely large fish. I got not a single nibble. Jeff thinks they may have been carp that weren`t actually feeding but were acting out some ancient mating ritual, kind of like the whooping crane….and that makes me feel better so that’s what I’m going to believe.
The show tonight was great. It`s a very intense little space, with tables and chairs crammed right up to the front and side of the stage. It kind of reminds me of The Rams Head in Annapolis. The acoustics of the room itself are a little bit too dry, but they are still tweaking it. It`s a great place to play and it must be a great place to see a gig. We were treated royally. We will try and make this a regular stop.
There is nothing, including exhaustion, that a little TLC can’t cure (or at least mitigate): and that is exactly what one receives at the Stone Mountain Arts Center. Carol Noonan and her gang know how to do it right, how to make visiting musicians feel like welcome guests. Carol knows all about the difficulties of the road, because she has travelled it herself, she knows that the lead up to the show and how the day unfolds can make all the difference in a good or bad performance, in a good or bad experience for both band and audience. So she has created this beautiful little oasis tucked away in the Maine woods, where bands can hang out and listen to vinyl, play pool, work on puzzles and eat and eat and eat and eat. She has also done it up right for the audience, who need to drive from many miles around to attend concerts here; it’s a beautiful little venue with excellent food and a very happy and content band on-stage.
I attempted to find some water nearby, but the only place within walking distance was a small mountain pond created by an ancient beaver damn. I had fantasies of some large creature living down at the bottom of a deep forgotten hole, just waiting for me to come along, but the reality was that it was just a beaver pond probably too shallow for anything to live through the winter. I did manage to sink up to my knees in a bog at the side of the pond.
I can’t really say what kind of a show we had. It was definitely a little unfocussed and I struggled to lock onto something or someone. Week seven (or is it eight?) of this very long summer tour is definitely taking its toll…the body at 52 does not recover as quickly as the body at 25. But there were a few in attendance who have seen us three or four times at this venue and they felt this was the best show they had seen….so who knows….I’ll happily go with their assessment and stumble towards our much needed day off.
I think the TV filming really took it out of us. It was a slightly gloomy overcast day in Waterville and we all seemed to be dragging our asses around all day. Al went for a bike ride and I spent some time on the banks of the Kennebec River which flowed right past the venues back door. The smallmouth bass were keen to play, so I had a fun time. I landed three small guys and must have jousted with at least half a dozen of their friends. Nothing too big, but the smallmouth know how to fight…so it was a good afternoon. The venue was the newly restored Waterville Opera House. Another beautiful little theater which has been loving restored. The renovation plans also took in to account the musicians and created a large, clean and functional backstage area. We had no energy for the show, as I said, I think the TV filming sucked out any remaining juice. Margo was dealing with a splitting headache and the band kept it all in a very low revving gear. The audience was also a little subdued (they probably took their cue from us), but they were listening. It was a hard show for me to gauge, I think we played well, but it never really caught fire, and sometimes that is ok.
We did a morning drive from Northampton to Norfolk: a beautiful drive past many beckoning streams. Unfortunately, by the time we pulled up to the Infinity Hall in Norfolk it had started pouring and it didn’t let up all day. I didn’t get a chance to do any exploring, because of the rain, but it seemed like Norfolk was made up of the theater and a couple of other small stores and that’s about it. It’s amazing to me that one can be in an area of the country that is so densely populated and a sixty mile drive will put you in what feels like the middle of nowhere. It’s a beautiful part of the country. The Infinity Theater is a spectacularly restored vaudeville theater that once saw Mark Twain walk its boards. They don’t make buildings like this anymore and it’s always a treat when we get to play one, they inevitably sound great, it’s all that wood and history. The dressing room area is also comfortably set up with an old screened-in porch on which to eat and relax before and after the show. This had all the makings of a perfect gig…the one drawback was that there was also a television crew present throughout the day and film crews usually have a way of setting everything on edge. The show was being filmed for the second season of a new PBS TV show called Live at Infinity Hall. Don’t get me wrong…we were extremely grateful to be asked to participate in the program; there is a real dearth of TV shows dedicated to live music. But it’s kind of funny how TV/film crews in these situation, no matter how well intentioned, usually end up making the day all about them and not about the subject that they are there to capture. In this case, the show is called Live From Infinity Hall so one assumes that the intention of the show is to capture the energy of the bands live show and the flow between band and audience. The only way to do that is for the TV production to be as inconspicuous as possible so that the band and audience can relax and do their thing. The last thing that you would want to do is to flood the stage in white light and keep the audience lights on for the entire show, which is exactly what they did, destroying the vibe of this 150 year old theater and creating a situation for the band and audience that is completely unnatural and uncomfortable: which is a good description of our performance, unnatural and uncomfortable. I’m sure that it will sound and look better than it felt, these things often do. But it was frustrating to be in such a special venue, with a very enthusiastic audience and not be able to enjoy it. We hope to get back here soon, without the cameras.
In an area of that country that is replete with great little towns, Northampton stands out as one of the jewels. This place has the aesthetic of a town built by hippies with cash. There are lots of local cafes all serving excellent coffee and food that is locally sourced, organically grown, etc, etc; one of my favourite second hand book stores (The Raven) is in this town; there are a couple of very good ice cream parlours; there are a few excellent record shops; lots of locally owned retail; some of the nicest bars and restaurants that you’ll ever find in a town this small; and, most importantly, huge dollops of Tolerance. There are also more music venues than most cities five times as big. It helps that it is surrounded by tens of thousands of college students and that the prestigious Smith College is located in the city’s environs. It’s a great town.
Our regular haunt in Northampton is The Iron Horse Music Hall. We have played here many, many, many times. It’s not the greatest place to play a gig; the stage is too small; the dressing rooms are haunted and depressing and there is basically no PA. But we return because of the town and the locals who are keen to hear us play and the staff at the bar are usually friendly and helpful and young and good-looking. This place always makes for an interesting show and tonight we had just that, an interesting show. It was about as sloppy as we have been in a long while (especially me), but there were some true highlights (like Me and The Devil)….and we had fun. Tonight I fell in love with a mannequin….sure, it’s all a little Twilight Zone-ish, but it’s the road and its Northampton and weirder things have happened around here, I’m sure.
We left New York right after our show on Monday night and headed to the Island for our day off. Ideally we would have stayed in the city and spent the day (and more importantly, the night) enjoying Manhattan. But paying for two nights of hotels for seven people in a city as expensive as New York is just not a good business practice these days, so we headed to Long Island, somewhere near Bay Shore, somewhere near Bay Port….in actual fact we were near absolutely nothing…except for the dump. Long Island is just a weird, weird place. I don’t think I have had as many insults hurled at me from passing cars as I have in the past couple of days. Maybe it’s because they aren’t use to seeing pedestrians or bicyclists out here. When you don’t build sidewalks or bike lanes you are kind of sending a message. Most of the insults I couldn’t understand because the cars move at such a clip out here (Jeremiah, our new guitar tech, observed that everyone drives like their being chased by the cops). I think one of the insults yelled at me was, “NICE HAT HOMO!!” Is a Blue Jays cap really that offensive? Do people still use the word “homo” as an insult? This part of the island is littered with non-descript malls and industrial parks. Occasionally, if you get close enough to the water, you come across a quaint, classic Long Island town. Bell Port is such a town, with its two antique shops and one Japanese steak house, ice cream parlor and a marina at the foot of the town open only to town residents. The houses in these exclusive little towns are beautiful; immaculately maintained classic New England-style clapboard homes. These little enclaves are mainly the preserve of those sweating their asses off back in Manhattan: membership does not come cheap. I borrowed Jeff’s bike and went in search of something, anything, near our hotel…I pedaled for miles and found nothing and nearly got killed a half-dozen times. I finally stumbled on the town of Bell Port and bought a root beer float in celebration. The highlight of my day off was riding by an empty Outlet Mall and buying six pairs of underwear for twenty bucks: a successful day off.
The town of Bay Shore is not one of those quaint Long Island towns….it’s a bit of a mutt. But I did have some of the best sushi that I have had in a few years (I highly recommend Aji 53, located on the main strip of downtown Bay Shore.) The other thing that this town has is a great little theater. The Boulton Centre is not a pretty venue, but it has fantastic acoustics. You would never guess by looking at it, but someone got it right (probably by accident) when this room was built. We had a sloppy, loose, fun show. The audience was great. This was the last stop for my Mom on her rock ‘n’ roll adventure. A couple of shows, one overnight drive and a day off, not bad for an 80 year old…I think she might be a road-dog.
If you’re in a band you aspire to one day play a gig in New York City: that’s just the way it is. And once you play that first gig you realize that all the hype and anticipation can’t really touch the reality. The energy in the city is just too damn thick…anyone that is in the business of harnessing and focussing energy has almost too much to play with in this town. So you never get jaded about a NYC gig; whether it’s the first, the second, the fiftieth, it’s always a challenge and the payoff when things go right, indescribable. We had two very good (bordering on excellent) shows at The City Winery in downtown Manhattan. It’s a very comfortable space for us and allows us to relax and go about our business. Our older sister Suzanne and our Mom was in town for the second show.
The real difficulty of an NYC gig is simply getting in and out of the city. A forty-five foot bus with a fifteen foot trailer is not the easiest vehicle to manoeuvre around these streets. Then there’s the day to day of just going about your business; the noise and general insanity on the streets takes its toll, especially when the temperatures are pushing 90 degrees. I took it easy for most of my two days in the city. I took advantage of us being downtown and went to take a look at the World Trade center site. This was our first time in the city that the “freedom tower” (or whatever they are calling it these days) could be seen above the skyline. The activity and bustle down around the site is pretty intense. Between the office workers, the construction workers and the tourists there is not a whole lot of room to move on the sidewalks down here. Once the construction is finished and the memorial park is in place this could become a welcome and needed place of reflection. Only the years will tell.