April 10th Portland
Cirque de Soleil was doing exhibitions in the square outside our hotel, doing the thing where the climb up a long ribbon, wrapping themselves in it, and then come down in amazing ways. Some of the the troupe was staying in the same hotel.
The next day about noon I took in the Saturday Market, even though it was really Sunday. I got there just as The Supa Dupa Marimba Band was finishing its set. I arrived as the big marimba played a bass solo. It was pulsing jam band music played on homemade marimbas with PVC pipe for resonators, a beautiful woody sound. It’s great to take in different kinds of shows when you’re out playing on tour. Freshens the palette.
We’d checked into the hotel here right after the Vancouver show, and when I woke up, I wanted to find a place Kevin Burke used to take me to - the Bijou Café. The didn’t have the snapper hash like I remembered, but I settled for the oyster hash which will stick with you through the day. I crossed the street and scored the proper Knopfler approved stage shirts – dark solid color cowboy shirts by Rockmount. The next day I ate entirely too much sirloin hash with a poached egg on top, while visiting with Luke Reynolds. We traded CD’s of our new records. He’s getting down into some great stuff.
The padding they roll out onto the stage surface has a smell remarkably similar to Marijuana. Just thought I’d tell you that. Also, Richard Bennett informed me that the Simpson’s comics and TV show takes place in a fictionalized Springfield Oregon, right next door. Cartoonist Matt Groening's dad is named Homer and the parallels are many.
12th Day off in San Francisco
Back in the mid 1970’s, Durfee Day helped start the Telluride Bluegrass Festival along with several other young new residents of that Colorado mountain town. I’ve been playing that festival every year since ’75 and of course have known Durfee all that time. But visiting the way you do in the frenzy of a party with ten thousand other people, you may never really get to know that person. That deficiency in our long friendship got a shot in the arm today. Durfee picked me up and drove me all over the outer bay, telling me the history of the Presidio, from it’s Spanish military beginnings, through it’s American military era, into the present, when new businesses have transformed the area while retaining it’s original look. We lunched on Thai noodles and then went across the Golden Gate to Marin, and the Marine Mammal Rescue Center. We saw sea lions and seals being rehabilitated on the site of another former defense installation.
I had a CD reference copy of my new recording Chicken & Egg, and we listened as we drove around. I would tell Durfee about who was playing, how the song came about, and he would tell me the story of what we were looking at. At about 5;30pm, we headed back to the city, to the home of Kate Brislin and Jody Stecher, fine singers and players of traditional music. There we listened to a reference copy of their new CD, and listened to mine one more time. We all ate Burmese food – Jody is a connoisseur of ethnic food - at a neighborhood place, and then Durfee took me back to the hotel for an early night.
Before my outing with Durfee, I send a signed lithograph of Mark and his guitars to Ronnie McCoury to give to Alan Bartram, who plays bass with the Del McCoury band, for his birthday. The new Del CD features Mark’s song “Prairie Wedding” mostly because it was Alan’s idea. Mark has been mentioning Del’s version in his intro to the song each night, saying, “If you haven’t checked them out, do it. They’re the real thing.”
I lunched on Mediterranean food with Warren Hellmann, the very generous benefactor to the American and Bluegrass world, who puts on the giant high quality and absolutely free festival Hardly Strictly Bluegrass every fall. We compared our family backgrounds. His ancestor started the Pony Express, and later bought the bank called Wells Fargo. When he’s not reinvesting the large sums of money he inherited, he plays old time music in the Wronglers, rides horses, and skis.
The show was great tonight. The Paramount is a lovely theater. My Mongrel Music booking agents came and enjoyed it. They could resent my doing this tour, which keeps them from making their normal commissions, but they know I’ll pay them back in the coming months. Thanks to Brad Madison and the Mongrels. I wonder if the Mongrels would book the Wranglers.
14th Santa Rosa
Dr Phil has a fund for music education for young people, and a group of these young music students came to watch the sound check. In appreciation, they gave him a little Fender nylon string guitar with their signatures on it. Mike McGoldrick ended up taking it with him to his hotel room over the coming weeks. He’s learning guitar at a lightning fast pace.
This is the first of three casino gigs we’ll play. The casinos give prime seats to big spenders as an incentive. This one is on an Indian reservation south of LA.
Mark runs a tight ship on his tour. There’s plenty of help to make everything run smoothly, and the labor is divided among 20 some experts in various parts of the production. While there is wine and beer back stage, nobody drinks it until the encore and after, preferring to keep the focus on the job at hand as tight as possible. Let me say that Mike and I are the exceptions. When the show is about half over, we both leave the stage for a few songs, and have a glass of wine during the interlude. Tonight though, my brother-in-law Rich Moore and friend Casey Boone were at the show and we met beforehand for a drink. Mike, Rich, Casey, and I walked to a taproom on the corner by the theater and who should we meet but four or five of the crew. We all raised eyebrows and then raised a toast to each other.
I liked my room so much, I didn’t leave it until we had to go to sound check.
Tonight we play “Farewell To Bonaparte”, a song featuring Mike’s Ullieann Pipes. We had rehearsed in London in C, but tonight Mark decided to bring it up to D, and we ran through it on sound check. Much easier and full of nice double stops on the fiddle in the new key. But when we started in on stage, I forgot and stayed in C. Little clams like this seem large when you’re playing in this band. In Eugene, I had botched the words to “Sailing To Philadelphia” which was worse.
My dear friends Dave and Karen Lamb, from Telluride Music Company, on vacation between tourist seasons, came to the show. They’ve seen me perform in about every configuration over the years, so they weren’t gonna miss this.
It was a bigger theater – seating about 3500 - and more modern than most of the places we’ve been playing. With the amount of gear that gets loaded onto the side of the stage, and the needs of the lighting and sound systems, the newer places have more space and are easier for the crew to deal with. There’s three wardrobe cases, and someone to press your clothes, espresso machines, and of course catering, hired out to a different company each night. In the production room, Paul Crockford, Kevin Hopgood, and Tim Hook are working through tonight’s ticket manifests, guest lists, and of course planning the next day’s assault. Yes it’s a rock tour, but wilder rituals that might have ruled in the 70’s and 80’s have been replaced my massages, yoga mats and naps. There’s no scene making in the dressing room. Glenn takes his upright bass to a room away from the rest, and works on his technique. About an hour before show, there’s a group vocal warm-up, and Matt Rollings makes a ginger tea for all the singers. Pretty soon Kerry the monitor engineer comes with the in-ear headphones, and we suit up for the show. We stand just to the side of the stage and pat each other on the backs, and listen as Crockford tells the crowd to try to enjoy the show without taking too many pictures or videos. When we hear a Louvin Brothers song played on the house pre-show music, we know show time is close. Next is a Howlin’ Wolf piece, followed by a Junior Parker thing. Then house lights go down, the crowd cheers and we’re off and running.
19th day off In Santa Monica
Mike and I rented one-speed bikes and rode up and down the beach in Santa Monica. I went in after a while and he checked out Venice beach to the south. People on balance bars, hanging rope rings, and trampolines, running, biking, selling stuff. Our hotel is just to the south of the Santa Monica pier. California is the end of the continent and it seems like lots of fads start there and then they might never really die. It’s a people watching paradise.
Ry Cooder picked me up and we went to wash his wife’s car, and ate some tacos. We went to a music store. I needed some bouzouki strings. But I got to discuss the fine points of Fender solid bodies with a hero and his trusted salesman. I kinda wanted one of the Jazzmasters. Pie in my future sky is to get us to play together sometime. We met at Mike Seeger’s memorial in December. I always thought of Ry as a rock guitar guy, but he’s really a folky, not unlike Mark. He grew up right there in Santa Monica and has been there the whole time doing his thing. I’m digging his latest CD which is called I Flathead. I asked if he had a hot rod or an old Cadillac, but he said he drives an older Forerunner mostly. However, he does have an ice cream truck I’d like to see. It’s painted with a mural of Chavez Ravine, the subject of another recent recording of the same name.
This was the big night for quests. It was a rare night where we stayed close to the venue, and it’s my former hometown, so there was a scene at the hotel bar after the show. Mark was gracious to my many friends. My sister Mollie, Steve Ramsey, and Vicky Kerr, Meredith Carson, Rocky Cohen, Scott Mattes, Pete and Joan Wernick, and Nick and Helen Forster all came by. Craig Ferguson and Steve Syzmanski from Telluride Bluegrass came to the show but I missed them. Mike commented on how everywhere I go we meet someone from Telluride. It’s a small town but people from there get around. But the people he’s referring to are really attendees, not residents, of the Bluegrass festival that I’ve played every June for most of my life.
On the flight to Kansas City, Glenn shows me a review of Dierks Bentley’s new bluegrass CD “Up On The Ridge” in the USA Today. It mentions the song I co-wrote and helped record, called “You’re Dead To Me.”
I was impressed with the renovation on the downtown here. The theater was beautiful and venerable, though cramped for the crew. Barbeque at catering was some pretty strong pulled pork. I visit with Winfield festival friends Orin Friesen, his son Ryan, and Pat Ahern before the show. After the show, in the plane headed to Chicago, Erin, Brian, and Diane had scored 11 racks of wonderful ribs, and served one each to the members of the band and the managers. We all happily waddled off the plane in Chicago. If only we could have stayed and heard some KC jazz in an after hours club.
22nd St Louis
Another friends and family day for me. My old music buddy Gary Hunt and his son, and my geneticist friend Richard Jefferson came the show. Also my cousins Ed, Scully, and Jamie and their spouses and some of their kids came. Last but not least, my sons Jackson and Joel made the trip from Nashville. After a late start and a traffic jam, they arrived just before show time and I got a short visit with them. And they got to meet their Saint Louis cousins. The show that night was totally different for me. Just having my boys there lifted things up. I was proud dad and I think they were proud of me. Jackson told me the guitarist in Ben Fold’s band came into Bongo Java in Nashville where he works, and he told him I had snagged the holy grail of sideman gigs. I have to agree with him. Joel told his mom later that he and Jackson’s friends call 70’s and 80’s music “dad rock.” He said the term took on new meaning after seeing that show. Mark noted that that we’re all indeed “Rockin Daddies.”
Kit arrives from Nashville this morning. Yay!
Two friends from Iowa City, Kurt and Kim Friese, are coming to the show and we meet them for a late lunch. After the show we four head to hotel bar and have a few drinks with Mark and the band. We’re in a room adjacent to the main bar, with a little rope dividing it off. Pete McKay watches to see who’s entering the enclave and rises when necessary to keep it private.
There’s heavy fog and at first it looks like we might drive to the gig from Chicago. Pete and Diane move our lunches from the plane to the cars, but then the pilots get word we can fly, and everyone and the lunches move back to the plane.
The people in this town are into it from the first note. They like their beer and their brats, and they like to move to the music. A number of them are up and dancing from the first note. The catering here was above average.
Pieta Brown and Bo Ramsey, who’ve been opening every show, have a new song tonight that Pieta’s written over the last week. It’s about her listening to a Dire Straits cassette over and over as a young girl, and how now she’s part of the same music in a way. She dedicates it “to Mark Knopfler and his beautiful band.” Bo is another guitar hero who I know mostly from his playing on Greg Brown’s records. (Greg is Peita’s dad.) Bo and Pieta have been traveling by car this whole time, with a few exceptions. It’s a lot of work and they’re a little haggard, but enjoying the experience. Her new CD “One and All” is on Red House records. Their live sound is an easy loping groove with nice melodies from Pieta’s voice and Bo’s Stratocaster. I’m in need of a lyric sheet though, because I have trouble hearing them from the side of the stage.
Back in Chicago, Kit and I eat breakfast outside at an umbrella-covered table in the rain. The place is called “The Original Pancake House.” It’s kinda funny but also romantic.
It’s another family night for me in Minneapolis, with seven of Kit’s family in attendance. We meet in a bar adjacent to the theater for snacks and a glass of wine. I’m heading back to the backstage when I spy Leo Kottke and Sam Hudson at a nearby table. I invite them backstage. Mark knows Sam from his performances on Prairie Home Companion, but has never met Leo. Mark happens to be in the canteen eating when we walk in. Mark and Leo compare humorous experiences while touring in France and Italy. During the show, Mark reminisces about his second performance on the PHC, when host Garrison Keillor told him, “You should just move here. We could get you a house.”
Back to Chicago after the gig. I take my Dick Wilson fiddle with me this time. It’s gotten knocked around a little and I want to play with bridge placement, and perhaps have the sound post adjusted. It’s sounding a little thinner than at the start of the tour.
It’s a day off and Kit and I head first to a violin shop for some consultation on the Wilson fiddle. I had moved the bridge back a little toward the tailpiece, and the violin guy tells me it’s about right. Then we head a few blocks north to the Art Institute. It’s a sunny day and later we take the El to Wrigley field for a Cubs game, meeting some of the Knopfler group there. It’s cold though, and we’re gone by the 7th inning.
At one point Kit and I are walking Chicago’s streets when I remember a time in October of 1976 when I was passing through here. Late at night after sitting in with some friends at a folk club, I was a little lost, driving too fast through Old Town, when I ran a stop sign and crashed into a car coming from my right. The two cars skidded into a third car that was parked on the street. My car and the car on the right were totaled, and the third car had some pretty bad damage as well. It was about 10 at night. Hearing the crash a guy came down from his second floor apartment to see what had happened. His car was the third car. After the police came and did their report and the cars were towed away, the guy from the apartment asked me where I was going now. I said I didn’t really have a place to go. So this guy - he was maybe six years older than me and I think his first name was Phil - invited me to stay at his place. As the cars crashed he’d been eating a late meal (with his wife and brother I think), and he shared his food and a few beers, and in the morning he helped me get to the salvage place where my car had been towed and helped me get to the bus station. I was headed to Minneapolis where Kit had started art school. It’s an embarrassing story, but now I sure wish I could find the guy that took me in that night. I want to thank him, repay him in some way of course, but I also want to compare notes on what’s happened in our lives since then. I know it’s a long shot, but does anyone reading this know that guy?
27th Ann Arbor
Kit heads to her flight to Nashville and I get ready for the flight to Detroit.
Mike and Carol Kemnitzer of Nugget Mandolins come to the show. The 1st string on my Ome banjo has been popping out if the bridge slot. Nugget files the slot deeper and it’s all better. Maintenance week. Kevin has mounted a new Baggs stick-on pickup on my spare mandolin (Davidson) and it sounds pretty good.
Mark’s been having trouble with a pinched nerve, and he plays the show tonight while sitting in a chair. It seems like he plays some cool new stuff on the guitar jams. After the show we fly to Toronto.
I found a nice funky diner for breakfast and then took a long walk around town. Our posh rooms have electric mirrors again here. I can’t work out how to open the curtains. Mike tells me later there’s a button on the bedside table that operates them electrically.
We fly over Niagara Falls but didn’t slowly turn. Some fans are waiting at the airport with Dire Straights LP’s to sign. The gig is at a local university.
Tonight we play in Massey Hall, a venue I’ve known about for a long time but never played. Back in the 70’s I had a record called “The Worlds Greatest Jazz Concert” featuring Charlie Parker, Dizzie Gillespie, Max Roche, Bud Powell, and Charles Mingus. It’s a great tape from later in Parker’s career, and he apparently showed up with a borrowed white plastic sax. Those guys are five of the acknowledged architects of Bebop, but it was rare for them all to play together at one time. It was eerie thinking about them hanging out in the same dressing rooms we were using. I’ll bet their catering wasn’t as good as the lamb chops we had tonight. The crowd tonight is totally charged and we have a great time.
In the morning, I learn that Ken Burns wants to use a recording of mine in a PBS series on Prohibition. Cool! The piece was released on a Windham Hill compilation called “Appalachian Picking Society” and the track is named “Art Stamper” in honor of late Kentucky fiddle hero Art, who is much missed on the scene. Art liked to take a drink of shine now and again and would be amused at the context.
This is my first visit to Montreal, but I do have a few friends coming: Teresa and Bob, who I met at Greyfox and again at a show near Ottawa. Bob gave me an All Blacks jersey last summer at Greyfox, advising me to wear it in New Zealand to break the ice with the locals. I get to tell him tonight that the jersey worked out well.
After the show we fly to Logan airport in Boston. When we’ve flown international before – to Vancouver and back, and to Toronto and Buffalo and back to Toronto – a customs agent has come on board our plane on arrival and processed us in a few minutes. Logan has more involved security though. The American guys get through quickly but the British guys take a little longer.
May 1st Mashantucket
Leaving Logan, we go through regular security screening like you have for commercial air travel, though we have no boarding passes to show. It’s another casino gig tonight, and my friends Kathy Goode and Louis Kaplan come down to see the show. Also in attendance are Chuck and Deb Wentworth who help put on both the Grey Fox and the Rhythm and Roots festivals. Their house was flooded several weeks ago and they’re still cleaning up, so it’s nice that they can get away tonight.
Meanwhile, we’re getting reports of the terrible flooding in Nashville. Richard is on the phone backstage with his wife and learns there’s a foot of water in his basement. His wife and son and friends have moved the instruments up, but he doesn’t know about his extensive LP collection. I call Kit later and learn that the roads are flooded and she can’t get from our place outside of town to our main house. There’s no flooding where she is. Several hours later my son Joel texts me to say there’s no water in the basement. We are very lucky that our place is on a hilltop.
May 2 DC
I have dinner with my brother Jim, cousin Tony Ames, and friends Gordon and Pat Cleveland. Tonight’s show might be my brother’s first rock concert. I see them sitting in the audience as we bow before the encores. I raise my glass of wine in toast to them. When the lights come up at the end of the last encore and I look and they’re gone. Beating the crowd out like true professionals.
Mike brings a flute and I bring a mandolin and a fiddle on the plane. There’s an Irish tunes session planned tomorrow night at the Burren in Somerville. I tell some of the roadies to come by, and also tell the plane crew. It’ll be the only night off so far when everyone will be in the same town.
May 3 day off in Boston
Email work in my room and a long walk by the river Charles again today. The session at the Burren is wonderful. Piper Paddy Keenan and fiddler George Keith are there. Kevin, Alfie, and Cod from the road crew are there. And so are Brian, Diane, and Steve from the plane crew. Out of their uniforms, I can’t place who they are at first, thinking they’re some Irish musicians I’ve met somewhere. So the bus crew met the plane crew tonight, which never happens. Pub manager and fine flute player Pete Malloy has been told by owner Tommy McCarthy to take care of us. I keep trying to buy rounds but they won’t let us pay. The only other folks in the pub are friends and one transvestite who apparently comes every night and sits at the bar and writes in a notebook. It’s a great night of music. Paddy is in fine form.
May 4 Boston
I visit with young mandolinist Dominick Leslie in the hotel lobby and with Matt Glaser outside the theater. Matt is a professor at Berklee and Dominick is one of his students. Matt gives me two CD’s of Mose Alison recordings, saying he wants to make a Bluegrass recording of the songs and wants me to sing them. After the show we fly to Teterboro NY, and then take a car ride to our hotel in NYC.
May 5 Red Bank NJ
I get a call from my friend Andy Kartoun, a fine Bluegrass musician who lives a few blocks from my hotel. He’s going to meet Ronnie McCoury for lunch. Ronnie’s in town for a David Letterman taping with Willie Nelson. While we’re waiting for Ronnie, here comes Riley Baugus and his wife Roz. Riley is also playing with Willie today on TV and tomorrow at a theater. Soon we’re all sitting in a nearby Italian place, comparing notes. After the David Letterman taping, Ronnie has to bolt to Connecticut to play with Dierks Bentley, and he’ll miss Willie’s show tomorrow because he’s playing with Dierks, so Willie has hired Brooklyn resident Chris Thile as a sub. It’s nice to know we mandolin players are in demand. As we get back to Ronnie’s hotel, Jim Lauderdale arrives with his guitar and a garment bag. He’s also part of Willie’s band and the truth is Jim Lauderdale is everywhere!
Tonight we drive 3.5 hours to Red Bank New Jersey for a gig at the Count Basie theater. Count Basie was born here and played his first gigs here, playing piano for silent films. I read that Duke Ellington’s drummer Sonny Greer also comes from Red Bank. Bill Basie had wanted to be a drummer, but since Sonny was already doing that, he went to the piano. Thanks for the nudge Sonny.
After we get back to the hotel, Mike and I head to Cassidy’s, an Irish bar down the street. Mike discovers that bartender Donnellen is from the village where Mike’s dad grew up.
May 6 NYC
Today Mike and I went to Ground Zero and then to Greenwich Village for lunch at a nice Italian restaurant. While we were waiting for our food, I saw Bill Frizzell walking across the street. I yelled, “Bill!” and he looked up and squinted in my direction. He came over for a quick visit. Turns out he’s playing nearby for the next few weeks at the Village Vanguard. He invited us to the show, but we’d miss it as we were playing our show that night. Later we went to Umanov Guitars in the Village, and Rudi’s Guitars in Soho. Mike wants to try different small-bodied Martin guitars before we see what Martin guitar rep Dick Boak brings to today’s soundcheck.
The “band only” rule in the band dressing room gets bent a bit when Dick and a friend bring in various guitars - OO-18V, OM-18, OOO-28V, and OOO-18A. Both road manager Pete McKay and Mike want to bring a guitar back to England with them, so Dick has hand picked some from the factory in Nazareth PA. Pete picked the OO-18V, and as Mike wanted the same one, Dick says he’ll look for another in the next few days and would try to get it to Mike before he leaves the USA. After they decided on their guitars, Mark said he pay for them!
I lust after the OO-18A. “A” stands for Authentic, meaning they’re made exactly the same way as they did in 1937. Ebony trust rod, hide glue, the whole thing. It sounds as good or better than my trusty1937 OO-18. The icing on the cake is the beautiful sunburst finish. But I hear the voice that says, “Step away from the guitar.”
I watch some of Pieta and Bo’s set from the mixing console. Sven, one of the sound techs, has a laptop that he uses to analyze and adjust the frequency spectrum coming each speaker stack in the hall. It’s pretty sophisticated stuff. I tell him everybody on this tour seems to be an expert at what they do, and that sometimes I wonder why I’m here. He smiles, shrugs, and says he feels the same way.
The gig was at the beautiful United Palace Theater, the home of Reverend Ike, and still owned by his congregation. It was exciting playing in the Big Apple in that sold out theater in Spanish Harlem. The crowd was wonderful. I choke up a little when singing “Sailing To Philadelphia” on the line where the character of Charlie Mason sings – “This baker’s boy from the north country would join the royal society.” I’m thinking to myself, look how far I’ve come since playing folk masses in Wheeling.
After the show tonight I stayed behind to visit with my manager, Brad Hunt. It was a long wait for valet parking, and I talked for a while with mandolin and guitar maker John Monteleone. Mark has a song on the Get Lucky CD about John, and we played it tonight, and I think John was thrilled. Brad dropped me at the hotel about midnight. From there, Mike and I and my friend Andy Kartoun head downtown to Paddy Reilly’s where we meet up with Joni Madden and other members of Cherish The Ladies. They’ve been playing a fundraiser for music education in Ireland, attended by Bill Clinton, and hosted by Bono. There’s a session lead by the venerable fiddler Tony DeMarco and piper Cillian Vallely. We get back to the hotel about 3:45.
May 7 Philadelphia
Having looked at lots of guitars in the last few days, I peek in the pawnshop next to the theater. There’s a totally beat Gibson ES-150, with the Charlie Christian pickup, and a Yamaha 12 string that needs a strip of new tuners. I’m still thinking about that Martin sunburst guitar. Pieta Brown is looking for a banjo, but there’s nothing in this shop for her.
May 8 Atlantic City
In the morning, Mike and I visit the Museum of Modern Art. Performance artist Marina Abromovitch is in residence, and films of her work fill most of the top floor. Wild stuff with live models, several of them naked. Thanks to Andy Kartoun for the VIP passes.
Another casino gig tonight, and I take advantage of the massage service backstage. Dr Dot has therapists all over the east coast, and I’d had a massage through her company at the Boston show. On the way back, we all agree that was the flattest audience on the tour so far. It’ll be better tomorrow in Albany. After the show Richard, Mike, and I head down the street to Cassidy’s. As we left for the gig today we’d seen a sign outside saying “Traditional Irish Music Tonight.” We arrive after the musicians stop playing, but it turns out Mike knows the piper, Danny McLaughlin, from his hometown of Manchester. Mike learned from Pete’s uncle, Peter Carbury, and young Danny had been inspired to play the pipes by hearing Mike play long ago. Guitarist Pete Ford knows my music and we share a few pints and, later, a few tunes.
May 9 Albany
In the morning, I visit with my cousin Kristin, her husband Bob, and their baby Elijah. I hadn’t seen him since he was a newborn. He’s up walking now, quite the big bruiser.
Tonight is my last show of the tour. Before the show in Albany, I meet bluegrass friends and Greyfox attendees Robert and Janice Lugo, Ruth Oxenberg and husband Rob Schumer, and Jane and Happy Traum. Today is Happy’s 70th birthday. As Pieta starts her set, I knock on the door of one of the crew buses. Guitar tech TC invites me in. Fellow guitar tech Alfie, and monitor mixer Kerry are sitting there watching a program called “The Wildlife of The Scottish Highlands” or something on the satellite TV. Alfie says, “Quick! Change it to porn, we’ll get a bad reputation!” I say thanks to them for all their help. Later before the show, everyone says they’ll miss me. I’ll miss them too.
We exchange few hugs on the curb when we reach the hotel in NYC, but
There’s no end of tour party. Most of the guys are taking early flights home, so they go off to pack.
Everyone has left when I make another quick trip to MOMA, checking some stuff I missed the other day, and taking a longer look at the Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera room. On my afternoon flight home, I sit next to a young PFC returning to Fort Campbell. I tell him I appreciate his service and wish him luck. He’s heading to Afghanistan in a few weeks.
Kit picks me up at the airport and we have chicken and dumplings. It’s great to be home.
Tuesday May 11
I like having coffee in my room without room service for the first time in 5 weeks.
I weigh myself. I’ve gained five pounds on the tour, which is no surprise.
Four meals a day. Strawberry shortcake anyone?
On this tour I learned:
That an opening act slot is good if you’re young and strong,
How to play less and listen to the whole thing,
How not to smoke or drink before a gig,
Not to eat food just because it’s there.
There’s lots of ways to prepare for a tour. As I prepare to perform my new stuff, I’m aware of having to know it backwards and forwards, that knowing the lyrics is part of it, but also knowing the arrangements and the solos really helps too. It’s a lot to take on, and it’s better if you can take it on early.
If, having brushed with the big time, will I do business a new way?
Can I service my audience better?
Do I like in ear monitors?
Do I want to fastidiously arrange my music, or do I prefer my old way of living dangerously?
Last night I played at Saint Andrews in the Square in Glasgow. Thanks to Joan and Jimmy Moon for the place to wash up and catch a few hours of sleep. I had tried to fly here from Nashville three days before, only to be turned back because of volcanic ash. The next chance to fly was night before last, so I had to cancel a show in Stornaway, on the Isle of Lewis. I hated to miss that. But you can’t argue with a volcano or with the winds that blow the ash clouds in your flight’s path. And as my touring partner, Orcadian Kris Drever, said regarding the glitch, “It’s kind of refreshing. For once it’s nobody’s fault!”
Just before the show we got word from John McCusker that Mark Knopfler’s band would be flying to Glasgow after their show in Belfast, and we made plans to meet them for a drink. Kris and I met Donald Shaw, Jane Skinner, and Bella Hardy at an old church, now a pub, called Oron Mor. Soon enough, here comes Richard Bennett, Mike McGoldrick, and John McCusker, with his shining, newly shaved head. Kris and my tour and Mark’s tour will continue to weave around one another this week, but this was a surprise intersection. Richard has shown John my old Telecaster part on Hill Farmer. Sorry Mike, I know you wanted that job, but you’re already playing John’s cittern part, plus John’s got seniority in that band. I gave Mike some advance copies of “Chicken & Egg” to give to the rest of the band and to my guitar tech Kevin Rowe. Great to see those guys. It’s only been ten days but I missed them.
This morning, waiting with the luggage at Glasgow’s Central station, while Kris bought tickets to Huddersfield, I accidentally kicked over my coffee. If you’ve ever been to that train station, you know it’s got a gently sloping white tile floor. The coffee drifted about 50 feet north in diverging streams before I noticed. As I looked down and chuckled, I thought, “I’m no longer inside the Mark Knopfler tour bubble.” We’re now on route to the Shepley Spring Festival, where we’ll be out standing in a field. Who cares about the guy in today’s news who invented synthetic DNA, I’m in show business!
May 24, 2010
Impromptu party at Kit’s and my apartment
It was a wake, or a gathering before a wake. Same difference. A motley crew of musos like at Mike Seeger’s memorial. Some people were whipping up a pizza from unlikely leftovers. I found some sort of Mexican cheese on a shelf just as the cooks were saying, we only lack mozzarella. So I handed them this big log and the pie was soon in the oven.
A little tiny mini-man, bald headed, was sitting in someone’s lap singing sorta show tunes, very loud, very schmaltzy. Lots of folks singing along and doing it well. At some point the music tapered down, during which time, both Stuart Duncan and John Hutchison appeared. They were noodling out some interesting stuff, not really any one song, but they were developing something on guitar and banjo. Stuart was using his palm pedals but had mounted them on the side of the banjo, back by the tailpiece hook on the flat of the rim. Sorta under his arm pit. But he had a way of working them while also picking. John now had a solid body guitar plugged it into an amp I didn’t recognize. A no name model he said he’d brought. I was lying on the couch with a quilt over me. Cold. Thinking, Kit will be getting home soon, but I hope this can go on to its conclusion. They were really getting into some weird sequence with the solid body and the palm pedal banjer. Stuart needed to sit on the couch and so I was getting up, and wondering, can I boot up the pro tools and capture this? The rig was there in the big living room.
Then I woke up.
My friend Bill Hinkley is dying and I spoke with his wife Judy Larsen just before I went to sleep. I was also eating a thing called a “parmo”, which the folks at the Georgian theater recommended for late night food after the show. Here in England they’ve done a study of what kind of dreams you tend to have while sleeping with a stomach full of different cheeses. For instance, cheddar apparently tends to breed dreams of celebrities. Anyway, this parmo is something they make around here only, and I’m a sucker for the local dish so Kris and I ordered two larges. They take flattened chicken breasts, bread them and deep-fry them. Then they arrange a couple in a deep dish pizza pan, and spread béchamel sauce on them, then cover with a mixture of cheeses. The name would suggest Parmesan, but instead there was mild cheddar and some other white cheese. Then they put the pan in the pizza oven. There’s the option of putting French fries (chips here) and peppers under the whole thing before they put the chicken in. Of course we got that option, not wanting to miss out. (Heck we hadn’t even been drinking, but there you go – musos after a gig, hungry, with limited choices.) As the parmos are cooking, I ask the man where he’s from. Turkey. Been here in Stockton on Tees for three years. As the parmos come out of the oven, here’s our cab, and we get them wrapped to go. The premier inn is across the river from town, and the only way o drive there is across a certain bridge, but when we get there, it’s closed down for construction. The workman tells Kris there’s a footbridge below we could drive across, but the cabby is doubtful. We opt to walk the quarter mile with the fiddle, guitar, bouzouki, mandolin, merch, and preamps, and of course the nice smelling parmos. Walking past the workmen, one yells, hey, what the f_ _ _k are you doing. You can’t cross here. We ignore them and make it back to the hotel. In my room we open the packages and realize neither of us is going t put a dent in our pies.
We’re watching the news when Dakota Dave Hull calls my cell phone to tell me Bill’s on his last legs, that he wanted to make sure I knew. I have known, but have not called since he went to hospice a few days ago. I really wanted to see him when I was in Minneapolis with Knopfler, but there was no time to break out of the tour bubble, and he couldn’t get around to the show. We have talked a few times in the last two months. He knew then that his future was shorter than he wished, though he wouldn’t mention it directly. A true Minnesotan – actually he’s from Saint Louis, but he’s lived there since 1970 - he would never call attention to himself. Anyway we’d sorta said goodbye both of the last times we talked. But I want to call today. Judy said around 1pm he rallies a little and might be able to respond some. I think mostly he communicates with his eyes now People have been playing music for him, and there’s been so many at times they have to go outside the room, but the VA hospital folks have been good about all that. She said if someone makes a wrong chord or note, he’ll roll his eyes and everyone knows full well the master is commenting. Pop Wagner, Peter Ostroushko, Willy Murphy, the whole twin cities music community is there keeping him company.
I met Bill and Judy, along with several others from the Twin Cities music crowd, at Winfield KS in 1974. I’d just moved to Boulder. The people I was camping with never saw me that weekend because I was always playing tunes with the MPLS juggernaut. I remember Bill made the second round of the flat-picking contest by playing “O’Carolan’s Concerto” on guitar. Norman Blake was a judge that year and took notice. In the campground, Peter O was the flash mando player, but Bill was the guy who knew every tune, every song. You couldn’t stump him. Judy would grab her little Martin, as small as she is, and sing a saucy blues. But Bill became my guru. When I lived in MPLS for all of nine months, I went to Bill and Judy’s several times a week to pick. He was giving me lessons under the guise of just playing for fun. He’d play jazz, blues, irish, bluegrass – it didn’t matter. Then we’d listen to records – Rube Bloom singing “Blue Room” gave us a chuckle.
When Bill’s bluegrass band the Stringdrifters needed a bass player, I taped up my fingers and signed on. There was one epic trip to a gig in Fargo. Rod and John Bellville, the guitar and mandolin players, went in their car. Myself, banjo man Dixon Smith, and Bill went in his old Buick. It was snowy, maybe mid November. We took a long time getting there, and then we went to a Holiday Inn in the wrong town. We didn’t know how to find where the gig was. No cell phones then. Somehow we tracked down the info. It was almost too late to make it. The gig was supposed to pay well, and there was talk of chartering a plane. Buddy Holly freak Dixon would have none of that. We finally stumbled into the gig. There was hardly anyone there, some sorta corporate thing. But Rod and John were on stage playing already. We unpacked and joined em. Whenever we met since, Bill would marvel about that little episode. The whole time we drove, we listened to music on a hand held cassette player. Kinda indistinct with all the road noise, but we were into the music so much it didn’t matter.
John Hutchison, Stuart Duncan, and Bill Hinkley are some of my truest musical heroes.
May 25, 2010
On the train from Shipley to Carlisle, headphones on. Bless these Bose noise-canceling headphones. (Karan Casey and John Doyle, Martin Green Machine, Ry Cooder on the box.) Passing through West Yorkshire hills and dales under grey skies. The weather turned today, from muggy hot (so unusual here) to cold and threatening to rain. Stops at lovely spots with names like Settles, and Horton in Ribblesdale. (Here comes Ophelia Swing Band on the ipod. Linda Joseph playing bodice ripping fiddle.) From Carlisle, I take an express to Glasgow. Somehow I’ll meet up with Kit, who’s flight from Philadelphia has landed by now. (Mose Allison sings now.) We’ll drive up north, maybe to Ullapool, making our way to the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness. That’s Orkney. They want to see your passport when you board the ferry. Makes sense, Orkney ain’t really Britain, anymore than Shetland is. Maybe not really even Scotland. They never spoke Gaelic there. It was more of a Viking stronghold. (Musikas) Here’s the tea lady. Yay. I‘m Hungary! And thirsty. And sleepy. (That’s Richard Bennet now, “When Boy Meets Guitar”, with his “delicious” sound. Check his new record out; it’s called “Valley of the Sun.”) We’ve stopped at Dent. Yep, this is a local train folks.
I tried playing some music for Bill Hinkley on the phone last night. Judy didn’t answer, so Kris and I recorded a medley of “Per Spellman”, “The Ace and Deuce of Pipering” and “Sandy River Belle.” It shut off before we finished. Then I tried again, got voice mail again, so I sang a short version of “Lay Down Your Weary Tune.”
Leaving Garsdale now. People with rucksacks, hiking boots, wool and fleece. (Mark Schatz’s “Ice House”)
Then Judy called about 7am, 1am Minneapolis time. Bill’s on oxygen now, he was fussing and pulled the tube from his nose. I heard his voice in the background. Kind of a low growl. She put the phone to his ear and I tried to tell him. Tried. How do you tell your dying friend how much he means to you? I told him and I’ll tell you, he’s in every note I play.
(Kirkby Stephen depot. A couple more walking stick types board) (sister Mollie on the box.)
June 10, 2010
Well, I had a wonderful time with Kris Drever, singing with him especially. We rode the trains, you should have seen my train rig. Rolling suitcase with mandolin and fiddle strapped on to it, backpack on my back, and bouzouki case in my free hand.
Orkney was killer. Beautiful place. Gigs were either in the hotel (we could hear the bands playing from our room just above), or in the Stromness town hall a block away. The rolling hills are home to a very friendly local community. Standing stones with playful lambs around them, Saint Magnus Cathedral (skull and cross bones and run out hour glasses carved into tombstones), the Italian Chapel (built by WW II POW's from two Quonset huts, paint an cement – beautiful and moving), Scara Brae (well preserved Neolithic village), great lamb chops, and Orkney beer. Lau did a wonderful set and I really think those guys could rule at American Jam Band festivals. Kit and I drove all over the highlands on the way to and from the Islands. At the ferry in Thurso we met up with the New Rope String Band and Foghorn. Much jamming from then until the end of the return ferry trip.
But now I’m back in Nashville. Last night I played a set of the new “Chicken & Egg” material at the Station Inn with Stuart Duncan, Bryan Sutton, Mike Bub, and John Gardner. Sarah Jarosz and Noam Pikelney sat in. Wonderful. But I’ve had a bad cough and it’s become a bronchial infection. Got a scrip for antibiotics now, so I can hopefully heal up. Plus I have two Hot Rize gigs, tonight at the Station and tomorrow at Bonnaroo! I’ll let you know it turns out.
June 14, 2010
My voice got worse for the Hot Rize gig at the Station Inn, but I slogged my way through it. Slept that afternoon instead of rehearsing. Hate that. Ricky Skaggs got up and played mandolin and sang tenor for a few. After I visited with him and his wife Sharon White and her sister Cheryl and Cheryl’s husband Billy Paul.
Bonnaroo is an amazing city of scantily dressed music fans. Kit saw some painted but otherwise uncovered female breasts, but I missed them. It was hot and I heard yesterday that someone died of heat exhaustion on Sunday. We played under a big tent and it went pretty well. Then we went to the Sonic stage and did a very sketchy Red Knuckles set where the tech was a shambles. The highlight of that set though was Hunter Berry’s fine fiddling. He was on his honeymoon with his bride Sally. He’s a hoss of a player from Elizabethton TN.
I visited some with Steve Martin backstage. Also I discovered a way to use the Strobe tuner on my iphone – in loud places like Bonnaroo the ambient noise confuses the tuner as the microphone hears everything. I put the headset /earphone thing in, and draped the headset mic into the mandolin F hole. I got a much better reading.
Now I’m in Denver and Hot Rize is playing a friend’s 50th wedding anniversary. We’re recording all day tomorrow. The idea is to release a few new things, not a whole CD, to promo our ten-day tour in the fall. On Wednesday Kit and will head to Telluride. I’ve tried that one 31 times – this time I’m gonna get it right!