New Zealand Tour and Frank O'Brien

I regret having to cancel the rest of my New Zealand shows. My father died early Monday morning at the age of 96, from complications of prostate cancer. He was ready to go, and his passing is a blessing.

Kit and I flew home yesterday. Thanks to Qantas agent Rita Ryan, who found us four seats in a row so we could sleep on the long flight. Dad's obituary is below, followed by tour notes up to October 21st. Thanks to all those who have already written with condolences.

Frank A. O'Brien Jr.

Lifelong Wheeling resident Frank Anthony O'Brien Jr. was born on America Avenue June 30th, 1913, and died in Wheeling Hospital on October 26th, 2009 at the age of 96 from lack of breath. The third child of Frank A. and Estelle S. O'Brien, he was a lifetime member of Saint Michael's Parish. He attended Saint Michael's primary school, and received his high school and college educations at Mount Saint Mary's in Emmitsburg, Maryland, graduating in 1935. In the spring of 1938 he graduated from the University of Virginia Law School. He soon joined the law firm of O'Brien and O'Brien, originally formed in 1903 by his father Frank Sr. and his uncle J.J.P. O'Brien.

Mr. O'Brien served in the Naval Reserve as an intelligence officer from April 1940 until September of 1945, retiring as a Lieutenant Commander. During a tour of duty in Charleston WV, he met and later married Marine Corps Lieutenant Amelia Gaines on December 27th, 1943 at Saint Michael's Church. Together they had five children. Their oldest, Frank or Trip, died in combat in Vietnam in March of 1968. Their middle child, Brigid, died of encephalitis in January of 1956. Mrs. O'Brien died on January 2nd, 2005. Mr. O'Brien is survived by his son James and his wife Diane, daughter Mollie and her husband Rich, son Timothy and his wife Kit, eight grandchildren, and five great grandchildren.

Active in politics, Frank O'Brien chaired Dwight D. Eisenhower's West Virginia campaign in 1952, and chaired Arch Moore's first campaign for United States Congress in 1954. Mr. O'Brien was elected as a delegate to both the 1960 and the 1964 Republican National Conventions. He served on the Wheeling City Council from 1959 to 1963. On November 11th 1979, protesting the student takeover of the American Embassy in Iran, which lead to the Iranian hostage crisis, he burned an Iranian flag on the Market Plaza. This in turn led to Mr. O'Brien's first and only arrest, for "starting a fire in a public place without cooking facilities." Represented by his new partner Patrick S. Cassidy and long time friend George H. Seibert, he was subsequently acquitted under the freedom of speech clause.

He was an old fashioned attorney who loved his work. In a long career that covered a broad spectrum of legal matters, he defended many malpractice cases, and did title work for the State Road Commission during the building of Interstate 70. In one famous tax evasion trial, Mr. O'Brien and his father successfully defended the notorious Bill Lias.

A 4th degree member of the Knights of Columbus, Frank O'Brien was also a member of the Elks Club, the Serra Club, and the Saint Michael's Conference of the Saint Vincent De Paul Society. On May 14th, 1980, he was awarded the Cross of Affiliation of the Sisters of the Visitation of Mount De Chantal, Wheeling. He was named a Paul Harris Fellow of the Rotary Club International Foundation.

His wife Amy told her children, "Your father never made a mistake of the heart." He loved to play tennis, was a good dancer, a master whiskey sour maker and pancake chef. Mr. O'Brien had a good appetite and was often heard to say, "I've never had bad ham. I've tasted some that are better than others, but I've never eaten a bad ham." In later years, he sang in Saint Michael's funeral choir. As a widower, he remained socially and physically active, and drove his car until a month before he died. A steady worker, a man of faith, a beloved son, husband, and father, he remained amazingly positive about life to the very end. Frank O'Brien was loved by many and respected by all who knew him.

In lieu of flowers, contributions would be appreciated by the following charities:
The Brigid O'Brien Fund of The Community Foundation For The Ohio Valley, PO Box 670, Wheeling WV 26003
The Frank A. O'Brien III Scholarship Fund, Mount Saint Mary's University, 16300 Old Emmitsburg Road, Emmitsburg MD 21727
The Good Shepherd Nursing Home, Edgington Lane, Wheeling WV 26003

October 21, 2009 Nelson, New Zealand

Last night's show was the best yet. Inside an old wooden Granary building, under blue disco ball lighting, we played for a sell out crowd of 250. We were joined on the encores by local mando whiz Nathan Torvic. Nelson is major fishing port on the north tip of the south island, and it's a nice size and scale. On the break, I spoke with Tony, a Yankee former etown volunteer who lives here. He said he'd always dreamed of living in a place where you could get around on foot and bicycle, and this is that fantasy place.

Trevor must be over his jet lag. He got up yesterday and went for a run on the beach and then swam in the ocean. The night before we ate dinner in a Thai place, with musician Jim Murray and his wife Kathleen. Just before we walked in, the power went out in the whole town, but the restaurant stayed open for us, cooking by candlelight on gas burners. Having paid, we stood up to leave when the lights came back on. In the morning paper we read that another Thai place also stayed open, but that an Indian place closed because they couldn't operate the cash register.

Since the last journal:

The chopper ride, River House, Christchurch, Kaikoura, and wine country:

Trevor Hutchison arrived on the 15th, after having flying from the south of France to London, to Los Angeles, to Auckland, and finally to Queenstown. He'd just a finished a tour with blues singer Eric Bibb. Gerry, Werner, Kit, and our Wanaka hostess Sara Churchill drove the 40 minutes south under sunny skies to meet him at the Queenstown airport. After coffee nearby, the six of us strapped ourselves into helicopter seats for a scenic flight. It was freaky the way the chopper climbed straight up a steep mountain face. The pilot floated us between a couple rocky spires to a little flat patch of snow and landed. We took a band photo up there, and generally marveled at the scene before us: Queenstown on the shore of a big glacial lake, surrounded by snow capped peaks. Soon we were back in the chopper. The pilot dove back down the shear face in front of us, and most of us yelled something. Trevor and I kept our mouths cautiously shut.

Back on solid ground, we drove back to Sara and her partner Brendan Sheehan's house for dinner and a little bit of rehearsing. Wanaka is sort of a more laid back version of Queenstown, at the base of two more big glacial lakes, prisms of changing color as the day goes on. It's a resort area with summer cottages and holiday parks (campgrounds), some nice restaurants, and the kind of locals you see in places like Telluride and Crested Butte: fit looking skiers and backpackers, the occasional barefooted dreadlocked dude sauntering past the espresso stand.

On Friday, after bearing down on the songs at the house for several hours, we headed to a house concert at River House. There had been some switching of venues, but word was out and the place was stuffed with about 90 locals. Among them was a Frenchman who'd seen Hot Rize in Toulouse back in 1982. We'd had to turn folks away, and had considered moving out onto the lawn, but it was just as well, as an evening storm came through just before show time.

Next up was Christchurch. More incredible scenery on the way - cattle, sheep, and venison ranches, stretches over a dry and mountainous landscape. In Omaru, I bought a really soft sweater made of merino wool and possum fur. More turquoise glacial lakes, followed by a fantastic lunch at Eat in Fairlie. It features reasonably priced, deliciously fresh local food, nice art, free internet, and a little children's play area. Plus it's named the same as the place where Hot Rize discovered Red Knuckles and The Trailblazers. Kit and I found out later that the other car with Gerry, Werner, and Trevor had a flat tire in that town. The show in Christchurch was also sold out, and we enjoyed hearing our opening act Johnny Possum, and meeting another fine local songwriter named Mel Parsons. Her dad runs the pub in Cape Foulwind. It's all related, part of the weave that Gerry put together on this tour – friends and family and accommodations and gigs all crisscrossing one another. Standout food of the day was a smoky fish curry on the harbor side.

In the morning we visit Brendan Sheehan in the hospital. He's got infection in his hip, a complication of being wheelchair bound the last several years. We'd just stayed three nights at his home in Wanaka, and Brendan, being a big music fan, was sorry to miss us there. So we played him a few tunes in his room. Hope you get out of there soon Brendan. Then we got back in the car for more scenery, now rolling gorse covered hills, then long crescents of beach, driving north to Kaikoura. We'll find rooms there and maybe go whale watching tomorrow. It's raining again as we reach that little beach town. Kit and I get a late check out in a nice room with a beach view, and decide to skip the whale watching boat. In the morning I open the curtains to a sunny day, and kind of gasp at the snow capped peaks that now appear over the beach. We eat leftover curry on the balcony, shooing away a scavenging seagull.

We head north again, past more looping beaches, and eventually turn inland through Blenheim, to the Marlborough wine country. We eat another fantastic meal at the Wairua Vineyards café. You know you're having nice time when your only regret is having to eat the last bite of a blue cheese soufflé. We meet up with the boys at another winery for tasting before driving the last few hours to Nelson.

October 22, the Mussel Inn

Kit and I have left the others in Nelson. We drove a few hours west to Takaka for a visit to the Mussel Inn. After more dramatic scenery, beaches and then a mountain pass, we descend into a softer looking valley, and then a flat plain along the seaside. The Mussel Inn is a music venue and brewpub, hand built by proprietor Andrew and his wife Jane. Their Manuka beer has many fans, and a few brewers in the US (SLC) and Belgium are about to make the recipe in those locations. Rather than send full bottles containing mostly water, Andrew sends little shipments of manuka leaves to the brewers abroad. Andrew and Jane had hoped we could play here on this trip, but it didn't fit the plan, so they extended an invitation to us to visit a few nights. Last night we ate some fresh fish and drank the house sauvignon blank. The Mussel Inn is perhaps most famous for its "telephone pole." There's a sign outside the pub that says no cell phones, below which are a few confiscated ones nailed to the wall, and on the deck is an upright beam with more phones nailed to it.

We're staying behind the pub in Jane and Andrew's beautiful hand made log home, and plan on more sight seeing if the weather cooperates. It's been pouring rain off and on. I made some tea and sit typing this in my pajamas.

Gerry's mother Alice has given us some reading material. I enjoyed Fiona Kidman's "Captive Wife", historical fiction about New Zealand and Australia circa 1830. (Bad title though.) But on Sunday, outside a closed Christchurch bookshop we found a few interesting books waiting in a cardboard honor box. Kit's selected an account of an extra terrestrial channeled by a Californian, and I'm reading "Autobiography of a Yogi." We left some money and our Fodor's New Zealand guidebook. (The Lonely Planet guidebook seems to fit our style better.) In the car we've been listening to Duke Ellington, Seasick Steve, the Bailes Brothers, and Doc and Chickie Williams.

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by R & T