Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Back to Coshocton

Connectivity has been spotty and time sort of precious these past few days since leaving Morris, Illinois. The Gephard Woods Dulcimer Festival was an absolute blast - a beautiful setting and a whole bunch of time to kick back, visit with folks and pick a little. I only taught two workshops, so the rest of the time was spent hanging out and getting interview material for the podcasts. And performing, of course.

Saturday's weather was perfect, a little hot, but kind of windy and simply gorgeous. After my workshops and musical set - I went over and hung out at the booth of Greibhaus Instruments, where I met Jerry Cripe and Nancy Lewis. Jerry was interviewed by Ted Yoder (whom I also met) for a recent Dulcimer Players News podcast and it was great to meet him in person. His solidbody electric dulcimers are quite a thrill - with sweet tones and wonderful playability. Dan Landrum, DPN editor, let me play one on a couple of visits to his home in Chattanooga and I secretly lusted after one. Funny thing, that.

Jerry handed me an endorsement deal after I sat and played for a spell - he's building me a solidbody dulcimer in exchange for some publicity and references; my first dulcimer endorsement. This comes at a great time, as I'm just about to begin recording some projects and wasn't happy with the solidbody tone I've been getting from the Lapblaster. Don't get me wrong - it's great for rocking out with the band, but it doesn't have the dulcimer tone that I need for some other quieter situations. Jerry's instruments sound great even unplugged, so this was an amazing offer and I'm looking forward to receiving the instrument in about a month or so.

Saturday evening found a large group of us dining at Maria's, an Italian restaurant. Got to spend some time hanging with my friend Lauren and Ken Kolodner, which we did again Sunday morning at McDonald's. Lauren's just a cool chick, great hammered dulcimer player - and Ken is a phenomenal player also, not only of hammered dulcimer, but also fiddle. He graciously played some tunes into a recorder for me to learn later during the Friday night jam at the Days Inn and we got to know each other a little better. Ultimate respect. There were so many folks there that I got to hang out with, Keigh and her brother David Lynch - the Jackson family, who brought smiles and farm fresh eggs, the wonderful Susan Trump. I roomed between Dan Landrum and the legendary Brian Bowers, though I didn't see or meet Brian until Sunday, when he complimented me on my set; very cool. Unfortunately, 60 m.p.h. winds and rain ended the festival early during Brian's set on Sunday afternoon and the crowd dispersed pretty quickly. I met a lot of new friends, some of whom came out specifically to see me, and that's something that I'll probably never get used to. I mean, wow Talk about a mind-blowing thing. When someone tells you that you're the reason they've driving for miles, how humbling is that? That's not something I'll ever take for granted - and I hope I'll always be able to spend time with the people who make those journeys.

The drive out from Illinois wasn't too bad - stayed in Connorsville, Indiana overnight and then continued on to Charleston, West Virginia where I stayed at the home of Bob Webb and Heidi Muller. Bob is a consummate performer and producer; we had a lot of fun hanging out and talking late into the night before arising on Tuesday and heading down into the city where he and Heidi sponsor a Music Mentor program for inner city and at-risk kids. Considered the "bad part of town", these kids were full of love and appreciation for the mountain dulcimer, which has been instilled in them by a year-round music program designed to help them find outlets and alternatives to drugs and violence. One of the kids there was Shalor Gore, 2nd place winner of the youth mountain dulcimer contest at the Vandalia Gathering. 1st place winner, Hunter Walker, was also there (we met in Townsend, Tennessee when I played at the Pickin' Porch earlier this year) and we had a good time playing and jamming later on that evening at the home of Jim Probst, out in Lincoln County - true country in the hills of "Almost Heaven." These kinds of trips are just amazing, there are blessings to be found everywhere.

I left West Virginia this morning and am now shacked up in a Super 8 located next to Roscoe Village, where festivities will get underway on Friday. Didn't get to visit with Kendra Ward and Bob Bence or Jerry Rockwell like I wanted, but got here nice and early, which means I can catch up on some of the mountainous editing that needs to be done for Dulcimerica. Upon arriving in Coshocton, I made a bee-line for Wildwood Music to say hi to Don and Marty (who is celebrating a birthday today) and to play some of the exquisite mountain dulcimers they've got hanging on the wall and hidden in the back. I can't afford a $1700 Blue Lion, but it was sure nice to pick on it. I can't even afford a $500 David Schnaufer model McSpadden, but it was nice to pick on it. I might be able to afford a, well, nevermind - perish the thought.

Reason number four that I love my wife: no matter how many instruments that I bring home, she never threatens to turn them into firewood or sell them on eBay. That is one of the marks of true love.

Adventures both expected and non

I've known Denny and Rose Brouse for a good long time, since 1995 when we were all members of the Prodigy community. We literally ushered in the internet, chat and instant messaging and had a real good time doing it through the magic of Disney. Starting on the Hobbies bulletin board, we lobbied for a Disney Fans board and got it, which resulted in skyrocketing attendance for Prodigy. I later became a special contributor and, finally, a full-fledged board leader and content provider for Prodigy Services, making $2000 a month at one point when the web was still new.

The Brouses live in Gilford Township in Ohio, somewhere between Medina and Seville. I got to know them pretty well back in the days, pre-internet, and over the years, we've gotten to know each other real well. Early on, I'd head up to visit them and they had a standing engagement to come down and visit Walt Disney World each year. We've had some very good times, both in Ohio and in Florida! Denny was with me for some legs of the Coast-2-Coast Coaster Tour, which has been copied by everyone from Jefferson Graham at USA Today to the Discovery Channel.

In between Yellowbanks Dulcimer Festival and Gebhard Woods, I've been hanging out with the Brouses here - and we went up to Cedar Point, a theme park that has 17 COASTERS! I love this place and it's been since 2000 that I've visited; Denny and were there for the opening of Millennium Force in 2000 and 1996 for the opening of Mantis. They've got some new rollercoasters there this year, Top Thrill Dragster and Maverick, so there was some catching up to do. Had a great time riding and walking around - then got out to the van afterwards and, nothing, dead, battery or alternator. After being assisted by the helpful Cedar Point parking control, we were shuttled by Triple A to the Quality Inn on the causeway, where there just happened to be a restaurant, water park and bowling alley (!). It was an unplanned stop, but we made the most of it. It could've been a lot worse.
Rose came up and got me and Blake, Denny hung around and waited for the van to be fixed. We reconvened in the evening together and had a good laugh about it all. They are some of my dearest friends - and what a joy to spend time with them!

Got back today and began preparations for Gephard Woods, which I'm looking forward to. I've got to say that the prevailing conversations on the road have been about the gas crunch and how tough life is becoming, it's hard not to think about these changes that we're going through. At the same time, I'm continuously stoking a fire under myself to bring the positive to the surface. We need to believe and hope in order to move forward - and I hope we can continue to band together and do that. Life can be fun - life can be rough - and life is what we make of it, which means there is a lot more control in our hands than we realize.

Reason number four that I love my lovely wife - she is right dead sexy. I won't go into details here, but the woman is a spitfire and you can just call me a happy man where that is concerned. Whoo! Okay, enough of that - she's far away and that just ain't fair.

Hitting the road in the morning - what a beautiful time spent with The Brouse Family - and hopefully it won't be too long before we do it all again, north or south.

Hope you all are having a great week - aloha! There are new pictures in the gallery.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Music and love is flowing

I woke up Friday morning and went down to the Ohio River, took off my Crocs and dangled my feet in the cold water while sipping coffee. The muddy brown expanse slipped past me, the occasional flotsam and jetsam bobbing along in the terrific current. Down the banks a bit, the Executive Inn, rumored to be closing, jutted out from the foliage. Last time I was in Owensboro, it was for the Ohio Valley Gathering and we partied, made merry, a great deal in that hotel. Kinda sad to hear it may be going away (confirmed by newspaper this morning, the hotel closes on Monday.)

The first day of the Yellowbanks Dulcimer Festival was amazing; great to meet so many new and wonderful people, all commenting about how windy and warm the weather was. My workshops went well and I had a good time visiting with folks like Gary and Toni Sager, Steve Stapleton, Bob and Rose Taunton, all vendors that I'm delighted to run into at numerous festivals.

The evening concert was a revelation - I always enjoy seeing performances from folks I've seen before like Peggy Carter, Gary and Toni, Jeff Hames (whom I had to follow - nothing like a little pressure.) But what a joy to behold Aubrey Atwater and Elwood Donnelly and Kara Barnard! They rocked my world and I'm looking forward to taking some of their music home with me. It's going to be a busy night at the concert this evening, as Kara asked if I'd come up and join her during her set and Jeff and I worked out "Every Breath You Take", which we'll do as a bridge between my set and his closing set. Then we're all going to take the stage and do something as a group of performers. I don't jam with other performers in situations like these as much as I'd prefer - so when it does happen, it's a tremendously gleeful experience!

Now - onto reason number 2 that my wife rocks so much: she's patient and understands that she married a complete and total dork. She still loves me and is there for me even when I do things that make her wonder why she didn't leave me stranded in Key West that first date back in 2002. She'd be first to tell you that I put up with her as well - but these are my tributes to her in the blog this month - she'll have to start her own blog to give testament in my direction.

Busy day - make the most out of it and love a lot!

Rest for the weary

Wow, I'm getting old. Feeling a little pooped already after one weekend festival and about 1200 miles of driving.

Okay, so maybe that would make anyone feel a little creaky in the bones.

We jammed until about 12:30 a.m. central time early Sunday morning and ended with "Amazing Grace" there in the dining room of the Owensboro Sleep Inn; a nice way to round out a beautiful weekend. There will be video from the festival coming after I wrap up the Dulci-More 14 experience, but as a teaser, I'll just say that it was a total blast jamming with Kara Barnard towards the end of her set. Man, what a picker! I had one track by her, "Salt Creek" (which you can hear on her website) on my iPod; don't know where it came from since I didn't have any of her albums. But when I found out that she was going to be at Yellowbanks, this guy was stoked. She's a great entertainer, incredible player and alternately funny and poignant - the best kind of show. So when she asked me to join her on-stage for Saturday night, it was with glee and beads of shiny sweat that I did so. We winged it through "Amazing Grace", a tune that I'll presume is called "Come On Home", and a wild swing through "Arkansas Traveler." Kara's a hoot - I really enjoyed talking with her afterwards too; real down-to-earth.

If that weren't enough, got to jam with Jeff Hames as well. It's been very cool getting to know Jeff and his mom and dad since meeting them at Unicoi last fall - and this is the first time that we've done a duet, been talking about doing "Every Breath You Take" by The Police and worked up a version that we performed during my set on Saturday night. We also hung out by the Hames family's Bounder and had a marathon McSpadden try-out session (got me lusting after a couple of those instruments) that included some laid-back jamming on tunes like "Hey Jude." Jeff really knows how to tear it up on a mountain dulcimer; I hope some of that leaked out and got all over me during the weekend. There's nothing like sharing the jam with accomplished players to keep you honest and working on your game.

A couple of times on Saturday, all the featured performers shared the stage for some improvised jamming, Kara, Jeff and myself along with Aubrey Atwater and Elwood Donnelly, Gary and Toni Sager and Peggy Carter. Playing in a situation where you're not sure what's going to happen next is extremely invigorating and exciting as well as a little nerve-wracking, but such a rush! Peggy is delightful, it was great meeting her officially (she's a MySpace buddy and I saw her perform in Mt. Dora earlier this year) and I've shared many happy jams with Gary and Toni. Every once in a while, I get to experience an act that just makes me smile inside and out; that would be Atwater-Donnelly. Not only an incredible musical duo, but just really cool people as well.

And people say such nice things - it's humbling and an honor all at once. What a joy to discover that what you do is appreciated.

Sunday morning brought some pleasant conversations, spilled coffee and breakfast plus a dip in the pool before heading north through Indiana (the Hoosier National Forest!) and then into Ohio for a 400 mile trek up to Medina/Seville area where I'm staying with my dear friends the Brouses. The photo of me leaping in mid-air in front of a barn was taken on their property last year; I always stop by when I can - and was just up here last month shooting video of Blake's 4th grade talent show. This week, we endeavor to make a movie out of a script he's written; we'll see, he hasn't actually casted the project yet!

I'm spending today catching up with video production and administrative stuff - there's lots going on right now. My apologies to those who have sent me movie quizzes and the like; there just isn't enough time in the day to participate and I'm trying to drop "hello" notes when I can. The day is quickly approaching when I'm unable to be as in touch as I'd like to be - but it's always nice when someone says "it's cool that you actually respond when I write." Granted, that don't always happen, but it's not for lack of trying.

Cool thing number three about my dear wife, Jae: she's silly. She hasn't allowed 40+ years of living to take the child out of her and she can be just as silly as she wants to be. I'd like to think that part of that comes from encouragement; I don't look at her strange when she acts like a 1920's flapper girl in our kitchen, or when she makes fish faces at me - I make them right back and dance right along with her. She knows the times and places to be serious and business-like. Thankfully, most of the time, our time together is devoid of such strict behavior. We like to laugh and we do quite often. And when you read this, honey , I'm thinking about that realtor guy's picture on the trash can in Memphis. Grrrrrr. LOL!

Well, back to editing - because for the rest of the week, I'm chillin'. Hope everyone's having a beautiful Monday - much love to you.

Starting off with a bang

Los Reyes Mexican Restaurant
This mural represents the pre-hispanic history of the beginning of Colonization. Before the Spanish came to Mexico there was the Aztec Kingdom . From this comes the take of the Volcanoes next to Mexico City . The great Popocatepelt (Great Smokey) and Ixtlaxiwal (sleeping lady).

Okay, maybe starting with a "bang" is sort of dramatic, but 'tweren't far from the truth, just sayin'.

But first - provided I have connectivity on each of the days I'm gone away from home, I'm going to post something wonderful about my lovely wife every day, because she is absolutely the reason for me to be anything.

1 - She can hang like a pro. Doesn't matter where we are, or who we're with, or how she feels, or why we're even there in the veryfirst place, she can adapt, adjust and be as pleasant and as engaging as an angel. She's gracious, caring, genuine and full of joy - just one of the many reasons that I love her. She's a pleasure to be around. Miss you already, honey!

Okay, so - we kissed goodbye this morning as she left for work and I prepared to head out for four festivals in as many weeks; the longest time we've been away from each other since we met in 2002. It's going to be tough, though we've both got more than enough to keep us busy in the meantime. Our doggie Bella is undergoing some treatments at the vet right now and will be convalescing all month, so Jae's got her hands full there, not to mention her already full hands with work and the house.

Then I'll be in Kentucky, Illinois and Ohio for four festivals, in West Virginia for a school program, lots of driving, plus a visit with my dear friends The Brouses for a week. I love travel - but coming home is nice. And this is serious travel, not only performing and teaching but also shooting video and producing programming all along the way. And the driving. I love Buster, my little Geo Metro LSi convertible, to death - but he's a tin can bred with a roller skate. Great gas mileage, lousy on sticking to the road when 18-wheelers blow past at mach 7. In any case - we had a blown tire last big trip, just south of Nashville. Bubble in the tire caused a shimmy that was present for most of the trip and it finally shredded towards the end. Well, I've been driving Buster since 1991 and we're almost the Borg - one unit. So, when something's not right, it's obvious, even though his engine mounts and front end alignment leave much to be desired.

So, when I started hearing a rhythmic slapping sound as I cruised up Interstate 75 earlier today, I began checking things to see what it could possibly be. My left-side rearview mirror, never-fixed and jerry-rigged by my first wife with steel wire, might've been the source of the noise, but shifting it around didn't make the clatter cease. Not long after that check, the shimmy grew more pronounced in the front end and I knew what that meant. Pulling over to the right shoulder, I hit the hazard lights and took the first exit, inquiring about the location of a Wal-Mart.

Now, I'm not a big fan of Wal-Mart for many reasons - but when it comes to tires, they are cheapest on earth (will I go to hell for buying affordable rubber?) and that's who I went with on the first blowout this year. After an inspection revealed there to be a bubble in the left front tire, I took it over to Wal-Mart and they fixed me up in about 15 minutes, back on the road again.

Do we have the automotive hijinks out of the way for this trip? I sure hope so!

That was in Perry, Georgia - and after sailing through Atlanta at rush hour with no problem, finally got hung up in Kennesaw with nasty traffic, so I've settled in to a place called Los Reyes, with free wi-fi and really killer grilled shrimp. There's also a huge, amazing mural on the wall that commands your attention when you walk into the place and reminds me of something out of Disney. (El Rio del Tiempo, anybody?)

I've still got five hours if I want to make it into Owensboro - or I can stop short and have a brief trip into town for tomorrow's festivities. We'll see how it goes.

A big "I love you" to everybody who reads this - and until next time....