Calaveras 2011 Update

After an intense two weeks of nonstop blogging last year while touring the Southwest, this blogger hung up his mouse and went quiet.  The first reason was my incompetence with computers and things internet--I'm not even sure the blog was published, as it didn't always show up when I logged on the site. The second is that I had some weird health issues surrounding the paralysis of the left side of my face last November which is still pretty pronounced (standard joke--if you ever need a crooked lawyer, I'm your man). The third is, well, the combined effect of laziness, fear and procrastination--the same trifecta of human weaknesses that have kept me off the Supreme Court, out of Grammy contention, and often staring at others succeed from the relative safety and comfort of my couch.

But every now and then (so far, about once a year) the urge to reach out to the blog-o-verse (text-o-sphere? chat-o-rama?) with an effort at some intelligible musings overcomes me.  And by golly, the band deserves some recognition this year, so here goes.

We've had a revelation that may change Calaveras forever--there are some great musicians out there who like playing our music if the money's good.  The three of us have struggled for about ten years passing around instruments like hot potatoes--mandolin, percussion, guitars in different tunings--but most especially the electric bass.  Nobody really does it enough to be a pro, and as singers, the linearity and rhythmic importance of bass playing turns every song into an exercise in multitasking, making vocals more locked down and less expressive.  So, we have been working with Sam Bevan, a wildly gifted musician who played bass on our last album, to add a thoroughly professional bottom to our sound, loosen the shackles on the birds in our throats, and allow me to indulge in mixed metaphors.

Then I ran into Mark Holzinger about a year ago playing at a festival backing up a hammer dulcimer player.  While I find hammer dulcimer just a little less monotonous than the drip from a leaky fawcet, Mark played beautiful, tasteful acoustic guitar accompaniment which brought the performance to life. Then he stepped up on stage an hour later, plugged in and played blistering, screaming lead guitar for a rock band.  So I got his card, we had a couple of rehearsals and voila! A five piece band with a lot more energy and less multi-instrumental stress, holding out for good pay and having a lot more fun.  Honestly, our performances at Milton and Audrey's house concert in Berkeley and Mission Coffee in Santa Clara this summer are among the most enjoyable we've had in memory. 

Oh, and I'm now the chairman of the board of the Acoustic Vortex in Marin (Bruce Victor's non-profit house concert and music community building platform), Vickie and I are the anchor musicians for the first service at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley nearly every Sunday, and we are starting to book actively again after my face settled back in a bit so as not to scare children too much. 

And to top it all off, I'm back to blogging.




No place like home

All that's left is driving--18 hours of it from Las Cruces to the Bay Area, punctuated only by a stop-over near the desert at a nearly deserted Indian Wells resort.  This time of year, it practically gives its rooms away and still can't fill them.  For people that like to stay in their air conditioned rooms all day and look out the windows at palm trees and lush golf courses at the foot of mountains shimmering mirage-like in 110-degree heat, this is a great place for a vacation.  It's also attractive to those whose feet do not burn when walking over 120-degree pavement to the pool, and those whose gift chocolates and candles do not melt when left in 150-degree cars for an hour or two.  For us, it was a bit hot.

Home is appreciated more than ever when you've been away from it for a long time.  Cameron begged us to get up at 5 am to get home as early as possible, and nobody objected.  When we finally pulled up around 2 pm, the dogs were ecstatic.  Only a dog long-separated from its family can demonstrate so well what "beside oneself" means.  Completely unable to contain their joy, they would jump randomly from one of us to the next, simultaneously wagging, licking, barking and rolling over for a scratch of a long-neglected tummy.

Within ten minutes, Cameron was in his swim trunks and headed for the community pool, a ritual of the first day of summer that he was forced to defer for two long weeks--an eternity for an 11-year-old  boy.  Olivia was sitting at the piano and singing her latest song (beautifully, if you ask her dad). After unpacking, Vickie and I were regaling friends by the pool with tales of the trip.  All seemed back to normal with an hour.  And at the end of day, the best homecoming of all--a deeply restful sleep in our own beds.



Las Cruces

Finally, a day with just a short drive--about an hour from T or C to Las Cruces and the house of Lee and Cindy Herman--the hosts of our final concert.  We met Lee at the FARWest Folk Alliance conference last November, where he was screening acts for booking at his Las Alturas House Concert Series.  He invited us to perform, setting into motion this whole grandiose plan. Lee and Cindy were waiting for us when we arrived, and welcomed us graciously.  Their house was a cool fortress against the 100 degree weather--thick adobe bricks, tall pitched ceilings, double window blinds, surrounded by trees and sunk three feet into the soil.  They, by contrast, were warm.  Within minutes, they'd set our kids up with soft drinks, internet and TV, and ordered boxes of pizza.  Lee set up the stage and PA and tweeked the sound expertly.  As the guests arrived, we knew we were going to have a good evening--everyone brought some food or wine and the mood was decidedly festive even before we started.

We reconfirmed one of the truisms of performing--the more you do it, the better you get.  This was our best show of the trip--tight harmonies, instrumentals clean and precise but energetic, and everything flowing seemingly effortlessly.  It's satisfying to know we can pull that off when, like the big acts, we play night after night.   Tomorrow, it's back to reality and playing once or twice a month.





Carlsbad to Truth or Consequences

Friday morning, we came back to the National Park for the cave tour.  Because we needed to be across the state by mid-afternoon, we got there just as it opened and were the first people down the 75-story elevator to the caverns.

The place is amazing.  A paved path with handrails takes you meandering through the caverns for about an hour and a half.  The whole spectacle is gently lit by artfully concealed bulbs, leaving some areas dark and others warmly glowing in their natural colors.  We stopped at one point and tried to be completely still--only the sound of our light breathing accompanying the view of the massive mineral columns and otherworldly shapes emerging from the darkness. 

From Carlsbad, we headed down the highway to El Paso.  It was the most desolate stretch of road any of us could remember--about a hundred miles without more than a half dozen buildings (none of which were gas stations or restrooms) and even fewer intersecting roads, and a parched expanse of scrub brush that only a gila monster could love. We then skirted the Mexican border and headed north along the Rio Grande to Truth or Consequences--a town that deliberately renamed itself after a radio show as a publicity stunt.

Nowadays, T or C (as the locals call it) is a tired-looking place with the vitality of its main street largely drained by a massive Walmart that looks imperiously down on the boarded up grocery and dry-goods stores from its mesa-top perch at the edge of town. On the other edge of town and at the bank of the Rio Grande, we came upon our destination, Riverbend Hot Springs resort, where we were to play an outdoor evening concert for tips and a free room.  The place used to be a youth hostel, and each room consists of half of a mobile home.  There were no cars in the lot, and no discernible activity within.  Our first reaction approached despair--we couldn't imagine the place would attract a crowd.  But as we looked around, we quickly got the sense that somebody was pouring energy and love into the facility--the common structures were meticulously maintained, the grounds were well-tended, the trailers were dressed up with rustic porches and seating, cheerfully decorated, well insulated and air conditioned, and the owners were friendly and helpful.  Topping it off were a series of hot spring baths fed by a single natural spring, with crystal clear (and odorless!) water becoming progressively cooler as it spilled over from one tub to the next and then down to the forceful current of the Rio Grande ten feet below.

We were to perform under an open lath structure next to the tubs.  As showtime approached, however, so did an ominously spreading patch of thunderheads, rumbling in the distance.   Just as we pulled our instruments out of their cases, the clouds let loose, and we scrambled to cover everything up.  But within ten minutes, the maintenance guy showed up with a huge tarp to put over the band, and the owners jumped up to help tie it down.  Naturally, as soon as it was secure th rain stopped, and nature didn't bother us again except to provide a few flashes of light and bursts of percussion as we started our first set.

And as the rain let up, low and behold, the 30 or so seats filled with warm and appreciative locals and guests who seemed to genuinely enjoy the show--we filled up a hat with tips, sold more CDs than at any other show on the trip and were asked to autograph about half of them.  We even attracted some local wild life--a cockroach about four inches long came running first at Dave's feet and then at mine while we played.   I stomped near it to chase it away, but the locals quickly protested that I should not harm or even frighten one of their local "waterbugs." (It's true that we only saw one, right next to the water.)

Afterwards, we hopped in the hot tubs for a soak and a visit with some of the guests who heard the show.  We finally retired around 11, and slept like babies.

Santa Fe to Carlsbad

Today we picked up Dave at the Albuquerque airport and headed for Carlsbad by way of Roswell.  Mostly at the insistence of our TV-saturated daughter Olivia, who has seen more than her share of pseudo-scientific shows about UFOs, ESP, Area 51 and other unexplained what-not including the alleged conspiracy that has hidden from public view the truth about a 1947 UFO sighting in Roswell, we aimed our GPS at the Southwest corner of New Mexico.  They call New Mexico the Land of Enchantment, and if you are enchanted by 90-mile stretches of unrelenting heat without a trickle of water or a sign of life other than drought-resistant shrubs, then this part of New Mexico is ready to enchant you.

We pulled into Roswell a little leery, as we had been warned it was a bit of a bust.  But we were pleasantly surprised by the kitchiness of the place--a big round smiling alien head painted on the side of the WalMart, a green Martian proclaiming "we do taxes" on an accounting office window, and fake flying saucers protruding from (or flying into) building facades.  The museum felt like it was put together by a coalition of conspiracy theorists and grade-school librarians using typewriters--wall after wall of courier text on yellowing placards, positing government cover-ups as the reason the only tangible evidence is pictures of what look like tin foil and some sticks.

From Roswell we moved on to  Carlsbad, to visit the famous caverns.  My mother went there as a little girl who had lived all her life in Oklahoma, and she repeatedly recalled it as the most wondrous place she had ever been.  Given that the highest ranking alternatives in her experience were oil wells and dust devils, I was again cautious as we approached.  But before we could get to the caverns, we attempted to check in to our hotel, only to be confronted with a not very sympathetic desk clerk who insisted that they had no record of our reservation.

We pulled out our printed confirmation, but he simply replied that they had no record of it, and no more rooms.  We had booked through and paid a small booking fee to the National Park Service, so we called them and asked that they intervene.  Instead, wer got a sincere-sounding apology from an accented woman apparently in India or Pakistan (our Federal tax dollars at work) who said that the NPS would happily refund our booking fee, and wished us luck in finding another hotel with a vacancy.  So after a few choice words for the government as booking agent, down the road we went until we found a $55 per night fleabag with two available rooms.  Amenities included exposed wiring in the ceiling, holes in the shower enclosure, an air conditioner that drowned out the TV, bare florescent overhead lights and a pool that had been filled with dirt and turned into a vegetable garden. 

We drove to Carlsbad Caverns that evening to avoid our hotel rooms and to see the summertime phenomenon of bats leaving the cave mouth on their nightly hunt for moths, mosquitos and other tasty bugs. On the way, I got a speeding ticket from a New Mexico sherriff (handy travel tip--they have radar that can measure your speed when they are driving toward you in an oncoming lane).  I apparently deserved it--he said I was going 77 in a 55 MPH zone.  I do not have long eyelashes to bat (and I don't think it would have helped my case to try with the ones I've got) so I played it as the respectful, law-abiding citizen just being inattentive and surprised to find I was over the limit, and now being contrite and showing early signs of reform ("thank you, officer, I'll certainly keep a closer eye on that speedometer, as you suggest").  That got me a slightly lighter fine for going 10 over, instead of 20, with no penalty for being a complete suck-up.

We finally got to the caverns shortly before dusk, and waited at the Bat Amphitheater (the only one I've ever heard of) with about 300 other bat fans,  for the stars of the show to show.

It felt a little like those Sea World venues where the dolphins do flips or the tropical birds ride mini-bicycles across tightropes.  There was a smiling lady ranger with a microphone explaining bat habits, answering bat questions and making dumb bat jokes. But then we were reminded that we were really in nature, not just seeing a for-profit distortion of it.  She shut off the mic and asked us to sit silently and wait.  For about 20 minutes we sat and watched the last of the darting swallows retire into their lairs in the cave, watched three mule deer slowly forage across a ridge above the cave entrance, and listended to crickets and a cactus wren call as the full moon rose through puffy desert clouds. This may have been my favorite natural-world moment of the trip.  Then, finally, a solitary bat flitted overhead.  Then three at a time.  Then ten, then 50, and soon there was a steady stream of thousands spewing into the darkening sky. Apparently 80,000 to 800,000 live in the caverns at any given time.  I calculated my speeding ticket at less than a penny per dozen bats, which made it seem a lot more reasonable.  



Santa Fe

Saturday, we got up at 5, rolled the kids out of bed and into sleeping bags in the van, and drove non-stop to Santa Fe for our afternoon concert at St. John's College. When we got there, my three best friends from law school were waiting for us, and with their help we set up in the plaza at the college.  The show went well, although the crowd was modest, the sun kept retuning the instruments and the altitude (7500 ft.) sucked the wind out of all the long notes.   

After the show, we had an authentic New Mexico dinner with my friends--the corn flour is blue, the bread is puffy little square pillows called sopapillas, and every dish is smothered in either red chile, green chile or half and half--referred to as "Christmas" by the locals.    

I spent Sunday through Tuesday with my 3 friends while Vickie and the kids wandered around Santa Fe.   We ate a lot of Mexican and New Mexican food, all of it involving chile (the Guadalupe Cafe, Pink Adobe, La Choza, Mariscos del Playa) watched a lot of guy movies (Zombieland, Kill Bill 1 & 2, Tombstone and, perhaps the most "guy" movie of all, BitchSlap), and spent hours talking--worrying about our kids, wondering about retirement, death and beyond, trying to figure out if our relationships with our wives were getting better or worse, and comparing physical ailments (my kidney stones took second place to Grant's near-destruction of his foot in a traffic accident).  Despite the sometimes depressing recognition of the entropy of aging, there were no mid-life crises that I could discern, just a bunch of guys who are starting to see clearly what their lives have shaped into.  And to my surprise, getting together with these old dear friends, watching a few movies our wives would never watch with us, and waxing nostalgic about the rigors and rewards of three years at Harvard Law School and now so many more years after it, somehow does a lot, all by itself, to counteract the effects of aging. 

Boulder, Colorado

We forced ourselves up at 6 to pack up the van and haul us to Boulder (@6 1/2 hours) to play at the Lounge at Wesley Chapel, a house concert series hosted by Roger Woolsey.  

Driving across Colorado, mostly on Interstate 70, is a pleasant drive punctuated by lofty snowcapped peaks, even in June, and the surging Colorado River racing the Westward traffic toward Utah.

When we got to Boulder, our GPS, which I'm beginning to consider a trickster,  tried to send us down a couple of blockaded streets at the university and left us in manual mode until  we stumbled on the chapel.  We  arrived, were greated warmly by Roger (and by the lounge, which lacked air conditioning), left our PA gear and headed for our hotel.  Once again our GPS was mischievous, depositing us in front of the Boulder Homeless Shelter--haha, travelling musicians, homeless shelter, very funny.  It was only a half block  from our hotel, so we assumed it was just an innocent glitch, but I'll be watching the GPS with a jaundiced eye from now on--these jokes can stop being funny if we end up in the wrong county for a gig.

Our host Roger was a very positive and friendly guy, and was apologetic that the lounge was a bit warm and that we would likely have a low turnout given  that the students were gone for the summer and there were several musical events in town this weekend.  We told him we did not expect a big reception  in our first visit, and didn't mind heat nearly as much as cold.  Nonetheless, he set up three or four fans to keep the hot air at bay, which made quite a bit of racket.  When showtime approached, and only a handful of people wandered in, Roger again apologized, but I assured him that we would report honestly on our blog that we were surrounded by noisy fans.



Telluride Bluegrass Festival

We spent Thursday at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival with thousands of partying people.  The amphitheater was packed and people had claimed their spots by sitting in line for hours, and in many cases overnight.  We lucked out again--Scott Dozier's gang of friends had staked out a space with a big blue tarp about 200 feet in front of center stage and invited us to join them.  We got there in time to hear Josh Ritter, the Dave Rawlings Machine (with Gillian Welch), the Del McCoury Band and Allison Krause and Union Station with Dan Timinsky (of "Man of Constant Sorrow" fame).  Our ikids had hooked up with a local gang of pre-teens, and spent the day answering Vickie's cell phone check-up calls telling her they didn't need more sunscreen, or their sweatshirts for when it got cold, or some heatlhy food, or water to stay hydrated.    We stood in line to say hi to Gillian Welch (Orphan Girl) and David Rawlings and get their autograph, and although I wanted to ask them why he now gets top billing and she doesn't, I resisted the temptation. 
We got back to the house around 11:00 with aching feet from walking, sore backs from standing, red faces and parched lips from the unfiltered 9,000-foot-elevation sun (despite our sunscreen), and an urgent need for sleep--it was a perfect festival day.


We woke up in Telluride and finally saw it--a classic western Victorian era town with cute little gingerbread houses and classic brick and stone commercial buildings lining the main street, set in a bowl of pine and aspen covered peaks. 

Today was about getting ready for our first concert—kicking off the Telluride Bluegrass Festival with a free evening concert at the outdoor plaza of the public library.  It’s a two hour show, but it turns out the preparation is monumental.  First of course is booking, which was remarkably easy this time because our host, Scott Dozier, is a good buddy of our engineer/producer, John Jacob, who put in a good word (or a few hundred, if he was true to form) for us several months ago.  Scott also happens to help run the beautiful town library, and cut right through the bureaucracy to sign us up.

Then there is the rehearsing, which we do once or twice a week when big concerts are looming.  Can’t really call that working, although we do spend a lot of time trying to ferret out what is wrong with a given harmony, or which instrument should be more prominent, or just running through difficult passages a few extra times.  Then there is promotion—usually something we do on our own..  We typically send out around a dozen 11 X 17 posters featuring a picture, a few quotes and the date and time of the event.  We never know what happens to them and generally assume quite a few of them end up decorating the inside of a trash can.  But this time, as we walked down the main street of Telluride, about every 100 feet one of us would do a double take at a store window or bulletin board—there we were, staring back at us.  At the library, there were posters everywhere, including sandwich boards outside and an electronic flat screen display.  This was all the hard work of Scott Dozier, our host, who is also managing our sound tonight and spent about three hours setting up the PA system, sound checking us, and skillfully extracting all the feedback out of the brick courtyard, which serves something like a shower enclosure, amplifying certain frequencies until they boom above the others. 

Not only that, but Scott jumped in to help Dave procure a guitar for the evening.  Dave could not bring his on the plane because he has a soft case for it and carries it in the pressurized cabin with him, but the plane flying into Durango was so small (a Dehaviland 8, if any touring musicians are reading this) they had no room for it, and turning it over to the luggage handlers and into the depressurized underbelly would create a good risk of being delivered a bag full of splinters at the end of the flight.  So Scott took Dave to the local music store, vouched for him personally, and talked the owner into parting with a very good Martin for the night.    

And last but by no means least, Scott coaxed our kids into coming down to the library for the afternoon so we could focus on the music.  They met a group of peers and joined them for the afternoon activity--a selection of Wii games and a giant projector screen--and spent several happy hours ignoring us, even refusing to come back to Scott’s house with us for dinner.  Never before has a planner managed (or even tried) to keep our kids happy while we prepared for a gig. 

Finally, the concert.  The weather cooperated, although gale force gusts earlier in the evening had knocked down a few trees, and had left a chill in the air.  But the library staff draped blankets across the chairs and brought out a portable gas fireplace to keep the audience warm, and we had added a layer or two under our work clothes.  Scott gave us a wonderful introduction and sat smiling broadly at the sound table.  Only a handful of people were assembled when we started, but the place filled up as the music rang down the street.  We  could hear our kids playing about a half a block away with the local teens they met today (they report that their friends pronounced our music "cool").   A mom and her five-year-old daughter danced to every song at side stage.  Across the street I noticed a couple of windows opening and heads leaning out to listen.  And a whole bunch of warm friendly faces looked up at us as we sang.  It is such an honor to have our music appreciated.


Mesa Verde

My mother-in-law is a lovely and fun-loving lady who makes it a point to give me each year for my birthday at least one item from the church thrift shop where she volunteers (along with something of genuine value).  Her past contributions to my garage shelves include the singing wall-plaque bass (“Don’t worry, be happy”) and a cookie jar shaped like a dog that barks when you take the lid off.  This year, she gave me a coaster that reads “I’m so far behind that I think I’m ahead.” 

Well today started behind, and I spent the day working on enjoying it anyway, as if I was ahead.  Vickie and Olivia slept in and could not be roused, so I sat on the deck admiring the mighty Colorado River a stone’s throw away, and playing guitar until Cameron showed up.  Then he cajoled me into hitting the pool and hot tub for an hour.  Check out time was approaching, so we walked the gravel road back to the room, and found that the ladies had risen.  We packed up and headed for the dining room for breakfast, a half hour after the dining room closed.

We drove into Moab and found a breakfast place still open—the Pancake Haus.  It was empty inside, except for our attentive waiter, Amit.  It struck me as a noteworthy emblem  of multiculturalism--a young man from India in the land of cowboys and Indians, at a place with vaguely Bavarian décor serving quintessentially American breakfasts.  Hooray for the USA!  He was highly capable and courteous, the breakfast was everything it should be, and off we went again.

We got to Mesa Verde at about 3:15, thinking we would dart inside the park, look at the spectacular Anasazi cliff dwelling, and zip back onto the highway to pick up Dave in Durango at 5:45.   Instead, we once again encountered a road crew spreading fresh asphalt as liberally as Washington is spreading stimulus dollars.  We decided that the most recession-proof industries must be hard hats and tar. Once at the gate and armed with the handouts, we realized that the visitor center was ten windy miles uphill from the gate, and that the place was a vast network of dwellings, ceremonial sites and museums spread over several more miles, the best of which required a pre-purchased ticket to a ranger-guided tour.  When we arrived at the visitor’s center at 4:00, I quickly got in the line for tour tickets.  I asked the ranger “What would be the one thing you’d recommend to avoid having my wife mad at me for missing the good stuff?” He said “Getting here a couple hours ago.”   Undaunted, we headed for the main museum (spectacular) the Spruce Tree House ruin (ditto) and the loop trail from which you can see twelve or so cliff dwellings (ditto twelve times).  

Then on to Durango, except that everyone else was leaving the park too, and the road crew was spraying down the road with a water truck that seemed to move more slowly than the geologic forces that formed these ancient gorges.  When we got to the main road, Dave had already landed in Durango, and we still had an hour to drive.  When we finally pulled up, he told us the café in the tiny airport had closed ten minutes before he tried to get some food, so we gave up another hour of our schedule and went into Durango for dinner.  Finally, a full two hours behind schedule, we drove up the mountain to Telluride in the dark, greeted only by the very occasional oncoming car and at least a dozen deer and elk standing in or near the highway.  Finally, with apologies to our genuinely warm and friendly host, Scott, we pulled up to his house at 11:00.  He surrendered the whole house to us and is spending the next couple of days at his girlfriend’s place, and has set up a concert for us at the library to open the huge Telluride Bluegrass Festival.  Somehow, despite being behind all day, we really did end up ahead.

Driving and Driving

Today I did one of my dumb things--trying to turn a long grinding day of driving into a positive  family experience.  I looked at the map--hmmm, backtracking for an hour would get us on the interstate and to our next stop in 5 1/2 hours, while continuing through Zion National Park would put us into the thin lines and small fonts on the map--little highways that go through tiny towns and skirt two national parks, for around 6 1/2 hours.  Seemed like no contest to me--nature's grandure, quiet byways and tons of local color were well worth  the extra drive time, and everyone would appreciate my thoughtful choice.  So, I rousted the troops at 7:30, we got on the road by 8:15, and then everyone else went back to sleep while I sat behind one fat RV after another as they lumbered along at 20 mph on twisting little roads with no passing signs and lots of stops for road construction.  This trip has made it clear that our Federal tax dollars are definitely at work--the parks are being refurbished everywhere you look and the roads are torn up every few miles with road crews (in standard-issue international orange cowboy hats!) filling potholes and smoothing rough grades.

At least that was the first two hours.  Then, the road cleared a bit, the Utah highway folks accommodated us with some nice, long passing lanes, and one by one, other eyes opened to the wonders of Utah's unearthly scenery--cruising through leafy aspen groves shading deer and wild turkeys at 9000 feet for half an hour, then plunging down to a dry arroyo at the foot of 2,000 foot red rock cliffs and watching long-tailed lizards skirt across the road.  There are places where  a sign for a "scenic outlook" means a public bathroom at the top of a hill--here it means a vista covering two or three states, several massive orange and red rifts in the earth and lofty snow covered mountains as a backdrop.

I even got a groggy "wow" from Olivia as she looked up from her DVD player and noted "looks just like a western movie," and then went back to watching her western movie.

At the end of the day, we swung through Arches National Park ("yep, spectacular . . . does  the hotel have a pool?" ) and found our home for tonight--the Red Cliffs Lodge at the edge of the Colorado River as it roars through--you guessed it--red cliffs.  We'd already used all the superlatives we could think of, so our bag was empty for this place, but it had a pool, hot tub, horses, towering cliffs and mesas, and we got an upgrade to a two bedroom suite because it was a slow Monday night. As we settled in, Cameron declared it the best hotel room we ever stayed in.  Enough said.




On to Utah

The kids are still awake and making noise and now Vickie is annoyed, just because I still have a light on and am clicking  away on the keyboard.  So this will be a short one. 

All went according to plan today--out of the hotel by ten and pulling up to Zion National Park at about 1 (actually 2 with a time zone  change).  A few hikes around the canyon, a pleasant dinner at the Zion Lodge, and everyone tucked in by 10:30  in anticipation of a big day of travel tomorrow.  Zion is spectacular--red rock walls shooting up from a lush green canyon floor--sort of like Yosemite with a sunburn.


Saturday--Las Vegas

I pledged to blog the whole trip, but already I"ve missed a day--the first day.  But it's 6 in the morning, I'm in Vegas, and most people who are wandering around me in the lobby look decidedly as if they have been up all night, so I don't consider it Sunday just yet.

Saturday afternoon Dave & I played a short set at the SF Free Folk Festival.  Surprisingly for San Francisco, which has a proud folk tradition and an eclectic and left-leaning populace that normally supports anarchistic gatherings and movements with gleeful abandon, this is a very modest and low-key affair, held at the Presidio Middle School out near the ocean on 30th Ave.  The true believers are there--people in tie dye and hemp, drawing their identity from the 60's, and now in 60's of their own.  There are the jammers, sitting around the alcoves and school benches in little clusters playing impromptu fiddle tunes or strumming and singing the oldies (and in folk music, oldies means something--we're talking Barbara Allen and Greensleeves) in classic communal out-of-tune folk style.  There are folk dancers, clogging and jingling and jiggling themselves happy.  These are the people who embody the folk ethos--oblivious to how they look or sound, and uninterested in displaying anything recognizable to the untrained eye as "talent," they worship at the alter of elemental harmony, primitive rhythm and simple communal connection.  And then there are the featured performers--more ego than ethos, perhaps, but still committed to giving their time and talent for a short while and holding forth with music that the mainstream has relegated to this little eddy.  They are mostly local, all acoustic and resolutely eclectic--singer songwriters, jug bands, cabaret singers, country cowboys, and players of everything from mandolins to saws to digeridoos.

Dave and I have only played without Vickie a couple of times in the past ten years, and are a bit lost without her beautiful voice and clear fiddle.  What's more, Dave's quiet lead picking is more or less nullified by the lack of a PA and the drone of other players in nearby rooms.  But this was a low key affair in a classroom with 20 or 30 folk faithful listening attentively, and went pretty well despite my gnawing insecurity about singing and playing without audible backup.  Another ledge I need to push myself over more often.

We connected with some lovely people--Richard Rice who runs this affair,  Bob Heilleson, Meghan McLaughlin and Laura Zucker and her talented daughter, then shot off to the airport for my flight to Vegas.

Vickie had hauled our children (both human and instrumental) to Vegas in the aging Sienna minivan on Friday (while I finished up at work), so they already had put in 24 hours and 5 or 10 miles of walking the endless casino lobbies, malls and vast spaces between, when I arrived Saturday evening.  We stayed at the Mirage--a surprisingly honest name for a casino. As I strolled past the 20,000 gallon saltwater fish tank and artificially misted, fully enclosed indoor rain forest (and bar of course) near check-in, I was expecting to see t-shirts proclaiming "The Mirage--It's faux real!"  I hiked on resolutely, navigating easily a hundred yards of hard-sell-- rows of slot machines and upscale shops--while being pounded relentlessly by energetic music presumably selected to maximize the urge to hemorrhage money.  I finally reached the elevator banks, conveniently placed in the very back of the casino.  Up the elevator I went, where the musical onslaught continued at a decibel level I've never encountered in any other elevator.  

Finally found the family intact and happy, and we headed for dinner and a show--our big splurge.  We had dinner at BB King's, which promised authentic southern cooking backed by southern blues.  The food and the blues were both tasty, but eating while listening to live blues in a darkened club had a few disadvantages--the menus were hard to see, much less read, and  the dinner conversation was reduced more or less to hand signals, mouthed words, and the occasional shout of something really important, like asking the waitress where the restrooms were, always expecting the music to stop just as the fateful words blasted out.   I gave serious consideration to actually calling Vickie from across the table with my cell phone.

Then the highlight of the day--the Cirque de Soleil show, Love.  It's all the spectacle the world has come to expect from Cirque--gorgeous dancers and acrobats performing superhuman feats, bizarre costumes and props, massive and complex mechanical marvels of stagecraft, all set to amazingly clear waves of Beatles music, snippets of Beatles recording studio chatter and ingenious presentations of iconic Beatles imagery.  Our daughter Olivia leapt to her feet for the nearly obligatory Cirque standing ovation, and proclaimed undying love for Love. 

Back in the room there was no time for contemplation--we just undressed and conked out.  But this morning at 6, as I walked the lobby in search of coffee and a quiet place to write, my eye fell on a t-shirt in the window of a rock and roll memorabilia shop, which put a fitting final commentary on an exhausting day crammed with music.  In elaborate gothic script it read  "Music:  The Art or Science of combining  vocal or instrumental sounds or both to produce Beauty or form Harmony and expression of Emotion."  Amen. 


Calaveras' Official Blog

Several friends have suggested that this is the perfect time to keep a blog--probably our last chance to travel together as a cohesive family, and maybe our only chance to play music in these far-away places--Telluride, Boulder, Santa Fe, Truth or Consequences and Las Cruces. So I am sitting at my home office computer for the last time for two weeks, and with great trepidation here's my pledge--if my laptop finds WiFi, and I find the time in between driving, doing shows, and seeking out the splendors of the American southwest, I'll be chronicling the journey day by day.  I hope for everyone's sake this will be a great trip.

RSS feed