Sunday, May 2, 2010

Roads More Travelled

Last week the band took a little road trip to play three shows in three nights in three states. Ian called it a tour and talked a lot about the RV we will soon have to ride in style. In heavy traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike, we even spotted a nice van pulling an equipment trailer and all agreed that set-up would serve us well to drive across country next summer…if only…

As it was, we were in two tiny cars. I drove the Redster with Ian, Dan and Sawyer. Kent followed my every turn (and there were way more than was needed to find each gig), his efficient little blue Toyota right on my tail, loaded black with all the gear.

He had a cooler full of juice and bologna sandwiches and got many miles to the gallon. We had a few McDonalds and quick-stop munchies and kept adding duct tape to hold on a piece of side stripe that was blowin’ in the wind. In Connecticut, I was pulled over for having a head light out, but we were rarely going too fast.

The conversation was crisp and funny, poking holes in each other without offending, and there were long comfortable silences when each was sleeping or drifting under their Ipod. I enjoyed adding the ages of my three passengers together and still coming up short of mine—further proof (if I needed any) in my red “sports” car that I am in a crisis of youth.

For why else, given my age and tiny bank account, would I take to the road, treat the band to unhealthy burgers (I can still feel them in my belly) and sleep on couches to play for small audiences and a smaller percentage of the door? Too easily acquaintances must be snickering behind my back, shaking their heads with pity. I have close family members who clearly do.

The truth is that it did not cost us so much (and we did get a few dollars back) and I had a lot more fun than on a long week-end at the shore or in the mountains. Along the way was so much music, good laughter and lots of family and friends, I do not fault myself in the slightest.

Two nights the guys stayed with my sister outside Philadelphia. We came into the house very quietly very late. Most of the day in between—with little travel necessary and lots of time available—the instruments were cleaned, plucked and strummed. I learned how creativity thrives in that atmosphere of comradarie as we tossed chords and rhythms around as if we had no where to go, nothing else to do, and not a care in the world. Practicing a little, we experimented a lot, toyed with harmonies and challenged each other with cover tunes in alternate styles.

The first night was a small coffee house with a good reputation for music. My cousins and a few others showed up and the owner promised that on other nights—not to take it personally—the place could just as easily be packed. Road weary, the light was golden and the adrenalin strong, rousing us to play a strong set, solid and vibrant. The list pointed towards practicing for the culminating show, with several highlights I wished had been recorded.

The next night we were headliners for a venue that was probably better than us—impressive names posted on the walls—but I invoked the home town advantage by creating a mini-reunion to get enough high school friends there. We felt like royalty with a real Green Room, soft sofa and a fridge stocked with water. The soundman set us up sweetly so the songs really resonated as best we could play them.

Wanting so much to play, sounding so good to ourselves, when the opening act failed to show, we were even happier to add a second set, eliminating the need to cut out any of our favorites. Again the adrenalin flowed, the audience was loaded with friends, family and well-wishes. Except for confusing the names of my band mates, we rocked and soulfully crooned as well as I ever imagined we could.

The final night was at the Bitter End in New York City, a stage that has hosted the finest names in the genre. My third time this year, the aura is no less intimidating and exhilarating. Even playing acoustically, that we were a band with a drum kit stretched the limits of the singer/songwriter ambiance, but it is just too much fun to play with these guys to leave them behind. I had no interest to stand on that stage alone. It was bliss to play the grand piano on “Times Like These” and a few days later discover a video of Nora Jones fingering those same keys.

All of the excitement was punctuated most clearly by a side event Saturday afternoon that crystallized miraculously why intuition is leading me so strongly towards playing more music. Describing a vivid dream to my son a few days before we left where both my parents died within hours of each other, I said it was so real I would not be surprised to receive a call later that morning. Instead, I made the call to the administrator at their home and requested that to warm up for our show in the evening, we could play acoustically for the residents in the afternoon.

On a quick visit in the morning, my mother, deep in Alzheimer’s, had not the slightest recognition of me, just another strange face looming in front of her. Spruced up and wheeled in to our impromptu performance, however, the music clearly reached inside and aroused her confused soul. Her eyes grew wide. Her foot wrestled to find the beat. Even her lips worked to mouth the words to songs she had once known so very well and loved so very much.

My father, beside her, held her hand, radiant in his slight smile with a love that has connected them for seventy years. My eyes locked on hers, my voice scratched with tears, I choked on notes as they reached into all of our hearts. Each in the band was touched powerfully, remarking afterwards in our so many different ways how profoundly humbling it was to be a part of creating such a moment.

So we spent more money than we gained, travelled so many miles in so little time, ate and slept in such unhealthy ways. The balance of friendships, family and musical moments was tipped so heavily to the positive, however, I am no sooner home than sending out emails to arrange the next trip, hoping it goes farther and longer to spread the excitement we are so grateful to feel.

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