Happy New Year, folks, I hope this message finds you all in good spirits and health! 2015 was a great year for music making, and I’m hoping 2016 will be all that and more. I have some fun gigs coming up in the next several weeks, so here’s the rundown on what’s in store.
It’s always fun to find a new venue to perform in, and a bonus when it’s in one of my favorite towns,Ann Arbor. I’m especially pleased to be making my first (musical) appearance at VinBar, Ann Arbor’s Unique Wine Bar, located at 111 W. Liberty on Thursday, January 21st. VinBar is a very cool little spot that features wines from three terrific Michigan wineries, Black Star Farms, Good Harbor Vineyards, and MAWBY. I play from 8-10 PM.
Last night, I went to hear two of my very favorite musicians, Laurel Premo and Michael Beauchamp aka Red Tail Ring, at one of the metro-Detroit area’s finest folk music venues, MAMA’s Coffeehouse, in Bloomfield Hills. For the uninitiated, Laurel and Michael, who reside in Kalamazoo, play old time Appalachian-styled country music, and they do it extremely well. I’ve written about them in previous blog entries; they are an inspiration to me, and whenever I hear them live, and I’ve heard them quite a few times over the past two-and-a-half years, I always leave their performance taking more with me than I’d brought. I very rarely miss them when they come anywhere within 75 miles, so I was quite excited to have them playing 15 minutes down the road from where we live.
Earlier in the day, I had played an afternoon show at Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room-Shelby Township’s Second Birthday Bash, and had a fine time doing so. I had my playing out of the way, so I was ready to just sit and enjoy Red Tail Ring, but, as I was leaving to go to their show, my wife Kim asked if I was taking my guitar. I replied, “No, I’m not playing, why should I?” I drove over to Mama’s, and when I arrived, Jim Bizer, who manages the music and MC’s the shows, asked if I had brought a guitar. The format usually calls for a main act, an opening act, and at least two “open mic” performances to start things off. (I filled one of those open mic spots a few years ago, in what was my first important performance after having picked up playing again.) Well, for whatever reason, they had no one to fill those slots last night, and Jim wanted to know if I might be willing. The irony is not lost on me that just minutes before, Kim had asked if I’d be taking a guitar.
About a month or so ago, I got an event invitation through Facebook that intrigued me. I’d never heard of the Mackinac Island Songwriters Workshop before, and, as it turned out, that was because this would be the inaugural affair, to be held on the weekend of October 16-19, at the Murray Hotel on Mackinac Island. The workshop is the brainchild of Emmy Award-winning Michigan songwriters Pete Kehoe and Michelle Chenard, both of whom live in Petoskey, MI, and often work together. I had shared the stage with Pete at a “Songwriters in the Round” in Midland, MI about a year and a half ago, and met Michelle last summer, so I was familiar with their solid credentials.
While snooping around on the event page, I noticed that there was a contest being offered. All one had to do to be eligible to win a free, all-inclusive admission to the activities was to post a video of an original song. Remembering what a fine time I had at Above the Bridge Songwriters Weekend in 2013, I figured, what the hell, it’s worth a shot, so I posted Larry Wolf’s video of “In My Element,” recorded at Songwriters Anonymous Showcase in 2013.
Guess what? I won.
I find it immensely gratifying that, more than two years after having gotten back into this crazy business called music, I pretty much always come away from a gig thinking, “That was fun!” Case in point: I had a great gig yesterday at 51 North Brewery, in Lake Orion, Michigan. It was an afternoon performance on their new patio; the weather was fine and the owner, Don Gindhart, was most accommodating and supportive. (That may have anything to do with the fact that he’s a musician too. He also picked up on beer references in my first two songs, “In My Element” and “I’m A Hop Head,” and delivered glasses of both his brown ale and IPA for points of reference.)
It had been a rough week leading up to this particular performance. Our basement, along with thousands of others in southeastern Michigan, was flooded by extremely heavy rains on August 11th, and my wife Kim and I have been busting butt with cleanup and disposal of ruined possessions in the days since. I’d only been able to allot what I refer to “maintenance” time for rehearsing; that is, keeping the guitar, harmonica and vocal skills in decent shape, without trying anything new or even giving much thought to some songwriting ideas that have been percolating for a while now. I was usually too tired to do much more after slogging up and down those basement stairs, and figured that would probably get me through the two sets alright.
A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of being the first performer in Shady Lane Cellars‘ Summer Music on the Patio series. I’ve been a fan of this fine Leelanau Peninsula winery since we first visited the estate back in November of 2009, so this gig was a special treat for me. The music series celebrates Shady Lane’s beautiful new tasting bar and patio, and I loved singing and playing to a sizable crowd of very appreciative listeners and Michigan wine lovers, with vineyards spread out all around.
Since our last visit, Shady Lane has changed hands, with Richard Fortune taking over proprietorship from Dr. Joseph O’Donnell, but happily, the positions as Winemaker and General Manager remain in the very capable hands of Adam Satchwell. If anything, the wines are even better than when we last stopped in to the tasting room that was once an old stone chicken coop, and we quite liked them then. Being the bubble-head that I am, my choice of libation to whet my whistle during my performance was obvious from the get-go, and it did not disappoint in the slightest.
2012 Shady Lane Cellars Leelanau Sparkling Riesling, 10.6% alc., $20: Medium straw color, with a fine, active bead. Nice “froth in the mouth” (I’m going to use that line in a song one day, I swear), with flavors not unlike a big, rich mélange of multi-colored apples. The scale on the back label says it’s semi-sweet, and I’d only bicker by calling it quite ripe, with some subtle mineral to offset the sugars nicely. It’s obviously Riesling, and the “ample bubbles” (same song?) kick the varietal character into overdrive, while the good acids take you off to a far out place, man.
This sparkler is delicious, and sipping on it while playing made my performance at Shady Lane even more enjoyable. I didn’t have it with food, and while it will certainly pair well with a wide assortment of culinary delights, my taste for spicy wants to drink this with some Thai or Indian dishes. Find this wine
I’m really looking forward to going back to play Shady Lane again, and Adam and I are already discussing when that might be. I’m also especially pleased to present this report as my first cross-blog on both our Gang of Pour site and my own eponymous blog. You might see some more of that down the road, as well.
Reporting from Day-twah,
The Nor-east’r Music & Art Festival of 2014 is now history, and speaking for myself, it exceeded all of my high expectations on every level. As reported previously, I had a great time at last year’s Nor-east’r, but I was there as an attendee, not a featured performer, and there’s a world of difference between the two perspectives. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED having the opportunity to hear really great music from the likes of The Ragbirds, Jill Jack, The Appleseed Collective, Annie & Rod Capps, The Potter’s Field, Dave Boutette, Floyd King and the Bushwackers and more. But having the opportunity to play both the Main Stage and The Parlor just propelled the experience into overdrive, and I’m still riding the natural high I got from all the creativity, wonderful friendships and positive vibrations that were abundant throughout the weekend. (Click images to enlarge. All photos by Andrew Rogers.)
Looking forward, one of the real highlights of my summer is undoubtedly going to be performing at the Nor-east’r Music & Art Festival, held on the weekend of June 13-15, at the Oscoda County Fairgrounds, in Mio, Michigan. Nor-east’r is one of the very finest of the regional festivals held in the state, and accordingly, presents some of the best musical acts in the Midwest. This year’s lineup includes the likes of Red Tail Ring, Jill Jack, The Appleseed Collective, Annie & Rod Capps, The Ragbirds, The Potter’s Field and a host of other fine performers shown on the poster to the right. (Click the image to enlarge.)
I attended Nor-east’r for the first time last year, and had a marvelous time. My dear friend, Shar Douglas, who has been going for the past several years with her father Bill, had been telling me that it was my kind of scene, so I joined them and she was so right on. While much of what I heard and enjoyed was more to the acoustic end of the roots music spectrum, there was also a liberal dose of electrifying plugged-in rhythm ‘n’ blues to get you up on your feet and dancing. A very mellow, laid-back attitude held sway throughout the entire weekend, and I made several new friends whom I am very much looking forward to seeing again in a few weeks.
To say that I have a love-hate relationship with my harmonicas would be a bit of an overstatement. I’ve been playing the 10-hole diatonic harps for a long time; they mostly do what I need them to do, and most of the time, do it very well. “Mostly” and “most of the time” are the operative terms here. However, there are issues that occasionally arise from that can be annoying.
The first, and most obvious, illustrated in the picture shown here, is that I’m a bearded man, and both harmonicas and harmonica holders have a nasty knack of catching whiskers and extracting them sharply, usually with painful results. My wife Kim tells me that there is an easy solution, that being trimming my beard much more closely. She’d like it if I had that “most interesting man in the world” look, but I’m having none of it. The more the beard, the better I say, and I’ve developed an appropriate pain threshold to this occupational hazard, so I can live with it.
I went back into a recording studio yesterday for the first time in well over a year, and it was, as we used to say back in the late ‘60s, “a gas.” In mid-January, I entered a contest to win four hours of free studio time at John Natiw’s Rocket Boy Records. (For those who don’t know, besides running RBR, John is a stalwart in the Michigan music scene, and one-half of The Potter’s Field, one of the finest Folk/Americana/Roots duos in these parts and beyond.) The idea was for entries to respond to RBR’s Facebook post, describing what they proposed to do with those four hours of free time, where they to win. I thought, what the hell, I never win anything, but I can’t lose anything either, so I suggested that I’d lay down basic tracks to my song, “I’m a Hop Head.”
When the time for choosing a winner came several days later, John wrote the names of all the entries on a little lots of paper and had none other than Detroit singer-songwriter Jill Jack do the honors of selecting the lucky one. (I saw the basket with all the entries yesterday, and there were quite a few of them.) Facebook users can see the announcement as it was made here. I guess I can’t say I never win anything anymore!