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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!

31 May 2006

Floatless Float Trip

Saturday, 27 May 2006
Memorial Day Weekend, for most people it seems, is a three-day weekend to BBQ, drink with friends, open the pool, go on float trips, and just generally play or relax. For most musicians, however, it is a working weekend no different than any other. We load our equipment into a local venue and entertain the masses. At the risk of sounding like I'm whining, trust that I am not. This is not a criticism or complaint, but merely an observation. It's what we do. It's the choice we make when we decide to be working musicians. Rarely do we regret this decision.

For the past 10 years, BenWahBob has been playing Memorial Day Weekend at Bearcat Getaway on the beautiful Black River near Lesterville, Missouri. This was my fourth year playing there, and I must say it is never boring. Last year someone chucked onto the stage at my feet a jar of moonshine with something floating in it that looked like someone's kidneys(-in-the-jar-o). The first two years saw downpours of rain that prevented us from floating on Sunday. Then there's the people-watching...which is always outstanding. Get 1500 hoosiers together in one spot with no limits on how much alcohol they can consume, throw in a live rock band, and you have yourself one serious party. This year was a little different than last year in that there seemed to be better attendance this year. High fuel prices didn't seem to put a damper on plans this time, as it did last year when it was still a new horror. Not only were the campgrounds sold out, but there were quite a few people who drove in to see the band.

But, I seem to have gotten ahead of myself.
The band met up Saturday morning at the usual spot - the Schnuck's market on Butler Hill Road & I-55 in South St. Louis County - before caravanning down to Lesterville. We usually stop in Farmington, as we turn onto Highway W, at Dairy Queen. This has become a point of some contention recently, as the service there has been absolutely deplorable the last few years. When we hit the exit ramp, we noticed immediately that their parking lot was empty. The overhead sign noted that they would be reopening soon. Awww...shucks...really broke my heart. As it turns out, though, someone had the presence of mind to build a McDonald's right across the street. Unfortunately, it seems that they just hired the old DQ employees, as the service there was about the same. Perhaps it's something in the water. They are just a few miles from Doe Run...

We ingested our sustenance, as it were, enjoyed some local people-watching, cracked jokes about the falling-down silhouette guy on the "wet floor" signs, and went on our merry way. We stopped to refuel at the same gas station on Highway 21 in Arcadia as always, but this time no one went inside. Bobby and I went in last year to peruse the boasted 1900 guns in the gun store section - yessir...beer & guns...everything leaves there loaded. They have more guns in that little place than I've seen at some St. Louis area gun shows. It's awe-inspiring and frightening all at the same time.

As we resumed our journey through the Ozark Mountains toward Lesterville, I thoroughly enjoyed the scenery. It is really beautiful country out there ("Mountains come out of the sky / And they stand there"). I also noted that most of the roads have names like "Buck Creek Road." I never once saw one named after a character from classical literature. I'm thinking that is not in the area's mindset. It is an area that is terribly depressed economically. Lest one begins to think that I'm taking ill-mannered shots at the disadvantaged populace, it must be remembered that I was simply entertaining myself while on a three-hour drive. Dawna had opted to forego the trip this year in favor of staying home to get some work done on her farm, so I was alone this time. I was in dire need of mental stimulation. It's not my fault. I'm a victim here. Woe unto me.

We arrived at our destination a little after 14:00 (that's 2pm, for those of you in Rio Linda), and began to unload immediately. Well, almost immediately. Some yahoos had parked in front of the opening in the fence around the stage, so we had to cut a section out of the front fence to back in our vehicles. It didn't seem to take us too long to set up this year, like it seems to most times. Mike Stevenson brings out his monster "festival system" for these gigs (the same one he uses every year for the Sparta Blues Fest, and will be taking to Des Moines for the Cinderella show there), and it takes a little longer to set up than your average club system. He also had some new Radian monitors this year - very nice. I was using the Ampeg SVT6PRO prototype amp from last year, along with my old SVT610HLF prototype cabinet. I was quite pleased with my sound, even with old strings. Carlos brought no less than four amps; three Crate V30 combos, and a V30 head and sealed V212 cabinet. He spread these out across the stage to boost his presence, which allowed him to turn down his overall volume. It was a good idea that worked as planned. We finished with plenty of daylight left, and sat around in lawn chairs enjoying the end of the day. The campgrounds fed us a nice BBQ dinner around 18:00 (it's in our contract - 2 meals for us and crew), and we tuned up one more time just before we started playing around 20:00.

We put out a typical BWB show, complete with every normal faux pas and hiccup. We started out kind of slow, but picked up on the groove after a little while. Dale seemed to make it through that god-awful Georgia Satellites song OK...in spite of my best efforts at pounding my foot to a different tempo right in front of him to throw him off. I was stromping so hard that the stage lights were shaking. But, alas, he was not to be diverted this time. He just gave me that out-of-the-corner-of his-eye look that said, "Fornicate Off!" I'll get him next time.

We always end the night with a barn burning version of Black Sabbath's War Pigs. On this night, though, Dale had seen fit to insert it into the middle of the last set. Whatever. We shrugged at each other and rolled into it nonetheless. Carlos went into his usual mind-somewhere-else solo in the middle of the song, but then just kept going...and going, and going, and... At some point it actually broke down into a semi-funk thing. It had sped up faster and faster, and I was doing some finger-style funk thing in E minor, just barely able to keep up with Bobby's lightning-fast tempo. It was both unorthodox and kind of cool all at the same time. It was definitely unusual. Carlos finally came back in and we wound our way back to the last verse. We don't normally do stuff like that in BWB. That has always been the domain of Knucklehead-type bands. This kind of unpredictability almost caught me off-guard. I must admit...it was a nice departure from the status quo.

I don't really even remember how we ended the night. After War Pigs, I didn't even pay much attention to what we were doing. I do know that we played over about 15 minutes (also a hallmark of Knucklehead). After we played something that we determined was the last song, there were the usual calls for more...that we dutifully ignored, as the people who run the campground like to get the non-campers out as close to midnight as possible so they can shut the gates. One woman in particular was shouting "Moon!" over and over again at the top of her lungs. She apparently got the notion in her head that we were going to play Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon for her, and wasn't leaving until we did. I've seen that look before. Up close. There exists an adequate description of that kind of woman.....complete nutbar. Some of her friends finally succeeded in dragging her away, but she put up a pretty good fight along the way. Alcohol is a dangerous drug.

A rather attractive (and drunk) young lady tried to gain access to the stage during the last set. She called up to me at the side of the stage (which is about 8 feet in off the ground) and asked if she could come up with us for the rest of the night, saying she wanted to hear us from up there. She first tried the blink,blink eye batting method, then resorted to the cross-between-a-sad-puppy-dog-and-naughty-little-girl look while hanging onto the audio snake cable. The whole time she's putting on this show for me, she's flanked by her boyfriend and his buddy who were trying their best to look cool and disinterested in the proceedings. Nice try, honey.

We quickly tore down the equipment. I got my stuff loaded back into my minivan and headed straight for my tent, which I had set up after we finished setting up the stage earlier in the evening. I was not planning on floating on Sunday, opting instead to get home and get some work done over the weekend, and so was planning on leaving early Sunday morning. My brand new air mattress seemed to have lost a bit of its firmness, so I got out the pump and corrected that. I opened my bag to change into something not sweaty and found Dawna's bath robe, which she had snuck in while I was loading my van Saturday morning. She rocks! I buried my face in it and fell fast asleep.

Unfortunately, I awoke about two hours later wondering why I was lying in the ground. Oh, well...tough it out until morning. Not the first time I've slept on the ground. After waking around 07:30 and investigating, I found a 4-5" gaping hole in one of the side seams of the mattress. This was the third one in the last two years that didn't hold air. I'll not buy another of those cheap Ozark Trail pieces of garbage at Wal-Mart again.

After a bit of small talk with those who were also awake early, I left right behind Mike. We didn't even wait for the free breakfast, which really isn't so spectacular to begin with. As I drove, I ate a couple of orange cinnamon rolls Dawna had made for me Saturday before I left home. They were excellent, to say the least. I didn't stop to eat anywhere along the way. I just wanted to get home. I listened to a bunch of different stuff both going there and coming home, mostly the CDs I had recently aquired from LaserCD.com from bands like Hourglass, The Quiet Room, Enchant, and that Circus Maximus album that I can't seem to hear too much. I got back to St. Jacob around 11:00, called Dawna, and promptly took a nap...on my couch, not the ground.

All in all, it turned out to be a pretty good weekend for me. My flight with Mark Wick to North Carolina Thursday was cancelled because of inclement weather, and even though Dawna didn't go with me, the trip to Lesterville was fairly entertaining. I got to drive through the Ozark Mountains, gawk at a bunch of old Ford tractors (for which I've always had an affinity), play for a rather large crowd, listen to a lot of good progrock bands, and spend a fair amount of time with my lovely girlfriend. For what more could a guy ask?

23 May 2006

Whining and Dining

Saturday, 20 May 2006
After the last couple of rather uneventful weeks, I was ready to get to a playing weekend. If nothing else, just for the entertainment factor. And, of course, as is usual, I was not disappointed.

Well...let's say that I was not disappointed on the entertainment front.

(Warning - Whine Alert!)

It's no secret that Yngwie J. Malmsteen has been one of my favorite artists since his first solo album was released in 1984. He was scheduled to play at Pop's Saloon & Music in Sauget, IL on 20 May...same night as the Baha gig with BenWahBob. Bummer. I was going to miss him again. I've missed seeing quite a few artists over the years for this very same reason. Once back in the late 1980's, I was playing on Laclede's Landing in Downtown St. Louis while Cacophony was right across the street. People are surprised when I tell them that I've never had the chance to see a band like Iron Maiden. I finally saw bands like Yes and Kansas for the first time just a few years back. Timing is everything, I guess. I've seen Yngwie before, so it was really not that big of a deal.

BWB's guitar player also owns an electronics repair shop in Florissant, MO. One of his advertising methods is handing out flyers at artists' concerts that draw strong numbers of musicians. It's an effective tool. He had some trouble getting someone to do this show, so the Office Manager volunteered. That would be my girlfriend, Dawna. I wasn't too thrilled about the idea of her going to Pop's without me. I'm all protective like that. I knew I would worry about her all night. To make the situation worse, she was going to have to find a babysitter for her two children. She told me she was going to get either George or Katrina Romer to go with her...probably Katrina. As it turned out, it was George.

I’m not going to delve too deep into the personal aspect of this, as it is not the purpose of this blog. I will say, though, that sending my girlfriend to a concert at Pop’s while I’m playing in St. Charles wouldn’t have been my first choice.

Oh, well...enough of my crying about my personal life.

I spent a fair amount of the day Saturday burning CDs for the BWB Live disc that we are debuting this coming weekend. As a result, I didn't arrive at Baha Rock Club until about 20:45. as we were scheduled to start at 21:00, I was in a bit of a rush. It turns out it was all for naught. I hurried in, after finding "rockstar parking" right in front of the club, set everything up, and noticed that the soundcheck had gotten quiet. Apparently the soundman, John, had gotten sick and needed to leave. He looked awful. He was complaining about sweating and shortness of breath. We all started thinking that he might be having a heart attack. His wife came to pick him up and, we assumed, take him to the hospital. This left us with no soundman. The system at Baha is curious, to say the least. To say the most, its a complete fustercluck. Nothing is plugged in where it is labeled. Carlos did his best to get us a quick level check, and we were playing by about 21:20. Jim, the manager, became the default soundman.

We poured ourselves into the sets. Our efforts seemed to go largely unappreciated, as the small crowd seemed relatively indiferent to our presence. We played on nonetheless. As we started the third set with Mustang Sally, I mentally noted the irony of playing that song while Yngwie was onstage at Pop's playing nothing remotely like it. I also joked that, as late as we started, I probably could have gone to the show anyway. The usual dance songs had people on the dance floor, and the usual "drive-em-off-the-dance-floor" songs did their thing, too. We never did get Bobby's mic working, so Carlos and I did what we could to cover his vocal parts. That made things somewhat more interesting.

Someone from a wedding party requested Mustang Sally again, so we started off the fourth set with it...again. Once again I noted the above stated irony, and wondered how Dawna was doing. I was trying not to worry myself to death over it, and was failing miserably. My playing all night was just atrocious. My mind was obviously somewhere else. Fortunately, we only did half of the song this time and melted it into Hard to Handle by The Black Crows...another song of which I'm not terribly fond. Things evened out for me, though, at the end of the last set, when we ended the night with Rush's What You're Doing, Sabbath's Paranoid, and War Pigs. A pretty noble end to an otherwise dreary evening.

We tore down our stuff, shut down the PA, and stashed the mics. As I started to load out my equipment, there were three highly intoxicated young people sitting on the steps of the building next to the club. There was also a St. Charles Police Officer standing on the sidewalk talking with them. As I came into earshot of the conversation, the drunk guy sitting with two girls was remarking to the police officer about how they make the best breakfasts he's ever had. The cop looked at me and just shook his head. I remarked about how Waffle House seemed like a much better option. The cop asked him why someone was trying to beat him up last night, and the guy looked at him in amazement and asked how he knew about that...to which the cop told him "I know everything about you." I walked out of earshot about that time. However, Carlos came in just behind me to fill in the details. The guy apparently said to the cop, "That dude hit me, and you didn't do anything!" The cop answered, "That's not true. I laughed."

Things you can only experience in the seedy life of a bar musician.

They were all gone by the time I actually left the club. On the way there, I had listened to a CD from a band called The Quiet Room. They are a very talented group, but seem to be missing something that to me seems obvious – vocal harmonies. To exacerbate the issue, there are six guys in this band – two guitars, keyboards, bass, drums, and only one singer. With all of those guys in the band, one would think that the vocals would be huge. Yet, alas, they didn’t go that direction. The singer reminds me of early Geoff Tate…but, not quite. So, I listened to Queensrÿche’s Operation: Mindcrime for the drive home. It is easy to forget just how influential that album really was. It’s still great to this day.

This week’s a busy week again, flying out to the East Coast for a couple of days, then culminating with the trip to Lesterville this weekend. That should make for an interesting blog next week. We’ll see…

08 May 2006

Mi Casa, Su Casa

Friday, 05 May 2006
Cinco de Mayo -- the celebration of the Mexican victory over the overwhelmingly superior forces of Napoleon's invasion forces at the Battle of Puebla. It makes for a great excuse to party...and party they do. The party has gotten so big, that they've even invited Americans to participate along with them...as if we needed a reason to party either.

BenWahBob has been scoring some pretty good gigs for this holiday in the past couple of years. With the leader of the band being a "beaner" himself, this is to be expected I suppose. This year we provided the party soundtrack at the Casa Gallardo Mexican Restaurant at Manchester & I-270 in West St. Louis County. Anyone who has been through this area in the last couple of years knows what a nightmare it can be to get anywhere. Some genius engineers took a perfectly good accident-prone intersection and turned it into a giant fustercluck by making it a divided roadway. The restaurant is located on the south side of Manchester Road, just west of I-270. To get there, though, you must go east. Well...you exit west on Manchester, then north on Des Peres, then east on Manchester again, being careful not to drive right past it, as it is mostly hiden from the road until you are already driving past and about to cross over I-270 to West County Mall.

We decided it was best to set up on Thursday night after happy Hour in an effort to avoid the hassles of trying to load in during the festivities on Friday night. I don't know that I've ever been to this particular Casa before, but I knew where it was, and was able to get there with no problems. Bobby found it easily, too, as he goes there frequently. Dale didn't seem to have any trouble, and was there before me, as I got stuck in the construction traffic on US-40. Carlos, on the other hand, got lost, and ended up at Manchester & 141. After we all got there, and Carlos and Bobby got some appetizers at the bar, we set up my small system in a fairly isolated area just across from the bar. We did a basic (very basic, as I had not brought my bass) signal check, and I got the heck out of there. It was getting late, and I was already having a rather long week. The Chief Pricing Agent at Wick's had announced the previous week that he was leaving for personal pursuits, and I was offered the position. It looks like it will be quite a challenging job, and I spent the whole week being tutored in the fine art of organ pricing by two people with a combined total of 88 years at the company. Needless to say, it was mentally draining and I was tired.

Friday didn't really provide the stress relief that one would like from it either. I was hoping to get out of work a bit early to avoid the rush to get to the gig on time. My new hours are 8-5, and we were supposed to start promptly at 19:30. Unfortunately, I got dragged into a meeting with some visitors from Korea at around 16:00. At around 17:10, I looked at my watch and sighed. I guess Mark Wick heard or saw me, because he quickly wrapped things up with the meeting and cut us loose. It seemed unlikely, but I actually made it to the restaurant by 18:30. We plugged in the mics, turned everything on, and started right on time.

The crowd was exactly what you would expect on a night like this...and yet not. The place was packed, to be sure, but they seemed a bit more distant than we would have liked. Once the dinner crowd dissipated -- around the third set -- the place got pretty thin fairly quick. There were still a good amount of people in the bar area, but that was on the other side of the building. We ended up playing the last two sets to an empty room with a big fountain in the middle. It was a nice fountain, though.

That infernal Georgia Sattelites song popped up at the top of the second set again. I though we had rid ourselves of that pestilence, and yet there it was. Bobby told Dale that he use to sing it all the time, and wanted to give it a shot. Dale seemed a bit put-out, but aquiesced nonetheless. Amazingly, it went off without a hitch this time. Hmmm...

We banged out the rest of the tunes, even throwing in some Zeppelin at the request of a couple of friendly (drunk) young ladies. It is nice to know that some of the kids are still listening to fairly decent stuff like that. I say "kids" because most of them look to me like they are probably breaking some law by even having an alcoholic beverage in their hand, much less consuming it. I know that's mostly a function of the aging process, but I still find it mildly amusing. I feel like Larry Rolens sometimes...minus that whole Gretchen thing, of course.

The tear-down went pretty quickly, and I was on my way home by 01:00. As tired as I was, though, I needed something to keep me awake. That Circus Maximus CD The First Chapter, and a quick diversion to White Castle, seemed to do the trick. I can't seem to get enough of that album. I wish they would hurry up and put out another one.