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!
On Friday, February 7th, I will have the distinct honor and pleasure of opening for my very good friend, Chris Degnore, at the “Attack Hunger” Awareness Benefit Concert, to be held at the Trinity House Theatre, in Livonia, Michigan. Attack Hunger is a company that runs on a one-to-one premise. For every one delicious and nutritious item that you purchase, one of the same items will be donated to a human in need. One-to-one. Attack Hunger donates to different local shelters and outreach programs. All money made at this concert will go to support Attack Hunger.
I’ll open the show with a 45-50 minute set, and then Chris will play a stripped down set with a few special friends sitting in. (I’ll be blowing some harp on a song or two with Chris.) Attack Hunger will be set up in the lobby with shirts and info. Doors open at 7 PM, and the show starts at 8. Tickets are $15 each, or $12 each for Trinity House Theatre subscribers. Space is limited, so it’s a good idea to order your tickets in advance. Come on out to support a great cause and support local music at the same time!
Trinity House Theatre
38840 West Six Mile
Livonia, MI 48152
I had a couple of interesting music-related experiences in the last month, and, happily, both were recorded for posterity, so I thought it would be fun to share them here.
When I played the Harsens Island Bluegrass Festival this past August, there was a crew video-taping the event. About halfway through the day, I ran into an old friend, Keith Dalton. Keith and I hadn’t seen each other since the late ‘90s; back then, I was the House/Office Manager at The Players, a venerable men’s theatrical club in Detroit, and Keith and his father, Lloyd, were stage hands for two theatre clubs that rented the facility to perform in. It turns out that Keith now owns the company, LiveMoterCity.com, that was doing the recording at the festival. He contacted me about a month afterwards to tell me that, for whatever reason, the audio of my first set that day was good, but the video wasn’t, and wondered if I’d care to have him come and record me at home, no charge. Naturally, I agreed, so we set a date, he came over and the result of the afternoon can be seen here. I’m pleased with both the quality of the recording and my performance. I don’t think either are GREAT, but both are certainly solid, and I’ve gotten only positive feedback from viewers. It was an interesting experience for me, and I’d like to do more of this. The video runs a little over 45 minutes in length, and I sang mostly songs that are on my CD, “In My Element.” Check it out:
The second occasion was a fun interview that I did at WNMC in Traverse City on October 18th. I was playing at Left Foot Charley that night, and owner/winemaker Bryan Ulbrich had contacted Station Manager Eric Hines to see about having me on-air to promote the show. Eric agreed, and I stopped in during the fundraising drive that afternoon to spend about 20 minutes talking music, wine, and beer, among other things. Just click the link here to hear not only the interview, but also the on-air mention and thanks to Gang of Pour for pledging a donation to the station. My wife Kim called and pledged while I was being interviewed.
I’ve been fortunate over the last several months in that I’ve had some very good gigs more or less fall in my lap, without any active solicitation on my part. Of course, it does speak well to the contacts I’ve made, not just since I picked up the guitars and harps again over the last two years, but in a few cases, from decades past. More about that in a paragraph or so, but this is a dual-themed blog entry. (Click on images to enlarge.)
One of the things I like to do with my songs whenever I get the opportunity is to give a shout-out to my favorite wineries and breweries, especially those that are right here in Michigan. I’ve been blogging about wine since 1997, and I’ve worked in the industry off and on since 1999, so I’m pretty familiar with the subject matter, but I also started taking a serious interest in the craft brew industry about six or seven years ago. I was managing the wine department at a prominent area gourmet food market at the time, and I had a specialty beer rep by the name of Jon Piepenbrok who made a point of bringing me samples to expand my horizons and introduce me to new things. It stuck with me, and I soon came to realize that great beers and ales are every bit as much fun as great wine, maybe even more so, in that they lack an associated “snob factor.”
In many ways, I think “In My Element” may be the best song I’ve written to date. It was inspired by attending the Electric Forest music festivals in Rothbury, Michigan, in 2011 and 2012, and also, the amazing Rothbury festival in 2009 at the same venue. It is a double entendre, of course; I’m not only totally in my element with all of the wild ass kids and hippies out for four days of great music and the wonderful sense of peace and freedom that goes with it, but I’m also camping out in my 2004 Honda Element, sleeping in the “way back!” I admit without hesitation that the music has a John Hartford feel to it, as does my song “Pine Cone Buddha;” I’ve loved his music from the first time I heard it, and he remains among my strongest influences. I love the energy that this song has, both on the CD and in my live performances. I just wish I had at least one more voice and a banjo playing along on this one at my gigs, but that will happen, hopefully sooner than later. There are lots of subtle references in the song, so I decided it would be fun to put together this “annotated” guide. Hope you like it!
While playing at the Royal Oak Farmers Market last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Rosie, the sweet young lady pictured on the right. Rosie stopped by to listen with her moms, Ann and Gina, and her auntie Michele, who took this delightful picture. Rosie took the time to assist me in counting tips in the guitar case, which was most helpful. Despite the presence of the old goat in the background, this is just too cute not to share! (Click image to enlarge.)
One of the highlights of my summer last year was going to Holler Fest, a music festival in Brooklyn, Michigan, 45 minutes southwest of Ann Arbor. The event takes place at Frog Holler, a wonderful organic vegetable farm that has been owned and operated by the King family for more than 40 years. The scene is laid back, lots o’ fun, and some of the best folk-Americana musicians and groups in Michigan perform; last August’s lineup included Annie and Rod Capps, Breathe Owl Breathe, Appleseed Collective, Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys and Dick Siegel. The food is great, as much of it is made with vegetables grown on the farm, with the rest provided by select local vendors.
Although I had to leave the festival after a day and a half because of a business commitment, I enjoyed every minute of the time I spent there. Two of the most memorable moments for this listener were hearing Red Tail Ring live for the first times, once, on Friday night in “The Cabin,” a very cool, funky old stone cabin on the grounds, and then the next afternoon on the Holler (main) Stage. Laurel Premo and Michael Beauchamp play, sing and write music in an old time Appalachian style, and of all the excellent musicians in Michigan, nobody else does it for me like they do these days. I also very much enjoyed hearing and renewing acquaintances with Andru Bemis. I had the pleasure of meeting Andru and sharing the stage with him at PJ’s Lager House in Detroit in March of last year. Accompanying himself on banjo and guitar, Bemis is what you might call a “folkie’s folkie,” and I love his music. There’s nobody else quite like him.
I left last year thinking about just how much I’d like to play Holler Fest. As soon as I released my CD in January, I sent off a press kit to Billy King, who schedules the performers, and damned if I didn’t land the 12:30 PM slot at the Second Holler Stage on Sunday. To say that this was exciting news would be an understatement, because this is another big step forward for me, and I know that my music is a great fit for Holler Fest. Things just couldn’t have worked out much better, as I’m also playing the Harsen’s Island Bluegrass Festival that Saturday. Two festivals in one weekend, not bad for a guy who wasn’t gigging at all a few short years ago! (Many thanks to Kenneth King for the use of the photo above.)
I’m very pleased and excited to add the 4th Annual Harsen’s Island Bluegrass Festival, which takes place on Saturday, August 24th, to my list of upcoming gigs. Harsen’s Island, Michigan is located at the mouth of the St. Clair River at Lake St. Clair. The all-day festival is put on by the Harsen’s Island Schoolhouse Grill, a restaurant and wine bar housed in an historic building that was once one of Michigan’s only two-room schoolhouses. The festival takes place on the grounds directly behind the grill, and serves as a fundraiser for the Emergency Fund of the Harsen’s Island Lions Club.
I played this event last year (that’s me in the photo by John Bayerl, on the right) and had a marvelous time; in fact, it was a real turning point for me, musically. It was my biggest gig since I’d returned to playing at that point, and while I went to the festival well prepared to perform two solid sets, I wasn’t quite prepared for the reception I received. I was all but overwhelmed by the great reaction of the audience. I also met some people who would become good friends and made some very important music contacts.
Looking forward to the month of June, I had such great anticipation in April and May. Every weekend on my calendar was full, with the Nor-Easter Fest, the Mount Pleasant-Traverse City-Leland road trip, the Above the Bridge Songwriters Weekend and the Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Teahouse performances. Even the Royal Oak Farmers Market Flea Market on the 2nd was a lot o’ fun.
Now that I look back, all I can think of is just how busy I was! Kim and I finally got georgeheritier.com up to speed, so I’ve been blogging here once a week, and I’ve really gotten a fire in my belly and kicked up my reports for our wine blog, Gang of Pour, as well. Add to that all the rehearsal time and trying to keep up (not entirely successfully) with errands and chores and I had little time for mischief.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I’m excited at the progress I’ve made in the last two years since I remembered who and what I am and returned to playing and singing music. Those first few months were difficult, with me being seriously out of practice, and at times, it was a struggle. Getting the old Guild F-212 XL rehabbed in April of ’11 was a major step; I gradually came to realize that the 12-string was where I wanted to go with my sound, to the point where I haven’t picked up the 6-string in the last couple of months. (I plan to change that soon; the Gibson Heritage is just too sweet a guitar to let languish in its case.) (Click images to enlarge.)
I’m considering all of this while thinking about my gig at Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Teahouse in Ann Arbor, this past Friday, the 28th. These days, I’m confident in my singing, harp blowing and guitar playing, and I firmly believe in my music on its own terms. I play what I like, and when I’m relaxed and comfortable, I get in a groove where fun things happen. I don’t play music that might get me the kind of gigs I don’t want to play in the first place, like I did back when I got disillusioned and quit. Continue reading