June 1st, 2005.

There is something about music festival culture that changes the way time works. The days are extended and run into each other. Late-a.m. bedtimes, delayed by jams and the noise of other people’s jams, don’t keep you from getting up at 9 a.m. because of the heat and light in the tent and nearby breakfast noises. Because you’re camping and there’s not so much in the way of electricity, cell phone batteries are conserved and time rationed, computer and Internet access limited. The world narrows to the campground and a couple stages. You feel every change in the dirt and the weather. Three-and-a-half days or so and three nights – That was the duration of our stay at the Kerrville Folk Festival, but it might as well have been a month on a secluded tropical island full of acoustic guitars that people were unwilling to fashion into the ark they surely could have built together, even when the rains threatened to drown us all.

WALKING STICK!!! Watching New Folk with us. He was "HEEEYOOOOGE!!!" as Amy puts it. The guy in the cowboy hat seemed very calm about its presence. Everything's bigger in Texas.
WALKING STICK!!! Watching New Folk with us. He was “HEEEYOOOOGE!!!” as Amy puts it. The guy in the cowboy hat seemed very calm about its presence. Everything’s bigger in Texas.
Erik Balkey (one of the winners at New Folk) and fellow competitor Treva Blomquist prepping for their slots. In the background is Kate Redgate'spartner, Charlie. I missed the shot where they were all facing the wall, tuning intently.
Erik Balkey (one of the winners at New Folk) and fellow competitor Treva Blomquist prepping for their slots. In the background is Kate Redgate’s partner, Charlie. I missed the shot where they were all facing the wall, tuning intently.

I’ve said it before – I love campground culture. A group of people get out of their typical houses and environments and willingly form small, temporary homes for recreation. Teachers and lawyers become part children, part architects, designing additions to these structures with awnings, tarps, branches and string. The more crowded the campground, the more individualized the homes become so people can distinguish themselves with Christmas lights, signs and even lawn ornaments.

Many vendors vending many wares, advice and Native American chic made by people who I'm sure defend the culture vigourously - or at least the popular part of it... I know, that's unfair... and absolutely uncalled for in an otherwise very cute photograph.
Yup. That’s me wearing SHORTS!
Many vendors vending many wares, advice and Native American chic made by people who I'm sure defend the culture vigourously - or at least the popular part of it... I know, that's unfair... and absolutely uncalled for in an otherwise very cute photograph.
Many vendors vending many wares, advice and Native American chic made by people who I’m sure defend the culture vigourously – or at least the popular part of it… I know, that’s unfair… and absolutely uncalled for in an otherwise very cute photograph.

Kerrville , because of its size, annual schedule and its music theme, is on a whole other level. People form communities and enclaves with names like Camp Stupid, Camp Kantigree (Can’t-agree, since they spent so long trying to come up with a name), Camp Coho, Camp Todo Grande, Camp Calm. They maintain advanced rituals like “The Watermelon Sacrifice,” where a song about selling the fruit is sung to an accordion while marching behind a man draped in a picnic-table-cloth cape and wielding a machete, who places the watermelon on the ground, induces Braveheart-esque whoops and hollers from the raise of his blade, and then hacks the fruit to pieces before people converge on the parts like rabid scavengers. They have t-shirts and buttons made, and decorate their sites with mascots. One night, very late, we heard what sounded like stumbling into someone’s tent, and then “mooing.” Turns out the next morning, it was revealed Camp Stupid had raided Camp Kantigree , taken its frog mascot, and replaced it with a garden gnome.

Actually, it'll be more fun if I only HALF explain it. Heather volunteered to be the turkey to help demonstrate a woman's first post-graduate job of sucking turkey semen. This is Heather doing a turkey mating dance. Hot? Hell yeah.
Actually, it’ll be more fun if I only HALF explain it. Heather volunteered to be the turkey to help demonstrate a woman’s first post-graduate job of sucking turkey semen. This is Heather doing a turkey mating dance. Hot? Hell yeah.
Fellow New Folk competitor (and Marylander) David Morrealle and his wife, Alison.
Fellow New Folk competitor (and Marylander) David Morrealle and his wife, Alison.

They help form a map of the grounds even when one is not officially provided. I know our tent is about 100 yards beyond the Christmas-light palm tree, next to the camp with the frogs and plastic fish in a blue kiddie pool. If you get to the hippie kids with the huge campfire, you’ve gone too far.

Storms rolling into Kerrville, Texas. The previous two nights, night-life was somewhat curtailed by ferocious storms barrelling in shortly after night-fall and pouring and storming all night. Sunday, it rolled in shortly after the end of the New Folk competition... which meant that it was clear for the rest of the night...
Storms rolling into Kerrville, Texas. The previous two nights, night-life was somewhat curtailed by ferocious storms barrelling in shortly after night-fall and pouring and storming all night. Sunday, it rolled in shortly after the end of the New Folk competition… which meant that it was clear for the rest of the night…
Which meant there was crazy singing and dancing alll night. You can vaguely see Mike Morris jamming out with his fiddler partner, Heather, driving this insanity. This is during the chorus of "Whiskey in the Jar".
Which meant there was crazy singing and dancing alll night. You can vaguely see Mike Morris jamming out with his fiddler partner, Heather, driving this insanity. This is during the chorus of “Whiskey in the Jar”.

Rob’s already talked about the competition stuff, so I figured I would talk about what happened once all that was over . which was . a little unexpected.

After we found out we didn’t win, we hung out around the main hospitality/merch table to talk to people and see a bit of the Ellis Paul/Vance Gilbert set. I called my parents and gave them the low down. We headed back to the tent to grab the guitars and figure out what song circles we were going to try to hit that night. Because the campsite is so big, it’s not like NewSong, where there might only be three or four different song circles going. There could easily be dozens, and they all have a different character. Walking around we spotted the hippie kids gathered around a campfire, smoking up while one guy played Anti-Bush songs. There was huge group in near-complete darkness, gathered inexplicably in front of a row of outhouses as seems to be a custom at Kerrville , singing covers in thick, chorus harmony. A group of mostly younger people gathered beneath a lone street lamp sang an upbeat song with a chorus like, “Heaven is my home and I’m going there,” and then “Whiskey in the Jar” while jumping up and down to the rhythms of New Folk “combatant” Mike Morris and his fiddle-playing partner, Heather. We walked down one of the incredibly muddy avenues and passed another small song circle before finding the one where most of the New Folk competitors and a few of the winners wound up. We stopped to listen to songs from Justin Roth, Stephanie Corby, Kat hrin Shorr, Tim BurlingameBeth Wood and Erik Balkey, before giving up on the circle opening up for us.

There's a long story as to how Heather and I ended up meeting Ellis Paul, playing him our version of "Autobiography of a Pistol" and getting him to sing along with Spiral. On the right is Eric Schwartz performing "Keep Your Jesus off my Penis". Don't EVER say "I wouldn't know Eric Schwartz if he bit me in the ass" around Eric Schwartz... cause he will. It's a long story... and Heather's busily telling it below...
There’s a long story as to how Heather and I ended up meeting Ellis Paul, playing him our version of “Autobiography of a Pistol” and getting him to sing along with Spiral.
Eric Schwartz performing "Keep Your Jesus off my Penis". Don't EVER say "I wouldn't know Eric Schwartz if he bit me in the ass" around Eric Schwartz... cause he will. It's a long story... and Heather's busily telling it below...
Eric Schwartz performing “Keep Your Jesus off my Penis”. Don’t EVER say “I wouldn’t know Eric Schwartz if he bit me in the ass” around Eric Schwartz… cause he will. It’s a long story… and Heather’s busily telling it below…

If we’re going to be really honest here, Rob and I struggled a bit to fit in at Kerrville , despite the amazing kindnesses and friendliness of a good number of people. For one, both of us came to the bizarre realization was that we fell smack in the middle of the wide Kerrville age spectrum both numerically and ideologically. Too young to have the experiences and some of the musical tastes of the older set, too old to be all about the screaming, carefree nature of the early morning partying and dancing in the streets of the younger set. Though the age spread at Kerrville was wide and pretty all-encompassing, the circles and the campsites were fairly segregated by it. As one of the “adults” at Kantigree commented, “We’re old enough not to have our party next to an outhouse.”

So one of the reasons I wanted to be at the New Folk circle was to be around people closer to our age, as most of them were. These writers’ undeniable talent, and also the unique quality of the music were still in the folk tradition but different enough to inspire, and that was also something I wanted to be around. But we didn’t really fit in with them, either. A lot of them knew each other, or knew OF each other the way I knew OF a lot of them, but they did not know me or rob. There was a real feeling of not being part of the club. We weren’t excluded. They just didn’t know us . didn’t know what to make of us maybe.

After an absolutely crazy night, we got up early to play a memorial service for our host-by-proxy Bruce Rouse. While all the New Folk peeps were singing though, this girl was busily filling her hat with rocks. Damned cute.
After an absolutely crazy night, we got up early to play a memorial service for our host-by-proxy Bruce Rouse. While all the New Folk peeps were singing though, this girl was busily filling her hat with rocks. Damned cute.
The "mooing" and cursing that had woken us up the night before (after finally getting to sleep at around 5am) had resulted in this. They had stolen the frog centrepiece of Camp Kantigree's wading pool and replaced it with Gaydolf the Homosexual Lawn Gnome. Bastards. Utter bastards. Luckily, Carrie (pictured on the left there) came out and spotted them or they would've completed their nefarious plot and peed in the pool. Bastards... utter bastards. Wait. They were mooing... Bastards... udder bastards.
The “mooing” and cursing that had woken us up the night before (after finally getting to sleep at around 5am) had resulted in this. They had stolen the frog centrepiece of Camp Kantigree’s wading pool and replaced it with Gaydolf the Homosexual Lawn Gnome. Bastards. Utter bastards. Luckily, Carrie (pictured on the left there) came out and spotted them or they would’ve completed their nefarious plot and peed in the pool. Bastards… utter bastards. Wait. They were mooing… Bastards… udder bastards.

Anyway, we wandered over to another circle where they welcomed us instantly. The style was on the country and bluegrass side of folk, and the beards and the years were a little longer. I was pleased to see one young kid was playing the same style and breaking the age segregation. We did a couple songs and they mostly liked the energy. It was one of a number of times this trip we’ve heard the specific compliment, “brought the fire on that one.”

Our home for the past couple of days - Kamp Kantigree.
Our home for the past couple of days – Kamp Kantigree.

It was getting late, and for the first time you could see your breath in the night air. So rob and I trekked back through the mud to see if any space had opened up at the New Folk circle. Just about everyone there had turned in or gone elsewhere, so at what must have been about 3 a.m., I said we should head back over to the very large group that had been gathered in darkness. I thought it would be fun to do “Your Eyes” since we would have such a large and willing chorus that had already been singing covers the last time we passed.

When we walked up, the circle was packed very tight, and you couldn’t distinguish anyone from the clump of shadow. The last song died down, and I asked if it was an open circle. No one really said anything and no one started up a song, so I started playing. Some people sang along, but about half the circle started to wander off. I was ready to head back to the tent, when someone behind me asked for an original. Tired of trying to fit the mold, I told rob to start “Sever,” and when the growing group asked for another, “Hands.” By then, we were ready to be done and started walking away. A couple stopped us and said very enthusiastically: “That was so cool how you just DID that!”

“Oh, thank you,” I said, thinking it was a compliment about the fact that I’d tossed the Eminem rap into “Hands” at a folk festival.

“Yeah, I mean, Tom Prasada-Rao and Vance Gilbert and Ellis Paul were there, and you just walked right up and kicked ass!”

I wouldn’t have done that if it had been light enough to have seen that for myself. I started to feel a little guilty because apparently what I had done was broken up a circle where these folk heavyweights were playing.

Rob said something about it being a shame we hadn’t known because it would have been cool to play “Autobiography of A Pistol” for Ellis Paul, and the woman said he was still standing right there. So I figured might as well not stop halfway. “Hey, Ellis! Mr. Paul?”

I asked if we could play a song for him, and he agreed. When we got far enough into it to be recognized (rob’s rendition, if you don’t know, is VASTLY different), Ellis, Stephanie Corby and the other woman he had been talking to were a mix of amazement, laughter and whoops of approval. Ellis Paul put his arm around me and patted me on the back. When rob said he’d never figured out how to end it, Ellis said he was doing just fine: “Look at all the frets!” It made me feel a little better that the woman he was with jumped in and started going on to him on about our New Folk appearance she’d seen the previous day.

We thanked him a lot for his patience, and snapped a picture with him for proof of our chutzpah. We would have happily walked off, but he asked for an original. So we played “Spiral,” and he hummed a little bit with it in my ear. One good turn deserved another and he obliged my request for an original, apologizing for his mildly sloppy playing of rob’s borrowed blue Takamine thanks to a few drinks. I didn’t recognize the song, but even at that late hour and under the influence of alcohol, the man’s got presence. I find even when the song doesn’t bowl me over, the presence does.

An original from him on the borrowed guitar turned into the same from New Folk Finalist Justin Roth, another from Stephanie Corby and a couple from controversial main stage performer Eric Schwartz, including “Keep Your Jesus Off My Penis.” The delightful vulgarity doesn’t stop the song from being extremely eloquent. I’ve been told he does lovely ballads, though his flailing strangeness would never give it away. I mean, he went after rob’s ass with his teeth .

It was a good moment, and I felt it made up for my unknowing intrusion. At nearly 5 a.m. , we finally headed for Camp ilyAIMY and sleep.

And that was our last few waking hours at the festival, which should give you some idea of how much can happen in three days at Kerrville.

June 1st, 2005.

Joe preparing for the Watermelon Sacrifice. He had to go back to his car for the machette.
Joe preparing for the Watermelon Sacrifice. He had to go back to his car for the machette.
Getting the blood up for the Watermelon Sacrifice - this is sort of a Watermelon Non-Eye View of the moment. He's sort of a scary man... and yet, so composed when playing Joni Mitchell covers and CCR.
Getting the blood up for the Watermelon Sacrifice – this is sort of a Watermelon Non-Eye View of the moment. He’s sort of a scary man… and yet, so composed when playing Joni Mitchell covers and CCR.

The night before last we left Kerrville – we would’ve only been able to stick around until noon the next day anyway, and I was tired of always being too hot or too wet and sleeping in puddles and panicking about the state of the outhouses. (though the last day a guy had been hanging around them all afternoon playing saxaphone, providing for a pretty nice diversion). We got into Houston that night and have been staying with my brother for the past few nights.

Marching, stomping and singing - picking up followers in passage to the Sacrificial grounds.
Marching, stomping and singing – picking up followers in passage to the Sacrificial grounds.

It’s wonderful how much more familial we are now than when we were kids. We never got along then – and now… well, he’s done amazingly. A wonderful fiance (Del is a very, very good match), a wonderful dog (Pica is a very, very good dog), a wonderful apartment. His photographs grace the walls, I’d forgotten how good his eye for composition was, and I keep forgetting to ask if any of the shots are recent.

The slaughter.
The slaughter.

Last night we all went out to Cosmo’s Cafe to play our first Texan open mic, and it sort of conformed to that Blues Brother’s idea (they had both kinds of music – country AND western) plus/minus a couple of players. It was on okay night, a couple of other people that I really enjoyed – we came back and watched Hero on DVD before turning in. I’ve been sleeping GOOD here, my subconscious apparently unaware that I’m in the midst of an ultra-red state and allowing me the best rest I’ve had since Atlanta.

On our way back from the Watermelon Sacrifice we encountered the Recyclers... they did a grand chant and dance, slamming metal bowls together and demanding trash.
On our way back from the Watermelon Sacrifice we encountered the Recyclers… they did a grand chant and dance, slamming metal bowls together and demanding trash.
On our way out of the festival, this guy had just caught a little friend...
On our way out of the festival, this guy had just caught a little friend…

June 5th, 2005.

MUD! Oh my GOD! Heather, fortunately demonstrated admirable (mad) driving skillz and got our Saturn out and over the mire.
MUD! Oh my GOD! Heather, fortunately demonstrated admirable (mad) driving skillz and got our Saturn out and over the mire.
Heather gets out and displays the hills of Texas.
Heather gets out and displays the hills of Texas.
We had pulled over to check out our first armadillo encounter. (we didn't kill it!) I'm a little weirded out by how all its extremities stick out. I'm glad his tongue didn't do the same.
We had pulled over to check out our first armadillo encounter. (we didn’t kill it!) I’m a little weirded out by how all its extremities stick out. I’m glad his tongue didn’t do the same.

Still in Houston. I like it here. Well, I like it indoors here. We’ve been to a couple of open mics, met some interesting people, but mostly I’ve just sort of been enjoying visiting with my brother and Del.

Last Wednesday we headed out to the Vintage Bar, which was officially the most unpopulated open mic I’ve ever been to. During our set we performed to the host, my brother, his fiance, the bartender, and the one man act that had just gotten off the stage.

The saving grace of the place came when a two man act wandered in on our second to last song – Simple and Hammer went up after us and did something we hadn’t seen in a long while – i.e. – something DIFFERENT. Pete Simple has a pretty nice voice and one of those outline-only travel guitars, and his partner, Hammer (what WAS his first name?) was a beat-boxing bass player, which, as I said, was at least something DIFFERENT. Good bass player, too. We haven’t seen any beat-boxing since leaving Maryland, and it was a refreshing blast after so many straight-forward acoustic performances at Kerrville.

Well, we hit it off pretty well, and they offered us a couple of gigs for this upcoming week.

Thursday night we ALMOST went to an open mic, but then we decided to be slackers.

The interior of Valhalla is pretty eclectic, but with everything Texan, it seems there's got to be a moose head or two.
The interior of Valhalla is pretty eclectic, but with everything Texan, it seems there’s got to be a moose head or two.
Heather and I outside at Rice University. Thank goodness for huge, all-embracing trees!
Heather and I outside at Rice University. Thank goodness for huge, all-embracing trees!

Friday night Del hooked us up to play outside a very cool bar on the campus of Rice University, where she works. We set up our amplifier under a big tree and played for a couple of hours to passer-bys and friends of George and Del. We sold a couple of CDs, but were busking more than anything else, and we’re still a little shy for that, embarassingly enough. I’m not quite sure where we expect to get in Life if we’re too shy to stick our tip cup in people’s way… but…

Sandcastles stretching forever on East Beach in Galveston, TX - a name I'd only known previously to be associated with a big, fluffy rabbit.
Sandcastles stretching forever on East Beach in Galveston, TX – a name I’d only known previously to be associated with a big, fluffy rabbit.

I don’t know, I came home from that a little bit depressed, feeling the need to practice a bit more (which I haven’t done) and feeling the need to remember a couple of new songs (which I haven’t done) and REALLY feeling the need to write some new material (which I STILL haven’t done). I feel like my entire Life is taken up by maps and email and booking and… well, writing in this Journal (though I LOVE writing in the Journal) and upDating the website and all that stuff, and I’m perhaps using that as a way to escape from my REAL chosen profession.

Worry… worry… worry.

Heh, and Saturday night we were GOING to go to TWO open mics, but decided not to. George and Del found a sandcastle festival to go to instead, and that sounded like a lot more fun than staying home, so we wandered out to Galveston and stood amazed at the base of the sandcreations (not often actual castles) that towered over us.

It was a long day on the beach, and I have some burns to show for it. The sun in Texas is unrelenting, and the South constantly reminds me that if there’s one thing I’ve never dealt well with, it’s heat and humidity. Nothing else screws me up so bad, makes me play sloppier, makes me sing poorer, saps my energy and my personality, not to mention my will to Live.

The sun in Texas in unforgiving, and I’ve got stripes to prove it. If I had a blue shirt, I could be quite the patriot.

A LOT of Star Wars references, also Simpsons (sometimes combined) and CSI.
A LOT of Star Wars references, also Simpsons (sometimes combined) and CSI.
The winner of the Golden Shovel and the “best traditional sandcastle”. It was incredible, down to a galleon in the foreground and cannon on the walls.

Hrm, this one surprised me - it was titled "Bringing Love to Uranus".
Hrm, this one surprised me – it was titled “Bringing Love to Uranus”.
On the way back from Galveston, we passed the frighteningly sprawling oil refinery centre known as Texas City.
On the way back from Galveston, we passed the frighteningly sprawling oil refinery centre known as Texas City.
My arm after Kerrville tanned the lower-half, sunscreen saved the middle, and lack thereof doomed the shoulder.
My arm after Kerrville tanned the lower-half, sunscreen saved the middle, and lack thereof doomed the shoulder.

d

June 6th, 2005.

18 days til Maryland.

Last night Heather and I had a gig at a place called “Dean’s” that we’d picked up from Pete Simple at the Vintage Bar a couple of nights ago. Main Street Houston – I had no idea what to expect… it’s a Sunday night.

It amazes me that the place is such a ghost town – the streets are empty of cars and crowds, and you can stand in the centre of the street and wait a while before dodging anything.

Our show was at an exquisitely unique spot – Dean’s Credit Clothing. Manekins on the walls, they even sell some retro clothing, a very cool bar with video screens and a nice sound system. I’m eager to check out it’s “big brother” Clark’s, next door.

A good gig – made especially so because I liked the other performers so much. I’ve really been over-saturated with the FOLK WORLD recently, and I think if I hear any more clever metaphors put to hauntingly angsty chords I might just slit my wrists.

Okay, Heather technically put a ban on any more photographs of Pica in the Journal, but the creature is shockingly charismatic, and horrifyingly photogenic.
Okay, Heather technically put a ban on any more photographs of Pica in the Journal, but the creature is shockingly charismatic, and horrifyingly photogenic.

Last night we discovered Camino – a Houston acoustic trio that got increasingly fierce as the night wore on, and Je’Reece – an incredible vocalist who looks like his guitar style might be looking to develop into something sort of like mine. It was a great night, meeting a lot of good people. I think we’re finally finding a niche in the Houston scene that would make it worthwhile to return, which is good, cause I want to come visit George and Del and Pica again.

Before our Sunday evening gig at Dean's Credit Clothing, George and Del took us out to get the best Texan barbecue they knew of. Across the street from the amazing barbecue with this frightening effigee of all that is Texan and armadilloish and... covered in mirrors. And its eyes light up red.
Before our Sunday evening gig at Dean’s Credit Clothing, George and Del took us out to get the best Texan barbecue they knew of. Across the street from the amazing barbecue with this frightening effigee of all that is Texan and armadilloish and… covered in mirrors. And its eyes light up red.
In hopes of keeping my youth intact, I suppose, I was drawn - like a moth to a flame - to Dave's World... but in keeping with my current mindset, it was closed.
In hopes of keeping my youth intact, I suppose, I was drawn – like a moth to a flame – to Dave’s World… but in keeping with my current mindset, it was closed.
Heather meets Dino antiquing in Houston, TX.
Heather meets Dino antiquing in Houston, TX.
We passed cool antique stores on the way to the barbecue place, so we HAD to go back and check THEM out. Tonnes of them, specializing in a very different brand of antiques than the New England stuff we've become accustomed to.
We passed cool antique stores on the way to the barbecue place, so we HAD to go back and check THEM out. Tonnes of them, specializing in a very different brand of antiques than the New England stuff we’ve become accustomed to.
Deans Credit Clothing in Houston, TX.
Deans Credit Clothing in Houston, TX.
Heather sound checking at, and George climbing on Dean's Discount Clothing.
Heather sound checking at, and George climbing on Dean’s Discount Clothing.

June 7th, 2005.

Woke up feeling really out of sorts today. Age. Feeling like… how did I get here? How did I get so far? It frightens me. I think I hit this wall in my skull when we were watching Camino at Dean’s Credit Clothing the other night and we were talking about how old THEY were, and – well, I was aware that place-in-Life-wise I knew they were OLDER than me – we were talking to them and it turned out that yeah, they were 28 and I went back to the car thinking subconsciously that they were a year or two ahe- and then I realized, no… I was a year or two ahead of THEM. It comes down to the fact that I still think of myself as 25 or so…

Is it a delusion that I can be out on the road like this? Is it stupid? I’m coming to the horrific realization that my own rob-image doesn’t match up with the one that people on the outside see… that I’m older than that, and that that could make it harder and harder for me to relate to people.

Last night I dreamt of my mom’s old dog’s brother, Prince. I dreamt that he was still alive at my Grandfather’s house, and someone told me he was 50 (!) – and then my dreaming brain tried to do the math to figure out how old that made ME and I woke up with a start to find Pica lying on my leg.

I moved my leg. Pica grunted, got up, and came over and lay on my leg.

Sigh. Trapped all around.

June 8th, 2005.

The bathroom at the Mucky Duck. Normally, I wouldn't approach a bathroom at a place witht eh word Muck in the title, but this seemed safe enough - until I noticed HIM watching in sheer amazement.
The bathroom at the Mucky Duck. Normally, I wouldn’t approach a bathroom at a place witht eh word Muck in the title, but this seemed safe enough – until I noticed HIM watching in sheer amazement.

I-10 on the way back East. It means that with our generally evening-oriented approach to travel, we’re finally not forced to stare the sun down into our destination. We’re listening to a collection of grinding R&B beats that Heather put together last night, and I’m grateful to NOT be listening to acoustic guitar…

Passing the spires of Louisiana trees at speed.
Passing the spires of Louisiana trees at speed.

And Brennan, thanks for your contribution to that too. I have a Megadeth mix of my own waiting to go into the CD player, and then maybe a BBC production of the “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” that I got from Will in Rhode Island.

So, I-10 hasn’t been friendly this morning, coagulating into slow moving clots of traffic here and there on the border between Texas and Louisiana, I’m worried about getting to the gig on time. We’ve got a couple of hundred miles to go yet, and we’ve got two shows to play

tonight.

Last night, we played another show passed onto us by Pete Simple – this one at Dean’s Discount Clothing’s neighbouring venue, Clark’s. We discovered that contrary to Sunday nights, Houston isn’t COMPLETELY dead on Tuesday nights, and we actually had a pretty decent collection of people listening pretty hard, and showing appreciation pretty hard as well. It was a good night, and I was proud to rock out in front of my brother. I DO have to figure out how to get my feedback buster out of my guitar a little faster, because I think it’d be cool to end a song with nasty, moaning feedback.

Hrm, and speaking of nasty moaning, on with Heather’s mix…

The clouds are piling up like 18-wheelers on ice. Nothing threatening, just layers of white on white on white like an incredibly light yet still fattening dessert. I’ve just finished my book, and the ones that Ray brought for me in New Orleans are hunkered in the trunk, safe from my perusal. Nothing to do but type to yoooou.

If I could plug MY computer in, I could write more personally, sending emails to people, but my machine blows the fuses on Heather’s car. Sigh. If it’s not one thing, it’s so much another.

And we move on to a typically robbish mix – from 50 Cent to the Mountain Goats and back again. The clouds have changed in character, and the trees are greener, crossing the bayous and swamps of Louisiana, it looks like we’ve narrowly missed some pretty heavy rain. Still running late but making good speed, the sunlight’s dying and raindrops are flying and I’m worried for our evening outdoor gig.

Limbs broken and shattered
We’re passing through the aftermath
Of a wandering armegeddon
Worthy of our Lord our Saviour
Whoever else had so much anger
As a Father scorned

By 4 thousand million children
Throwing stones
Lightning crashes from behind
Cutting the scene in half.
Rainbow cutting through it all. 18 wheelers hunting through the thunder
Rainbow cutting through it all.

The storm’s picking up just as a half-visible billboard declares “welcome to America’s wetland”. Water’s just coming down in sheets and I suddenly have a half-legitimate fear of hitting catfish on the highway. The storm really hits us as we’re crossing the Mississippi. Lightning picks at the bridge, as does the wind, and we almost hold our breath till we reach the shores near Baton Rouge.

Man, and the rain is just fearless in its kamikaze assault on the ground, and we’re pretty fearless as we continue our hurtle into New Orleans. Alligators could swim up to the car and worry the tires. There looks to be some light up ahead, but I figure that either means the rain has just passed through and our venue is going to be very, very wet. or it’s GOING to pass through which means our venue is going to get very, very wet.

Sigh – I wish we could’ve seen Houston in the rain.

On Monday, Heather and I walked down to the Houston Museum of Natural Science to see their Lord of the Rings exhibit. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take pictures, but it was VERY cool to round a corner and come face to face with a cave troll (well, face to belly), and then later stare up at Sauron himself (an evil lord who is not at all recognized by my spell check). Despite our excruciatingly detailed perusal of the extra features on every LotR DVD, it was still really, really cool to see the stuff up close – to see just how much detail went into every link of armour, and to play act some orcishness to green-screen backgrounds, having our movements translated into Uruk-hai fearsomeness.

I was disappointed at the lack of technical detail – the whole museum was sort of uneven on that front. Incredible density of detail on the formation and chemical structure of gems, and the programming that went into creating individual “autonomous agents” in the LotR movies or the feeding patterns of dinosaurs, but very light on information about so much other stuff. I could go into greater lengths about my angst on that, but –

But the butterfly house!

Ah, the ricepaper butterfly isn’t put off by my scratchy unshaven FILTHY face!

Now, originally we weren’t going to bother going in – Heather’s comment was that “well, we’ve BEEN to a butterfly house”, and though I’m not sure I completely agreed with that comment, enough money had been spent on museums for the day, and Houston in general had been a bit of a pit for our cash, and it wasn’t rolling back in, either.

The roaches in Houston were heinous. There was a time, departing the Mucky Duck when I THOUGHT there was a lot of mulch in front of us, and then we turned on our headlights, and the mulch stampeded.
The roaches in Houston were heinous. There was a time, departing the Mucky Duck when I THOUGHT there was a lot of mulch in front of us, and then we turned on our headlights, and the mulch stampeded.
The entrance to the Butterfly House.
The entrance to the Butterfly House.

The Butterfly House - attached to the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Houston, TX. Heather thinks this guy is a lacewing, but we're not sure about that... Amy?
The Butterfly House – attached to the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Houston, TX. Heather thinks this guy is a lacewing, but we’re not sure about that… Amy?
Nothing quite like a butterfly house to get one's mind back on the stable course of optimism. Having winged jewels flutter around you for an hour-and-a-half just can't help but make Life a bit better. This is a zebrawing - we got a little poster to carry around with us and Heather had a great time spotting and identifying them.
Nothing quite like a butterfly house to get one’s mind back on the stable course of optimism. Having winged jewels flutter around you for an hour-and-a-half just can’t help but make Life a bit better. This is a zebrawing – we got a little poster to carry around with us and Heather had a great time spotting and identifying them.
This iguana was there to say goodbye to us - we sat and watched him eat for a good long time, wondering what he made of all the attention. I have a mixed past with iguanas - miss mine terrible - Snippy was only a couple of months old when my parents' cat ate him... on the other hand, Fred (at the Maryland Science Centre) whipped a hole in my jeans with his tail. I won't go into the fact that I sort of deserved it... spilling liquid nitrogen on him and all... poor guy.
This iguana was there to say goodbye to us – we sat and watched him eat for a good long time, wondering what he made of all the attention. I have a mixed past with iguanas – miss mine terrible – Snippy was only a couple of months old when my parents’ cat ate him… on the other hand, Fred (at the Maryland Science Centre) whipped a hole in my jeans with his tail. I won’t go into the fact that I sort of deserved it… spilling liquid nitrogen on him and all… poor guy.

But then, after completing our wanderings through the Dinosaur Hall, and the Gems and Minerals, the Lord of the Rings, the Kids Hall with its simple machines and optical tricks, and after we were done with their respective gift shops we stopped at a window to peer in at the HMNS Butterfly House. and we saw that it was great, and we saw that it was vast, and there were HUGE winged BEASTS sitting on the pane, gesturing to us.

I went back and bought two tickets.


At the moment, we’re passing over Louisiana swamp on the edge of Lake Pontchartrain and I’m cursing the existence of guardrails. not that I’d feel completely comfortable riding so

close to the brackish waters without some form of barrier, but I’d kill to be getting good photographs of the local scenery. I miss my Volkswagon terribly somedays. sometimes because I miss the bed, other times because I miss the space and feeling of HOME. Right now it’s because it would get me p and over these guardrails so that I could capture the endless plains of green and grey, the moving mountains of grey and white shifting above them, and the omnipresent spires of seemingly dead trees, trunks with spare branches splintered and hollowed and grey and dangling with strands of moss.

Fingers of lightning are worrying our chosen horizon, and things don’t look promising.


And back to the butterflies.

After the air-conditioned interior of the Museum, entering the Butterfly House hits you with a fist of head and humidity. unwelcome, but probably still not as fierce as actually stepping outside – and we are cycled through a tunnel that opens out almost directly underneath a waterfall glimpsed through hanging moss and vines and illuminating by a blinding shaft of sunlight. It’s a complete assault on the senses and it’s beautiful.

I don’t think that one can get sick of visiting these butterfly utopias – so much effort has gone into creating multi-tiered, beautifully layered environments, so that within a few hundred square feet of garden greenhouse you can wander for hours watching bejeweled, flitting forms.

It was a pretty perfect day.

Tuesday we even got to go with George and Del to go see Star Wars III on IMAX, which was pretty bad-ass, though it merely amplified my main complaint, which was that the only place a lightsaber seemed to throw light was onto the faces of computer-generated characters. That’s what I’m talking about when I’m saying uneven attention to detail… sheesh…

June 9th, 2005.

So,we outraced the storm, but got rained out at the Asian Pacific Cafe… we had an incredible dinner there though, and shot the shit with the sushi chef (say THAT 5 times fast!) and even planned the next night’s dinner by fantasizing about the stuff we hadn’t eaten yet.

We ended up over at the Neutral Ground shortly thereafter and just sort of hung out, listening to poetry, waiting for our turn to come out… it turned out that the guy who was slated to go before us didn’t show up, so we got a two hour gig as opposed to just the one hour – and started a whole lot earlier, while there were still people there! I had a really good time…

The Couchlings at the Neutral Ground Coffeehouse in New Orleans. They stayed through the whole night... well, I think MOST of them did... I think one or two of them might've snuck in and just tried to glean some cred from association with the couch... not sure about them. In any case, it's people like this that make me enthusiastic about coming back to New Orleans. Funky coffeehouses and their patrons. It's what I Love.
The Couchlings at the Neutral Ground Coffeehouse in New Orleans. They stayed through the whole night… well, I think MOST of them did… I think one or two of them might’ve snuck in and just tried to glean some cred from association with the couch… not sure about them. In any case, it’s people like this that make me enthusiastic about coming back to New Orleans. Funky coffeehouses and their patrons. It’s what I Love.

It’s funny – whereas Houston will Live in my memory as a city of roaches, New Orleans is a city of cats. They roam everywhere, peering out from under cars and crossing the streets at random. Their low-slung, slinking shapes can be seen silhouetted on building-tops and car-tops and roof-tops and wrought-iron fire escapes. They are harassed by tourists, and fed by tourists, ignored and petted by tourists.

I guess they’ve migrated in vast herds across the plains of America, drawn by the magnificent tales of the multitudes of rats… much as settlers followed the trails of tales of gold in the 1800’s, so now do the cats follow the trails of tales of tails.

God I’m clever.

We spent the night at Al’s house (Al of the Asian Pacific Cafe) and it’s a nice, sweet, sleep. The buzz of ceiling fan and his son watching the Cosby Show. It’s a good way to drift away… in the morning, there was even a lizard outside my window, puffing up his little puffy sack… Any second now, Heather and I are going to head out to wander New Orleans before we play tonight. Get our tourist on.

12 days.

My puffing morning lizard.
My puffing morning lizard.

June 11th, 2005.

I’m nervous. We’re playing the Eddie’s Attic Acoustic Shootout tonight, and I’m nervous. I think that all of our support may have dissolved under the pressure of having to get tickets ahead of time, and I’m nervous that I’ll freeze up and forget lots of lyrics and I’m nervous that I’ll slip and fall right off the stage.

It’s happened before.

These things are always full of statements like “it doesn’t matter if you win, you’ve got to be great to get THIS far!!!”, but single round elimination is frightening, and I don’t want to “die” in the first round… and I DON’T want to have to compete against Porterdavis (and that’s only the one competitor I KNOW about). Sigh.

There’s this totally false feeling that someday we’ll hit a contest that can make us or break us, and though I know that’s completely untrue, I still would like to WIN something this year – which will require a lot of practice on my part. My voice could go a long way, I’m sure… well, I’d like to THINK it could… and my guitar-playing… well, I could use a lot more knowledge plugged directly into my finger-tips. Sigh.

In any case, I’m hungry, too – and there’s grey light filtering round, and… and… and… ten days.

Yesterday, Heather and I got up really early – the unheard of hour of 7.30am. Three hours before our alarm was set to go off. We didn’t have anything else to do, so we packed up and moved on out. It was all the more shocking because Heather and Al and I (Al and his wife Amy own the Asian Pacific Cafe and put us up for our time in New Orleans this time around) had been talking long into the night about his Other Life as a merchant seaman… and profession only known to me through books and occassional references in the introduction to folk songs – usually comparing one’s father or dead husband to the ever-restless sea or something.

In any case, after having stayed up so late hearing tales of foreign shores in Al’s sprawling, fish-decorated home, I was really surprised to willingly greet the daylight a couple of hours later.

Perhaps it was the luck and the look of the lizard? My morning lizard had returned for me. It was a Lovely greeting.

he audience at the Edie's Attic Acoustic Shootout XXII - the Lloyds are sitting smack dab in the middle. Justin representin in his ilyAIMY t-shirt. What, you don't have one? Sheesh... get going!
he audience at the Edie’s Attic Acoustic Shootout XXII – the Lloyds are sitting smack dab in the middle. Justin representin in his ilyAIMY t-shirt. What, you don’t have one? Sheesh… get going!
Audience at Edie's Attic in Atlanta, GA.
Audience at Edie’s Attic in Atlanta, GA.

So we got on the road and drove and drove and drove arriving in Atlanta last night. Amy’s sister, Natalie, took us out for an INCREDIBLE pizza dinner (some of the left-overs of which I’m eyeballing RIGHT NOW) and then we sunk into the couches and cushions of her Lovely, air-conditioned apartment for some movies and Animal Planet. Tis a good Life…

So – I know that that was more of a diary entry than anything INTERESTING, but my mind has been hobbled by hunger, and my skill with words devastated by a morning diet of DAWN OF WAR in which my stalwart forces were efficiently ground to a bloody pulp by overwhelming ork forces…. sigh. It’s just past noon and it’s already been a rough day.

June 13th, 2005.

So, it wasn’t THAT bad – but there was the realization that we’ve covered a LOT of ground, going out to Kerrville and coming back to Eddie’s Attic all for very, very little return. I’m discouraged by how few CDs we’ve sold at both events, and how few people sign the mailing list… we get tonnes of people coming up and telling us how much they Loved us, even staff members telling us how much they would’ve like to see us win either (or both) events… but very few are willing to put that enthusiasm forth into any form of more material support.

It sounds awful, I know, but frankly – I’m bitching cause I ain’t getting paid. Not what I wanted to worry about as a musician… but for all the word of mouth and wide-eyed compliments we get, I don’t understand where the disconnect is – why it breaks down before  these same individuals choose to put their money where their mouth is. I worry that it really IS just talk, and that I’ve fallen into the same trap that so many kids at open mics have fallen into, where just enough people have applauded to be kind, and have said “no, really – that was GREAT!” that they’ve come to believe it… where the encouragement has given them a belief in something that’s impossible.

But that can’t be the case here, can it? I have always prided myself on reading people well, on being able to get at least a ROUGH grasp on what’s going on behind their eyes… there just must be something I’m not GETTING.

I know that people like to respond to the Journal – but in this case, it’s pretty much a rhetorical question. I don’t know that there is a specific answer other than – yes – we’ve competed in a lot of high-profile STUFF this year, but frankly, other than the

Susquehannah Music and Arts Festival, we haven’t WON any of them. And for however enthusiastic the crowd is for us, are they just waiting for the judges to decide who’s REALLY worthy of their adulation.

No, I know audiences have more of a mind than that – I’m just griping.

In any case, it’s weird to discover that we do a whole lot better, CD sales-wise, playing to an open mic audience of 15 people than we do playing to a festival audience of 300. I could worry that the latter is a less-discerning customer… but I don’t think that that’s all that’s at work.

Enough of my whining.

In case it’s not obvious, we didn’t win Edie’s Attic. On the other hand, we were knocked out of the competition in the second round by the guy who DID go on to win the whole thing, so that made me feel a little bit better.

The competition itself was amazing. Like Kerrville, there were very few people that I didn’t feel DESERVED to be there. Unlike Kerrville, I wasn’t as universally impressed, but that may well have had more to do with the format than with the actual performers.

Because the event is invariably sold-out, the performers (all 24 of us, or whatever number it is) have to stand in the outlying bar portions of the venue, rather than in the room where the music’s being performed – and though we could hear OK – closed-circuit television being run by a camera mounted on a pillar can only do SO MUCH to capture a dynamic performance.

In any case, I spent most of the time in between our sets sitting and reading a Toyfare magazine brought to us by our surprise visitors – the Lloyds. Heather’s parents and her little brother, Justin, drove 13 hours from Baltimore to come watch us compete! We were stunned when they called and revealed that they were at a local hotel, and it was a real boost to our well-being having a couple of more friends in the audience.

And oh my GOD what an audience. Like Kerrville’s, but more enthusiastic – thundering. We started out with LooseN and they ROARED for us. My highest compliment comes when an audience cheers in the MIDDLE of the song, can’t even wait till the end, and LooseN really had them going. It was awesome, but I was so hyped up on the fact that we were competing against a local favourite, I didn’t register at first that they called our name as the winners.

(and back to my original point, if we’d been allowed to make our way through the audience and hand-sell CDs at THAT point, I feel like we would’ve sold a CD to every other person in the audience)

Unfortunately, thought crowd response was equal on our second song, the judges knocked us down, and we went back to reading Toyfares and watching the television for another 3 hours or so, hoping that our faces would remind passer-bys of our former glory and that they would come and talk to us.

Sigh.

We drove home in the dark, in the rain, back to Natalie’s place… where we couldn’t find a

parking space and had to walk with our instruments strapped to our backs in the dark, in the rain… and when we let ourselves in Maggie BARKED at us! It was all very sad. We were very dejected and very, very moist.

That mood (and something weird about the cheesesteak what I ate) kept us up all night, and our enthusiasm about GETTING UP and MOVING OUT yesterday morning was somewhat dampened. We actually ended up getting out late enough that I was afraid we wouldn’t make our next stop – we’d planned to do some sight-seeing at the Sequoyah Caverns in Valley Head, Alabama before heading on up to Nashville.

We’d forgotten that we were on the very edge of the Central Time Zone – we danced back and forth across that for a while, and ended up with an extra hour that served us well in the caves…

The Sequoyah Caverns were amazing. If there’s one thing that I’ve Loved about this segment of the Trip, it’s that we’ve done so much touristy SHIT! From the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Aquarium, to … well… Biker Week counts, I think… to wandering Bourbon Street in New Orleans, to the Museum of Natural History in Houston – we’ve spent a LOT of money on tourist attractions this time around, and it’s something that I think has been well worth it.

And so we bought two tickets to get a little tour of the Sequoyah Caverns.

They were stunning, and I’m very glad she didn’t start talking about the spiders and things till we were in view of the exit again.

I hate water, I hate the dark – these caves had both in abundance, and I’ve got to admit, I think I spent the first 10 minutes sort of shivering and trying not to glance behind me and holding tightly to Heather’s hand… but after that, my phobias were overwhelmed by the things around me, and I often found myself left far behind the main group as I was trying to get a photograph or crouching, still staring at the confusingly reflected imagery. Unwise in the extreme, as the tour guide turned off the lights as she moved along.

The entrance to the Sequoyah Caverns. Well - at this point I suppose it was the EXIT. Last vestiges of sunlight barred from us by bars and bats of iron.
The entrance to the Sequoyah Caverns. Well – at this point I suppose it was the EXIT. Last vestiges of sunlight barred from us by bars and bats of iron.

It was a little odd – mixed in liberally (hehe) with the science and trivia of our cave explorations were casual references to God and the Creation, random underground proofs available in the beauty around us that Creationism should win out against Evolution, et cetera. It added flavour to day, and perhaps in a classroom setting I might’ve been interested in rising to the debate bait, but in a cave, where the woman doing the low-key but insistent preaching is holding the flashlight and is the only person who knows the way OUT… well, I was less than enthusiastic about tempting her wrath.

Sorting through my photographs of the Sequoyah Caverns after the fact, getting them rotated and whatnot, was pretty confusing. The reflecting quality of the ppols of water throughout the caves is so perfect, that often we couldn't tell if we were staring down into another part of the cavern, or seeing reflections of the ceiling.
Sorting through my photographs of the Sequoyah Caverns after the fact, getting them rotated and whatnot, was pretty confusing. The reflecting quality of the ppols of water throughout the caves is so perfect, that often we couldn’t tell if we were staring down into another part of the cavern, or seeing reflections of the ceiling.
The Sequoyah Caverns north of Valley Head, Alabama.
The Sequoyah Caverns north of Valley Head, Alabama.

I am curious if she does that for every tour (or if she reserves it for groups with such obvious heathens in it), and I wonder if she’s ever taken any flak for it. Heh – I wonder if I’ll be taking any flak from this entry. Let’s not get into my thoughts on intelligent design and the Great Flood, shall we?

the fossil of a sand dollar, incidentally presented as proof of the Great Flood.
the fossil of a sand dollar, incidentally presented as proof of the Great Flood.
A salamander in the Caverns. I was surprised that he was so brightly coloured, but there was a good number of these little guys creeping around - I'm glad she didn't start pointing out the creatures and the creepies and the crawlies until we were almost back out of the cave. I have no problem with salamanders, but spiders, crickets, white millipedes, blind trout and weevil-lookin' flies give me the creeping horrors.
A salamander in the Caverns. I was surprised that he was so brightly coloured, but there was a good number of these little guys creeping around – I’m glad she didn’t start pointing out the creatures and the creepies and the crawlies until we were almost back out of the cave. I have no problem with salamanders, but spiders, crickets, white millipedes, blind trout and weevil-lookin’ flies give me the creeping horrors.
A spider web catches moisture and turns it into a jeweled chandalier in the Sequoyah Caverns of northern Alabama
A spider web catches moisture and turns it into a jeweled chandalier in the Sequoyah Caverns of northern Alabama

I must admit, sometimes I question my own wisdom about what I talk about in my Journal. But then I go back and think about it – and what the fuck?!!? It’s MY Journal, and if I’m afraid of what I say in here, that’s bullshit. I get emails chastising me every once in a while – sometimes I agree… sometimes I really don’t. But usually people stay pretty intelligent in their complaints. I know it’s a public setting, since I’m posting this on the internet… but… GAH! I’m babbling! What I MEANT was…

We were briefly distracted in our departure from the caverns by the local not-so-wild-Life, and I have a fun little video of Heather feeding the cutest damned goat you ever DID see… but then we made our way to Nashville.

Now – I’m very down on “music towns”. I hated New York City, dread ever going to LA, we bypassed Austin (though we shouldn’t have) and I was really iffy about New Orleans.. We’ve completely avoided Nashville up until now. We’ve made steady squares all around it, but this was our first time crossing the box. Up until now, we also had no friends there, and so it was with the meeting of Tony Liaolo and Treva Blomquist in Kerrville, TX, we finally decided to try passing through one of the Music Capitals of the World. I think also that our success in New Orleans has given me a little more confidence about playing in the big leagues…

There were some very tight sections of the caves
There were some very tight sections of the caves
Oh, and a herd of white deer. I never knew anything like that existed - and I was expecting WETA to pop out from behind a tree... but no, it's something the area's famous for. Go fig.
Oh, and a herd of white deer. I never knew anything like that existed – and I was expecting WETA to pop out from behind a tree… but no, it’s something the area’s famous for. Go fig.
 happy, happy goats waiting for us outside!
happy, happy goats waiting for us outside!

At Tony’s suggestion, we tried out an open mic at a place called the Sutler Saloon, and it was… it was everything Nashville should be. A bit strong on the country-Western flavour for my taste, but almost no-one bored me, almost no-one had a voice that I didn’t like. There were perhaps a good number of mind-numbingly overused cliches, but the writers who used them (and I’m guilty of it as well) had a song that followed that was usually just about as good as any I’d ever heard.

Great players, pure music. It really restored a lot of my faith in the world, or at least that part of it that plays acoustic guitar.

Not sure what we’re going to do with the day. Putter around, perhaps try and find an internet connection. We’re going to try and hit up the Bluebird tonight. We’ll see what happens with that – I don’t hear that it’s promising.

We shall see.

The clouds come barreling down upon us outside of Nashville, TN. We were flirting with storms the whole drive, and at one point it was as if we were HERALDING DARKNESS!!! Racing right beneath an advancing cloud bank, so that the land went dark as we approached at speed!
The clouds come barreling down upon us outside of Nashville, TN. We were flirting with storms the whole drive, and at one point it was as if we were HERALDING DARKNESS!!! Racing right beneath an advancing cloud bank, so that the land went dark as we approached at speed!
I never thought of Tennessee as being a particularly mountainous state. I've always been fooled by it's flat-state appearance.
I never thought of Tennessee as being a particularly mountainous state. I’ve always been fooled by it’s flat-state appearance.

Bluebird or no Bluebird… this time next week we’ll be heading home. We have about 1200 miles left on this leg.