4/27-28: Chattanooga – Cherry Street Tavern (with Hunger Anthem & Loud Humans) & Sluggo’s (with Old Time Traveler)


I came to Chattanooga a couple hours before the show and practiced some songs at Stringer’s Ridge, where I used to walk around, exploring, sometimes while speaking into a tape recorder. At they time there weren’t surprisingly well-appointed bathrooms there. I was practicing “Carousel” because it’d been requested back at JJ’s Bohemia on the first night of the tour. The chords are hard to predict on that song, but maybe not as hard as something off Bill Bruford’s album Feels Good To Me. I’m listening to that for the first time right now. Go ahead and listen to it with me. Or, on the other hand, why not listen to something completely different? Because the crazy rhythms, odd musical experiments, virtuosic musicianship, and interesting vintage 70s sounds that you could hear on this album might not be strong enough to draw you away from reading. And, though it’s what I’m listening to right now, it will certainly have a different effect on you than it’s having on me, because two people, experiencing separate spatial and temporal circumstances with different ears and brains, different histories and memories, in which different musical structures have been constructed over a lifetime, will, when listening to the same album, hear two distinct albums. Any sensory experience produced by reproducible media, no matter how supposedly identical it is thought to be – will produce itself differently in each listener. Furthermore, one recording listened to by one and the same person will be heard differently in all subsequent iterations: any given person is as subject to evolutionary flows as a stream of water. Recordings, though reproduced uniformly and identically, only exist in a virtual state beyond which their uniformity does not extend until they are heard by a listener. At the moment of reception, it is recreated heterogenously in each unique and irreproducible physical apparatus, which, additionally, infuses and is infused with its spatio-temporal context. So, even if you were to listen to Bill Bruford’s Feels Good To Me, you wouldn’t be listening to the same album that I was listening to while writing this paragraph. Anyway, it’s taken so long this much that the album is finished, it’s 1 in the morning, I’ve got a silent earbud in each of my ears, I’m falling asleep, and it seems wise to start writing about the Chattanooga shows tomorrow.

Now it is tomorrow. On April 26th I parked on Cherry Street between 4th and 5th streets in Chattanooga, near the court. There was a big pile of white trash bags whose excess plastic was being buffeted by the wind.

Alan was running the door at Cherry Street and I said “Hey Alan!” just like I had never left Chattanooga. Inside, Joey, who was running sound, was razzing me right from the start, then we pretty soon had a really deep conversation. He also told me a great story about being defended from a security guard by Iggy Pop at a concert of his. He also regaled me with a story of seeing the Cramps in the early 90s.

It was decided that I would play last, after the two rock bands that were sharing the bill, Hunger Anthem from Athens, Georgia and Loud Humans from Atlanta. These are not bands that I know personally, but they asked me to share the bill not long after I had secured the date and I said, “OK.” It turned out well, though it was not very stylistically cohesive. I hope they were OK with how it went, especially Loud Humans who I only ever saw when they were onstage. They were certainly loud! I was having a good time with Bill (Heavy Comforter) and Caroline while they were playing, drawing some pictures and goofing.

What I remember of my show was that – it was probably the best one I did the whole tour. And I forgot to record it. I felt very loose and comfortable. Rolly Lighthouse from Valdosta, Georgia (Al Scorch discovered her birthplace) and Roy Sessick, who we picked up hitchhiking outside of Monteagle, sang their songs (“Angel Horse” and “Healthy & Great”). Matt Downer witnessed a guy walking out of the bar while flipping the bird at Roy Sessick. I felt pretty proud about that. If anyone was there that night and got it on film, would you please send it to me?

I thought Joey really dialed in the sound well, and I enjoyed the heck out of playing all my new songs and Tendernessee. It was the first time I got to play “Chico” – which is a song about a local musician who often played on the street, especially in front of the Ben & Jerry’s by the Tennessee Aquarium. He also played at my Chattanooga wedding and once at a show I put on at JJ’s Bohemia. Still, nobody knew anything definitive about Chico. I wish I could have been closer to him.

At the end of the night, Caroline and Bill helped me carry some things to my rental car, and I gave them a ride back to their car that was parked a couple blocks away. By this time it was around 2 in the morning. I parked by their car and, in order to show off the rented Toyota Corolla’s sound system, I started playing Rust in Peace by Megadeth, and we kept talking until most of the album was done. By the time we parted ways and I started driving back towards the Downers’, where I was going to spend the night, I realized I had to pee so bad I didn’t think I could make it even that far. I thought of a nearby empty lot where I could stop, but then reckoned that it probably had a building on it by now. But, then I spied a row of bushes on an empty street alongside a parking garage and went there, in the mulch. I was sure thankful for that spot!

Next day I cleaned up the rental car and got it ready to return to its owner, who actually came and picked it up at the Downers’ – I appreciated that. Soon, my mom came by in an Uber and we three – me, Mom, and Matt – went to Sluggo’s where we would have our early show. We were going to eat before playing, and we sat at a table on the back deck, since the weather was beautiful. We were chatting so much that I didn’t think of looking at the menu until the server came. I said I’d go last to give me time to look at the menu, and I decided on a Caesar salad with a side of collard greens. A few minutes later, when the food came out, I realized that I had ordered the exact same thing that Matt and Mom had ordered. Ashley Krey came by and sat and talked with my mom and me for a long while, it was so nice to catch up with him. I love his current style!

We had a hard time deciding whether this show should happen in- or outside. As I wrote, it was a beautiful day, and it seemed wrong to go inside. There were security concerns, now that there are more businesses in the area using the road outside of Sluggo’s, so people had to stay out of the traffic. Luckily, it never get that bad while we were playing.

Before many folks arrived, Matt and I got a chance to play a bit of old time fiddle-guitar duo music like we did in the Old Time Travelers. That was fun. I played Matt’s heavily detuned, nylon string guitar so there was a lot less projection than usual. We played “Old Chattanooga” with the lyrics we’ve made up over the years, and tried a little of “Three Little Babies,” a sad, ballad-type song from the John Jacob Niles songbook that we used to play. We considered playing it during the show but ended up not doing it. It got a bit crazy trying to greet so many friends – this has happened several times now, when I’ve come back to Chattanooga to play since moving away in fall of 2015. It feels just like a family reunion.

Matt started off the show with “Wino” by Cast King (I think this was the 1st song). Since we decided at the last minute to move the show outdoors, we weren’t using any amplification. Matt’s detuned guitar and low-register singing were so quiet that I didn’t notice he’d started until he was already a verse or two in to the song. Then I moved up and just hoped people would notice and listen – otherwise it would be totally inaudible. And they did, as they realized that he was playing. I was most surprised when Matt started playing one of my nearly-forgotten songs, “The Ears” from the Face Suite by Dos Bros. I walked up and sang the high harmony, and it was a strange feeling to try to learn a song on-the-fly, when it was a song that I actually made up. It had just been so long that I couldn’t remember some of the words–the last verse in particular. That was a really special moment – and I love singing harmony!

So, this was the 31st and final show of the tour, and since it was mostly for old friends, I wanted to take a simple, campfire approach and to sing more old songs. I asked for a lot of requests and played several songs I had neglected on the tour, like “Apple in a Tree,” “May,” and a few others. I got to see Liz & Adam’s newborn Avery Ann and Mom held her while I was playing. Rolly and Roy weren’t there but I did sing “Angel Horse” for her. I sang up until the time limit, which was the 9PM start of the Saturday Karaoke night at Sluggo’s. And when they say it starts at 9 o’clock, they really mean it! I was trying to stretch my time by playing one extra tune, because I had just played “New Sadnesses” and wanted to end on a happier note, but the first Karaoke tune came on quite punctually. So, “New Sadnesses” was the last song I played on this tour. With the exception of “That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra, which I did soon after on the karaoke stage. Bryan Hensley is the emcee and it was a blast to see him again and catch up. I hadn’t seen him in “many’s the long year.” Then Matt sang “Cracklin’ Rosie” and I tried to keep up with him – but I’m sorry to say I didn’t remember the song well enough!

We hung out till midnight at Karaoke with Emalaya and her friend Zoey. I also got to see Terry and Josh Mayfield. I read all the old flyers decorating the wall of the bar and was so amazed that one of them was a Big Kitty flyer that I drew! I felt so, so deeply honored by that. I was also so heartened to see how big of a crowd of people I didn’t know who were coming to party at Sluggo’s! I thought that was great. I heard all the Cranberries hits, some Oasis songs, Toto’s “Africa,” and a whole lot of stuff I didn’t even recognize. Couldn’t imagine a better scene to end this tour.

Thanks for reading my tour diary. I’m glad I made the choice to write this, but also I had to sacrifice the time I probably would’ve spent writing more song/poetry oriented stuff. But I’ve also had a lot of fun with some of this writing. But, I wrote almost all of it in great haste and with regret at not being able to include but the most salient details. So, I hope in the coming days to be able to find the time to go back and add in more things that I remember. If I do manage to get to it, I will go back through and correct any obvious typos and grammar errors but will leave it intact like a historical document, but will add any interesting stuff about that particular time in a separate section underneath the original blog post.

Thanks for being a part of this beautiful experience.

4/25/24 Nashville at Ethel’s Tabernacle with Amy Ayler & Van Burchfield

It’s always been hard to find a show in Nashville despite the fact that I have a lot of friends who play music there. It was looking like I would play a house show at my brother Brad’s house, but he just started a new job and was busy with that. Then my buddy Daniel Binkley (and OG Big Kitty band member) found a spot for it at a bar I’d never heard of called Ethel’s Tabernacle, not too far from Brad’s house. He put a ton of effort into setting up this show, trying to work it out at Dee’s and other spots but nothing worked out until Ethel’s.

I knew Ethel’s Tabernacle was a special place when I saw the weedeater lying across the picnic table beside the out-of-commission 70s-era Lincoln sedan up on lifts. The place seems rather recently designed to look like an old dive bar, not in a Disneylandesque gentrification manner but in the purest spirit of crusty weirdness. It’s decorated with a bunch of street signs that, well, aren’t typically used for decoration, like “Bike Lane” or “Pedestrian crossing” signs. There were a few tools, monkey wrenches and a pressure guage, just sitting on the table closest to the entrance, that stayed right there all night long. There was a dusty, ripped-up umbrella with smiley faces on it hanging on the wall with a sign over it that read to the effect of “The creepiest umbrella in the world, discovered in a junkyard.” And many other details that I’ll refrain from, so you have something to look forward to, when you get a chance to see Ethel’s for yourself.

Some friends showed up who had moved to Nashville from Chattanooga, and we chatted while getting ready for Amy Ayler and Van Burchfield to open the show. They played some really quality old-time music, fiddle and guitar which I haven’t heard much of in a while. Amy also sang a couple of songs really well – I very much appreciate how they jumped onto the show.

As for the Big Kitty portion, Rolly Lighthouse opened things up and blew up a balloon which was quickly sucked up into an air duct. She then attempted to throw confetti all around but it stayed in two hand-formed clumps, which made her laugh. Then yours truly emerged from her ashes and sang the songs that have become almost standard from the 28 previous shows on this tour. At the end, feeling like I was noticing that people might be wanting to go, I said I would finish up the set. But there were a few requests – Chuck Draper requested “Tendernessee” which I hadn’t played yet on the tour but remembered without any hiccups! Then “The Boy Who Smelled Real Good” and then I just offered up “Chico,” because I knew that some people there would probably remember the great Joseph “Chico” Woods. It was a spectacular night, truly, that emerged out of seemingly nothing. And so the tour is coming to a close. I rolled into Chattanooga just a few minutes ago, with a lot of emotion, and typed this up, ready to play the last two shows before going back to France.

4/24: Knoxville, TN at the Pilot Light with Weird Ian & The Weird Band and Run 40

It was great to get another chance to play in Knoxville after having lost my voice the first time, about a month before. It always feels great to come back to the Pilot Light, one of the greatest places in the world for me, where I had some of my first concert experiences, back when smoking was allowed inside, and when many of the audience members from this night were probably just being born.

Originally, Weird Ian & the Weird Band was supposed to open this show, but Ian was attending a traveling version of the Price is Right. This is of course, about as solid an excuse as you could ever have, and we waited with anticipation to hear the results. Unfortunately, he didn’t come through with any prizes but I am sure that one of these days he will win “big money.”

So I opened the show! And there was a good crowd, with a lot of familiar and some unfamiliar faces. Rolly Lighthouse came out followed by Roy Sessick, who sang “Healthy & Great,” with new words we wrote earlier that day together. Since they were so fresh I wrote notes on his hand so he could remember the verses. While changing between Rolly’s dress and Roy’s outfit, Roy scrambled and put on a suit jacket without a shirt on underneath. Then, when I replaced him, I put the shirt fully on. Does this make sense?

I felt like I sang great and the sound is always really good at the Pilot Light. Somehow I felt a weird emptiness – not necessarily bad, but I felt a strange feeling. An empty feeling. Perhaps a great feeling. I gave out a lot of prizes – a Reese’s Egg, a York Peppermint Patty, and an orange Tootsie Roll pop. All things I accumulated at various gas stations. I finished this set with “Holiday God.” I also forgot to record my set, but William Tuggy Tugwell (of the Weird Band) did record it! What a pal.

Run 40 played some mighty fine songs that really got the crowd going… and most of whom parted at the end of their set leaving us Weird Ian fanatics with a largely empty room all the better to enjoy the show. I should add more detail but lordy I’m beat! Perhaps I’ll come back later and fill it in.

I stayed with Jason again, for the second time on this tour, and happily had a good bit more time to sit around and chat. What a great time. He made me a delicious breakfast sandwich with an english muffin, egg, ham, mushrooms… maybe other things? It was good! The night before I was hungry after the show and stopped by a gas station where I found a Rap Snax (Master P) Ramen Noodle cup. It was pretty good!

Well, this tour is wrapping up and I feel, honestly, quite tired and a bit anxious about all the things required to finish it well. I’m just trying to recognize my feelings. Hi, feelings! How are you? I see… well, I am experiencing you as a part of my existence, so we have some things in common. I suppose I’ll – “See you in Nashville!”

4/22-23: Charlottesville, VA with Oil Derek and Red Knierim; Bristol radio with Kris Truelsen

4/22 – 23

Slept so deeply in my brother’s guest bed it was hard to pull myself out. But the sun coming into the 30th floor window was pretty hot. Surprising then how cool it was when we both went outside and had breakfast at Old John’s Cafe (or something…) which we mixed up with Uncle John’s (Band, a song by the Grateful Dead). It was a treat to have poached eggs, potatoes and sourdough toast for breakfast while catching up with Braxton. I slipped one of the two slices of toast into a pocket of my green denim jacket for later.

The ride to Charlottesville, VA from New York was supposed to take about six hours but the traffic en route was relentless, as was my sleepiness. I seem to get more sleepy when listening to the British accent of the reader of my current audiobook, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow, which is a fascinating and complex book whose objective is reevaluating common notions of human history, especially prehistory – the agricultural revolution in particular, adding complexity and nuance to them with a lot of empirical observation. So to avoid getting too sleepy I occasionally switch over to some music – Yes, Rush, and Metallica on this day. Renting a recently-produced car with a nice sound system has been eye-opening about how records I love can actually sound! There are so many subtleties to this music I haven’t picked up on by listening through the bluetooth speaker that is my best sound producer at home!

So this drive stretched on and on, until I finally showed up at Dürty Nelly’s in Charlottesville, Virgina where Oil Derek had set up a show. I found a parking spot in a closed chicken restaurant (“We put the cluck in chicken” … or something?), went in the door past the Starship Troopers pinball machine, entered the long wooden hallway with stone fireplace and a painting holding an actual cigarette, saw Derek directly in front of me, and gave him a hug. He had been trying to find my phone number to call me.

The music had already started, Red Knierim was playing. I looked at him and he grinned at me really big – as if to say “it’s really you!” This was one of those moments when I hear someone play on stage and just can’t believe it. “No… this can’t be as good as it is…” until slowly the reality sinks in. “Yes… Red Knierim is the real deal.” He sang in a low baritone reminiscent of Bill Callahan’s but really sang more than he does. His guitar playing is a fingerpicking sturmming style, bluesy with a lot of popping strings. And the lyrics are rhythmic, soulful, down home, wide-eyed, in awe of life… just fuckin’ great. I noticed that a few of the audience members seemed to have big, wide grins like his and, sure enough, his family was there.

Derek asked me if I wanted to jump up next but I was still a bit unsettled from the ride so I asked him if he would. He played through a beautiful Epiphone Casino and sang in his clear higher baritone (I don’t really know how to use these terms) that is so beautiful. He has a beautiful singing voice. And his lyrics deal so much with the natural world and make you feel like you’re in the most mystical solitude overlooking vast expanses. And beautiful fingerpicked guitar. It was such a pleasure to hear him play again.

It turns out that Derek and Red had often hung out at this bar and then at least sometimes gone home and listened to my records. I couldn’t believe it… But I felt pretty nervous playing for this crowd, which was quite different than the one I’d played for at the PIT in New York. But as it turns out, I really play about the same thing and it works, to some degree, everywhere. But I probably wouldn’t venture too far into dressing up in drag and singing harsh unaccompanied stuff like “Holy Acid USA” that, honestly, most people seem to hate, which I write with a smile on my face, loving that fact. Anyway, people mostly seemed to love what I played, which I was grateful for, and I had some interesting meetings afterwards. One was with Tara, who lived in France for one year when she was 9 and now lives with her 93-year-old mother, taking care of her. Her mother is an artist, she says, and she really loves her. She said her French was rusty but wanted to speak and she spoke really well, in the way that you can tell she’s lived with it. She played me a song she wrote on Bill’s guitar called “I love the mailman” which also included a French verse “J’aime le facteur”. She also brought sunflowers to each of us three who sang that night. There was also Johnny, who was also interested in France, because his ancestors were French colonists of New France, which is now Quebec. He also was into unaccompanied singing, and he sang me part of a mining disaster ballad that he said he sang to his daughter when she was a baby. As I remember it, it was the disaster of “Miningtown,” but that seems too close to the word “mining” – maybe someone (Johnny?) can help me remember the actual name of the place where “72 (?) miners uselessly died” due to “unsafe conditions” in the ______ mine.

Around midnight everyone was gone except me, Red, his partner (I need help remembering her name), Coda who was in charge of the show and whose amp (“The Accomplice”) we borrowed, Derek, and two dogs, Elko (Derek’s: “He’s obsessed with me”) and _____ (Red + partner’s). It turns out Red & his partner are really into Cast King and the Saw Mill Man album and we sang some of the songs together. Amazing! It makes sense given how his music sounds.

But I had to hit the road and so I did, because I needed to get to Bristol to play on Kris Truelsen’s radio show. I had to be there by 9:30 AM and it was a 4-hour drive away, so my plan was to drive as long as I could and take naps at rest stops along the way, which I did. This was kind of a magical experience though it got quite cold–in the mid-30s–and I used the towel I borrowed from the Downers as a blanket, and put my jacket over my face to block out the lights. I slept about an hour and got back on the road, driving under the nearly-full moon and listening to one of my all-time favorite albums, Relayer by Yes. This felt just great. Then I got sleepy again and had to pull over at another rest stop to sleep another stretch. When I woke up this time the sun was all the way up. I got back on the road and listened to Yes’s Tormato – also so, so good.

I arrived at the Birthplace of Country Music museum in Bristol, where the radio show is broadcast from, early enough to take another nap in the car, and drink a cup of cold-brew coffee that I had with me. The caffeine, the lack of sleep, and the idea of playing live on the radio made me kind of jittery, but I think it turned out well. It was really fun to see Kris, who I barely know but who I admire a lot, and who was so easy to chat with that the time flew by and I was out of there almost immediately. Now I’m catching up on rest in a motel and getting ready for the Knoxville show tomorrow. I’ll be there tomorrow, with good ol’ Weird Ian.

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.

4/16/24: Laramie, Wyoming at the Lair with Warren K and Corned Beef

I rolled in into Laramie exhausted from the drive. It was a chilly night, and this town, where I’d never been before, has wide boulevards, western wear shops, saloon, and some nice old western architecture.Alex, who is with the local DIY outfit the Green House Collective had sent me a message saying he was at the venue and the door was open. But when I got there the door was locked, and I sent him a message saying as much. He emerged out of another door right beside the one I’d been trying to open… ah! that door…

The real door to the “Lair” opens onto a descending staircase lined with flyers from previous shows. A band called “The Pentagram String Band” caught my eye. The show space was nice and roomy, with a tiled mirrored wall, a large stage, even a nice creepy doll standing up in a dark corner (see pictures). As I explored the venue I discovered more and more space, including a big back room with couches and a futon.

I brought in my things and set them aside when a man in a ski mask came up and introduced himself. “Oh, I recognize you!” I joked, but he took me seriously and said he remembered me too… haha, oh no, I was only joking… This was Warren K, who would be opening up the show. Soon Corned Beef came in – William and ______ (I remember William’s name because he won the day’s Reese’s egg mentalism competition.) who would be DJing as the third and final act of the night. We were talking a bit and one audience member, Ella, came in. Alex said he thought he would get the show started at 8:45. I checked my phone, and it was 8:44. Wow, this would be the smallest audience yet – one!

Warren K went ahead and turned his beats on. His computer was sitting on a card table, each of whose legs was duct taped to a cinderblock to give it extra height. He rapped in a raspy, menacing voice, and Alex, Corned Beef, and Ella were dancing a little bit. I danced a little bit too to give what little energy I had. But I realized that it felt pretty good dancing after doing so much driving lately. I let my dancing brain take over, which does not know any actual steps but follows impulses that come from Who knows where… and Warren K seemed amused by whatever I was doing!

I decided that when I went onstage I would not give any less energy to the performance even though there was only one person in the audience. In fact, I would take it up a notch. I have an I Ching app on my phone and it landed on “Innocence” which advises to show joy and openness. OK, I felt like I could do that. And though I felt “heavy tired” when I pulled into town, I felt like I had plenty of energy now. Rolly Lighthouse opened the show in a more rapid-fire style than usual, with plenty of “Woo!”, high kicking, hands raised to sky, and spinning around. Then Big Kitty came out and sang his songs – and during this time the audience tripled in size, to arrive at the number of 3 – which is a pretty dramatic change. Tom, who also works with the Green House Collective, also showed up. I must say, that despite the small crowd, the atmosphere and the vibe was excellent. Everybody there was in a good, easygoing mood and wanting to have fun. They all listened to every word I was singing and they seemed to really dig it. I finished with a karaoke version of “Holiday God” and a flashy, clumsy dance like I used to do in Buck Dancing competitions (2nd place 2011 Calhoun, Georgia International String Band Convention).

And last of all came Corned Beef who did a joint DJ set, mixing up a bunch of dance music. Everybody danced, and I danced wilder than before, really enjoying the opportunity to shake the stiffness out of my bones.

At the end of the night, Tom invited me to stay on the futon in the back of the venue, but I decided to keep driving a bit, since Kansas City, the next stop on the tour, was a 10-hour drive away. So I drove off into the Wyoming night, which was actually getting colder and snowing, listening to Philip K. Dick’s short story “Minority Report” until I stopped at a rest stop in Ogallala, Nebraska to sleep for a few hours. I was back on the road by 7 am. Feeling surprisingly fresh (at least at first), I listened to the end of Geddy Lee’s autobiography, My Effin’ Life, which I suppose would make any Rush fan misty-eyed. As I drove into Kansas City for the first time, I talked to Naoko and Yuri who were just going to bed. I told Naoko about the huge meteorological and geographic changes I’d gone through in just a few short hours – snow in Wyoming, rainstorms in Nebraska, high winds in Iowa, and finally puffy clouds and blue skies in Missouri. She had just watched Woody Woodpecker and did a pretty good impression of his laugh.

4/13/2024: El Cerrito, California with Squishers and Beafsteek


Santa Rosa and Sebastopol left me with a bittersweet feeling. It’s hard to understand when I go back to a place I’ve lived before why I can’t still live there. I went by Hardcore Espresso, the mostly-outdoors hippie coffee shop I used to go to, often with Naoko, where we would play Peter Rabbit, Robin Hood, or Beatles in a little play cabin on a patch of gravel with several of those red and yellow toy cars outside. I ordered a cup of maté and found I still had a Hardcore punch card in my wallet. Seven more drinks to go. The skies were cloudy and it was a bit chilly to sit outside, so I got in the car and moved on to my bank to deposit the check I received from the Santa Rosa show. It was strange to think that the tellers probably assumed I still lived in the area, and it was strange how it felt to me like I still did, too.

I didn’t have a show on the 12th, so I went to visit my friend John in Berkeley. When I still lived in the area he would play tablas with the Big Kitty band which also included Dean Tisthammer on bass and Henry Nagle on pedal steel guitar. I had never visited his place before, so didn’t realize how small it was when I asked to sleep there. This small space which includes a taxidermied armadillo and bobcat is shared by John, his partner Denise, and their standard poodle, Ram, but they have outfitted a minivan with a bed, so I slept in there. It was a real flashback to my tour with Yuri back in 2009-2010 when we slept on a bed in the back of our Toyota 4Runner, but this iteration was designed much better with insulating, blackout window coverings all around. Also, Denise made a very delicious dinner of stewed lamb, polenta, and roasted potatoes. We had so much to talk about, the conversation was intense, wide-ranging, and full of laughter.

The next day I went to see Daniel, Natacha, and Nico at their house in Richmond (another nearby East Bay city). It had been a few years since I’d come and they had a second dog, in addition to Bear. This one is named Captain Noodles and is completely blind, due to the fact that he has no eyes. But he gets by pretty well with the other senses. Daniel and I more or less immediately began playing some of his instruments – accordion, cello, bass – before getting dressed up to go to a neighbor’s birthday party – a joint party for a 2-year-old girl and her mom who had birthdays near to but not on the 13th of April (which is Samuel Beckett’s birthday). The theme was animals but having no animal costumes, I was given a birthday cake (with candles) hat and a vest of (plastic) flowers that Yuri and Naoko made for me about 7 years ago and that we had given to Daniel. We spent a couple hours over there watching Lucía eat chocolate cupcakes and meeting people before heading back over to Daniel’s home studio to record one of his songs, “Carpe Diem,” which he’s made over 10 versions of, including one on the new ADD/C album. That was fun, and we managed to finish just in time to be fashionably late for the show that night at the Little Hill Lounge.

I had played at this venue, which is partly owned by old friend Teddy, when I still lived in the area. It looked more or less the same upon entering, except nicer and more established. They have a bar area with fancy booths in the front and a stage in the back where a sound engineer was setting up for the local askew-country group Beafsteek. After them Squishers (with Daniel, Teddy, Rymodee, and Maria of the Bananas). I was set to play last, though I thought I should go before the full bands, and also I wanted to be able to enjoy listening to them without having to anticipate what I would do onstage. But it was good to give me time to get ready and organize all the little things I would need. I decided not to play it as straight as the last couple of nights, and I put on my Rolly Lighthouse drag clothes. This time I also had a lipstick that I bought at a Dollar Tree, which should be called the Dollar-25 Tree, as that is what everything costs there. So I introduced Big Kitty as Rolly Lighthouse, sloppily applying lipstick on my face at the beginning – I kept this on all night long, completely forgetting about it. I DID record the other shows and Squishers did play the song “Carpe Diem” that we’d just recorded earlier that afternoon!

It was fun having Daniel up front reacting to the songs like “YES!” or “HAHA!” – I loved that, though I had to close my eyes a lot to stay on track with the songs I was playing. I’ve definitely gotten better at playing these new songs, and the shows are getting better, so please be there for the last shows of the tour! It was so fun to hang out with my friends in the East Bay.

There’s a lot of driving ahead of me so I’m going to cut this short here. Godspeed!

4/11/2024: Santa Rosa, California with Josh Windmiller at Moonlight Brewing Company


Yesterday I was writing just before playing at Moonlight Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, California. I lived in the nearby town of Sebastopol for about three years, from 2015-2018, so this should have been a familiar spot, yet I don’t recall ever having been to this part of Santa Rosa before. But, I saw a lot of family and friends here, which made the office-park environment where the concert was feel like home. I was playing with Josh Windmiller, who could be called Josh Wind-Pillar of the Santa Rosa music scene! He and my friend Bryce who work in music promotion in the area were so kind to remember me and set up this show. It was originally supposed to be held at a theater venue called the Lost Church, which opened up just as I was moving out of the area. But due to some technical issues the venue is not able to operate at the moment, and Moonlight Brewing stepped in just in the nick of time to save the show.

I arrived before the brewery was even open, wrote yesterday’s tour diary and meditated at a circular, concrete picnic table. When I came back to reality I saw that Josh had sent me a message saying that he was on site and thinking about where to set up the PA. I looked around but saw no sight of him anywhere and the worry arose in me that there were multiple locations of this brewery and I went to the wrong one. But no, Josh emerged from the obscurity of the taproom wearing a beanie and a horizontally-striped longsleeve t-shirt. In a couple hours, while he was playing, I drew a picture of him, and he said he looked like a sailor in the picture and that he had been going for that look.

There wasn’t a clear best choice for the PA to be set up, so we put it just outside a big open door so, we hoped, people inside and outside could hear the music. My sisters and mother-in-law and nephew and Julian, Anna, Charlotte from 33arts, Dean who used to play bass with me, and Beth – they are now married! – and Beth’s brother Cincinnatus wearing a Reds baseball jacket (!) all showed up and it was so wonderful to see them all!

Josh started playing around 5:30. He plugged his nylon-string guitar into my borrowed Vox amp and whipped out some wild dreamlike tunes with a lot of fantastic junkyard lyrics. Josh uses a lot of found instruments, including a heavy chain for percussion that he lays across a foot. I’ll try to put up a video to illustrate. His band is called the Crux and they really rip it up. I wrote about him earlier on this tour diary, about how he held a sort of communion at one of their concerts, passing out bread that he himself had made.

I followed up probably around 6:30, and played a set very similar to what I played in Santa Cruz. The sun was directly in my eyes for the first part, which I was very thankful for, because it was blinding. I think this is pretty common, but playing for people I know well often brings more nerves than playing for total strangers. I don’t know why exactly, but my guess is that because I know the usual facial expressions of family & friends, I notice it more, and I tend to look to see what reactions they might be having, knowing that they have the same familiarity with me, and this leads into the death-spiral of getting caught up in thought while trying to play music! But the sun was blinding me like stage lights, and I mentioned this and received a couple offers to borrow sunglasses. I think it sounded like I was being sarcastic and making a joke.

There was a guy with a bushy moustache I kept noticing. He would dance around in funny ways, kind of doing an interpretive dance to what I was playing. He was clearly enjoying himself a lot and acting silly and crazy – he gave me the weird and funny feelings I long for!! I took a selfie with him after the show and got his name, though I can no longer remember it.

For the most part, I think my folks liked the show, and some people who I didn’t know as well! But for me, I was a little disappointed because I forgot a couple of lines to some of my new songs. I also realized, in bed later that night, that I forgot to play “New Sadnesses.” At least – I think I forgot. Maybe I didn’t?

At the end of the night, as we were going back to Danna (my mother-in-law)’s house, I mentioned that I didn’t know exactly where I was, and Haleah, my sister-in-law offered to ride with me and give me directions. When I tried to start the car, however, I did not have the key. This is not actually a “key” but a “fob” which does not need to be actually inserted into the ignition. It just needs to be close to it. It was apparently not in my pocket this time! Since I am well-known for having things fall out of my pockets, I assumed it would be somewhere on the ground. Haleah and I searched everywhere I had been that evening, from the picnic table to the PA area to the bathroom. Those were pretty much the three spots where I had been. But there was no key to be found. I had already searched my catch-all tote bag twice and decided the key was not in there. But as I was searching the taproom Haleah went back to that bag, completely emptied it out and found the key. I am so grateful for that. We were beginning to consider having people come back and pick us up.

Haleah gave me directions back to Danna’s, which were very necessary, as I really had trouble remembering my way around what used to be my home. And guess who I got to see here – my old cat Abner, from Chattanooga! What a good boy.

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.

4/7/24: Ojai, California

I rolled into Ojai just after receiving a voice message from Eliot Eidelman telling me I could either go the venue where the show would be starting in about 3 hours, or drive out to his place which involved passing a roadblock and various other obstacles, including a puddle so big that it’s called “the Lake.” I decided to wait on finding his place until I was accompanied. I also had passed a bookstore called Bart’s Books that I had been told about the night before. I love used bookstores and couldn’t resist this one, which is fantastic and full of surprises. The weather in Ojai was just warm enough to wear nothing but a t-shirt, and I was still wearing the blank blue-gray t-shirt I had been wearing for a couple of days, including while running on Venice Beach. Outside of direct sunlight, I felt a chill. And Bart’s Books is mostly outdoors – the used books, which make up the majority of their collection, are outside and protected from rain, and the new books are indoors under optimal conditions. They had all the cookbooks in what was originally used as a kitchen. I ended up buying a couple of books – a Samuel Beckett collection including his short prose piece “First Love” which I highly recommend, and a book by Martin Buber called I and Thou which I read about in How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. I tried to suggest to the people working there to go to the show that evening, but it didn’t work.

I used Google Maps to take me from the bookstore to the venue, Greater Goods, which is a DIY collective. The navigator took me to what seemed to be the main location of Greater Goods, where a sign on the door said that that evening’s show would take place at another place on the cross street, just a two-minute walk away. While digesting this information I noticed a box of giveaway items beside the building, which I duly inspected, finding nothing of great interest except a box labeled “Synthetic Urine.” A little debate emerged in my mind about whether to take or leave such a mysterious substance. I had encountered bottled urine before, when working for an older gentleman who self-published a Cat periodical out of a decaying antebellum mansion located on Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, whose stately walls were streaked with cat urine. This fellow had a bottle of Wolf urine, which in my memory was not synthetic, but was actual wolf urine. It was in a spray bottle, and sold for the purpose of repelling deer and other animals who might bear an intinctual fear of wolves. This urine I found in Ojai, however, is a sex toy. I do still have it with me – just in case I need it. I don’t foresee using it for its intended purpose, though there should certainly be no shame in doing so.

I entered Greater Goods with the assistance of Josh, who was in charge and very laid-back. He was playing some music while setting up, and I recognized it as Eliott Smith. I asked him what album it was and he told me it was Either/Or, which I believe is his most well-known album. Enjoying the music, I took in the room, whose old wooden walls featured a kind of splayed-out sunbeam arrangement of planks which you can see in the pictures I took of Elliot, who set this show up. Eliot arrived not long after me, sporting a hand-painted button-up shirt that seemed to illustrate the potent nebula of psychedelic folk music that roils within the physical expression that, for lack of a more precise term, we call Eliot Eidelman. This was the first time we’d seen each other in about 6 years – about the same with Aaron from last night because we all got to know each other in the short period of time when I lived in California. Eliott is a fascinating songwriter, extremely prolific, extremely true to the individuality of his expression, and also interested in exploring unknown possibilities of song forms and lyrical themes.

After catching up a bit and remembering how light blue Eliot’s Eyes are we set up for this show: Eliott had brought an oblong card table for our merch. He even had a pretty Mexican blanket for a tablecloth. We set up all of our beautiful items and traded a couple of things. Little did we know we would sell nothing, despite the charming display. Somewhere along the road, I think in New Mexico, I bought a votive candle at a grocery store to burn at shows and such, It’s for a child saint who protects travelers. Once everything was ready, guitar tuned and amp set right, and the small but so beautiful crowd seemed settled on the arrangement of secondhand couches and chairs in the room, I went around and asked people if they had a lighter or match to light my candle. Nobody had one except ______ an older gentleman with a salt-and-pepper beard and a big old coat.

Big Kitty started off this show, again being introduced successively by Rolly and Roy. Rolly sang “Angel Horse” and Roy did “Healthy & Great” which is an unreleased song. I’m not sure why exactly but this introduction just didn’t seem to work as well as it had the previous two times. I felt less capable of hitting the mark with the characters, perhaps I was too worried about the crowd’s reaction; they seemed a bit tired, and I had just talked to them all, when I asked them to light my candle, because ______, the only person capable of lighting the candle, was also the last person left to ask in the room.

I”ve been trying to make my performances into a seamless stream of poetry and song but the transitions are often elusive – and the transitions are crucial. Moving between a traditional guitar-strumming song, a stage banter persona of questionable sanity, and an unaccompanied free-verse sung poem has been a challenge. I did remember to record this show, which is great because I’m playing and singing the songs better at this point. I’m hoping to make a live compilation album at the end of the tour, with all the best moments I managed to record. I wish I had recorded all the concerts up till now because there have been so many wonderful moments.

Eliott played second. While I played on the stage, he was going to play to the side, because he would be switching between an upright piano and guitar. He also had a Korg drum machine that he used for some songs, and which was plugged into the amp I’m borrowing from William and placed on top of the piano. I think Eliot must have already written a thousand songs, The well seems infinite and his creativity is boundless. I think his songwriting has gotten better and better and is definitely no less wild than it ever was. Before we played he mentioned that he’d just watched A Face in the Crowd, starring Andy Griffith. I have seen that movie and liked it, plus the Andy Griffith Show was one of the primary reruns I grew up on (and I did have a Don Knotts T-shirt that I wore regularly). In that movie, Andy Griffith’s character addresses a monologue to his guitar, on the subject of why he prefers having it to having a lover. Eliot remembered the monologue and gave it as part of his performance, which was hilarious. I also appreciated that he sang an a cappella (with body percussion) song that was actually a beautiful love song with a hippied-out, gross-out human-body take on the building songs like “The Green Grass Grows All Around” or “The Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly.” He also set William Carlos Williams’s poem “Danse Russe” to music – and I had just happened to re-find that poem recently…Eliot dedicated it to all the fathers present, because the main image of the poem is of a mother and child sleeping in one room while the father dances naked in front of a mirror in another room. Then, he did a very unusual cover of Nirvana’s “Come as you are” that made me listen to the lyrics in a much deeper way than I ever had. They bend time in a heartbreaking way.

The whole night was actually pretty awkward. I don’t know why – but most of the audience, which was small to begin with, did not remain at the end. I know this was not for a lack of gusto on the performers’ part, because there was a lot of energy coming off the stage all night long. Maybe it was an excess of gusto. I did not let this hurt my mood, which has felt a bit muted lately, because, I think, of feeling overwhelmed by the constant changes and meeting either new people or catching up with old friends not seen in several years. But my mood is also quite great, I feel so lucky to be able to perform almost every night. It’s very fulfilling to connect with people on an emotional level with music, presence, poetry, and occasionally dance. The most common reaction I’ve gotten on this tour is that people get a mixture of sad and funny, like “touching” – that’s great. Most any reaction is great, compared to no reaction. But some are worse!

At the end of the night we cleared out and got in our cars – I would follow Eliot to his tiny house in the nearby mountains. We passed directly through a “Road Closed” barrier and drove for a few miles down a winding and partially-destroyed road including the massive puddle known as “The Lake” to arrive at Eliot’s place in total darkness (it was probably around midnight). Eliot had told me that they had an outdoor bath that they can fill with water from a natural hot spring. I followed him by cell phone light through the unpredictable shapes and contours of a constantly-evolving homestead, including multiple scarecrows and half-realized sculptures. It was a cold, windy night, I would guess about 43º Fahrenheit. Eliot got in the water first and I asked him doubtfully if it really were warm. He sad it was really hot, 107 degrees. I got in, and it felt fantastic. I’d been really cold before. Now my temperature was rising, I was smelling the intense but surprisingly good sulfuric odor of the water, and looking up at a tall silhouette of a mountain with stars overhead – a view very similar to the one where I live. I really can’t describe how good this felt after not quite realizing how much nervous tension I’d accumulated over the tour so far.

It was interesting talking to Eliot in the total darkness, when I couldn’t see his face, because he seemed like a different person, or maybe less defined, in such a way that I could hardly remember who he was. At this point, in the middle of the tour, I am recognizing some profound changes in myself. Yesterday, in Los Angeles, I completely forgot where I was for a moment – what city am I in? Of course, as I wrote about that particular house and neighborhood, they could have been located in any state in the country – though the abundant lemon tree in the yard would change for a fig or a pear or something. I’m a little disappointed in how I feel, because I’ve been so graced with freshness and novelty that I’ve grown desensitized to it, and it takes an extra step – which requires some but not much effort, it’s a little intimidating before you do it, but once you’ve done it you realize it was easy, and that step is just looking directly at yourself and what you’re doing and admitting that it is great, that it’s beyond greatness, wonder, and fear and that every moment is potentially your moment of return after all seemed irretrievably lost, that every moment of life is the last scenes of A Christmas Carol.

After the soak, we made our way back to Eliot’s tiny house and got into bed. While changing into sweat pants, I noticed that my legs were bright pink and very sensitive, as if they were sunburned. It must have been an allergic reaction to the sulfuric water. Eliot helped me turn the shower on. It was a very particular and complicated method of turning on a shower. Having seen it only once, I would not be able to replicate it. I soaped and washed my body as quickly as possible and got back into my pyjamas. There was no immediate improvement, but by the morning all was back to normal. The sun was shining very brightly on the mountains facing the house and there was a big, clear window right in front of the guest bed where I was sleeping (a tiny, but welcomiing house!). This was just like yesterday, when I slept in the studio – there was a big window and the southern California heaven light came through like angelic trumpets announcing daybreak, against which I defended myself with blankets around the head.

When I awoke I found myself looking directly out at the sharp, crisp dry but green semi-desert mountains and blue, blue sky. I said I felt like I was just being born, the light was so bright, it was like the first time I’d seen any at all. It took a lot of eye-rubbing to let it in. I found Eliot reading a copy of East of Eden he’d checked out from the library and told him I was going to meditate and he could do it with me if he wanted. He accepted — the first person to meditate with me on the tour. We sat in two standard black folding chairs on his deck, he in his bathrobe, me in my sweatpants, and faced the sun with eyes closed in silence for twenty minutes. This might have been during the solar eclipse, because I never noticed anything different with the sun, though that supposedly happened on this day.