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."


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


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


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.)


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.


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.