Nashville Road Trip – Day #7

Tuesday – Day #7:

As I left Washington this morning I was craving some strong coffee and a chance to catch up on some reading. I found a cozy old diner on the road leaving town. Doghouse Diner is one of those lucky gems you find every now and again. It’s places like these where you can truly mix with the locals and get absorbed into their conversations. After my unsettling night at the motel, I cradled my coffee and waited until I was fully functional before hitting the road again. I took a wrong turn and ended up driving though an industrial part of town in a long-winded attempt at looping back around. Hitting a railroad crossing a little too hard caused me to chip a tooth which left a small hole in my back molar. It was something I knew would happen eventually but I was hoping to at least make it to my next dental appointment in a few weeks. Thank you Washington, I would have had to have that drilled out anyway.

I continued on 70 and took in the changing landscape yet again. Green and mountainous. It may have been even more beautiful but the roads cut through the mountains instead of going over or around them like earlier on my trip. After stopping for gas and continuing on my journey, the cookie cutter tunnels were so similar that I pulled off the road to make sure I wasn’t doubling back by mistake. I was going to stop at Harrisburg for lunch but decided to forge ahead to Lancaster so I could visit Amish Country. Driving from Lancaster (beautiful town btw) to Strasburg, I then got on route 896 and drove south-east into the center of the Amish countryside.

Unlike earlier when I was simply viewing the scenery, now I was in it. With the windows rolled down, everything I passed through poured into the car. The farms, livestock, cornfields and trees. I spotted several people on buggies and religion was as prominent as it was down south. I had packed a sandwich incase I couldn’t find a place to eat but somehow managed to find a small restaurant that sold slices of pizza. I ate it outside taking in my surroundings. A cop car pulled up beside me and waited in trying to catch speeders coming around a sharp turn in the road. There are many sharp turns in almost all the roads but I’m sure being close to pizza had something to with this particular location.

As I was attempting to find the road that would take me to towards south New Jersey where I would then travel north, my cell phone died. Now I was really lost. I had taken a scenic route through some back roads and lost track of my bearings. I pulled over to the side of the road, left the car running hoping to charge my phone and waited. I was totally alone, it was silent except for some birds and a few large towering trees moving in the breeze. I looked back from where I came from, a small village where kids came out to look at the car. Not that they had never seen a car before, Amish country is not really like that, probably just curious as I had really slipped off the beaten path. Except for the carved up fields and single electrical pylon in the distance there was no trace of people whatsoever. I had one of those moments again, they’re so rare these days. Growing up near farms as a kid it was something I would do from time to time, to go and get safely lost. I always knew how to return but there was a thrill of being totally isolated, at least for an amount of time I could control. I forgot how much our senses are constantly overloaded while living in New York. Near absolute silence can be a little unsettling.  My phone eventually charged, google maps lit up its screen and I found a route to the highway.

The drive north was the least interesting part of the whole trip until I hit Brooklyn via the Verrazano. Soon after I was pulling into a lucky spot outside my apartment and my Nashville road trip was over. It was good to be home. I’m glad I chose to turn the Nashville gigs into a road trip, I’ve returned with a far better appreciation of a good night’s sleep and country music. There is a directness, fun-loving quality and warmth with people I’ve encountered in the south that reminds me a little of home. Not just from this trip but from the one to New Orleans also. From here on out I’ll be looking for any excuse to return

I’ve been offered some out-of-state gigs for Supersmall, maybe this is something I could do again. Anyway, it’s great to be back home. The end!

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Nashville Road Trip – Day #6

Monday – Day #6:

Oh, Ohio sky!

Goodbye Nashville, I hardly knew yah. Upon the suggestion of several people who make the journey back to New York more than I do, I decided to return via a different route. I would be traveling north to Ohio, then across Pennsylvania towards home. First stop was for lunch in Louisville, Kentucky. Another large yet seemingly empty city. It was easy getting around, unlike New York I was free to move without being elbow to shoulder with folk. It will be hard leaving this sense of space behind. I walked to the Ohio River and enjoyed its peace and gentle quiet before searching for a place to get lunch. Back on the road I drove through Cincinnati and towards Columbus.

Virginia takes the ground for beauty but Ohio owns the Sky. It’s clouds so heavy, they collapse against the horizon like my unmade hotel bed. I stopped off at a gas station for coffee and water but took some time out to view the rolling cornfields that stopped just feet from the gas pumps. Big sky and cornfields is how I’ll remember Ohio. I listened to the double CD that I bought upon Pete’s suggestion at the Country Music Hall of Fame on repeat as it provided the perfect soundtrack on what would be some long uneventful driving with spectacular skyscapes.

I pushed hard to get as many miles under my belt as I could and finally settled on Washington, Pennsylvania as my stopover point. My cell phone wouldn’t work (goodbye faithful Priceline app) so I drove to a random motel and booked a room. It was rough, very far from the cheap Hilton deal I had found days earlier. It had a piercing odor that hung in the air as if the building was haunted by ghosts made of stale cheese. In addition to that, along with some heavy drinking by teenagers on my floor, made for a difficult sleep. I’m used to it though, the sporadic sleeping thing. I can function on three hours, six is optimal though. I’ve gone without on occasion and none was ever the wiser. When I did find some I had a bizarre/terrifying/the usual type of dream.

I pulled into an old country house down south for the night. They were full but told me they had room in a smaller cabin down the end of their property on the river. It was far from the road and main residence so I’d find some peaceful quiet sleep. It was an old, rustic place built sometime in the late 18th century. As I drifted off to sleep I suddenly became a witness to myself. I stood frozen in the corner, unable to move, watching myself sleep. I watched the candles burn down until the room was lit only by the moon reflecting off the river outside. A person I never seen before silently crept up to the side of my bed and watched me as I slept. So intense was their gaze that they began to bleed from their eyes. As an overwhelming sense of doom grew, I knew this person would hurt me. Then a loud, deafening banging began and grew until I woke up.

The banging remained, just as loud as in my dream. Once I gathered my senses I made for the door, the source of the thumping. The garbage chute was right outside my door and the cleaning lady was making good use of it.

I checked out and set off on the last leg of my road trip, tired and a little unsettled due to last nights dream.

Click HERE for Day #7.

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Nashville Road Trip – Day #5

Sunday – Day #5:

A little hungover this morning but only slightly. It was as good an excuse to load up on eggs, sausage, bacon, toast and lots of coffee as any. I’ll regret that feast later, and here I was just getting used to starting the day with fruit. I done a little writing in the hotel lobby and went back to the room to get my notes together for our show later at The Basement. We drove to The Country Music Hall Of Fame for a tour of Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats by Pete Finney (Our Pedal Steel band mate), who not only wrote the book about it but put the whole exhibit together. It was incredible, the detail and care that went into it was very much on display. I was also intimidated by how little I really knew about country music. Except for Johnny Cash and a handful of others, a lot of what I heard growing up was very commercial and somewhat unrelatable (at least for me). Although I found a growing appreciation for it in the last couple of years, mostly through the alt-country folk from Neko Case to Wilco/Uncle Tupelo it was a huge learning experience.

Afterwards we drove to The Basement incorporating a quick browse at a local vintage guitar store along the way and set up for the show. The Basement is the type of venue I love to play in New York. Gritty, charming, steeped in musical history and intimate. We were joined by our good friend Cliff from The Needmore Brothers on backing vocals and the show was a lot of fun. I played a Supersmall tune, “Goodbye Old Friend” which at a push is the nearest one I have that even comes close to a country song. Afterwards the band and some of the audience that came to see us retired the night over dinner. It was a perfect end to our time in Nashville.

One interesting thing that was mentioned by Jed, (once the VP of Sony Marketing) whom I sat beside at dinner was that a musician or artist must define their own version of success and then aim towards that. Each person’s is different. An interesting thought in the current musical environment that me and many other independent artists work within. How do you define success? I’ve witnessed many friends turn themselves inside out over this question, from poets to actors, not just musicians. It’s not something I’ve really focused on to be honest. The traditional definition such as fame terrifies me. It used to simply be having some kind of recognition by a music label or to sell a piece of music. I found that when I stopped worrying about playing to empty rooms I had achieved a level of success. When people consistently came to see my band or just me, that was good enough. I’ve never dwelled on anything other than writing better songs and being able to present them as honestly as I can on stage. Sounds like a strange thing to say, to “present them honestly” but due to anxiety both on and off stage I often find myself pretending to being me or a version close to, instead of just being me. The irony of sometimes playing with a scientist who studies anxiety is not lost on me. Reading books on Elliott Smith and Nick Drake who also dealt with these issues helps. Maybe it’s just maintaining a love for creativity and the adventures it brings me on. As I inch my way forward I’ve managed to maintain my sanity and self-worth, maybe that is success.

Anyway, it was another full day of music in Nashville and tomorrow I begin my road trip back to New York. I wish I could have stayed a little longer. Unlike when I arrived, I’ll be blasting country music when I leave tomorrow morning, that I am sure of.

Click HERE for Day #6.

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Nashville Road Trip – Day #4

Saturday – Day #4:

Set Up

Sound Check.

The shuttle picked us up early from the hotel and we arrived at The Blair School of Music around 11am. I hadn’t slept that well and woke up very early. I used the extra time in the morning to rehearse in my room and felt comfortable about the show but was incredibly tired. I managed to rest whenever I could back stage between set-ups and whatnot. The Theater itself was huge and the stage manager kept us entertained with his humor. I’m sure he moonlights as a stand up comic around town. Pete arrived with his Pedal Steel, an impressive instrument that becomes even more so when you watch it being set up. Sound check was quick and easy.

We rehearsed a little more backstage and got to meet various folk from the university. I was more calm than usual as I watched our introduction from the side. Once we walked out and sat down with our instruments I felt the anxiety I’m accustomed to return. The show went well and the sound was incredible, how could it not be in Nashville? After our set we returned to the back stage area, I grabbed some pizza and caught a few sly Zzzz.

So We Are

Nicole & So We Are.

Later that evening we paid a visit to The Five Spot on the suggestion of Pete to see some quality live music. The venue itself was very much like a NYC dive bar but the audience was incredibly respectful and the band was great. I’m not sure who the singer was but he had an amazing talent for creating an intimate vibe to the point that you almost felt like you were on stage with him. The band had a Jazz-Country feel mixed with some vaudeville flourishes. At one point in-between songs he performed a magic trick which I’ve honestly never seen a band try to do in the middle of their set. Afterwards we hit the main strip and ducked into a bar called Robert’s Western World. Incredible music and totally packed. I was surprised to learn that it doubled as a boot store. Things get a little hazy around here, we left, went back to the hotel and then it was Sunday morning.

Click HERE for day #5.

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Nashville Road Trip – Day #3

Friday – Day #3: 

Nashville, here I come! Traffic was a little heavier than before and I felt a lot less isolated on I-40, even though it split into a tree-lined secluded two-lane road that hid all scenery from me. A few sporadic breaks in the treeline exposed lush rollings hills far down below. The colors outside the car turned a hint of gold and brown. I tried listening to talk radio again but opted for Boards Of Canada to match the eerie melancholic mood I had been in all morning. I honestly thought I’d be blazing country music while approaching Nashville but after three days alone, I found myself in a very calm zen-like state. Maybe eerie melancholy is not the right description, contemplative. I soon realized later in the morning that not talking to anyone up until then was most likely the reason. A rarity in New York City, and I liked it. As the Nashville skyline grew toward me I was a little saddened at leaving the beautiful countryside behind me. Although I found Knoxville a difficult city to enter (mostly due to road works), Nashville had me outside my Hotel in no time. Joe arrived soon after and we organized a quick rehearsal before our dinner plans for later.

We met Nicole, our event organizer and an established neuroscientist herself and Pete Finney, one of Nashville’s most well-known and accomplished Pedal Steel players for dinner. Pete would be joining us on stage for our two shows. They were perfect hosts, funny, friendly and full of local music history. After dinner we hit a speakeasy to meet some other folk from the event and called it a night.

Tomorrow is a full day, I’ll write about it tomorrow night.

Click HERE for day #4

Nashville Road Trip – Day #2

Thursday – Day #2

Take a bow Virginia, you are beautiful!

I shared breakfast this morning with what has to be without doubt, the noisiest, yet most charming children I have ever shared a wedding banquet breakfast room with. Their shrill screaming managed to thankfully drown out the Fox News bulletins on the oversized flat screen I knew would normally put me into an existential tail spin. I also got to watch the tallest man I have ever seen microwaving the smallest breakfast sausage sandwich ever produced by mankind/hotel supplier. I’m not kidding, I’m six one and the guy had to be at least seven feet tall and shoving things the size of dollar coins into a 1980’s microwave. It was all a little bit ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ for me so I packed up and hit the road.

As I ventured further south, both religion and confederate flags began making a regular appearance. The roads were mostly two lane and pretty empty. To either side the scenery grew bigger, deeper and greener. At one point I was so overcome at how beautiful it was that I pulled off the highway to get gas even though I had a quarter tank left. I wanted to take a break, slow down a little and let it sink in. People who refer to Ireland as the Emerald Isle have obviously never been to Virginia. It’s stunning. The small town I pulled into seemed to consist almost entirely of churches both big and small. Okay, maybe an exaggeration but I counted at least six. It’s 90 plus degrees so I’m limited to my time outside the car. Not that I can’t handle the heat, it’s that the temperature rises inside the car without the air conditioning. I worry about the guitars so much that it’s like being on vacation with your kids. They’ve come everywhere with me so far.

I split today’s driving into two sections of just under four hours. The first leg was Hagerstown to Roanoke. Roanoke was beautiful and seemed strangely deserted. Even though it’s a large city, people still smiled and a few even said “hello” when I passed. Maybe it was carrying the two guitars and the confused look on my face as I tried to find my bearings. The owner of a restaurant talked me inside and I had lunch on my own. Where was everybody? My phone was dead and with no newspaper I ate alone with my thoughts. I can’t remember the last time I’ve done that. With my mind cleared and well rested, I decided to drive up to the Roanoke Star and take a look out over the city. It was nice to sit and be around some chatty families with their kids after being in the car alone for so long.

I don’t know if it’s because I want to torture myself or what, but I’ve been listening to the local right-wing chat shows and christian radio stations. I can’t remember the last time I was inside a church but I’m more of a christian than the “cured gays” and preachers mouthing off. Hallelujah! (I had to google how to spell that). Jesus has a plan folks, it’s all in the latest book/DVD I’m selling. Pretty standard crazy really. The regular stations would give New York a run for its money, lots of choice and the accent definitely helps listening to the DJs. They know their music down south. I’ve hardly touched iTunes so far.

The second leg…

The drive from Roanoke to Knoxville has been the most beautiful one so far. Incredibly tall trees line the highway and are covered in a bright green Ivy that make it look like giant mannequins hiding under a thick green blanket. Impressive and majestic during the day but creepy at night I’m sure. I managed to avoid night driving, so thankfully I didn’t have to experience an empty highway lined with those things.

Knoxville is purdy, reeeal purdy! I found a deal at the local Hilton which was walking distance from downtown. I got myself a Cajun pasta of alligator, chicken and shrimp and then a beer at a local bar and watched a country band close out their set. I walked around, spoke to random folk which my wife tells me I do too often but managed to get some tips on how to better utilize my road trip. Asheville was a town mentioned, maybe I’ll hit it on the way back. If I do I may end up passing through DC and Philly which will be interesting, or a nightmare in traffic.

Knoxville is beautiful at night and the view from my room makes me wish I had more time to spend here. Tomorrow I get up early for the 3 1/2 hour trip to Nashville. The adventure continues.

Click HERE for day #3.

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Nashville Road Trip – Day #1

So We Are played two dates in Nashville recently. Saturday, we performed at Ingram Hall, Blair School of Music and Sunday we played at The Basement. The first gig was part of the Vanderbilt Music and Mind Kickoff to the 2015 meeting of the Society for Music Perception and Cognition, and the latter was for fun! Even though they covered my flights, I chose instead to drive from New York to Nashville as a solo road trip. I’ve wanted to do something like this for the longest time, and, well, I did. I wrote a little about it, see below for day one.

Wednesday – Day #1

I picked up Joe’s guitar, books and a bag (should ease his flight experience) from Williamsburg around 6pm this evening and then grabbed dinner to wait out rush hour at a fine spot I found by accident (coincidentally two blocks from the studio I recorded the first Supersmall record in.)  Slick Willie, in Greenpoint. I highly recommend it. BTW – Excuse my grammar and/or spelling and/or whatever as I’m writing this on the third floor of a wedding banquet hall/hotel on my laptop half asleep from a long drive. Traffic from the city sucked but I found myself on a new stretch of highway in New Jersey being blinded by the sun. As it dipped and faded it turned blood-red and lit up the sky like I’ve never seen before. Cell phone pics didn’t do it justice so I turned off the radio, rolled the window downSunset and let the 90 degree plus heat pour into the car and watched it fade into night. I don’t care about the stereotypes, New Jersey is beautiful. I took 78 all the way to Hagerstown, Maryland which is where I am now. I am pretty sure I’m the only soul in this hotel. I’ve already decided that it’s haunted. Road works all the way here and I’m also pretty sure that I witnessed at least two truck drivers momentarily doze-off at the wheel. Day #2 starts tomorrow. Time for sleep.

Click HERE for Day #2.