I was planning on going to the Fall campout this year, looking forward to it, waiting for it, anticipating it for the past 5 months. Instead of putting my camping gear in the shed after the Father’s Day Festival last June, I left it in the garage ready to load in the truck. I was all set to go. My dog was hot to trot, ready to sniff some new….errr meet some new dogs and generously leave his scent, hopefully not on an expensive banjo but on a banjo nevertheless. He was salivating at the thought of spending the weekend with me even though he’d probably end up in the truck for a good part of it because he just can’t stand not being the center of attention and would be creating too much of a fuss for me to play more than 5 minutes. I was ready for the jams, the food, playing with some new folks and playing some more with folks I met over the summer.
But same old story…something came up. I can imagine some of ya’ll shaking your head, tsk tsking, and thinking while you read this “come on Sargent…same old bs…get your act in gear and get your head on straight”.
And you’d probably be right to aim those brain waves at me….but I haven’t laid it all out for you yet so here’s the full poop. By the time you’ve read this it’ll be all done, fini, owari, over, the end, in the bag, a wrap……for a radio gig. Sorry guys…there will be more campouts…..but I might NEVER get the chance to embarrass myself live on the radio, never ever again. I mean we’re talking embarrassment on a potentially monumental scale…a scale bigger than the stage at the Freight even.
“Sigh”, I’m somewhat tongue in cheek here because my bandmates and I have been practicing and know we have the potential and ability to pull off a pretty good performance, but we’re still new at this so there’s always that little gremlin quietly sitting at the back of my brain, just biding it’s time, waiting to pop out in the middle of a song and wreck some havoc.
A couple of weeks ago, Dave Zimmerman, our Take The Stage coach and mentor contacted our band “Old Tunnel Road” to see if we’d be interested in playing live on KALW…….two heartbeats and one click of my digital watch, and the Old Tunnel Road mind meld telepathically responded in a uniform yes, you betcha, of course, damn straight, and I need a beer….the latter is my usual response when I’m not already brewing a cuppa tea. Long story short….we quickly whipped 3 new songs into some semblance of an arrangement…..and Saturday evening it was off to the studio for our first live performance “On Air”.
We weren’t the only group playing Saturday evening on Peter Thompson’s “Bluegrass Signal”. First up was a group of my friends who have been playing with Ran Bush. Next up was Homespun Rowdy and then us, Old Tunnel Road. We planned to arrive at the station at about 6:30 and figured we meet at Scott Peterson’s house at 5 to run the set and relax a bit before driving over the bridge into the city. Well a few sausages and beers later, and heavier than expected traffic on the bridge and we are running a little behind schedule. So we tuned into KALW at 6:30, while stuck on the Bay Bridge in traffic, to listen to the first set and damn…they sounded sooooo good. These were my friends Linda Juratovac, Micheal Thilgen, Maureen Blumenthal, Kelly Trojan and Jacob Ofman. When we arrived at the station they had just finished their set and were leaving the sound booth….man was I happy to tell them how good they sounded.
Playing a set on the radio is a little like running yet another practice with one exception……your nerves. The same bloody nerves that pop up on stage but without any immediate feedback from the audience….no faces to see, no applause, no vibes, no feedback monitors, just you and a roomful of microphones…..and your nerves. In a way it seems irrational to be nervous since none of the usual cues that we associate with being on stage are present. But, my mind doesn’t work that way…I can’t lie to myself well enough to pull off the “it’s just another practice” charade. So nerves it was and nerves are what I had to deal with. Thankfully though my nerves don’t usually kick in until the last minute so everything was pretty cool until we kick the first song. I’ve written about performance gremlins before so I won’t repeat that story…but what I will say is that the first song was the song where I worked out my nerves, made my peace with the performance gremlins, and the rest of the show went pretty well. It had to because the second song in was my big dobro kick and out of control panic leading to a botched kick was not an emotional state I wanted to experience in a performance. We were on for the better part of 4 songs…we were playing in the cleanup position and didn’t get to play our 5th song..but we knew that was a possible outcome going in.
What a great night. We came away totally buzzed and excited. Peter gave us a CD of our part of the show, which we listened to on the ride home. All of us, Scott, Curtis, Fred, TJ, and I felt fine and listened to the CD to recapture the moment and do a post mortem on the performance……our families sent us text messages and voice mail, life was good. We ended up at Scott’s house to unwind over Tequila and beer and plan our next goals.
There is no shoe waiting to drop for the rest of this column…..all I wanted to do is describe the simple pleasure of going out and doing something new with some very good friends. We were all nervous but each made peace with their gremlins at different points during the performance and moved on…and there were other small achievements, we didn’t kick our songs at warp speed, we hit most of our marks and harmony stacks, but most important, we were able to look around and enjoy the moment and play well. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but it was a landmark event for us. I hope there are many, many more evenings like this.
I want to wrap this column by sharing what looks to be a really cool, addictive, free, musically overwhelming, web site that has some bluegrass……and no it won’t automatically transfer all your money into my bank account…..you’ll have to do that on your own (picture hypnotic spinning wheels).
I went to hear the Infamous String Dusters, opened by the Stairwell Sisters, several weeks ago…man o man what a show. Anyway, that’s just part of the setup. Because I wanted to learn a bit more about the ‘Dusters I was cruising around their web site……so far so good…when I noticed that on one of their web pages they had links to a different web site that allowed me download some of their music. That’s not all that unusual except that when I backed up a bit to check it out I discovered a treasure trove of music…..King Midas scale. The organization responsible for this, and the parent web site, is archive.org and their goal is to create an internet library…of everything as far as I can tell. But one of the things they have done along the way is to create an archive of non-commercial, royalty-free, no-cost, publicly downloadable music from live shows.
Some of you might already know of this site but for those of you who don’t it is worth a visit…….a long, long visit. The idea here is to have a common web site where, with artist permission, mp3 files for live shows can be posted…kind of like what the Grateful Dead has allowed for many years. Some of the recordings are off sound-boards and some are recordings made from the audience. The music archive has something like 69,455 recordings from who knows how many shows for 3, 759 bands. It shouldn’t be too surprising that there are recordings from 6,933 Grateful Dead shows on the site. Now you have to be a little patient and persistent because the bluegrass offerings are hidden like musical chocolate Easter eggs among a lot of other non-bluegrass artists…but they are there. Some are from apparently regional bluegrass groups but others…..well for example the Del McCoury Band has music from 126 shows posted. The link for the live music<