Tour, Days 30-31 (No 2) – Drive-Thru Coffee

One of my favorite things about being in Oregon and Washington are the drive-thru coffee shops. They are excellent and they are everywhere! Ever since I lived in Bologna, I have been a fiend for coffee, consuming 2-4 (or more) shots per day of espresso. My typical drink is a doppio macchiato: two shots of espresso topped with a spoonful or two of foam (macchiato means “tinged” in Italian; those fancy caramel macchiato things they have at Starbucks have nothing to do with the real macchiato). (FYI, it’s one of the cheapest things at Starbucks next to drip coffee, good caffeine to dollar ratio.)

These drive-thrus are everywhere: big towns, small towns, out in the country…Zippy Java, Fast Lane Coffee, Human Bean, Dutch Brothers, Scooter’s, Bouncin’ Betty’s, Lighthouse Coffee, Mojo Coffee, Yellow Dog Espresso, Grabajava Espresso, Cuppa Joe, Lovely Lady Lattes…just to name a few that I saw…and I couldn’t help but stop every time I saw one. See my mini-gallery below – which does not come close to doing them justice.

In addition to their ubiquity, these drive-thrus tend to be very cheap compared to the coffee shops I’m familiar with in Chicago. I usually ordered the double espresso with a little foam I described above and got out of there at $1 sometimes and never more than $2. I tried to ask people why these places were so common, but the best answer I received was hypothesizing about the long winter and the need to stay awake. Is that it? Why is extreme coffee drinking so prevalent out here?

Dutch Brothers

Dutch Brothers

Bouncin' Betty's

Bouncin’ Betty’s

Mojo Coffee

Mojo Coffee

C&L Burgers and Espresso

C&L Burgers & Espresso

Grabajava Espresso

Grabajava Espresso

Cuppa Joe

Cuppa Joe

Human Bean

Human Bean

Bouncin’ Betty’s

As I rolled in to Bouncin’ Betty’s, in Roseburg, Oregon, for my 7th coffee of the day, I noticed a sign that said “bikini crossing” at the start of the drive-thru lane. There was what looked like an older gentleman ahead of me in a large pick-up truck taking forever with his order. Naive me saw why when I rolled up to have my order taken by a early-20s-ish, very busty woman in a hot pink triangle bikini. (I wanted to post a picture, but photography was severely prohibited…although I did find the great video below on YouTube.) This stop happened to result in one of my $1 drinks. I’m not sure she charged me correctly, though she didn’t seem too worried. After Betty’s, I noticed that these places are everywhere, though none of the others were quite as exciting as my first time.

Unique Effort to Fight Alcohol Addiction

Free Coffee

Free coffee to support AA

One final coffee-related item: I was up at the crack of dawn the night after I camped out in the state park in Central Washington. After driving for a few minutes, I saw an official highway sign pointing to a rest area with free coffee. I pulled over to check it out. It was not yet 7am and a local AA chapter was at the rest area giving out coffee, cookies and muffins to drivers to raise donations to help fight alcohol addiction. I thought this was an extremely admirable initiative at a very well-chosen venue.

Tour, Days 30-31 (No 1) – the Northwest

Shelley and Zander

Shelley and a squirmy Zander

So, I’m back in California and heading north. I arrived late last night from Hawai’i, picked up my car and drove to a Redwood forest state park north of Oakland. This morning I visited my cousin, Shelley, and got to meet her beautiful son, Zander, for the first time. Getting to catch up with friends and family that I haven’t seen for a while has been a great part of this tour. I hung out with Shelley and Zander for an hour or so then hit the road with a goal for today of reaching Portland.

Miles: 830 (over 2 days)
States: California, Oregon, Washington
Lodging: Valley of the Rogue State Park, near Grants Pass, OR; Seaquest State Park, Silver Lake, WA

Mount Shasta

Mount Shasta

It was remarkable how quickly the temperature rose after leaving the Bay Area. This morning it was in the low 70s, beautiful weather. Within an hour drive, it was in the high 90s. I drove toward Sacramento and then up Interstate 5 toward Ashland, Oregon. I stopped at Lake Shasta and jumped in the water for a minute. It’s definitely wonderful to be around water – in fact, it makes the whole experience better – when it is this hot. I didn’t end up making it quite as far as I’d hoped because of all my stopping and screwing around, jumping in lakes and taking pictures. Instead, I camped about an hour north of Ashland, Oregon. (By the way, I’m up to 48 states now!)


God’s Country

One of my friends in Georgia used to wax poetic about how Southern Georgia was “god’s country.” I can still hear his voice, “The smell of the pine trees, the warm summer nights, the sand between your toes…” I think he must have been on something. Since then, I’ve heard a lot of people claim various places as being “god’s country.” While there are many that surely can claim that title, I’m putting my vote in for Oregon. It is absolutely beautiful: green, green, green and mountains and hills and trees everywhere, not too many people to get in the way… I feel at home here.

I arrived in Ashland – the hometown of my friend, Kacy Curtis, of San Francisco Put Her to Bed fame – in the early evening and strolled through town. The day was magical – warm and clear and sunny – which no doubt influenced how I was feeling about the state. It was a Thursday evening and people were everywhere around town – at restaurants, walking slowly past shop-filled streets and in the many large and beautiful parks near the downtown area. The biggest crowds were heading to the Angus Bowmer Theatre, where White Snake, a play adapted from a Chinese Fable was being presented. (It turns out that one of my friends from Chicago, Ronnie Malley, oud player in the band Lamajamal (Nice site, huh? Yeah, I built it!), was actually working on this production.) Ashland is huge into theater and the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Theater references are all over town.

The next morning I continued to head north. The rest of the way up to Seattle was a blur. I drove north through Eugene and then took a left through Corvallis, in route to the coast. I have always heard that the Oregon coast was cliff-filled and dramatic – much different than the Southeastern coast, with which I am most familiar – and I just had to see it. I stopped in Corvallis to get some lunch and ended up eating at a taco joint where the Oregon State University Women’s Rugby Club was doing one of those car wash fundraisers. I told them that they didn’t need to dry my car off if they could work on getting off some of the millions of bugs I had accumulated during the past 5,000 miles. They did a great job!

Captain Dan's

Something for everyone

Oregon Coast

Don’t try swimming here

The weather changes so much in the space of 100 miles up here. I headed to the coast where the weather was misty and gray. The cliffs were dramatic and the sea was rowdy. I got out of my car and walked around in Lincoln City. If you were to try to swim out from the (very rocky) coast directly in front of the main shopping area, you would be in some serious trouble. The waves were rocking the crags along the shore. On a softer note, I forgot to mention that I stopped a few miles earlier, in Newport, and got a chocolate malt from Flashbacks Fountain & Grill, a ’50s style diner. It was sweet.

This is lame but I ended up goofing around for so long along the coast that I ended up skirting Portland – necessitating future trip up here this summer – and heading into Washington. (49 states!) I camped in a beautiful forest near Mount St. Helens – Seaquest State Park – and then drove to Seattle the next morning.

Tour, Days 26-29 – Maui


Sunrise at Haleakalā

This tour has been somewhat pegged around weddings. I chose to take the route that I did up to this point so that I would end up in San Francisco, where I would fly out to a friend’s wedding in Hawai’i. Did you follow that? Anyway, I get to cross another state off my list today! Up to 47! I will be here from Sunday to Wednesday. Then I’m back in the car heading to the Northwest.

Just a couple of things about my few days in Hawai’i:

It is a ridiculously beautiful state. I got to see a lot of Maui by driving all over the island and camping a different locations each night. On my last morning, I got up at 4am and drove up to Haleakala to see the sunrise. The temperature plummeted into the 40s above 10,000 feet. I had to put on all of the clothes I brought with me and still I was freezing waiting for the sun to come up. As I drove down, I couldn’t help think about how bizarre it is that so much of Hawai’i looks like various parts of mainland United States – there are pine trees and other flora that look very similar to what you might see on the continent. It boggles my mind to think that the islands were once black rocks jutting out of the ocean and devoid of plants and animals.

Haiku MillHaiku MillThe wedding itself was at one of the most gorgeous venues I’ve ever been to. Haiku Mill is a beautifully broken down and overgrown sugar mill, built in the mid-1800s and located on the north side of the island. The photos on their site do not do the locale justice. It was really stunning.


Sunset at campsite on Maui

A final note: when packing my bag before I jumped on the plane, I tried to get rid of everything that wasn’t essential. I brought my tent but overdid my paring down by leaving behind the (already extremely tiny) bag of stakes in my tent bag. I ended up paying for this error during my first night camping. It was extremely windy each of the nights I was there.

That first night, I was able to set up the tent by holding onto it and throwing my sleeping bag and mattress inside. I didn’t realize how bad it was, however, until midway through the night I noticed the tent was rocking hard back and forth, each side taking turns coming up from the sand to the point of touching my body. This was a bit annoying but tolerable until I had to go to the bathroom. I held it for as long as I could trying to work out what I would do. In the end, I had to unbutton my shorts first, then step out of the tent grabbing it with one hand, walk over kind of close to a tree and do my thing. The whole time I was going, the tent was flying up and down with the wind. I only barely managed to hold on to it AND not pee on myself. The next night, the first thing I did was find four big rocks to anchor the tent.

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 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


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


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.

Tour, Day 19 – Gruene Hall

Gruene HallLast night I played in San Antonio. Tomorrow night I play in Austin. Today I’m in Gruene (pronounced “green”), Texas. A perfect in-between stop for an in-between day. I slept in my car last night because I was too tired to make it to the closest state park – great sleep – and was up early again. I headed to downtown Gruene – and Gruene Hall – on the suggestion of my sister, Ashley, and her fiance, Colin. Great recommendation!

Miles Driven: 52
States: Texas
Lodging: Camping at Pedernales Falls State Park near Johnson City, Texas

Gruene Hall PlaqueGruene is a town founded by a first generation German-American farmer in the late 1800s. Gruene Hall is in the center of a strip of shops and restaurants and is said to be one of the oldest dance halls in Texas. On the day I arrived local radio station KNBT|92.1 FM was hosting the 15th Annual Americana Music Jam. From noon till 10pm they had one band after the other playing, including Robert Earl Keen. While I had seen a lot of bands play in the last few weeks, it was great for me to be able to sit back and watch a ton of pros do their thing. Besides Robert Earl Keen, I didn’t know any of the performers, yet people were crazy about every single performer, dancing and singing along to all the songs. Almost all the performers would be classified as playing country music, and I’ve always heard that Texas country has a strong local following even if they don’t have a large national audience.

The venue, which is in its original building, has a bar at the front, wood floors everywhere and reaches around to a large, barn-like structure at the back that is semi-open on the sides except for some chicken wire. They had two stages set up and ping ponged back and forth between the two barely wasting a minute on changeovers. It was really an impressively run festival.

Gruene HallGruene HallArriving early in the morning, I saw that the doors opened at 11am and the music didn’t start till noon. I made an effort to get a spot last minute. The guy running the festival listened to my pitch but didn’t let me play because they were to be setting up all the way to 12pm. Anyway, I was glad I tried. Instead, I ended up drinking a ton of beer and listening to a lot of great music. I was particularly impressed with a guy named Adam Hood from Opelika, Alabama. He – and many of the performers for that matter – had such an understated persona and dress. You would never know that he was about to take the stage to mad applause. Adam has a very soulful voice, writes good songs and plays guitar very well. In my opinion, the photos on his site are a bit too done up and don’t communicate the raw passion and down-to-earth nature of his music. They don’t do him justice.

Texas Hill Country

Texas Hill Country

Texas Wildflowers

Texas Wildflowers

A final comment. I don’t think I could ever live in Texas. Too damn hot. But Gruene/Austin, would be where I would go if I ever did. They have trees and topography and great music. Another thing – and maybe that festival was just misleading – but I didn’t see a single woman the whole time I was in that area that wasn’t fit and good looking. If the Beach Boys had grown up in Texas they surely would have been singing a different song.