4/10/24: Santa Cruz

4/10/24 – Santa Cruz

My performance at the show in Ojai was not as good as I was hoping for. I didn’t get to play a lot of the songs I wanted to play because the theatrical elements of the show were taking up significant time. Certain audiences I play for really dig this, but others, like in Ojai, I think, really want to hear songs. And writing these new songs is where I’ve been concentrating the major part of my energy, because I knew I would be recording an album, and since a record is just that – a record – and lasts more than a lifetime, that’s where I put my efforts. And, as a result the songs I made do seem better than what I’ve done before, at least lyrically. Embarking up on this tour originally, I felt as though the theatrical side of my performance was neglected, and so I threw it together at the end. At certain times it’s worked out great, others it’s been just kind of confusing. Because my kind of performing and music is a bit more complicated than a singer-songwriter, and different people know me from different angles, and the different styles I play in appeal to different people in different ways, it’s very important for me to be sensitive to each audience, but also to stay true to what I feel like I can do best in a given moment. At this moment, it was really the songs and not so much the costumes and characters.

One problem, of course, is that I didn’t feel as if I had memorized the lyrics to a few of the songs I had just recorded, so when I arrived in Santa Cruz around midday, I sought out a park to practice in. I looked at a map and found Neary Lagoon Park, and carried my borrowed guitar to a quiet park bench overlooking a wastewater treatment plant and behind which a pair of Mallards splashed around, perhaps in some sacred mating ritual. Very few people passed me, but when they did, and they were mostly dog-walkers, I just kept going as if they weren’t there. I played for a couple of hours, sitting on that bench, until the sun began to get almost unbearably hot. I resolved in my mind to play one last song and leave. The practice had been plenty good and I felt like I could perform “December Dandelion,” “Or Something,” “Chico,” and “Flowers” that evening. I began to practice “Davis” for my last song, when a shoeless, white-bearded man carrying a plastic mustard bottle with a bit of red liquid inside sat beside me on the bench. I finished the song and he told me that I should articulate the words more clearly, so he could understand “the poetry.” I appreciated the commentary, honestly, though in large part because it, in addition to the bare feet and mustard bottle, indicated an interesting character. He offered me a drink of the red liquid, which was kombucha, he told me. I would estimate there were about 15 milliliters in there. I politely refused and told him that I was just on the point of leaving, but he asked me to play one more. I played “December Dandelion,” which I needed to practice most. He seemed to like the song, and his reaction meandered along a great many tangential pathways, which exceed by far my capacity for recollection. What I do recall, however, was that he said he had undertaken research on Leonardo Da Vinci and had “merged” with him. Curious about his use of that word, I asked him to expand on what he meant by that. He explained that he discovered that he was an incarnation of the great Renaissance man. He explained that he overlaid a photograph of himself over a self-portrait of Da Vinci and found them to be practically identical. Looking at him, he did seem to look like Leonardo. I asked him if Leonardo’s eyes were as blue as his, and he said that the portrait was in ink, and that he did not know. Probably the most miraculous part of this story is that I told him I would be playing later that evening at the Sub Rosa community center – and he showed up!

I found the space for the show about an hour before it opened, and walked around Santa Cruz a little bit. When I came back, I met Dan Beckman, an old friend who was a musical legend to me and several friends back in Chattanooga in the early 2000s. We loved his record as Uke of Phillips and especially his song “Le Petit Chien.” I wouldn’t actually meet Dan for several years, when he passed through Chattanooga with Amy and their band – whose name had evolved to Uke of Spaces Corners by then, or perhaps Village of Spaces Corners, or what it is now, Village of Spaces. Dan’s music is very magical, so tender, beautiful, idiosyncratic, done according to no schema or template that I can discern. They came and played once at our place in Sebastopol when we were living there. So, we loaded our things into the venue and waited for the others. Nate, who played as Hieronymous, showed up, with one of those 60s Japanese guitars that sound so cool and go out of tune so easily. Then Casy Meikle showed up, who I know from Tennessee, and who I didn’t know has been living in Santa Cruz in the last few years. I also know Casy as primarily a fiddler and didn’t know he sang and wrote songs. But turns out he’s good at that too! I also was super surprised to find that Daniel Binkley was in town with the Hogslop String Band! They had been supporting a singer on tour who got sick and had to cancel shows, so they were free to come see this one.

So Nate started things off, and played some very beautiful music. That old cheapo guitar just sounded better the more it went out of tune. He did some great Travis picking on it – it really had a great tone. After him Village of Spaces (Dan) played, accompanied by a guitarist named Frankie. They also played so beautifully. Then Casy came onstage – and he started with “Going Away” by Utah Phillips (I’m actually not sure if he wrote it – but I know his version). I also have covered that song for several years – and it’s one of my favorites. Casy’s version was top notch. When he was finished, I just jumped onstage and sang a bunch of songs. I didn’t get into costumes or anything, but I did do my mentalism schtick and some Accompanyments. And the change in my set turned out to have been the right decision. People were really into just hearing songs, and a lot of people came in off the street who hadn’t planned on coming, and seemed to really enjoy it, and bought things from me after the show.

At the end of the night, around midnight, I followed Dan back to his house, where he put me up in an old camper trailer parked in his front yard. It was so neat inside, I want to put one in my yard now. That’s all for now – I’m going to start getting ready for Santa Rosa.

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