Tour Diary, April 28-30, 2024 Nashville Edition

Tour Diary, April 28-30, 2024
Nashville Edition
It is six am, Nashville skyline time. I had the isle on the plane and tried my best to sleep and failed. Got my rental car and found a breakfast spot with “Pancake” in the name and then slept in the parking lot for about 3 hours.
I guess it’s good that car seats are not comfortable enough for sleeping but I do wish they had a reclined setting that was at least better for it. Some car seats are like that sofa in the show 30 Rock that is so uncomfortable that they use it as a torture device to get people to admit to crimes.
The Kia isn’t that bad but it is also not “good.”
I’m meeting up with my cousin Erin today who is driving in from Asheville, N.C. To hang out with me. She already got us an Airbnb and it’s just 15 minutes outside of downtown. Erin and I have a great catch up, she had pizza delivered and is just a great hang. I ask her if she is coming out tonight and she politely declines and says she needs to rest up to go out tomorrow night. It was a five hour drive for her so I definitely get it and I love that she is comfortable with her boundaries to just be like “I can’t do it. See you when you get home.”
It’s Friday night and night two of the Magnolia Roads Hoedown. I’m bummed that I missed last night as I know my friend Alice Wallace was playing the “made in Nashville” themed night. But I’m here and I’m hearing great music.
Friday is 70s themed night and it starts off with some Carol King, there’s some Aretha and when one band goes into Steely Dan, I even enjoyed that, making me realize that it is not the music of Steely Dan that I hate. It’s the two dudes in Steely Dan that I can’t stomach.
Fantastic night, amazing musicians and just a wonderful hang. Tommy Womack sang “I am woman” and they held up posters for everyone to sing along on the call and response parts. “gold dust woman” made me wish I was on stage playing along - that song is so haunting and beautiful. And the backing band, sweet jesus were they good.
Talking to a dude here I mentioned that I was looking forward to getting my ass kicked by some Nashville songwriting and Nashville definitely does not disappoint here. He says “That’s the best attitude to have. Folks are either motivated by what they hear or it implodes inside them and they go home and stop trying.”
I had never thought of it this way before and I think it’s amazing. I’m not fishing for compliments here but I know I have some strengths and weaknesses and I try to play to the strengths as much as I can while building up the weaker aspects of what I do.* I guess I am kind of resilient** in the way I’ve always seen my career as more of a continuous learning exercise rather than a final destination thing.
Saturday is “Number Nine” themed and everyone is playing one White Album Beatles song in their set. I’m a second hand Beatles fan. I’m a fan of people who love the Beatles; Paul Westerberg, Big Star, Danny Ott, Kenny Howes, Morgan Keating - I’m a fan of these folks and they LOVE the Beatles.*** That said I’ve always been more drawn to their weirder side. Yeah, “Don’t let me down” is probably my fav of theirs but from the White Album, I’m diving into some Bungalow Bill.
As I’m sound checking I hear someone shouting my name and has somehow forced their way into the closed venue. You can take the girl out of Billerica but you can’t take the Billerica out of the girl. Holy crap, it’s Laura Thompson Rublee. I had no idea she was flying in for the weekend but there’s no restraining her and the doorman even tried.
Laura had been secretly scheming with Tracy to surprise me at this show. I was 100% surprised. So surprised that when I first heard her, I could only hear her voice and not even see her in the dark bar but I knew it was her.
I may not have a big crowd but I do have a dedicated one and they show up EARLY!
I finish my soundcheck and then we all hang out, I introduce Laura and Larissa to my cousin Erin and they get on like peas and carrots. I’m walking the balance of seeing my fam/friends and hanging and trying to hear new music and meet new folks here. It’s a balance that I think I somewhat failed on both sides.
Now Jon Latham is on before me and talk about getting your ass kicked by some songwriting. God. Damn. Is he good. I loved his set and then I had to go on! I’m comfortable enough to be in my own head and just “do what you do, let ‘em fall where they may.” And so I did.
On stage I realize I have forgotten to do a setlist again. The good of this is that I can just go where the room takes me and feel it out. And this is a bar of listening folks. I’m going to say that again. This is a bar of folks listening to the music. You don’t find these everywhere. Shit, you don’t find them in all of Nashville. You hit Broadway and you’re going to be overrun at most places with bachelorette parties and New Orleans style drunkenness. But here, on the east side, at the Five Spot, we have listeners. I can play something loud, I can play something quiet, I can tell a story from the stage and it all works.
The reason performers love stages like this is that there is freedom in it. What we do feels like it has wings and can fly around the room. If you’re in that typical bar with folks chatting and the game in the corner - you either play to yourself and the couple people listening or you play to the room and be a human jukebox, setting yourself on fire to maintain their attention.
But when you have the freedom from the listeners to go where you feel, the shows are better, the experience is better for everyone. Thank you The 5 Spot and MagnoliaRoads for making this happen.
I don’t even entirely remember what I played. I know I did Bungalow Bill and I had a cheat sheet on stage because who the hell can remember lines like “He’s the all American bullet-headed Saxon mother’s son”**** But I know it went over alright.
And that’s the thing. Make new fans, do your thing, keep learning and getting better. Success.
Brand New Heartache take the stage after me and I’m a new fan of them too now. I’m chatting with folks and making connections, like you do. Hopefully things work out, if they don’t, then they don’t but so far things look good.
Erin has made dinner reservations for us around the corner and she changes it from two to four people and the four of us scoot over for dinner and great conversation. Me and the three ladies. I do think I look like the guy who is out with his three girlfriends or I look like the gay guy out with his three girlfriends. Table discussion is hysterical and ranges from ex-husbands to kids to perimenopause. So I bring a lot to the discussion.*****
After dinner Laura and Larissa take a Lyft back to their place and Erin and I go back to the 5 Spot. “I feel like you have questions?” I say to Erin. “Oh, so many questions!” And we laugh. We listen to some more music at the 5 Spot before going home.
It’s Sunday morning. Erin and I are packing to leave the Airbnb. We tried to get breakfast somewhere but it’s Sunday morning and all the places are packed. We hug goodbye and she starts her 5 hour drive east.
I go to downtown Nashville and pay $3700 for a parking spot****** and Find Laura and Larissa at Friends in Low Places listening to a band and having a drink. Larissa wants to go to Roberts Western World but they don’t start serving food and drink until noon. I’m psyched to go to Roberts because the music is FANTASTIC. They have the same groups playing for seemingly years here. We get there in time to hear the last few songs of the band that ends at 11:45 and it’s the best kind of Sunday morning service - being in Roberts and having the band close their set with “Any Hank Williams fans here?” And then play a great version of “I saw the light”. And this room, while not as quiet as the 5 Spot last night, is still a listening room on this Sunday morning.
As we’re sitting there Brandon Allen shows up and we have a great catch up. He’s playing today next door at Tootsies for a few hours. Brandon used to play drums with me in The Fallen Stars, we’ve toured together and recorded a few albums as well and now he lives here in Nashville playing drums 7 days a week. I am so psyched for him. I know it’s a shit ton of work, working that much but it’s really just a matter of time before he’s picked up and taken on the road with a bigger act. He was always great but he’s gotten even better.
Tootsies is NOT a listening room and the band is working it. They are great and the folks love them but it’s also a place where I look over at Laura and Larissa and they have their hands on top of their beer bottles. No unattended drinks today.
Brandon is crushing it here. It’s a good hang but I’m beat tired and when my parking expires at 4 I head out of town to see my friend Lara who is putting me up at her place with her mother. On my way there I stop into a Guitar Center - I don’t even know why - but they just happen to have a guitar that I’ve been lusting after for quite some time now there. It’s not like I am about to buy a $9k guitar but it’s nice to play it and clear that idea out of my head. Is it nice? Yeah. Is it $9k nice? No. There isn’t a guitar on earth worth this much.
Three Paragraphs of Guitar Geek Warning:
I’ve hit terminal velocity with guitars. Sure there’s still a couple of guitars out there that I would *like* to own but there are no guitars left that I feel like I *need* to own. This is a shift that has been happening for a while. I mean, I bought a guitar last year that is my Gibson J30’s twin and I had to buy that.******* And I don’t know why I’ve never been happy with an off the rack instrument. Everything I have is customized in some way from how it arrived, whether it’s changing pickups and bridge in my Rickenbackers, to changing the pickups and adding extra pickups to all my acoustics, or making guitars from scratch and reinventing the wheel over and over - I’ve always been on a quest for something unattainable (why can’t I get this Rickenbacker to sound like my Telecaster?!?) and sometimes maybe acting as a crutch to get over some kind of performing shortcoming - but just like my tone quest, I have always been self anazlying as to my own personal “why?”. Why do I do this or that, what’s the purpose?
And I’m not going to make any proclamations like “I’m done buying guitars” or anything but internally I’m trying to be done buying guitars. Yes, there is still one that I’m working on putting together that I have most of all the parts needed to make it happen but right now - I’m kind of tired of the unattainable, unending search. I have gotten rid of a few things in the last year and I will probably get rid of a few more things in the coming months. Nothing that’s worth like a lot of money but things that I have that their unused presence in my life clutters my brain.
This all corresponds with the creation and recording of my new album. I went through guitars and amp combinations trying to find the sounds in my head. There were 5 or 6 amps in my studio and I ended up using 4 in total. Two didn’t even get plugged in. I used my guitars, I used my buddy Doug’s Les Paul Jr and Ron’s ES-355. I thought the Jr would be used more as that’s where my sound used to live but the ES was really the absolute thing on a couple of songs.******** And in my frustration, I would circle through guitars, amps and pedals looking for *that* sound. When you hear the album you likely won’t even notice and that’s kind of the point. I was setting out to find the right guitar, right sound for each song. An Epiphone Casino showed up in my life and became a big part of a few songs. It’s not a guitar that I was ever drawn to but this specific instrument spoke to me and I’m glad I listened.
I can get nearly any tone I want right now, for a while I’m going to be chasing my voice and the songs more.
/end GGW
I haven’t seen my friend Lara since she showed up at a house concert I was doing at Dan Moran’s place in the sticks of New Hampshire. She greets me at the gate and I meet Momma Sue as well as two of the three cats that live here. We sit down on the patio and have cups of tea and catch up. Lara has plans with her friends tonight so I look up a local open mic to go play and I end up at The Villager.
The Villager is a postage stamped sized bar in a nice little downtown area. The stage is immediately to your left when you walk in and the only thing separating it from the rest of the bar is that no one is sitting in the 3 stools in front of the stage. The place is packed. There are 3 open spots on the sign up sheet and they are spot 26, 27 and 9. Which is just odd but I ask, can I be number 9? Sure. They are currently on 5. There’s a whole Open Mic etiquette thing against coming in, signing up for “next”, playing and then leaving so I don’t want to be that guy.
The host is friendly and there’s some fun stuff happening, it’s definitely not the downtown Nashville scene and it’s not anything traditional either. There is some weirdness here. Not bad weird, just off the beaten path weird - and it’s cool. As I’m playing there’s a guy sticking his head inside the door while his hand holds his cigarette outside and he keeps nodding along emphasizing my lyrics with “yeah man” and “right ons” and just grooving along. When I sing “a punk rock house, we all slept on the floor” I hear him loudly say “that’s right!” And it’s a great connection of camaraderie and I feel like I have this somewhat unique ability to walk between worlds with my songs. I can sing in the nice places and folks will appreciate it and I can sing in the dives and folks will dig it and I can play the folk Fests and fit in just as easily.
I didn’t calculate this. I didn’t set out to move between these genres and venues but I have never really felt wholly part of any one scene ever. And maybe I’m 100% wrong but that is how it feels where I’m standing.
Monday morning I am logged into the Bluebird website to get one of the coveted spots for their Monday night Open Mic. Signup happens at 11 am on their website. There are 18 spots available. I am refreshing my phone and ipad starting at 10:57 am. At 11 am I get the screen to register, before I can click “DONE” it’s closed and full. Less than 15 seconds.
I am bummed. Later on I will try to get one of the audience reserved spots and won’t even be able to get that. Shit. I had scheduled my flight home around at least getting to the Bluebird. I decide to go talk to some food about it.
Lara and Momma Sue have some appointments today so I hit up a Waffle House for breakfast. It’s about 11:30 am when I sit down. Prince is playing on the stereo. The staff are sort of moving in time and two very drunk guys are country line dancing to “Take me with U”.
Yeah, it does seem early for all this but I’m on the outskirts of Nashville and it is a Waffle House so…
Jade brings me tea and breakfast. I’m sitting and reading and drunk guy #1 comes up to me and says “<inaudible inaudible, inaudible>” and laughs and winks his eye. I nod my head. “I knew it!” And he leaves. I have no idea but it was a pleasant enough experience.
A few minutes later, as “A Love Bizarre” plays overhead the two of them return and they’re just looking at me and smiling. It’s a touch unsettling but I’ve been in unsettling when I thought it was danger and it is way too early for that feeling. They are conferring between themselves. I cannot understand anything being said even though it is, ostensibly, in English. Finally guy #2 says “Jack White!” And points at me. I shake my head no. He laughs. Guy #1 says “Told Ya!” And then Guy #2 “We knew you was someone famous. We won’t tell nobody.” Guy #1 winks at me and they leave.
I’m famous enough to get recognized but just not recognized as me. It’s going to take a while for me to unpack that one.
I was supposed to have some songwriting collabs this weekend but they kind of fell through and I’m not entirely upset as I am exhausted. I’m drained. There are some of the nicest vintage guitar stores near me and so I decide to visit a couple and just clear my head. (This happened before my GGW epiphany) And I saw amazing, beautiful, incredible guitars at all those shops but I didn’t see a single thing that I wanted or wanted more than anything I already have. That’s a good place to be.
Back at Lara’s, they have bought hamburgers to make for dinner tonight and I have a great hang with Momma Sue and Lara. I rest on the patio, drink tea and get a phone call from someone asking me to audition for a songwriter reality show. (??)
The world continues to be wacky and weird In a beautiful way.
I sleep late into Tuesday morning. Lara is up heading to work at the Zoo where she takes care of the goats. I shower, pack up and decide I will head back to the Waffle House where I am a celebrity. I get the same waitress as yesterday, Jade and she remembers me drinking tea. There is no Prince dance party going on today but everyone is super friendly and I look up the Waffle House twitter account and send a positive thing naming the store number and all that. As I finish sending the tweet, Jade comes over with a free waffle. “Here sweetie, we had an extra. Don’t want it to go to waste.”
I’m Waffle House famous.
*It’s like Messi using only his left foot.
**or stupid
***Just to be clear; I do not hate the Beatles. When I first started playing guitar as snot nosed 16 year old - everyone told me I HAD TO LOVE the Beatles and so I had a knee jerk reaction to being told to love something. Of course the Beatles are amazing but I never felt like me covering a Beatles song was a worthy endeavor. Like, I’m not introducing the Beatles to ANYONE.
****Seriously, that’s a line that just rolls off the tongue!
*****Other topics were covered but I like being funny here.
******Slight exaggeration. Just move the decimal point over two.
*******For those that don’t remember, I have two acoustic guitars that were made on consecutive days back in April of 1990. A Monday and a Tuesday guitar. So, yeah. I had to buy that one.
******** Maybe someday I will find an ES that belongs with me but for now it has not shown up.

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