9.01.2012

What I Liked About August

*Billy Ocean, Hammerstein Ballroom, NYC
*Carrot cake pancakes, Sweet Sue's, Phoenicia, NY
*The Levon Helm Band/Lucinda Williams, Levon Helm Studios, Woodstock, NY
*Newark Bears vs. Worcester Tornadoes, Newark, NJ





*The J. Geils Band, NYS Fairgrounds, Syracuse, NY
*Spanish shortcake, Hartmann's Kaffeehaus, Round Top, NY
*Mumford & Sons/Dawes, Pier A Park, Hoboken, NJ
*The Del McCoury Band, Prospect Park Bandshell, Brooklyn, NY


 


*Jimmy Sturr/Alex Meixner Band, Hunter Mountain, Hunter, NY
*John Paul Keith and the One Four Fives, Maxwell's, Hoboken, NJ
*The Sunday Blues, Arlene's Grocery, NYC
*The willingness of people with cars to drive me places

8.14.2012

The Day I Met Bob Dylan (or, What Is Buff?)

I had a decision to make when the power went out on August 14, 2003.

Seeing as I was at work in Hoboken and, thus, separated from home in Staten Island by a few different bodies of water, getting home was not going to be easy. Of course, when you live on Staten Island and don't have a car, getting home is never really "easy" in the average person's definition of the word. But without any trains running, it was more challenging than usual.

Still, I had some options:

(1) Go to my sister's apartment in Hoboken and wait out the power outage there. This was clearly the easiest, most sensible option. I dismissed it almost immediately.

(2) Take a ferry from Hoboken to downtown Manhattan, then walk to the ferry terminal and take the ferry to Staten Island, and then grab a cab or walk home when I got to Staten Island. Not too much of a hassle, but still a bit too easy for my tastes.

(3) Walk to the uptown ferry terminal in Hoboken (about a mile away), then walk past the Hammerstein Ballroom to see what the deal was with that evening's scheduled Bob Dylan concert, then, assuming Dylan wasn't doing a special candlelight acoustic show, walk from 34th Street all the way to the ferry terminal to see what the city looked like without power, and then grab a cab or walk home when I got to Staten Island.

So that's how I wound up on the uptown side of W. 35th St. in Manhattan, across the street from the Hammerstein Ballroom stage door, staring at two tour buses and wondering which one Bob Dylan was in and if maybe he might come outside to soak in the experience.

It seemed like a fun thing to do during a blackout.

***

Granted, I didn't hold out much hope for Mr. Dylan coming out to take in the sights. I figured I'd stare at those buses for a bit, try to find out when and where I could get my money back for the show, and then head for that 60-block walk to the ferry before it got too dark out. Truth be told, I was fine with the show being cancelled, as I had already seen the first night of the scheduled three-night run. Nils Lofgren sat in for most of the set, a fact entirely lost on me, as I spent most of the show wondering who the tiny gentleman on guitar was (please relax; I did not live in New Jersey at the time -- I have since, as a requirement for my residency, audited some E Street classes and learned some things). It was a fine show, but it was still in that period where Mr. Dylan had switched over to the piano, and that took some adjusting on my part. I would've been perfectly happy to get my money back for the cancelled show and put that toward my "Get Out of Staten Island" fund.

But before I found out about how that would happen, there was that staring at the buses to take care of. It wasn't very exciting, but my time as an autograph collector has made me quite good at staring at vehicles of many different shapes and sizes, so the time passed pretty quickly. There was enough activity going on around the buses that it seemed like something could happen. And the thought that something could happen is generally enough to keep your average (or, in my case, slightly below-average) autograph collector intrigued enough to stick around.

So when I saw the door of one of the tour buses open, I figured, "Ooh, activity! That means I can justify another 10 minutes of staring!"

And that's when I saw Bob Dylan come out of his tour bus.

***

I should point out that I wasn't the only person who had decided to spend the blackout staring at buses on W. 35th St. There were a few other Dylan fans with the same idea I had. And when we saw Bob Dylan from our various spots on W. 35th St., we looked at each other, then back at Bob Dylan, then back at each other, and thought, "Well, what do we do now?"

There was a brief hesitation. Then we advanced.

I would like to tell you that we all calmly chatted with Mr. Dylan about various things. But we most certainly did not. Naturally, the craziest people were the most eager to begin the conversation, which is how Bob Dylan was given a pair of panties with "Bob" in a heart over the crotch. These were not from me, but rather from an exuberant woman who, I guess, likes to carry these sorts of things around should the occasion arise.

There was also a lot of discussion about the then recently released "Masked and Anonymous," most of which centered around commending Mr. Dylan for his acting in said film (to which he responded, "I've been taking classes"). Lots of ass was being kissed, which I suppose was appropriate given the proximity of Mr. Dylan at the time. I, having not seen the film at the time, stayed quiet. I, having since seen the film, would have a very similar reaction if this exact situation were to present itself again.

I came up with nothing to say to Mr. Dylan, standing about ten feet away from me and, to the best of my recollection, holding on to a cup of beer (I seem to think there was a cigar involved, too, but now I think I might just be drawing my own picture). It's hard to figure out what to say to a hero. And sometimes saying nothing is probably for the best.

But as Mr. Dylan broke up the conversation and said he had to head inside the ballroom to see what was going on, I realized this was probably going to be my only chance to ask Bob Dylan for his autograph. So, as he went one way around the buses, I went the other and waited by the stage door. He soon came by and I presented him with the liner notes to the only Dylan CD I had in my bag. Unfortunately, it was the live "Hard Rain" CD, a CD it is widely believed Mr. Dylan is not very fond of. It is my favorite Dylan album, though, and its fury and anger (it was recorded at the end of a rough tour, as Mr. Dylan's marriage was falling apart and, it is said, he was frequently depressed and hitting the bottle hard) was the perfect soundtrack to bus rides to and from high school, on the days when things weren't going so great and the idiot wind was gusting pretty heavy. That is why I hold that album so dear, and why it was in my bag that day, and why it was all I had to put in front of Dylan as the only autograph seeker at the stage door.

"Mr. Dylan, could you please sign this?"

He looked at the liner notes briefly.

"Sorry, I gotta get inside."

And so ended my chance of getting Bob Dylan's autograph. Tragically, I'd had the liner notes to the "Masked and Anonymous" soundtrack in my bag earlier that week. I feel that if I had put that in front of him, he might've reacted differently.

But the experience wasn't over yet. As all the crazy Dylan fans recapped what had just happened, the Hammerstein security set up a barricade by the stage door. Knowing that Mr. Dylan had to come out at some point, more crazy people had gathered for his next appearance, though there were still no more than 25 people around, including some people who, as often happens in New York City, just saw a crowd and a barricade and assumed something must be going on.

So, after a few minutes, Mr. Dylan emerged and came over to the barricade and started talking to people. Once again, crazy people reigned. Or, more to the point, one crazy woman reigned. I don't think it was the same woman who gave him the panties, but she was just as bizarre. Mr. Dylan was right in front of her (along with his stone-faced security guard, whose name I used to know but it's probably for the best that I've forgotten), so she grabbed the proverbial mike and peppered Mr. Dylan with several bizarre questions.

I can remember two in particular. The first was "Does your wife breastfeed your kids?" Yes, I am serious. That is the question she came up with for Mr. Dylan. Granted, it was more than I came up with, but still it seemed a touch odd. And I think I have the tense correct, which makes it even more odd, as, as far as I know, Mr. Dylan had neither a wife nor a child of breastfeeding age at the time of this inquiry. And, in fact, hadn't had either for quite some time. I do not recall Mr. Dylan's reaction to this line of questioning, but, to his credit, he did not recoil from it and run back to the bus.

I do recall his reaction to her other question, which was something along the lines of "Do you work out?" Now, I have much love and respect for Mr. Dylan, but I have never looked at him on stage and wondered, "Hey, I wonder what his fitness routine is?" But this was an important issue for the crazy woman, who then followed up with "How do you stay so buff?" And, then, Bob Dylan turned to his security guard (who fought hard to suppress a laugh) and, in what might be the greatest thing I've ever heard come out of Bob Dylan's mouth, said the following:

"Buff? What is buff?"

That's maybe one of the greatest moments of my life, which may speak poorly of my life, but so be it. It was incredible.

As the woman continued to rattle on about buffness, Mr. Dylan finally had enough of the conversation and turned to an elderly couple further up behind the barricade and asked, "So what are you guys doing?" Soon after, he pulled away from the barricade and stood over by the buses talking to his security guard in a conversation that I can only imagine began with "See, that's why I don't talk to people."

Mr. Dylan stood there away from the crowd for a while, and it seemed like our audience with him was over. I was still lingering around trying to process everything, but I moved away from the barricade and went to the barricade on the other end of the buses, where I was talking to two other Dylan fans about what had just happened. They were a husband and wife and they wore matching Dylan shirts, which I either surmised or was told was their thing at Dylan shows. They told me about some other times they had seen Dylan by his bus at various venues, and they seemed reasonably nonchalant about it. Then as the three of us were talking, I saw Mr. Dylan pull away from his conversation and start to walk toward us. "This is it," I thought. The three of us are going to get to have our own personal conversation with Bob Dylan, without interference from crazy people. And Mr. Dylan was going to sign my "Hard Rain" liner notes and apologize for not doing so earlier. It was going to be awesome. Stay cool.

But then the people at the other barricade saw him walking toward us and bolted down the street. So by the time Mr. Dylan made it over to the barricade, a crowd had formed. He just looked at the three of us and said, "We're gonna try this again tomorrow." And then went back to his safe spot in between the barricades. So much for that meaningful conversation. And autographed "Hard Rain."

***

By then, the sun was gone and the city--and, W. 35th St. in particular--was dark. I spent a few minutes with the crazy people as we sought to track Dylan's movements by his white cowboy hat. But then it became sad and pathetic to me (surely a sane person would have reached that conclusion much earlier), so I headed out for my walk to the ferry terminal in quiet, dark Manhattan. It was a fun walk, and the memory of being that close to Bob Dylan made it go pretty quickly. If all blackouts led to something that cool, I think I could learn to like blackouts.

Sure, it would've been a cooler story if I had gotten an autograph out of it, or even a picture with Mr. Dylan (I had a camera in my bag, but I knew if I took it out, he'd bolt), but it was still a night to remember.

And the most important lesson of all (other than always have something other than "Hard Rain" in your bag)?

Always choose the most difficult option. You get the best stories that way.

8.01.2012

What I Liked About July

*The Stanley Cup, Ithaca Ale House, Ithaca, NY
*Meeting Tiffani Thiessen
*Plain pizza, Sally's Apizz, New Haven, CT
*Hudson Falcons, Partners, New Haven, CT





*Getting Robin Zander to sign a picture I took
*The Campbell Brothers, Hecksher Park, Huntington, NY
*Amy LaVere, Joe's Pub, NYC; Rosie's Cafe Concerts, Brick, NJ
*Adding three new names to my semi-retired Woodstock poster





*Los Lobos, Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn, NY
*Star & Micey/Carolina Story, Rockwood Music Hall, NYC
*Pot roast pierogies, Veselka, NYC
*The willingness of people with cars to drive me places

7.02.2012

What I Liked About June


*Clearwater Festival, Croton-on-Hudson, NY
*Jon Langford and the Newport Nippers, Madison Square Park, NYC
*The reopening of Torico's
*Ted



*Joe Walsh, Apple Store, NYC
*Tuesday Night Pizza Party, Staten Island, NY
*Buddy Guy, Barnes & Noble Tribeca, NYC
*Dustin Brown winning the Stanley Cup






*Somerset Patriots v. Bridgeport Bluefish, Bridgewater, NJ
*Getting Emmylou Harris to sign three LPs
*Johan Santana's no-hitter and R.A. Dickey's one-hitters
*The willingness of people with cars to drive me places

6.24.2012

Great Moments in TV History: Robert Culp Falls Asleep While Standing Up

I have been carefully rationing my viewing of the fantastic Celebrity Bowling DVD (which everyone should buy immediately) because there are only three discs and I can't bear to think that there will be a time when I have no more Celebrity Bowling episodes to watch (though I can buy the Brady special edition, which I will be doing the second the last match on Disc 3 ends). So, after breezing through the first disc several months ago, I held off on Disc 2 until Saturday afternoon.

After watching the team of Ed Asner and Elena Verdugo (whom I don't know and who genuinely seems annoyed about her inability to bowl throughout) lose to Gavin MacLeod (Go Bombers!) and Loretta Swit, I skipped over the Billy Barty episode (saving it for last because my eyes are not ready to see the majesty of the great Billy Barty on a bowling lane) and went to the Bob Newhart/Bobby Troup (from Emergency!, which I vaguely remember, and, holy cow, he wrote "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66" and "The Girl Can't Help It"!)) team take on the Roy Rogers/Robert Culp squad.

I was excited for this one because I had seen past episodes with Newhart and Rogers and they are both good bowlers. Rogers seems to take the game particularly seriously, which, combined with his ability to produce the all-time best fast food biscuit (yeah, KFC, I said it), might make him some sort of god. Newhart has also clearly spent some time on the lanes, but if I had to choose one, I'd go with old Roy.

The highlight of the show, however, has nothing to do with either Newhart or Rogers, or Bobby Troup for that matter (though his measured bowling approach turned me into a fan). No, the highlight of the show comes before the bowling even gets under way, when the snazzily shaded, chest-bearing Robert Culp, in the midst of host Jed Allan explaining the rules. falls asleep while standing up. I videotaped it off my TV (illegal, yes, but I'm doing a public service here; I'll take it down if there are any complaints from the Celebrity Bowling people, whom I love with all my heart and would never harm) so you can see it. The nodding off begins at the 35-second mark. It is awesome. (Forgive the sound; I can only blast Celebrity Bowling so loud in my apartment before the neighbors talk.)

video

Thank you, Robert Culp, for that Great Moment in TV History.

(And as if that weren't exciting enough, while looking up links for this post, I discovered that there is a new Celebrity Bowling DVD. Glory be!)

6.03.2012

What I Liked About May



*Hanging with the McCormicks, Wilmington, DE
*Sigman Family Mother's Day Weekend Road Trip
*Ray Price/Gene Watson, American Music Theatre, Lancaster, PA
*Avett Brothers, MLB Fan Cave, New York, NY; Patriot Center, Fairfax, VA


*The Wandering, Concerts in the Studio, Freehold, NJ; Joe's Pub, New York, NY, World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, PA
*Clemmy's Sugar-Free Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip ice cream
*The Guttenberg Bible
*Amanda Shires, Living Room, New York, NY





*Getting Al Anderson to sign my Lou and the Q LP
*Boston cream cupcake, Robicelli's, Brooklyn, NY
*Oatmeal raisin pancakes, River's Edge Cafe, Oakhurst, NJ
*The willingness of people with cars to drive me places

5.28.2012

Sitcom Kitchens I Have Loved

While watching one of the countless marathons on TV this weekend (I am sorry, soldiers who have died for my freedom), I started thinking about the greatest kitchens in sitcom history. Yes, this is what I do when I'm alone in my apartment with nothing to do. And you wonder why I travel all the time.

Anywho, I'm gonna go with these as my Top 5 (honorable mention: Diff'rent Strokes, because of the spiral staircase, which was pretty awesome).

5. Growing Pains--Lots of light in this one, and I like the idea of a bookshelf/nook by the kitchen table. Maybe a little overboard with the plants, but, hey, if that's what the Seavers like, that's what they like. Who am I to judge?

4. The Cosby Show--Nice layout. Doesn't look cramped. Tastefully decorated. And that cool fireplace. I also like kitchens that you walk right into from outside. One of my grandmothers had a kitchen that you could enter through the back door, and I think that's why I liked hers best of the Kitchens of my Childhood. Our kitchen was OK, but it wasn't better than anything in this Top 5. No wonder we never had our own sitcom.

3. The Brady Bunch--I like the layout and colors, and I've always liked kitchens with the ovens in the wall like that. Like everything in the Brady house, it seems like it should be bigger considering nine people were sharing it (10 when Cousin Oliver came). But the design is solid (nice work, Mr. Brady) and it feels like Alice has her own command center in the middle. The little window into the den and the sliding doors leading outside (watch out for footballs) are a nice touch, too.

2. Benson--The forgotten kitchen. Spacious, a checkerboard floor (like my kitchen!), windowed cabinets (like the Huxtables'), and a nice simple table in the middle. Seems like it would be a nice place to have breakfast in. I suppose it oughta be nice, seeing as it's a kitchen in a mansion, but, hey there are no guarantees in life. And as much as I like the idea of a bookshelf in a kitchen, I love the idea of a desk. Imagine a kitchen so big you can have a desk in it? Man, I have to get rich. Or become governor. Or be spun off from another sitcom.

1. Family Ties--The reason why I even started thinking about this list. It's the best. What else can be said? Lots of space. The nice island in the middle. The sweet stainless steel oven. Nothing too fancy but everything just right.

Of course, because everything has already been discussed on the Internet at some point, there's this slideshow with its own votes (kudos to them for the Benson shoutout, even if I question some of the other choices) and a discussion here that gives the Full House kitchen some well-deserved props. But I'm sticking with my choices.

You're welcome, America.

5.06.2012

What I Liked About April





*Last Call, Lakeside Lounge
*The arrival of Emrys Henry Micholychak
*The Baseball Project, Maxwell's, Hoboken, NJ
*The meeting of the Hockey Film Appreciation Society











*The Sigmans' return to Atlantic City
*Trampled By Turtles, Webster Hall, NYC
*Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie
*Celebrity House Hunting





*The space shuttle flight
*Kathleen Edwards, Webster Hall, NYC
*NRBQ, Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn, NY
*The willingness of people with cars to drive me places

4.22.2012

On Levon leaving

The last song I saw Levon play, Levon Helm Studios, 2.4.12 (taken from this video by the Talbot Players in association with PBS Arts)

"Mr. Helm, would you sign this? Thank you."

"Mr. Helm, would you sign this? Thank you."

"Mr. Helm, would you sign this? Thank you."

"Happy birthday!"

To the best of my recollection (and perhaps slightly paraphrased), these are all the words I spoke to Levon Helm before his passing last Thursday at the age of 71. And, thus, the words he spoke to me were likely some variation of "Sure" three times and "You, t...Thanks!" (the latter I remember more clearly from last year's birthday Ramble).

What I'm saying is we didn't have a lot of long talks. Or really more than a minute of direct interaction.

So, why, when someone walking up the stairs of the Grove St. PATH station tapped me on the sleeve of my Levon Helm Band hoodie Thursday night and said, "Hey, nice sweatshirt," did I start to cry a little?

Because music does that sometimes. Especially when it stops too soon.

***

I came to The Band in a different way from most. My first exposure was to the post-Robbie, post-Richard version, via their cover of Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece" during the radio simulcast of the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration from Madison Square Garden and the subsequent TV airing on PBS. I was initially drawn to the harmonies and the one verse sung by the bassist Rick Danko (probably because of the guy incessantly yelling out, "Danko!" as The Band took the stage), but, over time, the main voice in the song--Levon's--was what hooked me for good. In fact, the last line of the song ("Someday everything's gonna be different, when I paint my masterpiece") was given the prime slot of being my high school yearbook quote. Credit was given to "BD" for the line, but if I had more space, I would've added an "As sung by LH."

And then I worked my way backward, slowly at first. In fact, there was a long time where I actually had more post-Robbie studio albums than pre-Robbie ones. I still like Jericho (whose promo poster was one of the first wall decorations in my freshman dorm room) and High on the Hog a bunch, because those were the ones that got me in the door. And because the cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City" on Jericho is one of the best covers ever. I also have a soft spot for one of the oddest covers in the Band catalog on High on the Hog, a version of En Vogue's "Free Your Mind" sung by Levon--and sung pretty damn well. Of course, there wasn't much Levon couldn't make you feel.

In the days since Levon's passing, I've thought about how lucky I was to have the chance to see Levon play, whether it was with The Band in Central Park, at a free 4th of July show near Wall Street, or on the every borough of my birth (I actually worked as quasi-backstage-security; I had to have been terrible at that, but no one was killed, so I declare it a success); for a few Barnburners shows (including one on that consistently terrifying Blues Cruise around NYC); and, of course, quite a few Rambles. By my unofficial count, I saw Levon play 30 shows. A pretty good number.

I just wish there had been time for a few more.

 ***

I'm not the first person to say it (and this is surely not the first time I've said it), but there really was nothing like a Ramble at Levon's place. Sure, the Levon shows I saw at the Beacon Theatre, Radio City Music Hall, Newport, the State Theater in Ithaca, and elsewhere were great, but they didn't have that magic that the Woodstock Rambles had. That drive up Plochmann, which always seemed longer than you remembered but only because that anticipation was killing you (though I did walk up the road once and, I assure you, it's pretty long...and hilly). The way Levon's dogs, Lucy and Muddy, checked you out and, in Lucy's case, stood in the lake and barked at you. That wait on line, checking with the people around you to see if they were repeat Ramblers or first-timers about to have their minds blown. That moment when the doors opened and the measured (some times less measured than others) scramble for seats began. The buildup as the opening group wrapped up and the stage was prepped for Levon and his band. That billion-watt smile on Levon's face as he made his way to the drumkit. That joy that went through you with the first crack of the drums. And the triumphant walk back to the car after Levon had raised the arms of every musician on stage and headed back into his home.

It was something. I tried hard to get everyone I loved, everyone who loved music to a Ramble. I did pretty good, but I wish I'd done better. Money got in the way. When most people dream of winning the lottery, they think about the vacations they will take and the giant houses they will buy. The first item on my postwin agenda was buying up as many seats as possible for a Ramble, paying the way for everyone I cared about (and flying them in if I had to), and having the greatest night of our lives. A house? What am I gonna do with a house? How could that bring more joy than the sight of Levon's ear-to-ear grin and the sound of that damn near perfect band, and sharing all that with the people I love?

I tried. I bought my Powerball tickets. Every last one a loser.

We'll have to come up with something else.

***

It's hard to think about never seeing Levon behind those drums again, never again hearing that glorious yowl of a voice, a thing of beauty even when diminished. I could've seen Levon 1,000 times and still wanted to hear the 1,001st. It's just the way it is when you've heard something so powerful, so unbelievably true. For anyone who loves music and loves how it can pick you up and leave you in a much better place, a Levon Helm show--whether he was singing, drumming, or doing both--was about as good as it gets.

There will never be another Levon Helm. Believe that. But there will be others. Others who sat with their ears up close to the speakers as Music from Big Pink played. Others who went to see Levon play his yearly free show at Gill's Farm in Hurley, NY, or at an outdoor festival because their folks thought they should hear this guy. Others who sat in Levon's barn at a Ramble and heard the most joyful noise this side of heaven and set out to make some righteous clamor of their own.

Levon Helm's not here anymore. But he's not gonna die. It's not possible.

***

In an attempt to make up for my lackluster conversation starters of the past, I've come up with this:

"Hey, Levon, you know how in the later years, when you were having trouble singing and you'd finish a song where your voice started to waver a bit, and you'd put your thumb and forefinger just about together, as if to say, 'This close'?

It didn't matter how your voice sounded. You were never 'this close.' You were always there. Right where you needed to be. Right on time. And I'm glad I got to see that.

Goodbye. And thanks. So much."

4.15.2012

Farewell, Lakeside

Chip Robinson and the Roscoe Trio, Lakeside Lounge, 2009
I don't drink, but I always figured if I had the urge to get drunk off my ass, there was only one place befitting such an occasion: the Lakeside Lounge on Avenue B. Well, it turns out I only have two weeks left to get that urge, because the Lakeside is closing at the end of the month. And, quite frankly, I'm far too bummed about that to want to get drunk. It'd be a real sad bender, and no one likes the sight of a teary drunk.

Will Kimbrough, Lakeside Lounge, 2007
I haven't felt this awful about someplace closing since the Bottom Line went away (I still get a little misty/angry when I walk by the corner of W. 4th and Mercer), and that makes sense, because there were no two places that made me love live music as much as the Bottom Line and the Lakeside. The Bottom Line and the Lakeside were the only two places I "snuck" into for an over-21 show, and the Lakeside was the only one where I did so on my own. I don't think I knew the Lakeside was an over-21 place when I saw that the Yayhoos (Lakeside co-owner Eric "Roscoe" Ambel, Terry Anderson, Dan Baird, and Keith Christopher) were playing there on, I'm guessing, March 10, 1997 (thank you, Internet!). In fact, I don't think I knew anything about the Lakeside at the time, and I may not have even known that there was a part of Manhattan where the avenues were letters. All I knew was that I loved the Georgia Satellites and the Dan Baird solo CD, Love Songs for the Hearing Impaired, and I read some article somewhere that said Dan was in a band with these guys who did cool covers like "Dancing Queen" and "Daydream Believer." Sold!

Dan Baird (The Yayhoos), Lakeside Lounge, NYC, 2005
So I figured out where this so-called Avenue B was, got to the Lakeside way ahead of the time the Yayhoos were listed, and nobody said a thing to me when I walked inside. It probably didn't even look like a show was going to happen anytime soon (it never seemed to when I got to the Lakeside on the early side), but there was a cool photo booth and a tabletop Ms. Pac Man, so the place seemed all right. And after the show started and I had seen the Yayhoos for the first time, I felt confident that the Lakeside might be the coolest place on earth. I have not wavered much from that initial assessment.

Dave Bartholomew and Terry Anderson (Terry Anderson and the Olympic Ass-Kickin' Team), 2010
I can't recall ever leaving the Lakeside feeling anything less than ecstatic that I lived so close to such a cool place, where I could see bands I loved without a drink minimum or even a cover (rest assured, I always contributed to the tip jar, and those that don't, at any club, should have their ears ripped out). Even if the show itself was underwhelming (which couldn't have happened more than once or twice), it still felt good to be at the Lakeside. And it felt even better when the night's inevitable newcomer stood confused at the emergency exit door by the stage and had to receive his or her mimed directions to go to the next door down to get in the bar. When you saw that, you knew someone was about to have their first Lakeside experience, and would undoubtedly wind up the better for it. Or else the person had such a good time the previous go-round as to forget how to enter the Lakeside. Either way, cool.

Jason D. Williams, Lakeside Lounge, 2010
I have tons of great memories of shows at the Lakeside, whether it's the two Yayhoos shows (easily among my favorites anywhere), a bunch of great Chip Robinson shows (one or two of which I might've almost cried during as he played "Story"), the kind-of secret Elvis Club (aka the Del Lords) show, the completely insane Jason D. Williams show, or watching the people outside the Lakeside staring open-mouthed as Keith Christopher ripped off a solo on a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Sway." And I think the Lakeside was the only place I've ever gone to a show to bring in the new year. I felt confident the amateurs would stay far away from the Lakeside. I was right. And a picture I took of Ambel was on the poster for the gig, which, I'm going to be honest, is one of the greatest things ever.

Scott Kempner (The Elvis Club, aka the Del Lords), Lakeside Lounge, 2011
So, farewell, Lakeside. I cannot tell you how much I will miss you. But as long as those chords still rattle in my ears and those paintings on the walls stay in my mind, I'll be all right. And for those of you who've never seen a show there, please hurry. You'll be mad at yourself if you can't brag to people that you went to the Lakeside.

Have a few drinks for me. And don't forget to tip the band.

Eric "Roscoe" Ambel, Lakeside Lounge, 2011

4.04.2012

What I Liked About March



*Amy LaVere, Rochester, NY; Ithaca, NY, Cambridge, MA; Philadelphia, PA; Washington, DC; Annapolis, MD, NYC
*First time at Moosewood Restaurant, Ithaca, NY
*Hanging with Josh, Ruth, and Nate, Hoboken, NJ
*Islanders 1, Devils 0
*Hanging with Brett, Jessica, Sam. and Fiona, Oneonta, NY



*Andrew WK, Wolf Den, Uncasville, CT
*First time at Dinosaur BBQ, Rochester, NY
*Hanging with Abby and Jesse and eating the Burporken, Red Palace, Washington, DC
*Bowling with Liz, L&M Lanes, Rochester, NY
*Hanging with Bryan, Kelly, Everett, Wesley, and Eleanor, Tully, NY








*First trip to Frank Pepe's, New Haven, CT
*Getting Henry Winkler to sign a picture of the Bronze Fonz
*Dinner with Jon at the Red Rose, Brooklyn, NY
*Hanging with D.J., Wendy, and Kaelin, Peabody, MA
*The willingness of people with cars to drive me places

4.03.2012

The 2012 No Hotel? No Problem Tour: The End

A view from the harbor, Annapolis, MD
Sunday, March 18
Bus from Annapolis to Glen Burnie: 5:08 pm
Light rail from Glen Burnie to Baltimore: 5:58 pm
Amtrak from Baltimore to Newark, NJ: 8:04 pm

I don't think I've ever attended a rock show at 1 in the afternoon on a Sunday before, so I can now safely add that to the list. What list, you ask? OK, I'll be honest with you, because you've been nice enough to read this: I'm not keeping a list of concert start times. I just needed a way to start this post, and it seemed like as good an idea as any. But don't tell the others. Let them think I keep a list of concert start times. We'll know the truth.

After an early rising for some churching and a literal wave hello and goodbye to Jesse's daughters, Paige and Harper, it was time to get in Jesse's car and head to Annapolis. As if his magnanimity in foregoing an evening of March Madness to come see the rock show and watch me shove meat down my throat (that doesn't sound right...) weren't enough, Jesse also agreed to drive me to Annapolis on the way (sort of) to dropping his mother off at the airport. As we discussed with his wife Anna before my departure, not only was this not the shortest time I've ever spent with them during a visit, but it wasn't even second (my impulsive decision to meet them at a Nationals game last year at which Paige served as between-innings cohost stands as the first, and the Obama inauguration--my sister and I arrived at night and left well before dawn cracked--takes second, though it's first in Actual Waking Hours Spent). If the secret to being a good guest is not overstaying your welcome, I might be King of the Guests.

Despite all the food I consumed the night before, I still wanted to eat a Belgian waffle at the Ram's Head Tavern during the show. Because, really, how many times are you going to get to eat a Belgian waffle during a rock show? Alas, my dreams were shattered when my waiter informed me that the brunch menu was not available in the concert venue section of the Ram's Head. What a punch in the face.

As it turns out, though, I might not have had time to finish the waffle during Amy's set anyway. Because there was an evening show (jazz fusion guitarist--and, as I discovered in I Want My MTV, an early MTV favorite just because he had videos--Lee Ritenour) and the room had to be cleared and, I assume, there had to be another soundcheck, the 1 pm show was on a tight, done-by-3 schedule, which meant Amy and the guys had a whopping 25 minutes. But they made the most of it, and Amy even had time to throw in a Sunday-related joke in the set.

After helping with load-out and listening to a dizzying array of questions and comments from a fan (of Amy, not me), I finally got my Belgian waffle, albeit outside the concert venue and in the tavern part, as we sat down for brunch. It was fine, but it would've been better if I could've consumed it while listening to the show. C'mon, Ram's Head, if you're going to schedule shows at 1 pm on a Sunday, just go all out and have a rock 'n' roll brunch. It's the right thing to do.

I was off merch duty in Annapolis (the Ram's Head controls the merch selling, for a cut of the profits; this makes the Great Waffle Denial even more egregious), but by the time we were done eating, I only got to see two songs from Rich Robinson before wandering around Annapolis for a few hours prior to my multilayered trip back home. The dread of having the fun stop began to set in, and I realized that I would have to be at work in the morning. Blah.

Luckily, perhaps my favorite line of the tour came as Amy, Dave, and Shawn were getting ready to leave. A Rich Robinson fan who had been to more shows on the tour than I had (I forget the final tally, but it was close to 10) lamented to Amy about the short set but said she sounded great anyway. A perhaps slightly overtired Amy got her sayings a bit jumbled and responded, "We make lemons." And if that's not a catchphrase waiting to happen, I don't know what is.

Continuing my 24 hours of gluttony, I bought some cookies (which I saved for the train ride), a Chicago dog, and an ice cream cone as I killed time (and, slowly, myself) in Annapolis, briefly stopping at the harbor to take a few pictures on what started as an overcast day and morphed into a picture-perfect spring afternoon. Annapolis was another city I've only seen under cover of night (my friend Pat and I saw the Avett Brothers and BR549 at the Ram's Head a few years back), so it was good to get a better feel of the place.

And then, after being denied entry on the Annapolis city bus because of my ice cream cone (I forget that NYC stands pretty much alone on its eating policy on buses), I caught it after finishing my cone (it loops around the city before heading out) and began the six-hour-plus process of heading home. It was actually a lot easier than I expected, and I got a good chunk of reading done for the first time in a few days. Plus, though I assumed the Sunday night Amtrak would be running late (there always seems to be delays on the regional trains on weekends), it was actually right on time, and after the bus-light rail-Amtrak-PATH train ride home, I was back in my apartment by 11 pm, just in time for a decent night's sleep before heading back to Cubicleville.

Shawn Zorn, Bowery Ballroom, NYC
Monday, March 19

Walk to work: 8:30 am
PATH to NYC: 5:45 pm (approx.)
Subway to Bowery Ballroom: 8 pm (approx.)

I'll be honest. That Monday wasn't the most productive day at work I've ever had. But, because I've finally figured out that it makes more sense to bust your ass to get things done before you leave on vacation rather than letting it sit on your desk until you return, I didn't need to bring my "A" game (which was a relief, because I'm not 100% sure I have an "A" game). I feel like I'm getting the hang of this work thing. So now I would like to retire. And I'm only a few hundred thousand dollars and a house away from making that happen.

There was still one more show left on the Amy and Rich tour, and I only needed to take a PATH train (and a subway from the yearly NYC Ithacan Alumni Dinner, where I was only the second oldest attendee this year...thanks for coming, Mike!) to get there. The Bowery Ballroom show was a bit underattended, but my friends and fellow Monday Night Social Clubbers Frankie and Kelly came out for Amy's set and to engage me in whatever I was providing in the way of conversation (I recall talking very fast and repeating myself a bit), so that was nice.

Both Amy and Rich sounded good. I'm assuming that everyone who reads this knows me and has already sat through a fair number of pleas to see Amy, so I've kept the music descriptions to a minimum. But, honest, you should go see her. The band sounds great after all the touring (though they're even better with violinist Krista Wroten Combest, busy with her other band, The Memphis Dawls at the moment), and after seeing them seven days in a row, I can assure you they are worth seeing. So, please do so when they come around again (July on the east coast and sooner out west, and Amy will be touring as a member of The Wandering in May). I won't like you any less if you don't go see her, but I will like you so much more if you do.

The merch sales moved at a slow trickle for most of the night in NYC (though I did sell a T-shirt that wasn't even displayed, so I did serve some purpose), but in the downtime I got some more backstory on the Dude, who told me that he got started doing pretty much what I was doing, except he was following Marcy Playground around for awhile and detailing his adventures on a fan listserv, and through the years, that turned into his current position as professional merch guy/driver. I would be lying if I said I weren't a little jealous, though I imagine a week on the road (particularly when you're not driving) is a lot more fun than, say, a month or two. But maybe not. I am willing to listen to offers from bands looking for a merch guy who can't drive. Please list your detailed offer in the Comments and I will get back to you at my earliest convenience. I will accept proposals from bands that suck, but please know that you will have a steep climb.

After Rich Robinson ended his set with three Neil Young covers ("Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere," "Down by the River," and "Cinnamon Girl") and a Velvet Underground cover ("Oh! Sweet Nuthin'), the fun officially came to an end and it was time to fully get back to the real world. I said goodbye to the Dude, and then helped Amy and the guys load up the van before heading off to the PATH train. I'd been carrying around my poster from Rochester for most of the trip and kept forgetting to have everyone sign it. My camera, as you might have noticed, is on the fritz, so I needed a better souvenir of the trip. And it's a cool poster, if a little girly for the walls of Disgraceland. But a little girliness might liven the place up. Actual women might, too. I will also consider those offers in the Comments section.

Abilene (Rochester, NY) poster, made by Fly Rabbit Press
It was a fun vacation. I recommend something similar if you've got the time. Go out and see bands. They'd be happy to see you, after driving all day, loading and unloading the van, trying to find decent food, and doing their best to bring some sort of happiness into your and their lives, even if it's just for 45 minutes. Just promise me you'll watch what you say at the merch table. And please don't haggle.

You should go see your friends, too, the ones who aren't physically as close as you'd like them to be but are still right there in your heart. They'll be glad to see you as well, and you'll be happy to know they're still as funny, smart, and incredible as you remembered. Plus, some of them have created little people that can make you feel all right about doing kid stuff again.

So, my message is as it always is at the end of these hectic trip recaps. Get out and enjoy life. As much as you can and as hard as you can. As soon as you can.

But don't do two overnight bus rides in a row. That's just stupid.


(Thanks to Amy, Dave, Shawn, the Dude, Brett, Jessica, Sam, Fiona, Bryan, Kelly, Everett, Wesley, Eleanor, Liz, D.J., Wendy, Kaelin, Abby, Jesse, Anna, Paige, Harper, Frankie, and Kelly for your general awesomeness and help in creating this memorable trip. You're good people.)

4.01.2012

The 2012 No Hotel? No Problem Tour: Part 4

John Train, Fergie's Pub, Philadelphia, PA
Friday, March 16


Megabus from NYC to Philadelphia: 12:45 pm
SEPTA train from Philadelphia to Trenton: 11:51 pm

As I boarded the Megabus at South Station in Boston for my second overnight bus trip in a row (after having a brief moment of panic when I arrived and didn't see my bus on the Departures screen), I started to rethink the intelligence of this part of the trip. Maybe it wouldn't have been such a bad idea to spring for a hotel in Boston for the night. Actually, scratch "maybe."

But no matter. I was on the bus and though we were a few minutes behind schedule, in a few hours I'd be home and, since I didn't need to catch my bus to Philly until 12:45, I could add to whatever sleep I picked up on the bus with a few hours in my very own bed. So I leaned my head against the window and looked to get a jump on my bus sleep.

I heard people talking about something as I drifted off, but I was sufficiently dead to the world that it didn't bother me much. Then, after a few minutes of rest, the talking got louder and I heard someone's name being spelled out and a phone call being made. OK, I'm up. Kind of.

It turns out that because of Megabus's bad-things-are-bound-to-happen-with-this policy of not providing tickets (you can either show them your receipt on your mobile device or print out the receipt and bring it with you), the driver was trying to confirm that a woman who had changed her reservation but figured she didn't really need any proof of that before boarding was in fact allowed to travel on the bus. The woman in question seemed largely unfazed by the proceedings and instead blamed the whole situation on the driver's poor command of English.

Finally, after sitting in the station for about 45 minutes, everything was resolved, the woman got to stay, and we were on the road at about 1 a.m.  And once we were moving, my plans for sleep quickly went away, though I probably picked up maybe a half-hour's worth of shuteye in Massachusetts. But once we got to Connecticut, it was sleep for a minute, wake up, look out the window for a highway sign, realize we were still in Connecticut, and then repeat the cycle for the next three hours.

I seem to recall arriving in NYC around 5:30, about an hour behind schedule. So by the time I got the PATH train and back to my apartment, it was closing in on 7 and what looked like a nice window for decent sleep was now about four hours. Super.

But I did it and made the Megabus to Philly with plenty of time to spare. And, when I got to Philly, I had a few quality hours in one of my favorite cities, mainly spent sitting and eating at one of my favorite places on earth, the Reading Terminal Market (though being there on a Friday during Lent was kind of torture...next time, DiNic's, next time). Then it was off to the first set of one of the last weeks of the John Train Winter Residency at Fergie's Pub, another of my favorite things about Philly. I saw a few Marah fans from back in the day and was happy to hear John Train's cover of Butch Hancock's "Boxcars" before walking up to World Cafe Live for the night's Amy and Rich show.
Dave Cousar, Shawn Zorn, and Amy LaVere, World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, PA
I hung out with the Dude at the merch table for a while before the show as he extolled the virtues of his pulled pork with cheese sandwich (the cheese was his addition, and he was quite proud of coming up with it) and then headed inside to see Amy and the guys play. It was another good night for them, and there was a reasonably steady flow of sales at the merch table afterward, where I also talked with Amy's friend radio DJ and Dylanologist Michael Tearson for a while. I am sad to note that I only discovered now that he was in the movie Wise Guys (Captain Lou Albano's shining moment on the big screen, as Frankie the Fixer), which actually is probably good for him, because I would've talked his ear off about that. As it is, we stuck mostly to Dylan.

Unfortunately, the evening also brought another Merch Table Faux Pas. Musicans, I'm guessing, generally like to hear that you enjoyed the show. And if it's your first time seeing them, they're probably even more excited to hear that, because it means this touring thing is actually working. However, it would be nice if you didn't start off your well-meaning compliment with "Wow, this was a total shock!," as someone did in Philly. I know you mean well, and I admit that I once said something similarly well intentioned to Kristen Barry at Maxwell's ("I enjoyed you so much more live than on your CD," which still makes me cringe when I remember it, especially since it was the same night I told Pete Droge I hated the band that came on before him the last time I saw him, which turned out to be a band he loved). But, as a general rule, it's best not to provide a preamble that establishes how much you thought the musician you are now complementing was going to be terrible. I cannot speak for Amy or any other musician in a similar situation, but I think it's reasonable to assume that they hear what I hear--namely, "I came to this show headlined by a band I like completely dreading, you, the band opening for the band I like, because you are not the band I like and therefore could not be another band I might like. Imagine my surprise when I discovered you are good! Huzzah!"

So, try to keep those compliments brief, or at least free of qualifiers, at the merch table. Another one to grow on...

I got to see a good portion of Rich Robinson's set after the merch rush died down and, though I'm not much of a guitar jam guy, liked what I heard (which, If I were at the merch table talking to Rich Robinson, I would phrase "I liked your set"). We got a few more customers after the show ended, and, after Amy told me that Saturday was Dave's birthday, I volunteered to pick up a cake in NYC in the morning. I suppose it would've been easier to get one in DC, but I feel confident that NYC is a better cake city than DC. Yeah, I said it. You're not impressing me, Georgetown Cupcake (plus you're here now anyway).

And then, with the overnight buses now behind me,  it was off to 30th Street Station, to pick up my SEPTA train to Trenton, which would take me to the NJ Transit train in Trenton, which would take me to the PATH to Newark, which would take me to Jersey City and home, and dreams of the Burporken at the Red Palace in Washington, DC.

Preassembly Burporken w/ fries, Red Palace, Washington, DC (photo by J. Ellis)
Saturday, March 17

NJ Transit train to Newark: 12:59 am


Megabus to DC: 12 pm

I was intrigued by the Burporken from the moment I noted its inclusion on the website for the Red Palace in Washington, DC, where the Amy and Rich show was due to play on St. Patrick's Day. I'm not really a gluttonous, Man vs. Food kind of guy, but when presented with a "beef burger, topped with pulled pork, topped with grilled chicken," I became intrigued. You may replace "intrigued" with "disgusted" if you wish. Perhaps you will be proven more correct when you outlive me by a few decades. We'll see.

In any case, I made the decision that the Burporken was for me. So I began hyping myself up for it and, all things considered, didn't really eat all that poorly in the days leading up to the Burporken adventure. Visions of it would have danced in my head had I been able to picture what it might look like. I couldn't quite wrap my head around it, and assumed wrapping my jaw around it would be a challenge as well.

But I was still about 10 hours away from my Adventure in Meats when I left my apartment and headed into NYC in search of a birthday cake. I did some advance scouting on the Web in the morning and settled on one of two places. The first, Billy's, refused to sell me a whole cake, which, I suppose is their prerogative. So I headed to bakery #2 (which really should've been #1, because I knew they'd have plenty of cakes they'd be willing to sell me), Ruthy's in Chelsea Market. The only snafu I ran into came as the woman taking down my order wrote down what I wanted on the cake (an order, I should point out, I volunteered to write myself). She was not as well versed on punctuation as I'd hoped. An apostrophe became an exclamation point. Parentheses became quotation marks. But I thought we had it all sorted out, until the cake came back and had single quotation marks instead of parentheses. At this point, time was of the essence, and I can't be expected to copy-edit cakes on my vacation, so I lived with the single quote marks and headed off to the subway to take me to Port Authority and my Megabus to DC, deftly avoiding St. Patty's Day revelers in the process.

When I got to DC, I had a few more St, Paddy's Day revelers to dodge on the Metro, and then I met up with my friend (and world-class lawyer) Abby for a late lunch/pre-Burporken celebration at the Afterwords Cafe in Dupont Circle. We caught up on things, watched a dude completely back into a parked moped, and then hung out in a bar for a bit before making our way to the Red Palace in my first and only cab ride of the trip. Unless you count my friends driving me everywhere, which, because they didn't have a meter, I won't.

My friend Jesse (outside of family, the human being I have lived with the most in my life...two years in college) graciously extricated himself from his High Holy Days (March Madness) to meet up with us in the downstairs bar/restaurant at the Red Palace (the show's upstairs), and after handing off the cake to Amy, I waited anxiously for my Burporken. And waited. And waited.

Fifteen minutes until Amy starts, no Burporken.

OK, kid, don't panic. If it comes now, you can power it down. Maybe save half for later.

Five minutes to showtime. Still no Burporken. OK, maybe the show won't start exactly on time.

Showtime. I walk over to the staircase and hear Amy start her first song.

Noooooooooo!

I check with the waitress to see if I can bring food upstairs. She tells me no, and I explain the situation about the show starting and could I maybe just have them hold on to it in the kitchen and I'd come down and eat it after Amy's set (Abby expressed concern that it wouldn't be the same if I had it later; I assured her that 40 minutes wasn't going to really affect the gustatory quality of a bunch of meat smashed together). After explaining that the place is super busy and a bit overwhelmed (which I could've used a heads up on when I ordered...just sayin'), she tells me the Burporken just came up, so I could have it now and take it upstairs, though Abby would have to wait for her order of sliders because she ordered them after my Burporken order. OK, I guess.

So Abby, Jesse, and I went upstairs just as the first song ended, with me holding what felt like about five pounds of food in my hand. But I soon put it down on the floor and enjoyed the show, which featured a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Tonight Will Be Fine" for, I think, the first time this trip. The merch area was stage right, and a bit tight, so I might've been a little more in the way than actually helpful. Plus I had to contend with the now-nightly gentle mockery from the Dude regarding placement of prices, how I keep track of purchases, slowness in dealing with customers, and whatever else he felt like pointing out. He later admitted that the needling was part of how he keeps awake (the Dude was also doing the driving on the tour).

After the selling was all taken care of (no incidents to report at this point), the moment of truth had arrived. I was about to meet my Burporken. Or my match. Or my Maker. Perhaps all three.

Me and my heart attack, Red Palace, Washington, DC (photo by A. Bertumen, Esq.)
I am pleased to report that I finished the whole damn thing (Abby helped with the fries). It was delightful. The chicken kind of gets a little lost, but other than that, no real complaints (and the delay did not affect my enjoyment in the least). It's not something you probably want to eat more than, say, once a year, but, well, I'm looking forward to a trip to DC in 2013. The Red Palace, overall, is a pretty cool place, despite the Burporken delay (I made sure I wasn't being rude or short with the waitress in our earlier interaction and we were cool; I get what it feels like to be overwhelmed).

After decimating the Burporken, I waddled back up the stairs to catch the rest of Rich Robinson's set and had similar feelings to the Philadelphia set, though I thought he sounded better in DC, or maybe I just like the room better. And after the show ended, there were a few more sales to make, including to a guy who tried to haggle with Amy and get 2 CDs for $15. Unfortunately, he caught the tour on one of its Non-Buy One, Get One Free days, so he settled for a $10 EP instead.

And then it was time to give Dave his cake, which took a little work because Shawn had to get hold of Dave on his phone and tell him to come back upstairs. But he eventually made his way back, "Happy Birthday" was sung, and cake was consumed. And, because there was an inch of space left in my stomach, I decided to fill it with a piece of cake, after which I felt a little dizzy while walking to Jesse's car.

I probably should've run to the next show, a 1 pm matinee in Annapolis, and worked off my gluttony, but Jesse had a bed all ready for me, so I stuck with that plan and got some sleep in Alexandria, VA, knowing that the fun was just about over. And by "the fun," I mean the tour, not "my life," for I ate the Burporken and a piece of cake and lived to tell the tale.

UP NEXT: A short set in Annapolis, a long journey to a train. and the end.

3.28.2012

The 2012 No Hotel? No Problem Tour: Part 3

Amy LaVere, Dave Cousar, and Shawn Zorn, Angry Mom Records, Ithaca, NY
Wednesday, March 14 

Bus from Rochester to Ithaca: 10:55 a.m. 

After a quick breakfast with Liz and her mom, it was back to the bus for me, for a two-hour ride back to Ithaca to see Amy and her band play an in-store at one of my favorite record stores (Angry Mom Records) before the official show at Lot 10 (formerly Delilah's, formerly something or other in my college days but definitely not a bar). The bus wasn't all that crowded, so I figured it's be a quick, uneventful ride. And it was.

Until we almost killed a dog.

I was trying to block out the smell of urine hovering in the bus, reading my book, and occasionally taking a peek at the towns we were passing by when the driver started laying on his horn. When I looked outside and saw that we appeared to be in the middle of nowhere, I thought it odd that we would be close enough to a car to warrant some honking. And then the driver hit the horn a few more times and I saw a mangy-looking dog just sitting down in the middle of the road. And the pooch seemed pretty indifferent to the honking. Oh boy.

I braced for an awful thud, but thankfully it never came. Without swerving at all, the driver somehow managed to drive over the dog, who, the woman across the aisle from me reported, came out safely on the other side. When we got to Ithaca, I commended the driver on a job well done. Killing a dog really would've put a damper on the trip.

Turkey burger on waffle bun, Waffle Frolic, Ithaca, NY
Since I had already overloaded on nostalgia on my Sunday visit to Ithaca, and I was carrying around four days' worth of dirty clothes, I declared Wednesday Laundry Day. I briefly debated breaking into Terrace 12 or using the laundry room at the off-campus apartment where I lived my senior year but decided being arrested for doing laundry would be funny but ultimately embarrassing. So I settled on the laundromat closest to the bus station. And after that was done, I consumed one of my favorite sandwiches in America, the turkey burger on a waffle bun from Waffle Frolic. The cafe didn't exist when I was at IC, and that's probably for the best. Not only would I have spent entirely too much money there, but it would've made weekend breakfasts at the Terrace Dining Hall, where you could make your own waffles, less exciting. And, really, there was nothing quite like the feeling of waking up on Saturday knowing that you were going to be able to make your own waffle.

Amy LaVere and Dave Cousar, Angry Mom Records, Ithaca, NY
I made a quick run (via bus) back to campus to grab a copy of the latest Buzzsaw (of which I am a founder and former executive publisher) before the in-store at Angry Mom. When I saw Amy, she noted that the cold was now gone but there was still recovering from Rochester going on. The in-store went well, though, with a decent crowd showing up to watch Amy from her spot in the Comedy section.

Amy LaVere, Angry Mom Records, Ithaca, NY
As the band headed back for some rest, I wandered back into Angry Mom and bought a Steve Goodman LP and a CD by Auburn, NY's A Cast of Thousands (the most controlled purchasing I've ever done at Angry Mom) before drifting around Ithaca in search of a place to eat dinner. There are a bunch of new places, so I looked at some menus, hoping something would pique my interest. There were a few possibilities, but then I realized, "Hey, I've never actually eaten dinner at Moosewood," one of the more famous vegetarian restaurants in America. I think I had a piece of pumpkin pie there once when my sister (the vegetarian of the family) came up for a visit, but I never got past my skepticism of vegetarian restaurants enough to go there for dinner. Now that I've learned to love a few vegetarian restaurants (and one vegan food truck), it seemed like the right time. And when I saw spinach cheese ravioli on the menu (which changes daily), I was in. And so now I've eaten dinner not only at Dinosaur BBQ but also at Moosewood. And I declare Moosewood good (the cream of asparagus soup was a winner, too; it didn't last long enough for the photograph).

Spinach and cheese ravioli, w/ side of bread, Moosewood Restaurant, Ithaca, NY
Feeling slightly bloated (I probably should've spaced out lunch and dinner a little more), I made my way to Lot 10 a few minutes before showtime. Everybody seemed rested and ready to go, crowd included, except, apparently, for the one guy Dave said got angry when they started setting up the merch table. We weren't exactly sure what bothered him so much about it, but Dave said the guy moaned something about "coming here to hear music." Ithaca: you've gotta love it.

Dave Cousar, Amy LaVere, and Shawn Zorn, Lot 10, Ithaca, NY
And for the second Amy show in Ithaca in a row, there were some verbal fireworks between a  gentleman and a lady in the middle of Amy's set. Last time, the gentleman (same guy both times) chastised a woman for talking loudly during the show (for which I applaud him, though I'll admit he could've been more tactful), which she didn't take too kindly to and responded in a measured but vaguely combative tone. This time, the gentleman was irked by an Ithaca staple, the woman twirling and wildly gesticulating around the room and occasionally attempting to rope a gentleman into gesticulating with her. I was safely behind a wall of guys occasionally humoring her, but the gentleman in question was all alone in front of the stage and not enjoying the interpretive dance show. So, after trying to deal with it for a while, he eventually stormed off to get someone from the bar involved, with the twirling lady soon following behind. I'm not sure how it was resolved, but I didn't see her much after that, and she was definitely gone by night's end.

As for the show, it was another good one, highlighted by Amy's cover of David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream" and Dave's take on Tom Waits's "Clap Hands." I realized this was probably the last night of the tour that I'd see Dave do his mini-set (and definitely the last "long" show of the tour, with the rest of the shows likely being 40-minute opening slots), so I was glad I'd decided to go to the Rochester and Ithaca shows. He's a good one.

I helped out with merch at the Ithaca show, because I like to be useful and I actually enjoy selling merch at shows. In fact, if that were a legitimate career. I'd pursue it over copy editing. I would've even gotten a degree in merch selling if it were offered. How could it be less useful than the journalism degree that I have?

Unfortunately, I experienced the downside of merch selling at the end of the night when I made the foolish decision to try to carry both the t-shirt suitcase and the CD suitcase down the stairs and out to the van. Note "try to." I failed. Well, actually I got down the stairs, but somewhere between opening the door and stepping onto the sidewalk, I also stepped on a strap at the bottom of the t-shirt suitcase and promptly tipped over like a Little Teapot. And, so after all that time sober and staying on my feet outside the bars of Ithaca, my streak ended on the pavement outside of Lot 10. It was a good run.

I came out of the fall with only a skinned left knee and a slightly bruised left shoulder, so I was still cleared for travel, and shipping off to Boston, by way of New York City, via bus and train.

Kaelin
Thursday, March 15

Bus to New York City, 1:30 a.m.
Train to Boston, 8:30 a.m.
Bus to New York City, 11:59 p.m.

Yes, that's a busy travel day. No, I didn't think it through properly.

I forgot to factor in that, despite my bag full of clean clothes, I wouldn't have a chance to shower on Thursday. And, not only that, but if I wanted to change my clothes, I would probably have to do that in a bathroom somewhere. And that didn't seem like it would be fun.

So, as the Coach USA bus wound its way through upstate New York and in between grabbing about 30 minutes of sleep at a time, I decided I would take a chance on missing the Amtrak to Boston in an attempt to rush home, drop my bag off, and take a shower. If I made the 8:30, cool; I'd maybe take a tour of Fenway Park to kill a few hours, since I hadn't heard back from my friend D.J. (and understandably so; you don't want to know about the week he had) and wasn't sure what else to do in Boston. If I missed the train, I'd just take the next one, pay whatever fee I had to, skip the Fenway tour, and bum around Boston (bag-free, which would make the day much more enjoyable).

We got in a little early, so it looked like I might make it. But I just missed the PATH train to Journal Square and, after the bag dropoff and cursory shower, just missed the PATH train back to NYC, so I wound up getting to Penn Station at about 8:35. Oh well. At least I didn't stink.

The next train wasn't for a few hours. Well, there was an Acela Express leaving sooner, but that was an upgrade fee I was not willing to pay, so I forked over $20 for the next regional train, went to the FedEx Office for a bit, and then went back to Penn Station to read the newspapers and wait for the train. In that time, D.J. texted me to tell me he and his daughter, Kaelin, would be more than happy to hang out if I so desired. I did, and since it'd been a few days since I'd seen one of my friend's adorable kids, I was happy to have some more kid time.

But before the train pulled into Boston (after leaving NYC 15 minutes late...the laws of travel: the train you show up late for will always leave right on time, and the next one will always be late), I got to overhear my favorite conversation of the trip. It seems the woman seated in front of me was not pleased with her doctor, and she was expressing her displeasure on her cell phone to someone connected with said doctor. The problem at hand was some test results that she was waiting on, but it turns out there was another, more pressing issue. My fellow passenger had "done a stupid human thing" (her words) and now had a codeine situation. See, in the process of pouring the large bottle of Tylenol with codeine into a smaller, more manageable bottle (because she wanted to carry it in a bottle that "wouldn't break her back"), she spilled "a third to a half" of the liquid codeine. Oopsie!

So, clearly, she would be in need of more codeine, please. From what I could gather from the side of the conversation I was hearing, I don't think it worked out. An important lesson: be careful with your codeine, kids. And I also learned that Tylenol with codeine is now dispensed in gallon jugs. You learn so much when you travel on trains and buses.

Anyway, after my train arrived, and I hopped on a couple of Ts to get closer to where D.J. lived, I was in his apartment in Peabody and under the watchful eye of a very wary one-year-old. But Kaelin eventually decided I was less frightening than I appeared and even showed off both her expert head-dancing skills while she ate and her nascent walking skills afterward.

Alas, after D.J. made dinner, it was soon bedtime for Kaelin and almost showtime for Amy. So I bid Kaelin and her mom, Wendy, adieu, and D.J. drove me back to the T station so I could get to the show at TT the Bear's (so many Ts!) in Cambridge. I arrived with plenty of time to spare and got to see Amy's first show back with her bass. She seemed glad to have it back, and she got a good response from the Rich Robinson fans, both in the crowd and at the merch table. I did have to deftly avoid a haggling session with a guy recommending Stevie Ray Vaughan DVDs to me. After the Stevie Ray talk, he turned to me and said, "Here's $40. I want everything." It was an enticing proposition, considering Amy was selling four CDs, an LP, and a T-shirt, which would run the average concertgoer a total of $90. Still, I decided not to jump on the deal and suggested he might want to wait for Amy to come over and see how she felt about the offer. He did. She wasn't that impressed. But he did get a slight deal on not quite everything.

C'mon, music lovers. Don't haggle at the merch table. It's not a flea market or an episode of American Pickers. You look bad when you do it. If someone's gone to the trouble of coming up with a price for their art, why don't you just go ahead and pay that price. Or if you don't have the cash on you, just wait and buy it some other time. No one will think less of you, whereas someone (namely, me, and probably a few others) will think less of you when you haggle.

And so ends my anti-haggling PSA. It's one to grow on...

After trying to straighten up the t-shirt situation (finding sizes was a struggle) and meeting Rich Robinson's merch guy, the Dude (or Dennis, if you prefer; I prefer the Dude), I had to cut out during Rich Robinson's set in order to successfully wrap up my brief run through Boston and catch the Megabus back to New York City to, with any luck, grab a few hours of sleep in my own bed before moving on to Philadelphia.

As it turns out, I didn't really need to rush.

UP NEXT: One overnight bus ride too many, two shows in Philly, and three kinds of meat in our nation's capital.

3.27.2012

The 2012 No Hotel? No Problem Tour: Part 2

Eleanor
Monday, March 12 
No travel 

The lone day of rest for the NH?NP tour was spent in Tully, NY, at, it turns out, a House of Vast Illness. The man of the house was all congested; the baby of the house, Eleanor, had an ear infection; and, on the day of my departure, the lady of the house was having some stomach issues. But the boys of the house (Everett and Wesley) and the manchild taking up residence in the computer room were feeling just fine. And, of course, Hunter was his usual steady presence.

Hunter
On Monday, Everett was off to school before I was out of bed, but Wes and I took in some Scooby-Doo (they're kind of tramping up Velma if you ask me) before he departed for the morning and I tried to navigate my way through the photo-uploading process (unsuccessfully) on the family Mac. After Wes came back, we celebrated our health by playing Legos, during which I built a pretty awesome tree. Then before naptime, I read one of the weirder kids' books I've ever read, which seemed to celebrate the joys of violence, so long as you use that violence against bullies. Interesting. Old-school.

Despite his congestion, Bryan nailed the audio-book version of his legendary foreword (rest assured, the children were nowhere near the recording area) in one take and gamely tried to read another essay before we bagged that and decided we'd try again later. We ran out of time, but we'll get it before November 19, 2012 (the official release date...mark your calendars, or whatever people mark these days).

There was more Lego time after Everett and his friend returned from school, but having already achieved perfection with my tree, I thought it best to just sit back and watch.

Monday was, in fact, mostly a day to sit back and watch. I can do that. For a day. Two would be a bit of a struggle.


Tuesday, March 13

Amtrak from Syracuse to Rochester: 12:48 pm

I think I can speak for Wes when I say that we're both comfortable enough in our masculinity to admit that we watched My Little Pony Tuesday morning. It wasn't bad either. I'm not saying I'm going to the next Bronycon, but I enjoyed it more than I expected. What? Why do I know that there is a convention "for afficionados [sic] of the show 'My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic'"?

Not important.

Anyway, Tuesday was the day I almost concussed myself. Wes and I were engaged in a spy mission in which we couldn't be captured by Dad. I'm not clear what the ultimate goal of our mission was, but Wes drew a map and everything, so I assume it was something pretty important. I think at one point chocolate chips were mentioned. I didn't ask many questions, because that's the approach Chuck Barris took when he was a hitman for the CIA. It seemed to work for him.

Unfortunately for my head, I was so into the mission that when it looked like we might be caught and Wes told me to hurry into his room before Dad got us, I neglected to factor in the sloped ceiling right by the door, and, well, that hurt. Wes even expressed concern, bless his heart. I checked for blood  oozing from my scalp and didn't find any, so that, combined with the fact that we weren't captured, means the mission was a success. It turns out there weren't any chocolate chips to get, so we settled for mini Clif Bars.
Wes, upon my departure
After determining I was feeling no dizzier than usual, I declared myself ready to get back on the road. So Bryan and Wes drove me (well, actually, just Bryan drove; Wes read a Harry Potter Lego book and then shut his eyes for a bit) to the William F. Walsh Regional Transportation Center in Syracuse and it was off to Rochester for a return visit almost 14 years in the making. The last (and only) time I was in Rochester was with Bryan and his then-girlfriend/now-wife Kelly to see Todd Snider and the Nervous Wrecks open for Kenny Wayne Shepherd (guess when we left) at the Water Street Music Hall. I only saw Rochester in darkness and not for very long that time. In fact, the only thing I remember from that trip (other than Todd singing "Call Me the Breeze" and his bass player smoking a bowl in the alley behind the hall) was Bryan stopping to pee in a field in the middle of nowhere and the two of us singing Old 97s songs really loud so that everybody stayed awake on the ride home. Neither Bryan, I, nor Wes sang Old 97s songs really loud on the way to the train. I doubt Wes knows any, but he'll learn.

The Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Memorial Bridge and the Genesee River, Rochester, NY
Trains are supposed to be more peaceful than buses, right? So how do you explain that my 90-minute trip featured the following:
  • Across the aisle from me was a gentleman who was on the phone for the entire ride (when one call ended, he'd start another within 10 seconds), debating the merits of buying certain athletic equipment, including trampolines from Germany that are called Grand Master. That can't be right, I thought. Grand Master? From Germany? That's a little too Third Reich-ish, no? Well, a Google search reveals that is simply the name of a trampoline sold by a company in Germany. The actual name of the company is Eurotramp. I don't care what you tell me; there's still plenty of weird crap going on in Germany. Let's keep an eye on them. And don't mention the war.
  • Behind me were two children who seemed adorable on the platform. As it turns out, one of them was slightly less adorable than expected, because he or she (I honestly couldn't tell, and I wasn't turning around to look) spent I'd say a solid 15 minutes hacking "like an 80-year-old man" (in the words of a woman I assume was Mom) and spewing something (vomit? bile? who knows?). It made reading a touch difficult. I considered recording the event, but, lucky for you, I decided that was in poor taste. I would say something pithy like, "Score one for Greyhound," if I hadn't been on a bus last month where a grown man was making noises 50 times as bad and walking back and forth to the bathroom three or four times. And he was only on the bus for 45 minutes. I actually would've recorded that. You'll have to just settle for my impression. Just ask the next time you see me.
But enough talk of whooping cough and wretching. For now. I can't say I won't return to it later on. But I'll try to avoid it.

While waiting for my friend Liz to pick me up at the train station, I perused the free local weeklies to see if the Amy LaVere show at the Abilene got any advance press and to see what else was going on in Rochester. While doing that, I happened upon this Blondie comic strip and soon found myself kind of wanting to yell at a newspaper in the middle of an empty train station.


Is anybody even trying at Blondie headquarters anymore? First of all, the thought of a guy with his own bowling ball and bag throwing eight gutter balls in a row during a tournament (and a "big" one!) is ludicrous. But, putting that aside, the "in the 9th frame" kills me. If you leave that out, maybe I'm not so in the flesh. But adding it means you're implying that he threw his first eight gutter balls in the first eight frames, which, I guess means he just skipped the second ball each frame. Because you get to throw two balls a frame, you jerk! I understand that he never said he threw eight in a row to start the game, but the implication is clearly there. And if you just take out "in the 9th frame," there's no problem and the strip is no less hilarious.

C'mon, guys. It's bad enough that Dagwood's the star of the strip and gets no billing at all, never mind top billing. Don't make it worse by making him sound like an ignoramus. He deserves better. We all do.
Me and my sweet ass, L&M Lanes, Rochester, NY
After I'd cooled off from that (it took a while), I noticed an ad for L&M Lanes in Rochester, a two-floor bowling alley. I'm a sucker for two-floor bowling alleys, so when Liz picked me up and asked if I wanted to do anything before the show, I mentioned the ad. And soon we were on lane 5 and listening to the Avett Brothers, Dawes, Flogging Molly, and Prince on the L&M jukebox.

I had a respectable showing (158 and 174, I think...I certainly didn't throw nine gutter balls in a row, and neither did Liz), and the second game was with a guy bowling on lane 1 who would let out a hearty "Hoo-ah!" when he threw a particularly good ball. He would have smoked Dagwood in the big bowling tournament.

The L&M was a swell place to spend a few hours in the late afternoon. And I was pleased to comply with their strict dress code.


After bowling, there was plenty of time to make my first ever trip to a Dinosaur BBQ. Yes, despite having spent a fair amount of time near Syracuse and being a PATH and subway ride from the Dinosaur in Harlem, my first Dinosaur experience was in Rochester, where I have spent roughly 30 hours of my life. Go figure. Anyway, it was quite good, and I applaud myself for balancing the pulled pork with a tomato and cucumber salad. You would expect no less from a guy who spent his morning watching "My Little Pony."


Finally, it was showtime. Liz and I got to the Abilene pretty early, grabbed a few prime seats at the bar, and reminisced about the glory days of copy-editing direct mail brochures (if you threw out an envelope touting 5 books for $1 in the late 1990s, there's a decent chance Liz or I made sure that got to your trash can as error-free as possible...you're welcome). The bar eventually filled up, and I think the show might have been a sellout. Unfortunately, this meant our prime seats at the bar turned into the seats where everyone who wanted to get a drink or go outside for a smoke had to pass. But at least we had seats. I like seats, even when the woman standing in front of me is both so close to and so oblivious of me that I think my kneecap is getting lucky in Rochester.

The show was fun, and since it was one of the two headlining shows I'd see Amy do before she hooked back up again with the Rich Robinson tour, it was a long one, too--two sets, in fact. And it was also the first time I'd seen Amy play a bass other than her own, because there was a luggage-falling incident in Buffalo that resulted in a fairly severe neck injury for Amy's upright bass. So she was playing a loaner (and a really nice-sounding one) while her freshly glued bass rested up and set. I would like to point out that no necks, bass or otherwise, were broken after I started following the tour. I'm not saying I'm a hero, but if you want to, you can.

Amy was also a bit under the weather in Rochester, which led to some trouble toward the end of the second set, when the mix of Dayquil, Red Bull, wine, and whiskey started to really come together. So, after a little mini-set from guitarist Dave Cousar, the show came to a close soon after a gentleman yelling out "Whipping Post" and "Cumberland Blues" insisted that Amy should just drink more. She wisely realized that wasn't a great idea and after, I think, calling out a song they had just played about 10 minutes prior, decided to call it a night and get some rest. She and the band played for about two-and-a-half hours by then, so she earned some sleep.

Since Liz had to be up for work and I had to catch a bus to Ithaca in the morning, we made a somewhat hasty exit and called it a night. I'm now two-for-two with fun shows in Rochester. So, nice going, Rochester. I'll be back someday. Probably sooner than 14 years this time.

UP NEXT: A dog is nearly killed, I go back to Ithaca (no more dorm-room window pictures, though), and I finally fall outside a bar in Ithaca.