Colin Thubron is a classic choice for the first book in a travel inspired read-a-thon. This one is short, and the only fiction I’ve ever seen by him. It makes sense though, all those characters he’s met and observed in his life that can’t be written about in the journalistic non-fiction format in the way they can be characterized in fiction. To The Last City is the tale of a small group of people journeying to less-visited Incan ruins. A Belgian and his French wife who is half his age, an older British couple whose resentment of each other fills the air, a mis-guided and confused aspiring priest, and the doubtful guide whose job it is to keep all these folks safe and happy.
This is a really good book, but here is quote that really stuck out so far:
” The Englishman lay in his sleeping bag listening to the quick, regular breathing of his wife.
In the faint light, he could see she had placed her boots between them, with her anorak and a water bottle. “
And finally getting around, four hours late, to the introductory questions:
1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? Portland, ME, USA
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? Red Dust, I think. Maybe Grass Roof, Tin Roof.
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? I’m not nearly that prepared.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! A lapsed traveler, due mostly to my drive to be a musician which keeps me tied to where I’m playing, recording, and also perpetually broke.
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? I was so excited to realize I didn’t have a gig booked on a Saturday night so that I could participate! Although I do have to go to the studio, and also to work at some point during the 24 hours.
Pages read: 66
Page in current book: 67
Hour six update: Book finished, 168 pages read. Heading out to get some Indian food….
After spending a week staying with good friends Grys and Juan, I’m finally back in my old hometown of Tlaquepaque. I felt welcomed back with open arms, and in some ways treated like I never left. Drank some cervezas with the hombres a la tienda. Got the scoop on the local rock band I sang with sometimes breaking up. A few stores have changed, but mostly it’s the same. Gorgeous, and warm, and delicious.
My plan was to rent an apartment from an English teacher who runs a school and rents some apartments in Tlaquepaque. When I got to the school to pick up the keys, the apartment I was hoping to rent wasn’t ready yet, and the cheaper apartments didn’t have internet. This was a problem since part of my plan was to hole up and write some gig proposals for the summer, and answer some long e-mails I’d been ignoring.
When he asked if I knew my way around at all, and I said I used to live and teach here, his eyes lit up, and I could tell he had a notion. It turned out a teacher was sick and he was in need of an emergency sub for that day and the next. He offered me a private apartment for less than the cheaper place in exchange for teaching two days of classes.
So here I am in a gorgeous private apartment, able to practice, have friends over, and write in peace in the center of a fantastic neighborhood. I even made myself a Mexican breakfast of chiliquiles, papaya, and frijoles.
Several people said they were afraid I wasn’t going to come back from Mexico, and if I didn’t have gigs lined up in Maine and Vermont, I might not. I could live here. But it would be almost impossible to play original music on a regular basis. So here’s to one more week in paradise.
One of these days I swear I’ll get this blog back to being about travel photos and tales. I have plenty of ideas to write about with getting back in the field working on an archaeology project, and having a case of poison ivy bad enough to send me to the hospital, but for now, it’s all about the music.
November Music News
In some sad news, my not-so-trusty Honda Insight that has taken me all around the country, barely big enough for a guitar and a suitcase, was hauled off on a trailer by a nice engineer from Toronto who was looking for a hybrid to fix up. The replacement gig vehicle, actually big enough for a few instruments, amps, and the handsome men that play them, is a jeep cherokee. We took the jeep on it’s first foray to a gig in Hallowell, packed to the gills with gear and people, only to be texted a few minutes down the road by my roommate that my tail lights were out. When AAA proved to be of no help, I called drummer and car lover Dave Burd for some advice. He talked us through changing a fuse, and voila, we were back on the road.
In some even sadder news, as I’m sure most people know, Nick Curran, amazing guitar player and singer, and one of the few Mainahs to make it, died of cancer this month. He was one of the youngest people to ever win a W.C. Handy, played for the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and released amazing solo records. I’ve included a video of Nick along with Dave Burd (the fuse man), and my old friend Hawk Kallweit. It’s a pretty small world, and some folks don’t get to stay in it long enough.
11/1 – Dogfish Cafe, 8pm, w/ Adam Barber on bass, and my bro Kirk Underwood on electric guitar and harmonies.
11/3 – Local Sprouts – organic food and homegrown music – 7 to 9pm, with Adam Barber on Bass and Joe Bloom on harmonica.
11/10 – Local Buzz, Cape Elizabeth, 8pm – with Adam Barber on bass and TBA.
11/16 – Gutheries, Lewiston, 8pm – with Adam Barber on bass and Devon Colella on cello
Vermont bound! Please pass this newsletter on to folks you know in Vermont who are interested in original Americana music
11/17 – Purple Moon Pub in Waitsfield – 7pm
11/18 – The Skinny Pancake, Montpelier, 6pm
11/19 – Radio Bean, Burlington, 6pm
11/20 – The Bees Knees, Morrisville, 7pm
11/23 and 11/24 - Samoset Resort, Rockport, ME, 7 to 10pm – we’re very excited that the Samoset has decided to have music for the off season. Join us in the downstairs restaurant for cocktails and original music.
11/24 – Blue – the Nashville style songwriters round I host every month at Blue will still happen even though I’ll be up the coast. Guest host TBA. 6 pm
11/30 and 12/1 – Samoset Resort, 7 to 10pm, with Devon Colella on the cello.
Also in November is the 20th anniversary of a songwriters’ collective I belong to in Nashville hosted every Sunday by my good friend Kathy Hussey. Although I’m not able to fly down for the weekend to celebrate and pick some tunes with them, Dana Lowe, the resident poet famous for making up poems on the spot containing three random words provided by the crowd, wrote this for me to share with you today:
New England folks: the chance is good
For hearing Shanna Underwood
And her gang come to your town
to lay some lovely music down.
The tickets, relatively cheap;
The mode of transport is by Jeep.
Her poison ivy, some folks say,
is why she’s just itchin’ to play.
Accompanied by the Musical Lads,
her show makes Northern folk feel glad.
She tours the early part in Maine,
then Vermont, when she’s out again!
When choosing towns, Shanna has a habit
of picking names multi-syllabic.
And, if the folks are extra-nice,
she might even play in Burlington twice!
So go by plane or boat or car
to see Shanna and her Gibson Guitar.
(void where prohibited)
c 2012 Dana M Lowe
Hope to see you out and about,
Like on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ShannaUnderwoodMusic/events
I’ve come through Buffalo a few times this year, and feel like I’ve already become entrenched in some friendships and families thanks to my friends from the former Redheaded Stepchild. As my new buddy Tim Pitcher and I were talking over Christmas about the winter lulls and being laid off, we got the idea of booking a bunch of shows together in Western New York. Possibly to Tim’s surprise, I don’t joke about these things, so here I am in Batavia, sipping coffee, trading who knows who stories, and rehearsing for a weeks worth of listening room and coffeehouse style concerts.
Our last show of the week will be on Wed. at a fantastic little venue in Corfu, NY called The Union Hotel. It’s an old fashioned bowling alley/bar/music venue. As opposed to my favorite venue in Maine, Bayside Bowl, The Union Hotel in Corfu is genuine retro. The bowling alley is so old you have to keep score on paper. Snoops, the owner, made me feel like a star, and took me for a tour behind the scenes of the pin machine. I got to play pin monkey and photographer for a while.
Tonight: Saturday, February 18th, Black Eyed Susans, Angelica, NY 7:30pm
Tim and I will be pickin’ acoustic original tunes in Angelica. I hope to see some of the folks I talked to at LLBeans on the phone who live in the area!
Monday, Feburary 20th, Nietzsche’s, 8 to 9pm
Nietzsche’s is a Buffalo music staple. Following the showcase will be an open mic. I’m really excited to hang out and here what is happening on the Buffalo scene.
Wednesday, Febrary 22nd, Union Hotel, Corfu, NY, 7:30pm
Beer, bowling, and country music. What the hell else do you want?
This is a new venue in Buffalo that looks great, and sounds better.
How would you feel if this were the view from your backyard? After a little while, the mountains probably go the way of everything else. Not even noticed while going through the motions of doing the dishes and obsessing about the roof, but every once in a while being striking again over a cup of coffee. Heading out into the mountains has been my plan for falling back in love with Maine. While Portland, to me, is a great little town, it also reeks of stagnation and extreme class separation. I feel like my own history is erased as I pop coins in the meter next to the same shops (thankfully still mostly locally owned), feel a sense of deja-vu from ten years ago, and remind myself that I have been to Mongolia in the meantime. There is a Maine outside of Portland, and it is like another world.
My brother commented earlier this year when I was observing that for economic reasons I will be “stuck” in Maine for the time being, that I’m more comfortable when in survival mode. Never one to be an adrenaline junkie, I don’t think that’s quite it. It’s not the rush, but the adventure of the unknown; a first-hand acquisition of knowledge and experience. I am still seething from a comment made by a friend earlier this week that implied there is something inherently wrong with me for avoiding settling down. I feel the same way about people who shack up in their dream house and begin the process of erosion that familiarity works on our senses and perspectives. There must be a middle ground where connections can be maintained, but the mountains don’t fade into the background of the everyday.
So off to ramble in the White Mountains near Evan’s Notch. I was looking for a short hike called The Roost, but I couldn’t find the trail head. The Caribou trail had parking, and a clear map, so I headed off. I was planning to make a loop around that was described as Caribou to Caribou MT to the Muddy something-or-other trail. What this heavily wooded trail lacks in views of the surrounding area, it makes up for by following a river that it crisscrosses over several times dotted by waterfalls.
It took me significantly longer to get through the Caribou trail to the head of the Caribou Mt. trail than I thought it would. But at this point I wasn’t going to not see a summit after a couple of hours. I half ran up the first part of this trail into what turned into a mythical scene of short pine trees, mosses, and the start of a granite instead of wooded landscape.
As I sat down to enjoy the view and finally eat my hard-earned sandwich, I realized the sun was looking awfully low. I double checked my time, and noticed it was actually an hour later then what I had thought I’d read the first time. Shit. I was at the very least two hours away from the car with exactly two hours of sunlight left.
Here is where the adventure of the unknown mind took over, and was insisting that I continue with my original plan of completing the loop. But when I followed the trail marker, it dead ended. A cliff on one side, and extremely dense bushes and pines with no trail on the other. I backtracked and tried again, but the same thing. I was going to have to backtrack down the trail I came up. Something I never do if I can help it when hiking. I realized a quarter of the way down the original trail, that this was the best thing that could have happened. Not only was it significantly darker in the woods, but I moved as fast as possible because I already knew where I was going, and the landmarks in my mind kept me motivated and with some idea of how far out I was. I even patted the half way marker and called it old buddy outloud as I passed it.
Perspective changes instantly when the conditions change. On the way up I was plodding along feeling the thrill of each new water fall and getting up each rise. On the way down, I was racing against time, and each landmark turned into a checkmark to get to next. All the things that were in my car, and not in my backpack, that would be useful if I did for some reason get a stuck kept flashing through my mind: two flashlights, two sleeping bags, a reflective heat blanket, a tent, a pocket knife…..
I made it back to the car at 4:42, the sun set yesterday at 4:18, although I could still see well enough. The tree stumps had only just began turning into boogiemen and wild animals. When I got back to the car it was pitch dark in a matter of minutes, and promptly began pouring.
So much for my life in Maine becoming routine.
In 2007, I lived in Charleston, WV while working on an archaeological project for six months. Partly for the undeniable natural beauty of the area, and partly for the great memories, I feel attached to this small city in the mountains. Some of the folks I met on the crew are still some of the strongest, although not the closest, friendships I have. I was chatting to a couple of those folks on my drive down to the city, which made it all the more emotional to roll into a ghost town. It was Sunday, not a busy day in places that push closer and closer to GOD’s country. Almost everything was closed. And what wasn’t closed was just as often an empty, abandoned storefront.
That’s one thing that comes up as conversation in a lot of arch crews. We roll in, in this crew, as many as seventy people at one time, with per diem checks to burn, a rate of pay probably significantly higher than the average laborer in town, and a cultural hunger that put us on that path in the first place. The impact we must have had on a town like this is probably as big as the impact living there had on me. When is the last time a mud covered bunch of folks rolled into Charlie’s and ordered beers by the case to play pool on a rain day?
Charleston has some of the best small town architecture I’ve ever seen. It’s a clean city (maybe because there doesn’t seem to be anyone around), with really interesting buildings and public art.
While I was looking for effective places to hang up posters, I a guy in what I think was a fake security officer suit starting chatting me up. “Yeah, you’re a lucky gal. I wanted to be a musician once upon a time. I had it all set up after high school. I was going to go on the road.”
This is the point where I start wondering if he’s going to ask me for money.
“I had everything lined up. I was going to be famous.
But then a damn truck came along and ran over my monkey. My music career was over.”
I’m pretty sure I’ve heard that one before, but it still took me a second to get it after he started chuckling and walking away.
These trips are as much about visiting the folks as it is about the music and the places. Morning coffee in Alabama, New York with a friend from Nashville, and his mother, who is one of my favorite people ever. An inspiration of a woman who travels with her mind, and treats everyone with an open heart. Evening picking in Batavia with a multi-instrumentalist friend and then going out to watch his seventy-something year old dad play bass for a classic rock cover band. I’ve been so lucky this summer to be able to travel around and meet great new folks, and spend time with old friends all over the place. If only I could drive to Korea, we could get into some serious trouble.
At least somebody is dancing in Charleston.
On 64, right over the border from West Virginia, there is a giant factory, an oil refinery it seems, on the Kentucky side. I wasn’t able to really capture the magnitude of this place from the window of my moving vehicle, but it’s like a distopian factory-scape rising up out of hills. Another couple of hours past this, one of my longest running close friends, and a bunch of Chinese take out was waiting for me. Now that’s worth driving to Ky for. Today, it’s on to Nashville, baby.
This whole summer has been an experiment in living in the moment and being up in the air. I booked 50 shows in Mexico, and have played at least twice that if you count jumping in on friends gigs and busking on Exchange street. I spent most of the summer wondering if I would make it down south to finish up the touring, or if I would have to cancel everything if I found a real job and/or ran of money. Well, I am almost completely out of money, but since I haven’t found real work, I’m risking the road trip anyway.
8/16 Nashville, The Family Wash, Short Set at 8:30pm
8/19 Knoxville, IndieGrrl Showcase, World’s Fair Conference Center, 6:30pm, $5
8/26 Berea, KY, Main St. Cafe, 6pm
8/27 Charleston, WV, Taylor Books, 7pm
8/28 Thomas, WV, The Purple Fiddle, 1pm
8/29 Pittsburgh, Club Cafe, 8ish
9/9, Bar Harbor, ME, I met this guy at a gig who booked me at his venue, but hasn’t told me the name or location of said establishment. But, hey, road trip to Bar Harbor? I’m in.
Excerpt from show that airs on August 12th on Great Falls TV in Auburn/Gorham and surrounding areas. 9pm
It can also be viewed at www.greatfallstv.net and follow the links to the VOD page.
Filed under: Music, Travel | Tags: busking, farmer's market, Gilsland Farm, Maine Audubon, Music, street music
7/1 – Friday, Blue, Congress St. Portland, 6 to 7:30pm – In the round with Griffin Sherry – further proof that there’s something in the water in Buxton, and Adam Klein on tour from Athens, Georgia.
7/2 – Saturday morning Farmer’s Market in Deering Oaks
7/3 – El Rayo, 101 York St. Portland, 7 -9pm – A great night of music with myself on tune-writing, vox, and guitar joined by one of longest running musical friends Joe Bloom on Harmonica, a new friend and amazing fiddle maker as well as player John Cooper on fiddle and dobro, and Devon Colella on Cello. It will be a really interesting night, and I hear the food is good too.
7/7 – Dogfish Cafe – come on down and sing a few. I have the whole night to myself, but I’d like some other folks to join in too. Leila Crockett and Griffin Sherry will be singing a few.
7/9 – Kennebunk Old Homes Day – The Hive 2-3:30ish
7/13 – Lonfellow Arts Center. Maine Songwriters’ Association night at the Longfellow. Will be joined by Drew Wyman on bass and Joe Bloom on Harmonica.
7/15 – Gritty’s Freeport. Free for all – in more ways than one.
7/16 – Yarmouth Clam Fest – 4:30 on the Green something or other stage. Joined by Zach Ovington on fiddle, Drew Wyman on Bass, and Joe Bloom on Harmonica.
Ant marks the spot. I’m not sure about what. If someone knows what the cool ant is for, let me know. For me, it marks the best spot to play some music during the Wed. Farmer’s Market in Monument Square. First come first serve, and the quality of music in the farmer’s market is pretty spectacular if I may say so myself.
This week I had a really pleasant surprise by running into my old roommate and bandmate Leila. I had just moved back from my first teaching job overseas in Thailand when I met Leila at an open mic. I was talking about needing a place to live and she invited me over later that week to check out her place and her roommates to see how it would fit. It was a great time in a vertible flophouse that included sporty types, musicians, and eventually a couple of eastern european girls who may have been prostituting out of the back door. Leila is an amazing player and scholar of old timey music. The dude is a regular at the farmer’s market, an old-time banjo and clarinet player who worked with Louis Armstrong when he was a teenager. The one thing that can be said about Portland, is that it has no shortage of creative characters.
Playing music in the streets and unamplified in coffee shops have been my favorite shows this whole summer. People tip, buy CDs, and feel like they can come up close and ask a question, talk about the songs, or tell a story or two themselves. Although that has the flip side of people walking up in the middle of a song, like an adorable old lady on Wed., who just started gabbing, ” I got one of them (guitar) for mother’s day. I sure don’t know how to play it though.” I’m not going to stop singing mid song to chat with you, unless you’re handsome and now wearing a ring. Luckily, Leila, who was playing guitar, was able to talk to folks, and responded in a cheery voice, “Get a book!”
Last Saturday, as I was getting my guitar out of the car, a lady walked up to me. Didn’t introduce herself or anything. Just started gabbing about how her husband had a home studio and was looking for clients. Guitar does not equal sucker willing to throw money in your general direction for services rendered in a mediocre manner. Well, actually it does mean sucker, but for different reasons. The music industry has morphed into this system where musicians spend considerably more money than they make putting out what have become “necessary” aspects of self-promotion – from recordings, to photos, to websites, to advertising, to playing shithole clubs that want you to buy beer by the case. If there’s one thing I’ve realized this summer, it’s that I was right to trust my instincts to stay as far away from the meat-grinder and stick to the streets. If I’m in your town, I’ll probably find a way to play a few tunes, but you can pretty much count on the fact that it won’t be at a bar. I hear parking garages have good acoustics these days.
Besides spending every waking moment either playing, advertising for, or practicing music, I am trying to get out and enjoy what Maine has to offer. The Maine Audubon Society at Gilsland Farm is one of my favorite places. They have fields of peonies this summer, and I got away from the computer and the guitar long enough to hang out with the nieces and mom in this sanctuary by the ocean.
6/25 Gorham Grind, Main St. Gorham 10am-1pm
6/27 Champion’s Sports Bar, Travis James Humphrey hosts, 9pm, Biddeford
6/29 Portland Farmer’s Market, Monument Square, sometime between 9am and 2pm
7/7 Dogfish Cafe, Free St. Portland, 8 to 11pm
7/13 Longfellow Arts Center, Maine Songwriters Association showcase, 7pm
7/15 Gritty’s Freeport, 8pm
7/16 Yarmouth Clam Festival, 4:30
One of the things I love the most about Mexico is that there is music in the streets all the time. From people practicing their favorite American rock tunes in their living rooms with the windows open, to mariachis, strolling trova singers, to jazz, to banda bands, to those god awful party bands with all the horns that don’t actually know any of the songs they are playing, or for that matter how to play their instruments.
Some of the best and worst experiences I’ve had coming back to Maine have been as a street musician. For the first time ever, I have enough gigs (plus playing on the street most days since I have no prospect of work in Maine at the moment) that I am feeling a little burn out. I don’t want to sing any of the songs I know, but then I do one particularly well and the feeling subsides. I had the chance to participate in the 4th annual Music in the Square in Eliot Square Cambridge last weekend. For me, the event was ruined by weather, another event happening that drowned out our busking style festival, and a general feeling of malaise and the creating music is hardly ever worth it.
One event that has been worth it is playing in the Portland Farmer’s Market in monument square. This week I snuck in after a trio of tuba, banjo, and clarinet. They are a professional group that has held the same spot on Wednesdays for years. Everyone respects their time and their location, and they have created an institution of free, impromptu music. The banjo player stuck around as I started to play for a bit. He listened thoughtfully, picked up one of my cards, and said, “That, young lady, is some quality work. Not that it’s mine to give, but you have my official permission to use this spot.”
Working through gigs that have no monitors so the hired-hand bass player who was counting on hearing the changes is desperately trying to watch my left hand, trying to wrack my brain for one more fast song to sing over the din of young drunk folks who only want to hear Old Crow Medicine Show covers and don’t know who Neil Young is, and generally feeling like the drunk version of Bad Blake, that one comment from a respected musician can be enough to hold onto for a little while.
Now back to busking. I was busking down by the Casco Bay Lines last week, and a man who clearly didn’t listen to anything I sang, distantly reached into his pocket to throw some change in the tip jar without slowing down or looking in my general direction. One thing that most real street musicians are not, are beggars. Although the money is a necessary and motivational part to continue making music, people stopping to enjoy, a smile, and a compliment are equally appreciated. I think that people are afraid if they stop, they are going to be obligated to donate money, at least for me, that is definitely not the case. Although it is highly appreciated, the point is to create an atmosphere. To expose people to new music, and hopefully find a few people that connect to my version of the art.
After a great night in Lexington with some new and old friends who showed much love and support, I got three wired hours of semi-sleep to get up at 5am to make the 6 hour trek to Thomas, WV.
I had my friend Chris in tow. It is great to have company while traveling (and to have a “ringer” at every show to start the clapping), but we did have one small problem with the navigation. Chris has never driven, ever, in his entire life, which makes giving him the sole job of human GPS more interesting than it should be. This is how getting around Lexington by car goes:
“Where should I go next.”
“Well, I think, maybe the best way to go is down this street, but that might be a one way since I only have to look one way when I use the crosswalk. A safer bet would be the next street. That must be two ways since I have to look both ways when crossing the street.”
At this point we are already passed both streets and driving in the general direction of Helsinki. A passenger must be able to give directions at faster than 10M PH since that is about the slowest I can go in 2nd gear without stalling out.
It was a beautiful and thankfully uneventful ride through the mountains to Thomas. It’s a small, lovely town with a decent trickle of tourists mostly from Pittsburgh and DC that come for a day or two of small town living. The Purple Fiddle has become a destination and has music twice a day on the weekends. I had a great responsive crowd for the afternoon slot, and enjoyed just having a lazy day with some Cold Trail Ale in a mason jar.
The evening show, was awesome, and I feel terrible that since all the day tourists were already on their way back to their respective cities, there was almost no crowd at all. The Giving Tree Band puts on a rockin’ live set and travels as an eight piece band. No small feat.
Next stop Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh is seriously my new favorite city.
It’s like a major city hidden in a forest. It’s like a small mountain town, but with everything you could ever want. It’s hip, and it’s lush, and it has super friendly musicians.
I didn’t feel that way at first. As we were coming out of Maryland and up 51, I was pretty sure I was going to hate Pittsburgh. And then when Chris showed the most animation he had in hours by saying an exit was our exit, which turned out definitely not to be the exit, but a series of trial and error that lasted for a good hour. By the end of that, I decided I was ready to not only hate Pittsburgh, but swear off all passengers as well. Luckily, our mutual friend Abby saved not only Pittsburgh’s reputation, but was able to give the kind of tour of the city that only she could. A geographer and native of Pittsburgh, we saw the ins, outs, and heard the stories behind little neighborhoods, the city steps, and the amazing architecture.
The open mic at Club Cafe was the best open mic I’ve been to anywhere in the country hands down. The musicianship was superb, with a multi instrumentalist named Bob standing out (and standing in with several regulars), and a cellist, Gordon Kirkwood, who played with a passion that was infectious. What I saw at Club Cafe blew 90% of what happens at Nashville songwriter nights clear out of the water.
It might be time to consider a new home base.