Summer Tour Endeth: Red Rocks to High Sierra

Posted: July 16th, 2013

Along the front range of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, approaching the eastern slopes, you will find there amassed spectacular rock formations. I’m talking rocks a size beyond your imagination. Boulders as big as houses and office buildings, jutting up and out of the mountain slopes, list at 60 degree angles. Geologists refer to them as Fountain Formations. I can only guess why, because some of the unusual shapes of the stones are like water spouting from a fountain. It works for me. I know they run from Boulder (the city) in the north to Colorado Springs in the south. The giant boulders are colored hues of red and pink and white from ancient beds of sandstone and limestone. Local municipalities have turned the respective sites into parks and recreation areas. The most spectacular of these, that this eye has seen, is the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. The most well-known and visited is Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater, in Morrison.

There, at the latter location, on the Fourth of July, your humble reporter found himself in the wings, staring up at the boulders and reminiscing. For me, personally, it was an historic day, and a very special one. Nearly 35 years ago to the day I was there to watch a funky, little hippy band out of San Francisco, one with a big-time following, play Red Rocks. What I didn’t know until many years later, that show was the first time the Grateful Dead played there. The man who told me that was none other than Jim Loughlin’s older brother John (yes, mi amigo.moe.litos, there are 2 of us). For he was there, too. We didn’t know each other at the time, and only made the connection a couple years ago. The Dead were at their peak then, and the show was a truly amazing one. Even through the fog of time, I still remember that night, being there, the carnival atmosphere, like it was last week. That story alone is good for a few pints at any bar, saloon, pub, or tavern anywhere. But on another level, for John and I, to see our respective kid brothers stand out there center stage 35 years later, playing in your favorite band, in one of the most historic venues in the nation, on the nation’s birthday, and bring the house down—that was cosmic, and, as I write this, a kind of high washed in happiness, pride and goose bumps. There are no coincidences, only meaningful ones, or maybe, as John summed it up to me that night about this remarkable tale, it really means, “The circle is now complete!”

…but I digress. The Red Rocks show was a great success, indeed. After a balls out, pedal-to-the medal show at the Boulder Theater the night before, the band came out and picked up where they left off. Red Rocks was a twin billing. moe. shared the stage with Blues Traveler in front of a near full house. Both shows were rocking, and members from each band sat in on their respective sets. John Popper and Ben Wilson jammed with moe. on the very new song, Crackers, and the classic, Plane Crash. Make no mistake about it. Nobody today plays the blues harp like Popper. He is the preeminent musician in his field. During Blues Travelers set, both Jim and Al sat in on songs and showcased their talents. The crowd was on their feet throughout the night, and celebrating the Fourth in style.

Nevertheless, like every other day, even the special ones come to an end. We load up the truck, hop onto the bus, and continue westward. As we leave Red Rocks, this is one part of the tour I wish it were closer to daylight. We’re going through beautiful country—through mountain passes and across the Great Continental Divide. Instead, when I wake up the next morning we’re past the Divide. The bus is well on the broad plateaus between the mountain ranges that fill out the west side of the hemisphere. It’s semi-arid, or looks that way, for most of Utah. I’m looking out the window, eating cookies. In Boulder we received boxes of homemade cookies and brownies—enough for every kindergartener in the New York City Public School system. No Homer, they’re not laced, but they’re damn tasty.

Nevada is bone dry. It’s just after sunrise the following day. The bus is still rolling. I’m sitting alone looking out at the desert and wonder where we are in relation to where they detonated nuclear bombs (1,021 explosions from 1951 to 1992; sub-critical testing on weapons and properties of plutonium continue to the present). It’s a desolate post-apocalyptic landscape void of any signs of life. This couldn’t be it. We’re too far from any town and too far north. The ‘experiments’ conducted there in the name of national security, were closer to towns in the south. I recall reading how tourists in Vegas rushed to the rooftops of the casinos to watch the mushroom clouds rise above the desert. In fact, the radioactive fallout from one explosion rained down on John Wayne and the set of The Conqueror, while filming on location in Utah, in 1955. It was tough enough that the movie bombed, but roughly, just under half the cast and crew who were on location would battle cancer throughout much of the remaining years of their lives. That included stars—John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorhead—and the director—Dick Powell. Nobody seemed to care about their fate, or all the children in Southern Nevada and Utah who were stricken with leukemia in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The nuclear test site continues to operate and conduct experiments with a macabre Dr. Strangelove obsession. At this stage of the game, nuclear weapons testing makes about as much sense as Braille pads on drive up ATM machines. Then again, it’s the same type of logic isn’t it? Where we’re at in our history as a nation? The same people who are providing a service to blind people who drive are in the same league as the ones who are blindly driving our economy right into the ground … and our national security right over us. It’s like shouting into the wind—Y.O.Y… must it be?

Thoughts of hopelessness and a dystopian American Dream have made me sleepy, and I climb back into my bunk. When I awake, the bus is nearing Quincy, California, site of the 23rd annual High Sierra Music Festival. We’ve finally made it. moe. is one of the headliners. They’re playing two shows—an overnighter in the Music Hall, Saturday, and closing out the festival on Sunday night.

One of the first signs of a music festival well underway, and a successful one, is that every last square inch of real estate not reserved for vendors, entertainers, and musicians has a tent or RV on it. The second is walking through intermittent pockets of pungent BO and patchouli oil that waft on the summer breeze. Oh yeah, breathe it in people! We’ve hit the mother lode! Live music can be heard all around as most of us are taken to the dining hall. Jim and Vinnie go to jam with the Mike Dillon Band. Mike, an extraordinary vibe player, has jammed with moe. on many occasions. Whenever I see Mike and Jim play side-by-side, it’s like they’re joined at the hip. They are one player with four arms, and it is so kewl to watch and listen!

The Saturday night show was a great success. The Music Hall was completely sold out and filled to capacity. moe. jammed away until 4 am. Andy Falco, guitarist for the Infamous Stringdusters, sat in on McBain and absolutely shredded it. A few songs later, Dan Lebowitz from ALO, sat in on Moth, and did the same, except with a lap steel guitar.

The Sunday night show is on the main stage of the festival. It’s a big show and everyone’s pumped. One of the maxims of the business is that the show must go on, but really, how it’s done is just as important. Behind the scenes there is a great flurry of activity to make it happen. moe.crew, in conjuction with some of the festival crew, packs up the Music Hall and moves over to the Main Stage right after the show ends there. It’s an incredible, yeoman effort. The crew is, after all, on east coast time, which means to their bio-clocks, it’s 7 am.  It takes them a little over 3 hours to take down the equipment and stage, pack it up, load it on a truck—actually it’s 2 truckloads—because we’re not using the semi—transfer it, unload, unpack, and set up it all up for moe.’s show the following, ie, that evening, at 9:30. I’m always blown away by what these guys can do. We’ve been on the road for just about 3 weeks, and for the very last show they’re up until 7:30 am to make a show happen 14 hours later. If you’re thinking why, it’s protocol. It had to be done that way. When a band’s the headliner at a festival, they must set up first and move their equipment back, out of the way. Once that’s done, the other acts can come in and set up and take down throughout the day without any interference. It’s a well-choreographed routine that’s an imperative to put on a big-time rock and roll production. You, mi amigo.moe.litos, do not see that, but you do appreciate it come show time.

That night, the band walks on stage, reaches inward, and does it all over again. All the ups and down, road wear, fatigue, longing for home—every distraction—is placed aside again to make that show a special one. It is. The band is on. They burn through St. Augustine, Y.O.Y., and Skrunk. Young trombone phenom, Carly Meyers, and Mike Dillon of the eponymous named Band, joined moe. for Time Ed. And then there’s more moe., with Wind It Up, Waiting For The Punchline, and Opium, in which, on the latter, guitarist Lukas Nelson sat in on. The band then finishes it out with two classics—Happy Hour Hero and Buster.

That was a tour for the books. The band drove over 7,000 miles (and counting), to play on a stage, at a theater, or a festival, near you. Happy trails if any of you are going to Germany where moe. will finish up the Summer Tour alongside Government Mule. Otherwise, moe.down’s just ahead, and right around the bend.

Summer Tour, Rolling Along From NC to Colorado

Posted: July 11th, 2013

How many days now have we been choking this chicken? That’s relative, I suppose, because it seems like a couple days ago this chicken laid the egg that started this tour. In fact, wasn’t it just last week we survived the great deluge at Summer Camp? Then started the summer tour with DMB for a couple of shifts, and hosted the Wood Brothers for a couple of more shows, before moe. launched into full-bore summer tour mode…

…The first week slipped by, and then the second week. And here we are winding it down. The miles have added up, too—600 and 700 miles a day. From all over the northeast to our dip south to Asheville back up to Lunar Bay, across to Kalamazoo and Colorado, and then Northern California, we’re approaching 7,000 miles. The final push is underway, but I’m getting ahead of myself…

…In North Carolina, the band played the first of three outdoor shows in four days. Two of the three shows were at breweries—Pisgah and Bell’s. Growlers rolled like bowling balls. We’re at a critical juncture in the summer tour, and I’m forced to make a very tough choice: this is a bad time to give my liver a break…

…The outside shows are tough—the elements can be dicey—wind and rain, thunder and lightning, heat and humidity. For the moe.crew, the challenges add up daily—from managing the logistics of setting up equipment on smaller stages to simply having enough time to set it up. There’s literally tons of equipment to unload and setup on a small stage around a bunch of other bands that are setting up and taking down between performances. That’s what happened at Lunar Bay.  In Kalamazoo, we arrive at the Bell’s Eccentric Café, to play out back, in their delightful little garden of good and evil (note: my nickname for the place). I imagine that string bands and small combos have no problem negotiating walkways made of field stone to a small stage and space, but for a big production that moe. puts on, to unload a tractor trailer, it takes a lot of work. Nevertheless, moe.’s crew is very good at it oh ye moe.rons. From working with and directing the local crews, to getting the stage ready for lights, audio, action! You may or may not know what it takes for your favorite rock band to walk on stage and jam the night away, but it’s near a full day’s work to pull it off. You can thank moe.’s crew...

…Because to your enjoyment, the shows go off without a hitch. There’s bonus stuff that happens, too. Brock Butler sat in with moe. at Pisgah, and Paul Hoffman from Greensky Bluegrass, sat in at Bell’s.

…For me, my challenge outside is nightfall. My lights at merch world draw more species of insects than I know exist. In fact, species of insects I’ve yet to identify fly into my mouth at will. I know them by taste and texture now—metallic, bitter, flaky, powdery, crunchy—and try to avoid the darker ones…

…Midway through one show a woman approached the merch table. She was showing me cleavage, and plenty of it. On her right breast was a tattoo that was once, I believe, a mermaid, but now, regrettably, with much weight gain and time, was all stretched out and looked more like a boned herring. My father had warned me of such consequences. He was a sailor for a time, and had seen what he had seen. That eventually a tattoo will melt in its own way, into the folds of flesh that come with age. Then again, one look at my beer gut and all I can see is a breached whale...

…I feel like one when the bus rolled into Omaha, noonish, the following day after Kalamazoo. We’ve stopped at a hotel for about 12 hours. The bus driver needs to crash before we finish the drive to Colorado. Everyone loads out of the bus and goes to their respective rooms or in search of something to do, which is basically not much. There’s a big mall nearby, a bridal shop, a strip mall filled with insurance agencies, car dealerships, a cinema. I see a full day of adventure in the cards and I’m not disappointed. I roll out of my bunk. Search for fodder. I watch Turkeys strut by the bus. Buy a shirt. Yawn. Eat cheesecake. Go to a movie. Climb into my bunk and leave Omaha.

I awake in Boulder, show day, a little before 10 am. This is good—gives me a chance to stroll about town and view the public art projects and the bums who use them as day beds. It’s a hip happening place, as I’m sure you know or have heard. Colorado is the in place to be these days. It’s the “It Girl” for stoners incorporated and a Mecca for touristas from around the globe.

Every time I’m here, I wonder why I don’t live here and get down with a Rocky Mountain high.

That’s what I thinking, at that moment, sitting outside a café sipping coffee. And just as I was visualizing it, a stranger walked by, talking into her cell phone, but, oddly, looking my way, said, “The way that you feel is not necessarily the way that it is.”

It gives one pause to wonder—there are no coincidences, but there are meaningful coincidences. I realize that this tour is one of them—the final push is on.

Summer Tour, Part Something: A Quick Dip South

Posted: July 3rd, 2013

Ah, Asheville. Good ole North Carolina. One of my favorite places. When I stop living the life of a gypsy, it’s one of the top ten places I have under consideration to stay—detached from my luggage. Asheville is a hip, happening, historic, holistic, and hedonistic little city. They have microbreweries, mountains, and movie theaters—three important prerequisites for me to become detached from my luggage. We, your favorite band and their crew, have a day off here, and everyone is rearing and ready to go, or should be. After three days of a steaming sauna in the City and a 700 mile drive, Asheville is a welcome relief. Oh, yes it is, even though our collective asses are dragging.

The question is—what to do? We are on tour, but we are not tourists. We check into a hotel, but it is for one night. Some of us have been here before, others have not. I’m kind of in the middle. I’ve been here with moe. several times but have only ventured a few blocks radius from the Orange Peel. I don’t have a plan, just yet, other than I’m hungry. Some of us go to our rooms, others initiate a pub crawl—we are in microbrew heaven. I follow Rob and Chuck who have been here mega-times, and know of a great little café near Pack Square. We have breakfast for 3 at 2.

After that, they go one way, and I go buy a cigar and wander over to the Thomas Wolfe House on Spruce Street (the only thing I had planned). There I find a park bench, sit, and light it up. It’s something I do in my travels. Whenever I’m in a town where one of my favorite writers lived, I’ll seek them out, drop by and catch a vibe. Thomas Wolfe is one such writer (if you’re looking to read the great American novel this summer, look no further than, Look Homeward, Angel). I don’t go in the house. I have no need to actually see where he ate, slept, and shat. I hang and puff and write a blog about NYC …

… And lose complete track of time. It’s after 6, and I’m getting bombarded with text messages—who’s eating what and where with whom; then movie, entertainment, or beer? Of course it’s beer—we’re in Asheville. I pass some of my kind—Vinnie, Al, Steve—on the bus—but again lose track of time. Before I know it, everyone’s off doing something. It’s after ten. I send text messages but get only a few replies, until the next morning, when this, bizarrely, came in all at once:

Huffer—status report

Skip—10 am bus call?

Frank—funny

Casey—124 College

Huffer—billiards

Frank—you guys just starting or winding it up? Long walk from hotel room comfy bed.

Huffer—you want to do Belgians at the thirsty monk? The players here are all played out…

Frank—Maybe

Al—Rob and I are on bus right now

Skip—for the night?

Rob—Lookin’ to hook up sailorman?

Huffer—we’re leaving the pool hall. Bus sounds good

Suddenly I didn’t feel like I missed that much.

Onward Summer Tour: The Daze on the Hudson

Posted: July 1st, 2013

I like New York. I’ve learned to be okay as a sucker there, or learned to co-exist with being okay as a sucker there. Like, whenever I go out to eat. I spend more money on dinner than I do a week’s worth of groceries. My bourgeois instincts tell me it’s Okayalright to be decadent once and a while—that the spaghetti and meatballs were worth it.

It was only one day off, then back-to-back shows. The first night the band played at the Brooklyn Bowl. The word on the street spread that the show was scorching hot. True. It was. The AC there went down and the place was a sauna. But I’m guessing it was the show itself people were talking about, because it was a pretty damn good one. The band was on their game. I remember hearing McBain and paused to listen. The last time here the band played McBain, too. How, or even why, I’ve tuned into such minutia is beyond me. I rarely remember what songs are played set-to-set, or show-to-show, let alone from a show 3 years ago. Great Jehovah! Am I going moe.nerd on myself???

After the show a bunch of us hop in a cab back to Manhattan. Our driver’s Moroccan, he says, in his mid-sixties, and slightly hunched over the wheel. A hand-rolled cigarette is buried in the V between his index and middle fingers, where it stays while he clears the front seat for me to sit. From nowhere, a police car, sirens wailing, lights flashing, is speeding toward us, and closing in. I fumble with the cab door. Just like in the movies, my fingers have turned into tiny sausages. In a Buddhist calm, he takes a drag from his cigarette and he tells me not to worry about nothing—they do that all the time—just get in. I do, and he pulls the cab out of the way for the coppers. He’s a good guy, our driver, and laughs and jokes with us all the way back to the hotel. When we get out, it’s only then I notice the cigarette has burned itself out, but is still there, the stub, between his fingers.

The next day the band plays the Beekman Beer Garden. Whether or not the Brooklyn show pushed or piqued interest in that show, I don’t know. I can report the ole Beer Garden under the Brooklyn Bridge was packed, and steamy hot and humid. I mean real steam. You could see it in the air. But what did it matter? The energy of the crowd was upbeat and excited. It seems to me, over the past few shows, that old-time moe.rons are bringing friends to see moe. for the first time. The new people are buying shirts and lots of music. They ask me for recommendations—Wormwood, The Conch, Dither, LA LAs—a Warts and All, or a Stan’s? I say nothing—don’t have a chance—moe.rons at the table offer full reviews of each CD—its merits, strengths, warts and wrinkles. It gets me off the hook with the live stuff. Truth be told, because I so frequently hear the music live, I’ve never listened to any of the live CDs.

I know it’s going to be an interesting night at the Beekman when early on a guy with hearing aids asks me for ear plugs. Then a little later, a guy starts telling me I need to sell deep v-neck t-shirts. “Just think,” he says, “every guy here would have a v-neck on if you were just selling ‘em.” He’s making a hard sell, but his obsession with the v-neck is perplexing. Not only because he’s just taken up five minutes of my life, but mainly, because he wore a tank top. Midway through the second set a lanky blonde with big hair comes stumbling toward me from the river side. I sense trouble, as her motor skills have been reduced to something like the first steps of Dr. Frankenstein’s creation. Her arms are straight out and her legs have turned to stilts. Her balance is precarious … and then she hurls. Projectile ... a botched exorcism ... I may never eat guacamole again … unless it’s buried in a burrito and I can’t see it. Fortunately, she missed—most of my stuff. Unfortunately, the corner of one of my tables was doused—the one with the red table cloth on it—the only one with a table cloth on it. I liked that table cloth. It was a helluva table cloth. It was a nice shade of red. Not too bright, not too heavy. It brought the merch world together …  Alas … a moment later, Frankenstein is being escorted from the kitchen area by two staffers, gently, holding her steady by the elbows, a man on each side. Her eyes are loopy. Her head’s as steady as a bobble head. They’re looking for someone to come to claim her. There are no volunteers.

On an up note, the band’s morphed into a nice reggae arrangement of Letter Home, and the oppressive humidity begins to break, pushed by a breeze off the Hudson. In no time, refrains of NYC were in the air, or maybe, cleansing the air.

Ah, air … fresh air … the Carolinas … excuse me, North Carolina … we’re off again and on our way.

Day Whatever: Vignettes, Time Shifts, & General Beaches

Posted: June 27th, 2013

The road keeps rolling. It rolls out before us and right back up behind us. Like a bottle cap snapped from sticky fingers—zing—we’re launched—spinning across the continent. Five days, five cities. One night it’s Rochester, NY, the next Asbury Park, NJ, on up to Hampton Beach, NH, and down to Newport, RI. Then, in ‘the wee small hours of the morning,’ we coast into NYC. A dizzying pace, it’s only just begun.

When I try to recall what’s happened, the places and shows come at me like vignettes in a time shift. Whether a moment, a song, or an encounter, each one unique.

One moment, I’m in Rochester. Every time I look up more people are in front of me than before. Heads, literally and figuratively, as far off as I can see, are smiling and happy. Thousands upon thousands are getting’ their Party in the Park on. From Happy Hour Hero to a quick fried Meat, this is the right way to kick-off a Summer Tour.

Later that night, a young couple emerges from the crowd, sidles up to the merch table. She slinging abuse at him with way too much ease—it’s at the comfort level of a 20 year marriage, not a couple who’re just dating. But what the hell do I know about dating these days? It was entertaining enough—especially over an f-bomb t-shirt. He, on the other hand, seemed well disposed to take it. His jaw was unhinged and each eye looked like a quivering mass of protoplasmic jelly. Stewed as he was, he manages to pull a credit card out of his wallet to pay, and then was dragged off by the spawn of Attila the Hun. They disappeared quickly, into the sea of heads—too quickly, when I saw the credit card still on the table. But that’s that. It’s not the first time it’s happened in moe.ronville. I yelled out his name, but it was the middle of Billy Goat.

The next thing I know, I’m listening to Bullet at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Yes, if your life’s spinning by in vignettes, that’s how it happens. You can be on a Great Lake one moment, and the Joy-zee Shore the next. A cool breeze kicks in off the Atlantic, the day moves along. And then there’s Bullet. I was interested to see what the storm, Sandy, had done to the place. I’m happy to report nothing. I was told it knocked over a fence and that was it. The place filled up slowly. People stuck in traffic in a mad dash to the shore. By the end of the first set, the Stone Pony was packed, filled up and out. I hear Rebubula. Then speak with someone who has never been to a moe. show. I give him a Buster sticker and welcome him to the party.

For life’s a party, or a beach, yes, it can be a real beach. Ah, Hampton Beach … the smell of the briny sea, fried dough, and rancid urinal cakes waft on a summer breeze—just like I remember it in high school. People by the tens of thousands troll the strip in their cars and on foot. It’s shoulder-to-shoulder here, everyday, all day, all summer long.

Yes, mi amigo.moe.litos, once upon a time, your humble correspondent would visit the jewel of New Hampshire beaches to kick up sand and participate in the communal micturition waist deep in the icy Atlantic. As a teenager, I didn’t understand why the shores of Hampton Beach were noted for its amber froth and the warmest current north of Cape Cod. Now I do, yet hope it’s a joke.

Though it was only a couple summers in my adolescence that I went there to seek out action, I learned a lot. Stuff like, French people come from Quebec, not France; and never walk on the sidewalk in your bare feet. It’s not for walking. It’s an ashtray for smoldering and burning cigarette butts. Not all policemen serve and protect. And a crowded summer resort and state park is an excellent place to build a nuclear power plant. Yupper, when the zombie apocalypse begins, you can bet it will begin there.

Nevertheless, the Casino Ballroom is a special place in the pantheon of American venues and the whole live performance culture. Since it opened in 1927, it has hosted the biggest names and bands in any genre of music, from Louis Armstrong to Led Zeppelin, from Duke Ellington to Janis Joplin right up to your favorite band, moe. I would highly recommend seeing a show there, at least once.

I know I’d like to, at least a full show. The first set was a blur. I didn’t tune in until Recreational Chemistry. It was sometime around the crescendo when the crowd went nuts. And then Ka-boom! Time is shifting. I surfaced sometime during YOY (always had an affinity for that song), and then the blur set in again. Next thing, I’m standing on the loading dock watching the last of the equipment going on the truck. It’s somewhere between 2 am and 3 am, and I’m f-bomb tired. I yawn. Relish an ice-cold Gnarly Barley—the world’s greatest ale. I yawn once more.

Suddenly, I’m watching the equipment pulled. I’m in Newport at the Yacht Club (pronounced “Yatched” by people in the know). It’s a few minutes after 9 am, and everyone is grumbling about the bizarrely, early load in (we’re not a bunch of f-bomb farmers, Homer!). Before we turn on each other, I drift off in search of coffee.  Something sexy, like an espresso. Even that early, though, Newport is busy. It’s an old British colonial seaport town known for its fabulously, stupid wealth (i.e., wealth gained by tapping into the vein of stupidity that runs through the American psyche). It’s Sunday morning and the crowd is pounding the pavement hard in the intellectually vacuous pursuit of nothingness. And they pay big bucks for it. They’re hitting every boutique and shoppe (pronounced “shop-PAY” by people in the know) up and down Newport’s quaint little retro-colonial cobbled streets. I begin to rethink my theory on the zombie apocalypse starting in Hampton Beach...

I shouldn’t be so damn cynical, I know.

My friend Fonebone told me I’m a jaded f-bomb.

I have no reply.

Strains of Bearsong are coming at me. I know what’s next. Another time shift.

Summer Tour, Day 1, On the Banks of the Mighty Genessee River

Posted: June 20th, 2013

The cave, as we know it, offers few creature comforts. Often damp, dark, and dank, it’s a close relation to ‘the hole.’ Arguably, though, a step up—one does not need to ‘dig’ a cave. And with a little luck, barring a grizzly or Neanderthal in residence, it will do in a pinch for shelter. In fact, with a little flooring and masonry, and just the right headroom, depth and width, the cave could be made quite comfortable—even habitable for a spell. Cozy enough to while away the time, rest up, say, after near drowning at Summer Camp, freezing in Toronto, and sweltering in ol’ Virginny.

Even though it’s only been a couple of weeks, it’s been a busy couple of weeks. Personally, from my cave in the Woods of Maine, I gawked at moose and deer, had several encounters with luna moths, listened to coyotes at night, and caught up on some writing (a new novel and a couple of short stories).

All of that is dust now. I awake. It’s time to hit the road. Put a tour-head face on and rejoin the pod of moe.rons that’ve been in withdrawal since the show in Danbury.

Tonight, in Rochester, NY, on the banks of the mighty Genesee River, the tour begins. moe. is on an ambitious, sprawling, full-bore, pedal-to-the-metal tour these next weeks. The band will perform at theaters, festivals and amphitheaters from the Great Lakes, the Atlantic Ocean, the Carolina Mountains, to the Chesepeake, the Rockies, and the High Sierras of Northern California. My favorite kind. I’m thinking this could be epic. But I also said that about dot.com futures back in 2001. For now, mi amigo.moe.litos, I must tootle, and go prepare for the show. Fair warning, you haven’t heard the last of me.

Adieu, brother John

Lasting Impressions

Posted: April 8th, 2013

The end of the last tour was a blur. Space and time were pulled out beneath me like a rug. Each time, that happens. In a blink the shows in Portland, Seattle, Ashland, Tahoe, Vegas, and LA are behind me. They’re all great shows. moe., as a unit, has taken their game to another higher level.

I try to remember things that place the whole experience in context. In Tahoe, on the north end of the lake, at Crystal Bay, right on the California-Nevada border, the caravan came to a halt. It, Lake Tahoe, is completely surrounded by mountains—big fuckers. The terrain is inclined and rugged, steep in places, covered with giant boulders, Ponderosa Pines, and patches of snow. Lake Cottages crowd the forest for the trees throughout the landscape, vying for a view of the lake, or mountains, or other trees and boulders. There, moe., et al,  hunkered down for 3 days; one off and two show days. Some of us, band and crew, went skiing. The rest of us lay low—sleep, drink, gamble—think about life and a deuce in the hole.

I was balls deep into reading, The Cell Biology of the Testis—Alien vs. the African Honey Badger: What If?, a friend of mine’s autobiography.

There’s nothing much else to do.

Crystal Bay is not a town but a place. Situated there are 4 casinos, 3 of them are run down and in dire need of renovation; a fire station, a few hotels, a log cabin that doubles as a high-end restaurant, and—thanks be to the heavens above—a newly opened craft beer dispensary. The place used to be an ice cream parlor, but it folded. Inside, the décor still looks like the ice cream parlor that was abandoned—a retro Andy Warhol meets Beaver Cleaver. Instead of a soda fountain and a soft serve behind the counter, on the wall, there’s about 50 beer taps. Suddenly, Crystal Bay got interesting.

But then it was over. Two great shows and we’re back on the bus attempting to get out in a snow storm high in the Sierras. It was 3 am and our bus driver had to put chains on the tires. It was snowing sideways. We had to make Las Vegas in 8 hours. It would take 10. The Hard Rock Café is right on the strip in the middle of it all. People walk the strip like narcotized herds of cattle, which many of them are: buzzed and bovine. moe. is to perform on the top floor of the Hard Rock, the third floor. Exhibits are displayed throughout the level. Myriad guitars signed by notable musicians are encased everywhere. There’s clothing, too. Stuff like, a coat Bruce Springsteen wore for ten minutes, or a suit Jimi Hendrix tried on, or ZZ Top’s formal wear. It’s not much steak, but the presentations sizzle. I’m setting up merch next to the Elvis room under a picture of Bo Diddley that’s framed with one of his square guitars. The level is closed to the public while we set up. It is cordoned off and there is signage up that says so. Yet people, buzzed and bovine, come off the elevator or escalator, ignore the signs and walk around the barrier to gawk. They wander from exhibit to exhibit in awe. It’s like they’re at the Smithsonian, viewing Charles Lindbergh’s plane, The Spirit of Saint Louis, contemplating how in the hell he could fly a thing, around the size of a one engine Cessna, across the country, let alone the Atlantic Ocean, and in doing so, usher in a revolution in aviation that would take man to the moon, Mars, and beyond. Except here, at the Hard Rock, they stare at some rock star’s pants, which are only strips of sequined, sparkly leggings attached to a padded ball pouch. Women gasp, but men suppress homo-erotic urges and equate the Spirit of Saint Louis to the amount of Budweiser they’re going to need to wash the thought of those pants and urges away. Is it me, Vegas, or is it really what’s become of the country? People are awed by bright lights, the pomp and pageantry of mediocrity, celebrate the lowest common denominator, and are hypnotized by the cult of celebrity. It is here where I have an epiphany: Wherever I go in this country the only thing I find we have in common as a nation is that English is still mother tongue, currency is still green, and shit still stinks. Vegas can do that to you.

If it doesn’t, then may I suggest a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard, the one in the City of Angels, and the street the Henry Fonda Theater’s located, and where moe. went to perform after Vegas. I suppose when the first Spanish settlers arrived and drove the natives out, and then squatted on the narrow plain between the hills and mountains and the Pacific, they must have thought they’d found heaven, or a piece of it. There are 18 million people looking for a piece of heaven on that narrow plain today. As I walk to the theater from the hotel there is much to see. Out on Hollywood Boulevard there are many dominatrix-dressed women walking about. Enough that I wonder if there’s a convention. They are happy, joking, and hooting, and are varying in size, shape, and color. One walks near me. Her ass cheeks fill a miniskirt-fishnet thingy and hang like plump ham hocks in a butcher’s window. It’s an impressive sight. Enough that the transvestite at the bus stop quits arguing into his-her cell phone to watch the plump dominatrix walk by him-her. By then, I notice a phalanx of motorcycle cops and small Public Works trucks begin to close down the boulevard. They’re driving around in tight circles like the clowns do on small bikes in a Shriner’s parade. They’re redirecting traffic and setting up roadblocks. We wonder what’s going on. One friend wonders if it’s the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade a week early. There’s so many cops, another wonders if Obama’s in town. Destitute street people are about, though, so it couldn’t be Obama, or they’d of been cleaned up. Near a Starbucks I passed, in the parking lot, one lay dead (nearly) drunk. He’s facedown under a dumpster in a drying pool of booze and urine. Out on the sidewalk, another guy, with big bushy hair and a wild scraggily beard, is laid out on his side, his back flat against a wall. Though his eyes are shut, his free arm is reaching out and up like he’s grasping for an invisible hand. If there’s anything I carry with me from this tour, it’s the amount of homeless people I’ve encountered throughout the country—everywhere. One bum, in Madison, Wisconsin, I can’t forget. A man—he could have been 45 or 75—I could not tell—passed by me, late morning. He had a faraway look in his eyes. His pace was quickened—by the cold? Man it was cold. It was the morning after a snow and was around 20 degrees. But I don’t know if he could feel it anymore. His coat was open. He may have mumbled. What I can’t forget, because it’s freeze-framed in my head, is the greenish-yellowish icicles hanging from his nostrils like stalactites … It really made me think ... Dammit ... It was cold in Madison …

… It’s cold everywhere. Even here in LA. That guy with his arm stretched out, in his own filth, reaching for what? Now that’s in my head, too. I try to convince myself that there are people who will always live outside of society, even if it’s in the middle of 18 million of them. …I’m distracted. My thoughts are interrupted… Hey, there is a parade, about 80-100 people, mostly women, are holding banners and signs and shouting out for women’s equality. Suddenly, a guy with a big, 5 foot high crucifix draped in colorful beads, runs out from nowhere to the very front of the marchers and parade bombs the procession for Christ. It’s like he’d laid in ambush, but the women don’t seem to notice or care. Neither do any of the cops. I imagine this is an average Saturday afternoon on Hollywood Boulevard for them. I don’t know what to make of it all. Between here and Vegas, I’m confused.  I sense no danger, and I’m not here to pass Judgment. I’d like to think, with these words, I’m leaving impressions.

Entry X: "If music be the food of love, play on..."

Posted: March 7th, 2013

I thought I knew everything. It’s a trait I inherited from my mother. You can ask her anything, and she’ll have an answer for you. Her real specialty though, is anticipating answers to questions you haven’t even formulated in your head, and then telling you what you should do to solve these problems you didn’t even know you had. It’s an amazing gift, I know.  One my father, God rest his soul, was confounded by each and every day for the last 60 years of his life.

Unfortunately for me, just as I started getting comfortable in my role as a know-it-all, the tour bus rolled into Ashland, Oregon. And, “therein lies the rub,” for I discovered something I did not know. Ashland has Shakespeare.  I know what you’re thinking. Go on; “rank me with the barbarous multitudes,” for I have fallen amongst them. Imagine, Horatio, in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, a great center for the Bard thrives. Imagine further, moe. rolling up to a grand Elizabethan theater, America’s first this side of the pond, in downtown Ashland. Then imagine the bus rolling right on by, continuing down the street, and coming to a full stop in front of the Ashland Amory. Excuse me, it’s the Historic Ashland Amory (not to be confused with the ahistoric armory across town).

Being in Oregon has its perks. There’s no sales tax here (Next time, I’ll plan a shopping spree). There are a lot of microbreweries here, too (Next time, I’ll plan a bender). I’ll do my shopping and drinking in the minutes I have between setting up merch and doors opening for the show. Actually, I have more than minutes between set up and doors. I just don’t let anyone know, especially Skip, our tour manager, who, otherwise, will find a make-work project for me to do. I’m convinced, in another life, Skip was a Bürgermeister of a Bavarian hamlet. In my mind’s eye, I see him going about the burg, a commanding presence, in lederhosen and a feathered, Tyrolean Alpine hat, instructing Frau Blücher in the minutia of potato dumpling preparation.

I joke, for the record. The other day in Seattle, Skip covered for me so I could meet a good friend at the Starbucks by the theater, and then grab a bite to eat. What I spaced on was that there are 5 Starbucks near the theater, including the original one on Pike Place across from the fish market. Saying, “Meet me at Starbucks,” in Seattle is like Mr. Jones telling you to, “Look me up in the phone book,” and expecting to find the right one—unless you have a Jones for Starbucks. I took the path well traveled and met my friend in a parking lot.

The show that night in Seattle was a dandy. Orgone (rhymes with “bone”) kicked ass the opening set. I was happy to see northwest moe.rons show up and support them. They’re a great band and are a great complement to the tour. moe.rons got what they came for, however. moe. brought the thunder for the next two sets, right from the get-go, busting out with, “Captain America” and keeping it going right through “Downward Facing Dog” and the final bars of “Plane Crash.”

Meanwhile, back at the Historic Ashland Armory the doors opened. I guess because it’s Oregon, I’m thinking I’ll see a few Ken Kesey-Merry-Prankster-types amongst the crowd. I’m not disappointed. A veritable Madhatters club makes a gradual procession into the Armory—there are people in stovetops, an English coachman, bowlers, a homburg, myriad fedoras, and, God bless him, one Tyrolean Alpine (if he had asked me to yodel during “Yodelittle,” I think I would have). A few of the younger, spawn of Merry Pranksters are hula-hoopers, who chose to hoop their hulas right in front of me. These young, athletic, gyrating women block my view of the stage. Professional that I am, I make do with just … listening.

The show’s progressing at a good clip. Moe.’s blown through a few of my favorites, like “Mexico” and “Timmy Tucker.” Just when I think I’ve heard and seen it all for one show, early in the second set a 40-or-50-something dude comes up to merch table. He has a homemade5-foot wooden staff. It’s crooked and chipped, and I’m pretty sure he’s carved it with his teeth. Did I mention he’s wearing oversized earmuffs, too? He says something to me, but I can’t hear him. He’s a half foot shorter and mumbling. I bend and shout, “I can’t hear you over the music.” He then says, throwing his thumb over his shoulder towards the stage, “This may seem like a really stupid question, but what’s the name of this band?” I quickly wrote down a phone number on a slip of paper and handed it to him. “Call this woman,” I said. “She’ll have the answer—she knows everything.”

IX Entry, Outtakes from an Outta-Towner, Downtown, in Portland

Posted: March 5th, 2013

Opening night, Left Coast run, Portland, Oregon: moe.rons are filing into the historic Crystal Ballroom atop Cotillion Hall, where Portlandians have ‘Danced in the Clouds,’ off and on, for nearly a century. The Ballroom is a magical place—with its elaborate, ornate chandeliers above, and mysteriously symbolic murals upon the walls. But it is its dance floor that makes the Crystal Ballroom most unique, perhaps, in all of the country.  True. Look it up. The ballroom floor is believed to be a near one-of-a-kind. It has a give to it, a sensation of floating when you walk on or dance across it (it really does), as though one were “… dancing in the clouds.” It was founded by local dance aficionado and businessman, Montrose Ringler, in 1914, with the credo, “To dance, to move with ease and grace, Lends charm, to figure, form, and face.” Ironically, Ringler would lose the building in the early 1920s, when dance, art, and jazz were associated with subversion, communism, and liquor—and considered detrimental to ones charm, figure, form, and face. Nevertheless, somehow, the building survived, which is a good thing, because it is an architectural gem; and was added to the National Historic Register in 1979. Today, the first floor is a microbrew and restaurant owned by McMenamins, one of the finest craft breweries in the northwest. Actually, the brewery is on the second floor, where there’s a mystical beer chute delivering the elixir of life down the gullets of happy patrons below (or so I envision). You’ll find the Crystal Ballroom up on the third floor. That’s where moe.’s played annually these past few years.

The Ballroom is one of many reasons to like the city. For I do. I like Portland, at least the Portland I know, which is downtown Portland. It’s a unique place. It has character—the kind I like. People, no matter what their ilk, for the most part—even complete strangers—are openly friendly and civil. Nobody’s on the defensive. Simply put, in post-industrial America, it is unexpected urban behavior (I suppose there’s an argument here that it’s unexpected behavior anywhere, these days). Comparatively, it’s not to say that people in New York, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Atlanta are not nice, it’s that most people in those places are not openly nice. It’s locked up and protected for the sake of survival. You have to pry it out of them, and once you do, you have a friend for life.

What makes Portland different? I have no idea. Walk a few blocks. Expressionism, the personal kind, is in fine form here. There are a lot of small businesses and shop fronts, the independent type, which speaks to a thriving entrepreneurial spirit. There’s Voodoo Doughnuts, and its distinct rose-colored packaging with the catchphrase —Good Things Come in Pink Boxes (no argument here); or Powell’s Books, every bibliophile’s wet dream (again, present and accounted for). Walk on and turn a corner, and there’s an amalgamation of hippies, the homeless, the hapless, and hipsters, both retro and moderne—populating the streets and parks and bars and stores. It’s that, or every state in the Union has emptied their wards onto the streets of downtown. I find it part of the city’s charm. I don’t sense danger (though I suppose there are dangerous places). The esoteric is alive and well. Different is entertaining, non-threatening, and, more than tolerated—it’s embraced.

My thoughts of downtown Portland are reinforced during the concert. People come to the merch table and say stuff to me like, “I can’t believe how friendly people are here?” or “it’s a wacky place.” I’m not affronted and neither are they and neither should you. Candor, after all, is what I’m blathering about. The one line that stands out comes from a Portlandian, when she said something along the lines, “I’m from Portland, but downtown—there’s no other place like it—it’s a lot of fun and flat out kooky.”

Maybe Montrose Ringler knew that all along. Such are the possibilities. Such are my observations: if you can’t find your head in downtown Portland, then you’re not going to find it anywhere.

I’m presently on a bus to Seattle … and the search continues.

Entry the VIII, Winter Tour, Deuxième Partie

Posted: February 28th, 2013

It’s after 4 in the morning and I’m wide awake. I gotta leave for the airport in another 2 hours, but I can’t sleep. I have a million things on my mind and no one to talk to about it. I feel like my buddy Jack whose therapist suffers from narcolepsy. He tells me he’s been seeing her for years without much progress. I asked him why he continues to go, and he said it took him awhile to find someone he trusts unloading all his baggage on. To me it sounds more like handing your baggage to a one-armed bellhop with the crabs. I’d be checking out of my room before the luggage arrived. I kind of envy her now, though, Jack’s therapist. I could use some sleep. Maybe I should just call Jack? and hear him out?

Nah, I can’t do that to Jack.

I’ll sleep on the flight to Oregon. It’s gonna take a while from where I’m at. The compass is pointing west by northwest, and I’ll be jumping three time zones. moe. and crew will rendezvous there, in Portland. We begin the ten day crawl along the western seaboard, visiting familiar places and faces, and seeing all our left coast friends.

I have to admit, even though I’m yawning as I write this, this trip’s going to be special. I’d advise all you moe.rons venturing out for any of the upcoming shows to arrive early, because you’re in for a treat. Orgone (rhymes with “bone”), a down and dirty, R&B band out of LA, will be opening for moe. during Winter Tour, deuxième partie. That’s French for ’second part,’ Homer, in case you’re wondering. I don’t speak French, in case you’re wondering about that, too; or like, maybe, if your thinking I’m trying to impress you, I’m not (I can order a beer in Czech politely, though, in case you’re thinking we might ever be in Prague together, and thirsty).

Truth be told, I just like the sound of the French language—probably as much as you’re gonna like the sound of Orgone. I first heard them when they played at moe.down, 3 moe.downs back, and they rocked the proverbial house down.

And then, before your toes stop tapping and your hips stop swaying, it’ll be moe.time—two full sets of your favorite band. Yupper, this trip is gonna be fun …

Ah, well, so much to think about, so little time … so little sleep … to heck with sleep. I gotta go. It’s time to fly. No, really, it is.