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Check out the new feature article at Jambase.com "Diggin' Deep with Danny Barnes." Please give it a read and maybe leave a comment over on the Jambase site. Also check out myjambase, a clever notification service to help make sure you never miss a Barnes show in your area.

venue:
highline ballroom in manhattan june 20, 2008, 8:45 pm for one hour

schedule:

thursday june 19
leave home at 5 pm
catch 6:30 pm ferry to downtown seattle
9:00 pm fly sea-tac to jfk overnight

friday june 20th
6:00 am land
subway to friend's apartment in brooklyn
8:00 am sleep
12:00 pm wake up, shower, subway to load-in in manhattan
sound check
nap
eat
practice
8:45 pm play one hour set
11:00 pm show is over, subway back to brooklyn
sleep as long as possible

saturday june 21
7:30 am wake and subway to jfk
12:00 pm fly jfk to sea tac
3:00 pm land in seattle.
pick up jeep and drive to ferry boat downtown.
drive home, eat thai dinner my wife picked up for me, fall asleep after mariners choke in the ninth

equipment manifest:
bishline danny barnes model banjo in flight case
three packs of strings
a few tools, picks, capos
(1) 15' cord
(1) 4" patch cord
tuner
preamp
cds to sell (five different titles)
dress pants and shirt
creature from the black lagoon t shirt
insect skateboard t shirt
bishline banjo t shirt
tan plaid pants
keen sneakers
3 pairs of socks
extra underwear
black belt
red bandana hanky
a grey hoodie from my wife's business (doubles as pillow or sheet)
small hand towel
flannel sleeping sack (can be used as pillow, sheet or cover)
ipod
a very good book
pen and pencil
a sacred text
reading glasses
toiletries bag
cell phone and charger
(2) peanut butter sandwiches
a stack of papers (contract, boarding/flight info, subway map)
envelope for receipts
pack of gum, box of mints
earplugs

sum total of containers carried:
(2) a banjo flight case, and a small red wheelie backpack

this seems like a long list but it all fit into a banjo flight case and the backpack. traveling light. jet blue charges for second bag so i checked my banjo and took my backpack on board. leaving the computer home saves a good deal of weight and my personal banjo is lighter than a normal banjo.

the set up:
i was to fly out to nyc from my home in the northwest corner of washington and play at the highline ballroom on a co-bill with king wilkie in manhattan. my plan was to take the red eye out of seattle, sleep on the plane and land about six am the following day. subway/train over to my friend's apartment (they were on vacation) in brooklyn and sleep for about four hours, get up, shower and subway over to manhattan for a 2pm load in. (which is the earliest load in i've ever had for an evening show i do believe.) figuring i could sleep in the dressing room for another few hours prior to the show, which turned out correct. grab something good to eat, warm up, and figure out with king wilkie some tunes we could play together and all that. do the gig, crash, wake up and fly home.

total mileage:
2922.28 miles
(it's only 547.72 more miles to fly from new york to london)

total hours away from the house:
49 hours + or - 10 minutes

airline used:
jet blue

seat selected:
window seat, in an odd numbered row, on the right side of the plane, towards the back.
my usual. i like row 19 or 21.

best part of the flight:
being able to watch a baseball game in transit is very hip. they have little tv screens on there that you can watch, between that and my books and ipod, i'm pretty set. and my ability to sleep almost anywhere in almost any position as long as it's not too loud.

worst part of the flight:
outbound, easy going.
however on the return trip i met:
the Fidgeter. for six hours straight the lady next to me on the way back fidgeted constantly. every four seconds or so (i timed her) she would shift and adjust something else. this never let up. move the air vent, sit back, get something out of her bag, sit back, return item to bag, sit back, get a drink out of her water bottle, sit back, turn the light on, sit back, turn the light off, sit back, tap her foot and twiddle her thumbs, stop, get up and walk around, sit down, fish around in the seat pocket, sit back, you get the idea. she brought enough food for a flight to australia and nibbled constantly like a goldfish. it was very interesting/ironic to spend time on the subway and on the streets of brooklyn and manhattan and find everything far out and groovy and all that and be totally relaxed, and then on the way home be strapped in a seat next to the freakiest person on the whole trip for six hours in very close proximity. i have to cut her some slack she may have had some other challenges, some folks are very nervous on flights, maybe she had something else heavy going on. however, that said, she was the kind of person that dumped out a bag of cashews on her tray and then picked through them seemingly to eat them in a very particular order as though they were all somehow numbered. she ate from a bag of rice chips (she ate the whole time, almost six hours) and moved her arm against my arm for every bite, i stopped counting at 126 little movements. this kind of deal makes me nervous. and within ten minutes of catching her act i said to myself, "oh man she's going to fidget the whole way." oh to have incorrectly called that one.
if you grow up with older brothers, you learn not to hassle other folks in their space. or they will sit on your chest and drool a long dangle of spit in front of your face and tap endlessly on your sternum. so i'm culturally not prepared to deal with this. for instance i don't put my headrest back on a plane because it's a drag for the person behind me.

seatmates that will apply the drag to your flight:
-the Fidgeter
-the Talker gives off the call "so, where are you headed to today?" best get the headphones on with the quickness.
-the Parent that Explains the Universe in Great Detail to the Children as though they were Addressing Everyone on the Plane
-the Armrest Hog
-the Cell Phone Business Man running the empire from the middle seat
-the Control Freak Mom she constantly tells everyone in her life how to do every little move and can't resist adding you to the list
-the Sicko (mucus factory with no hanky)
-the Puker (when they reach for that sack, look out)
-anyone with loud voice
-the Complainer

my airport method:
i get there two hours early. relax, read and stroll around. that leaves you plenty of time to deal with things should they arise. have a cup of tea. this technique has saved me more than once in regard to a cancelled flight and being there in plenty of time to catch a different flight.

what i think of flying:
i don't mind it. most of the time, i get a lot of reading done, and it's a pleasant enough experience. it's a part of my job. if there weren't a certain degree of hassle involved in one's job, that would be Free Money in a Box and not a job. commuting and sitting behind a desk surely has it's own hassle factor also. (i've never done that so i can only guess) being out of work is a big hassle. i'll stick with the cards in my hand, thank you very much.

in flight food:
they don't serve anything on jet blue, truly a blessing. on the outbound leg, i had a peanut butter sandwich that i made myself from home and a can of cranberry juice. inbound, they have these little places in JFK airport called cibo. gourmet snacks and stuff, at gourmet prices yikes! anyway i bought a bowl of granola and soy milk and dove into that about halfway through the return flight. i thought about breaking it down into about seventy little moves for the benefit of mrs. kite, but thought better of it, no need to be hateful.

prevailing nyc thought:
being there is an odd mix of camping and urban life. it's very civilized but it's also like going off into the woods with the predators and the fleas and nuclear rats, and the odd decaying moose carcass over behind the rock. personally i think the city could use a good scrubbing, but i dig the place. (ever since i've been on a tour with a dude that caught scabies, i've been washing my hands like felix unger)

in comparison to the last nyc trip's prevailing thought which was:
it's a ruin of an ancient civilization

amount saved by taking subway and not renting a car or cabbing:
about 200 bucks and an ulcer

overall subway experience:
sure beats renting a car or taking a cab, van or tour bus.
though one has to pay attention and ask questions because it would be very easy to stroll onto the wrong train. sometimes the destination marked on the car is cryptic. everyone was very helpful to me however, i always asked and folks seemed eager to provide the proper data. very easy and cheap. the website is very good.

comparison of going in solo with no car vs. with a car/van/bus:
no contest, it's much easier just to wing it on your own sans vehicle and on one's own. "hey you wanna go over here?" ZING there you are. "hey let's go back over there." WHOOSH "hey we're back." and yes i talk to myself as though i were a separate person. with a band, it takes them a half hour to figure out they are leaving. not to leave but to figure out they are leaving, and to finish doing what they were doing when they heard the data, and for one to wander off, and one to go get them.
here's another rough formula. this might be why the corporate world could be nuts. if you travel and do say 120 solo shows in a calendar year, the odds are you will have perhaps two weird things happen. maybe you'll get sick once, and the airline will lose your luggage. two things like that. in a year. your banjo will break, and there's a flood and you have to stay an extra day or something. now if you add in a band of five guys say, and two crew guys and in 120 shows, each will have two things like that go wrong, all of a sudden you've jumped into 14 things you have to deal with in a calendar year. more than one disaster a month. as a solo, your odds are very good. it's like trying to shoot a butterfly. small moving target. i can only imagine if there's fifty people in an organization it's two disasters a week. "how is the team today saunders?" "well sir, sally in accounting accidentally swallowed an anvil yesterday, and franklin out on the loading dock was hit with a piece of skylab. today started off well until our marketing director Lufkin spontaneously combusted just after break."

backstage dressing room:
the highline is a very nice place, some of the nicest nyc folks i've met. very clean and nice dressing room where i crashed for two more hours midday after my sound check. i have played in various venues where the dressing room is very small, and then you have people that want to stand around in there for some reason, thus there is no space left for actual dressing. why is that? i should go over to their house and stand around in the bathroom. anyway, this place was very nice. there were three acts on the bill total and eventually it filled up back there but it wasn't too bad. there was a nice lady that kept coming in from the venue to make sure everyone had everything they needed.

unexpected backstage perk:
clothes steamer. my shirt looked good at the gig.

condition of backstage couch:
the light wasn't very good but it looked alright. i still made a little bed out of my hoodie so i wouldn't have to lay directly on it. (see scabies reference earlier in this screed)

was there a taper:
of course, most all of my shows are taped and available on the web. this one should show up fairly quickly on archive.

shared bill with:
king wilkie. i enjoyed them very much and they were very nice and it was a fun hang. we worked up some songs to play together and i enjoyed seeing my friend jonah their banjoist. it's cool to hang out with folks that are into music and putting out records and writing songs and learning an instrument. out where i live, there aren't really musicians dedicated to the lifestyle so much and there's no studios or venues, so when i get out amongst them so to speak it's a real relief. i don't feel so weird around other people that have made a lifetime commitment to working on music. regular people can never really get their heads around what i do, and it's best to steer conversation well away from my work.

show report:
i was eventually well rested and felt good and very warmed up. had my show prepared with some room left in there to take wide turns if need be. i performed sans electronics and just stood there and played my banjo and sang a bunch of songs. you can listen yourself, the show will be posted very shortly on archive. i have been doing an experiment of talking more in between songs to let folks know what the songs are about and all that, not sure if that's the way to go or not, but i'm always adjusting things. overall i felt like it was a healthy outing. the sound was good and i was warmed up. there were some of my friends there which makes it nice. the bill was a cool one with lots of different kinds of music and i felt at home in that regard. so i'd say it was a good show from my viewpoint. crowd was nice. mostly folks that didn't know my work, which is good for me. good to reach those folks.
i played the last song with the band that played first, did my set, and then played the last three songs plus encore with the band that played last (king wilkie) jammed in the dressing room so there was plenty o'picking.
i think my breaking ball was happening, the knuckleball was getting strikes, i gave up a couple of runs and had trouble keeping them on base, but we won the game.

funny yet painful gig moment:
during the sit-in with the band that played first, fronted by a nice lady that was a very good slide guitarist with FX. unfortunately for me, her amp was pointing towards my head. interesting that she had it turned away from herself. anyway, it was kind of an allen funt moment because at the station where i was to stand onstage, it was like standing in front of a nail gun. here i am with my banjo, which is the wrong tool for this particular job. i wanted some of those ear protectors like you see at the gun range. she hit this one high note, and held it and unrolled the volume pedal potentiometer and it went in my right ear like a frozen ice pick. i tried stepping out of the way and considered diving behind a drum kit that was right behind me as though i was evading sniper fire. anything to get out of the way of the blast. they were very nice and i liked their music, but that part hurt. if you get your bell rung right before showtime, sometimes it's hard to hear what you are doing during your set. like if there's a feedback blast or something that catches you off guard. fortunately there were no ill effects of this audio tazer.

culinary highlight:
this is for you mike bub, i found a good turkish place. awesome vegetarian food. manhattan rocks for chow.

culinary lowlight:
there wasn't one, i wasn't backed into a food corner even once. i was in the same terminal at JFK a week before with a very long layover coming back from richmond virginia and had the place scoped pretty well. and it's hard to go wrong in manhattan. yes it is possible but i have very good food radar.

difficulty in getting a proper cup of tea:
zero. my rider has earl grey on it and it was easy to get tea in the neighborhood. and at JFK.

notable odor:
it was a warm night, with a slight rain shower right before i split the venue, new york smells like the bottom of a dumpster at that moment. that's what i mean, it's such an odd contrast, on the walk back to the subway stop, there's all these very well dressed folk coming out of limos and stuff going into a fancy club with a velvet rope and door man in a tux and at that same moment there's a prevailing odor akin to the floor of a dumpster behind a seafood restaurant permeating the atmosphere. not like a hint, or a slight degree. but like you are inside the dumpster with your face on the floor and the doors are all shut. and someone is peeing into the dumpster. kind of like that. the smell-o-meter pegged out to 11. none of the beautiful people notice. the guy walking by with the banjo is on the lookout for a rotting corpse under a tree or something. or is thinking someone snuck an old catfish head into my bag.

what was on the ipod:
- ornette, the double quartet album.
-lots of gospel, i like the positive vibe, and there is so much new music coming out of this genre. gospel is one the most happening musics right now, there so much going on in that world. rashawn ross turned me onto israel and the new breed, in particular a cd called real. i love that record.
-i'm obsessed with this song called undertaker by jeff pinkus's band honky. love bobby rock's guitar playing. that's a good loud.

biggest change from when i left:
tourists on the ferryboat on the way home. they show up like someone opened the barn door and the cows were just standing around.

baseball moment:
listened to the braves beat the mariners in the ninth on the radio on the way home. overall though, i'm not really into inter-league play. i wish they would cut that out until the world series.
rangers hover at .500, catcher gerald laird on the DL. they don't have any starting pitchers. or middle relief. or closers. they make too many errors. other than that though, a couple of grand slams and they're back in the game.
mariners fire the GM and the manager, so from the boat i call my friend that's a scout for them and get the scoop. fascinating cat. i like the way he watches a game, it's not so much about the score but about potentials and abilities. he has a whole different way of looking at the game.

best selling cd at the merch table:
get myself together

one a scale of one to five, how much fun did i have:
five

same scale how good was the bidness aspect:
five
i really enjoyed hearing and meeting king wilkie. i have some good fans in the city and i really enjoy going there and playing. it's so easy to go as a solo. it's like moving in between the raindrops. plus when i get off on a trip like that, when things are going good, i can make lots of notes about other stuff that i want to work on. it's a good time to think. as a middle aged cat it also gives me economic and artistic confidence that i can get out there and do my thing under most any conditions. that makes you feel good. especially when the art part is producing results.

would i do the same trip again:
yessir

overall tiredness factor:
not too bad. i have learned the secret of the nap. as a man pushing fifty (and this is something i learned from watching robert earl keen work, that man can go to sleep twenty minutes before showtime, wake up and walk out there and do a good job) the nappage is essential.
there's some guys i have worked with, many of them older than me, that will hang out after shows and drink and spend lots of energy with their friends and all this type of stuff. myself, i get my buttocks out of there and go lay down. consequently, i'm not burned out. conservation of energy is of great value. many of these same folk complain about how hard all this is getting and how they look forward to stopping, i don't feel that way at all, i'm into the whole thing.
when i look in the mirror i am reminded of my age, but i feel like i'm about twenty and i live as though i have plenty of time left for all this stuff.
my best days are ahead of me. and i'm forging ahead with faith and a good attitude.

thanks for keeping up with my movements.

brnz

.On Friday the 13th, Barnes played a solo set -- sans electronics -- opening for The Waybacks at the Science Museum of Virginia. As luck has it, somebody posted the board tapes and you can hear both sets of music -- including Barnes and the Waybacks ripping through some Dead tunes -- here (Barnes solo) and here (Waybacks set). You are on your own w/ the torrents and transversions. ** Read a review of the show at Tim's Music Journal.

.

Yonder Mountain String Band releases Barnes' song Death Trip on Mountain Tracks Vol. 5. click here for CD info.

steve schwelling is a wonderful percussionist friend of mine living in austin. he went to a workshop with airto and was pretty pumped about the whole thing. here he discusses relevant points.

you can communicate with steve via: http://www.myspace.com/steveschwelling
what follows is an article from steve:

"Just love one another"
Airto

Music is a wisdom path. If you doubt this I encourage you to see Airto Moreira as soon as you can. Yesterday I was blessed to hear Airto in both workshop and concert setting. Both experiences were transforming for me. I have been listening to Airto for a good part of his career and long before I had one of my own. Back in the 70’s I listened to him on "Bitches Brew" and "Live Evil". I also devoured "Free" and "Fingers". When I was in college I traded an Eric Dolphy record for Light as a Feather. I went to see Airto and Flora at Paul's Mall-Jazz Workshop a number of times. I first met him then. I was eighteen and attending Berklee. As I often did in those days, I talked my way past the door for the sound check. Airto, the force of nature that he is, was characteristically kind, generous, and frightening all at once.

If I could describe Airto's drum set playing with one word I guess it would be "floating". Whenever I hear him I feel buoyant like I'm in a zero gravity environment. All of my adult life I have been trying to figure out how he achieves that feeling. I think I got a little closer to understanding it yesterday. First, Airto approaches all aspects of life, including music, as an expression of pure energy. His music emanates form a place of pure sound energy. I would add that one of the things he has contributed to the vocabulary and aesthetic of Jazz is the use of idiophone and mebranophone instruments (as well as his voice) as a means of expressing the ground state of pure sound (much as how John Coltrane used his horn in his later years). Second, Airto is also a master rhythmist and, deeply understands the power of African based rhythms as a source of universal power, truth, and beauty. So he also brought to North American Jazz an entirely new vocabulary of rhythms that had a deep history going back to the slave trade in Brazil. Airto introduced many musicians, including me, to Baio, Marcatu, Xaxado, and Samba. Moreover he introduced these rhythms in a purely Jazz context which encouraged experimentation resulting in numerous metric and harmonic innovations on these traditional forms. Third, Airto has a very personal approach to time and I think this is where the weightless feeling comes from. Last night I noticed how he manipulated the articulation of the quarter notes and eighth notes - often placing notes behind or in front of the bass and piano just enough to create the impression of floating time. The groove came in waves rather than as a straight linear progression. Last and most important, this is how Airto feels and experiences time. It is not conscious but rather an expression of his relationship with the wavelike quality of energy.

If you are a musician you will hopefully evolve to a point where your music informs as well as expresses the totality of your life. All of us will sooner or later have to face our mortality. If music is an expression of one's entire being and life experience than we should hope that the older wiser musicians among us can find a way to communicate and teach the important lessons of that life stage through their music. Yesterday’s workshop and performance by Airto was an object lesson on this point. Airto seemed more concerned with communing than with performing. Or maybe, more precisely, he doesn't distinguish between the two. Airto has been dealing with serious health problems. Despite what appeared to be some physical difficulty he gave of himself compassionately and generously. Rather than talk about the mechanics of percussion and rhythm he launched into a philosophical discussion of energy and sound. His performance more resembled a shamanic healing ceremony than a workshop or concert per se. But characteristically, he was concerned as much for the audience's healing as he was for his own. He understands that one can not be achieved without the other. He imparted his life wisdom to all of us who were ready to hear and accept his gifts. Thank you Airto.

.Danny Barnes was just picked up by Billions Agency. Danny is very proud to be in such great company. Mary Brabec is the RA.

The harmonica is ready to play. It requires no accessories or tuning to be at it's best right out of the box. (The box is important . Always put the harp back in the box after playing and it will be your friend.)

This is one of the harmonica's most pleasing features. Stuck in traffic; blow a little blues. Need some coin; throw down a hat and get to work. Standing around the old trash-can fire with your unemployed pals; 0-60 on "I'm Going Down That Road Feeling Bad" in 2 seconds flat. The harmonica is the instrument of "The People". The cruel irony is that the majority of "The People" can't stand the noise that comes out for more than a few seconds unless it's in the hands of a competent operator. This, combined with the common belief that anyone can play it right away (cue up" Oh Susanna") has created a nearly unbearable tension between the harmonica, its enthusiasts and the rest of humanity. I believe that this tension can be relieved and that the harmonica can take its rightful honored place in the post- apocalyptic world to come.
First the instrument itself. There are many types of harmonicas to be had from the tiny (the Little Lady, 4 holes, an inch long) to the Chromatic (2 harmonicas combined to get all the notes) enormous (the bass harmonica a foot and a half long, beloved by master blogger,E. Danny Barnes).I choose the Marine Band 10 hole diatonic that has been the mainstay of blues and country musicians since 1896. There are many makers and popular styles of the 10 hole diatonic. To get an earful about any aspect of the harmonica universe, subscribe to Harp-L on the web.
Buy your first harmonica in the key of A. The Key of A harmonica is pitched in a comfortable part of the harmonica spectrum that runs from (low) G to (high) F. It's nice for the player and the listener.
Once you have your harp put in your left hand with the words "Marine Band" facing up and pucker up and blow. You don't have to blow very hard. Breathe from your diaphragm. There is much information on technique to be found on the web and in books. More than you'll ever need.
Intelligent practice is the way to gain skill. A little practice each day is better than hours one day then days of neglect. The real question is "What am I trying to do?"
Unless you are a stone cold genius savant the answer will be found in listeningggggggggggg.
Much listening. Your own genius will be unleashed by hearing great music. The harmonica is an instrument of emotional expression. The world will love you for having at least a touch of melodic lyricism. All good music has it; even the most hard core psychodelic fantasy freakout, a favorite of harmonica devotees.
All music is fair game for a dedicated player, any instrument or style. Most would like to hear some good harp playing. Here are some of my faves:
Sonny Terry, Little Walter Jacobs, Big Walter Horton, Red Parham, De Ford Bailey, Jimmy Reed,
Toots Thielmanns, Howard Levy, Paul Butterfield, Grant Dermody, Dr. Humphrey Bate, Gwen Foster, Carlos Del Junco, Charley McCoy,Sonny Boy Williamson 1&2, Stevie Wonder, Gary Primich, William McCoy, Doc Watson, Woody Guthrie, Peg Leg Sam, Madcat Ruth, Tom Ball,Joe Filisko and on and on.
My list is weighted toward the country and non-amplified end of the harmonica landscape. Once you find these guys you'll find dozens more of all sorts.
One last bit. Here's a poem by Robert Service.

The Song of the Mouth Organ
(with apologies to the singer of the "Song of the Banjo")

I'm a homely little bit of tin and bone:
I'm beloved by the Legion of the Lost;
I haven't got a " vox humana" tone,
And a dime or two will satisfy my cost.
I don't attempt your high-falutin' flights:
I am more or less uncertain on the key:
But I tell you, boys, there's lots and lots of nights
When you've taken mighty comfort out of me.

I weigh an ounce or two and I'm so small
You can pack me in the pocket of your vest;
And when at night so wearily you crawl
Into your bunk and stretch your limbs to rest,
You take me out and play me soft and low,
The simple songs that trouble your heart strings:
The tunes you used to fancy long ago,
Before you made a rotten mess of things.

Then a dreamy look will come into your eyes,
And you break off in the middle of a note;
And then, with the dreariest of sighs,
You drop me in the pocket of your coat.
But somehow I've bucked you up a bit;
And, as you turn around and face the wall,
You don't feel so spineless and unfit--
You're not so bad a fellow after all.

Do you recollect the bitter Arctic night;
Your camp beside the canyon on the trail;
Your tent a tiny square of orange light;
The moon above consumptive- like and pale;
Your supper cooked, your little stove aglow;
You tired,but snug and happy as a child?
Then 'twas "Turkey in the Straw" till your lips were nearly raw,
And you hurled your bold defiance at the Wild.

Do you recollect the flashing, lashing pain;
The gulf of humid blackness overhead:
The lightning making rapiers in the rain;
The cattle-horns like candles of the dead
You sitting on your bronco there alone'
In your slicker,saddle-sore and sick with cold?
Do you think the silent herd did not hear "The Mocking Bird",
Or relish "Silver Threads among the Gold".

Do you recollect the wild Magellan coast;
The head-winds and the icy, roaring seas;
The nights you thought that everything was lost;
The days you toiled in water to your knees;
The frozen ratlines shrieking in the gale;
The hissing steeps and gulfs of livid foam:
When you cheered your messmates nine with "Ben Bolt" and "Clementine
And "Dixieland" and "Seeing Nelly Home"?

Let the jammy banjo voice the Younger Son,
Who waits for his remittance to arrive;
I represent the grimy, gritty one,
Who sweats his bones to keep himself alive;
Who's up against the real thing from his birth;
Whose heritage is hard and bitter toil;
I voice the weary, smeary ones of earth,
The helots of the sea and of the soil.

I'm the Steinway of strange mischief and mischance;
I'm the Stradivarius of blank defeat;
In the down-world when the devil leads the dance,
I am simply and symbolically meet;
I'm the irrepressive spirit of mankind;
I'm the small boy playing knuckle down with Death;
At the end of all things known where God's rubbish heap is thrown,
I shrill impudent triumph at a breath.

I'm a humble little bit of tin and horn;
I'm a byword, I'm a plaything, I'm a jest;
The virtuoso looks on me with scorn;
But there's time that I am better than the best;
Ask the stoker and the sailor of the sea;
Ask the mucker and the hewer of the pine;
Ask the herder of the plain, ask the gleaner of the grain---
There's a lowly, loving kingdom--- and it's mine.

Robert Service

'nuff said

Mark Graham

i'll start off with the usual qualifiers:
a. i could be wrong about the whole thing.
b. if you don't agree, that's fine. these are just ideas.

that said, perhaps it would be good for folks to hear some ideas on how to help things run more smoothly when hired to be an opening act.

it seems as though the same mistakes keep getting made and perhaps this treatise will be of some benefit in correcting this. these are suggestions.

first off, i distrust the whole hierarchy thing. i have been the opening act thousands of times in every imaginable situation and have also played with quite a few headliners in the last few decades and my feeling is that it's really all the same. so when i say "opener," i'm speaking to someone on my own level. there is no judgement there. or evaluation. maybe it should be the "act that goes on first" or something. at some point or another, everyone more or less opens for everyone else, no need to make a big deal out of the hierarchy. the bigger band has bigger problems, there is no call to feel like they really have it made and your deal is no good. you may not want to do what they are doing. you may not be willing to do what they had to do to get the audience they have. this is all fine. in any case you have your situation and they have theirs. wishing you could change places with someone will lead to unhappiness.

here are some ideas on how to help things run smoother.

if you are the opener or in the opening band, don't put your stuff on the stage when you get there unless directed to do so. walking into the venue, even if you play there every week and you are roommates with the sound guy, and putting your bass drum case in the middle of the stage is a bad idea. there are all sorts of reasons.
it's not your space until the headliner is finished with their check.
the trade off is that they have to show up way earlier than you and stay way later and usually if the show succeeds or fails they have to take responsibility, so really the heat is on them, so give them some room.
the best idea is to show up on time and have a designate go in and talk to the stage manager and ask him or her what to do.
that way when you bring your gear in, you won't then have to move it again once you are loaded in.
the idea is to not inflict your trip on other people.
just wait and see what you told to do.
hang out and watch the other band check or whatever, but don't make a scene with your cell phone or horsing around or taking your instrument out and demonstrating how great you are, just let things develop and then make your move.

it's really bad form to go back and start putting stuff in a dressing room. even if you always had that room when you opened for so and so and "you know how great they are." sometimes the headliner has a big production and will need both rooms. it can be very awkward to go and tell the first band, "hey we need the room you have to leave." it's possible to avoid lots of chaos if you don't do anything as an opener unless you are invited to do so by someone of authority.
it's really not a good idea to put a bunch of things in the bigger dressing room, this happens over and over.
my suggestion would be to not put anything in either dressing room until you figure out the deal.
all the first act has to do is come down and do a soundcheck, if there's time, and usually you play very soon after that and then you can take off, so you technically don't need a dressing room. many times you just come straight from your house. if you get a dressing room that's cool, if it's a workable space, double cool. if not, don't sweat it, you can split pretty quick and your total time invested if you do it right is about three hours or less, from load in, soundcheck, play your set, and takeoff.

it's probably not a good idea to have more gear then the headliner band. and a longer soundcheck. and more demanding people. the second band hopes that you don't need to take up their channels on the console so they can just go out there and play. and it's really cool if they can leave their gear set up and not have to strike anything. it's really nice if the first band can just fit into the deal on every level and not cause problems.

no one in the second band wants your cd. unless they specifically ask. there is no need to pass them out. they should be able to go to your website and listen anyway. think of all the resources this saves.

try to be accommodating vis-a-vis the merch table. there can be fights over the space. if you always defer to the other act, things will go much better. if there are hassles with the space or argument over the seller being hired by the other band and being distracted by your fourteen titles and three shirt models, just pass on the whole thing. it's cool and actually probably better for you to just go stand by the merch table after your set and sell your stuff yourself. this can save you 20% also. once the headliner starts the probability of selling anything else drops substantially. go get paid and split or check out the other band. you are done. some headliners are really cool and say, "hey put your stuff out there we'll sell it for you and pay the percentage or charges out of our end." no need to be dismayed if this is not the case. if you keep the goal in mind of "getting your music to folks" instead of "oh my god i HAVE to make more money!!!!!" you will be happier and the end result will be better.

it's not a great idea to impose yourself on the other band socially. even if you are doing a run of dates with them, give them space. tread lightly in this regard. if someone wants to chat, they'll come find you. best to keep a low profile. do not go and hang out in their dressing room. do not go on the bus even if they invited you last night and you hung out and were oh so charming. leave them alone unless they ask. every time. just because you went to dinner with the bassist last night don't assume anything. leave everyone lots and lots of space. stay off the bus and out of the dressing room. if you do this, you will be remembered fondly.

never let a chance go by to not say anything.

there's a whole school of thought out there that if you draw attention to yourself and promote yourself and press the flesh, be aggressive and all that, that you will go far. this whole methodology creeps me out and it's really hard to be in the room with someone like this for more than a few seconds. (while out on a long tour run, this creep factor gets exponentially higher.) i seriously doubt the long term efficacy of the strategy. my guess is that it does more harm than good. being a jackass is just being a jackass, i fail to see how this advances one's cause. more of the common good would be served by writing some good music and playing really good and being a nice person. being kind won't really advance your career or lessen irritations or frustrations, but at least you aren't being a jackass. as i've grown older, my observation is that sometimes folks compensate for lack of effort on their music by being really self-centered or opinionated or rigid in their outlook.
my theory is to let the music do your talking for you rather than your own mouth. this won't really bring you fame or wealth or anything necessarily but we serve sentient beings better by making good music, not by talking about how great we are or tearing someone else down or inserting ourselves into the right situations and all that. things have to be win/win really. win/loose is ultimately loose/loose.

at the venue, i would not recommend working the room, so to speak and hammering folks for gigs. you are there to play the job you are playing. it's not the right time to be hitting the promoter up for his festival or whatever. or hitting the headliner up to play some other date. or asking if their agency would take you on. concentrate on the task at hand. try to play really good. and not bother others. also observe if your own sidemen violate this sensibility. if you hired a guitar player to back you up, and at the jobsite you find she's passing her own demo cd out and hitting everyone up for a gig, fire her. my experience is that you are going to be sorry working with a person that will do that. he/she is probably not the best sideperson you can get because otherwise they would be making sure the show goes well instead of focusing on some other event that probably won't even happen, at some other time than the time you are actually in. my guess is that a knuckleheadly type person is just that way, and there is no way to correct this other than to replace them.

do your part to make your own soundcheck go smoothly. if this is an elusive concept for you, work on that. typically you won't have much time, maybe zero time. you'll have to think on your feet. don't sweat if you are fine tuning things after doors open. don't be upset if the headliner goes over their SC time. don't even be upset if they are poking around and go over and totally make it where you don't get a SC at all. this is your time to learn that when you are the headliner, allow space for the opening band to soundcheck before doors open. it's not always possible to do this.

be very careful about your guest list. if you put a jackass on the list with all access passage, you will bear the responsibility. also keep the guest list very short. just because you have a gig and are opening for so and so, there is no need to go calling friends and trying to get folks into the show that may not be that interested in the first place. want to be highly thought of? try not having a guest list at all.

it's not the mark of a quality person to dive into the backstage beer and food. wait and see what the situation is. i'm not sure if that was ever cool to do. my outlook is that it's the mark of the Ultimate Cheeseball, to be fixated on what one can get for free. it doesn't make sense to go cobbing around on the deli tray when in all likelihood there are great restaurants in the neighborhood. go there instead, they'll be glad to see you.

do not bring your kids down to the gig to hang out backstage. even if they are, in your eyes, well behaved. i have never understood why a family would be sitting at home, with their own refrigerator and stove and cupboard, and mom has a gig opening up for a touring band, and the idea passes the committee that they should all load up and go eat the backstage food at the venue. hard to believe but it happens over and over. please stop doing this. no need to cheese out just because of a free sandwich. backstage food typically isn't very good anyway.

probably you are not going to be that well received by the audience. don't worry about it. if you really work on your music, and have something to say and play as well as you can, somebody is going to like it. the way folks spend their dough these days is to save money and go to fewer concerts. so they are trying to squeeze as much as they can out of it, which strangely does not compute to them getting there early to see some new music they might not have heard of. en masse they want to see the second act. don't worry if they talk during your set. just play like you are in your living room and have fun. in some ways, you have the best deal in the house. you get paid to be there, you have zero pressure in regard to the financial performance of the show, you get full run of the place. bask in this. my formula is if you play for 3000 people and 100 people like what you do that never heard you before, you are way ahead. even twenty or ten or one.

in terms of set times, shorter is better. if you are scheduled to play for thirty minutes and they trim off ten to hold the house, this is a blessing and not a problem. if you are asked, "how long do you want to play?" answer, "how long do you need me to play?" they will say, "well thirty or forty minutes." say, "how about twenty five?" they'll say "great!" the shorter the better the tighter the sweater in this regard.

to recap:
show up on time, play the alloted time and leave folks lots of space to do their thing. be nice, adjustable and positive. allow space in your conversational dealings. eat your own food. detach from the result. let your music do your talking.

here's a good strategy. make friends with the house sound person. be very nice to him/her. he or she will be running sound for you as the headliner probably has their own person with them. this is an asset. the house sound person knows the rig best, and while the sound won't be as loud, they know the room intimately and the gear also, so they can give you a very good deal sound wise. if the sound person likes you, you win. they can be your best advocate in future deals. treat this person well and things will go well for you. so many times in my life i've walked offstage thinking "man that was a rough show, i don't think anyone was listening." and the befriended sound person said, "man that was really cool! you are very easy to work with and it's been great having you here/hear. hey next time you are in town, you should come and headline at my friend's club, here's his number, if you have a cd i'll give it to him, your music would be perfect there." or some version of that. the house sound person can be your best asset.

i had a bit of an epiphany a couple of nights ago, playing with a fairly large ensemble in a rock/country type format.

the way the banjo sounds, and the things you can do with it started to kind of explode in my mind and i felt like i could really play anything and it sounded good. the much maligned banjo can work in so many places. it fits in just about anywhere and adds to the overall sonic structure.
in the middle of the show, in front of about 600 or so people, i came to the conclusion that anything i could play sounded good. just one note, or laying out or playing inversions up the neck or blasts of notes or playing the melody, or fundamental pedal type ideas, harmonized scalar ideas, little horn lines, super-imposing altered chords, or just grabbing a part of the neck and playing whatever happened there or quoting bits of melodies from my childhood, everything sounded good. as long as my banjo didn't step on anyone or conflict with another's part, i'm free to do anything.
i left my body and felt like a big bird flying around in the venue.

(i'm not able to get to this level every time. far from it. it might be like hitting the big grand slam, but you have plenty o' strikeouts and little bloop singles first. hit by a few pitches. in any event, sometimes an extra magic thing happens in something done with intention and awareness.)

my conclusion is that the orchestral possibilities of the banjo haven't really been taped yet, at least by me anyway. the dang thing sounds so good to me and it can fit in anywhere. there is so much more music in there than i ever dreamt of. it truly is a universal versatile instrument with a wide range of expression.
i think i experienced banjo samadhi.

orville johnson is a friend of mine from seattle. he is a great guitarist singer and songwriter. he was asked to speak at career day at a local middle school. orville was pleasantly surprised by the experience and as he told me about it, we agreed it would be cool to write a little piece about it for folktronics.

Orville writes:

Career Day at Meadowdale Middle School

My friend Bruce Laven invited me to come to speak at Career Day at Meadowdale Middle School in Edmonds Wa. Bruce is the band director and quite a good pianist. We've played many gigs together. He wanted me to address the life of a professional musician and speak to the kids about the ups and downs, ins and outs, pros and cons, and all that. It was pretty cool even though i did have to show up at 7AM.

Their questions were generally thoughtful though I did get the "have you played with famous people" and " have you been on TV" kind of stuff mixed in. i played them a couple of tunes as well as fielding questions. i was surprised at how many students were considering music as a career. I spoke to three sessions of about 25 kids each and they were not all band or music students. Any student was free to come. i'd say two thirds of those who came (by show of hands) were interested in pursuing music.

One young man told me he was a singer and asked what advice could I give him about working with a band. I told him he should learn a musical instrument and some music theory besides developing his voice. In working with a band, i said, you'll get much more respect from the other musicians if you can speak some of the language of music and not just be one of those singers that doesn't know when to come in or what a bridge or a middle eight is. He listened well and when that session finished he came up and shook my hand and introduced himself properly. i was impressed with his sincerity and thought this cat might actually get somewhere.

Another thing I told them in regard to music as a career is that, even though I do it as my career, I didn't come to it with that in mind. I consider it a calling, more like a priesthood than a job. I do it because I need to do it and only do it as my job because I couldn't stand the thought of spending many hours a day doing something else for money and, Lord knows, we all gots to make a little money somehow to keep our world spinning. I told them if your goal is money making then you'd probably be better off going to law school. In the music biz there's no promotion schedule or pension benefits and you have to make your own way but, for some people, that's the best way to live. It has been for me.

PS I got an envelope today in the mail with letters of appreciation from some of the students. One told me I was "fanomenal" (his spelling), one young lady said she enjoyed my performance even though she doesn't particularly care for the style of music I play (thanx a lot! :) and another said she likes doing things for herself and when people try to take over her life she gets angry. I understand that.

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