Tour Diary – Saratoga, CA – Jacksonville and Portland, OR (July 17, 18 and 19)

Sacramento, CA – Jacksonville and Portland, OR (July 17, 18 and 19)

Montalvo stage, sound check

Northern California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho; my favourite part of any west coast swing. I love this area of the country. Tonight we were at the Montalvo Arts Center on the outskirts of Saratoga. Our regular play in this area for the past decade has been the Mountain Winery, one of our favourite venues in the country, but they recently did an upgrade to their facility and added 750 new seats which made the venue a little bit too big for us. Fortunately the Montalvo Art Center is about as perfect a replacement as one could hope for. This is a beautiful outdoor venue. The building that now houses the art center was built as a private house in the early 1900’s by James Phelan, the youngest mayor in San Francisco’s history and a US Senator.  It was the center of political and social life in Northern California. Phelan invited artists of all stripes to visit his home and to use it as a retreat to work on individual artistic projects but in an environment conducive to cross-discipline dialogue. On his death Phelan willed the villa and the 175 acres of property to become a public space dedicated to the development of art, literature, architecture and music…and so it is. It’s an incredible piece of land, set a few hundred feet above the city on the side of a hill populated by redwoods, spruce, cypress and many more that I couldn’t identify:  a spectacular place….in some ways it’s even better than the Mountain Winery.

We had a good show tonight, I think. I didn’t personally have that good a time. I’ve lost my mojo, which can happen from time to time. So my feel for what is going on, on stage is heavily skewed by my own troubles. It’s a loss of touch, a loss of feel for ones instrument and an inability to feel the connection through the instrument to the other players on stage. When this state of being strikes, one has to put down ones head and gut it out, search for that performance that will lift you out of it, dig for your mojo.

It was a good size audience tonight, with a lot of enthusiasm. I thought Son Volt sounded excellent.


We’ve played the Brit Festival in Jacksonville three or four times in the past and it is always a very welcome stop. This area is a spectacular little piece of Oregonian paradise and this venue is about as beautiful as they come. The venue sits on the side of a hill just above the town, the stage facing up the hill to the audience who sits in amongst giant Ponderosa Pines. People come with their family and picnics and set up for an evening of music. We had a very good show; lots of energy from the crowd, which helped our own energy. I think I found my mojo. It was hiding in one of the travel cases, now I just need to coax it out.

Pete wandering through the redwoods

Portland has for many years been one of our favourite cities to visit in North America (it might even be our favourite). Over the past two decades of coming here it has slowly grown and evolved but it seems to have evolved for the better and not lost that peculiar flavour that makes it such a good place to hang out. There is a popular bumper sticker in town that states, “Keep Portland Weird”, which kind of sums it up. The locals seem to know what they got, and aren’t about to let it go without a fight. Unfortunately our hotel was way the hell out of town and the gig (the Aladdin Theater) was also across the river from the downtown core, so there were no easy walking excursions available. Some of us weren’t going to be robbed of our Portland fix, so Al, Tim and I jumped in a cab and headed downtown. Tim and I scoured some of the finer instrument stores, made the pilgrimage to Powell’s (the best book store on the planet), bought a dozen doughnuts at Voodoo Doughnuts (one of the best doughnut makers west of the Doughnut Plant in NYC), stocked up on some See’s Candy lollipops (to appease the rabble back home) and called it a day. The gig tonight was awesome…and it’s all because of the audience: another reason that Portland is so high on our list, the audiences are amazing. This was our sixth show in six nights, our eleventh show in twelve nights, but the audience refused to let our energies flag. Their enthusiasm was infectious; they coaxed my mojo out of the travel case and back in my pocket where it belongs. It looked and sounded like Son Volt had an equally great time…they were full on rocking tonight. Tomorrow we have a much needed day off in Vancouver. I plan to do a whole lot of nothing.