Saturday, April 18, 2015

Up 'N Back

We set right out from Jim's about 9 AM Friday last, packin' up a durn good load, aiming to get up to Newark, Del, home of the Blue Hens, in plenty of time for our Friday night concert for the Brandywine Folk Society. The Google said it would be a cinch, but we did know that there was DC sitting fat in the way. There'd been a time when you could take the 295 shortcut through Anacostia and brave the broken concrete as a fine trade-off for actual progress. This time the smart phone Joe was operating said take 495 east, but by then it was already stop and go, and the phone would tend to tell us alts just after the exit had passed, or whilst we were in the far left with no way to get over. Sometime after the Baltimore Tunnel we finally started moving at highway speed again, and paid the $8.00 toll gladly to escape the molasses.

It turned out we got to Newark in decent time, and didn't have to just sit around and wait for a building to open.

The show started after it got dark, and the house was nicely full, including a former '70s Chapel Hill vet ("I worked at the Record Bar," she said, grinning) who asked for "Give Me the Roses," and someone else who called for "Hobo's Last Letter," both numbers from earlier times which we hadn't done in a good while. We did 'em, and well I thought. (I ought to write a sequel before it's too late: "Hobbs' Last Letter," for the British philosophers in our midst.) We had a spectacularly capable sound guy too, and he put one of the best mics I've ever played into on my fiddle. It was an auspicious start to the journey. The fancy mic had a green wind screen which matched my bow stick, and my bandana (see the vid, below). The stars were aligned. There were encores, and after we got the van packed up we headed out up I-95 for Wilmington and Philly and Rafe Stefanini's wonderful cottage on the hills just west of the city proper.

I was riding in the back, Jim driving, Joe running the navigation equipment, which was a nice female voice telling us to take lefts and rights and such as we passed through the gigantic urban complexity that is the Wilmington-Philly nexus. There was much to see as we whizzed along, and I wished I had a movie camera, like Frederico Fellini in his marvelous "Roma," which I watched again last night just to remind myself of the trip through our first Nation's Capital. There was, at one point, even a huge wreck to observe, fortunately on the far side of the turnpike and separated from us by concrete barriers, but including police, ambulances, and a very big traffic jam. We also went past the beautiful "boat houses" along the Deleware, lit as though it were still Christmas, and past the big skyscrapers of the city center, then through a dark tough-ass section of mean streets sprinkled with quickly parked police cars with their blue lights spinning. I was thinking at this point that I did hope Rafe didn't live just here, but we kept on rolling and were soon climbing up out of the city and into yarded houses, and eventually and a few miles later we were turning into Rafe's driveway, a tricky left turn just below the brow of a hill crest that must be an adventure every time. The porch light was on.

Rafe was waiting up and escorted us in. I'd heard much of him, but never met him. Joe is in a band with him, and Jim knows everyone in the music world. We went into his kitchen and I looked around, somewhat dazed. We were all very tired from the long day. I picked the cot set up in his living room, discretely privatized by a nice Japanese screen set just past the passage from the hall, and quickly set about crashing once I'd brushed my teeth. Here is where I slept: Rafe and his daughter are in this photo playing music and the cot is stowed away. The two of them have a good CD available, by the way. She was in Nashville at the time of our visit and sending her dad frequent notes about life in Music City.

Saturday morning arrived with bright blue skies and temps in the high 50s. The pollen that had appeared down here in NC was a month back up there--the backwards procession of seasons was obvious as we drove along the interstate. In Philly the Forsythia was hinting at a spring to come, and the pollen was blessedly absent. Pennsylvania ought to argue with New Hampshire for the sobriquet "granite state." They gots the rocks. Just across from Rafe's house was this absolutely first class stone wall. I seem to have quit the stone-mason's ways for good, but I still notice good rock work:

Inside Rafe's foyer was his extensive boot collection. He displays them because, he said, "they're actually uncomfortable."

We all just hung out in the morning, which means these days checking your messages. I let Libby know we'd made it to Saturday. After a while it got to be lunch time, and Rafe directed us to one of the things cities just have over the countryside--interesting restaurants. We went to a Korean place named "More Food." It's a really wonderful place, as big as a supermarket, with pictures of a huge number of dishes on the walls and organized according to inscrutable Korean principles (one area was called "Ming," another "Fuze," and then there were two or three in phonetic Korean). You ordered by number and paid a cashier, then waited for your number to appear in lights over a window centered in an array of pictures of dishes. The service was fast, and we were hungry. The food was fantastic too. What a delight. The place was probably ten minutes from Rafe's house. Can't beat that. There's nothing within an hour of my hobbit hole that comes close. After we finished up and bussed our dishes we went downstairs and looked at the shops of various mostly Asian packaged foods and fresh fruits and vegetables. There was a poster still up from an event that had happened the week before, a Korean hip hop festival apparently:

When we got back to the house Rafe looked up Honey Cocaine on the google. That's her in the center circle. She's got a fine resume, and people will pay $50 to "meet and greet." Not bad. I hope she rides the great swell of stardom a long time, and never gets a splash. We took long naps after we got back, then it was time to go to our gig, just a few towns over through the endless suburban streets. We went through Jenkintown both ways. It was a house concert, with very nice appointments. The stage looked like this:

It was a small room with great acoustics and we played around one mic, with Mr. Craver having his own Shure 58 workhorse over by his keys. Again, great audience, fun night. As we were so well rested and fed, we seemed to over all play better, although I managed to stomp all over Craver's break in "Play 'Rocky Top.'" I've always liked a meta song; we did this one back in the day, when we were in the band we were in in the '70s. It sort of drifted away, although I worked on reviving it when I was writing a lot of songs and going out and doing solo songwriter shows, about fifteen years ago. Last summer the band revived it, with a new arrangement, and it's gotten rather snappy. Here's what it sounded like during one of it's first revival moments, but it's tighter and better now:

After we licked up the bits of cheese and bread left by the audience, and packed up the instruments, we made the late night way back through Jenkintown to Rafe's. I told him it made me some nervous to play a Tommy Jarrell tune in front of someone who'd studied Tommy more intensely than I had. We laughed, and Rafe reminded me of something about Jarrell's "Sally Ann" (which we tend to close the show with) which I'd pretty much forgotten. There once was a low 4th part! At the moment I just agreed, thinking that what I play these days, namely the first or high part played an octave lower, was more or less what he was referring to. But in the middle of the past week, as I sat at my station at the truck scale during a hitch of emptiness between customers, I recalled exactly that low part, a quite different thing, how it goes, how at the end of it there's even a kind of pause, before the whole symphony restarts at the top. I don't know why I've dropped that out. I expect there was a reason, partly that I've given up long ago playing in cross-tuning with the G string tuned up to A for tunes in the key of D--Tommy Jarrell's way of playing such tunes. Having that open string low note makes that low part, which is little more than a scale, very easy to play at speed. And then there's that hitch at the end. Whatever, Rafe was right. There's a missing part in my "rendition." Good thing I don't claim to be reproducing the Jarrell repertoire, just playing tunes I "got" from him long ago.

When we got back to Rafe's it was mighty easy to hit the hay, and the boys couldn't even tempt me with a short glass of Jamison's. Soon it was Sunday morning. Absolutely divine fresh bagels and perfect feather-thin Nova Lox arrived. My gawd, the city life! Then we were on the PA Turnpike to Harrisburg and our last gig, at the Abbey Pub and Restaurant.

Harrisburg's a lot like Durham, but without jobs. Here's what the street looked like on a bright Sunday afternoon:

The pub itself is a block further, out of view. The stage is on the second floor, but there was a lift and we got our gear up there without much groaning. The sound engineer, a guy named Chili, was very good although used to doing bands with plugged in instruments. He had some trepidation about all our open mics, and the risks of unexpected whistles mid-song. We had plenty of time to get the sound system wrung out, and he and I even sat at the bar and watched some of the Masters' final round and talked about the scrap metal world a bit. "I do some scrapping when it's tight," he said. The audience drifted in, and eventually filled up the space very well, and there were several old friends I hadn't seen in a long time, from the Augusta teaching days.

I thought our sets in Harrisburg were the best we did, and we nailed Play Rocky--I remembered to shut up and let Mike take the chorus break like we have planned it, before jumping in on the last verse. To top off the whole evening, we had a great meal down below at the pub's restaurant, and drove out to the edge of town with the Susquehanna Folk Society's President and spent the night in her beautiful expanded log cabin, which was a lot like here in my log place. Then it was Monday morning and off to North Carolina.

The trip up, with it's several hour traffic jam, made choosing I-81 an easy decision. Then Jim topped the plan by discovering to the rest of us his secret passageway over to Rt. 29, across Afton mountain, a mere 15 or so miles (just enough) of beautiful mountain roads and switchbacks, then back onto the 4 lanes of 29, as usual not heavily traveled, and we whizzed down through Lynchburg and the Falwell Empire, and Concrete World, and on to Danville and NC 86, and were home to Jim's by about 5, and I got on out here by 6 or so, after hosing off the incredible layer of pollen on the Toyota, Jim living in the midst of huge pine trees that apparently spent our weekend away in utter sexual frenzy.

I can't say I really want to go back to life on the road. It was great to get home, and I enjoyed work this past week a little more than usual. But as a once-in-a-while thing, our modest tours are pretty great. The food alone, this trip, was worth the effort. We also met some really great folks, and discovered we still have an audience out there.

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