Tuesday, July 27, 2004

If you can't say something nice...

I'm propped up against the headboard at the Holiday Inn Express in Boulder, Colorado at 6:30am and I just can't sleep anymore. After the whirlwind of the eastern tour, we had only a single day to regroup before heading right back out west for the Rockygrass festival in Lyons, Colorado. As I recover my consciousness this morning, I am flooded with a stream of memories, thoughts, ruminations etc. regarding the eastern tour. My mom always insisted that, "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all". So, to stay true to my raising, I won't say anything about the mind numbing traffic jams, the aggressive drivers, the endless road construction, and the lack of emergency shoulders on the turnpikes. I also won't say anything about the suffocating streams of trucks, the brown death effect of acid rain on the forests, or the swiss cheese pavement that rattled and shook The Chief and our kidneys without mercy. I also won't tell stories of heartburn, stomach aches, cramps, constipation and nights on end without sleep or decent food due to the relentless miles that lay before us. And I won't describe RV parks which close at 10 pm (with security gates!), typos in the RV bible that sent us miles out of our way or AAA maps that had more detail than the actual landscape and, as a result, helped us to get MORE lost. I won't relate these experiences because what's the point? It's pretty much obvious that touring the east in an 1982 Winnebago is going to be chock full of anxiety, and discomfort. Case closed.

So, how about some nice things about the east? The beauty of this part of the country is subtle in my opinion. There are plenty of mountains, hills, valleys and rivers. But so often the beauty was so fleeting that you would miss it if you weren't looking. There are lush forests. There are surging waterfalls. There are quant towns with 200+ years of history. There are sooted and steep steel town walkups with gigantic windows to pass on the breeze built in a time long before air conditioning. And there are eastern angels too, who stop to help you just because you have a Missouri license plate. There are vegetarians who take pride in disguising their meatless entrees for us carnivores with wholesomeness and spice. There are amazing bridges which span the countless valleys and rivers with function and style. There is our nation's capital which, when speeding through, seems so small but contains all of the landmarks that you've known since grade school but might not have ever seen- all within distance of the naked eye (depending on which side of The Chief you are looking out of). There is the Big Apple who's perfect subway takes you to do whatever you want, wherever you want, whenever you want, quicker than it would take you to read a map and find a parking place. And finally there are all the fabulous eastern music fans who absolutely got a kick out of this small town, naive group of midwestern musicians who had the crazy idea that they could take their show out east with nothing more than their sweaty suits, overworked instruments, a tired but reliable 30 foot house-on-wheels, and their relentless enthusiasm to get them through it.

You know, come to think of it, it wasn't half bad...

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

How to Catch Up

This is not an advice column, so don't misread that title, dear Reader.  It just might be a surprise to see all these entries pop up... so if you missed last night's episode, just go on down to "Missing in action" and it'll make a lot more sense. 
That is, if you are interested in chronological reading.  If not, just dig on in and it'll all make sense eventually!
I hope.

Being the underdog... Grey Fox Festival

This is exactly the kind of place we need to play.  One of those festivals you don't want to leave (me, anyway).  We played early shows but word spread and Wilder Fever took over quickly.  When the lineup includes Ricky Skaggs, Tim O'Brien, Del McCoury Band and Earl Scruggs, you know you've either really lucked out to be there, or might possibly be on your way up from being there.  And it sure helped to hear from lots of festivalgoers that The Wilders were the hit band of the weekend!  Being the underdog in this kind of scene is pretty gratifying.  I think it shows us that we have what it takes to make people happy, and that is what makes us happy and gives us more chances for everyone's happiness.
Nate's folks were there, along with their very good friends from Susquehanna PA, who'd never been to a festival like that before.  They had a high time and we were glad of it.  Good to have some family support there too.
Tim O'Brien Band.  He's simply outstanding.  I first saw Tim w/ his sister Mollie at Winfield the first year I was there.  He is one of the reasons I fell in love with old time music.  He's an accomplished bluegrasser too, but he really keeps the old time going too and I am an admirer.  A sweet bonus was seeing Dirk Powell in the band that night, though instead of getting to hear him fiddle, I enjoyed him laying down the bass (yet another instrument he excels at). 
Girl Howdy!  Check out their website.  They rock.  They played a honky tonk dance and really had it going on.  I found myself wishing to play with them for a while.  Dangit, they already have a fiddler (oh yeah, I already have a band).
I visited with Dirk at the zydeco dance (which was a major highlight, great band, great time, great memory).  Of course I did the stupid fan thing and said a bunch of ridiculous things, but we ended up having a pretty good conversation and I hope next time we meet I'm not such an doofus.  I have a long history of being an old time groupie.  Whenever I've met someone I admire in old time music, I just get all dumb.  I say ridiculous things and don't make a whole lot of sense.  I have a lot of dreams about playing music with old time heroes of mine and I so rarely get the opportunity to meet them that I don't get used to it.  I feel like an underdog here too, but I also feel like I have such a long way to go and grow.  If we continue to play more of these festivals, I should have more opportunities to meet these folks I admire so much.  I guess I'd like to get used to it so I don't freak out every stinkin time.  And especially so I might have the opportunity to make some of those dreams come true.

Home of the Highwoods Stringband

This one will be brief... the fiddler was not feeling well and that was kinda tough, but we all managed to kick some anyway... it was like paying tribute for me, imagining the Highwoods Stringband in their heyday in the 70's playing around town and maybe at the Chapter House even, I'll have to find out about that.  Big enough crowd to make it really fun and and a good payday too which really helps at a bar show.  Also some of the Corning Grass Works folks were there, and Mr. Dom Sgro and his wife (see Canyon Country entry), which was a real honor.  A sweet country-dressed older couple got up and jigged a few numbers, yelled out a request for Cotton Eyed Joe and really went to town.  Also lots of young folks gettin' crazy and full of Wilder Fever before the night was over.  We'll be back, I bet.

New York, New York (it's a helluva town)

Ok, I just started this blog and I searched for Wilders Rodeo Bar on Google and found this link...

Pretty nice!  Guess what, that was from my Dad.  He's the official Big Guy.  Sneaky dude, he didn't mention this to me!  I'm cracking up because I found it on some obscure discussion page.  I didn't even know the Big Guy went on those discussion pages!  HI-larious.

Anyway, here's what I wrote in the Box about NY:

If I have time I will expand on this.  I'll tell you how we got to town, what we did w/ the Chief, where we stayed and what we did on the day of the show in NYC.  I'll tell you about my friend Pat who came to the show and where I know him from.  I'll tell you about broken strings (1 fiddle, several guitar, and I think even brotherphil did some damage) and the enthusiastic audience no matter what happened.  I'll tell you how much I'd like us to get back there and make more connections, raise awareness, raise the roof, etc.

But I'm damn sure gonna tell you about meeting Hank III.

After the show, I was leaving the stage area, while Phil was doing some selling from the stage...  a couple of guys were making their way up towards me, so I helped the first one w/ a sale and howdy-do, and the second one waited for me... he came on up and asked to buy both our CDs (somehow we didn't think it was prudent to lug in the gospel cds to NYC).  I joked a bit with him off the cuff about something, and he played along.  Then after I gave him his change, he shook my hand, said, "I'm Hank The Third, Hank Williams' grandson, and you guys are really great, here's my number..."  I gapsed, said breathlessly, "I'm a big fan..." and looked at his face and in his eyes, with a "ohmygodisitreallyyou" look, and he grinned and said he was undercover that night.  He was hiding his hair under his (ball) hat and he was dressed real simple.  He had happened by after going to another concert and ended up staying.  I then proceeded to enter into stupid fan mode, told him what a big fan of Beck's I am and how I enjoyed H3's part in the DVD movie I got from Beck's website (Hank plays a crazy singing junkyard owner and shares a scene w/ Robosaurus).  Well Hank was real cool and chatted with me for a few minutes, very down to earth and chill and of course I gave him my card too but don't even ask me, I'll never give out his number, but I'm sure gonna call him and see about what he's got in mind!

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Not just another House Concert... Pittsburgh, PA

Ok, we actually arrived early for this one.  Had time to do laundry before sharing a great meal cooked by our generous hosts, Ben and Francine.  The house concert was in their house and before showtime, the porch filled up with local hipsters and lovers of all kinds of music.  Among the crowd was a journalist who wrote up a great blurb for us in the City Paper.  Check it out!  http://www.pittsburghcitypaper.ws/archive.cfm?type=Music%20Previews&action=getComplete&ref=2469

I like house concerts because they're less informal, if you want them to be.  We have an informal approach anyway, so it's a perfect place for a Wilders show (besides the Big Stages that we are starting to enjoy, too).  I'm just saying I like house concerts.  If Ike breaks a string (which he did), I feel comfortable doing the kind of things I do solo.  If we end up playing all the big stages we want, I will still want to play house concerts too and not just for that reason.  Especially if the house concerts are like this one!

It was a real good time overall.  After the show, it turned into an after party.  We enjoyed beer from our hosts (well, some during the show too), a local flavor called Steel City.  Real good and in cool bottles, like Red Stripes that got tall.  The party was full of good company, good conversation, and jamming (our host Ben can really sing that country music!).  Yours truly did not jam that night, instead opting to accept an invitation for an awesome scooter ride across the river (Ohio, or Monongahela, hard to keep it straight where there are Three Rivers [as in the stadium]).  And I wore a helmet, don't worry, as did my Expert driver (Top Notch driving, thanks Cap'n America). 

Now that was a good time.

Canyon Country

We had a rough time getting there ... after driving several late night hours from Rosendale NY (thanks again Mark, we loved it there, wish we could have stayed), we arrived at Nate's grandparents' house in Susquehanna PA (not NY, brophil)... we had a whole three hours to sleep there.  Then drove on little windy roads to Hills Creek State Park near Wellsboro, PA.  We arrived about 30 minutes before our first show.  In true Wilders form, we proceeded to play our butts off and the crowd warmed to us as the day went on... our evening set was very well received and we met a lot of super nice folks.  That's always fun after a show, when we have time to meet other folks -- it makes the experience so personal.
It was a pretty little festival in this park, and I'd do it again.  We just need to not get there quite the same way next time!  The Hickory Project band is how we got there this time, and thanks to you guys and gal for that.  We met them at Winfield last year and this fest is in their neck of the woods, literally.  Nice folks and great pickers... we'll look forward to seeing you again!
My personal highlight:  the SGRO Brothers!  A pair of harmonica-weilding geniuses.  They recently played the White House, and they played with Mr. Sinatra back in the day.  I'll try to get more Sgro Bros. stories in another post... they are worth more than a post but at least a book and perhaps there will be a documentary forthcoming from Ken VanEtten... I'll be sure to let you know about that at the proper time.  Their appearance with the Corning Grass Works made the festival for me.

Missing in action

Well, were you wondering?  I know you were... we have made it home and have a whole day off before we leave for Rockygrass.
Internet connections were much more rare than traffic jams and long hours of driving in the east... or else I would have written, I promise! 
For me, even though it was more physically trying to do this tour, I loved the east.  My Mom was born in Delaware and grew up all around the east, so that could be part of it.  (My Dad grew up in Missouri, though, so that's part of my connection here for sure, too.)  Anyway I wished we were out there for longer and just hope we can get back for more good stuff.
I worked on notes for update blogs last night while in the Box (the term we now use for the body which Chief inhabits).  So forthcoming are several posts... they will be briefer than what I wrote out west, mainly because that's all I could do, but also I think the longer posts are perhaps prohibitive for those who just want a quick read!
Thanks for all your comments... I enjoyed reading them just now.  Keep 'em coming!
Kim-e, what was that gospel link you found?  Did you save the website??
A note on what will follow:  I will post the notes in reverse chronological order.  So, if you want to start where we left off before, look for the post on Canyon Country and read up from there.
I will do at least a couple tonight before I collapse into bed... don't look for another post until post-Rockygrass, most likely.  We have hotel rooms, but may not be in them often as they are in Boulder and the fest is in Lyons.  Wish us luck -- I know you all do -- and read on very soon...

Monday, July 12, 2004

2am, somewhere on the way to Susquehanna, PA

You will be glad to know that we did make the gig at the Rosendale Cafe with a few minutes to spare and were treated absolutely wonderfully by our host, Mark, and his staff. The restaurant was strictly vegetarian and we ordered some food before launching into the first fiddle tune of the night. The crowd was quite enthusiastic as we continued on for the next hour doing what we do best. We took a short break to shovel in their excellent food and then quickly got back at it to finish our obligation. Several people got up to dance in the small cafe and we generally had a grand old time glad to be out of The Chief for a few hours. As has been the case for most of our summer tour, we had a long drive ahead of us the next day and decided to leave after the show to drive to Nate's dad's ancestral New York home in Susquehanna. As I finish this entry we are still in transit and will probably get only a few hours of sleep before piling into the RV for the remainder of the trip to the Canyon Country Bluegrass Festival in..who knows where? Anyway, we'll have many more miles to go after that with a stop in NYC and more fun stories from the road. Thanks for sticking with us as we live this crazy life. We're more than halfway through it now.


I'm sitting in The Chief moving at the alarming speed of 30-40 miles per hour in heavy traffic on the New Jersey turnpike. We are on our way to Rosendale, NY for a cafe show and are, of course, late again. We left around noon from our nation's capital to make the 300 mile trip which even at 50 mph. should have only taken us about 6 hours. But the traffic is horrendous and we are doing the best we can to crawl across the east between these monstrous cites with all their people and cars blocking our way. If we have any luck, we MIGHT make it to our destination by show time. This is stressful to say the least and with the open spaces of the American West far behind, I'm going to numb my worries with statistics.

As you followers of the blog might remember, we ran out of gas the second day of the tour in Golden, Colorado. The result of this unfortunate incident was the meticulous recording of miles travelled, gas prices and fuel efficiency in a brown spiral-bound notebook stored in the arm rest of the front passenger seat. Perusal of this journal yields much in the way of information regarding touring the west in an 1982 Winnebago. Betse and I crunched the numbers and with the help of a calendar, the following statistics are submitted for the permanent record:

Number of days on tour: 34
Number of states visited: 15
Total miles travelled: 8249
Gallons of gas purchased: 1310
Average miles per gallon: 6.3
Highest price paid per gallon: $2.30 (Searchlight, Nevada)
Lowest price paid per gallon: $1.82 (Moorcroft, Wyoming)
Total amount spent for gas: $2595.70
Number of fuel filters used: 7
Total bags of ice purchased: impossible to determine but easily over 100
Number of nights-camping: 16
Number of nights-hotel: 12
Number of nights-nice folk's homes: 3
Number of nights-parking lots: 3

Getting Schooled, battery suicide intervention and fans with deep pockets on the way to Washington D.C.

After bailing out our RV from the mechanic (to the sickening tune of $1300.00), we packed up our meager belongings and, with the renewed energy of 7 days at home, we jumped back on I-70 for the long trip to the East. We picked up Ike outside of Columbia and drove until we dropped-stopping in Richmond, Indiana at an RV park just after 1am. Now considering ourselves old pros at RV camping, we pulled into the park, skipped the office (who would be up to greet us at that hour?) and went to look for a spot. After a few passes through the park, we were just lining up to back into a space when we saw a sleepy and obviously angry RV park owner hustling towards us. She asked what the hell we were doing, and ever though it was obvious, we tried to explain that we were just trying to find a camping space. She was obviously vexed and told us that if we would have stopped at the office, she would have damn well SHOWN us where to camp. We tried to smooth things over and finally she agreed to let us camp where we had already decided to camp and let us pay in the morning. This is an example of what we in the band call "getting schooled". There have been many times in the history of our travels that we, due to our lack of experience, ruffle the tail feathers of the locals who then explain our transgressions to us in none too polite words. I remember the time in Nashville, when we were schooled three times by three different people over three different infractions in less than 30 minutes. So after getting "schooled", we prepped the RV for the night and were in our sacks by 2am. I got up the next morning and, after taking a shower, went to face the RV owner who looked a little less angry and a lot more awake. I told her that we were the rude Winnebago hooligans that had crashed her sleeping party the night before. She was still a little mad but I told her, "we're a bluegrass band on our first east coast tour..."and so on until I got her to smile and take our money and forgive our trespasses.

Our destination was Cleveland, Ohio and we set off for another long day of driving. As a precautionary measure, we stopped at a Wal Mart outside of Dayton to buy a new battery for The Chief. For the last few weeks in the west, we had noticed a recurring lack of battery power to start the engine and had relied on our backup battery to do the job until we got home. Since we hadn't had time to buy a new battery while the RV was in the shop, we decided to correct the problem before we got into the east coast hubbub. We pulled the battery and took it inside but unfortunately the Wal Mart did not have a match. We got directions to an auto parts store and without really thinking about it, decided not to hook back up the battery for the one-exit trip (it was dead anyway, right?) Ike pulled The Chief back onto the highway and within 100 yards it died. We realized that, dead or not, the main battery needs to be connected in order for the old guy to run. Ike pulled safely to the shoulder and with the semis speeding past us, we got out to hook it back up. The battery compartment on The Chief is sort of like a big heavy dresser drawer that slides out and I had been nervous for the entire western tour because the pin that holds the drawer shut had been missing since we bought it. We got back on the road and after a particularly violent stretch of road construction, I noticed another RV driver next to us pointing at our passenger's side. I've learned that when people point like that, it's usually not to say, "wow man, nice RV!". Ike looked out the window and saw that the battery compartment had broken it's latches and was trying to jump to it's death in 5 lanes of Ohio traffic. We quickly pulled The Chief to the side of the road and made a quick fix until we could get off at the next exit to fix it properly. With battery suicide thwarted, we got back on the road and within an hour or so and a near thunderstorm miss, hit the Cleveland city limits.

The club, called The Winchester, was a very cool place with a great stage, nice sound and lots of seats and tables awaiting what we hoped would be many eager people. We sound checked and went up the street for some pizza. When we returned, Nate and Betse went inside to set up our product and came back with the disappointing news that there was an audience of about 11 people inside. We figured it was just early and got dressed in our duds for the show. There were two other bands on the bill and when we got inside the second band was just starting. We sat and had a beer and while we were watching, three people left. We took the stage at about 11pm and played for a crowd of 8 people + the club owner and bartender. We shrugged it off and played an energetic set anyway to the "Cleveland 8" who whooped and hollered for more. After the show, I counted our cd sales for the night and realized that all 8 people had bought all three of our cd's!

Since we were playing at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. the next day, we decided to hit the road after the show and try to knock off some of the 8+ hours that we would face the next day. Nate took the wheel and drove through horrific fog for several hours before we finally stopped just off the Pennsylvania Turnpike at a Wal Mart for a restless 3 hours of sleep. We got back on the road, badly needing showers and food and through the miracle of coffee, a bagel and cream cheese, and a chocolate milk, I negotiated the perilous Pennsylvania Turnpike for 4 hours while Ike and Nate got some additional sleep. Ike took the wheel next and, like threading a needle, negotiated our beloved behemoth into the D.C. area like a 13-year-old playing a video game. We got to our hotel with enough time to quickly take showers and get dressed for the show. The Millennium Stage at The Kennedy Center was a fantastic experience and we were thrilled for the opportunity to play for the appreciative audience. As Betse mentioned before, you can watch the result in real time on The Kennedy Center's website.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Here we are in our nation's capital

Hello friends,

Just a quick short post to let y'all know we are alive and well, but tired and hungry, after doing the Millenium Stage thing. I'll leave last night's escapades to brotherphil for posting. Today was pretty dang COOL. I mentioned on staqe that my folks might have once dreamed of me playing the Kennedy Center, though not quite in this way... (meaning the classical thing didn't become my full time thing... but it got me where I am today, so THANKS Mom!!) We had a real good crowd and we heard from some pals who said we rocked online. So go to the Kennedy Center website and see it for yourself! It's archived, or will be soon.

I was thinking about keeping these things short and since I am waiting on two absent bandmates to go eat, I'll go ahead and cut this off... more details to come on this quick whirlwind tour of the east!

Oh wait, I just have to add... I already love the east. My Mom comes from the East. I've been out this way a lot over the years (though it's been about 30 years since I last saw D.C.). PA is a great state and we'll be spending the next couple of days there. Oh wait, first we hit Rosendale NY tomorrow. Anyway. My point is, reader, that the west was all new to me but this is more familiar and I feel completely different about this trip. Kinda like going to an old home.

That's all I wanted to say. (almost) Someday I hope I'm not exhausted when I write an entry and maybe I'll actually make some deeper observations. So far the depths of what I can observe are HUNGER. And TIRED. And wow, isn't this a nice suite we're in... yes a real SUITE.

Somebody stop me before this turns into another long post! Ok, wait... yeah. I can stop myself.




Thursday, July 01, 2004

Home again, home again... (but not for long)

Readers Dear,

I'm still trying to recover from the hard trials of traveling... we made it home safe but not before the ol' Chief popped a belt. We were less than an hour from home and the alternator belt broke. We were able to get the Chief to the RV shop and left it in their hands. Shouldn't be a problem to fix that, and a couple more things they needed to do as well. Keeping my fingers crossed that they'll be ready on Monday, because that's when we leave again.

It already seems ages ago to think of the last gig, on Sunday night at Chico Hot Springs. We played yet another all-nighter 3 set bar show... the crowd wasn't huge but the dancing was fantastic. Some serious dancers there. The owner even sprinkled sawdust on the floor for added authenticity. The place was an old resort hotel and saloon, with the hot "springs" outside in the shape of a swimming pool. We all felt the germ potential in the unchlorinated pool was worth avoiding, unfortunately. I liked the place itself, though. And the setting... Paradise Valley is quite aptly named.

[Dear Montana: how I love your big skies and deep valleys. Your mountains reign eternal and their snowy peaks blend with the low clouds amongst them. Your gentle streams and racing rivers flow freely and your grasses wave to all passers by. As I waved goodbye, I looked forward to our next meeting. May it be sooner than eternity. May your beauty be eternal and your peaceful setting provide comfort and shelter to all who come to you.]

A little Walt Whitman moment, perhaps... I studied Whitman in college and he was not my favorite poet. However, after seeing Montana, I can get behind the nature-gushing a lot more. What a nice surprise that state was for me!

Let's concentrate now on the future. After the last day's rest, I have a lot of work to do and us Wilders play twice this weekend. It's interesting to me that we are playing a Lewis & Clark event on Saturday, because there were a lot of L&C reminders out west, everywhere near the Missouri or Columbia rivers of course.

Also want to mention that a week from today we'll be playing the Kennedy Center! Millenium Stage, to be exact. And it'll be broadcast on the web. I would put a link but this ol' computer is working real slow and I'm afraid navigating on another page might crash it, so please check our website for a link w/ more info. OK?

So, friends, we'll continue this blog as we head east. Ike and Nate are (obviously) not as web-driven as myself and Phil, but perhaps they will be inspired to write something at some point. I am sure you all appreciate hearing different points of view. And with us Wilders, there are always at least four different viewpoints...

We miss you all, from those we haven't seen in a while to those we won't see for a while. Keep those comments coming -- we really love hearing from you! I always make a point to check for new comments when I visit. I have not responded to many of them, but please know that all of your posts are truly appreciated. May you all travel safely and hope you are all more rested than we are!

all the best to you all...