Tour Diary: 3/22/24 – Knoxville, Tennessee


Next day in Chattanooga the reality of my lost voice sank in. I could barely talk. I looked up an article on my phone, how do you quickly recover your voice? The response was, there is no way, you pathetic asshole. You have to stay hydrated and wait a week or two. Soon after I spoke to James Wallace on the telephone, who reminded me of the extraordinary recording session that we’ve planned, which is coming up in just a few days in New Orleans. I stared at the Downers’ guppy tank as we spokem saying a sort of prayer that I could have something of my singing voice back by that time. The Downers were again very thoughtful and generous. Emalaya did some research and found me a non-alcohol based tincture for respiratory health that includes several herbs that could help. She gave me some bags of herbal tea and some CBD-infused honey as well. I couldn’t believe the generosity and felt healed just by the thoughtfulness and care shown me. Page equipped me with a bath towel and a coffee mug to take on my trip. The coffee mug has chickadees on the sides, birds that make me think of home and Yuri’s birdhouse gourds hanging on the window, that’s full of chickadees all the time. Also of the Carolina Chickadee which has a song I loved when I was growing up in Tennessee and that I heard as I left Knoxville earlier today.


I had some bumper stickers made which I had sent to the Downers’ house, but except for a very small few, they came in late and so I don’t have them. It’s a shame because they are very funny and I was really looking forward to having them at my shows. Hopefully they’ll make their way here soon.


On the way to Knoxville from Chattanooga, feeling the stress of having basically lost my voice, I kept the car silent, except for the squeaking windshield wipers. I felt like I needed rest, and so I took the most restful approach to what I was doing. This gave me some space to think of what I would do onstage for Big Ears. I had a couple of ideas for spoken bits, which I rehearsed in my head, sparing my voice. And I wouldn’t be able to sing anything with high notes–fortunately some of my new songs are slow and relatively low-pitched. Voilà, somehow, as often happens, some shape of an idea came to me. It included one of the chocolate hearts (strawberry cream) and, at the last minute, as I was eating a piece of celery, I was struck by how pretty the celery stalk looked. I put it in my coat pocket. People I didn’t know kept commenting on it. It was great. I decided to eat celery onstage as part of the performance. That somehow made things seem more comfortable to me.

I was greeted warmly by a lot of familiar faces and friends at the Pilot Light. It’s an amazing place, that has totally altered my life. I was really lucky to grow up nearby in Maryville and get to see mind-blowing and wide-ranging performances there. To get to play there a huge privilege to me. I always want to do something good and try to give everything I can to any performance, but perhaps even more so there. I was definitely sorry to have such a handicap coming into this show but had faith that some kind of alternate path would present itself. As it happened, I took it slowly and sang quietly. I almost cracked myself up singing, as I realized how my laryngitis-weakened vocal cords sounded a lot like Bob Dylan’s recent vocal style. I’ve been obsessed with his Sinatra-style singing and it felt good singing that way. It was also easy to access really profoundly sad feelings, Whenever you lose some ability that you’re used to having, even if temporary, it feels very sad.


After I was finished, I had the great pleasure of finally seeing Earwig Deluxe perform. As I was breaking down my set-up he came on stage in the most glorious costume, just glowing like a deity. I looked at him transfixed and said, “You look like – a god!” His performance was really great, my favorite part being a song in perhaps Esperanto or perhaps not any language, when the dramatic lighting made me really believe was a god. It was awesome in the true sense of the word.


After his performance I decided to take a walk, though it was raining. I made it about one quarter of a block, just to see the bright lights of Central Street, then felt satisfied and returned to the venue where Ed Shrader’s Music Beat were performing. This was my first time seeing them live, though I had seen video a long time ago fo Ed Shrader hosting a talk show as part of the Baltimore scene of the early 2000s that I was inspired by at the time. Playing as a duo, with only a floor tom, vocals, and bass guitar, they made the earth quake. It was a moving performance, with sincere exhortations mixed with wisecracks. Later on, watching Steve Gigante playing his legendarily beat-to-shit guitar, Maggie Brannon, and incredible drummer Greg Saunier from the merch table (also terribly fantastic!) in the back of the venue beside Ed, I drew a picture of him (very rough!) and wrote a note saying I loved his performance. Because I could not speak over the music. I was surprised at how he was so into the picture, and how he was so positive and friendly. We both ended up spending the night at Jason’s house so we got time to meet each other with the bass player Devlin, who is so funny and smart. I was really thankful for how energetic and verbose he was because I didn’t want to talk at all. Plus he kept making me laugh. We showed each other pictures of our pets. I’m so happy to have met them and also Cassie who let me into Jason’s house when I was fading towards the end of the night. It was much later than I should have gone to sleep, around 3:30 in the morning, but I was able to sleep for about 8 hours, thankfully, and hope to be on the way to recovering. Now I’m in Asheville, ready to play at the Static Age Loft. More later.

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