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Horizontally speaking: Iowa this week/Jazz Fest travelogue

(Tuesday, May 3):

I’m writing this flat on my back, up in the bed with one of those rice bags that you can heat up in the microwave strategically placed under my lower back. I don’t know what’s up, but this has been going on for a few days and took a bad turn today. Hopefully rest and continued heat treatment will get me all loosened up for the drive to Iowa tomorrow. This week I’m thrilled to be playing with Steph Graham on upright bass and Jim Viner on drums for two shows: Iowa Public Radio’s Studio One Live, broadcasting from the Des Moines Social Club this Thursday, May 5. The show starts at 7 pm CST. If you can’t be there in person, you can listen in live via the link above–just find the “Listening” menu at the top of the page, and choose your option. I’m still working out the setlist . . . got a few words to run by the FCC: let’s see, “shit-faced”, “poontang”, I suppose those are the most potential offenders. And the last thing I wanna do is get a fantastic public radio network in hot water with those starched-collar stiffs in DC. At any rate, we’ll be there, and hope you can be too, in person or via those airwaves and innerwebs.

On Saturday, May 7, Steph, Jim, and I will find our lucky selves at the incredible life-affirming experience that IS Byron’s Tap, in Pomeroy, IA. Show starts at 9 pm. I’ve always loved this place and the people who work, and play, there. Looking forward to a big night. And yeah, we tend to go long there. Who knows what you’ll hear . . .

Sunday, May 8 (Mother’s Day) I’ll be returning to Cedar Falls, IA (after a prolonged absence; hopefully the statute of limitations has run out), playing a solo show at The OctopusAn all ages show, meaning all you mothers can join me in celebrating your Day, starting at the perfectly civilized hour of 6 pm. Seems like mamas sure oughta get more than a day . . .

Coming up next week, I begin a residency at the 5 Spot, here in my local zip code, the 37206, playing the early show that starts at 6 pm for the remaining Thursdays in May. Opening up on May 12 will be Pete Mancini, from New York, from the mighty band Butchers Blind.

Yes, surely you’ve heard about the new double-LP vinyl edition of Long Gone Time. I’ll have some on the road with me this week, and onward. You can also mail-order them, if ya like. Basically you get an entire new way of hearing the record–not only a different audio format, but in the originally planned sequence that didn’t quite make it to the CD or download. The bonus track from the CD, “Following a Sign“, is included, as well as another bonus track, a song I wrote for Iowa sound engineer Dennis Jones, “If You Will“.  The customary download card is included, allowing for hi-res or lo-res files to make their way to your various devices digital.

Now, as promised earlier, a little more detail on our recent mini-tour down south:

(Friday, April 22):

Played Mobile, AL tonight, our first time ever at the legendary Callaghan’s Irish Social Club. Per usual, I was about an hour late getting out the door, so therefore we were pressed for time the whole drive down. Made it to the hotel with about a half hour to spare. Wash face, change clothes, and onward to the venue. JT, the proprietor, and the staff, couldn’t have been nicer–the vibe was relaxed and positive. This was the perfect spot for our “Jazz Fest rehearsal”–we hadn’t had a chance to get together before leaving Nashville. This was our first show with James Westfall, who is just a monster on keyboards. He also plays the hell out of a vibraphone, so I hear. You’ll be seeing James with us again, that’s for certain. Joe McMahan brought out a guitar he’d recently purchased in Eudora, Arkansas, which, he discovered later via internet search, likely once belonged to legendary bluesman and folk artist James “Son” Thomas. Thomas lived in Leland, MS, just across the river from Eudora.  Song-wise, I played whatever I felt like playing, including a rare send-out of Earl King‘s Time for the Sun to Rise. Some songs are always in your head, but live out there on the periphery when you’re making the set list. Re-engaging with this one felt like falling in love all over again; I gotta confess I got a little emotional about the whole thing. I very much look forward to returning to Callaghan’s!

(Saturday, April 23):

We had the day off today; before we left Mobile we drove down by the water and had a great lunch at a fish house down there. Got to New Orleans around 3:30; checked in, unloaded all the gear into our rooms (a band security ritual, in any situation where you are at the mercy of the hotel’s valet service). The next entry picks it up from here–

(Sunday, April 24):

Good morning from New Orleans, where I’m just coming up from the deeps with a first cup of coffee. I don’t know what’s gotten into me, but I’ve been extremely sentimental and emotional, downright teary,  just sitting here thinking about what it means to be in this incredible city reborn back from near-death 11 years ago, to be again invited to play the Jazz & Heritage Festival today, and to just plain be here, among friends, never mind the sheer luck of getting to travel around doing what I do. I’m in a mood I recognize; one that’s good for writing songs. But I can seldom write in hotels, because of the subhuman sounds that I tend to make while putting something together. So I’m writing to you instead, helping to keep the peace for my fellow travelers in nearby rooms.

I uber-ed down to the festival yesterday after we checked into the hotel. Should’ve told the driver where I wanted to be dropped off–because he let me out at the entrance farthest from the action (less traffic for him, yes, I get it). Was almost immediately overwhelmed by the crowds and the cacophony of Pearl Jam in one ear and Afro-pop from another stage in the other, once I got inside, after walking what seemed to be a long mile. At one point, as I was getting close to the Gentilly stage to try to see Van Morrison, I really thought I was going to pass out–stuck, literally, in a sea of people, unable to move an inch. I’ve never been claustrophobic (except for that one time in the MRI tube, ha ha), but this got to me. Eventually, after nearly getting stabbed in the head with an umbrella by an idiot in a clown nose pumping said umbrella up and down in the air right beside me (Mr. Second Line, partying down, yep), I ended up in a spot where I had at least a foot or so of space around me, and was able to take in the set. Van was “on”, and in a way I no longer expected from him; living in Music Business City, you hear all sorts of tales about folks such as Mr. Morrison, stories usually playing up their eccentricities and playing down their greatness–a fairly cynical breed of amusement, though often ripe with humor. Anyway: great band, and he himself seemed present, if not exactly convivial.

Van Morrison on the jumbotron

Van Morrison on the jumbotron

One of my favorite things about my nutty life is that I get to meet some wonderful people–mostly through the music, through that one connection. Last Labor Day we were on the road up east, and played a party at a beautiful home out on Long Island. Our hosts that day, Tom and Heidy, became fast friends of ours, and also happened to be in New Orleans this same weekend; generously, they invited us out for dinner last night at Geautreau’s, a spiffy uptown joint in an otherwise residential neighborhood. Lights low enough that some gentlemen traveling with nothing more than blue jeans and other gig-wear can sneak in and not be scoffed at. A night of great food and conversation that kept us going for four hours without even noticing how much time had passed. Highly recommended.

(Monday, April 25):

What a fine time yesterday playing Jazz Fest. I always tweeze a little before playing this festival; it’s a hell of an honor to play it, and there are some logistical variables involved in getting there: when do we need to leave the hotel to drive to the fest; performers park in a special lot right near the Mystery Street entrance. What’s the traffic like? How much time will it take for the shuttle van to pick us up in the parking lot and deliver us to the stage we were playing? As it turns out, we were able to meet some friends and walk to a restaurant (Lucy’s) not far from the hotel, for breakfast. The food was fantastic; I had shrimp and grits. And lots of coffee. Heard some great James Booker stories from our pal Keith Abel. Then had time to pack up (which of these five shirts will I feel like wearing at the show today, etc), load ourselves in the van and head out for the fest. Once we got into the parking lot, things couldn’t have run smoother. There was a shuttle van waiting for us–so we got to the backstage area at Lagniappe within 10 minutes of parking our vehicle.

The dressing room/green room for the Lagniappe stage is the large locker room for the jockeys who work here at the track when the horses are running. So there is a sign with my name on it, taped to the end of a table, IMG_0987among many other tables, with benches all around. We drop our gear there, and I start writing a set list. Catering arrives a half-hour before we play–the same deli-tray of little triangular sandwiches that arrives every time we play this festival (and other festivals), as well as a cooler of various beverages, including a few beers, which, given my nerves at this point, are a welcome sight. I change shirts twice; at some point, you just go with it.

We played well, though the Lagniappe stage has its own vibe, because it’s not in the infield of the track with most of the other stages–so there’s less direct interaction with the crowd–and folks tend to be more stationary, not much pass-through traffic where people who hadn’t planned on hearing you might stop and lean in for a while. This was our set (the batch on the left). And for once, I timed it just about right:


After getting back to the hotel, Joe, Paul, and I walked to the Quarter in search of food. Ended up at Pierre Maspero’s. Everything was amazing: fried green tomatoes with shrimp and remoulade; I had a cochon de lait po-boy, and we split, at the waiter’s insistence, a bread pudding for dessert, which was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten (if not the healthiest). No fruit in it; slightly burnt brown sugar along the edges with a thick sauce . . . I wanted to find a place to lie down before walking back to the room. I’m no food writer, but I recommend this one to you, if you’re ever in the neighborhood.

cochon de lait po-boy, Maspero's

cochon de lait po-boy, Maspero’s

On Monday, we met friends out at a seafood place in Bucktown, R & O’s, for lunch. More health food: crawfish pie, followed by a small fish plate and french fries and a side of brown gravy that more resembled beef soup than gravy. Rich, decadent. The kind of thing you come to this great city for. Then drove over to Frenchmen Street for our in-store show at Louisiana Music Factory. Barry and his staff were, as usual, extremely helpful to us, even while they were trying to take care of a store full of customers. Small stage, minimal P.A. system, but no matter: we had so much fun, and probably played our best here. The crowd was large, attentive, and responsive. We sold a bunch of records, hoorah, and made some new friends along the way. To celebrate, I bought myself this fine platter, a selection of early Professor Longhair tracks: IMG_1011

Since it was about 5 o’clock when we were all loaded out and ready to leave town, we decided that instead of sitting in rush hour traffic out on I-10 for an hour, we’d go eat again instead! Went to Parkway Tavern, known for its po-boys. After asking Ron if he’d drive for a while, I had an Abita amber with my “surf and turf”: roast beef po-boy topped with fried shrimp. Yet another great spot to check out if you’re ever in NOLA.

So by 6:30 pm, we started back to Nashville. Ended up going the whole way, getting home about 3:30 am Tuesday morning with Ron and I splitting up the drive. Took about a day to recover, but the adventure was sure worth it. It’s been kale salads and fruit around here ever since!

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