4/16-4/20: Kansas City, Chicago, Bloomington, Columbus OH, and Philadelphia

I haven’t had enough downtime between these last five shows to write an entry after each one, so I combined them into one.

The Kansas City show was very different from the one in Laramie, but just as beautiful – this was a perfectly curated show, though it was curated by providence in a way. Jesse Smith, who I played with in Asheville (and have played several shows with before) just happened to be coming through town, and I got to meet Warren Burns, whose music I’d been haunted by since my friend Greg Harvester connected me with him to set up this show. Interestingly, Warren recorded his album in France! I listened on Bandcamp (link) and was blown away at first by how beautifully clear his voice is. Then as I listened to the lyrics I felt myself sinking deeper and deeper into its mystical, smoky web… Both Warren and Jesse write songs with roots in the American folk/country tradition but with a personal, idiosyncratic take on it. And they both do that with disarming beauty. I get a cinematic feeling from their music, maybe a bit of a Cohen brothers feeling. And my music fits into all that pretty well – so though this show was not “curated” at all, it felt like it had been. Three original songwriters working in a long tradition.

Warren played first, backed by Marco on Pedal steel and Brad on bass. I would have felt lucky to be an audience member seeing those two play… and I was, except I had to play after them, so I wasn’t in prime listening mode. I can’t help calculating somewhat what I’m going to play because it’s different every time… this time I decided to forego some of the theatrical elements because the night had been framed as a singer-songwriter night, folks were primed for it, and I thought it would be seamless to continue with that trajectory. At first I thought it was chickening out, but then I realized that it would be even more of a challenge to go against the grain of what I’d been doing the last few days and change it up – even if that means sitting down and playing songs, which seems more chill than putting on a wig and going crazy (to an extent). But what’s easiest, of course, is repeating habits.

After the show, Jessie asked me to take a picture of her in a special room in the back that was wallpapered with stuffed animals. All four walls and the ceiling were covered in stuffed animals, perhaps taken from thrift stores, and dirty as you can imagine. It was a fascinating place of course that made you want to go in. And then you kinda want to leave! But it was great for photos. There was also a 60s- or 70s-era machine that looked like a Star Wars droid with a wide strap that you put on your hips, and when you turn on the machine it vibrates which supposedly induces weight loss.

At the end of the night I followed Warren’s van back to his house which is an amazing place he fixed up from an old house fallen into disrepair. I was so exhausted when I got there I really felt like I was in a dream. The party was still going on, but Warren was so kind and showed me a quiet room where I could just go to sleep.

I found out that night that my ride to Chicago was going to take me at least 8 hours, instead of the 4 or so that I was expecting… and so I would have to leave as early as I could in the morning. Of course I woke up later than I had expected but I had gotten enough sleep that I wasn’t fighting sleep at least for the first four hours of the drive…. I made it into Chicago as the show was already going on, so I missed the first group, the Montvales, but caught the next one, the HeartShades featuring Reverend Ferdinand who are a funky disco band and the Reverend is a fantastic singer who also offered some inspirational spoken moments including tributes to Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and others. I was so surprised when he talked to me after the show and praised my performance. I felt several rungs down from a full dance band with a such a powerful singer.

It was my old friend Al Scorch’s birthday that night and I had bought him a present of some Arnold Palmer fruit snacks. I delivered them on stage saying “Everyone who knows Al knows he loves … Arnold Palmer, the golfer” which is of course, not true. I don’t believe he harbors any particular passion for that man. After the show we went out to celebrate Al’s birthday with a friend I met for the first time, Dave, and someone we all met for the first time, whose name I never actually learned. We went to a bar near Al’s house at around 2:30 AM. Everyone ordered a beer and the bartender looked at me – I didn’t know what to order, and really didn’t want anything at all, but I asked for a cup of tea. She responded, “You fuckin’ with me??” and went on a little tirade that i was trying desperately to understand. Was she really angry with me for ordering tea? I think she actually was. When I looked around the place a bit more I could see there wasn’t really anything around except bottles of liquor and beer taps. I said, “a coke?” and she poured me one. She couldn’t get over the tea, though, and kept coming back to me to ask me more questions. She actually ended up finding a tea bag and making me a cup of Lipton’s black tea in a beer glass. She hung the tea bag from a black straw balanced over the middle of the glass. She attributed the presence of tea in the bar to an old Polish woman – though I never caught what the relationship between her and the bar was. She also charged nothing for the tea. I wasn’t offended, I just took it in as a part of what I think is a kind of Chicago cultural characteristic. What an amazing city that is – it’s so huge, it’s its own world, with worlds within that world. Al is a scholar of it, he had all kinds of information about his neighborhood and his apartment has a shelf full of books on Chicago history.

Al told me the life story of Jacques Pépin while cooking chicken with mushrooms and onions in the wee hours of the morning. Around 5 I went to sleep on his couch under a couple of heavy duty Hudson Bay blankets.

The next day I woke up around noon, having gone to bed so late. Al left earlier than I did for Bloomington, where we would play the next day, and I arrived after he had already finished his set. My dear friends Emmy and Cole were there, and seemed beaming with happiness. We moved into the performance space, with its square column in the middle of the floor.k The Montvales were playing when I came in – Sally and Molly sing gorgeous harmony over clawhammer banjo and guitar. It turns out Molly went to the same high school I did… and of course that’s a big place name around Maryville. Kay Krull and David _____ played next, I loved the soaring Roy Orbison-feeling vocals.

I was up next, and I went a different route than I had before, based on reading the crowd, who were sitting quietly far away. In the middle of the room there were no chairs, and I took one off the stage and put it directly in front of the stage, just for laughs. By the time I started playing it had been moved away. I started with an a cappela song and changed clothes Mr Rogers-style while singing, taking off my ball cap and green jacket and putting on an old-fashioned country woman’s tunic and a blond wig. I had made a list of songs just a minute before but somehow lost them, so I just played what came to mind. I was really feeling good and being very silly.

It was raining when we went back outside. Emmy and Cole rode back to their place with me \r, both sitting shotgun because the back seat is occupied by two guitars. They showed me their house, which is about as cozy as is humanly achievable. I slept very deeply there in the basement beside Cole’s drums that are so familiar to me.

In the morning Al came by Cole’s and we went for a very pleasant walk with Bruno the dog around two nearby cemeteries. Al and I posed at Hoagy Carmichael’s grave. It was so fun to see Al and Cole that it was hard to leave. As we were leaving we took a couple pictures and I was rather surprised at how much I looked like Mac DeMarco (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) and decided to make a change in style for the show that night.

I made it to Columbus, Ohio around 7:30 and drove past a huge sports stadium. Soon I learned that this is where Ohio State is located. One person would even compare me to Ohio State University after my set, which seems like extremely high praise around here. Back to the drive, I found the venue, the Rambling House, but parking was very limited around there. I had to park a few streets away. When I entered the venue with two guitars, one the instrument I borrowed from William and the other a guitar I’ve been transporting for my brother, I was surprised to find the place already packed with senior folks drinking beer and listening to a black-suited and white-hatted band covering Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work.” I hadn’t had any idea about this show going on just before ours. Naturally this one had to be over before the one I was playing at could start – and this was a pretty bangin’ party, so it took some time to wrap up.

I would be the opener for our show, which would be continued, respectively, by Corey Landis and the Finer Things, Sour Bridges, and Luke Bollheimer. When our show started to gather steam, a man with a pointy goatee introduced himself to me as Pierre. He would be working the door and he asked me if I needed anything. He spoke in a rather brash, accented way – as like a drill sergeant, maybe, but the content of what he said was all very friendly and generous. I put my friend Grady on the list and he introduced me to Caileigh who was taking care of sound.
Grady showed up soon and we had a good time catching up. He manned my merch setup as I got onstage and played. This would have to be a short set and I was happy to have that constraint – I just played songs as well as I could. The atmosphere was much more of a loud, raucous bar than the very quiet shows I had been playing, and I appreciated how loud it was, because I felt I could really strum the guitar like I normally would if I was playing by myself… And as I played the crowd paid more and more attention, talked less and less.

There was a popcorn machine at the bar of this venue and I was pretty tempted by the glow and smell of the freshly popped “giver of life” as Grady called it. I also noticed they made their own Ginger Beer so I ordered those things from Pierre who was working at the bar. I asked him if he spoke French – just going by his name – and he did, with a beautiful American accent (I do too, of course, but not nearly as strong as Pierre’s). His father is French and he’s spent some time there. That was a great surprise.

The rest of this show was great – all the other bands fit more or less into a roots music genre.

Grady and I made it back to his place around 2 AM, knowing we’d be waking up in 4.5 hours because his son Gus had a soccer game to get to in the morning. I had only seen Gus once, on my last long tour in 2017 or so, when he was a newborn. Now he’s a playful little kid with a very cute nearly 2-year-old sister Oona. He had her climbing all over him and cracking up, before he started playing some Castlevania-type video games (something from my generation, that I understand!). Grady made some biscuits and eggs in the kitchen. I was pretty mpressed that he cooked so much given how busy the guy is, while Courtney and I caught up and called Yuri on a video chat.

They were on the way to the soccer game in a flash and I was sitting in my car in front of their house typing Philadelphia into Google maps. But Grady had told me there was a good thrift store nearby and I was looking for a different hat, since I wanted to change up my style. And I went to this great thriftstore and found a pretty much perfect hat, a wide-brimmed black felt hat in not horrible condition, just a few cat hairs here and there. I bought this and got on the way to Philadelphia, a drive which took me 10 hours or so, because I had to stop and nap a bit.

I’ve spent perhaps two hours in Philadelphia in my life and was really excited to see what it was like. I’m still here and haven’t been disappointed. It’s as gritty and grimy as one could hope for, a wonderland of cracked sidewalks and broken chainlink fences.

The show here was really great – so enjoyable. It was really well-attended, a DIY venue called God’s Auto Body Shop. When I got there, though, I could see no evidence of any show going on – though I knew it had to have started by then. Fortunately some other folks came around looking for the place and trying to get in – and we figured out that the entrance was in the back of the building, around a construction site.

I would play last on this bill, after Soph, who played some really nice countrified slow-tempo folk music, then Astrals who did a cool countrym 60s pop and surf kind of music, then Nobody Jones who played a really different but also great country style. When I played, I didn’t know what to do exactly, I guess I felt very tired. But I also was very inspired because I had just met someone who told me an incredible story. They had found my music on a Big Thief playlist this week and got really into it, listening to all my albums, and they had mentioned it to someone at the show, not knowing that I was there! Then they found out that I happened to be playing the show they were already at! Holy shit! Anyway, I played a few songs in my sorta-slick western getup, and folks seemed into it. Then, about four songs in, I pretended to receive a call from my mom saying I had to let my cousin Rolly Lighthouse sing a song. I went backstage and changed clothes as quick as I could, then came back onstage and sang my song “What is the truth?” – and at the end of the song I got cut off. Someone came up and said I had to stop playing, because they had a curfew. I was totally shocked. Nobody told me I was going to have to stop so soon,.. so I thought I must have done something wrong, by singing this rather abrasive song in drag. I was scared to go talk to people, but as it turns out, it was really just the curfew and at least some people seemed to have liked the few songs I played. I do wish I’d have known beforehand how short I was supposed to play, but I suppose it was just the loose organization of the DIY space.
I’m finally caught up. I’ve been so busy the last few days I’ve barely had a chance to write. I wish the quality were better and that I had more time to give to these descriptions.

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