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Progressive Travels

The haphazard chronicles of a professional musician and his relentless pursuit of an otherwise boring life.

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Location: St. Jacob, Illinois, United States

If it ain't Baroque, fix it!

22 August 2005

Little Hills and Small Minds

Saturday, 20 August 2005
As seems to be the trend lately, I had another gig with BenWahBob. This time we were booked at Baha Rock Club in St. Charles MO. It’s kind of a home-away-from-home for this band, which has been playing there for nearly 10 years now – way back to when it was called Key West and under different management. They have always treated us well there. Likewise, we have always had a good response when playing there. This week was right in that vein.

One of the nice things about being a favorite band is getting the premium dates. This weekend was the “Festival of the Little Hills” (Fete de Petite Cotes, for all of you Francophiles), St. Charles’ biggest party weekend. For those who have never been, they shut down Old Town St. Charles and the riverfront, block off the streets, set up vendors in the streets and on the sidewalks and in the Riverfront Park, and the party is on. They try to keep it clean and family-oriented, but that’s really just on the surface. There is a bit of everything for just about everyone. Even a picky, fickle musician like myself can find adequate entertainment there. I usually try to go every year, if nothing else just to see one guy who is always there. Bob Culbertson is one of the preeminent Chapman Stick players in the world. Many of his books and videos are sold on Emmett Chapman’s own website, and he holds a large invitational clinic every year in his hometown of San Francisco CA. He sets up a booth on Main Street and plays all day long, for both days of the Festival. I’ve bought a couple of his CDs there, and had several opportunities to converse with him about the Stick and music in general. He’s a really great guy and a virtual cornucopia of knowledge. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it over there during the day this weekend, so I missed him for now the second year in a row. Bummer.

Anyway...with this being the Festival weekend, we were expecting a large crowd at Baha. We were not disappointed. It started out a bit slow, but by the end of the first set the place was jumping. Everyone seemed wound up and bent on having fun. Carlos’ wife’s sister’s husband (did you follow that?) was entertaining everyone in the place with his completely goofy antics on the dance floor. The place seemed to be crawling with attractive people. All of the BenWahBabes made it out for the first time in quite awhile. That was nice to see, too.

The set list was at its usual mix, with a few stumpers thrown in here and here. I say stumpers because some of these songs we haven’t played much since I have been in the band (or Bobby, for that matter). I couldn’t remember how a Candlebox song started until Bobby reminded me; for the life of me I couldn’t remember Bad Company’s Movin’ On until we actually started playing it; we were all concerned about the odd-meter diddy that goes into the solo section of Sail On, Sail Away by Moxy, and it came off just fine. We did Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song at the end of one of the sets, and things started to get kind of weird. John got a bit heavy on the vocal delay and it started feeding back into itself. The result was a big garble of unintelligible noise that buried most of the song. Too bad, because I actually felt pretty good about the way I sang it this time. Oh, well...c’est la vie, eh?

We ended the night with the usual foray into War Pigs. All the “rock guys” in the place immediately rushed the stage, fists pumping in the air. I am still at a loss to explain this phenomenon, yet there it is every time. It does give one some semblance of rockstardom, so I guess I shouldn’t question it. Whatever.

Everyone in the band was bent on breakfast after we had evacuated the stage. Unfortunately, Dawna and I could not participate. We had dropped off her son Derek with some friends in Granite City – Geo and Katrina Romer of Ivory Tiger – and had to pick him up on our way home. We did end up going to the Denny’s in Pontoon Beach after we got him, as neither one of us had eaten since early in the day Saturday. Derek slept in the back of my van while we went in and ate. We found out on Sunday that Geo and Katrina’s car had been broken into shortly after we had left them. I feel for them, as that has happened to me on several occasions. My free advice to them: get out of Granite City and move to a small town. It’s working for me.

An interesting note: I listened to absolutely no music all day Sunday. Sometimes, quiet is good.

16 August 2005

Horses and Hotwings

Thursday, 11 August 2005
BenWahBob had another gig at Fairmount Park for the Michelob Ultra Thursday version of Party at the Park. Food buffet, dollar bottles, live music, attractive women, the sport of kings…what’s not to like here?

I arrived later than I had hoped – as usual – so I had to rush through the load-in, set-up, and make a B-line for the buffet before it got too crowded and all of the hot-wings got scarffed. This is one of those tough gigs to get to because of my day-job being in Chesterfield MO. It’s an hour’s drive home to St. Jacob, load equipment, shave/shower, then back-track to Collinsville to the track – all between 15:30 when I get off at work and 18:00 when the doors open to let people into the Black Stallion Room. It’s always tight timewise. People were already rushing the front window seats when the service elevator opened on the second floor and I rolled out my stuff.

So, I buried my face, quite literally, into a tray of various flavors of hot-wings, wiped the goo from my face, tuned my bass, and we were playing at 18:30. Have I ever mentioned how much I love rushing into a gig?

We put the songs through their usual paces, being mostly ignored by those whose turn it now was to stuff wings and pizza into their faces while perusing the race schedule for the horse that would lose them their money. We got the occasional odd request for stuff we simply don’t play, but for the most part we were just background music. So it goes there in the early stages. As the evening goes on, we get more attention – possibly due to the increasing influence of the cheap beer. At one point around the middle of the evening, the dance tunes rolled into the set list. As someone had actually requested Mustang Sally right before we played it, it worked in fairly nicely. This apparently turned out to be a distraction for Dale (go figure), because he launched into the Reader’s Digest condensed version of the song, opting to go straight into the sing-a-long section right away. We all exchanged humored glances and played along. Dale caught this immediately and actually took some jabs at himself over it. I hate it when he beats us to it.

There were a couple of fellas who spent most of the night staring at us, watching every move. You can always spot the musicians from a mile away. We were slightly tickled over that, too. It doesn’t take too much to amuse us…we’re simple people with simple needs.

At the end of the night, we were regaled with a great story of how our husband-and-wife sound crew went to see Jagertyme at Club Richards in Alton IL (mistakenly thinking it was Knucklehead) and were run out in under two minutes because of the near-deafening volume level. They said it actually hurt to be in the club – even on the other side. The Jagerdrunks would be proud.

I packed my stuff, which takes all of about five minutes, and headed for the door. Bobby and I stood around and talked for a bit, exchanged some gear and some money when we got outside (he’s selling off some of his PA gear), and headed for home. I think I had one of the early Dream Theater CDs in my player – Falling Into Infinity, maybe – for the short trip up the highway…reminding me of my desire to acquire a Chapman Stick.

Another one in the proverbial can. We only did the Thursday night this time, as they decided to split them up for awhile. I had the rest of the weekend off for a change. I didn’t even have to work at my day job on Saturday, so it was like having a real weekend. Dawna invited me over Sunday night for dinner/birthday party for her oldest son Derek and me. Since we had watched most of the T1G bootleg DVD the previous weekend – which was very cool – we curled up on the couch and watched Last Samurai again. All in all, a pretty good weekend.

04 August 2005

Spaghetti Wrestling and Lakeside Park

Saturday, 30 July 2005
Knucklehead already had a gig booked for this date when the guys from Thunderhead: A Tribute to Rush called Deron and asked if we would be interested in opening for them at Frogs in East Carondelet, IL. Well, duh! The logistics of this changed a few times, but the skinny was that it was going to be a tight squeeze for us to make it to our night gig with travel time to St. Charles, MO and set-up time. We agreed to do it nonetheless.

I got a late start (of course) and arrived around 14:45. We were suppose to start at 15:30. As I arrived, I noticed that no one was there yet except Shaun Steele, Knucklehead’s default soundman, who apparently is now working with Thunderhead. Very cool. Shaun knows our stuff and is quite professional. I also noted with regret on the way there that I had forgotten my small keyboard mixer. Shaun solved this with a Y-connector and a direct box. He’s the man. The rest of the Knucklegang pulled in just behind me. We were set up and ready to play around 16:00. I found the sign hanging on the back of the stage said “Third Annual Frog Fest” and altered it with duct tape to say “Third Annual Prog Fest.” The owner didn’t seem to mind this little play, and in fact snickered at the idea.

Since we were only suppose to do two sets, Deron had decided on the “Fuck Yeah!” songs from the various sets, which meant most of the second set. We always start this one off with The Spirit of Radio. However, since we were playing in front of a Rush tribute band, that one was considered off-limits for obvious reasons. So, we did the cool Iron Maiden and Ozzy stuff, rolled through some Triumph, and other various and sundry tunes. As the guys from Thunderhead started arriving, we couldn’t help but to tease the beginnings of more than a few Rush tunes. As our portion of the event came to a close, we teased with the beginning of Lakeside Park, as Scrappy usually does. George Whitlow jumped at the opportunity to warm up his voice and came up to sing it with us, so we actually played it. Big mistake. Obviously our heads were all somewhere else, because we gaffed it big time. Deron forgot the chord progression in the break-down section, I lost the bass counter-melody somewhere in there, Scrappy lost some of the transition fills…it was aweful. George kept with it, though, and we somehow muddled through the rest of the song. We slinked away with our collective tails between our legs.

Shane Calhoun was there to tape the Thunderhead show, as he usually is. He use to come out to the Those1Guys shows and occasionally taped us, too. He also tapes national touring acts, but you didn’t hear that from me. He had told me several years ago that he had taped a 2002 Yes show at UMB Pavilion at which I was in attendance. I gave him some CDs and he said he would make copies for me. He brought these up to me, as well as three DVDs of a T1G show he had recorded at Scotty’s in Alton, IL. Very cool indeed. Since I don’t own a DVD player – or a TV, for that matter – I have not yet seen them. Judging from the excellent sound quality of the Yes CDs, though, I’m sure it will be quite good…performances notwithstanding.

While we were tearing down our equipment, the bar had arranged for spaghetti wrestling to entertain the guests. This involved two young women in bikinis, oiled up, standing in an inflatable pool filled with spaghetti noodles. You can picture the rest on your own. The referee was another woman in a striped skirt outfit with a wireless microphone to call the event. She was not as…ummm…lady-like with her dialog as she probably should have been for an outdoor event. I had, unfortunately, forgotten my new digital camera as well.

After we left for St. Charles, Steve’s girlfriend Teresa had to turn around to go back for her glasses. I stopped for gas and then continued to St. Charles. As I arrived there, Deron said, “You’re not going to believe what happened!” Apparently right after we left, five police cars and the town’s mayor arrived and shut down the whole event. They removed the owner, pulled his liquor license, and told everyone that they had to leave immediately or face arrest. I can only guess that the spaghetti wrestling got a bit out of hand for conservative tastes (pun intended), as no reason was given for this intrusion. A truly unfortunate side of this is that no one got paid for their troubles…..except us. Go figure.

After setting up the gear once again at Baha Rock Club, Deron, Scrappy, and myself adjourned across the street to Big A’s for dinner. This had been Deron’s idea, as opposed to just showing up and playing and then going home; punching the clock, as he called it. We sat and talked about fishing, Cancun, spaghetti wrestling, renting boats from Mexicans who speak no English, getting sea-sick, where they found five cops in East Carondelet IL, and burgers. I think we successfully avoided the topic of that abortion of a Rush song we butchered. Pride can be a painful thing.

We eventually went back across the street and played a fairly standard KH show there. The crowd wasn’t very big, but they were quite into the music, so it wasn’t too bad. Scott Speck made it there for awhile and we talked about hockey. Jim, the bar’s manager, approached me late in the evening with a cymbal on which he had painted BenWahBob in neon colors. He asked me to sign the back of it so he could go over that, too, with neon paint. He does this quite a bit with bands that have been playing there a long time. It is his own artwork, usually on broken cymbals or guitars donated by the bands; this one was from Bobby Deskins, the current BWB drummer. He then hangs them in various places around the club. I’ve never before been asked by a club manager for an autograph, so that was interesting.

The drive home was eventful as well this time. Somewhere on I-270 in Hazelwood, MO my “Service Engine Soon” idiot light came on for whatever reason. While looking dumbfounded at that, I looked up just in time to see the tire laying in the middle of my lane that I was about to hit. It made some hideous thumping noises on its way under my van, and actually bounced me up a couple of times before it was through. Nice. Needless to say, I was wide awake after that. I even had to turn off the live Yes in my CD player so I could listen for the changes in the sounds of my motor or undercarriage…that never came, of course. What a day.