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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!

17 May 2009


The band schedules have been in a constant state of flux so far this year, which is undoubtedly a result of the fact that I seem to find myself attached to more and more projects. This was a conscious choice of mine, albeit hesitantly so. Since my hours were cut back at my day job, I’ve been using cover band gigs to help make up the difference. I don’t necessarily like playing this much, but it is what it is. And right now, it is a financial necessity. So it goes.

There have been a few gigs since the last installation of this babbling weblog, and some other interesting stuff as well. I’ll try to encapsulate it thusly:

10 April 2009
BenWahBob played the opening weekend of the “Budweiser Party at the Park” at Fairmount Park in Collinsville, IL this year. This band has been playing those gigs every summer since before I was in the band, and I joined in 2003. We’re pretty much a staple there. It’s an odd gig in that we play for an hour to start, then play in-between the horse races...which usually only amounts to a few songs at a time. It’s fun, though, and a pretty decent paying gig. There are frequently 1000 people or more, and it’s a really good time when the place gets hopping.

One unexpected twist this time was an unexpected request from an unusual source. An extremely good-looking young blonde woman in a sock dress approached the sound man and handed him a note. He read it and handed it over to Carlos with a smirk. I assumed she was requesting a song we don’t know by a band we don’t cover, which is usually the case. When I asked what it was, I was told she wanted to hear some Rush.


I usually remove any Rush from the set lists for these gigs, as experience has shown that it’s not venue appropriate. We have, however, been known to throw some in at the end of the night. This girl wanted to hear Tom Sawyer, which cannot be performed adequately without keyboards. We instead tossed out What You’re Doing, which I didn’t mind at all. I’m not sure why I am still surprised when attractive women are Rush fans, as I have seen plenty of them at their concerts over the years. For some reason, though, that is a band that is usually only requested by guys. This one was a rather pleasant surprise.

01 May 2009
BWB was scheduled to play at 21 Rock in Arnold, MO. The club had apparently had a few bad weekends in a row, and decided to cancel the bands for awhile. No surprise here. At least they told us before we showed up to play.

15 May 2009
The Incognito project was back at 21 Rock. The weather this day was more than a bit dicey, as there were severe thunder storms and tornado watches all over the St. Louis area. Before I even got into the shower, I called Bobby to ensure that we were indeed still playing. It’s a little over 50 miles for me, and I didn’t want to get there and find we’d been cancelled. He assured me that we were good to go, and we indeed were. After crawling around in the mud at Dawna’s (my van got stuck...don’t ask beyond that, as no good deed goes unpunished), the shower felt really good.

The gig went pretty well, and several of us joked that we sounded better this time after having not rehearsed for several weeks than we did the first time. I have long maintained that rehearsal for a cover band is highly overrated. I mean...after doing this for over 25 years, how much do you really need to practice to play other people’s music in bars for a bunch of drunks? Learn the songs, agree on the endings, and just play them. That’s where the magic happens anyway.

Some other interesting things happened in the last couple of weeks, too. I had to schedule a trip to Scotch Plains, NJ to work in an organ at St. Bartholomew’s Catholic Church. It’s really more of a Catholic school with a church in the middle. They recently remodeled the place, and in the process had Wicks Organ Company install a new organ. Well, it’s not really new. The digital part is, but the pipes came from an older existing instrument that they bought from another church in Saddle River, NJ. They were having some issues with the digital part, and I was “elected” to go fix it.

This was not necessarily a trip to which I was looking forward. I made the requisite arrangements, and called the Area Sales Director John Klauder to let him know the plans. He informed me that one of his employees would be picking me up from the airport in Newark and driving me around, to save the expense of a rental car...a very kind gesture. John is a great guy, so this was really no surprise. He told me that normally he would do it, but he was going to be busy most of that week working in Manhattan. He had secured a contract to disassemble and move several pipe organs at The Julliard School to help facilitate their ongoing renovations, and would be working there.

After I hung up, I started to think about that. Julliard. Hmmm. I’ve never had any desire to go to New York City. It’s never been a place that fascinates me in the least. But, Julliard? Now, that fascinates me. That place is undoubtedly the most prestigious music school in the world. It kind of is to musicians what Mecca is to Muslims. That’s something for which I would go into the city. When I received my flight confirmation from the travel agency, I called John back and gave him the flight info. He was at Julliard at the time, and was in fact talking at the time with the head of the Organ Department Paul Jacobs. I asked if it would be possible to visit the school while I was in the area, and was told I would be more than welcome to come in for a visit. Sweet! How could I turn that down? My arrangements would put me there on Wednesday, and the work on the organ shouldn’t take more than a few hours. Since my return flight was not until 16:30 on Thursday, this left me all of that morning to get over into the city, visit the school, and get back to the Newark airport. No problem.

My flight landed on time, and John’s helper Barry picked me up right on time. We drove straight to the church and dove into the problems. I was installing some additional audio equipment, and had to wait for an electrician to run some lines for me, which took longer than it needed. Union guys. We made a couple of runs to pick up some supplies, and before we knew it, it was nearing 18:00. We connected the computer to the console, and started on the voicing issues. This organ was a mess. Barry and I ended up going through the whole organ stop by stop to make the badly needed correction. It was no wonder that the priest was so disappointed with the organ. It was much better by the time we finished. It was also getting very late. We discovered that we needed a few more parts, and also discovered that all of the electronics stores were already closed. So, the plan was to pick them up in the morning, and finish the touch-up voicing then.

I got to my hotel in Newark at about 21:00, checked in, and headed straight for the restaurant in the lobby. I hadn’t eaten anything since the muffin I got at the airport Starbucks in St. Louis that morning. I ordered a cheese steak sandwich, and it disappeared at an alarming rate. It was outstanding, too. I went back to my room, and called John to make the arrangements for the next morning. He said that he would be driving me on Thursday, as the work at Julliard had progressed much better than he had anticipated, and he wasn’t needed there again until Friday. Our plan was for him to pick up the little shorting jumpers at a store in Manhattan before coming over to Jersey to pick me up, thus saving us some time. When we finished, he would drive me over to the school and save me the trouble of trying to navigate the trains and subway for the first time. I was all for that.

The next morning I sat in my room awaiting John’s call. When he did call, he was not bearing good news. He was having trouble finding a store that carried the parts we needed. I was skeptical. These little jumper straps are a common item in computers. I suspected that John was not presenting his requests correctly. After he failed to find them at several stores, I told him to just pick me up and we’d find something in Newark. I knew of an electronics store on Rte 22, the one that was closed the night before. We went there, and had them in hand in a matter of minutes. Back at the church, we put the jumpers in place, which fixed the problem as expected. After some finally voicing, John walked over to the rectory to ask the organist to come over and give it a listen. I sat there at the console and noodled a bit (no Mr. Crowley this time). As I played, I became aware of someone staring at me. I looked over to see a nun standing there watching me. She told me that she needed to have some of here students practice their speaking over the PA system. So, I gladly stopped and let them do their thing. It is their church, after all. John came back and informed me that this was the organist’s day off, and that he would not be able to come in to listen to it until later that afternoon. After the student left, I played a little more while John walked around and listened, then he played a bit while I listened. It sounded 1000% better than it did when I arrived the previous day.

On the downside, it was now almost 13:30. As my flight was scheduled to depart at 16:30, it became obvious that we would not have time to drive into the city and still get back in time to make the flight. I was seriously bummed about that. The one reason that I had actually looked forward to this trip had now evaporated. Oh, well. So it goes. I had gone there to fix an organ, and had succeeded at that. Anything else was just a bonus. John took me to the airport, apologizing for not being able to get me to Julliard. Maybe next time.

I ambled my way through security, found a little deli for lunch, then sat at the gate awaiting the trip home. When I checked in, my boarding pass said that the flight was delayed by one hour. When I arrived at the gate, the departure was listed as “on time.” After sitting there reading for awhile, I noticed that several people were murmuring about St. Louis. I looked up from my book to see a group of people following an airline agent over to our gate. I also noticed that the flight information was no longer on the gate display. I got up and walked over to the arrivals/departures screens, only to see that all flights to St. Louis had been cancelled, presumably because of weather. Great. The gate agent gave us an 800 number to call to make arrangements for another flight. It was the wrong number. After several of us protested, she looked up another number for us. This one worked. The agent on the phone wasn’t much help, though. The only options she offered were a flight at 12:20 on Friday, or one at 21:30 that night from LaGuardia. When I asked if the airline was going to get me to LaGuardia, she didn’t answer, but just read back the flight info. When I asked if they were paying for a hotel if I had to take the next day’s flight, she gave me the same response. I chose the following day, and thanked her for being so skillfully uncooperative. Other stranded passengers recounted similar stories. After reclaiming my baggage, I went back to the hotel and checked in for another night. I had a pizza from the restaurant delivered to the room, and sat there reading for the rest of the night.

As it turned out, I would have had plenty of time to get over to New York City. Figures.

Once again, I ruminated over the idea of trying to get to Julliard in the morning on Friday. However, I did not want to take the chance of missing this flight. So, I just checked out and went back to the airport. The flight did indeed leave on time, but had to stop over at Chicago O’Hare. The flight crew asked if I wanted to get off while they prepped for the rest of the flight. I told them that there was no way in hell I was getting off of that plane until it landed in St. Louis. They got a chuckle out of that. I was glad someone thought it was funny.

I finally made it back to St. Louis, just in time to be two hours late for a demo recording with BenWahBob.

I love traveling.