Turkey

My First Trip to Turkey

Istanbul

Istanbul

After graduating from college, I worked for a year, saved up some money and then headed out for one of my greatest adventures so far: a 5-month trip that took me to see my brother and sister in Western Europe, down through many of the Eastern European countries and into the Middle East ending up in Egypt. The trip took place over 10 years ago now and was life shaping.

I spent a plurality of my time on that great trek in Turkey. I had wanted to travel there for a long time, ever since my brother went to Istanbul with a friend while in high school. (He ended up naming his band, Aya Sofia, after his experiences there. The Aya Sofia, or Hagia Sophia, is a famous church-come-mosque in Istanbul.) I arrived in Istanbul in the late summer of 1999, stayed there for a couple of days and asked around for a “nice town on the beach that wasn’t too touristy.” A couple of Turks recommended Akçay.

I took a bus there the next day, with a detour to climb Uludag – 40-some degrees and visibility of 10 feet at the top compared to 80 and clear skies at the bottom. (I hiked with a German guy who didn’t have a tent. He comically laid out a nice rug he had purchased in the bazaar in Istanbul on a rock and went to sleep. It started raining during the night, and, soon after, I heard a frantic un-zipping of my tent as he threw all of his stuff in on top of me and jumped in, as well. I was not excited about this even though I had a “2-person” tent. You always have to subtract about .75 persons from whatever they say on the label.) Upon arrival in Akçay, I walked around town for a few minutes, found a nice place to stay – a pansiyon – and booked a room there for one month at $150.

Live Music, Istanbul

Live Music, Istanbul

That moment in my life was really when I first contemplated pursuing music. The place I stayed at was run by a family who let me borrow a classical guitar. I played and wrote on most days, and compiled notes on the grand album I wanted to write, which was modeled after Richard Strauss’ “Death and Transfiguration.” (I was fascinated then – as I still am now – with the idea of a tone poem.)

I took notes on everything I saw there and as I continued to travel and thought extensively on how the new things I experienced fit in to what I was writing. While I continued to pursue this project, I lost steam – or belief – primarily because I simply couldn’t visualize the next step in writing a song and, therefore, let myself be distracted. The dream languished for about 4 years.

Bazaar, Istanbul

Bazaar, Istanbul

Tea, Istanbul

Çay (Tea) Istanbul

While in Turkey, I hitch-hiked for the first time and then extensively throughout the rest of the trip, which led me to meet a lot of interesting people. One couple picked me up with their 5-year-old son near the Troy historical site. (I think few people realize how many of the ancient Greek and Roman cities, including many places referenced in the Bible, were located in present-day Turkey, e.g., Sparta, Ephesus, Philadelphia) I ended up having dinner with them, staying the night and then joining them and their friends on a boat the next day. After the boat trip, we had a huge lunch outdoors followed by Turkish coffee. One of the older women in the group read my coffee grounds, a tradition in Turkey, and said that she saw a guitar and that I would end up making a living by playing it. I want to make her prophecy true.

I hung with them and some of the people they introduced me to on multiple occasions during that trip and have maintained contact ever since. One of the hard lessons I learned while hanging with them was to be careful with raki, the Turkish version of Anise. On at least two occasions, I had to lay down and pray that I would fall asleep and the spinning would stop.

Early on during my stay in Turkey, I was on a bus about an hour east of Istanbul when I met a young girl, Gamze. She was extremely interested in learning about other places in the world, and while we were on the bus told me about where she lived, about Turkey, etc. At one of our stops, she also introduced me to ayran, a yogurt drink that is extremely popular in Turkey. The first was a bit odd, but I have since become a huge fan. During my latest trip in Turkey, I had 2 or more each day. According to all my friends there it is easy to make. Gamze and I stayed in touch via old school mail for a couple of years and then became Facebook friends.

In the run-up to planning my trip to Europe I found out that a) she was a part-time radio DJ at an extremely cool online radio station called Radiofil, (check out the beautiful artwork on their website) and b) flights to Turkey from Germany are less than $200. I floated the idea of organizing a show, and, with the help of her friend, Serkan, ended up being able to make this happen.

Turkey 2012

I booked my flight to Turkey for the weekend of June 15th before we had the show details worked out. Serkan, one of the creators of Radiofil, as well as a full-time musician, put in a lot of work for me and ended up setting up a gig in the super-cool Moda neighborhood on Istanbul’s Asian side. I’ll speak more about that in a second.

I arrived on a Friday and headed to a hostel I had booked in the very fun Taksim neighborhood on Istanbul’s European side. Before I could get out of the airport, however, I had a little snafu. As I was going through customs, the officer flipped through my passport a couple of times and then asked me why I didn’t have a visa. Oh, shit! I didn’t know you needed one. I guess I had forgotten that, or maybe the policy had changed for US citizens. At any rate, you thankfully can buy a visa at the airport for only US$20. This didn’t end up being a big deal, but it meant I had to go through a long visa line and then back through customs.

Taksim

That Friday night I was blown away by how prevalent music was in Istanbul. I saw solo guitarist/vocalists playing at about ten different bars in Taksim. In addition to that, I could not tell you both how many stores around that area sold musical equipment and the number of people I saw walking by carrying a guitar, saz or other musical instrument. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a concentration of music, music stores and musicians anywhere. Another thing that I thought was cool was that all of the live musicians I saw were playing Turkish songs. Respect. So often when traveling abroad, I have heard local musicians playing English-language songs.

In addition to the heavy concentration of music, I was blown away by the sheer intensity of partying in the area. The entire city seemed to be one big party: people in bars, clubs and restaurants, spilling out into the streets, while others, having purchased alcohol from convenience stores, were hanging with friends on stoops of houses and shops. The streets were literally packed with humanity and stayed packed till well past the closing times of bars in Chicago.

That night, I went into one of the bars advertising live music. It was still early so there weren’t many people in the bar. I ended up meeting the bar manager and most of the people that were there, including the two guys playing music and their friends. I told them I was a musician and they asked me to come play a couple of songs. That was really fun. I left for a few hours and came back to catch the end of the show. The bar was much more crowded at that point. Again, I got to get up and play a few. I was psyched. I thought I played well and was very well-received. (In a previous post, I mentioned the prevalence of the Blues Brothers. This is one of those places! They have Jake and Elwood stenciled on the wall behind the performers. You can see it in the video above, at left.)

Some quick props for Turkey: Yes, this is Istanbul, and, therefore, not an accurate portrayal of the entire country. Nonetheless, I wish more Americans would experience this city and this Muslim country. Turkey – its cities, food, incredible beaches, hospitality and wide variety of historical sites – would alter their perceptions of the Middle East, I have no doubt. Some other places you should consider for the trip you will now be planing 🙂 : Cappadocia (Flinstone-like rock dwellings), Efes (one of best Roman sites), Bodrum (sick beaches), Marmaris (more beaches and nightlife), Nemrut Dag (amazing Hittite ruins), Pamukkale (hot springs)…

Kadiköy

Arkaoda, Kadiköy, Istanbul

Arkaoda’s beer garden, Istanbul

The rest of the weekend I was is in Kadiköy, the Asian side of Istanbul, hanging out with Gamze, Serkan and friends. We primarily hung out near Sunday night’s venue, Dunia (the Guardian voted it one of Istanbul’s top ten bars), which is located on a street filled with bars and restaurants not too different than Taksim, although with much more of an indie feel. Once again, I was blown away by the amount of partying. That Saturday night, the streets were again choked with humanity living it up. We went to a number of bars, but primarily drank at a place called Arkaoda, in their back beer garden and front patio. Really gorgeous place with a hipster vibe, also with live music. I could see both this bar AND all of my Turkish friends being easily dropped into the Ukrainian Village neighborhood of Chicago. The Turks I know would absolutely blend in there, with their similarities in style, dress, hairstyles and proclivities – chain smoking hand-rolled cigarettes, for one.

After partying that night till the wee hours, we headed back to one of the guy’s places and kept the beat going. I petered out early, but a few of them went on till after 7am, all the while smoking those hand-rolled cigarettes.

The next day we got up and a handful of my friends made a beautiful Turkish breakfast – coffee, tea, bread with cream and honey, börek, an onion and egg quiche-like dish, cucumbers and tomatoes in balsamic vinegar, etc., etc. – a great spread. I wish I had a pic for you but my phone had died and I had left my charger, along with all of my bags, at Sunday’s venue. Afterward, we went out to a park along the sea. Just beautiful. High 70s, clear skies, light breeze, shooting the shit and drinking some beers along with hundreds of others interspersed throughout the miles-long coastal park.

Dunia, Kadikoy, Istanbul

Dunia, Kadiköy, Istanbul

Live at Dunia

Live at Dunia

At around 7pm, we left the park and headed to Dunia, where I was set to play at 9pm that night. Dunia is a three-floor bar located across the street from Arkaoda. The bottom two floors feature chairs and small balconies at the back of the building and are where most people hang out. The top floor was fairly new and reserved for live shows. While the space was beautiful, I wish they would have done the show on the first floor, which would have captured a lot more street traffic and Dunia’s natural crowd.

Turkish friends after gig

Turkish friends after gig

Turkish friends after gig

More Turkish friends

That night, I kept my experimenting going. I played guitar and harmonica, piano – I borrowed a microKORG from Serkan (which was definitely micro – tiny keys) and used sequencing on two new songs, Amiens and Saturday, both of which will be twoheartstwo, coming out soon. I had peeked in at a show at Arkaoda previously that night. The room was packed, and everyone was seated on the floor – I’ve never seen that in the States. At my show, everyone sat on the floor, as well. The show was very good and well-received. I don’t usually talk a ton between songs, but, I think because I knew everyone’s English wasn’t quite up to what it would be at a US show (which I realize is a lame reason), I was very chatty and explained the origin’s of just about every song.

The most interesting conversation I’ve had while on tour: After the show, we did a near repeat of the previous night, hanging out on one of the balconies at Dunia till the wee hours. At some point during our conversation, we started talking about pornography, which is banned by the Turkish government. If you try to look up a porn site there, you will get an error message – just like you might see at your office. Two of my girl friends told me, nonetheless, that they like to look at porn. “You know every woman looks at it, even if they say they don’t.” I told them that, while I am sure there are many women who are not fully honest about their interest in porn, I actually don’t believe that most American women do. Maybe I’m wrong?

Anyway, they were adamant about liking porn, “I like anal,” one of them said to me. Wow! I didn’t expect to hear any of this in a Muslim country. I inquired as to how they were able to look at porn online if it were blocked, and all of the girls told me how easy it was to change their computer settings to bypass the government firewall. I told them how shocking this news was to me, and they just laughed. When the bar closed, we headed back to the apartment and some of the hard core ones drank and smoked till after 5am (only).

Breakfast in Istanbul

Breakfast in Istanbul, Coffee and börek

The next morning, I sadly got up early and trudged down to the ferry, where I had to take a boat and then a taxi to get to the airport. Before I caught the boat, I had a nice breakfast of Turkish coffee and börek, a Turkish pastry of which I am a big fan. I have seen it sold at a couple of places in Chicago. One I know is on Lawrence just west of Ravenswood.


Amsterdam

Last year one of my best friends had a bachelor party in Amsterdam, and prior to coming into town for it I was able to set up a show at the CC Muziekcafe in De Pijp. That night I performed with a female violinist, Femke Ravensbergen, (check out her music here: Bird in a Glasshouse) and was also joined halfway through the set by a traditional Balkan drummer and mandolin player, who had played in a Balkan band that played before me. It was great night, the place was packed. Bizarrely, the Dutch idol winner happened to be in the bar along with a guy who is truly amazing, called Kyteman. Kyteman is a wicked trumpet player who pulls together eclectic groups of musicians for recordings and shows, including a lot of hip-hop artists. He has won numerous Dutch grammys.

Tree House

Amsterdam Lodging

Vondelpark

Vondelpark, Amsterdam

Cheese Shop

My favorite cheese shop

Canal Boat

I want a boat like this


I was able to book another show there this summer. A week before the show, I met with Femke again to jam and work on some songs. We met at her place, which was a few tram stops south of the city center. Femke’s directions had me walking past some “white buildings, the prison, and then my place is 30m down on the right.” It turned out that, though she and her friends had been trying to make the complex legit, they had been squatting in the building the past few years. That situation permitted them to do crazy things, such as build the treehouse above from some pallets. Femke and I ended up having dinner and jamming for several hours – I had proposed trying to start a duo with her.

We were joined at dinner by a fascinating guy, Kenneth, of the Kenyan acrobatic troupe,Nafsi Afrika Acrobats, who was crashing with one of Femke’s friends in the complex. His troupe does ridiculous acrobatic routines and seeks to promote peace, in general, and to bridge the gaps between Kenya’s tribes. The group has been doing tours throughout Europe for the past several years. Check out one of their videos here. When you meet someone like Kenneth, who is doing something so creative and bold with limited resources, you realize how lucky our own buying power alone makes us. If I were not from the US or a country with similar resources, it would be very difficult for me to pull off this several-month trip I’ve been on.

After jamming for a while, Femke and I were joined by two of her girlfriends. The four of us went up to the treehouse and talked, played music and drank nearly an entire bottle of Bailey’s until the wee hours. Then I stayed up there and went to sleep. There was a decent mattress inside the treehouse, and I slept like a baby.

Tour, Days 33-34 – Vancouver

Vancouver

View from outside the Backstage Lounge

I moved everything out of the space in Seattle and was on the road to Vancouver a little after lunch. Getting to cross a province off my list today – first time to British Columbia. The venue I’m playing at is called the Backstage Lounge and is located on the very attractive Granville Island, which is just south of downtown Vancouver. My phone was inoperable as soon as I crossed the border, so I was thanking god that somehow the GPS continued to work and the map images I had looked at prior to leaving Washington stayed in my cache. I otherwise would have been stopping at every turn to ask directions…like the olden days.

Miles: 141
States/Provinces: Washington, British Columbia
Lodging: HI Jericho Beach, Vancouver, BC

The border crossing took a little longer than I had anticipated so I ended up getting there about an hour before I was supposed to play. It didn’t end up mattering because the venue was behind schedule, and the sound checks for the band after me took a while. As I mentioned in the last post, I had planned to try a lot of new things at this show, so my set-up was much more complicated than previously. I ended up having to set up and sound check in about 20 minutes – which is way too short – and was stressing a bit because of it.

Backstage Lounge

Check out 3 June

The venue itself was very nice, very open. Out back was a gorgeous view of the water and the downtown area. This definitely is the most beautiful setting I have played in so far. And the show was very good. As a follow-up to my comments in the last post about wanting/needing to re-tool my set, I definitely have more songs on the chill/sombre end and feel like I need to write a few more upbeat tunes. I don’t know why, but that is hard for me. Anyway, I played very well this show. I really went for it and brought the passion and intensity as well as I ever have. I tried out the new piano song, “Little Bird,” and it went well. I was thrilled to play it, which got me thinking about the prospect of finishing off all of these travels to work on some new songs. A new song like a new woman is always exciting.

Violet Height

Violet Height

AJ Minor

AJ Minor

The headliner that night was AJ Minor, a former professional skateboarder who played acoustic guitar and sang along with a lot of old-school beats. He was a super positive and cool guy. I would not be surprised if you see him again in a much wider context than this.

During any show, I love being able to look out into the crowd and find a couple of people who I can tell are into the music. It encourages me and helps me stay focused. During this show, a very cute blonde and her boyfriend were really feeling it on almost every song. I loved it. Afterward they approached me and bought a couple of albums. They were from Finland, spending a week or so on vacation in British Columbia. I ended up joining them for several beers, as we listened to the other performers.

On another positive note – and I’m not really sure how – my draw for the show was a third of AJ’s and almost equal to the amount of the Vancouver-based band that played after me. Weird. (Writing this a couple of weeks later, after just getting an invite to play somewhere else in Vancouver, I’m wondering if I need to relocate.)

Safeway and Hostelling

After the night was done, I was a bit at a loss for where I would stay that night. It was after midnight, I would have to drive a long ways to find a campsite and I did not want to pay for a hotel, as I am heading to Europe for a couple of weeks soon and will be dropping way too much cash there. I decided to find a park that was not lit and to sleep in my car. I was heading down one of the main streets heading west, figuring I would run into the water and find a good spot. That’s when I got pulled over for the second time this trip. Bad.

The streets were so well-lit that I apparently had not turned my lights on. I had to get out and blow again. Below the limit. The cop was pretty nice and gave me a warning. We had a chat about music and he asked where I was going. I stretched the truth and said I was looking for a hotel. He told me I was heading in the wrong direction and to go back the other way. This was all providential. I turned around and then pulled over next to a Safeway I happened across.

Quick aside about Safeway: I am someone who prides himself on finding one-of-a-kind places of whatever type, non-chains with personality. That said, I love Safeway. In Chicago, I go to Dominick’s (anyone who worked with me at Cushman & Wakefield knows how much I love their soups); while I was in Texas, I went to Tom Thumb and all over the west coast, including Canada, I’ve been frequenting Safeway, who owns them all. They all have fresh bagels in the morning, great soups starting around 10:30/11am, good sandwiches, their prices are reasonable, etc., etc. You can always count on a similar layout and great food.

Safeway also has free WiFi. I was needing WiFi in this moment. It turned out that I was about a mile from a hostel, the HI right on Jericho Beach – beautiful setting in a park, on the water and right across the street from a wicked beautiful turf soccer field, which I indulged in later. I arrive well after midnight. The guy behind the counter told me that since I arrived so late, my bed would be good for two nights for the price of one. Sweet – $25 for 2 nights. (That is cheaper, by the way, than camping at just about any state or national park I’ve seen anywhere on this trip.)

Next day I do all of the fun stuff: laundry, chat with the Lithuanian and English girls who work at the hostel, pay bills, do some work, etc. The next day I am flying to Europe for a nearly three week trip. Psyched!

Long & McQuade

Last comment: Before I left Vancouver, I was looking to buy a battery-powered amp. If you are ever in Canada and are looking for the Canadian Guitar Center, go to Long & McQuade, which is better and much less creepy in my opinion. Very helpful staff. I checked out an amp, wasn’t sure I should get it, went to get a coffee to think on it and came back resolved to drop the cash, only to find out the store was closed. I caught one of the employees, however, who was nice enough to unlock the doors and go back in and look for it. Who would do that at a big chain in the US??? He wasn’t able to find the one I wanted with a box, etc. so I didn’t end up getting it. This was probably good because I would no way have been able to manage carrying it in addition to everything else.

Tour, Day 32 – Seattle Practice Space

Back to the Music

Seattle Practice Space

I think that’s Bob Marley on the back wall

Two of my goals for this tour were to become a better performer and to get a sense for how compelling my music is. I have absolutely been able to learn a lot in both of these areas. One of the challenges, however, due to so much driving and cramming so many shows into such a short time, has been putting what I’ve learned into practice. For weeks, I’ve wanted to lock myself in a room and make some revisions to how I’m playing some of the songs that I think are strong, add in some new songs and try new instruments and arrangements. As I drove through Oregon and Washington, I made calls to several band rehearsal studios in Seattle and finally found one that had a room free at a reasonable rate for a two-day rental. The prospect of actually being able to set up all of my equipment in one place got me very excited as I pulled into Seattle.

That said, the building was a complete shit hole, as many band rehearsal buildings are. It reminded me of a less clean version of the space my Radio Mango band mates and I shared at Superior Street Studios in Chicago, though the common areas in this building were much worse. My actual room was quite filthy and still had drum sticks jutting out of the walls in various places where the previous tenants had jammed them into the drywall (WTF?). The rooms weren’t sound-proofed so you could hear endless drum soloing coming from two rooms down adjacent hallways and you could hear – and feel – the sludge/black metal band on the other side of the floor bringing the hate full on.

Nonetheless, it was still great to be able to make my own noise. That first day I stayed there 12 hours straight. Since the tour began, I had worked harmonica into my repertoire. While in the space, I worked on incorporating the loop pedal I had recently bought, my keyboard and some electronic track sequencing. I hoped to use all of these in the final North American show in Vancouver on Sunday night. I also was able to write a new piano-based song titled, “Little Bird.” I’m very excited about it and will post it to the site as soon as I make a demo.

Ultimate FrisbeeThat night, I got to hang out with a college friend, Cam Caldwell, who has been living in Seattle for about 6 years. I hadn’t seen Cam in 10 years or so. He happened to also be at the wedding in Maui, so we ended up seeing each other twice in one week after such a long hiatus. I had a few beers with him and his friends next to a fire pit in one of his friend’s backyards, which was great. Chilly at night here, even in the summer. We talked a bunch about the weather – how the eastern half of Washington is hot and dry almost all the time while the western half is cool and wet – and ultimate frisbee, which they all played together. They told me about some big UF tournament, where a team played quasi-naked. I have to go to one of these events sometimes. The people that play UF seriously sound half-bent.

Tour, Day 25 – Put Her to Bed

Kacy and Meme Curtis

Kacy and Meme Curtis

Second day hanging in San Francisco with Kacy and Meme. No show, but, oh, there is some music! Kacy, who I forgot to mention in my last post is a novelist and gifted wordsmith – you can check out some of his work here (and check out this hilarious old bio) – had written some lyrics to a song he titled, “Put Her to Bed,” a couple weeks back.

Today the three of us spent most of the day coming up with some music for the words and then recording the song. The title of the song is a pool reference to calling out a little bump against the rail or another ball as you sink the 8 ball. You can see the random-ass video I made for it below, which is made of images from Kacy’s Facebook page and others that I pulled from doing a Google image search for “playing pool.” I love the images that pop up that have nothing to do with your key words. (You will see a lot of those in the video.)

Miles: No driving for me today!
States: California
Lodging: With my friends Kacy and Meme Curtis in San Francisco, CA

We did most of the recording in the middle of the day, then made a quick jaunt out to Oakland to see one of Kacy’s good friend’s nephews play in an AAU basketball tournament. Talk about a mishmash of a day. After the game, we had a nice dinner with the whole fam at a nice Italian restaurant called Paisan, in Berkeley, and then listened to some live jazz at a small gelateria/cafe a block down called Caffe Trieste. We then headed back to SF and put the final touches on the song, which included creating percussion instruments by putting large necklaces in brass pots and beating on other random household items. Check out the video here:

Tour, Day 24 – Revolution

Revolution CafeI tried my damnedest to get a gig in San Francisco – a place on the road where I actually know a number of people. I finally got one that then fell through and had resigned myself to just making this a hang out stop. My friend, Meme Curtis, however, was not having it. She called around and helped me score a last-minute happy hour gig at Revolution Cafe in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. A very cool place, Revolution felt like a very grungy, hipster version of a French brasserie. The weather was sunny though a bit cool, yet loads of people crowded the patio at the cafe, as well as at the many other bars and restaurants along the same street.

Miles: 353
States: California
Lodging: With my friends Kacy and Meme Curtis in San Francisco, CA

It turned out to be very nice gig. I was crowded into a back corner, where they have a PA. You run your own sound, but everything about the set-up is very easy. The crowd was very receptive. I ended up meeting a guy named Coskun (first name diminutive sounds like “Josh”) Caglayan, originally from Turkey, who had been living in the Bay Area for 20+ years. He is an artist and designer and was working on some album artwork for a friend while I was playing. Since I could see his screen, it was almost as if I were watching a projection while performing. It was fun, though a little distracting. We had a good chat about my upcoming show in Turkey.

During and after my performance, tons of people were smoking both marijuana and cigarettes on the patio. A friend of mine later told me a story about how he was having a beer at Revolution – and smoking a joint – on the patio with a friend. San Francisco requires bars to shut down their patios and outside seating a couple of hours before last call. One of the waiters came out to ask them to come inside, saying: “Hey guys, I’m really sorry, but you have to drink those beers inside.” No problem if you want to keep smoking that joint though…

Before I arrived in San Francisco, I made a quick detour – pilgrimage really – to Monterey, California and the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS). Monterey is a beautiful town and was the host to one of the first major rock festivals, the Monterey International Pop Music Festival, in 1967, where Jimi Hendrix famously set fire to his guitar at the end of his set. (There is a live album of Jimi’s show which is awesome.)

Monterey Institute of International StudiesAnyway, I’m very big into languages – I absolutely love the learning them, speaking them, writing them, learning about the origin of words and grammatical structures. If I’m never able to earn something approximating a decent living playing music, I will have to find some way of getting paid to use the foreign languages I already speak and to learn new ones…that would be a near equal dream to being an international pop star. MIIS is one the very best language, translation and interpretation schools in the world. People that come out of the school are damn good. I love this school and for a long time have wanted to just stop by to see what it was like. Today is that day. Maybe when I retire, I will take one language after another here until I die.

Tour, Day 23 – You Played the Bassoon

Leyla Zamora

Leyla and her bassoon

Today I got up and hung out with Jason for a bit. He showed me his awesome studio/workspace in the basement of his apartment, where he does some of the construction of the timpani mallets he sells through his company, JG Percussion. He also has a practice area where he rehearses timpani and other percussion parts. When I was in town, he was practicing for an upcoming – big time – audition for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He then cooked me a fantastic breakfast: two pieces of toast with circles cut out of the middle and filled with eggs over easy, topped with marmalade and honey. Beautiful! I don’t know why I didn’t take a picture of it.

Miles Driven: 227
States: California
Lodging: Slept in my car near Santa Barbara, CA

I left Jason a little before noon and headed to meet a friend of his, Leyla Zamora, with whom he played in the San Diego Symphony. Leyla is a bassoonist in the symphony, as well as one of the most kind persons I met on this trip. She has an unmistakably positive aura that is infectious – you can’t help but feel good around her.

I recently recorded the basis of a song that I’m very excited about titled, “You Played the Bassoon,” which is about living next door to a bassoon player. This song will be released this summer in the follow-up album to twoheartsone and will be called, twoheartstwo. Imagine it! Jason had connected me with Leyla a week or so ago, and that afternoon, we were set to record the bassoon parts I had charted out for this song.

Leyla lives with her husband – also a musician – in a very charming bungalow. We set up in her husband’s “man cave,” a small one-room structure in their backyard, which was quiet and perfect for our recording. Leyla was a pro we did a couple of takes and got everything done – set up and breakdown in an hour. I can’t wait to mix this song and post on the site!

Los Angeles Traffic

Los Angeles Traffic

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier

After leaving Leyla, I headed north through the jungle of LA highways. A real joy. Check out my view for much of the way in the picture at left. I stopped in Santa Monica for a few hours to have a few drinks with my friend, James Hunavinch. We met a few of his friends, including TV show host Krista Gibson, at a place called The Misfit. James is a wicked entrepreneur/programmer, who recently sold MoVoxx, a mobile ad network, and is currently working in LA on launching a new firm, EverySignal. He went to college at Iowa State with a bunch of my Chicago friends.

California Countryside

Near last night’s “campsite”

After hanging with James, I pressed on toward tomorrow’s destination – San Francisco. I had planned on camping at a state park north of Santa Barbara. I got there very late – as usual – and the wind was blowing cold air like crazy. I pulled my tent out…and then decided against putting up. I drove a bit further down the road and found a quiet spot alongside a farm for some more beautiful sleep in my car. (It actually isn’t that bad. I have a system going now: passenger side, seat fully reclined, shoes and socks off, inside my sleeping bag, pillow under my head, camping mattress rolled up and under my lower back (filling in the crack in the seat) and voilà! If I park on an incline, I’m nearly horizontal and feel like I’m in a twin bed.)

Tour, Day 22 – San Diahgo

Tin Can Alehouse

Tin Can Alehouse

Today is a much shorter drive, just a wee 355 miles. My greatest excitement today is coming up over the mountains and seeing the temperature slowly drop from around 100 degrees in the desert to about 70 along the California coast. I’ve spent the past two weeks in Texas and Arizona and cannot tell you how happy I am to be in a cooler, wetter environment. Tonight I have two shows in San Diego: a happy hour show at a bar called Eleven and then an evening show at the Tin Can Alehouse.

Miles Driven: 355
States: Arizona, California
Lodging: With my friend – and world-class classical percussionist – Jason Ginter in San Diego

Another accordion snafu! Once again I went to my resource – the National Accordion Association website – and found a talented player to join me at the Tin Can Alehouse show. We spoke on the phone. He thought the gig sounded interesting. He was a bit older and wasn’t well up to speed on computers – didn’t have email – so he asked me to send him my music to a friend’s email address. I did so – both song sheets and audio clips. I get a call from him the next day. He’s looking at my email with his buddy and wants to know where the music is. I’m confused but I talk him through how the song sheets are attached…the music clips are linked below, etc., etc. Now he’s angry! “No! I can’t work like this!” “Every time I work with an outside musician I overnight the sheet music to them! Why didn’t you overnight me the music???” OK. Well, it would have been nice if you could have asked for such when we spoke on the phone. I could have done just that.

I hated to do it, but – even though he then said he would ‘somehow manage’ to make it work – I had to go with my gut and bail. I thanked him for his time and said that I was inconveniencing him too much, let’s just call it off. “OK. Fine. Bye.”

As it happened the last time around, the second person I contracted was much easier to work with. I had to call all the other accordionists in the San Diego area, which led to me speaking with some very lovely people. One older woman was just the most beautiful human being. I wish I could have met and played with her. She plays regularly at nursing homes and told me she didn’t know any songs after 1950. She was so sweet.

I ended up being joined by Al Jacobs. I gave him a run-down of the show over the phone. He said, “Great. Sounds good. Where do I need to be and when? And what do I wear?” I love working with people that are this easy! Al was a terrific player and a fascinating person. He turned out to be 87 (though he looked to be 25 years younger). Al is originally from England and played his first show at 14 years of age for British soldiers in London in 1940. During World War II, he toured around Britain performing for the troops. During World War II??? It is still hard for me to get my head around.

The downside. I thought Al and I could wing it – I’d been thinking this all along during the tour. If I could get a talented musician to join me, with song sheets we’ll be able to make it work without a rehearsal. While that may be possible, it turns out it is unlikely, even for someone as experienced and talented as Al. He was a superb player, but we got off from time to time and there was no way for us to get back on the same page. We both ended up just plowing through the songs as best we could. Because of this, the show was a bit off, although, per the usual, the crowd didn’t seem to notice as much as I did. And there was a pretty good crowd at this show. I wish I had had the foresight to run through the music with Al once; I think we would have really nailed it.

One of my friends, Jason Ginter, an incredible percussionist and owner of JG Percussion, lives in San Diego and caught the show. Small world. He was good friends with Al Jacobs’ granddaughter and her boyfriend. As I left the stage and went to say ‘Hi’ to him, he was sitting with the two of them, and I assumed that they had just met and were simply being friendly. Turns out the three of them used to work together. Wild.

We had a few beers and then Jason and I left to pick up Jason’s girlfriend, Amanda, and headed to their favorite taco joint, La Fachada, for some late night tacos. The tacos were great, and it was nice to meet Jason’s girl, who is a ballerina with the California Ballet. I was also impressed because both of them started speaking Spanish as soon as we arrived to La Fachada.

Eleven

Eleven San Diego

DJ Night at Eleven

Love this poster

Let me back up real quick to tell you about the first show, which was at a bar called Eleven. It turns out that eleven is a reference to the film Spinal Tap. If you know my music, you already know that this venue is not the right one for me. At this bar, you are way more likely to hear shit-kicking punk than mellow folk/rock. In the end, this turned out to be nothing more than a warm-up for the other show. The bartenders were fairly nice and they had cooked up a wicked vegetable curry for all to enjoy. I did. It was spicy and I was sweating my ass off as I usually do with hot food. The sound guy had to go to a funeral and, therefore, wasn’t at the venue, so one of the waitresses and I had to figure out how to get everything working. It took a long while, but I finally got up and played for about 30 minutes. While I played, they projected “The Blues Brothers” film across me and the stage. (What is up with “The Blues Brothers”? People really love it. Everywhere. I have seen images of Jake and Elwood all across the US and abroad. (Writing this much later, one of the bars I played at in Turkey had them stenciled on the wall behind me.))

Tour, Day 21 – Burnin’ Rubber, Burnin’ Up

Highway

The Road

After last night’s show I drove a couple of hours to the South Llano River State Park to camp for the night. Per usual, I’m setting up my tent in the dark and wondering what creatures lurk in the woods. But I’m up early and on the road before 7am. No show today, just endless amounts of driving through some of the hottest, most inhospitable parts of the United States. After 9am I don’t think the temp has dropped below 90 all day. I have to get to Phoenix tonight – that’s my goal – so that I have an easier drive tomorrow to San Diego, where I have 2 shows on Wednesday.

Miles Driven: 860
States: Texas, Texas, Texas, More Texas, New Mexico, Arizona
Lodging: With my uncle, Craig, in Phoenix, Arizona

I arrive in Phoenix around 8pm, the temperature is 104 degrees. My sister says on days like this a breeze feels like someone has turned a hair-dryer right in your face. That’s exactly what it feels like as I roll my window down. “But it’s a dry heat…” Indeed.

Not much to say about this day other than it will be my most ambitious in terms of driving yet, around 860 miles when it’s all said and done. I will just be so glad to get out of the interminable state of Texas (despite my comment about the women a couple of days back).

Highway #2

More Road

My final comment today is to give a shout-out to the most wonderful app that I have yet purchased (another recommendation from my soon-to-be brother-in-law, Colin Hubbard): TuneIn. You must get it! I listened to the BBC London, Radio France and RTVE (Spain) all day. It really helped me through. (As an aside, it would be nice someday to have the support of a label to the extent that Norah Jones (most deservedly) does. I was listening to Radio France for a while. They cut to her new single. I listened to it for a bit then switched to Radio España where the exact same song was playing. Wow. Norah could quote Ludacris and say, “I’m worldwide, b*tch, act like y’all know.”)

Pulling out the next day, I’m extremely grateful to my Uncle Craig who hooked me up with two amazing ham and egg croissant sandwiches – one for breakfast, one for lunch – and his Fry’s card so that I could get a discount on (the very expensive) gas in Arizona and California.

Tour, Day 20 – Flipnotics

Zilker Park

Zilker Park

Taco Stand

Breakfast Tacos!

One of the things crammed in the trunk of my car is my soccer bag, complete with a couple of pairs of socks, cleats, a ball and a pump. During the past 3 weeks, I’ve had the most meager level of physical activity and outside of pulling the ball out once for a very brief juggling session by myself, I’ve not used any of it. Today, I finally did some exercise! I arrived to Austin in the morning and found this massive, beautiful park – Zilker Park – not far from tonight’s venue. I kicked the ball and ran around like a maniac for a couple of hours. Something about seeing such a large expanse of grass like that pictured at left completely releases me. I love it!

Miles Driven: 245
States: Texas
Lodging: Camping at South Llano River State Park near Junction, Texas

Flipnotics

Baristas at front of Flipnotics

Coming out of college, I got my very first “real” job in Houston, Texas. During my year living there I went to Austin a number of times and had the opportunity to meet a musician, Matt the Electrician, through a friend. I have been following Matt ever since. One of the places I saw that he plays regularly – in addition to frequent trips to the Netherlands and Denmark – was a bar/coffee house/music venue called Flipnotics. I thought the name always sounded interesting. It was one of the few places I approached about a gig in Austin.

Thinking about this day makes me laugh. I show up at the venue a couple of hours early. It’s a coffee shop, so I figure I can do some work for a while before I play. I show up in (quasi-hot pant) soccer shorts and a t-shirt, the sweat barely dried from romping about in the park. There are a few girls in the main room studying. I come in to the room several times loading in my equipment. It’s a real mess piled in the corner. Then I go back out to the car to bring some clothes up. I go into the bathroom for about 10 minutes and come out with my full-on show kit: boots, jeans, a button-down, doused in deodorant and cologne to try to hide the fact that, not only am I sweaty, but I haven’t showered in four days. Despite my Clark Kent, none of them stuck around for the show.

Bluegrass Jam

Monday night bluegrass jam at Flipnotics

Nonetheless…this was a great night. I had to run sound for myself – I waited around for a while until I finally asked if/when a sound guy would show up. “Oh, no, you do that yourself.” No problem. I end up playing for nearly 2 hours, pulling out just about every original song I knew. The crowd wasn’t large at all, but they were dedicated.

After I was done, a truly awesome set of musicians came in for the Monday night bluegrass jam session. I was really blown away by their set-up and chops. They put one condenser mic in the middle of the stage and all played like mad, taking turns to approach the microphone to sing or solo. If you are in Austin on a Monday night, I would highly recommend it.

One thing that was a bit different this night was that a violinist approached me about sitting in with me. I would have absolutely loved that but I had just come off the stage. He misinterpreted my response and asked if I was afraid to play with him. He suggested we go jam outside for a while and told me afterward he was going to sit in with the bluegrass band. His braggadocio was all a bit weird. The funny thing in the end was that it turned out his girlfriend also played fiddle. They ended up both jumping in the bluegrass jam – she was wonderful and completely stole the show while he struggled to follow along. I wasn’t surprised a bit.