Monday, February 20, 2017

Train Cruising 2017

Our now annual gig, the Sail Across the Sun Cruise hosted by Train, took us from Tampa, Florida, to Costa Maya, Mexico and back last week. Cruises are easier for me when I lay low, sleep a lot, and focus on playing each of our three shows as best I can. I'm also less prone to jump overboard.

the view from my balcony
Wednesday: Unfortunately, I'd caught a cold, and this day was the worst of it. Coupling how I felt with the embarrassment of being late for the meet up left me in a pretty crappy mood. I was glad that we weren't performing on the first night of the cruise, so I took a couple of naps around the lifeboat drill and dinner, and then went to bed early.
Thursday: Our first show was scheduled for Thursday at noon on the pool deck. The morning yoga class finished at 11 AM, giving us an hour to completely set up and soundcheck. It turned out to be a pretty stressful experience; the usually reliable stage crew was not very useful (unless sitting around backstage chain smoking is somehow useful), the backlined gear was in pretty rough shape, and we had a few emergencies to troubleshoot (Monkey had a bad cable, and I had a bad channel in the mixer I was issued and a volume pedal that didn't work). Once we began playing, things improved somewhat, though I ended up with a really weird in ear mix--probably a combination of the outdoor acoustics and borrowed gear.

Thursday night, Train had a show (also on the pool deck) with guests from the other bands on the ship. I was chosen to play Careless Whisper and Born to Run. I was fine at the rehearsal, but the gig was a different matter. For one thing, I chose to use a regular cane reed instead of a synthetic, and when we hit the humidity, it had all the spring and stamina of damp notebook paper. Instead of in ear monitors, we used a wedge, and mine happened to have a lot of guitar in it! I used my wireless microphone, though, and at the time, it seemed like I was having an issue with it dropping out (I tried through both songs to find the sweet spot by moving in a hula hoop sized circle behind the wedge, to no avail).  Maybe it wasn't--nobody mentioned it to me, but it felt that way. I haven't seen any video of my performance on the internet, so let's agree that it was magnificent, and I won't bitch anymore about my reed.

photo cred: Alyssa Olson
From there, I met up with the rest of the band--teppanyaki in progress. More rice, please.

Enough disappointment for one day! Back to bed!

Friday: When I awoke, we had reached our only foreign port of the trip: Costa Maya, Mexico. Costa Maya appears to be a port built exclusively for the cruise industry--a nook of touristy shops (tequila, diamonds, and t shirts) cut out of the Mexican jungle south of the Yucatan Peninsula. There's really nothing else there. I did a lap so that I could say I got off the boat in Mexico, but there was nothing interesting for me.

One benefit of this stop: enough people got off the boat that the internet was dramatically faster and I was able to call home.

Saturday night's show was in the theatre. Better crew, better conditions, better show (except for one sustain pedal, which would stop working if you held anything for more than four seconds). This gig was epic! I had a great time, and played really well--in fact, everybody killed it. We were on fire this night.

I was so pleased, I even did a victory lap around the boat.

Saturday: Our only non-musical obligation was an 11 AM meet-and-greet. Two hours of being silly, signing autographs, and posing for pictures.

That afternoon, we had a photo shoot on the front deck of the boat.

photo cred: Zach Wetzel

photo cred: Zach Wetzel
Immediately following, I sat for an interview for a documentary that is being shot about us.

Saturday night, we were supposed to be back on the pool deck for a 10 PM show, but weather forced us back into the theatre. This one felt like an encore from Friday night's big show. Pretty close to the energy we had the night before. One volume pedal did not work, which was right on my average.

photo cred: Michelle Anderson
photo cred: Zach Wetzel
Sunday: The end! After we finished our show, I quickly packed up my suitcase, tagged it, and set it outside my door for pickup by the luggage guys. The magic of this is that it will be waiting on the dock beside the line for customs, and I won't have to drag it off the ship myself. With two saxophone gig bags, a backpack, and a pelican full of gear, I welcome the opportunity for someone else to deal with my suitcase.

Unfortunately, my suitcase was not there when I arrived. I checked the other groups of luggage, but it was gone. The cruise ship people assured me that it would turn up and they would send it to me.

While on the shuttle to the airport, I got a phone call from a guy who said that an overly aggressive porter had accidentally grabbed my suitcase as well as his and thrown both of them in a cab to the Tampa airport. He had time, so we agreed to meet at the Delta counter.

At the airport, I encountered the documentary guys...and my suitcase! What luck! They were as surprised as I was.

We're back in Atlanta for a few days before heading off to Texas. See you there!

Thursday, February 23, House of Blues in Houston
Friday, February 24, Aztec in San Antonio
Saturday, February 25, ACL Live in Austin
Sunday, February 26, House of Blue in Dallas

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Moontower's Roses

Greg Lee and I worked on a new original song with the local Atlanta band Moontower (G Lee producing and me writing a horn arrangement). The horn section is Rob Opitz, trumpet, Richard Sherrington, trombone, and me on tenor and bari sax.

Here's how it turned out:

If you scroll down a few posts, you can follow along on my chart!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Nashvegas, The Noog, and The V

On the road again! Yacht Rock returned after a long hiatus to Tennessee: Friday night in Nashville, and Saturday in Chattanooga. Capping off the weekend, we played an "unplugged" show at Venkman's in Atlanta.

Friday: The Nashville show was in the Cannery Ballroom, where we have played on numerous occasions in the past. Still a boomy, doglegged shaped room, though they did bring the stage slightly forward (no more columns in the middle of the stage), and they upgraded the lights (no more old-school heat lamp PAR cans).

It's tough to get a read on the Nashville crowd. Their enthusiasm would ebb and flow quite a lot from song to song. Kip also mentioned a couple of times that they talk throughout the entire show, making it difficult to hear the band clearly. I can't hear too much of the audience because of the in ears, but they seemed to enjoy seeing us again. 

850 people plus guests.

photo cred: Zach Wetzel

photo cred: Zach Wetzel

Saturday: After plenty of sleep and a leisurely lunch burrito, we rolled into Chattanooga with plenty of time to stage a nineties album cover photo session, yielding this:

After soundcheck, we went in all directions looking for food, but the cool little restaurants right around the venue were all packed! Half of us ate, half of us did not. We've got to plan for carry out next time. Greg and I broke from our routine of hitting up the Cajun place (Blue Orleans) and landed at the Thai place around the corner.

On with the show. Chattanooga! 1,500 people showed up, which feels like a record for one of our regular (non revival) shows. Maybe it's's up there, though.

Great show! The crowd was fantastic, the stage was roomy, and the room sounded great--much better than the night before.  Epic gig.

photo cred: Christian Stewart Photography

photo cred: Christian Stewart Photography

Chattanooga is fortunately close enough that we drove directly back to Atlanta after the show, arriving around 2:30 AM.

Sunday: Our "unplugged" shows at Venkman's are still very popular with the sit down crowd.  They're also a nice challenge for us as we reimagine some of our most common repertoire with acoustic guitars and different keyboards. Check it out:

Greg Lee and Sazerac

Thursday night was a double treat--the Greg Lee Band opened for Sazerac at Venkman's. Almost all of the same guys in each band (Ben Holst played bass on Greg's stuff). Greg's show went really well, and since we had the horn section (Rob Opitz, trumpet; Wes Funderburk, trombone; and Gary Paulo, bari sax) on call for Sazerac, we added them to the last four tunes of his set.

The second set was equally fun, with about fourteen more tunes, all with the horn section. Hearing what I'd written for the four of us was quite a treat! We've got quite a book of tunes now, and hopefully we can do gigs regularly enough that everybody can be comfortable remembering everything.

Only two bad things: 1. My tenor reed died early in the gig, and I had to kind of baby it through to the end; 2. Thirteen people in attendance for the night! Ouch!

Anyway...we had fun regardless of the crowd. Our next Sazerac show is February 28, 6-7 PM at The Vista Room.

Monday, February 6, 2017


photo cred: Greg Lee, the producer

No gigs this weekend, but I did have a cool recording session for my friends in Moontower, adding horns to one of their newest originals. It turned out great! I wrote a nifty horn arrangement, and Rob Opitz (trumpet) and Richard Sherrington (trombone) knocked it out pretty quickly. Yay! More projects like this, please!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Thursday Night Corporate

Yacht Rock played a Thursday night corporate gig for a big legal research firm. Mark Bencuya is on vacation, so we had Dustin Cotrell sub for him on keyboards (excellent work by him). Home by 10:35 PM. Piece of cake.

I had a couple of pictures from the gig, but I got a new phone today and wiped my other one clean before bringing them onto my computer. Deal with it.


I know, I know...waaaaaaaaaaay late on the blog. I haven't felt like it.

Friday: The annual Dark Side of the Moon show at the Variety Playhouse, and once again, we paired it with Abbey Road. We've played this stuff enough that it's no big deal to get it back up to performance level, so the rehearsals leading up to this were fairly painless. Also, we used Keisha Jackson and her daughter Courtney as extra vocalists on Dark Side, so my responsibility on half the gig just vanished! For the night, I was just one of the horn players.

We opened the show with Abbey Road. I thought it was a good performance and the crowd really responded well to our arrangements of some of the songs; hearing Zach's mix a week later was kind of stunning! My solos were much better than I recalled, our stellar horn section of Rob Opitz, trumpet, Richard Sherrington, trombone, and the occasional Greg Lee, alto sax, sounded really strong and in tune, and of course the rest of the band was slammin'.

The second set, Dark Side of the Moon, was especially strange--I don't know what to do with myself when everybody else is on stage playing, and I'm hanging out in the green room. The two sax solos (Money and Us and Them) come around halfway through the record, and then I was finished for the night.

 I had enough time left in Dark Side after changing clothes to take a walk around the Variety.

We/they encored with The Who's Won't Get Fooled Again, which also didn't involve me, so I watched from the audience. Epic.

Saturday: Birmingham, Alabama has become a new market for us, thankfully. Our show at the Workplay Theatre sold out a couple of days before we arrived, camera crew in tow (filming for a short documentary about us). I'm not sure how I feel about getting kicked out of the van so that the crew could film/interview along the way to the gig.

Good show, though! The room was packed, the energy was great, and we delivered.

Sunday: We headed straight back to Atlanta for a gig, loading in for the Team Hidi benefit just after lunch. Fortunately, the stage was ready, and we were able to set up, check, and leave fairly quickly.

The gig was as easy as a Sunday evening gig for a friendly crowd can be, and we slept in our own beds that night.

Monday, January 23, 2017


Weren't we just in Mexico? Almost back to the same spot less than two weeks later, we landed in Cozumel for a high dollar destination wedding reception.

Getting through customs is a hassle when bringing in a bunch of musical gear, and this trip proved to be no exception. Our shared story was that we were attending a friend's wedding, and brought our instruments along to play a few songs at the reception. Since we were not collecting any money at the gig, we were there as tourists, and not there on business. I had a few "worst case scenarios in my head" where I would be isolated in an empty room and quizzed on the bride and groom's names by a stern looking Mexican customs official. Maybe they're looking for taxable revenues, to maybe help defray the cost of the wall? I mean, it was January 20th, after all.

For me, it ended up somewhere between that and waltzing through--the customs guy asked what I had in my gig bags and my pelican (gear box), and I tried to be vague and go with his suggestions:

What is in this? A saxophone

And this? A guitar? Um, yes, a guitar

What is in this? Music stuff, guitar stuff

Push the button.

I'm not sure what pushing the button at the kiosk does, but Mexico won't let you in until you do it. Anyway, I was relieved to not have my gear personally inspected. I push the button and walked to freedom.

Everybody made it through except Kip, who was chosen to have his gear x-rayed and then inspected, and then he was questioned, and then he had to declare the monetary value (the customs guy checked it against Amazon's website for pricing!) of all of his gear was inventoried so that he couldn't sell it while we were here not working, and then he was instructed to return four hours before our flight out on Sunday so that they could look at it all again. All of that took about an hour.

After a forty-five minute taxi ride down the highway, we arrived at Azul Fives Hotel, our lodging for the next two days. Not too shabby!

We were divided into three suites--the three Marks, management plus Greg, and Kip, Zach, and me. Here's the room where I ended up.

Our suite had roof access.

what happens in this room?

 After naps and drinks, we moved over to the Thai place for food from this guy.

And that pretty much ended the evening. We were all pretty tired from a long day of traveling.

The next morning, I headed out in search of coffee. I encountered this little monster along the way.

The afternoon was devoted to setting up gear and making it through soundcheck. We were the second of three bands for the evening (though the first band set up off to the side of the stage), and so after band number three had sound checked, we had to move a bunch of gear around. With ten local stage hands, it should take no time at all! Uhhh...

Nice view from the stage! I had to take a break from set up--way too many people on stage at the same time.

So...I was mostly set up, and then the Nord (bottom keyboard) died. About half the local crew tried troubleshooting it, but nothing worked. Greeeeeaaaat (by the way, check of the aircraft carrier of a top keyboard that is! A weighted key Roland Fantom X8 that weighed probably a hundred pounds). The guy brought me a Korg CX3 combo, but that's not gonna work. What about the other Nord? Dude got on the phone and got it approved (by whom? Who cares). I ended up with a tiny sixty-one key Nord on the bottom and the Roland 747 wing precariously sitting up top. A little top heavy on the keyboard stand, but it all worked.

 We finally got started on checking our mixes, and I ended up with some kind of shitty in ear mix that sounded terrible (I had almost no sound coming out of it, even when I had it wide open). Even though we were eventually able to get my keyboard levels up to an ok volume, my whole mix remained pretty abysmal, so I left it to Zach to play with it when he got a second. After a few minutes, he figured out that I had a wonky receiver pack, and after swapping it out, things sounded pretty close to normal.

One dude painting the dance floor white, while another dude stands where he just painted

At some point in the afternoon, this goddamn trombone showed up in front of me on stage. I thought it belonged to some stupid trombone player playing after we finished soundcheck, so I ignored it (though I wanted to punt it across the dance floor). It was not used in either the band before us, or the band after us.

All set, and still the trombone remained.

We hit the stage right at 8 PM, just in time to discover that when the local crew switched the stage power from the venue to a generator, they scrambled something in Kip's front of house gear, and it wouldn't come back. Thanks! Kip and Zach switched it all over to run off of Zach's set up. We're lucky to have total pros working with us, because this could have been a disaster.

The gig turned out to be a piece of cake--we played an hour and a half, and then got out of the way so that the next band could get going. Early on, we played to nobody, but they found us eventually. No more gear problems in my part of the stage, either, for which I was infinitely thankful.

still here

We had a pretty generously late lobby call Sunday morning.

The highway back to the airport was lined with expensive resorts, each a walled fortress similar to our own.

The Cancun airport is nicer than some US airports, though it has some kind of Guy Fieri restaurant, so that's an automatic points deduction of some kind.

I lucked into the exit row seat that has no chair directly in front of me, but it also meant that I couldn't watch anything on the TV. If I'd brought the trombone back with me, I could've easily reached seventh position, though.

Forty-five minutes from the airport, we were informed that the last thirty minutes might get bumpy. Mark Dannells was NOT HAPPY ABOUT IT. Luckily, we probably only experienced ten minutes of bumps and drops, and landed safely on our home turf. Glad to be home.