February 2017 Newsletter
Wednesday, February 01, 2017
So many of my musical heroes were one man bands--just a guy and his guitar against the world--and twenty years ago how I longed to join their ranks. I felt the life of a solo singer/songwriter would be a natural fit. I'd never enjoyed team endeavors, instead favoring one-on-one sports like tennis. I like people but after awhile they deplete me, and I relish time alone to recharge. My favorite thing to do in college was to play songs in the back stairwell of college dorm, lights out, alone in the cavernous dark.
From my earliest days, I have been fortunate enough to work with semi-regular bands, from the crack rhythm section of Jim Lamond (bass) and Lorne Entress (drums) on my early records, to my gigs with The Spurs, a western swing outfit from Boston. Gigs with a band, while often transcendent and intoxicating, were also more complicated. It was harder to hear my vocals in the mix, and constantly attending to the offstage needs, preferences, and travel logistics of other musicians, even reasonable professionals, left me fatigued. But hey, at least traveling with a band was exponentially more expensive too!
So my career has been marked by that push and pull of ensemble versus solo performance, trying to balance what's best for the music with what's best for my spirit and what I can reasonably afford. These days, the sea change in the modern music business means that while I am sometimes lucky enough to bring a sideman or two along, most often I am traveling alone. I have reached the point where I don't feel I'm cheating the audience in any way--I am good at what I do, and for all that I've devoted to my craft, I ought to be. Fans often relish the stripped-down approach, where the songs can really shine in an elemental way (and if they don't work that way, they're not good songs).
But the solo life is no cakewalk. I am often grateful I am not inflicting any of the lows (e.g. an exhausting travel day, a small audience, etc) on my musical friends. But that means there's also no one to share the many highs with either. The warm crowds, sublime performances, great meals, the natural beauty of this country--I often have no witness to any of these memorable experiences. Leaving behind my wife and boys, and missing things like get togethers with friends and family and weekend sports games, doesn't make it any easier.
Despite all the above, I have no regrets. It's not the career that I imagined 18 years ago, but now I can't imagine any other way I'd rather be doing it. My work as a sideman with folks like Lori McKenna, Josh Ritter, Paula Cole and so many more has taken me to some amazing places, with friends along to share the ride. And my bluegrass band, Barnstar!, has truly been a godsend. Five guys, all equals, sharing singing and picking duties, shoulder-to-shoulder around a single mic. It's as close to a band of brothers as I'll ever get, and though we don't play very often, I am beyond grateful for those times when our schedules align.
This month, I'll take a break from solo traveling and hit the road for a short run with the Barnstar! boys. Somehow we all fit in my minivan, and there are plenty of opportunities for humor, camaraderie, and the ragged-but-right blend we make when we lift our voices in song. I will come away from these gigs invigorated, ready for whatever comes next, even if I have to go it alone. I truly never know when we'll next get the band together, so come on out and catch us while you can, and see what it's like when a solo singer/songwriter doesn't have to feel so alone in the spotlight.
POLITICS: Like many of you, I have strong political opinions, many of which are plainly evident. I'll write of whatever I want in my newsletter or on social media, where you may unsubscribe at will. But it has long been my informal policy and sincere desire to avoid between-song political diatribes from the stage. This is not out of fear that I'll be "Dixie Chick-ed"--no one can take away the millions of record sales, huge audiences and ubiquitous radio airplay that working-class folksingers never get. I sing about things that mean a lot to me, and my songs often touch on issues in recent headlines. But I will not preach or lecture, and hope I never make anyone feel less welcome at my show because they may hold different beliefs. We need to come together, and I intend to play a small part in that. Lastly, I guarantee I will not utter our new president by name from the stage, ever. He feeds on attention and I'll be damned if he's going to get any from me.
MP3 of the MONTH: Derek & the Dominoes' "Keep On Growing" is a rollicking ode to finding the strength to let others into your life, and to the realization that sometimes you're not stronger on your own. Give the essay above, it seems like the perfect track to highlight this month. You can DOWNLOAD my cover of the song for free for the month of February. It's a short month and it'll go away come March, so check it out and tell your all your friends too.
BARNSTAR! Northeast Tour!
Wed Feb 1 - Daryl's House, Pawling NY - 7 pm
Thu Feb 2 - Parlor Room, Northampton MA - 7 pm (SOLD OUT!)
Fri Feb 3 - ONCE Lounge & Ballroom, Somerville MA - 9 pm
Sat Feb 4 - Barre Opera House, Barre VT - 7:30 pm
Oh boy, will we never learn our lesson about touring New England in the dead of winter? Nevermind, these shows are gonna rock, and you can expect a brand new song or five, as we shed some new material. We begin at Daryl Hall's venue in Pawling NY, a new one for us, so come on out or tell your friends to so we can make a good first impression. Do we need to play a bluegrass version of "Maneater?" Hmmmm. From there it's on to Northampton for a SOLD OUT show at the Parlor Room. We usually do 2 shows here but we're going easy on ourselves this time around. Then it's back to Boston for our first hometown gig in quite some time. We've sort of outgrown our beloved Club Passim, so we're trying something different this time around. ONCE is a really cool place, and you can grab a bite to eat before the show at the Highland Kitchen, an excellent joint just a few doors down. The incomparable and lovely Lula Wiles will open the show, so get there on time. Lastly, we head north to hinterlands of Vermont and the Barre Opera House. They know we're not an opera act, right? We would've booked a Sunday show but we don't really pay attention to the football schedule and didn't realize we'd be up against the Super Bowl. So these are your only chances to see us for the forseeable future. Road trip!
Northeast tour accompanying ROSE COUSINS!
Feb 22 - Rockwood Music Hall, New York NY
Feb 23 - The Press Room, Portsmouth NH
Feb 24-25 - Club Passim, Cambridge MA
Feb 26 - Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton MA
ON THE HORIZON:
Mar 10 - Lamp Club Light Shop, Burlinton VT
Mar 11 - The Listening Room Music Series @ New England College, Concord NH
Mar 30 - Rockwood Music Hall, New York NY
Mar 31 - Burlap & Bean, Newtown Sq PA
Apr 1 - The Sounding Board, West Hartford CT
Apr 3-8 - supporting Rose Cousins in Canada