Tour Diary – Charleston, WV and Harrisburg, PA (March 4 – 7)

Charleston, WV
Charleston is home to the NPR show Mountain Stage. It has been a staple in our touring lives for the past couple of decades. This was our ninth appearance on the show. It’s gratifying to know that a show that caters strictly to live music can be as successful and survive for as long as Mountain Stage. It means that there are still people out there that have a thirst for music in its most basic and raw form. We thank the listeners and the dedication of all the people who make this show work. It’s never an easy gig. There is a live audience of about 400 people and usually four or five acts on the show. Each act has anywhere from 20 – 30 minutes to get on, do their thing and leave. So you never really get comfortable on stage, the sound and positioning of each player is not in your control, like it is for a regular gig. So things are usually a little stiff, sometimes a little forced. We felt we had a decent showing tonight…not great, not very deep in-the-pocket, but an adequate impression of ourselves. We hope to be back in a couple of years to collect our 10th show-appearance jackets.

Harrisburg, PA
We have a quirk in our schedule that has left us two days off in a row in Harrisburg PA. This city wouldn’t have been my first choice for two days off, probably not even my second. The city has all the bones and tools for making it a great place to visit; the Susquehanna River at its doorstep (the city has done a great job at developing the riverside with pedestrian walkways and parks); some beautiful 19th century buildings (including a half a dozen spectacular churches); an incredibly beautiful and opulent Capitol building; it’s well located in the middle of Pennsylvania Dutch Territory and within relatively easy reach of Philadelphia, Washington and NYC…and yet, there is something missing. The downtown is clean and efficient but there is very little to do at street level. There is hardly any interesting retail to speak of, very few restaurants, coffee shops or places to just mill about in. There is no energy or vibe downtown….like a lot of government towns, it seems that the bureaucrats come in for the day and empty out by 4pm. But we made the best of it. Most of us slept away the first day, allowing our bodies to recover from six shows in a row. In the evening a few of us ventured off to a highly recommended BBQ joint around the corner from the hotel. The food was overcooked and dry (and all of us ended up waking up at 4am with heartburn), but the restaurant had one of the best beer selections that we have come across in a long time: Dogfish Head and Stone IPA on tap, and dozens of obscure, excellent independent brews in the bottle including some of our favourites like Bell’s Two Hearted Ale and Southern Tier IPA, so all was not lost. I also stumbled across Scott Pilgrim Vs The World on HBO and watched it for about the 5th time… one of the great unheralded movies of the past few years…it’s a film full of energy, intelligence and fun….. true entertainment. My daughter has gone out on Halloween as one of its characters (Knives Chau) for the past two years and my son took up bass playing because of the movie. A lot of it is also filmed in our neighborhood, so I have a soft spot for it. If you are in need of letting things go for a couple of hours, or if you just want to remember what it was like to be young and full of angst, check it out.

On day two of our marathon we secured tickets to see the Flyers vs Red Wings (a big thank you to Liz Campanile, our PR rep for going on fifteen years, who worked the phones until she got through to the right person). Our driver, Sid, was as keen to do something as we were, so we bought him a ticket and we took the bus on in to Philly. Many thanks to the good folks at the Wells Fargo Arena that were able to squeeze a 65 foot bus and trailer in to their parking lot and found 9 tickets in a row. It was a decent game (although the Wings were without their top forward, defenceman and number one goalie and the Flyers were without their captain). The home team hung on to win 3-2 so it ended as it should. There was a retirement ceremony for Mark Howe’s number at the beginning of the game and Mark’s father Gordie was there for the ceremony. Seeing Gordie Howe made the whole trip worthwhile. On the way home we finished off the first season of Justified, which is a fun way to waste some time if you spent your youth watching shows like The Rockford Files, Magnum PI and Columbo. And that’s how we killed two days in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Tonight’s gig was our first with Joe Purdy opening the show (he will be doing so for the next two shows as well). The Whitaker Center is a beautiful theater/complex in downtown Harrisburg (a relatively recent attempt to bring some life back in to the downtown). It is a beautiful sounding room and stage. Unfortunately we had a very light turnout tonight. I think people living in this area probably have more pressing things to spend their dwindling dollars on. But those that did show up were very vocal and enthusiastic. We had a decent night on stage. We may have lost a bit of focus near the end of the night but overall I think the energy was good.