Tuesday, November 24, 2020

There Is No Substitute

 The latest 2020 Yacht Rock gig was at the Porsche Experience down by the Atlanta airport, playing three songs for...something...for Porsche. At this point, I don't remember. I think it was something about maybe trying to get people to come check it out, so they used local bands to highlight it.

The setting was pretty cool with the track behind us and the planes passing by, and the weather and the daylight were perfect. We played each of the songs twice for different camera angles--Ride Like the Wind, Hold the Line, and Running on Empty.

Easy gig! Didn't even play any saxophone.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Status Update

 Sooooo...this shit continues with no end in sight. 

There hasn't been much to write about over the past month or two. Outside of a few potential gigs that never materialized, my performances have been limited to recording a few "livestream" concerts with the Yacht Rock Revue. No one seems to mind that they're not actually live, and it allows our team to edit everything into a better performance. From our side of the production, it's definitely strange; the feeling is much closer to a rehearsal than a show, and it's difficult to overcome the reality that we're playing to an empty room. We're doing it, though. It's all we've got at the moment.

A few weeks ago, we played a corporate convention in Oklahoma City, and it too was a livestream. It was set up more or less as a television show, with several "sets" in different ballrooms. 

On the first night, we set up our gear, sound checked, ate, and waited on a rehearsal that never happened.

Our call for the second day wasn't until 4:30 PM, so most of us wandered around the immediate vicinity to the hotel, which was dominated by a minor league baseball stadium. 

I also ventured over towards the state capital. 

This machine is called a pump jack. It sure is weird to see one installed in the median of a four lane road.

Any... day two was our performance. Here is the monitor showing the multiple cameras throughout the building.

The hosts of the evening (in some other room) managed the evening, passing off the show to us for a few songs, to the comedian Sinbad for a five minute segment, back to us, off to (of all people!) Michael MacDonald at home in California, and back to us. All in all, I think we played around fifteen songs--a very easy night.

Two days later, we were involved in a drive in concert at a parking lot north of Atlanta. The event was sold out (yay!), but it rained--poured!--from soundcheck all the way through load out at the end of the night. It's hard to say how the show went--of the people who showed up (it was a "rain or shine" gig), most were forced to stay in their cars because of the storm. 

We are entering the season where my hands go numb if I'm cold, so I was pretty seriously concerned that it would happen on this night and I wouldn't play well. Fortunately, the temperature stayed high enough (and I wore an extra shirt to try and keep myself warm). Things were sticky though, in the high humidity, and that's my excuse for messing up two measures of the Africa solo. 

This is probably our final public performance of the year, appropriately enough. What a mess this year has been.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Down in Castle Rock

Another gig! This time, we flew to Denver to play an outdoor, socially distanced show at an amphitheater. 

The flight was reeeeaaaaaalllly early--8:15 AM takeoff, which put us in Denver at 9:30 or something. Brutal! My schedule as of late has been nowhere close to this.

Anyway, the van picked us up. Our first stop was a dispensary. Legal weed! Woo! I...stayed outside. Not my thing.

From there, we drove to the city of Castle Rock, where the gig was happening, and would you believe they had an Indian restaurant! I haven't had Indian food since March, so this was a treat. I did eat indoors, which made me a little nervous, but the place was almost empty (one other table in use), so I risked it. Aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower).

The amphitheater where we played was at a complex built in a valley. There was zip lining, an obstacle course, a soccer field, mountain bike trails, and a playground. Pretty cool. We were early for setting up gear, so I went for a little run around the trails.

Here's the stage. Very cool looking (though it faced west and got very warm during soundcheck. The fencing around the front kept the audience far enough away from us that we weren't in any danger.

The gig was, overall, really good, and it was nice to play for people again! However, I am not sure how successful the promoters were in keeping people masked and socially distanced. I don't know...maybe it was ok? 

I played pretty well. The gig was only ninety minutes long, which limited the damage I could do. 

I still haven't figured out how anyone plays saxophone in Denver. I brought a few different strengths of reeds to help with the altitude, but I ended up using the same reeds I've been on at home. My horns felt super dead, though. It was fine through a microphone, but bleah...nothing vibrated. There was just about no feedback through the horn.

The next morning, we met up at 6 AM to get back to the airport. Guzzled some coffee, got on the plane, fell asleep, woke up on our initial descent into Atlanta. It was almost normal.


Friday, September 4, 2020

Cape Cod

Another pandemic road trip! This time, Yacht Rock headed up to Cape Cod to play another drive-in show.

Lots of space on the plane to Boston. I am thankful that Delta isn't putting people in the middle seat these days. Keisha went all the way across from me to maximize the distance. Also, I am pleased to report that my mask did not affect my ability to fall asleep!

The guys and the gear met us at the airport and took us to the nearest Chipotle. Then, onward to Cape Cod!

Sooooo, here we go. A true drive in theater in Yarmouth, Massachusetts. Cars drive in, take their parking spots, and tune their radios to a particular frequency in order to hear the band. No PA stacked along the stage, no amps on stage. Without a radio, all you would hear is drums, a little bit of singing, and the occasional saxophone.

How was the gig? Pretty good, all things considered. We recently played a few recorded shows for private events, and those were much more of a grind. This felt a lot closer to a normal show, even with the oddities of cars and no PA. I definitely played better on this one.

As you might expect, there was plenty of horn honking and flashing headlights from the two hundred or so cars. With multiple people in each car, that's actually a solid turnout!

The next day, we flew home. This is the airport in Boston on a Saturday morning. Where is everybody?

About the only thing open in the airport was Dunkin' Donuts. Good thing. Caffeine is an essential part of every morning.

On the flight home, it was announced that our pilot was retiring. I'm guessing maybe it was probably retirement vs. probable furlough? It's not going well for the airline industry, either.

It looks like we're headed to Denver in a week to do another one. I'm glad we can do a few of these while the weather still makes it possible.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Life During Wartime

The blog is back!

What's been going on with me?

1. Immediately following the end of the Yacht Rock tour in California, I had a very bad bicycle accident on a charity group ride in Atlanta. Basically, I hit a speed bump on a steep downhill and cartwheeled to a stop, a dramatic deceleration from 39 mph to 0 mph! Concussion, road rash, ambulance ride to the emergency room--not a good start to quarantine, but also...if there was a perfect time to have an accident and not miss any gigs...

I have almost completely recovered, and with everything shut down, have spent a lot of time reacquainting myself with the bike (as well as my running shoes). Follow me on Strava! For the time being, swimming has been curtailed by virus fears and a bum shoulder. If feels like my wreck allowed kinds of middle aged man ailments to catch up to me!

2. Yacht Rock has put forth a few online collaborations.

It feels like this internet trend has finally (thankfully) finished. I mean, do we really need to see another video of someone playing along with a Charlie Hunter video?

Several of the guys have committed to weekly shows on Facebook Live, and the rest of us have contributed backing tracks for those. Here's one where I am featured.

3. In my own musical world, I've been practicing consistently (though shorter durations), which has been good, though sometimes I question why I'm working on certain things (for that one jazz gig I might have in 2021 where I need to play four Joe Henderson tunes?...uhhh). One major accomplishment for me has been to learn the solo for Africa. I've always played it on EWI (with a few small alterations to the harmony) because I didn't have enough technique to handle it on keyboard. With much time and persistence, I've finally got it. One step closer to being a less crappy keyboardist!

A nerdy musical explanation here: 

a. The variation in the first phrase is because I can only play parallel intervals on the EWI (in this case, a perfect fourth below), so the first notes are D# and A#. They should be D# and B. The way to think of it is that the whole phrase is in fourths, but within the confines of a B major pentatonic scale (which means that it's not fourths because the it's a third when you have D# as the top note BLAH BLAH BLAH shut up).

b. In the second phrase, the two voices (the flutey thing and the marimba thing) should be in thirds. I can't program the EWI to play thirds (since some are major and some are minor), so I played it in octaves. Now that I'm playing it on keyboards, I still can't play it in the thirds because I would need to split the keyboard for the two sounds. If I used one sound to cover the whole thing (which I am doing--another compromise for live performance!), I can't physically overlap my hands and play this, SOOOOOOO...I'm playing them a tenth apart (the third line in the middle system), which, to me, sounds fine.

c. The third phrase follows the same rules as the first phrase (fourths in B major pentatonic).

So, is it better? Am I closer? Maybe.

4. I've been working in my yard a lot, and I've enjoyed trying to get the right plants in the right place. It's mostly been an experiment of seeing which ones can handle the different ratios of sun to shade in our backyard.

While I was at it, I also learned how to clean this sucker.

5. Our family grew with the addition of a puppy named Finn!

PeePoopSleepEat on repeat.

On to the gig!

Yacht Rock played a gig last weekend in Indianapolis! It was set up drive-in style in an enormous parking lot. Tickets were purchased by the car (4 people max), and your ticket got you a spot to park and a spot to tailgate. We were on a nice, big stage, maybe forty yards from the nearest car. 

The people that put this show together were very cool (no problems with staff not wearing masks, no eye rolling, no BS), and it felt really great to play a gig. I honestly didn't get much energy from the crowd, but it didn't matter because I was so tuned into what was happening on stage. The cars honking their horns was super funny, though.

About the only thing that was tricky about this was the travel and accommodations. I opted to ride up in the van with Kip and Zach. Just about everybody else flew (Nick and Pete were already in Indiana). 

We even made the New York Times! The article is here. Zero mention of me playing the Africa solo on keyboard.

And that was it. I would definitely do more of this style of gig until things come back to normal. It was extremely well done. Corona hugs for everybody.

See you in...September? No gigs until then. Please wear your mask.