Friday, August 29, 2008

Random Stop...

Thursday, 8/28/08 @ 9:13pm

Interstate 70, East of Hays, Kansas:

I was jolted awake when Ike hit the brakes-HARD. The van lurched to the right, crossing the rumble strip, and stopped roughly on the shoulder. Semi-trucks, lugging their heavy loads roared by as I sat up with a "hrumph." I had drifted off into sleep long enough for the sun to have gone down without my awareness. I had no idea where we were.

Ike was already out of the van by the time I raised the blinds. I looked out the window and spotted him-up to his chest in grass, climbing up a small hill toward a ridge of trees. Towering above him, about 100 feet beyond, was a solitary wind turbine turning fast in the Kansas wind.

Betse yelled out, "oh no, I bet there are chiggers."
"You can brush them off!" he yelled back as he disappeared through the tree line.

Nate turned around from the seat in front of me, laughing, and said, "Hey Phil, did you think we would be stopping for THIS?". I grumbled a non-answer, and looked back outside at the turbine, scanning the trees for Ike.

"Wow, you can hear it," Betse said, "LISTEN..." I slid my window open, but for several moments, all I could hear was the traffic whooshing past. Then I heard it, the steady, "whump, whump, whump" of the turbine.

Spurred on by this new auditory impulse, Betse too was now off into the grass, She moved with greater care than Ike- perhaps hoping to limit her parasite exposure. Nate turned to me again and said, "He was just talking about wanting to climb something." Chuckling, he added, "He's going to be on top of that thing in a few minutes."

I collapsed back into my seat with a grumble-feigning disinterest. The part of me that knew this was going to make us late, had taken momentary control of my vocal chords. But there was another part of me that secretly wanted to see Ike's shadowy silhouette moving up the side of the tower- no matter how late it made us.

I sat back up and said, "Do they even HAVE chiggers in central Kansas?"
"I don't know," Nate replied as he stepped outside to water the roadside flowers, "but I'm not feeling adventurous enough tonight to find out." Then he said, "Hey, they're coming back, there must have been a fence"

Ike an Betse returned to their respective front seats, obsessively brushing and rubbing their wrists and ankles. They spoke to each other emphatically-not about wind turbines, but about feeding habits and human defense strategies against Trombiculidae, the common chigger. It was obvious that they now imagined their bodies teeming with microscopic mites. Innumerable chiggers were slipping into a sock here, a waistband there, or worse yet, crawling under a warm, moist fold of skin where there would be protection from the incessant brushing and rubbing- the sort of place a chigger can relax, a safe place where he can linger long enough to begin to feed...

For those who don't believe in the existence of the much-reviled midwestern chigger, please visit:

Or, for you adventurous disbelievers, I invite you to visit any picturesque backyard, pasture, or meadow of Missouri grass between June and August. Go ahead, have a seat, relax and see for yourself if chiggers are real.

By the way, you can't see them, they are invisible...

Saturday, August 09, 2008


Saturday August 9th 12:10am
Location: The Marquis De Sideshow Tent- Spiegel Gardens

"This is sideshow, not magic," the shirtless tattooed performer explained as he pushed a galvanized 10 penny nail through each of his nipple piercings. "Real people doing real things..." He reached behind a curtain, and roughly pulled out an automotive battery wrapped in heavy steel chains, then dropped it violently to the floor in front of the anxious crowd. He bent forward at the waist, unraveled one of the chains, and slipped the end link over one of the nails- locking it snugly around his right nipple. "This is sideshow, it is not meant to trick," he said as he attached the other chain in like fashion. "It is meant to shock, and AMAZE..." He then arched his back, pulling the chains taught against the nails with his arms straightened behind him like an olympic swimmer ready for the race. He paused briefly for some of the audience to take pictures of his now downward-stretching nipples. The battery was still firmly planted to the floor.

"Now I'm going to see if I can lift this battery off the ground using only my chest- but first, we're going to make it more interesting!" Again, he reached behind the curtain, now producing a set of heavy automotive jumper cables. Nervous laughter filtered throughout the audience. "How many of you understand the laws of electricity?" he asked. "Well, I will tell you that there is enough electricity contained within this battery, that if I were to attach these jumper cables to these chains, there would be enough sustained amps to kill me..." He clipped the negative cable to the negative terminal, and then, likewise, clipped the positive end to the positive terminal. Grasping up the opposite ends of the cables in each hand, he quickly touched the two ends together, producing a shower of sparks. The audience gasped.

"Now for me to be able to lift this battery, there needs to be an exchange of energy..." Again, he touched the cable ends together, producing a secondary shower of sparks. "If I rub the ends of these cables against the chains, it will still produce an electrical current, but only about 5 to 6 amps, which will NOT be enough to kill me." He went on, "So I'll be getting energy from the battery, but I also need energy from you, the audience." The tension in room was palpable- everyone focused completely on the performer. "When I begin rubbing these chains, they are going to get very hot- especially here and here," he motioned to each nail. "On the count of three, I need for you, the audience, to scream as loudly and as wildly as you can. If I can pick the battery up just a few inches, I've done my job, and I've done it well..."

"Are you ready?" he yelled. The crowd, united in their response, screamed, "YEAAAAHHH! He scraped the cables against the chains. Sparks fell down his chest as he winced in pain, "AAAAAHHHHHHHGGGGG!" There was a small cloud of smoke wafting into the front row. "Can you SMELL IT?" he asked. "That's the smell of burning flesh!" The woman seated closest to him waved a hand in front of her face. "Remember, this is sideshow, NOT magic," he repeated. "It is meant to shock...and AMAZE." He paused to let his words settle in for dramatic effect. "Remember, you must scream as loudly as you can! NOW, on the count of three...ONE......TWO.............THREE!

The performer began rubbing the chains up and down against the battery cables. Sparks flew. Smoke filled the air. The crowd screamed loudly, forcefully, wildly. The performer screamed too, but they were screams of anguish. He arched his back against the weight of the battery. From my vantage point, I could not see the battery rise off the floor, but from the change in the crowd's screams, I knew that it had. The performer screamed- and we screamed louder, as he quickly rocked his body from side to side, making the battery swing like a pendulum. Then, he relaxed, and the battery tumbled back to wooden floor with a heavy thud.

He slumped forward, clearly exhausted and dazed from the effort. The crowd cheered. He detached the chains, straightened himself, and took a deep bow.

"SIDESHOW!" he exclaimed, "Real people doing REAL THINGS!"

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Ike Rips and Tall Ships-Scotland: Part Two

I've just returned to the peace and quiet of our flat. We spent the morning hucking ourselves on a local Edinburgh radio program. At this point, everything we can do to get some "butts in seats" (as we so elegantly say in Missouri), the better. I had hoped that our previous attendance problems would be strictly a United States phenomena. However, with half our Spiegeltent performances nearly finished, we have yet to draw more than half a house. This is frustrating because out of the 5 shows we did during last year's run, we sold out two, then had a nearly full house on two more. It was only on the final day of the festival (a Monday no less), that we finally had a low show attendance. Like the US, the economy in the UK is sluggish, gas prices are sky high, and people are getting depressed. And like the US, many people are apparently opting to stay home and save their hard-earned money.

Regardless, it feels really good to be back in Scotland. We played our first show in a beautifully refurbished old theater in Perth. The audience attendance for our show at the "Southern Fried Festival" was quite good. I think this might have been to due, at least in part, to Ike's participation in a multi-artist Hank Williams tribute concert up the street earlier in the evening. Betse and I walked into the back of the completely new, state-of-the-art theater to check it out, just as Ike was finishing the first verse to Hank Williams' heart-wrenching "Someday You'll Call My Name (and I Won't Answer)". The stage was beautifully lit. The house band was spread across the center and stage left side behind Ike. And on stage right, there were several small round tables. Seated at the tables were the other tribute performers and their friends. I smiled when I looked and saw Nate, Carrie and Gerald sitting up there onstage watching the show. This brilliant theatrical choice allowed the audience in the theater to watch an audience on the stage while they both watched the show. But it was clear to me that everyone's eyes were squarely on Ike at center stage when he sang Hank's words. He wore the close-fitting, dark plum western suit I bought for him a few years ago on eBay. He had on his black felt cowboy hat, a pair of black shoes (with white socks of course), and sunglasses. He looked like a cross between Marty Robbins and Hank Williams Jr, and when he sang into the mic, he looked like a damned star- and he sounded like one too. Now, it may seem that I am waxing poetic, but I rarely get to see our singer from the audience's vantage point- especially in such a perfect setting. In short, he blew me (and everybody else) away.

A few hours later, our own show was an energetic, albeit chaotic triumph. We hadn't played together in nearly two weeks, and it took a little effort to keep all four wheels on the ground. But the audience loved it, and the 90 minute set seemed to go by in a blink. The next morning, I was startled awake by Gerald at the early hour of 11:30am. My watch alarm had been set to go off at 9. But I quickly realized that I had set it for pm instead of am. Gerald said, in his infinite patience and sing-songy accent, "no wearies Phillip, tek yor tyme...havacuppatea". He grabbed up my instrument cases and shuffled up the hallway, stopping briefly to wake up Betse (who had forgotten to set her alarm), and Nate (who didn't even have an alarm). A half hour later, we were headed toward Glasgow. This van was much more spacious than Gerald's airport shuttle loaner. There was a locked storage area in the back where we securely stowed all our gear. And in the center, there were three bucket seats facing forward, and three bucket seats facing backward. On all sides, thick black drapes hung which served to divide us from Gerald, as well as obscuring any light or view that might be coming into the windows. Stepping inside felt like stepping inside a gothic stagecoach.

Soon we arrived in Glasgow, and Gerald mercifully dropped us off at our hotel to allow us plenty of time to rest up and eat something before our show that evening. Our gig location was "The Tall Ship", docked in the Glasgow harbor. Gerald picked us up from the hotel and it was just a short drive until we could see the three-story masts peeking over some harbor buildings. This 19th-century fully masted steel-hulled cargo ship apparently spent years carrying loads of bat guano from South America to the western United States, the UK and other places where the potent fertilizer was in demand. For many years, The ship was operated by a Scottish company, but was sold to the Spanish navy after WWII. She then fell into serious disrepair, before a contingency of Scottish seafaring enthusiasts got together, raised enough money to buy her back and spent countless more hours and money to make her seaworthy again. They then had her towed back to Glasgow, where she now resides as a tourist attraction, permanently chained to the dock. We parked and loaded our gear up the ramp and then down into the hold. As I walked around, I realized that this would be one of the most unusual places we would ever play. Gerald had been setting up the sound gear while we were at the hotel, so we had only to open our cases, tune up, make a few microphone adjustments, and were ready to play. We had about an hour to kill, so Nate went with Gerald to go pick up some pizzas, while Betse, Carrie, Ike and I all played a sailor's ring toss game outside on the dock.

For the second night of our tour, the crowd attendance was really good. In fact, they began lining up (or queuing, as the they say here), before our sound check, and by the time we returned to change into our suits, nearly every seat was full. Our UK booking agent, Loudon Temple introduced us and we were off to the races. The crowd gave us a lot of encouragement as we played a tight, well-paced two sets of Wilders goodies. After the show, Loudon took us down another flight of stairs into the vast cargo hold of the ship. Looking up from the very bottom into the enormous space, I could imagine myself as a turn-of-the-century sailor, sent down to inspect the integrity of the hold when suddenly I'm buried alive by 1000 tons of bat shit.

stay tuned...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Scotland: Part One

I'm sitting in our dressing room behind the Infamous Spiegeltent in Edinburgh, Scotland listening to the soothing sounds of someone playing an accordion nearby. It is noon here, and the Spiegeltent staff are just now coming to work after a long and late opening night. I am taking advantage of a free wifi connection on sight, while my band mates catch up on some sleep back at our flat.

We are now 5 days into our third tour of Scotland. So much has happened already. Ike, accompanied by his wife, Carrie, flew over to Edinburgh over a week ago to take a vacation in the northern highlands. Betse, Nate and I flew to Newark, NJ on Thursday morning, then prepared ourselves for an 8 hour layover that quickly turned into 11 grueling hours once Continental Airlines got through with us. We boarded the cramped aircraft around 1am, then settled in for the six-hour flight to the UK.

The Wilders airport/flying experience really deserves a blog of it's own. But I will sum up this particular flight by saying that we all looked like cadavers when we spilled out into the airport. It was now after 1pm in Edinburgh, and we had been in airports or flying for over 24 hours.

For those who haven't had the pleasure of travel to the United Kingdom, I'll tell you that before you get to claim your luggage, you must first go through customs. The first couple of times we did this, it was a little nerve racking. I mean, they could easily deny us entry if they wanted to- and then what? But, we've grown used to this process by now, and the Scottish customs agent was quite friendly as she looked over our paperwork. She asked where we were playing, and then double-checked the Fringe Festival guide for our name. Our listing on the Spiegeltent schedule was more than enough to corroborate our story, and she let us pass into the UK without further delay. We grabbed up our luggage (all of which arrived with no problem), and headed out into a classic Scottish midday sun shower. Scotland reminds me a lot of Juneau, Alaska in that it seems to rain constantly, but never enough to cause you to get truly wet. And after a few days, you don't even really notice it anymore.

We were greeted by our illustrious driver/tour manager Gerald Roche. I looked back into the blog archive to see if I've ever written about Gerald and, grossly, I have not. Gerald actually deserves an entire blog entry of his own too. Maybe I'll post a full description next week once I've lived with him long enough for me to describe him with the color and detail that he so richly deserves. Anyway, Gerald helped us with our bags and cases into the parking lot and then to the car (borrowed from a friend), which he brought to fetch us from the airport. All of you folks crying about the high price of gas prices in the US should know that gas in Scotland is now averaging around 3 British pounds....PER LITER! (you do the math)... This is the reason why Gerald borrowed his friend's fuel-efficient car, instead of bringing a gas-guzzling van. The only problem came when we tried to load all our crap into the tiny vehicle. It was minivan-ish, but SMALL. We tried several configurations, finally settling on the only one that allowed all four of us to actually get inside the car. Betse and I held onto a suitcase balanced on top of the bass case, and I shaped myself into a human comma, hunching forward with the top of the banjo case filling the space where my head should have been.

Luckily it was only a 40 mile drive to Perth. With the promise of serenity and rest waiting for us at our hotel, we endured the discomfort. In fact, both Betse and I slipped into a light sleep once we were on the highway. But suddenly, during an evasive maneuver that Gerald was required to make, the suitcase that neither of us were holding any longer, shifted and hit Betse squarely on the head- trapping her for a moment until she shoved it off with a groan. The phrase "rude awakening" was never more appropriately coined. More to come...