Saturday, August 2, 2008

Day two hundred and thirteen ... History repeats itself

6:45 a. m.

"Beep ... beep ... beep ... beep ... beep ... beep ... "

Why is my alarm ... yawn ... going off?

Ummmmm .... right ... the Folk Festival. I'm supposed to play the Newport Folk Festival with the Young at Heart Chorus.

God damn it!

I can probably get away with fifteen more minutes of sleep ... 

7:00 a. m.

"Beep ... beep ... beep ... beep ... beep ... "

God damn it!

All right, all right. I'll get the show on the road, as my mother would say.

As I decided to drive myself and not take the bus with the Chorus (so I could spend time with The Aunt on the Cape after), I agreed to meet them at the Harbor Stage at 10:15 a. m.. 

So I was already cutting it close.

And when I got on 91 N. at 7:45, fifteen minutes behind when the Chorus was supposedly getting on 91 N., I was cutting it even closer.

Better go 80.

Okay. So now I'm making good time.

I take exit 10 like I'm supposed to because Mapquest told me to.

And the next thing I know I'm driving through Worcester on my way to Millbury.

Well, it's a lovely day for a ride isn't it?

So, I call up Pablo and he kind of helps me, but not really. He doesn't know the area any better than I do. Then I stop a would-be jogger (as I am now on a slow moving strip-mall kind of road), and she tells me how to get back on and head towards Worcester.

Oh boy, it's gonna be a long day. I can just feel it.

So, after about a half hour setback, I'm on my way down and onto 95, heading towards Rhode Island.

10:07 a. m.

I decide to call Diane (the Chorus' production manager) to see what their ride is looking like. She says there's plenty of traffic, and they're stuck in the middle of it. She tells me to follow the directions that she gave me (which her bus driver disregarded) and go around town.

She tells me to drive safe.

I tell her okay.

11:05 a. m.

I'm stuck in traffic at the end of the line of cars to get into the entrance to the Folk Fest. My air conditioner is on full, and I can't quite get my body to sit in the seat properly. I'm kind of two inches from the back of the seat at all times like I get when I'm running horrendously late, bouncing my hands off of the steering wheel on either side and craning my head towards the closed window to keep a keen eye on the cars I've been in back of for twenty minutes.

See, we had to cut two songs from the set already to shave it down to 40 minutes. There's no room for delays. There's no room for error. 

But I can picture just enough room for a five foot six and three quarter inch guitar player that's going to look suspiciously uninhabited if I don't catch a break.

I now have my windows open because a guy is coming by to take money for parking.

A car creeps up on my right, and I hear, from the driver's seat.

"I-am-so-fucking-psyched-to-see-mother-fucking-Trey-to-day," and he playfully bounces his hands on the steering wheel to the music.

I hear the plink-plank-plonk sounds coming from the twenty-something's car stereo, which is unmistakably the band Phish. This little hippie kid is psyched to see Phish's guitarist, Trey Anastasio, who's playing solo.

Just like me and my guitar if this traffic doesn't move.

I call Diane. She says not to worry. She says everything's all set for me.

She tells me to breathe.

And as I do, I pull up to the ticket-taker and he calmly tells me how to get around to the Harbor Stage. He tells me he'll radio ahead and let them know I'm coming. He says they're expecting me.

No shit.

So I whiz semi-cautiously by the visor-clad waspy families with their ergo-dynamically designed beach chairs and their futuristic Coleman coolers that might as well be radio controlled.

I come to the other security guys who give me a parking pass and wave me on.

11:20 a. m.

I pull up to the side of the stage. The parking guy says I can't leave my car there. John Laprade (our lighting designer) rushes over and tells me to grab my gear and set up, and he'll park my car.

Not so fast, Johnny. In a more perfect world this would be possible. My present world is functional, but far from perfect.

Smart-Start, I'd like to fill out a comment card.


"Please include an emergency button on your ignition interlock devices for emergencies. One activation per month will be fine. Thank you. F.A.J."

So I park, I run, I almost fall in my all black apparel, and I make it on stage with three minutes to spare.

I hear "Freddy's here!," from Dan, Bob, a few chorus members, and the little voice inside my head.

So true. So almost not.

I set up my pedals, plug into the beautiful, blackface Fender Twin, tune up, and look around at my band--smiles all around.

11:30 a. m.

"Ladies and gentlemen ... all the way from Western Mass (cheers), The Young at Heart Chorus!"

And away we go.

The set was intense. The crowd was way into it. The movie must have been a big factor because this kind of cheering and screaming is usually reserved for hometown gigs and abroad.

But we dig deep and the Chorus delivers. I look around and see all the fine people in their best concert-going apparel ...

... including a few in bikinis.

How nice.

The band played great. 

I felt a distinct presence of my Uncle, Alex (my mother and aunt's brother), who passed away ten years ago. He was a Navy man all his life, and he and his family spent quite some time in Newport through the seventies and early eighties. I, as well, spent a good amount of time in this town with him. I can't explain anymore than to say it felt good, it felt right, and it felt like something more than what it ultimately was--another important gig.

The spirits are kicking up some dust around me right now, and I'd be a fool not to notice it.

But, as I was saying ...

This here is our setlist. That size ten shoe belongs to Mr. Jack Schnepp.

And that's my trusty Morely volume pedal I've had for fifteen years.

I played my 61' Strat for the first half of the set. Partly because it fit the vibe and the historical connection of the festival and Dylan and all that stuff ... 

... and partly because I wouldn't dare play Purple Haze with my Les Paul when I had an option. Not for this crowd.

No, that'd be just wrong.

So I switch to the Gibson mid-way through the set and I notice a shift of attention from one of the photographers.

A husky guy with a backwards baseball cap and a professional looking camera plunks himself at the front of the edge of the stage where I'm on and starts clicking away.

He must have taken twenty shots of me from various angles. I gave a few glances towards the lens (which I am subsequently regretting), and dug in good and heavy on the Les Paul. He took a few more pictures and then moved on. I think he felt that it was getting close to the end of the set. 

This was the point when Dora and Stan were dancing during "Walk on the Wild Side," and there must have been twenty photographers all huddled in the same ten foot arc, all snapping away.

It was freaky. 

It was pretty funny to witness.

It's not the first time it's happened, and I get a funny feeling it won't be the last.

The song ended and the crowd erupted. I mean ferocious cheers. It was the first act of the day--a very long day for most--and everyone still had a ton of energy.

These are the times I'm glad I have my camera on stage, regardless of whether it looks a tad bit inappropriate. 

I have people to entertain, too.

And then, after a quick encore of Dylan's, "Forever Young," the set was over.

I packed up my pedals and cords quickly and put my guitars in their cases. While I did so, I found it quite amusing to hear the announcer say, "Stick around folks, coming up next ... Jakob Dylan."

So surreal.

So I put my gear in my car and headed back to the stage area. As I made my way back, the same photographer that was keen on snapping me during the set came up and said, "Where's the Gibson?"

"It's in my car. My name's Alex."

"Hi, I'm Tom. I'm taking photos for Gibson. Would you mind posing with your axe for a few shots for the website?"


"Gibson dot com."

"Sure. Why not?"

So I went back, grabbed my axe, came back to the giant Gibson tour bus (they're one of the sponsors of the festival), and sat down with Lenny and Dora from the Chorus. We made small talk as Tom took some photos. I gave him my card, told him my full name, and returned my axe to my Subaru.

Once again, very surreal.

I went to the artists catering hall with Steve, John Laprade, and a few others, and ate cheeseburgers, grilled chicken, and corn on the cob. We could hear, from the outside of the artist's area, the sounds of Richie Havens singing and aggressively strumming his guitar on the big stage. 

Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward sat chatting at the table next to us. Zooey looked simply stunning in a vintage, white, sequined top, crepe-paper style skirt, and oversized white flower ribbon in her hair. The creme colored high-heels were a nice touch.

Steve told me she played Will Ferrel's girlfriend in Elf, which impressed me to no end.

So, I made it back to the Harbor stage where we had just played, and watched Jakob Dylan and his band perform.

He did some of his Wallflowers hits including "Three Marlenas," as well as some new solo stuff. The guy in the pic on his left is Audley Freed from the Black Crowes. Audley doesn't play with them anymore which I found--like so many other things on this fine day--quite amusing.

Right before the last song, Jakob said to the crowd, "We were going to do Forever Young, but somebody already did ... it happens."


Just look at this posture and tell me he's not a chip off the old block.
So, the set ended and I went to sit with Steve under a very adequate tent. 

I got up to get a water, and happened upon a funny situation. Two guys were talking to each other. I patiently waited for a break in the conversation. While I did so, I made sure my camera was ready to go.

"Hi," I said. "You're Steve Earle, right?"


I shook his hand. 

"Nice to meet you. My name is Alex and I play with the Young at Heart Chorus."

He smiled.

I turned to Jakob. "Jakob. Hi. Nice set."

I shook his slender hand with my meaty ham-hock.

"Thanks," he said in a monotone that sounded just right.

"Guys," I said, "It would be quite a coup if I could get a picture of me with the two of you for the folks back home. Would that be okay?"

"Well," Steve Earle said, "If you can find someone to take it for you."

And in a matter of three seconds I had given my camera to a person whose face I now cannot recall for the life of me. If, for some strange reason, he's reading this right now, I'd like to say thank you very much for the fine souvenir.

I think it would make for a fun tour ... you know ... just the three of us. Earle, Johnson, and Dylan.

We could flip a coin for the order each night.

Once again ... quite amusing.

So, after this adrenaline inducing moment I went traipsing over to see my buddy Pablo and we took a stroll around the perimeter.

I could have probably cropped out the Sani-Can's, but I think it would be short changing the whole atmosphere. Those are "artist" crappers: full length mirrors, sinks, and they flush, too. 

I kid, because I love.

At two o'clock I met up with our bassist, Jim Armenti, Chorus director, Bob Cilman, our drummer, Billy Arnold, Steve (my bandmate and the Chorus' percussionist/backup vocalist/stage manager), and a few chorus members for a meet and greet at the Gibson tent. There, we picked out a bunch of acoustics from the bus (which were in there for anybody who wanted to cover their belt buckle and pluck a few strings). We sang a few chorus' of the Stones' "Dead Flowers," to the line of fifty or so people in front of us waiting to meet Richie Havens.

We all got t-shirts that came shrunken and wrapped in the shape of a tiny acoustic guitar, all squeezed together like one of those vacuum sealer bag things which seems to be a new fad.

After that I went to the big stage to see Trey Anastasio, who was playing solo acoustic.

There were two sky-box like areas on either side of the stage that held about fifty people for the artists to enjoy the show. That's where this pic was taken from.

I wish I could say better things about the performance. 

Phish, as some of you might know, is a group whose reputation was built from a high level of proficiency on each musician's respective instruments. They have some catchy songs, and a great host of their repertoire relies on being heard in context with drums, bass, keyboards, and harmonies. There are certain stories that involve characters that the audience has become familiar with over time. Together, as a group, in concert, in context, this band is a powerhouse, and they are led fearlessly by Trey, who is one of the most intriguing and unique guitarists I have ever heard.

Alone, out of context, on an acoustic guitar, I can only describe it as sounding uncomfortable, unrehearsed, limp, and strained.

At one point, during the song "Bathtub Gin," Trey turned the mic to the audience to sing the the guitar line that crops up in the song during the breaks. One time, and it was okay. Twice, and it seemed a bit much. Three times, and I just had to leave. These people didn't pay $80 to sing, Trey. They came to hear you sing and play more than half-heartedly strummed chords.

It felt so dated. I was once into the band back in the nineties. I never went on tour with them, like so many people I knew--I was on the road myself as it was--but Phish was the sound of the nineties for those who disliked grunge. It has its place on the shelf as an impressive body of non-threatening, beta-oriented, monstrously talented, hippie-rock.

Solo acoustic, it just doesn't translate almost at all.

That said, I will definitely be up for seeing the reunion tour.

I made it back to the smaller tent just as Steve Earle was finishing. 

Sorry, Steve. Thanks though, for the pic.

Next up was She and Him, featuring the aforementioned Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward.

Great songs, a tight, well-rehearsed band, the beautiful and coy Zooey, in her fancy outfit, and a cameo with Jim James from My Morning Jacket (pic below), made this one of my favorite performances of the day.

While they played the rain came--hard. It poured for a good half hour prompting Zooey to don her very stylish rain-shawl.

As I was taking this pic above, a schlubby man next to me with a very expensive looking camera asked loudly for a woman in front of him to move so he could take some pictures. It was a quiet, soulful song that commanded the audience's attention.

The man with the camera said, loudly--and to no one in particular--
"Oh ... I think I'm in love."

Nice one, dude. 

In the pocket. I think, with game like that, you really got a chance.

Jim James was up next, and he was great.

I don't have the new My Morning Jacket record, but he played a bunch of tunes I recognized including the beautiful "Golden," from It Still Moves, which M. Ward accentuated with some tasty acoustic picking. 

You can hear and see that song performed at the Festival in the clip above. For the record, I did not take it, but the sound quality is pretty good.

A guy from WERS (Emerson College radio in Boston), came up and interviewed me the old fashioned way (with a pad and pen), for a while while I was hanging with Pablo. That and the "artist" laminate got me some pretty funny looks.

"Honey, is that that guy from the Black Crowes?"

"No. I think that's that guy from the Counting Crowes. And it looks like he finally got a haircut and joined a gym."


The pouring rain had turned to a trickle, then to a mist, and finally the sky cleared and the late afternoon sun came out just in time for the big closing act.

Fire up the incense and stick them in some apples, cause we're gonna get freaky, people.

Pablo and myself made our way to the best seats in the house right before the start of the show.
Chris and Rich came out first and did a few tunes acoustically. The band filtered out one by one until they were all onstage playing. I didn't recognize any of the new members of the band but they seemed to work well together whether it was an old classic like "Remedy," "Wiser Time," or something new like "Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution."

Jim James (center), changed out of his suit and into an appropriate black tank-top to take in the action alongside me and Pablo (wearing purple).

I've seen the Crowes many times and with many formations, but this was one of my favorites. This band reminded me that you can still pack 'em in no matter how old you are, or whether you have a face made for TRL. You just have to play with passion, honesty and energy. And, you have to have a flair for entertaining. Chris Robinson still has all the moxie and moves I remember from seeing him at their height of power back in the mid nineties.

And the crowd was loving it as well.

I detected the smell of strong herb from below, but I didn't see these guys even bat an eye.

These two wonderfully colorful backup singers piped up on many tunes. When they weren't singing, however, they simply sat down next to each other and twirled their hair looking like they were waiting for a bus.

They ended the rollicking set and Chris wished their keyboardist, Adam MacDougal (foreground center), a happy birthday.

I came upon Luther Dickinson (their second guitarist), on my way down the stairs, and conveyed my appreciation for his playing.

He said thanks and walked off in the direction of the rest of the band, who were each arm in arm with drop-dead gorgeous girlfriends ...

... just like you read about.

And so, the day came to an end. I couldn't help but be reminded--as I picked up my half drank bottle of water--that I did today, what I have been talking about doing for a while. I did today, what I have been striving to do as a regular part of my life. 

I had sat there--in the same spot--for an hour and a half, and been entertained. I didn't occupy my time looking for a cooler that didn't belong to me. I didn't try to smoke anything that could have gotten me in trouble. I didn't worry about what time it was going to be when the show was over.

I just sat there and smiled. 

I had a good time--and that goes for the whole day.

I spent time with my friends and fellow traveling companions.

I made my guitar produce noises that bounced out into the air and over the water in the distance for all to hear.

I got to meet some people who I enjoy listening to on the radio.

I got a free t-shirt.

I got rained on, and welcomed every drop.

And hell, I even got paid.

And I added another strange and wonderful day to my long list of happenings in my life that I can enjoy now, and share with you, and remember for the rest of my life.

As I left Newport on the Jamestown bridge, I looked over at the water that was splashing against the rocks. 

It was alive.

It was moving.

It was restless.

It was being pushed and pulled by the heavens.

I thought of my uncle, and my mother, and I knew that if they could see me now, how proud they would be.

And in saying that, I knew that they could.

I drove home to my aunt's house, pulled in, had a cup of ice cream, and went to bed.

This life takes a lot out of you.

Thanks for reading.


PS: In about a month from now, if all goes as planned, I'll be heading out with the Young at Heart to D.C. for the A.A.R.P. festival. The scheduled guest's for one of the day's events: Maya Angelou, Quincy Jones, Young at Heart Chorus, and John McCain.

Yeah, I'll have to post a few words about that one.

Stay tuned.


Ray said...

Nice one, Fredzo.

Here's a tidbit for you: Billy Arnold got home from the show, then jumped back in his car and played the entire night with me at Theodores in Springfield.

What a road warrior and all around great guy.


John Holland said...

Sounds like a wonderful day. Sounds like the type of day I enjoy at the Jazz Fest down here in New Orleans, just enjoying the day and the music.

drunkstuntmenbow said...

maybe the best picture I've ever seen is you Steve Earle and Bobs' kid.

Rick said...

What a wonderful world. Great post, Alex. Thought of you last night at Zappa Plays Zappa. The second guitarist (Jamie Kime) had a lovely Bogner half-stack.