Missouri Loves Company: Days Five and Six: I've Still Got Rock and Roll

I spent much of my last afternoon cultivating a sunburn while walking the streets of St. Louis, stopping first at the Soulard Market, which wasn't as breathtakingly cool as the Twangfest Guide to St. Louis made it out to be but was still a good time. And I had my first taste of beignets for breakfast. And I declare them good. Then again, anything that involves dough and frying is gonna be just fine with me.

After an hour or so at the Soulard Market, I set out for Cherokee Antique Row. That's right. I went on an antiquing expedition. When I start having sex with guys, it's gonna surprise absolutely no one. In any case, I was hoping to find a cool Western shirt or two. I finally did, but up in the Delmar Loop, not in the Cherokee District. There looked to be a cool store with lots of antique radios on Cherokee, but the owner seemed content to stay inside and keep the front gate locked. Interesting business strategy. I also nearly ended up buying an old movie drive-in speaker at one of the shop(pe)s, until I realized that would be really stupid. Yes, sometimes I come to realizations like that. Rarely, but it does happen.

On the way back to the hotel, I figured I oughta at least take a quick gander at the Anheuser-Busch Factory. So, I took a 10-minute stroll through the gift shop and the displays in the visitor center and that was enough for me. For the record, if you're looking to buy something that says "Anheuser-Busch Factory" in the gift shop, you'll have your choice of about 5 things out of 500. They seem more content to just sell generic Budweiser gifts. So if you want something that actually commemorates something other than your pedestrian taste in alcohol, tough. But you can get a pint glass with the Budweiser logo on it. Wow!

Speaking of beer (wicked segway!), Mic Harrison and Scott Miller's "Cold Beer Hello" duet on the last night of Twangfest was probably my favorite Twangfest moment. The two were members of the V-Roys, who put out three really good CDs (two studio, one live) on Steve Earle's E-Squared label before calling it quits. I'd only had the chance to see them once before they quit (at Maxwell's, opening up for Los Straitjackets), so I'd always wanted to catch one of Miller and Harrison's occasional shows together, during which they do their own sets and then do one or two songs together at night's end. And Twangfest X finally gave me that opportunity.

Mic Harrison opened the evening, backed by the High Score. It was also the first time I'd seen Harrison leading his own band (he was in Superdrag for awhile after the V-Roys), and I was impressed with the power of both Harrison and the High Score. They did one V-Roys song ("Over the Mountain") and one song off Scott Miller's new CD ("The Only Road") as part of their set (without Scott) and were by far the best opening band of any night of Twangfest. They surely sounded better than the band that followed them, Lucero, whose lead singer, to be fair, seemed to have been overserved.

Scott Miller and the Commonwealth followed Lucero and kicked their usual ass. The fact that I've planned two of the three solo vacations I've taken in my life around Scott Miler and the Commonwealth shows should tell you what I think about him. At turns self-deprecating and a touch cocky, Miller's one of the more engaging lead singers I've seen. And the Commonwealth, anchored by drummer Shawn McWilliams and with a new guitarist since I'd seen them last, are the perfect backing band—not upstaging the lead singer but not laying back and being spectators either. Go see them when they come to your town. They have the coveted Sigman Seal of Rock Approval.

The main set ended with the "Cold Beer Hello" duet, which in true V-Roys style, had the drummer and guitarist switching instruments and Miller admonishing Harrison for drinking something other than a cold beer while singing the song. Harrison also joined in on the last encore, singing a song the two wrote together, "Earthly Pleasures." Maybe seeing the two V-Roys lead singers on stage together means nothing to you, but seeing and hearing them do those two songs together was one of the musical highlights of the year for me.

BR549 headlined the last night, and since I had a 7 a.m. flight in the morning and had seen BR549 three times already this year, I was not sticking around to see Twangfest's conclusion (which apparently ended with the Blueberry Hill sound guy pulling the plug on the band at 1 a.m., which apparently is closing time). One of the event's organizers tried to convince me to come to the afterparty at the airport hotel, but I explained the situation (hotel—and luggage—is downtown...I have to be up at 5:30...no, I'm not going back to the hotel to get my luggage so I can go to the airport hotel, stay up all night and watch everybody get drunk, and stumble over to the airport at 6:30) and expressed my regrets. But to be honest, I don't really have regrets about that. I'm not an afterparty kind of guy. I'm rarely a beforeparty guy, sometimes a party guy, but almost never an afterparty guy. It's not that I'm antisocial, but, OK, it's because I'm antisocial. Sorry, world. Don't take it personally.


Somehow, after a brief struggle to get my suitcase closed, I made it out of the hotel right on schedule Sunday morning and expertly deflected an offer of a $20 car ride to the airport from a hotel employee. Why pay that when the train ride costs, like, $3? They tried to convince me that the train might not be running at that time of day on a Sunday. C'mon, people. I'm no public transportation amateur here. I know the schedule, creeps. And, sure enough, the train picked me up downtown and I was at the airport about 45 minutes later.

After weather reports had been threatening them all weekend, thunderstorms finally arrived Saturday night and lingered into Sunday morning, delaying my flight a half-hour but not causing too much of a problem. Quite honestly, on about three hours' sleep, the plane could've been aflame and pelted with giant boulders for three hours and it wouldn't have affected me all that much. I was running on the fumes of fumes.

But it was worth it. I got to see and experience a new city, checked out a new stadium, bowled a game at the Bowling Hall of Fame, nearly touched a penguin, almost inadvertently slandered the St. Louis homosexual community, earned a real good sunburn, and saw some of my favorite bands of all time. Not too bad. Thanks, St. Louis. Maybe I'll see you again someday.


Missouri Loves Company: Day Four: The Only Way to Get Away

Most days in St. Louis started off with me spreading out the various maps I had on the spare bed and figuring out if it would be possible to get to places I wanted to go through some combination of bus, train, and foot. Then, I'd pick the area that seemed easiest and go from there.

So, on Friday morning, after saying a bittersweet farewell to Meredith Vieira on "The View," I set out for the Little Italy section of St. Louis, which is called The Hill. This journey was going to require my first bus trip of the vacation, so I made sure to check where I should catch the appropriate bus by asking the woman at the Transportation Center downtown. She informed me that the bus route had changed a bit, so it seemed I made the right decision by checking.

Until a half-hour later when I was sweating my ass off in the midday 90-degree heat, waiting for a bus that didn't look to be coming any time soon.

I decided then to abandon what the helpful woman told me and go to where I originally thought the bus would be leaving from. The bus came five minutes later.

Never ask for help.

I told the driver I wanted to go to The Hill, and he didn't seem to have any idea where that was. Sweet. But after about ten minutes on the bus, he turned back to me and said, "So, let me ask you this: where is this Hilton?"

"No, no. The Hill. Like the Little Italy section."

"Ohhhhhhh. The Hill. Yeah, we go there."

This would be the first of two communication breakdowns we had. The other came as we drove up past Soulard (where I planned on going the next day). He was giving me a little audio tour of the various neighborhoods we were passing, as I had told him it was my first time in St. Louis. In between reminding me that the people of St. Louis aren't as mean as the people in New York and New Jersey and telling me about the time he bought some fake Rolexes in NYC and made a good profit back in St. Louis, he would point out things of interest and suggest places I could eat in The Hill.

So, as we went through Soulard, he began talking about the kinds of people that lived in the neighborhood

"Over here on the left, that's where a lot of the gangs are."

"Oh really?"

"Yeah, all up around there."

"They're nice people, though. Real nice people."

I was confused. The gangs were nice? Well, that's refreshing.

"Yeah, you know, I like them. They're good people."

Now I was really confused. As I was about to ask him if the gangs were a real big problem, I heard him say something that ended with "...but, you know, I'd like a female wife."

That's when it hit me. Gays. That's what he was saying. My confusion subsided and was replaced with relief that I hadn't asked him if gays were a real big problem. I also tried to remember if I initially said, "That's too bad" when he brought up the "gangs/gays." I hope I didn't. If so, please accept my apology, gay people of St. Louis.


Anyway, after going by a few restaurants recommended by the bus driver, I told him to let me off at the next stop, which was right around Elizabeth Street, where Yankee catcher Yogi Berra and Cardinals catcher/Game of the Week broadcaster Joe Garagiola grew up. I wonder how Joe Garagiola feels knowing that he is neither the greatest baseball player nor even the greatest catcher to grow up on his block. I wonder if I'm the best blogger to grow up on Goodwin Avenue. I hope so. I would hate to be second.

I wound up having lunch at Ragazzi's, famous for their Frozen Fishbowl, a 32-oz. fishbowl-shaped glass of your alcoholic beverage of choice (I know, an odd choice for someone who doesn't drink...but it was neat to look at others' drinks). I picked well with the appetizer—celery root chips—but made the grievous mistake of trying their pizza because I had read that it was good. It was definitely not, unless you like cheese with the appearance and consistency of plastic. But the celery root chips made up for it. As did the cookies I bought at a bakery afterward. Mmmmm.

I walked around The Hill for a bit, snapping the picture above of The Immigrants statue, which was outside St. Ambrose's Church. I also peeked into the bocce club and checked out Berra Park, which, oddly enough, isn't even named after Yogi. Garagiola Park was nowhere to be found.


I suppose here is as good a time as any to share that my time in St. Louis coincided with the national convention of the Red Hat Society, marking my second run-in with the group of gals in a month. The Red Hat Society, for those not up on all things elderly (sorry, ladies), is a group of women over 50 who celebrate their vivacity by wearing red hats and purple clothing everywhere they go. Everywhere. Checking in at the hotel? You better be in red and purple. Going to church? Represent with the colors. Standing in the lobby waiting for the group bus? Of course, you've gotta be wearing the appropriate attire. It seems like a good idea, but I imagine it gets tiresome after awhile. And I wonder what happens if you don't show up in the proper regalia. Beatings? They say the RHS is an organization without rules, but this section on the FAQ would make me nervous:

Q. Are there any rules?
A. The spirit of the Red Hat Society forbids rules, per se. There are, however, some common-sense guidelines that we must insist upon:

You must be a woman of 50 or over (or you may be a Pink Hatter under 50), and you must attend functions in full regalia, (red hat, purple outfit for women 50 and over, or pink hat and lavender outfit for women under 50)....Ladies are strongly encouraged to follow these color guidelines, and to NOT wear purple/red until they have reached THE BIRTHDAY.

I think it's the ALL CAPS words that make me nervous.

Anyway, I was going to take a picture with some of the ladies in the hotel lobby, but I lost my nerve. However, I made out with one of them in the elevator and this was the aftermath:

I kid. Seriously. I'm kidding. I swear.

And now for something completely different...

Pardon me for this brief excursion into being one of those blogs. You know, the ones where the writer shares personal information. I try not to do that too much. But I felt it was going to be necessary as soon as the Bottle Rockets launched into "Sunday Sports" at Night 3 of Twangfest.

Night 3, like Night 2, started off with two bands (in this case, the Sovines and Kevin Gordon) that were fine but not spectacular. But it was really the Bottle Rockets' night anyway, as it was the (sold out) CD Release Party for their new disc, "Zoysia." They started the show (which was attended by the middle-finger-thrusting chap from Night 1, who was only slightly more subdued) by playing the new CD from start to finishÂ?a ballsy move, but they're a ballsy band so it works. Or at least it worked for me. Then as the last notes of the CD's title track echoed throughout the room, they headed back to the dressing room for a few minutes before quickly returning with new setlists. The next dozen or so songs were a mix of covers and choice Bottle Rockets cuts, all capped off with a righteous, life-affirming charge through what is probably my favorite Bottle Rockets song, the aforementioned "Sunday Sports."

"Sunday Sports"—from the best Bottle Rockets disc, "The Brooklyn Side"—was one of the songs that was in heavy rotation during junior and senior years of college. I had a solid lineup of songs I would use to get revved up for the day of journalism nonsense that awaited me, a selection that also included the Old 97's "Timebomb," the New Duncan Imperials' cover of "Travelin' Band," and Todd Snider's "Late Last Night." So hearing "Sunday Sports" reminded me a lot about college, that glorious time when hope shone through, all my friends were within walking distance, and things were just generally pretty damn good, girl troubles aside. (And, for the record, I think "The Brooklyn Side" was the first CD that journalist/cab driver/TaR commenter Bryan Chambala realized that we shared in common. Actually, I believe he had the cassette, which makes him cooler, I suppose.)

But "Sunday Sports" also reminds me of my dad, and the weekends spent watching TV in the living room with him. I know I've written about this before, but those Saturdays (and, in my mind, "Saturday" wasn't used in the song for sheer reasons of the extra syllable) watching the PBA tour on ABC with my dad (and WWF wrestling before and NWA wrestling after) will forever mean more to me than just about anything else in the world. And "Sunday Sports," in a little over four minutes, not only brings those memories back, but also pinpoints the essence of being a working dad. You pack as much work as you can into five days, just so you can get those two days with no responsibilities, no cares other than whether Mike Aulby's gonna be able to beat Earl Anthony. You love your wife, you love your kids, but when it's your time to relax, you just want your Sunday sports and nothing else. So when I hear "Sunday Sports," I think of those afternoons with my dad and I think about the sacrifices he made to give me the life I have, and, well, I get a little emotional.

And so, with the previous day's visit to the Bowling Hall of Fame and Sunday's early flight home to visit my dad's grave on the anniversary of his death both in my head, I stood at the lip of the Blueberry Hill stage and screamed along as loud as I could:

You know the kids gotta keep it low
Better not miss nothing on the bowling show
Holds his breath as the ball goes wide,
Aint nothin' beats a strike from the Brooklyn side

Watching Sunday sports in his boxer shorts
Forget the wife and kids and selling auto parts
Sunday sports in his boxer shorts
His only way to get away from everything else.

I should note that, to his eternal credit, my dad didn't watch TV in his boxer shorts, nor did he sell auto parts. But that's neither here nor there (Look! It's over there!). When I screamed those lines (and, man, did I scream them), I was thinking of all those afternoons with my dad and how he would inch up to edge of the sofa when a guy started off a game with eight or nine strikes in a row, or when Hulk Hogan or Dusty Rhodes or whomever came running out of the dressing room to save one of their buddies from a prescripted beating. The kid never left my dad. And if nothing else happens in my life, I hope the kid never leaves me, either.


Partly because I wanted to leave on the emotional high of "Sunday Sports" and partly because I wanted to save on cab fare, I made the tough decision to head for the last train of the night (and the dozens of cockroaches that roam the section of Delmar Boulevard near the train station after hours) while the encore started with a cover of Bob Dylan's "Trust Yourself." It was a tough decision made easier by the fact that I'd be seeing the Bottle Rockets two more times when I got home, as well as just thinking that "Sunday Sports" was the only proper way to end the night. So I cut out for the train, thinking of my dad, eternal youth, and the power of the song.


Missouri Loves Company: Day Three: I Go For Penguins...and Dirtbombs

After an early afternoon dashing through the boring Museum of Western Expansion at the base of the Gateway Arch (the highlight being animatronic William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame), I needed something else to do. My efforts to see the most I could by spending as little as possible led me to Forest Park, home of several free attractions, including the St. Louis Zoo, which I had been told was fairly cool. Now, I recognize that I'm 29 and maybe shouldn't be going to zoos while on vacation, but it had been awhile since I'd ogled the caged and tamed animals of the world (at the Staten Island Zoo, which I think is the only zoo I've ever been to, unless you count the Catskill Game Farm). So, really, no time like the present, right? Did I mention it was free? OK, good.

Anyway, I hopped onto the Metrolink, and about 15 minutes later, I was at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. I breezed through the exhibit on the 1904 World's Fair and checked out the wares in the gift shop before I realized that the history of Missouri, even when not paying to learn about it, was not something I was going to find terribly interesting. It was time to figure out where the zoo was. So I asked the woman at the information desk for the best walking path to the zoo. She handed me a map and told me it was a fairly long walk. No problem, I told her. So she mapped out the long way but then told me that I could take a shortcut "if I didn't mind walking up a steep little passageway." Sure, no problem.

So I started walking along the golf course (and almost into someone's tee shot) and looking for the "steep little passageway." I saw a fountain and a little reflecting pool to my left, with the Art Museum perched way above it on top of a hill that looked to be on about a 60-degree incline.

I soon realized that this was the steep little passageway. The long way around suddenly didn't seem so bad.

Time was ticking, though, so I trudged up it and after passing the Art Museum and the outdoor Shakespeare Festival, I was at the zoo. The first thing I saw was an animatronic Charles Darwin (Wednesday was Fun with Animatronics Day) whose mouth was flapping away while no words came out. I'll leave the punchline to that joke to those on the far right.

Anyway, that was an auspicious start to what was supposed to be a cool zoo, so I headed to the outdoor path in search of something a little better. Unfortunately, the animals weren't providing much more oomph. It was a hot day in St. Louis, and apparently the alleged "kings of the jungle" and "fierce beasts" would rather spend hot days in their fetid caves than come out to say hello. Zoo life has made them soft. The first leg of the zoo trip was saved by the hungry, hungry hippos like the one below, who at least put on their game faces.

Most of the lions and tigers and bears were all big pussies who couldn't be bothered. It made for a relatively dull zoo experience, enlivened only briefly by monkeys picking bugs off each other and a pack of wild asses. Actually, I just wanted to use the phrase "a pack of wild asses." I took a picture of them for just that reason.

I was almost ready to declare the zoo a big, fat disappointment until the penguin and puffin center, which wound up being by far the coolest (in every sense of the word) part of the zoo. The sign outside warned that it would be 45 degrees inside the exhibit and that under no circumstances should you touch the penguins. Touch the penguins? What am I gonna do, jump into the water, swim out to wherever the hell the penguins are, and start tackling the little bastards? Why wasn't I given a similar warning not to touch the lion or the grizzly bear? That would seem just as likely a possibility as me touching a penguin.

But then I walked in and there were penguins right there. It would've been really easy to touch them. But I didn't. Just took pictures.

Satisfied after getting close enough to touch a penguin, I left the zoo and headed back down to the steep little passageway back to the Metrolink and Night Two of Twangfest at Blueberry Hill.


Night Two was the night where I knew the least about the bands on the bill--the Transmitters, Glossary, Deadstring Brothers, and the Dirtbombs. Of the four, I'd only seen the Deadstring Brothers, at last year's CMJ Bloodshot BBQ, and I wasn't really blown away by that. I had heard the Dirtbombs on the only show worth listening to on terrestrial radio—The Best Show on WFMU—but didn't really know all that much about them. The Transmitters and Glossary were completely new to me. And the Twangfest sets from those two bands were good but nothing really spectacular. Sometime during Glossary's set, I wondered if I should cut out after the Deadstring Brothers and catch the last train back downtown.

But the Deadstring Brothers' set was far better than I remember them being at the Bloodshot BBQ and kinda reenergized me for the night. I think touring more has probably made them a better band, and certainly has improved their showmanship. At the BBQ, I remember thinking they were a solid band but nothing all that special. But at Blueberry Hill, they were all strut and swagger, with strong vocals from Masha Marjieh and Kurt Marschke (shown above) and a real solid sound all around.

I thought I was enjoying the show, but the guy next to me seemed to think I wasn't, as he tapped me on the shoulder after Marschke executed a few Townshendian guitar moves and asked me, "Do you realize how lucky you are to see that thing?"

"Um, yeah?"

"Good, because I've been watching you and you don't look like you do."

Well, all right then. How about you don't watch me and let's both watch the band? And I'll enjoy things the way I do and you enjoy things by flailing around like a rotating water sprinkler. Cool?

Should've said that.


Even after the Deadstring Brothers' set, I was still contemplating ducking out after a few Dirtbombs songs. I don't like taking cab rides, particularly after being driven through the backstreets of Charlotte by a guy who thought I was looking for a newspaper office and, more damagingly (I doubt that's a word), getting a ride from Nassau Coliseum to the Hempstead train station from a cab driver who offered to drive me back to Staten Island for $75 and then told me how he would pick up fares at the prison and accept, ahem, alternate forms of payment (turned out the Hempstead terminal and 10 bucks was my preferred option). So I like to avoid cabs unless absolutely necessary. Or If I get the urge to service a sweaty fat guy while he drinks a Big Gulp of Mountain Dew, which, I'll be honest, hasn't happened yet.

Anyway, I knew the Dirtbombs were characterized as a garage rock band, and I usually get tired of that after awhile. Nothing against the genre, but all the bands seem to blend together after awhile. So when they took the stage, I was thinking, "OK, five songs and I'll head out. Maybe six."

And then they started playing, everybody went nuts, an older guy stage dove, and I figured I might just stick around for the whole thing.

With a lead singer/guitarist, two bass players, and two drummers (with full drum kits), the Dirtbombs don't play music as much as attack it, crashing and slashing, jumping and thumping until you have no choice but to submit. And though I'm not completely sold on every song they played, and I have a feeling that CDs may not do them justice, I wouldn't mind listening to their cover of Sly and the Family Stone's "Underdog" every day until my ears gave out.

I finally did bail right before they came out for their encore, because I thought I had time to make the last train. But I had "12:48" in my head instead of "12:28," so that ended up being an unsuccessful mission. So I had to suck it up and take my first cab ride on the trip, which also turned out to be my only one, making me both slightly proud and marginally wealthier. Hooray for me. The cab driver was quiet and pleasant and didn't bring up oral sex once, so that was nice.


Missouri Loves Company: Day Two: Twangfest

Turns out I could've bowled several games at the Hall of Fame ($2/game after the first one), because the Avett Brothers had run into some car troubles (a blown tire) on their way to their in-store performance at Vintage Vinyl, which was supposed to start at 5:30. But I just spent some more time in the store scouring through record bins, eventually finding a copy of Shel Silverstein's "Freakin' at the Freakers Ball," which I wound up buying during my final visit to the store on Saturday. That was a good score.

The Avetts finally pulled in a little after 6, with their dad but without their manager, tour manager, and roadie, who were off trying to deal with the van situation. Because they were running so late, they decided to forego any attempts at amplification. They coped pretty well.

I wanted to get to at least a little bit of the pre-show Twangfest gathering at the Schlafly Tap Room, so I high-tailed it down Delmar in the direction of the train station. I made it about halfway before I spotted a black guy wearing an Elvis t-shirt out of the corner of my eye. He seemed to be accosting motorists, and I hoped he'd be sticking to that strategy. But then I think I made a half-second of eye contact and it was game on.

"Hey! Excuse me!"


"Look, my name's Curly and I don't wanna bother you. I'm just gonna be honest with you."


"There's this woman back there in the park. And she said she'll gimme sex if I give her 15 dollars."


"Now, man, I haven't had sex in a long time. A looooong time. And I really, really need it. So, you think you could gimme that 15 bucks."

"Um, well, I can't give you 15..."

"Just anything you can, man. Y'know, maybe 7 or 8 bucks or something. Maybe she'll make a deal or..."

"OK. I can give you something." (I know begin the feverish process of trying to extract a $5 bill from my pocket without breaking out my wallet.)

"Whatever you can, man. Look, I'm not giving you some 'Oh, I'm hungry and I need to eat' or 'I need to get a drink.' I'm being straight up with you. Man-to-man. You gotta appreciate that..."

"I do, I do. Here's a 5, man." (Despite my best efforts to show no other bills, he spots the $5's companion.)

"Can you gimme the 10?"

"No. Sorry. Just the 5."

(Dejectedly) "OK. Thanks."

I don't know a lot about (a) sex and (b) paying for sex in a park, but I figure if a woman in a park is going to have sex with you for $15, she can probably be talked down to $5. So I hope the $5 helped Curly out. Never let it be said that I don't feel for my fellow man.

I arrived at the Schlafly Tap Room around 7, only about a half-hour before the pre-show party ended. So I didn't have much time to socialize (to be honest, my time with Curly filled my socialization quota for the day anyway). I picked up my Twangfest pass and various bonus gifts that I got with my status as a Friend of Twangfest. The first band on the evening's bill, Walter Clevenger and the Dairy Kings, were running through a quick soundcheck when I arrived. I noticed that the guitar player looked sorta familiar. My mind started running through what I knew about Walter Clevenger and the Dairy Kings (very little), and then I took a break from thinking to eat one of the free Twinkies. And maybe it was the consumption of a childhood snack food that got my brain where it needed to go, but all of the sudden, I realized why the guitarist looked familiar. Then I remembered that the guy who I think is that guitarist right there on stage is friendly with Walter Clevenger and the Dairy Kings and that, yeah, maybe they have played together before. And, yeah, I really do think that's him. Yeah, it makes sense.

That's Robbie Rist. Or, as you may know him, Cousin Oliver from "The Brady Bunch."

I realized then that coming to Twangfest was a real good idea.

It is my pleasure to report that, TV fame asidem Robbie Rist is a damn fine and really energetic guitar player (turns out he was filling in for the regular guitarist). Honest. It was the first time I'd heard Walter Clevenger and the Dairy Kings and I liked them a lot, even if Walter Clevenger told me after the show that they "sounded like horseshit" ("We usually sound like cowshit" was the next sentence out of his mouth). Their encore cover of "Radio Radio" was particularly kickass.

And, of course, I eventually snagged a photo with Robbie Rist at night's end. I didn't think it appropriate to bring up the Cousin Oliver thing (I wasn't sure if anybody else but me made the connection), so I let it be. But he seemed like a good guy (he responded to my request for a photo by asking for one of his own with his camera). And I recommend that you purchase the tribute to Nick Lowe, "Lowe Profile," that he's on and that Walter Clevenger put together (and plays on as well). It was my first Twangfest CD purchase, and it's a good 'un.

The Avett Brothers followed Walter Clevenger and the Dairy Kings onto the stage. I sensed that there would be a quick surge to the front of the stage, so I had positioned myself up close toward the end of the Dairy Kings' set. I plopped myself right behind Beatle Bob, a local St. Louis fixture who also makes his way to various music festivals around the country (I had previoulsy seen him at the CMJ Bloodshot Records BBQ in Brooklyn a few years ago). Beatle Bob, named such due to his moptop haircut, shakes and shimmies in front of the stage (and blocks your picture taking...he's on the left in the above photo of Walter Clevenger and Robbie Rist), with his big move being putting his hands out in front of him and opening and closing his fists. That's accented by the occasional 360-degree spin for variety's sake. It's entertaining...for about, say, ten minutes.

So, I was glad to see him move away from the front of the stage after the Dairy Kings wrapped up. A couple of young Avett fans and I moved up closer to the stage, and I prepared to finally grab some good Avett photos. And then, right as they started, Bob came back and filled in the six inches of space we had left in front of the stage. So much for good photos. I had to basically time my shots between his shimmying, which resulted in a lot of closeups, some not so bad.

But I eventually accepted my fate. The Avett fan next to me was not as forgiving, particularly when another guy moved up in front to talk to Bob. This guy was also weird, but in a less endearing way. He kept fanning off the band with a postcard (often while they were singing), carrying on conversations with them between songs, and occasionally giving them the finger, which I heard him explain to Bob (the bass player) was actually meant to be a good thing. Of course, if you don't know that and don't overhear the conversation, it just looks like a guy is flipping off the band. There was some brief friction between this guy and the young Avett fan to my left, ending in that most exciting of testosterone-heavy occurrences, the staredown, at set's end. Cooler heads prevailed. Barely.

Anyway, the Avetts put on a good, heavy on the screaming and stomping show, which was just what I needed. Unfortunately, the stomping almost resulted in Seth being swallowed up by the stage, as it was a sectional stage and it started to come apart after a few songs and some heavy stomping. Dane, their tour manager had to occasionally go behind the stage and push things back into place, adding another job for the hardest working tour manager in showbiz.

Since a lot of people had left after the Avetts, the crowd was a little thin for the Yayhoos. But Beatle Bob was still around, sucking the creme off the wrapper of his complementary snack cake up front, so I took a spot to his left for photo purposes. As I was standing there, a guy started to talking to me about the Yayhoos and how they were something special. I assured him that I knew that and had seen them a bunch of times. I eventually told him that this was my first Twangfest and about my visit to the Bowling Hall of Fame. He asked if I'd be going to Twangpin, the festival's afternoon of bowling on Friday. I mentioned that it would probably be tough since I was staying downtown, so he offered to pick me up and drive me over. Cool, I thought.

So then the Yayhoos show started, and, as it did, he looked over and said, "Prepare to be blown away." Again, I was prepared. Because I've seen them a bunch. So the warning was unnecessary. Eventually, the guy went up to the bar and I lost track of him as the Yayhoos were trading off lead vocals, singing songs of Bocephus and getting right with Jesus, and generally showing why they are easily one of the most entertaining bands around. If you make it through a Yayhoos show without smiling and having a good time, you're doing something wrong. And if you don't have their new CD "Put the Hammer Down," you oughta get it. Now.

Right about the time they did their cover of "Love Train," I noticed that the guy had made his way back up to the stage, just as a conga line was forming behind me. So I looked to my left and the guy waved at me. That wave where you only move your fingers and not the rest of your hand. It is the type of wave that allows me to use a word I learned from the great author James Ellroy: hinky. Now, maybe he was just drunk (well, no maybe), and that's how he waves when the alcohol takes him over. But something just didn't sit right. And it was then that I knew I would not be going to Twangpin. Alas.

The night ended with the photo with Robbie Rist and, because of the giddiness that brought, me sharing with the Yayhoos' Keith Christopher the story of him opening the bathroom-stall door at the Mercury Lounge while I was on the toilet. Luckily, he seemed to find the story entertaining and ended our conversation by saying, "Nice to meet you standing up."

And then I walked about twenty blocks back to my hotel at 1 in the morning because I didn't want to call a cab. I don't claim to be smart. But God and I have an understanding and he enables me to do things like that. I think it amuses Him.


Missouri Loves Company: Day Two: The Bowling Hall of Fame

Anxious to attack the day, I bolted out my room at the early hour of 11:30 a.m., hoping to get some breakfast at the Chili Mac Diner. But apparently, you can only get eggs and not french toast or pancakes at that hour. So I had to settle for an early lunch of grilled chicken and fries. I wasn't willing to take a chance on the house specialty (chili over noodles), because the Bowling Hall of Fame was on the day's agenda, and I didn't want to foul up such a sacred place.

The International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame shares a building with the far less impressive Cardinals Hall of Fame and is just a short walk away from Busch Stadium. The hall tracks the history of bowling, from ancient Egypt up to the present day, with interactive exhibits such as the pinboy scene shown above breaking up all the reading you have to do. But you'll find some exciting facts when you're reading.

This James does the same thing.

The Hall of Fame room is kind of confusing. Well, actually, it's Hall of Fame rooms, because first there's the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) and Professional Women Bowlers Association (PWBA) room, with plaques of the inductees and a display of the twelve greatest moments in PBA history (go ahead, see if you can guess 'em). Since there was no one in the joint, I took my team reading the plaques and remembered watching many of the inductees on Saturday afternoons with my dad. I was a big Earl Anthony fan, mainly because he won a lot and that's what's most important to a kid. I actually met Earl Anthony once when I was a wee lad. Jealous?

There's also a computer display where you can look up information on Hall of Famers and the average Joes and Joannes that have bowled 300 games. I actually have a friend who's legitimately bowled several 300 games, so I looked up her name first. But then I wondered if maybe I had bowled a 300 game and forgot about it. Sure enough, I did.

My memory's still a little hazy, but computers don't lie. Clearly, I got waaaaaaaay hammered at college, hoofed it off to West Berlin, NJ, and bowled the 300. I'm sort of famous for doing things like that.

Anyway, after the first Hall of Fame room comes the American Bowling Congress Hall of Fame, which has cooler plaques that are more like the Cooperstown ones I'm used to. All hail Pete Weber!

Then there's the Women's International Bowling Congress (WIBC) Hall of Fame. I regret not taking pictures of this room. It was something. Dozens of oil paintings of hearty, fun-loving women lined the room, and I've decided that Floretta McCutcheon is my all-time favorite female bowler. And I wouldn't have even known about her if not for the Hall of Fame.

Finally, after the WIBC room, there's the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America (BPAA) Hall of Fame in the lobby. I have nothing exciting to say about that one.

At the end of the tour, you descend to the basement, where there are four lanes (and another four that are old and, I assume, unusable). See, with your admission, you get four free frames of bowling. They don't give you four free hacks at a baseball in Cooperstown. You don't get to lay down some hick-hop with Cowboy Troy when you finish touring the Country Music Hall of Fame. But, hot damn, you get four free frames at the bowling HOF. And you can finish the game for only $1 (rental shoes included). I wasn't sure I'd have time to bowl a full game and still get up to Vintage Vinyl to see an in-store performance by the Avett Brothers. But then my first four frames were so atrocious (I blame it on nerves) that I simply had to bring things back to something bordering on respectable.

Did I succeed? Well, let's just say I bowled between 100 and 200. And I got a free button proclaiming "I Bowled a Game at the Hall of Fame." So all's well that ends well. Get off my back.

NEXT: On to the music


Missouri Loves Company: Day One

I would like to begin the recap of my trip to St. Louis for Twangfest with an apology. I am sorry, dear Sigman devotee, that I did not take a bus to St. Louis. I know you were expecting me to, and that you fervently hoped for more stories of inappropriate conversations, pungent passengers, and various other misadventures on a rundown Greyhound. But I must confess that the thought of taking a bus never even crossed my mind. I think I've turned a corner here. I hope you can forgive me.

Two-hour flights don't produce nearly as much excitement as twenty-hour bus trips, so I don't have any interesting travel stories for you. Well, maybe a couple. And I've got other stuff too. You'll like it. Honest. Just be patient.


Day 1: Getting the Lay of the Land

I checked into the Radisson Suites in downtown St. Louis around 1 p.m. on Tuesday. I had made the decision not to stay at Twangfest headquarters—a hotel by the airport—because I wanted to be a little closer to downtown or, perhaps more accurately, closer to the Bowling Hall of Fame, in case I decided to move in there. My hotel was about a five-minute walk from the Hall (and the new Busch Stadium), and the Gateway Arch and the Mississippi River were right around the corner. I could actually see the Mississippi from the balcony in my room. I convinced myself that that was cool.

After dropping my bags off in the room, I walked over to the Arch and along the Mississippi for a little bit. And, of course, I recited (and sang) the Clark Griswold ode to the Mississippi as I did so. I would like to think that I merely recited and sang it in my head, but that may not be accurate. In any case, the Arch was slightly more impressive than I expected it to be. I planned to take the tram up to the top one day, but I kept putting it off until time eventually ran out. So that'll have to wait.

Showing yet another sign of the intelligence that I may be gaining with age, I also decided to spend some of the afternoon checking out the Delmar Loop, the area of St. Louis where three of the four nights of Twangfest would take place. It looked easy enough to get to via the MetroLink, the lightrail service that runs through St. Louis, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to navigate my way to the area just to be safe. Again, I believe a corner has been turned.

Anyway, it was indeed easy to get to the Loop, and though the walk from the train was a little longer than I had thought it would be, it still was only about 10 minutes until I arrived at Blueberry Hill, the Twangfest home for Thursday through Saturday. I walked a little past there and made the first of several visits to Vintage Vinyl, picked up a John Conlee LP, and then headed back downtown for that night's Cardinals-Reds game, which was already gearing up to be a disappointment, as none of my fantasy baseball players would be on the field. What, I ask you, is the point of watching a baseball game when none of your fantasy guys are playing?

At least it was a new park. And a pretty nice one, though when Shea Stadium is one of your main points of reference, everything is nice. The new Busch kind of reminds me of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, though I imagine all of the new brick stadiums are ultimately reminiscent of each other. Busch, however, has elected not to go the route of Baltimore and Philadelphia and have an old-timer manning a barbecue on the outfield concourse. If they change their mind, they should call Willie McGee. Or have Tim McCarver sit in a dunk tank, three balls for $1.

I had a pretty good seat along the right-field line, at least in terms of view. Unfortunately, I was seated next to a group of four women who chatted incessantly throughout the game, often with their backs turned to the action, and in front of a group of four Southern gentlemen, one of whom recited nearly every scoreboard statistic available in between pitches. "That last one was 85." "So far, he's flied out, grounded out, flied out, and grounded out." "He's batting. 231."? I get it, dude. You can read. So can I. Unfortunately, while he excelled at reading, pronouncing the name "Encarnacion" was clearly a weakness in his game. In a sad turn of events, there were two players with that last name in the game, so I got to hear him mangle the name repeatedly, employing the rarely used "silent na" rule of speech and saying "En-CAR-see-ahn" every friggin' time, even after the PA announcer clearly said the name correctly. Things like that drive me crazy. And lead to me staying inside most of the time.

But my favorite part of the game—a relatively dull 7-0 victory for the Reds—was the closed captioning on the scoreboard. I suppose this service was provided so that the deaf and hard of hearing could keep up with the excitement of the between-inning contests and announcements, but I can't imagine it did much good. As with just about any captioning service, it was always a little bit off, either missing words entirely or misinterpreting what was said. And that's why I imagine that there are some deaf baseball fans in St. Louis who are wondering what "Injury McGwire" and "Blow Down Your Han" are and why they would be people's favorite sports movies of all time.

Of course, the highlight of the game would have been seeing Albert Pujols play. Thanks for wrecking your back a week before I came to town, loser. But at least I got to see Fredbird, the Cards' mascot, eat a kid.


Day One ended in my hotel room, as I struggled to stay up for the midnight airing of "Cheaters." But it had been too long of a day. So I gave in to sleep, knowing that this would be my only chance to see "Cheaters" while in town. Oh well. Show hasn't been the same since Tommy Grand stopped hosting anyway.


Chiller Theatre Spring 2006, or That's How Tootie Rolls

Oh, how the rains came down, pelting the people of New Jersey as the Chiller Theatre Spring Weekend began, and maybe dashing the hopes of a few who hoped to make the trek out to scenic Secaucus, New Jersey. And I don't know if the rain was to blame (whatever you do, don't put the blame on you...sorry Milli Vanilli moment), but a late-night check of Chiller's website on Friday night/Saturday morning brought the awful news...

Steven Seagal had cancelled his appearance.

With the prospects of seeing Steven Seagal perform dashed, I wondered if this Chiller was indeed worth going to. What if I got there and the bad weather kept more "celebrities" from showing up? Lesser people would've stayed home and watched the 48-hour "Benson" marathon on TV Land. But I am not lesser, people. So I went to Chiller. And watched the "Benson" marathon all day Sunday.

Lest you think that all you will find at Chiller are aging celebrities, there are also bondage magazines. And you get a good deal when you buy bulk. You can also find, as I've mentioned in previous reports, swords and various medieval weapons, bootleg copies of the entire run of "The Wonder Years" (tempting) and "Battle of the Network Stars" (very tempting), and, if you're a little kid, you can find storage tubs full of porn videos, cleverly placed right at your eye level, underneath the table with the legit VHS movies. Neat.

But as exciting as all that is, it can't possibly top all the famous and not-quite-so-famous who, instead of all being corraled into one room like last time, were scattered around two floors in various little conference rooms and in the lobby on the main floor. This was maybe a little annoying, but it was also exciting (not the right word, but it'll have to do) to peek into different rooms and see who was inside. It was kinda like that Madonna video where you see all the different rooms where people are involved in some sort of sexual deviancy. Except instead of someone being ridden like a horse, you'd see Steven Keaton (Michael Gross) from "Family Ties."

Unfortunately for the celebrities, if you were stuck in a room with someone who was clearly more popular than you, it made for a long afternoon, as was presumably the case with Alan "Cameron Frye" Ruck, who was in the same room with the apparently much more beloved Michael Gross. This photo was taken late in the day:

I darted in and out of most of the rooms on the second floor, except the "Star Trek" room, where Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, and Denise Crosby were signing. They had a line that snaked around the hallway when I got there. And there was some dude dressed up in full Starfleet regalia. I knew people did that, but it was still jarring to actually see in person.

Not as jarring as this, though:

That's Diane Salinger. You may recognize her as Simone from "Pee Wee's Big Adventure." Of course, if you don't, she's conveniently dressed as that character. With a piece of paper pinned to her dress that reads "Simone." I suppose she should be commended for going all out for the fans. Yes, I suppose she should.

Salinger was in the large conference room on the main floor, which also featured her "Carnivale" co-star Michael J. Anderson, probably best known for his work on "Twin Peaks":

I wonder if Chiller makes sure to book one little person per show. It also makes me wish that Billy Barty were still alive. I would've liked to meet him. Best little person actor of all time, bar none.

The room also hosted, among others, Ken Kercheval (Cliff from "Dallas"), John Pankow (from "Mad About You," who I didn't even see one person approach), P.J. Soles (from "Rock and Roll High School"), Cherie Currie (from the Runaways), Annabella Lwin (from Bow Wow Wow), and Carmine Appice (the drummer from Vanilla Fudge), who, I swear to you, actually sold a signed bass drum head for $250. I saw it happen.

The star of one of my favorite shows as a youth, Corin "Corky" Nemec ("Parker Lewis Can't Lose"), was also in the room, but charging $25 for his autograph. So, no go on that. Ditto for the $15 photo with my camera.

But that price was at least better than the going rate just to take a photo of Kim "Tootie Ramsay" Fields, which the guy at her table informed me would be $10 when I tried to take a photo. Not with me. Just of her. Ten dollars.


She also made the criminal mistake of having bad photos-- that is, current head shots and not Tootie photos. She looks good, but, c'mon, I don't want the head shot you send out in the vain hope that someone will hire you again. I want the Tootie in braces and/or wearing roller skates photo. Embrace it, Tootie.

And, yes, I watched a lot of "Facts of Life." I have a sister. Let's blame her.

Tootie was seated next to Kevin McCarthy, best known in my world as R.J. Fletcher from the cinematic classic "UHF." Unfortunately, the only photos he had from "UHF" were color laser printouts. Disappointing. So I didn't buy an autograph from him either. I think I could've gotten a free photo with him, but he's 92 and I sense he was getting tired of giving photos away for nothing. So I just piggybacked on another guy's request and took this photo instead:

A few tables down sat the man with the finest cauliflower ears in all of wrestling, if not the world, Mr. Bruno Sammartino. At the risk of making you insanely jealous, I must tell you I met Bruno many years ago at the opening of a P.C. Richard store. So no need to buy an autograph from him. But I still wanted a picture of one of those ears:

By now, I am sure you are simply dying to know if I bought any autographs or if I just wandered around taking pictures. Well, it ultimately came down to two people. The first I had no idea about until I saw him. I had seen the name Michael Rooker, but it didn't ring a bell. But then I entered one of the upstairs rooms and, whoa...

Hey, it's Chick Gandil from "Eight Men Out"! Maybe the best baseball movie ever!

He's also been in "Mississippi Burning," "Slither," "Mallrats," and, of course, "Days of Thunder," where he played Rowdy Burns, the Dale Earnhardt character in the movie. During one of the Q&As, he talked about filming "Days of Thunder," driving at 200 MPH, and directly causing the romance of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman by telling Tommy that if Tommy didn't go after her, he would. And the rest is history.

Anyway, he seemed like a pretty decent guy, and I love "Eight Men Out." And I really thought long and hard about paying the $20 for the signed photo of him as Chick Gandil. But, ultimately, I couldn't justify it. But I did grab him after the Q&A for a quick (free) photo.

The person I finally broke down and bought an autograph from was actually in the main vendor room, sitting at a vendor table right near the exit. I walked by her a few times debating if I should spend the money, but, just as both she and I were getting ready to leave, I finally took the plunge and forked over the $10 (the cheapest rate that I saw). And I got a signed 8X10 (and a lovely photo with) Frances Esemplare, who plays Nucci Gualtieri, Paulie Walnuts' "mom"/aunt (as opposed to his "aunt"/mom) on "The Sopranos."

I think what I enjoy most about the photo (and, yes, it's her head shot, but she's allowed) is that it's signed, "Best Wishes, Nucci Soprano." So, not only is her actual name not on it, but she doesn't even have the right character name. Worth every penny.

And because Steven Seagal no-showed, I still had time to get home and see Debbie Gibson at the Newport Center Mall. She opened with "Only In My Dreams." She closed with "Crocodile Rock." She did all her hits and a bunch of covers in between. It was interesting. But I'm still a Tiffany man.

And so went another Saturday in New Jersey.

Now it's off to the real fun in St. Louis. I might check in from the road.


What I Liked About May

*The Newark-to-Newark (via Asbury Park) tour with the Hudson Falcons
*That soft Philly-style pretzel from that gas station in Pennsylvania
*The crab cake sliders at J. Paul's, Baltimore, MD
*Rodney Crowell and Will Kimbrough at the Canal Room, NYC

*The Hoboken Art and Music Festival (and the zeppoles available at it)
*That drunk guy who just kept picking up chairs and slamming them into the ground at the Irish festival in East Durham, NY
*Waffle House
*The "Feather Boa"/"Baba O'Riley" medley by Marah at World Cafe Live, Philly, PA

*The Internet-only release of Todd Snider's "The Devil You Know"
*The late-night bus ride home from Atlantic City
*My friend's daughter smacking a woman in the ass with a tree branch
*The willingness of people with cars to drive me places