December 10, 2002
So How Many Things Can Go Wrong With A Tour
(and still not get in the way of a good time)?
December 6-7 I had two gigs planned in North Carolina. I don't fly to gigs all that often, but some months ago I ran into an old acquaintance and fan, Terry Feldman, who had moved down that way. He told me he was involved with a group called the Triangle Folk Music Society in Chapel Hill, and that he'd love to have me come out that way to perform. He gave me the contact number of the booker. So, I sent off a promo packet. They liked it. I told them if I could scare up a companion gig and make a weekend of it, I'd fly down. They gave me some other contacts, and I eventually secured a gig for Friday, December 6 at a place called "Fiddle and Bow" in Winston-Salem, followed by Triangle on December 7. Sounded like a good little mini-tour.
First indication that things were awry came when I sent out my gig notices to the half dozen contacts I had in NC. It seems that Terry had never been made aware of the date of my gig, and had arranged a benefit concert of his own for the same date. And worse, he had engaged the booker of Triangle to perform in that concert. So the two people who might have spurred some of the regulars of that series to come out and hear a stranger weren't even going to be there.
Then, during the week before, North Carolina was hit with an ice storm that knocked out electrical power for a significant portion of the state. (Hmm...Did the Ice Storm follow me from NERFA? See the November 20 entry below) The Thursday before I was to leave, I got a call from Fiddle and Bow that the storm had resulted in conditions at their venue that would not permit a concert. They would pay me the guarantee, (I later proposed that they pay me only half the guarantee, so that we would split the loss.) My plane tickets were not transferrable, so I would still have to fly out on Friday. I then got to thinking that perhaps Triangle was in similar situation. I started calling the organizer, Terry, the information number, the person at whose home I would be staying, and was unable to get through to any of these numbers. That told me that power outages were widespread in the area. I did reach the venue, though, and they said that they had power. So with no firm knowledge of a Saturday cancellation, I had to take the flight, not knowing if I had any gigs at all when I reached North Carolina. On the way to the airport, I did get a call from the organizer that the concert was still on, but who knew how many folks would turn up.
When I reached Greensboro airport, I had the nightmare that besets every musician who flies come true. Down the baggage carousel came my suitcase...but no guitar. I was proud of myself. I stayed calm for the full two hours it took for the baggage folks at Continental to determine that the guitar had been left back in Newark when they determined there was no room in the luggage compartment of the plane. Geez, guys. You'd think they might have let someone at the destination know this? It's a good thing the Friday gig was cancelled, as the guitar finally was delivered to the place I was staying around 9:30 that evening. Just in time for a nice little music party with the folks who were putting me up Friday night.
I spent a couple of hours Saturday morning sightseeing at Old Salem, a restored colonial village, and then headed south for Chapel Hill. I decided to take two-lanes and see some of the countryside. Bad move. Signage in rural North Carolina is nonexistant. After going through the same town three times trying to find my way, I gave up and headed for the interstate. As I approached Chapel Hill, I could see some of the results of the ice storm. Recently felled trees lined the roads. Some sections of town were still dark. I got to the venue, a funky used book and record store in time for sound check. A good thing, because the sound system didn't work. They finally traced it to some bad cables, and re-wired things.
The gig went well, although to a small audience. A large number of the audience finally repaired to the house of the one person who had lights, and we had a nice little party.
On the trip back home, I was able to bring the guitar on board the plane. (Larger plane.) Went through the baggage inspection. They asked me to open the guitar case, and they looked inside the guitar body to make sure it wasn't concealing anything more deadly than my music. They were about to send me on my way, when I helpfully suggested that they look inside the accessory compartment of the guitar case. They did, and immediately came up with my wire clippers. Duh! I sacrificed a cheap pair of wire clippers in the interest of Homeland Security. And on my way from the airport back to my car, I got to test out my brand new Calton super-duper guitar flight case, when I dropped it. (No one to blame but me.) It and the Martin survived nicely.
Lots of fun, nonetheless. Glad I don't fly more often.
November 20, 2002
November 15-17 was NERFA weekend. This is the North East Regional Folk Alliance Convention. This major area gathering of folk performers, presenters, radio people, recording people, general hangers-on and enthusiasts is a Mecca for folkies to attend workshops, perform in and attend showcases, and generally schmooze and network and do all those other buzzwords not often associated with folkies. This year the event moved to a new, and extremely un-folkie venue, Kutscher's Resort & Conference Center. This was an aging Borscht-Belt hotel in the Catskills. It was sort of weird to watch the Formal Showcases featuring folks like Rod MacDonald and The Mammals on the same stage that had been trod by Jack Benny and Shecky Green.
In 2001, I had won a Formal Showcase at NERFA, and capitalized that into a number of bookings. It seemed only natural that I should follow up this year with a table in the Exhibit Hall and as many "guerilla" showcases as I could scare up. These are privately sponsored showcases held late into the night in individuals' hotel rooms. In the early years of NERFA, they garnered that appelation by being produced without any official sanction or control. More recently, the organizers have registered them, listed them in the program book, and placed minimal controls on them so that they won't compete in the same time slot as the Formal Showcases, and so that they will all be concentrated in one portion of the hotel, so that those who want to sleep at night (silly people!) will not have music coming through the walls until 4:00AM.
I decided to run my own showcase room, "Agranoff's Dacha" on Saturday night, and see what other showcases I could get into on Friday night. Friday I was invited into the Plowshares showcase (run by the Plowshares concert series), Fish & Buffie's Wonderful Showcase (run by David Fishken & Ellen Groves), and the Martin Guitar showcase. These were all 15-minute mini-sets. For Agranoff's Dacha, I had half hour sets scheduled for myself, as well as Fishken & Groves, Akire Bubar, Joel Mabus, Jack Williams, and Joe Jencks. I had been stressing that folks should come to see me at the Dacha, because the longer set would give me a chance to do a wider variety of material and some of my longer pieces.
Attendance at all of Friday's showcases was... Well, as Joel Mabus put it, "I played to a crowd of nearly several". So I was placing a lot of hopes on the Saturday performance, since most folks who expressed some commitment to see me were leaning towards Saturday. And a half hour before I was due to go on, the lights went out. And stayed out. Until after we had left on Sunday afternoon. An ice storm had hit the area and brought down trees and power lines. There were still about 15 or so folks who found their way to the Dacha in the dark, but in terms of major exposure, it was all sort of a bust.
There were 750 attendees of the conference and 750 stories of what happened when the lights went out. A post-conference e-mail exchange heaped praise and calumny upon Kutscher's for their handling of the crisis. All I can say is that any place that managed to feed 750 people brunch after the power went out was doing OK in my book.
I don't know if I'll do the guerilla showcase routine next year. I think I have just about saturated this market. Virtually all the presenters at the conference know about me. They either have booked me, will book me, or won't book me. Maybe next year I'll just hang back and enjoy the conference and look for some more social music.
September 29, 2002
Good News, Bad News, and General Folderol
Well, the good news is that whether due to the showcase at NERFA last year or whatever, I am gigging more heavily now than ever in the past. I think that's a good thing. We'll see how well I handle it over the course of the next few months. I picked up a couple of nice multi-gig flying weekends: One in North Carolina in December and a follow-up to my rather successful Chicago trip back in Spring. Next March I'll be going out that way again, and performing on the prestigious Folk Stage concert series broadcast live over WFMT. I've also got some promising murmurings from a couple of festivals I've been angling at over the past few years. (No chicken-counting just yet, but I'll let you know as soon as I hear something definite.) And the capper is that I will be doing a 2-week plus tour of England in September of 2003. Jacey Bedford of the acapella group Artisan has agreed to set that up for me in her other capacity as an agent. I've invested in a Calton case for my guitar, anticipating more flying in the future.
The bad news is that my longtime friend and companion Jenny is leaving the area to care for her parents in Vermont. They are not ill in any specific way, but they are aging, and Jenny feels her duty is to be with them. She has been a very big part of my life for the past 12 years, and I miss her terribly.
And the general folderol is that I got my house painted. Since I moved in, I've been doing it myself on a rotating basis: one wall every 2 or 3 years. It's a small house, and it was quite manageable that way. But there was other repair and maintenance work that needed doing, so I figured I'd get the whole thing done by my friend Scooter, who's in the business. Looks real nice. Tan with dark brown trim. Only thing is, when Scooter showed me the picture in the catalogue of a house done up in that color scheme, it had a big two-storey verandah with columns in front. When he was done, I thought my house would have columns too. It didn't. I gotta talk to Scooter about false advertising.
August 22, 2002
Last Year I Couldn't Even Spell "Author". Now I Are one!
I have an article published in the Fall 2002 issue of Sing Out! Magazine. (The one with Ralph Stanley on the cover.) It's called "Social Music", and has to do with the general decline of music as a social activity, as opposed to a performance/audience activity. If you're too cheap to buy the issue, click here to read the article.
March 29, 2002
What I Did On My Winter Vacation
Just got back from a 2-week vacation to Trinidad and Tobago. Took lots of notes. Took lots of pictures. I've put together a travelogue. Click on the picture to read the story. (Lots of images. If you have a slow connection, there may be long downloads.)