Monday, September 27, 2004

I promise I'll try to do better


What took me so long? Wish I knew, exactly! This is what the last couple of months have been like for me:

Get ready to leave for the next show (laundry, mail, email, phone)
Ride to show in the Chief, trying to not be too bored*
Get to the show/festival and check in, figure stuff out, etc.
Play the show/festival and try to get some rest for the next day's sets
Ride home in the Chief, trying to rest and not be too bored*
Rest up for a day. Teach some fiddle lessons.
Get ready to leave for the next show (laundry, mail, email, phone)**

* if I had my own computer and a way to upload journals, I might have done better... well now I do! I am in fact writing this now on my cute little iBook which I got thanks to a clearance at Phil's dept. at the Art Institute (thanks brophil) and even better, I am sitting on my couch and am on a wireless network! Apparently someone in my apt. building has one, and that means I do too. Whoopee! Thanks to my mystery neighbor, I was able to do some updating on the web site that I just couldn't stand to do on the old dial-up. I hope they stay online long enough for me to finish this entry, because I am bound and determined to actually post something.

** thanks to brotherphil for the inspiration on the circular format listing...

I did start a heartfelt post about MBOTMA, while staying at friend's place while we were at the MN state fair... Brotherphil has admirably taken care of that fest, and all I want to say about that was I missed my dear friend, Art Stamper, who was to be there. Art is fighting a second bout of cancer and if you want to think a kind thought or say a prayer, it can only help. You can visit to learn more about this incredible fiddler and super man.

Since so much time has passed, I must move on from those past performance notes and look ahead. I think in general this is a good way to live; it seems to be on my mind lately. With that in mind, I am looking forward to next week in Louisville. It's IBMA time and last year, we went to the conference with the goal of finding an agent. I had my doubts, having had some interaction with some of the big-time in the acoustic world agents. They didn't seem to think too much of us. However, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Mary Brabec on the first day. What followed was a week of getting to know this great gal and after she'd seen us play several times, by the end of the week we were asked to join her roster.

This was probably THE best thing that has ever happened to the band. After us getting together to begin with, that is.

So after our first summer's worth of touring thanks to Mary, I'm especially looking forward to IBMA this year. Though it's tinged with sadness, because it's the last year to be held in L'ville. Louisville is a beautiful place, by the way. Just a neat old town on the Ohio River. So, guess where it's going....? Of course it's moving to Nashville. Goodbye, Bluegrass State. Hello, Music City. Guess it makes sense, but still, Nash has everything already!

oh, heck. We're not a bluegrass band, anyway, so what does it matter? (we do claim the tag but only because it's so much easier when talking to folks who've stopped on the highway to help us, or at RV parks, or at gas stations, etc.) After all, which is easier for an introduction in those circumstances: "We're a country band that plays crazy old time fiddle tunes and honky tonk songs" or "We're a bluegrass band"?

So, dear Reader, if you haven't given up, let me try to give some hope as now I have my own machine I can create posts on and then post from home (hopefully on the AirPort). And, it will help fight boredom (mine, and well, hopefully yours too). Expect some word from yours truly from that good ol' town, Louisville, next week.

I promise I'll try to do better.

This stands for many things in my life.

It's a work in progress.

Friday, September 10, 2004

It's pronounced mah-BOT-mah! Strange acronyms in the land of lakes...

Let's face it, people in Minnesota love their bluegrass. And even though we rarely play any bluegrass in our shows, they still really seem to love The Wilders. Three weeks into an unusually cool August, we piled into the Chief and set off for our final tour of the summer en-route to the land of lakes in beautiful Minnesota. This would be our second try at the MBOTMA (Minnesota Bluegrass and Old Time Association) festival at the El Rancho Manana campground just west of St. Cloud. Two years prior, we made our Minnesota debut at this great festival and were eager to give them a second shot.

We arrived (as usual) late in the night, and were guided by golf cart to our site. While my band mates readied their bunks, I decided to break free of the boredom and cramped space of The Chief and pitch my crappy, but luxuriously spacious tent at the summit of Boot Hill. This grassy, tree-topped knob that rises high above the campground overlooking the entire festival grounds was the location of our camp two years earlier and I had prayed that it would be unoccupied. Although there was a small crowd of middle school kids hanging out near the top, I was pleased to find my destination still open for the taking. Why no one chooses to camp here is a real head scratcher, but I quickly laid claim to this fortunate real estate, set up my shelter and climbed into my sleeping bag, shivering but elated.

I slept great and got things going the next morning by munching down a breakfast burrito purchased from a passing bicycle vendor. Then I put on the old suit and boots and got tuned up for our first set. We got ourselves psyched up backstage and quickly we were on and then it was over. The crowd must have really bought our schtick because they lined up at the CD table afterward en-mass to express their praise and encouragement with $20.00 bills in hand. Betse and I then participated in our respective instrument workshops and we reconvened with our band-mates at the food area for some catfish and pork sandwiches.

After a short debate, we decided to drop the suits and play our late night show in street clothes so that we could retain some warmth as the temperature quickly dropped into a damp low-fifties. We were scheduled to play a set called, "Wind Down with The Wilders" which, to anyone who has ever seen us, is both ironic and hilarious. But the idea was that we were supposed to play a non-amplified set for the folks exiting after the main stage show finished for the evening. To save Ike's voice, we broke the non-amplified rule and plugged our microphone into Nate's bass amp and quickly shook off the cold by jumping around like maniacs while the amused crowd began to thickened around us. We pulled out all our usual tricks and finished to an enthusiastic, albeit cold-handed ovation. As the cold began to settle back into our bones, we had a night cap of complimentary hot dogs (with the skin on...very weird) and caught golf carts back to our camp.

It was another freezing night and when I awoke the next morning and poked my head out of my bag, my ears were treated to the sound of four-part accapella gospel harmony. It was the members of Art Stevenson and Highwater warming up for their late morning set. These Wisconsin players were camped between The Chief and my hilltop perch and I lingered in the tent for several minutes enjoying their PRO-fessional rehearsal of country, gospel and bluegrass. But my coffee addiction compelled me to rise out of my nylon cave and no sooner than I got the thermos filled, it was time to suit up for our second main stage show.

Again, we did our spastic bobble-head routine and then hit the CD table for another round of shake and howdy with the people. Afterward, we recessed back to camp where we changed out of our sweaty show clothes and then took a much-needed break in the shade swapping road stories with some members of The Foghorn String Band from Portland, Oregon. Then it was back to the food area for another round of catfish. I decided to try a local delicacy of the state of Minnesota- fried cheese curds, and, in all honesty, I'll report that they are indeed an acquired taste. Although they look pretty much like any deep fried food, instead of being crunchy on the outside and melty on the inside, they are more like soggy on the outside and chewy on the inside- sort of like semi-hardened Elmer's glue-filled donut holes. These curious little balls would have a devastating glue-like effect on my poor gut as I would soon discover. I ran off to the tent to take a nap and give my stomach a chance at breaking down these mysterious objects.

After a fitful hour or so, I awoke to Betse's voice outside the tent telling me it was time to get dressed for our last set. Our final obligation to the festival was to play a honky tonk show for the two-steppers and leg-shakers at the dance tent. Apparently there was a buzz was going on throughout the festival about this band from Kansas City and we arrived to a tent bursting at the seams with new fans and curious onlookers. We tuned up, got to it and got everybody all riled up again playing fiddle tunes for the young leapers and honky tonk tunes for the old swingers. Despite numerous string breaks and exhaustion, we finished the long set with no serious injuries to report. I was straight up exhausted by this time and was soon happy to be bedded down for another cold night with the satisfaction in my mind of a job well done.

The next morning, we grabbed some breakfast and returned to the sound of a gurgling vintage tractor driven by a member of the El Rancho Manana staff. Betse had made arrangements the previous day for us to do a post-festival hay/jam wagon ride through the campground to serenade the folks packing up their gear. We climbed aboard and, at a furious pace of about 1 mph, toured the grounds playing our fiddle tunes and country favorites to the startled festival graduates. Pretty soon another fiddler climbed aboard, and then another, and then another, and then the hay really started to fly. By my estimation, we ended up with something like 20+ musicians on that wagon by the time we completed the campground loop.

One of the wagon hoppers, a young fellow who we will forever refer to as "Honky Tonk John", struck our fancy particularly. This St. Cloud resident has a honky tonk voice and repertoire that I wish some of the current Nashville tight-jeaned pretty boys would take a few lessons from. He's also a fabulous guitarist, luthier and a dang fine fiddler too! He and Ike traded tunes for the better part of two hours while Betse, Nate and I all took turns taking licks and looking on in amazement. Then, after dining on a fantastic meal of venison and elk steaks courtesy of the El Rancho Manana staff, we headed back to the Chief for our last night on the grounds.

As luck would have it, Honky Tonk John decided to stick around and Ike and I enjoyed several more hours of pure 40's and 50's honky tonk pleasure sitting knee-to-knee with John outside the RV until well after midnight. Sleep was, by this time, badly needed by everyone so Ike began work to fix up a makeshift bed for John on the floor of The Chief. I wished them both a good night and hiked back up the hill to my campsite as lightning flashed ominously in the western sky.

Now, as I mentioned before, my crappy tent is a monstrosity of a shelter that could easily sleep eight people. I bought it on sale last year for the Winfield, Kansas festival and quickly learned after a heavy rain why it was such a good deal at the sporting goods store. It is, without a doubt, the most poorly sealed, leakiest, roof dripping son-of-a-gun of a tent I've ever had the soaked displeasure of spending a rainy night inside. The "rain fly", which is aptly named due to it's ability to make the rain magically "fly" through it's nylon seams, allows water to drip onto the mesh beneath it. When enough water (about half a teaspoon or so) pools up on the mesh, the water starts to drip- and usually on my head. Also, the corners of the tent are so poorly sewn that water that is just passing by, minding it's own business, suddenly feels compelled to come inside the tent to find out what's going on in there. So, not surprisingly, the lightening flashes that were now quickly approaching gave me a sense of doom that you can only imagine. I spent several minutes contemplating my fate and the arrangement of my stuff- trying to figure out where the impending deluge would drip and pool. I finally decided on a single-column stacking method arranged by most-waterproof to least-waterproof at the foot of my inflatable air mattress. I made sure that every item in the tent was either on that pile or tucked deep inside my sleeping bag. Finally, I apprehensively climbed into my bag and watched the lightning flash across the nylon above me before falling into a restless sleep to the symphony of thunder warming up in the distance.