i am sitting on the starboard
of your only way
back home


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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

New MCC!

Every time a new Mary Chapin Carpenter record has come out, from the time "A Place In the World" debuted when I was 14 and in 8th grade...I have bought it on the release day (good grief, 13 years ago). A physical copy! With liner notes and artwork! It's refreshing since I do so much downloading these days.

The Age of Miracles has arrived and it is lovely.

New Mary Chapin Album!


Competition and Such

Tailgate Rehearsal

Busy! Wild and Crazy! Ok, maybe just busy. Here's a fun tale:

After we had done our deal at the Hallettsville Songwriter Serenade and then watched some incredibly talented fiddlers...fiddle, we decided to head back to the fairgrounds because there was a CARNIVAL set up next door. And maybe catch some of the closing band's set in the hall that night. So we roll up and get in the hall and the band was just...packing up. So we headed over to the carnival and found the ticket booth...closed. And so then we headed to the cotton candy booth and they said...they weren't selling any more. Those are the kind of wild and crazy times we have.

So the songwriting contest was fun, and I brought in a bunker bomb of a lead guitar player and background vocalist, hehheh. We practiced on the tailgate a lot. It adds to our cred, or something. That and the sunglasses.

My hired gun lead player

Hallettsville Songwriter Serenade

It was super fun and I hydrated beyond what even Celine Dion does and I warmed up in the parking lot by wandering through the cars singing "Eee eee eee zzz zzz zzz" and making people think perhaps they should call the cops to collect me. I wouldn't have changed a thing about our performance, except maybe I would have won it haha. Which is fine to feel, because as my wise friend pointed out, you don't enter those competitions to not win. But 7th place out of 25 is not bad at all, and the hang time with the other great songwriters over the weekend was awesome.

Time to go practice some more on a tailgate.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Thing About the Gaga


Ok, so I've heard it a lot. My friend Jamie summed it up when I saw her last...she told me, "I wasn't sure if all your Facebooking and tweeting about Lady Gaga was true fandom or if you were being snarky and sarcastic...but I think you're really a fan."

Yeah, it's true. The diehard folkie likes the Gaga. I've always had an ear for some pop goodness, but I usually successfully ignore and/or ridicule most of who and what is put out there into the mainstream and set up to be labeled as having "viable artistic credibility." I get it. It's manufactured.

There is the road to performing which takes you to 4-hour gigs in front of the grocery store check out line (done), being the wandering minstrel in 100 degree heat for an outdoor market (done), playing in dive bars from Socorro, NM to Winston-Salem, NC (done). That is a path that one can argue with some hubris and annoying attitude that is hard earned and respectable.

Then there are a lot of people these days that look good and sing okay, and either through the virtues of American Idol or their mom being on Wife Swap (you know who you are), they can get noticed enough to where the big label machine sucks them in and starts making them a pop star. Most of us can see through it, and I think that it's fine. I've been known to rock out to a Ke$ha tune, but I've also seen her SNL performance where she is clearly questioning every decision her label handlers made from the the astronaut dancers to the U.S. flag cape. Weird.

Anyway, I find Gaga to be the opposite of all of this. Some stealth Youtubing (and I won't do it for you) will reveal pre-Gaga playing in NYC clubs back in the day (which probably means 4 years ago because she's only 23). There's some recital footage of her rocking out on a grand piano, too. So she has the musical goods.

The fact that my friends and I have horrifically long conversations about what sucks us in to the Lady Gaga phenomenon means she is doing something right. I'm kind of up on pop culture but I don't watch TV. I have to seek things out to see them, and what made me seek out Lady Gaga at first was just that she dressed weirdly. It was the double whammy of a coffee filter type dress followed by a glittered crustacean tiara that got me hooked. This was crazy.

And I read a little more, and Gaga is about building her community of fans. Not just building up fans to adore HER, but to build a community that people can be a part of and interact with. Not everyone's hanging out with Lady Gaga, but I would bet my lobster tiara that friendships and relationships and networking contacts have been born among her "little monsters" as she calls them that might not have existed otherwise. She promotes that community, and it makes sense. Is THAT part manufactured too? Doesn't matter because it filters down to something that actually works, as opposed to something that makes people go, "huh?" and not do anything.

Lastly, it's more about the whole performance art thing than just the music. I don't think we're used to a pop artist that lives and breathes her persona 24/7. I think these type of rock stars used to exist, but I've seen way too many tabloid photos of Britney dressed in sweat pants in line at the gas station to have any illusions about "real" pop stars. The Gaga, though? I don't really know what she looks like these days. I don't really care. I want to know what she will be wearing next, and what will happen on her next TV show. She makes me think about the role of a performer and an artist. And when it's all backed up by good pop that sounds awesome cranked up in the car?

That makes me a fan.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Achieving Goals That Don't Exist

Cheat Sheet on my arm

Last week at Gruene we thought we might have to do one last song, and the appropriate last song is of course called "Shut This Place Down," which I have not yet played with Susan, so I wrote the chords down real quick. Sharpie.

I have had flashes of an incredible time during these past couple of months of an incredibly tough situation. Like I posted earlier, no one wants their boss to break an arm (unless you have a jerk boss but hey, that's not my territory), but especially their boss who makes a living by using their arm a lot. The strum is coming back, I can see the progress with physical therapy already. And I for one cannot wait for Susan Gibson to return to full strumming form.

But, the lemonade of the situation is I have pushed myself on the guitar front lately way more than I know I would have if this whole thing had not come up. Since guitar is the musical thing I have been doing the longest, since I was a wee 11 year old, I have always felt pretty good about it. But you always compare yourself to others and think you're behind in the pack just by virtue of hesitation and some kind of inhibiting humility (or maybe that's just me).

Having to step up and learn 25 or so songs to be professionally performable up to the standards of me, Susan, and my standards for how good I think Susan is...was a toughie. After I started getting the progressions and charts down and then the tempos right, I was scared of the nuances that rhythm players throw in to their songs to make them theirs. Anyone with some skill can play a decent G C D progression, but only Susan can play it with the picking and strum style that is her own, and I have mine, and so does Bob Dylan. It has been an interesting balance of trying to pick up as much of Susan's style as possible, and then knowing when to just allow the tune to be a Susan song played how I would do it. I think I'm walking the line all right. At least, Susan has not thrown her guitar stand at me in disgust. Yet.

I also found I like the role of being a sideperson (derivative of the general term, "sideman" haha). It's different when you roll up to a gig and all you have to worry about is your guitar tone, and it's someone else's job to sing, banter, worry about who in the crowd cares and doesn't, etc. It's a different role. Do I like it more than performing my own stuff? No, but it's apples and oranges. Give me both, please.

So the goal that didn't exist...the title of this post. I never ever would have ever EVER planned on this situation, or the revelation into my guitar world to happen in such a short time. I think that's when some of our best learning happens, when you have to step up and make things happen to keep a train on its track.

So anyway...I don't know how long this gig will last, or what other gigs it will open me up to, but I am probably going to add "Steadiest Right Hand In the West" to my business card, har har.


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Monday, April 19, 2010

Feelin' the Love

Last night we had a benefit to raise some funds for Susan's broken arm bills at Gruene Hall, one of my most favorite places to be, and now luckily, to play. When we knew we had it billed as "Susan and Friends," we'd thought we'd shoot some emails out to a bunch of people we'd like to see and hear, and hope that a couple of them were in town and free to come play the show with us.

Turns out, everyone one of Susan's amazing peers that we asked...said yes. Hence we had quite the amazing bill with Patrice Pike, Walt Wilkins and the Mystiqueros, Tina Mitchell Wilkins, Michael O'Connor, Shelley King, Mark Jungers, Elizabeth Wills, and Carolyn Wonderland. For those of you who are not in the Texas music loop...these people are Texas music GOLD. All of them. The show was amazing. And we had to cram them all into half hour sets, and the amazing thing is after 8 acts over a 4 hour period, we were only running 10 minutes behind schedule. Not only are Susan's people talented, but PUNCTUAL. Be still my task manager heart.

Here are some photos...thanks to every one of you all who came, threw some cash in the tip jar, and had a good time.

Patrice Pike at Gruene Hall

The Mystiqueros
Walt, Tina, Brian, John, and Bill

Michael O'Connor
Michael O!

Raucous Crowd!
Did I mention it was PACKED?

Shelley King, Elizabeth Wills, Susan Gibson
Shelley, Elizabeth, and Suz harmonize...

Mark Jungers

The Gruene Crowd for Susan!
Shelley and Carolyn and a full house.

Carolyn Wonderland
And now Carolyn has made me want a lapsteel. I need
to pick an instrument and stick to it.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fare Thee Well, Sprinter


Last month we cleaned out the Sprinter van, as it was also a casualty in Susan's accident that broke her arm (which a splint on now and is doing well). Unfortunately, as Susan put it...while the arm is fixable the van isn't. Sigh.

I only had about a year and a half as full-on van passenger (and even graduated to driver sometimes), but I saw a lot of the country from its giant windows, and dropped a lot of stuff in the wheel well that I had to contort myself to claim (evidence here).

Passenger Seat

Susan had quite a few years with it, and it was big enough in personality that the only name it needed was "The Van." Everyone knew when we had arrived at the gig, and many times people even knew when we were en route to the gig. The Van was hard to miss.

Rocks Rear View

People are always curious about that type of vehicle when you pull up in it and pile out with 3 dogs, 3 girls, a PA system, 2 - 4 guitars, a banjo, merch...and makeup.

"Do you all LIVE in that?" No.
"Do you all sleep in it?" No, just Susan and her dogs.
"Is that a couch?" Yes.
"What kind of gas mileage?" 26. Booyah!

The next touring vehicle option? For now it's an Element, but it doesn't hold both gear and dogs. So I'm sure Susan will know it when she sees it. And it will become just as big a part of her road life as this Sprinter has been. And the miles put on the next one will be filled with just as much laughter, music, talk radio, dog water spills, dashboard knickknack collections, and teeth-clenching to get to the gig on time as The Van had.

And very time I see a Fed-Ex van, I'll feel a little nostalgic.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

South Plains College

We had the honor of going to South Plains College in Levelland, TX at the start of the month so Susan could talk to some of their classes and so we could perform on Thursday Night Live, their monthly student-produced TV show (a la Austin City Limits). This school has the coolest music program ever...it produces working musicians who have studied everything from sound, lighting, arranging, and performing. You can get a degree in BANJO. Heck yes. Our good friend Kate Hearne goes to South Plains, so we hung out with her all day and saw some classes.

Susan Gibson

Susan talked to a couple of class sessions, we played some and then talked about everything from writing to booking gigs to owning your own business.


Kate plays on Thursday Night Live like a rock star. We snuck a peek at the backstage dressing rooms for the student performers...

Girls Dressing Room
This is the girls' room.

Boys Dressing Room
And this was the boys'. We thought this was funny.

South Plains College Editing Room

Then we had a grand old time playing and afterwards, I snapped this photo of a million little Susans everywhere. I wonder if they could sing in harmony with each other.

I don't regret my life path one bit, though if I had known about South Plains when I was college hunting, I might have ended up there. Trade school for musicians, much like my "folk music grad school" at Red Leaf -- gives you such an advantage when you start trying to make a living.

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Friday, April 16, 2010


Live at Patsy's
Photography by Maurice

Ok, it's been forever. Part of it is that Blogger changed their publishing ways and my blog is messed up. Hence you are reading this at the non-normal location. Anyone who is any good at Wordpress design or whatever, or knows how the heck I can publish to jpo.com through this new Blogger ruledom, let me know. Blah. I'll fix it, I will.

But! Things have been fun. The Boss is recovering and also playing some slick electric guitar. I have gotten pretty comfy with all the tunes I have learned, which means I don't have a mini-panic attack every time we start playing one to make sure I am doing it right. I am a perfectionist. It causes mini-panic attacks.

Sitting on a trailer

We played a cool event in Yorktown, which as far as I can tell, is in the middle of nowhere...called Yorkstock. They made awesome t-shirts and we played on a flatbed trailer, which made a great stage. We should just haul one everywhere.

Onstage at the GOlden Light in Amarillo

The Golden Light Cantina in Amarillo was one of my favorite shows lately, because I had finally hit my stride with all the material and John Lerma, drummer with the mostest, was so fun to play with. And because there's stuff to read on the walls when you're setting up.

Songswap in Lubbock at the Bue Light

We had quite a long row of songswappers at the Blue Light in Lubbock...there's Red down at the end, and then Brandon, and then Rode, and then Susan...who brought the lead guitar cred to the stage. Very fun. It is weird to songswap with 4 artists so you're playing only 25% of the time. I tried not to do anything distracting like picking my nose while we waited.


It's wildflower season in Texas, so the drives have been, as I like to say, disgustingly beautiful. I hope it's legal to pick one for the car, because I did.

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