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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!

23 August 2006

Start Your Engines...or not

19 August 2006
The week leading up to this gig saw a milestone for me: my 40th birthday. Several of my close friends reached this point in the preceding weeks, and now it was my turn. It came and went with little hoopla, though, just as I prefer. I’ve never been one to make a big ordeal of my birthdays. They’re just another day to me. I’m a day older than I was yesterday. Dawna BBQ’d Sunday afternoon to celebrate both mine and her oldest son Derek’s birthdays. She got me some nice keyboard covers for my synthesizers and the sheet music for Chopsticks, which has become something of an inside joke between us. She’s awesome like that. Derek scored some cool new stuff for his guitars and a boat-load of cash, so he did pretty well, too.

Saturday night was back at Baha Rock Club in St. Charles, MO. This is a special gig, as it is the weekend of Festival of the Little Hills. If you’ve never been to one of these, you must plan for it nest year. It’s like Fair St. Louis, but without all the bilge. I used to never miss it. However, the past couple of years have changed that. I never seem to find the time to get there anymore. One of my favorite Chapman Stick players, Bob Culbertson, plays there every year. He sets up a booth on Main Street to sell his CDs and videos, and plays all day long through the whole weekend.

At any rate…the streets are usually packed with people. This year saw exceptionally good weather, and the crowd swelled accordingly. When we started playing, there were still lines of people in the street as far as I could see.

But, I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Saturday went away with a quickness, and before long it was time to start heading toward St. Chuck. As I loaded my stuff and prepared for departure, my van decided it was happier just sitting in the driveway. I turned the key in the ignition and heard only the click of a relay…again, and again, and again with the same result. It had done this to me Thursday morning before work, but started after a couple of tries. Odd. The battery seemed to have plenty of power, as did the starter when it finally started turning. The battery terminals seemed to be tight and corrosion-free. Probably the solenoid. Great. Just what I needed. My neighbor came over to look at it, and then it started as he was walking back to his garage for his tool box. Go figure.

I had little choice but to risk getting stuck in St. Chuck, so I drove it there anyway. I arrived a little after 20:00 and loaded in my stuff with the van still running in the middle of the street. With half a dozen law enforcement personnel less than 50 feet away, I figured this was a fairly safe bet. When I drove it around the block and parked in the Municipal garage, I made sure to back into the space…just in case.

Carlos arrived right behind me, and we were set up in no time. Bobby’s drums were already there, and I assumed that he had wondered off to skim the Festival in its closing hours. We started doing a sound check almost immediately. After the front of the stage was done, only Bobby’s drums were left. “Hey,” I think, “I can play drums…I’ll do the drum check.” This was all well and good until the level check was done and John asked me to play the whole kit. One thing about Bobby’s kit…he’s a left-handed drummer. Trying to coordinate your left foot for the kick drum, right foot for the hi-hats, and everything arranged opposite of what your used to is challenging at the very least. Bobby came in about this time, and I told him a double bass drum pedal would have made that less painful to hear, as it would have provided a pedal for my correct foot. He just chuckled, mentioned something about knowing how he feels when asked to sit in on a right-handed kit, and told me he’s got a new DW7000 on order.

We jumped into the sets with our usual not-so-reckless abandon, and were off and running. We did seem to have a pretty good flow for most of the night. Dale had mixed up the songs a bit from the usual order, which was both strange and nice. Again, like the previous weekend, we didn’t seem to be making too much early progress toward flattening the dance floor. By the end of the second set, though, that was beginning to change, and the dancers were flowing more freely…probably in direct proportion to the amount of adult beverages they had consumed by that point. Irregardless of the motivation, more dancers beget even more dancers. Soon the floor was covered with them. You couldn’t have swung a dead skunk in any direction without hitting at least a couple of them.

Dale’s rearrangement of the sets was not without its pitfalls, though. Time was apparently not a grave consideration in the formulation process, as was evidenced by the excess number of tunes left over when set time was over. He had Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song at the end of the 3rd set, with Rush’s What You’re Doing to start the 4th. Since the 3rd set was about three songs too long, we decided to start the 4th with the Zeppelin, then straight into the Rush. That was fine with me. I got to sing two of my favorite songs back to back. The Rush seems to have caught on with our crowd, too. I saw many people bobbing their heads along with it, and more than a few even singing along. Very cool.

Dale inserted War Pigs into the middle of the last set, citing the complaints of many who don’t stick around until the end of the night and always miss it. OK…whatever. We ended up turning it into about a 15 minute In-a-Gadda-da-Vida kind of thing anyway. After that, we had enough time left to play about two more songs and we were done for the night. We packed up and got out of there pretty quickly. (We’re trained professionals, kids…don’t try this at home.)

Dale didn’t leave the banner on the floor this time either. Bobby had printed a new one that is so big it covers the entire wall behind us with some of the website info not even visible. It’ll look great at the Lesterville gigs next year.

I went to the garage to retrieve my van. When I got in and turned the key…click. The second time, it started right away. I hate these things, necessary as they are. Aren’t we supposed to be traveling by teleporter by now?

For the drive home this night, I opted against silence. I instead slid the Circus Maximus CD The First Chapter into the CD player. Rumor has it they are in the studio finishing their second album even as you read this. I, for one, can’t wait to hear it. I’ve even put my favorite song from their first album on my new MySpace page (http://www.myspace.com/pauljsmith). I had order a couple of new discs from The Laser’s Edge, and they had actually arrived on Saturday. Unfortunately for me, the St. Jacob Post Office keeps odd hours and I was unable to get them. I did go to lunch early the following Tuesday and retrieve them. They are Uli Jon Roth’s Metamorphosis (on which he performs Vivaldi’s Four Seasons arranged for electric guitar and orchestra…with Don Airey on harpsichord, kids!) and Arjen Lucassen’s “Ayreon” double CD The Final Experiment. Both are excellent acquisitions.

Blind & Wingless

11 August 2006
One of the nice benefits of my salaried position at Wicks Organ Company is the ability to slip out a few minutes early when necessity requires such action. A Friday night gig with BenWahBob at Fairmount Park seemed like a fine opportunity to exercise that option. As I have done my fair share of extra duty from time to time, I had no guilt about this whatsoever.

I rushed home, changed into some comfortable jeans and a goofy T-shirt, loaded my equipment into the van, and was on my way. I arrived at the track around 05:30, loaded in, and headed for the buffet. I was quite disappointed to find no hot wings, my usual Fairmount fare. I instead settled for some other banal choices to fill the void. Carlos and I sat at a table near the windows, eating and catching up on all the things we used to talk about on a regular basis when we worked together.

Jason Hilliard was sitting in on drums with us this night, as Bobby was in Ohio for the weekend visiting relatives. Carlos had prepared a plate for him as well, but he didn’t get a chance to eat until after the first set as he and a friend were too busy finishing the set-up of his drum kit. Jason, for those who don’t know by now, is blind. Not “blind as a bat,” though, as a bat actually has eyes and can see. Jason had his eyes removed a couple years ago and has glass implants that he likes to take out to mess with people. He’s a great guy, and an even better drummer…definitely one of the most talented with whom I’ve ever played. Of course, this can occasionally present its own problems, like trying to communicate during a song. With most drummers, you can simply use visual cues, or talk “big” so they can read your lips. Not so with Jason. As I was given the task of feeding songs to him from the setlist, I was also trying my best to let him know when to end certain songs that can potentially drag on forever. It was a challenge, to say the least.

Overall, though, the night went off pretty well. Dale screwed up some pretty simple lyrics, and we all made fun of him. When Carlos or I did the same with our parts, we were treated to an equal amount of ribbing from the others. We all seemed to have a pretty good time.

The crowd this night was a bit less than we are accustomed to seeing on a Friday night. This was attributed to the incredibly nice weather. Apparently, there was a pretty good crowd outside not willing to surrender the opportunity to be outside. They might have known that there were no hot wings. Greg told me that they had counted somewhere in the neighborhood of about 1000 people mid-way through the evening. Not bad, but, again, about 2/3 of what we’re used to seeing. They were pretty sedate for most of the night, until a few attractive ladies stepped up and started dancing to their favorite songs. After that, the party was in full swing. We even had one dark-tressed dancer in “I Dream of Genie” type attire shaking her attributes around to the amusement of all.

Since I waited over a week and a half to write this, the fog of time and distance has shrouded much of what I’m sure were very amusing little episodes in the evening’s festivities. For that delay, I apologize. This is just one more reason you should attend these things in person, rather than relying on the retelling of their highlights by a musician, of all people…and a bass player at that!

Load out went quickly at the end of the night. Even Jason was done quickly, as his friend had stayed the whole night and helped him tear down his kit. This is usually a problem for him. He can almost always find someone to take him to a gig, but they never seem to stick around to make sure he has a ride home (Duh!?!). We have in the past taken turns getting him home, but that was not necessary this time.

On the short trip home, I opted for a rare situation: no music. I just turned off the CD player and drove back to my little burg in relative silence. It was kind of odd, as there is almost always some kind of music playing in my life. But, not on this night. The tires spinning against the pavement and the air bending around the minivan were my only music.