Sunday, May 30, 2010

Singin' In The Rain: A Northwest Memorial Day Weekend


Friday 5/28/10

Why am I up at 4:00 a.m.? Even at home, the Meow Alarm Clock doesn’t go off until 5:30 at the earliest. Whatever. At least there are WEST WING reruns on Bravo. Which I watch until about 6:30. Then I fall back asleep until 9.

Coffee first! I run into my friend Stuart (this happens all the time in Seattle – it’s like I live here or something – although to be fair, I was here 12 times in calendar 2009 for Bobs shows and other projects). Then a hefty breakfast at the reliable Pete’s Egg Nest on Phinney Ridge. Another “This reunion brought to you by Facebook” meal with Lisa, who I haven’t seen since my last season of summer stock, 1988, in Connecticut (Little Shop of Horrors and Man of La Mancha). I found her on a friend’s homepage. We have a good laugh about days of Storrs yore as her toddler gnaws on the menu and several large books in her pack. He will be a voracious reader! Watching her New York friends continue to cobble together a creative life year after year, Lisa eventually opted out of the theater and settled down here. She does web work for Microsoft now. It’s wonderful to see her so happy, even as I privately clock another person having done the “adult” things… I have great admiration for that.

Dan fetches us for the rainy route to the Olympics Peninsula (as I call it). We wait for about an hour but make the 3:05 ferry. It’s a holiday weekend, so it could have sucked big time! We discuss business, showers come and go, we crack then close the car windows, laugh about playing outdoor festivals this gloomy Northwest weekend. On the ferry, I treat myself to popcorn upstairs and melt into a window seat, reveling in the Puget Sound mist. Anyone who tells you grey can’t be gorgeous hasn’t been here. This scenery feels like someone stroking your hair as you drift into sleep.

Port Angeles is a sleepy town on the north-facing coast of Washington state. From the 101 Highway you can see the Strait of Juan de Fuca, or "Wanda Fuca" as we call it. Ferries run regularly to Vancouver Island from downtown. We’re playing the Juan de Fuca Festival, a compact gem that showcases mainly local acts, arts and craftspeople. Although sad to find no halibut at the food booths (hello, it’s halibut season), I do find amazing BBQ and some locally jarred preserves to take back for Eben. It’s still drizzling but someone on the staff lends me a slicker. Goes well with my plastic-bag wrapped feet. I realized today that I have no waterproof shoes, so I wrapped my feet (inside the shoes). Works great. Looks REALLY COOL (sorry, no picture).

The show is INDOORS! Although the Festival was sparsely populated earlier, our 60-minute set at the Vern Burton Center Mainstage is packed and killer. It’s always cool when this happens in a new place. TWILIGHT jokes. Rocking. Fans who meet us in the Festival Store and scoop lots of merch. Several tell us they’ve been listening to us for years but never dreamed they’d get to see us live. Uber-fan Lisa has a seriously vintage Bobs tee (see photo). As Matthew said, apparently we have a market in Port Angeles. I’m sure we’ll be back. And I hopefully I won't be dressed as the Gorton's Fisherman!

Matthew vrooms us back to the Kingston dock at 10:14. And...they cancel the 10:15 ferry because there is so little traffic headed to Seattle tonight. We have to wait until 11:10. Last time it was Hood Canal Bridge construction. YEESH! We fetch our respective phones…

Saturday 5/29/10

Much better sleep. Coffee and The Freddie (Fred Meyers), where I seek out a spray that waterproofs shoes. The can says you have to let it dry for 48 hours. By which time I will not need it. DOY.

Down at the Seattle Center, Northwest Folklife is in full swing despite grey-white skies and drizzle. No one here uses umbrellas. Are their skulls just more spongey? Seriously – it’s not A Thing here. I check us in (which means I get 4 official buttons – whee!) then sit with a salad and a schedule to see which acts I can catch before our 4:00 call time. Nothing really grabs me, so I drop my junk off at the stage where we’re playing and walk the Festival. What a smorgasbord! A grunge jug band with washboard, kazoo, and washbin/stick/string bass that sounds ACTUAL notes. Hippie dancers (what is up with them?). Roving gangs of wild-haired teens with “FREE HUGS” signs. Tattooed cellos played by tattooed cellists. And the prize-winner, a velvet-clad teen with fire red hair and white contact lenses with slit pupils (for that vampire look). Dude, you are not in Forks anymore! Upscale crafts of every kind. Foods from many lands – Kenyan snacks, Thai noodles, fresh lemonade, kabobs, pizza, tacos – you name it. And of course, coffee. I catch friends in an accordion band (yes, you read that right), then head to our stage.

Even in the rain, we have a huge crowd of boisterous fun. Only a six-song set but full of jokes and ridiculousness. And I don't even see the sizeable puddle where I face-dive during WHITE ROOM until I am in it. The crowd roars at the end - you can see it here - and we encore with our new cover of Queen's BICYCLE RACE. A lot of people have been asking where they can get that. It'll be on the NEXT album. Stay posted!

Dan's adorable daughter Teagan loves the early birthday present I give her (she will be 3 in about 3 weeks), but Dan may love it more: a plastic Princess Amidala cup. Allison laughs, her head in her hands. GEEK LOVE. We head to Richard's to rehearse for Monday... which sounds like a good idea BEFORE the killer caipirinhas Richard makes for us...

Sunday 5/30/10

Me sleep good... and it's off to a grand New Orleans style breakfast at Petit Toulouse. Eben and I cheer up and coin what SHOULD be their new slogan: "Petit Toulouse - it's worth Lautrec!"

Later on, Eben heads to his Folklife show with the Ballard Sedentary Souza Band ("no, please, don't get up") and I catch a flick at the Seattle International Film Festival. Hard to believe I've never seen ON THE WATERFRONT. And I didn't know it was the only movie score Leonard Bernstein wrote. His daughter Jamie is here, and she takes questions and comments at the end after telling a few anecdotes about her father and the film. I note that the final bars of the score are very reminiscent to WEST SIDE STORY - the top register instruments sounding a hopeful chord as a tritone (the most dissonant interval) answers in the bass register. It musically echoes the mixed message at the end of both works - HOPE!/"YEAH, RIGHT!" She responds, "An amazing and excellent observation! Give a prize to that woman, someone!" We chat a bit afterwards. How cool is that?

Dinner with my friend Barry, up from San Francisco for the holiday weekend, and his pal Ed at evil-good spicy Chinese palace Snappy Dragon. Cocktails are part of this indulgence. What is with me this weekend?!?!

Monday 5/31/10

Folk Festival History was made on this day. We were selected to be the closing act in a Dolly Parton Tribute Concert at Northwest Folklife today at 2:45 p.m. (Parton is a killer writer, for those of you unfamiliar with her beyond "9 to 5.") We arranged her kiss-off tune, SHINOLA, with me singing an energetic lead (and NOT bleeping the word "shit"), planning to meet at 2:00 p.m. to run it a few times. Then the unexpected: They were running EARLY. A HALF HOUR EARLY. Anyone who has ever performed (or maybe attended) a folk festival knows that acts sometimes go on and on, people are too nice to ask them to wrap up, and the event is generally run by a hippie bureaucracy so staying on schedule is...relative. : ) Running early is the absolute last thing you would expect! We are onstage by 2:10 and done by 2:25. It's a real blast, but certainly strange!

By the time we get out of that show, the sun is blasting through for the first time all weekend and folks are peeling off their flannel. Back at the ranch I head out to Green Lake, where everyone and their dog is obviously thrilled at the new brightness of the day in the home stretch of this grey and wet NW holiday weekend. The mountains are even out, finally. I've been sleepy and logy, too - but, setting my iPod on PLAY ALL Donald Fagen tracks, I bounce around the lake like I've got a new lease on life.

After an amazing burger at Blue Moon in Fremont, I'm headed to my friend Tim's place for the evening. Tim's a former/occasional member of the Flying Karamazov Brothers (our erstwhile collaborators and friends) and one of the main brains behind Seattle's Moisture Festival, which just celebrated its 7th year. This one-of-a-kind New Vaudeville celebration is growing in leaps and bounds as of late. Tim's guest room in the attic, a.k.a. the Purple Penthouse, has a most amazing view of Ballard and Fremont if you open the angled ceiling window. It's perfect for worldly and other-worldly contemplation.

Tuesday 6/1/10

Although the pix I'm posting are from last month's recording session at Richard's place in Virginia and not from today's in Seattle, they give you a good idea how things go down - minus the terrible jokes, breaks for passing planes, construction, mowers or cows (in Virginia) and variations on the phrase, "This time with the RIGHT notes, words and rhythm."

Today we're working on two of my charts. Matthew and Dan lay down backgrounds for THE MINUTE WALTZ (the 60's version with lyrics by Lan O'Kun), then we finish WHAT I AM, that New Bohemians reggae tune from the late 80's. I must admit I really wanted to sing it so I could say the words, "I'm not aware of too many things." Not only do I find that amusing, but if I may be so bold as to quote Shakespeare in the same paragraph as Edie Brickell, I also think "'Tis a consummation/Devoutly to be wish’d." I wrote a horn part for Dan and me that we mess with after it's recorded; some cool distortion, compression and wah effects...

We really need to sort through all of the covers and holiday songs we've got in the can and decide what this next CD (we're targeting a Christmas release) will turn out to be. Probably this will be done next week in Tucson... before our big summer hiatus. Don't know what the guys are doing over the summer. I'm writing a musical with a new collaborator in Portland. Stay tuned! And let me know what you think of my new hairstyle (left).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Holiday Tour 2009: Stuff About Which I Am Pretty Sure


Three weeks is way too much to journalize. Many thanks to the Ecksteins (The Koenigsbergs of the North), the Koenigsbergs (the Ecksteins of Manhattan), Scott Barbarino, Terese Genecco, Eben Sprinsock and Minko Minko (Meower Supreme of the West Village)!

- Murray's may have knocked Artisanal into second position in my New York City Cheese Hierarchy. Although to be fair, they don't serve fondue and you can't sit there and eat. I just like their attitude. And what New York Magazine dubbed the Best Breakfast Melt in Manhattan.

- Singing 3 weeks of shows is better than singing one weekend of shows for many reasons. It actually gets easier.


- Celebrities can be rude. (NO, not Harry Shearer, Judith Owen, or any of their Holiday Singalong gang!)

- You shouldn't post medical stuff about other people on Facebook. Unless they are too old to care.

- Snow will not deter true fans (I'm talkin' to you, Saratoga Springs and Pawling!).

- There are remote devices available for public purchase that can turn TVs in bars and restaurants OFF from up to about 50 feet away.

- It is immensely sad when people's egos get in the way of great projects.

- Life without access to a tuxedo cat is not nearly as sweet.

- It is both scary and cool to meet the teenaged children of college and high school friends.

- It is immensely cool to hear a tune you wrote sung (and sung really well) by kids you've never met before. Bravo, Council Rock HS South!

- There are many opinions to be had about NBC's A CAPPELLA SING-OFF.


- New Jersey Transit will never clean up its rail corridor.

- Waterloo, IA looks a lot like Farmington, NM, but with different kinds of buttes.

- Although baggage fees are bogus to begin with, most airlines give you a discount on the second bag. United charges MORE. Just one more reason to avoid flying with them!

- Singing new material is super fun. Recording it is, too.

- Sometimes, stop talking.

- One cannot watch juggling without smiling. But you can smile without juggling.

- Competence is often its own reward.

- There is no such thing as "being stranded in New York."

- Performers make the best soundmen.

- Wherever you go, there you are.

- Fans make everything better.

SEE YOU IN 2010!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Four Autumns, Four Bobs, Four Corners, No Waiting


Wednesday, 10/21/09

After a day in Seattle recording part of the new album (and my drooling over the autumn colors), we fly en masse to Denver, where the Denver airport is SO damn long… every time I have to change planes here I invariably land at Gate 42 and need to get to Gate 95. Yes, 95! And most of the United terminal is one continuous hallway. As I told Richard, it’s like being in a Stephen King book, where a normally non-threatening setting becomes one of Dante’s Circles of Hell. But it’s OK… we’re bound for a new airport, which I find oddly exciting these days.

Durango, Colorado has four gates. And everything’s closed, so the trail mix I gulped on the plane will have to suffice. Dan’s sister Mary, with whom I have had many Facebook chats (and who I highly suspect would be Mah Drinkin’ Buddy if I lived here) picks us up around 10:30pm. It’s a crisp 40 degrees and I dig it. On the 45-minute ride to Farmington, we discuss various All-State Choruses: her students auditioning for New Mexico, Dan auditioning in Wyoming in 1990, me in New Jersey in… (aw crap!). After that I can’t get the alto part to “The Silver Swan” out of my head for the rest of the ride. On the dark drive south, as an altitude headache chooses a bat, on deck in the back of my brain, Mary fills us in on Farmington Fun Facts: Republican in a very blue state, not as near the Four Corners as I’d hoped, and sarcastically called “Charmington” by Durango-ites (Durango is “hippie snow town” to Farmingtonians. The Eugene of the Rockies?) We ascend and descend over dark mountains as fog slips in and out, Dan sees a shooting star and lights glimmer, then seemingly disappear into canyons. This is gonna be pretty when we actually get to see it on the way back Friday morning…

The Super 8 is indeed pretty super – quiet and clean, free WiFi. I fall asleep to Bill Maher and company.

Thursday, 10/22/09

The New Mexico morning sun blasts over the mesa that borders Farmington. It’s clear that this is not Farmville, the Facebook game, as I am not handed any cows or pigs upon leaving the hotel. The dry, crisp sting in the day is welcome – although it’ll eventually be in the 60s. And Mary and Kira (Dan’s soccer-player niece) are eerily functional at 9:00 a.m. We buzz Starbucks on the way to the workshop. I can’t buy the cool New Mexico mug – we have too many mugs now, and my policy is to only buy mugs from places (mainly Northern, of course) where I am sure I want to live – like Vancouver, Seattle, New York, etc. I don’t own a Los Angeles mug – ha!

The Piedra Vista Pipes are an enthusiastic ensemble of high schoolers, led by the irrepressible Virginia Nickels-Hircock, whose high desert energy is surely solar powered. The kids ask great questions and sing us a song called “Sweater Weather” that sounds like a more poetic “Kill Your Television” – the lyricist plays with turns of phrase and clichés that sound funny side by side. Matthew posits that The Bobs do it. The bigger session in the school’s gorgeous theater, for three school groups (including a ceramics class?) is also a hoot. Another ensemble sings a Coldplay tune for us and we work on group pulse with them. Their version of “In My Life” is a music educator’s diction dream.

About 25 of us head for Si Señor for some local (New) Mexican eats, but (I couldn’t make this up) the place is evacuated due to a gas leak. We’ve barely sampled their infamous “white sauce” and chips before we’re headed for Fuddrucker burgers. (No, Señor!) We mingle and munch over malts and meat at the Fudd. Some of the kids ask us about college. "Do I study music like I want to?" “My parents won’t pay for that – they want me to do X." One guy is obsessed with Berklee. How can I advise them? I say what I always say, and firmly believe: “If you can be happy doing ANYTHING else, do it. And don’t go to a conservatory-type school first if you have the option – you can always change paths later.” Later on, we’ll learn that some local kids freak out and return to Farmington when things don’t pan out for them right away after college. I can understand that instinct – this feels like a very safe place.

On the way to the show we cross town to sample Durango Joe’s, a local coffee place at which Matthew declares “A Great Cup of Coffee” is to be found.

The show is at the gorgeous Brooks-Isham Performance Center, a jewel of a venue in the middle of the high desert – literally on a county road in Kirtland, NM (past Shiprock, from which you can clearly see the huge Monument Valley-type rock it was named for). And it’s a SUPER, albeit oxygen-challenged show (we are at about 5300 feet). It amazes me how some audiences who’ve never heard of us lap us up like honey, while others completely don’t get us. It doesn’t seem to matter whether we do more conservative shows in the places where we elicit confusion – meaning mostly more familiar cover tunes and a leash on the bizarre humor. These folks are GREAT. Afterwards, we talk to the Director of the venue about returning, possibly with the Rhapsody in Bob show and more outreach programs.

The pizza at Three Rivers Brewery gets me. BBQ chicken, tons of cheese and sweet, sweet caramelized onions. Ah well. I’ll try to be carbless tomorrow. We laugh and drink and swap stories of bad gigs, cool cars and The Cilantro Takes Like Soap Gene (which Dan and I both have). The rest of downtown Farmington is closed up for the night…

Friday 10/23/09

“Hey, that’s the same sun from the pictures of New Mexico,” I groggily chirp as we board Mary and Rick’s van one last time. Rick checks us out of the Super 8 with way too much energy for 7:30 a.m. and we trundle back up the hills of the San Juans to the Durango-La Plata County Airport. The morning light reveals gorgeous yellow leaves set back against shrubby mesas, a huge, cloudless sky, and eventually, the snow-capped San Juans in the distance. We pass small farms, construction projects and many trailer parks. I pop more Advil. Dan points out The Ol’ Meat Shop, sending us spasming into giggles.

The Frontier flight is eventless, save for the plane being nicknamed “Seymore” after a baby harp seal and a super officious flight attendant. Richard is reading Stendahl’s The Red and the Black. I geekily hum Sondheim’s line from A Little Night Music, “There isn’t much blue in The Red and The Black.” Will my musical theater upbringing ever retreat into the recesses of my hard drive? (No.) And we’re BACK in Denver… shuttling to the Microtel, extremely near the airport - so much so we see tumbleweeds - and extremely quiet. We all buzz the Diner for lunch and then, I believe, all nap until we’re picked up for the show around 4pm…

…by Über-Bobs fan David McMillen (see my December 2002 Bob Tale, Silver Bobs, Part Two), with whom I arranged this gig. Super-Dave (aided by his wife Mishi, son Ty and able assistant Diane, all big Bobs fans as well) originally booked us to do a double bill will Denver local vocal powerhouse FACE. When the Mile High Vocal Jam was announced soon afterwards (an a cappella festival featuring The House Jacks and various clinicians) for the same date, he partnered with that promoter (sound god Tony Huerta) and the gigs merged, so as not to force fans to choose between the two. And as of this week, our pal Blake Lewis
(formerly of Dan’s Seattle band, KICKSHAW and lately of American Idol notoriety), got added to the lineup. These festivals are always a lot of fun, although they do tend to run long…

Highlights: Rediscovering at the Meet-N-Greet that Deke Sharon (CASA, the House Jacks) is extremely funny, FACE’s trademark arrangement of “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana (YES! A fascinating choice – why can’t more vocal groups be this adventurous?), adorable Blake’s monster sampling-DJ set including audience voices (and a jam with Dan and other former KICKSHAW bandmates Trist Curless (from m-pact, here as a clinician) and Jake Moulton (now singing with the groovalicious House Jacks.

OUR short set is immense fun. Blake joins us for a funked out version of “Searchin’” and the gracious, immensely Brangin’-It Mark Megibow of FACE (who I met when I judged the Harmony Sweeps in Marin in 2007) Ginger Bakers us in a march-rock-like “White Room” in which I’m now quoting “25 or 6 to 4” in the guitar solo. The place explodes.

My Denver pals Mimi and Dan bring me a beautiful necklace… wish I had time for another full visit with them. When we played Golden a few years ago, they picked me up and took me to Red Rock for the day for a truly beautiful afternoon. And I’m reunited with a pal I haven’t seen in … dare I say it… 24 years. Dorinda and I were last seen together romping in Plays-in-the-Park’s Pirates of Penzance and Evita in central New Jersey. It’s wonderful and amazing to hear of her successes in music and film here Denver. I’ve got to come back just to hang with her and Mimi. Seriously! You can see all of Dorinda's pictures here.

Saturday, 10/24/09

Seriously excellent sleep (guess the altitude helped exhaust me). And we’re back at the Denver International Airport for the 3rd time in four days. And we’re so giddy that we’re listening closely to standby passenger announcements in order to mock people’s names. (That’s how you know we’re professionals… and… adults….) We’re picked up at Midway and shuttled to Schaumburg, showered and shipped to the Prairie Center for the Arts.

…which I am shocked that I don’t remember, having played here in 2000. It’s true that travels tend to blend together, but I’d like to think I always have at least one specific memory from everywhere we’ve played. Have I finally started losing the brain cells that contain THIS information, too? Especially since the whole staff is SO great – tech director Ethan, hospitality coordinator Pat, the humorous dudes that drove us everywhere (including the inhumane hour airport pickup for Matthew on Sunday). We’re supposed to be doing a Q&A as part of the Midwest A Cappella Fest Part II (Part I was in Detroit last weekend), but it’s canceled - a bummer for several reasons, including that we all could have used another hour at the hotel to nap… Dinner is an excellent feast from Bonefish Grill. A Cappella Festers seemingly emerge from the corners of the building for photos as Dan and I set up merchandise sales with the front of house folks. Very flattering.

The show is pretty great – a rowdy crowd again (that’s three in a row) that includes my cousins, aunt and uncle and a friend from Berklee I haven’t seen since I left Boston in 1990. We’ll catch up in Chicago on Monday, hopefully. I break the strap to my dress yet again spazzing out in “White Room”… Lots of pix with enthusiastic Fest coordinators Greg Vaden and Jeff Swearingen of Elmothumm. Maybe we’ll return in 2010 to do the Detroit show with them.

Sunday, 10/25/09

When I wake up around 9:30 in a comfy king bed, I think about Matthew, already 90 minutes into his flight to San Francisco (he’s trying to get to a Santa Cruz wedding today), Dan at O’Hare and Richard at Midway taking off right about now. Suckuhs. My cousin’s hubby is picking me up in an hour for a day of gooniness in the Chicago ‘burbs with my aunt & uncle from Columbus, my cousins and two silly little girls who like to scream when they find ladybugs in the backyard. There will be great food. I will discover the wonders of Home Goods (Cost Plus World Market-y). 4-year old Lily will propose a toast at dinner and declare that “Whoever whines gets no dessert.” I will meet a spooky, animatronic cat (my cousin is allergic but Lily is obsessed).

And I’ll end up in Lincoln Park, where the yellow/green trees, light drizzle and a soft streetlight send my brain barrelling straight back to Boston, and Portland, and my early 20’s dreams of my life-to-be. And I'll lunch and dinner with friends from Syracuse and Berklee who add to the sense of reverie. And cousin Julie, I shall never reveal on Facebook what you told me about your intestines the last night I stayed over!