July 6, 2009, 10:30 pm

International Sailing Crew

Today a grocery checkout clerk asked me if I had a good Fourth of July. I had to think about it for a moment before saying that I did, and I didn't bother trying to explain that the reasons I had a good weekend were completely unrelated to the holiday.
The most enjoyable part of the weekend occurred on Saturday, which is the sort of semi-official teaching day for the sailing club. Saturday morning and early afternoon were quite wet--mostly a steady drizzle--but the weather forecast predicted about a two-hour window of good weather and decent wind after three o'clock.
In the early afternoon seven new members of the club showed up at the lake looking for lessons, but only three people qualified to teach showed up. Until the rain let up, we conducted indoor lessons on such things as the points of sail, the difference between tacking and jibing, and some hands-on practice in techniques for switching hands on the tiller and the main sheet while moving from one side of the boat to the other, something that gives novices all sorts of problems--especially if they first try it while actually helming a boat.
When the weather cleared up we got the novices paired up with instructors and boats. We normally teach students in FJs, but you can only teach two people at a time in an FJ and we had seven students and three instructors, I decided to take out three people in the American 14.6, a bigger and more comfortable boat.
I ended up with a student crew consisting of three rather delightful young women from China. The winds in the cove were pretty dead, but just as we were getting close to leaving the cove, another instructor who had already been out on the lake sailed back to the cove to warn us the wind conditions were much heavier out there than I had anticipated.
I'm glad he gave us that warning. Almost as soon as we cleared the cove I realized the winds were too strong to let the novices take the helm on the lake and that I would have my hands full keeping the boat under control myself, so I alternated between giving the girls a quick and, to them, quite exciting ride across the lake and back and ducking back into the cove for a break from the wind and some verbal discussion of what, if anything, the girls were learning about sailing before we headed back out for another somewhat wild ride across the lake and back.
The girls did rather well overall at shifting their weights around in response to the heeling of the boat and in keeping their heads about them even when things got slightly scary. Whenever things got particularly exciting or scary, though, I got treated to a rapid-fire mix of squeals and excited chatter in Chinese. I didn't understand a word of it, of course, but that hardly mattered. It was a fun afternoon.
May 8, 2009, 3:31 pm

Dry Is (sometimes) Good

We're getting fairly close to the first anniversary of the great flood of 2008, and one of the lasting effects of the flood is that I've become almost obsessive about checking river level forecasts through the spring. Fortunately, we've been having a fairly dry spring, and although the river has twice been forecast to reach minor flood stage this spring, both times it has crested well below flood stage. Right now it's been gradually falling for about a week and is forecast to keep falling through next week.
I find that no matter what's going on with the economy or in my personal life, I don't really care just as long as the river is low. I don't want to see a drought, of course (after all, agriculture is a major part of the local economy), and I realize that sometimes dry weather can definitely be a bad thing (no doubt the residents of Santa Barbara would welcome a major downpour right now), but as far as I'm concerned, in general, for the next few years, dry is good in Cedar Rapids.
February 23, 2009, 5:03 pm

Silly Junk Mail

Somebody out there must think I'm old. I received some junk mail today from The Scooter Store. If you don't recognize the name, their business is providing personal-mobility electric scooters to the elderly. My first reaction was on the lines of "Geez, I'm not that old."

I did find some amusement, though, in the enclosed personal mobility questionaire, which contained twelve questions. If you answer yes to any one question, you supposedly should call for a consultation to see if you should get a scooter. The last question was, "Have you fallen within the past twelve months?"
Well, of course, I've fallen in the past twelve months. I'm a rock climber and a sailor. If I haven't fallen off a rock or fallen out of a capsizing sailboat in the past twelve months, that would mean I'm not having enough fun.
January 31, 2009, 5:06 pm

Tropical Weather

January has been a tough month. A couple of weeks ago the air temperature got down to twenty-nine below--an all-time record locally, but not as bad as the thirty-five below that day in Waterloo (about an hour north of here). The record cold pushed my new furnace to its maximum capacity, and even with the furnace cranking as much heat as it could the house was rather chilly.
So, it's really a pleasure to see the month finish out with a huge warmup. It's actually over forty degrees in Cedar Rapids right now (around forty-one or forty-two). It feels almost tropical.
September 28, 2008, 12:19 pm

Normal and Otherwise

September has been an interesting month. Things are fairly well back to normal after the flood, but also not so normal. The normal things include getting behind on grading papers. The not so normal include getting my first overall win in a sailing regatta, which came as a complete surprise since two people beat me in three of the five races. But the regatta is scored on lowest aggregate score over all races, and a first and a second place finish combined with three third place finishes turned out to be just good enough to win the regatta by one point.

Among the positive post-flood developments, after scrambling to host a number of concerts in borrowed venues in September, on Friday we held the first CSPS concert in our own building since the flood. It was good to be up and running again--well, more or less upand running since we're having some glitches with the new lighting controls and the sound guys are still having to use some of their own gear as temporary replacements for stolen equipment.
August 31, 2008, 8:04 am

Repaired and Inspected

My flood repairs are finished, and my house has passed inspection. On my block or the next block to the north you'd have to look hard to see evidence that anything out of the ordinary had occurred here this summer. A few blocks east or north, though, and especially to the northeast, it's a much different story.

With my own repairs done, it's easy to start thinking that things are back to normal. I also suspect that travelers and commuters who drive through town on the interstate would get the impression that the city as a whole is getting close to getting back to normal. From the interstate things do look pretty close to being normal, but they're a long way from that. It will take a year or more for the city to get back to normal, if it ever does.
July 31, 2008, 7:31 pm

Flood Recovery

The entire month of July has passed and I'm still not done with flood repairs. The delay was partly due to contractors around here being rather busy these days and partly due to the actions of the city council. It took them three weeks after the flood to decide that people outside the 100 year flood plain could get permits to make their repairs. The worst thing was that getting information from the city was next to impossible. At one point I called the local gas utility to ask about the procedures for getting my gas service restored, and the person from the gas utility told me that even they couldn't get any information from the city.

A local bank has installed a billboard next to the interstate downtown with the message "Underneath This Sign A great City Is Rebuilding." I would really like to get a long ladder some night and add the words "in spite of city officials."

At any rate, my repairs should be done on Monday. Then, after a city inspector has approved the quality of the repairs, I'll have to call the code enforcement department to have another inspector come out to inspect the house. Don't ask me why. I have no idea. You'd think, though, that with over 5,000 flood affected properties in the city somebody at code enforcement might be interested in streamlining the process.
June 27, 2008, 11:18 pm


The past few weeks have been taken up almost entirely by dealing with record flooding in Cedar Rapids. The river crested almost twelve feet higher than its previous all-time record, and even though my house is out at the edge of the 500 year flood plain and is almost a mile from the river, I got a flooded basement.

I was lucky to have no flooding other than the basement, but I'll have to replace the furnace and water heater, and dealing with the city bureaucracy is turning out to be worse than the flood itself.
The city says that those of us within the flood area are not to re-occupy our houses until we've repaired the flood damage, but two weeks after the flood the city won't issue permits for repair work within the 500 year flood plain. So how are we supposed to repair the damage if they won't issue permits?

I have a feeling that if things continue this way much longer, we'll have a whole new city council after the next election.
May 31, 2008, 10:18 pm

Spring in the Midwest

An earthquake in April was definitely unusual for the Midwest. Tornadoes in May are not unusual, but the one that hit Parkersburg last Sunday (and demolished about a third of the town) was unusual for Iowa. It was one of those really wide monsters that you sometimes see in places like Kansas or Oklahoma but rarely in Iowa.

On Memorial Day the residents of one of the lakeside houses on the lake where I sail were cleaning up a lot of storm damage. Their dock and the dock next door to them were both torn up, and half hidden by the downed tree limbs in their yard was a pontoon boat that had apparently been lifted out of the lake and deposited upside down on the shore.

I suspect it was straight-line winds rather than a tornado that did this local damage, but it takes a hell of a strong wind to lift a pontoon boat out of the lake and flip it over. Pretty wild stuff.
April 27, 2008, 9:38 am

What Earthquake?

The first time I went online last weekend I discovered one of the most prominent news stories was that the Midwest had had a relatively major eathquake--something like a 5.0 on the Richter scale. That's not much by California standards, but in the Midwest it's a major occurrence, and it was strong enough that the news articles were acccompanied by photos of relatively significant property damage in states close to Iowa.

I never felt the quake, so I assumed that it hadn't been noticeable in Iowa, but at work this past week I asked several people whether they had felt the quake. All of them said yes. Most of them said it woke them up sometime between four and five in the morning, or that, although they hadn't consciously felt the quake, they woke up very early that morning with a very odd sensation, wondering what had just happened.

Well, apparently I just slept through the whole thing. I guess the
dozen or so quakes I've experienced in California and Alaska have made me less sensitive to moderate ground shaking than my neighbors are. Either that or I was just too deep in sleep that morning for even an earthquake to wake me up.
March 5, 2008, 9:56 pm


So much for my intention of posting at least one entry per month on this blog. February has come and gone without an entry. My best excuse is that I spent most of the month shoveling snow and chopping ice off my driveway and sidewalks.

As of last Monday, Cedar Rapids was 3.3 inches shy of the the highest annual snowfall on record for the city. This morning we had a light snowstorm that's brought us within three inches of the record. I'm hoping for a bit more snow this year so we can at least get bragging rights as consolation for all the hassle of this winter.
Ideally, we'll get it in the form of wet, fast-melting spring snow.
January 30, 2008, 6:39 pm

Slightly Disoriented

Here we are a month into the new year, and it's been somewhat disorganized and slightly disorienting so far. This is mostly weather related, and specifically to the number of times the college has cancelled classes on the days I teach. Both my composition classes have gotten behind schedule, and one of them has gotten two hours further behind than the other. Makes it rather hard to get the semester off to anything resembling a smooth start.
December 25, 2007, 7:27 am


It's a beautiful Christmas morning in Iowa. The sun is not up yet, the air is relatively warm and seems warmer than it is since the strong winds of the past few days have abated, the land is covered in snow, and an all but full moon is hanging low in the western sky. Makes me glad I didn't sleep in this morning.

I really have no major plans for the day. I'll probably make a number of phone calls to family this afternoon, and at some point I'll go out and shovel a path for the benefit of the postal service letter carriers. Their shortest route from my neighbor's mailbox to mine cuts diagonally across my front lawn, and the deepest snowdrift in my yard lies right across their preferred route.

I halfway wish I had a good pair of touring skis. We rarely get good snow conditions for cross-country skiing in Iowa, but today looks like it would be an excellent day for it.

Here's wishing everyone a very merry Christmas or solstice or whatever other seasonal holiday you may prefer celebrating.
November 18, 2007, 12:26 am

Happy Thanksgiving

Obviously, I've been neglecting this blog for about six months. One reason is that I've been posting a weekly blog on MySpace, and keeping up with two blogs is a bit much. I'm going to try to get back to making at least monthly postings to this blog, though.

For now I'll just wish everybody a happy Thanksgiving. I hope you all have much to be thankful for--or at least that the good things in your life outnumber the bad.
May 29, 2007, 8:34 am

Back On and Off the Road

May brought the first extended roadtrip in about a year--over to Fort Wayne for a couple of gigs and then to Florida for family stuff, with a stop in Nashville each way. The increased gas prices, of course, made the trip rather expensive, and it was rather unpleasant, though not at all surprising, that prices on the return trip were twenty-five to thirty cents higher than on the outbound trip.

On the way back from Florida, a rock that either fell off the load on a gravel truck or was kicked up by the truck's tires pitted my windshield. The repair turned out to be inexpensive, but that makes two years in a row that I've had some sort of car damage on the way back from Florida. Since this was only the second time I've driven to Florida, that also means that every time I've driven to Florida I've had car damage on the way back--and I've never had car damage on any other long road trips. I'm beginning to think that for some unknown cosmic reason maybe I'm not supposed to drive to Florida .

With gas prices being what they are, I may not be making any more extended road trips for a while. It's probably a good thing I've taken up sailing. Otherwise I might get really bored hanging out in Iowa all the time.
April 20, 2007, 8:46 am

High-paid Roadie

This past Tuesday I received a voice mail from an administrator at my college asking if I could play music for a barbecue at the college president's house for adjunct faculty the next day. The gig ran from four to six, and the one problem with that was that I had to teach a class at six.

After some brief negotiating on Wednesday morning, we adjusted the time from four to five-thirty. That was still going to require a rather fast tear-down and load-out for me to be able to make it to my class by six.

The gig went rather well. The college president took the microphone at five to make a brief speech, and then had the dozen or so culinary arts students who had prepared the food introduce themselves one at a time. That left me with only about fifteen minutes until I had to stop playing, so at some point I mentioned to the crowd that I would have to be shutting things down soon so I could rush off and teach a class.

The fifteen minutes or so after I finished playing were a blur of tearing down and packing gear while apologizing to various people who wanted to chat about my music for not being able to stop what I was doing. When everything was finally packed, a couple of people volunteered to help carry my gear to my car--one of whom was the college president. So, for just a few minutes on Wednesday evening, I'm guessing I might have had the highest-paid roadie in America.
March 10, 2007, 1:30 pm

On the Road Again

I'm typing this in Fort Wayne, Indiana, while enjoying a lovely, sunny day with temperatures in the low fifties. After the compressed winter we had in February in Iowa, it feels almost like a summer day.

Being in Fort Wayne isn't really much of a road trip--only about eight hours each way--but it does feel like being on the road again, especially when it involves playing gigs a couple of states over from your home state. And I had a rather interesting surprise last night when one of my current students showed up in the audience. I've never had that happen before, having someone from home show up unexpectedly at an out-of-state gig.

I think tomorrow I may try to spend a little extra time on the drive home doing a litle exploring in Indiana. I've been noticing on maps that the area from about twenty miles to sixty miles west of Fort Wayne seems to have a lot of lakes. Might be worth checking out, especially since I've now made the drive to and from Fort Wayne about half a dozen times without bothering to do any exploring along the way. You never know what sort of interesting places you might find when you take the time to deviate from your main route. I've even discovered some interesting places in Nebraska, though I find it hard to convince Iowans that such places exist.
February 5, 2007, 5:58 pm

Media Nonsense

This is likely to be a somewhat curmudgeonly post, but I'm becoming increasingly convinced that turning your brain off must be a condition of employment in the broadcast news industry. The latest bit of mindless inanity came at the beginning of this evening's ABC News.

The lead story was the current cold snap in the upper Midwest. The introduction in the story ran something along the lines of winter is supposed to be cold, but this is ridiculous--it's minus two degrees in Minneapolis and has been below zero for over fifty hours.

Someone at ABC (actually at least two people--whoever wrote the copy and the overpaid talking head who read it) thinks that's ridiculous? That weather might be ridiculous in Florida, or even Tennesee, but it's just normal winter weather in the upper Midwest. It's true that we've had several years of mild winters, and that could make the current weather seem unusual compared to the anomalous weather of recent years, but really--anyone who works for a major national news organization should know that this weather is hardly unusual.
January 15, 2007, 9:32 am


Winter has finally arrived in Iowa. It's been snowing for the last twenty hours or so--our first real snow of the winter--and two things occur to me this morning. The first is that I'm glad I don't have a five-day-per-week job and don't have to go to work today.
So, no need to deal with getting the car unburied and shoveling the driveway on a tight time schedule.

The second is that I've often introduced my song "Winds of Dakota" by saying I wrote it mostly to remind my neighbors who complain about winter weather that it could be worse--they could be living in the Dakotas. Well, this morning my niece in North Dakota tells me the air temperature there is minus twenty-one degrees. I don't know how cold (or relatively warm) the air in Iowa is today, but it's a whole lot warmer than twenty-one below. That should be a comforting thought while I shovel snow today.
November 30, 2006, 9:42 pm

Tides Revisited

This is a follow-up to the item a couple of entries back about the surface level of the Mediterranean being on overage about a foot lower than the surface level of the Atlantic.

I talked to one of my brothers about this. He used to be a sanitation engineer many years ago. Sanitation engineer is not an overblown euphemism for a garbage collector. Sanitation engineering is a branch of engineering concerned with such things as designing sewer systems--so my brother has a scientific background relating to water flow.

My brother's explanation of how the Mediterannean can have a lower surface level on average than the Atlantic is that it relates to the tides, and "average" is a key word in grasping the concept. If a tide flows from the Atlantic to the Med through the Strait of Gibraltar, that will raise the level of the surface of the Med and lower the level of the Atlantic, and the opposite will happen when the tide runs in the opposite direction. So, If a tide runs back and forth between the two bodies of water, at times the surface of the Med should be higher than the surface of the Atlantic and vice versa.

I also ran my idea by him about circular tides running past a strait so fast that at least some of the water would pass the entrance to the strait before it could enter the strait. He found that plausible, so perhaps that could be part ol the explanation of the Atlantic/Mediterannean situation. It's nice to know at least that my guess wasn't completely harebrained.
October 17, 2006, 11:49 pm

Summer's Coming?

Last night as I was doing my twice-daily cleanout of spam from my website inbox, I came acrosss a spam with the following subject line:

Summer's on the way: time to get toned.

Really? Summer's on the way? In Mid-October? I suppose that you could say that's true if you take the long view of things--but really, isn't that a rather silly message to be sending at this time of year.

Come on, spammers--it's bad enough that you're sleazy, despicable, sorry excuses for human beings, but couldn't you at least learn how to read a calendar?
September 24, 2006, 10:35 pm

Sailing Dreams, Part 2

Following up on a post from June, I've been doing further research into the whole idea of someday taking up the live-aboard lifestyle on a sailboat. I've even been sailing a couple of times and plan on doing it a lot more. I'll probably eventually have a sailboat of some sort, though I doubt I'll ever go the full-on live-aboard route.

I have, however, been researching all the stuff you'd need to know for ocean sailing or even coastal cruising, which is a whole lot more than you'd need to know for lake sailing (except for really big lakes like the Great Lakes). Last week I worked my way through a book chapter on tides. The overall impression is that it's a really complicated topic. You could probably spend years studying tides and still have lots more to learn.

One surprising item I ran across in that chapter, though, is that the surface of the Mediterranean is on average about a foot lower than the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. I don't really understand how that is possible, though I suspect it has something to do with the water constantly being in motion. For example, picture one of those feeding dishes for dogs that has two bowls--one for food and one for water--but imagine it with a channel connecting the bowls that's about half the depth of the bowls. If you filled the bowls until the connecting channel was submerged, as long as the whole structure was on a level surface the surface in both bowls and in the channel would all be on the same plane. But if the water in the bowls were constantly moving in a circular pattern, I suppose it might be possible for the water in one bowl to be deeper than the water in the other, with the circulating water in the fuller bowl moving past the connecting channel before it could move sideways into it.

I have no idea whether that's even close to being right, but it's about all I can think of so far.
September 6, 2006, 10:35 pm


The other night I went out into my front yard just in time to see a possum (technically an opossum--even more technically a Virginia opossum) crossing my neighbor's front lawn toward the street. The critter disappeared behind the oak tree in my neighbor's front yard, and I expected it to reappear in a few seconds on the other side of the tree.

When the possum hadn't reappeared after a few minutes, I slowly crossed my front yard at an angle tangential to the tree, aiming to gain a view of the other side of the tree without startling the possum I thought must be on the other side of the tree. The possum wasn't there. So, I wondered, can possums climb trees?
I had no idea--but up the tree is about the only place I could think of that the possum could have gone.

Tonight I did a little research and discovered that possums can indeed climb trees, and apparently quite well. When you watch one walking across the ground with its distinctive and rather awkward-looking gait, you wouldn't think that they'd be very good climbers.

This has been sort of the year of possums for me. One night in Florida I saw two of them traveling single file down the road in front of my parents' condo. In that environment I couldn't help thinking that a possum would make a pretty good lunch for an alligator-except that possums are mostly nocturnal and I suspect alligators aren't (uh-oh, another topic I might have to research).

A few months earlier, a friend in Indiana told me she had gone out in her yard and discovered her collie had apparently killed a possum and was worrying the carcass. She pulled her dog off the apparently dead possum and took the dog into the house. When she returned to the yard the possum had disappeared. Apparently it had been pretending to be dead, which of course immediately reminded me of where the expression "playing possum" comes from. That must be a rather difficult defensive strategy to carry out when an animal many times your size is violently shaking you back and forth.

All in all, possums are rather strange creatures, though not as strange as the platypus. Nothing is as strange as the platypus--not even the armadillo.
August 18, 2006, 6:25 pm

Bumper Stickers

Today I saw a bumper sticker I rather liked--


That reminded me that last time Karen Savoca and Pete Heitzman played CSPS they mentioned what, if I recall correctly, was Pete's favorite bumper sticker they'd seen in their recent travels--


August 3, 2006, 7:44 am

Cool Word

I ran across the word discombobulated today on a friend's blog. Now that's a cool word, and I hadn't heard it for years, I'm not sure I had ever seen it in print before.

I've also never heard its opposite. Do you have to be combobulated before you can become discombobulated? Once you are discombobulated, can you ever be recombobulated?
If enough people become discombobulated, might psychologists apply for government grants to establish recombobulation centers?
July 15, 2006, 9:08 pm

Heat Wave

I haven't been paying much attention to weather forecasts this summer other than whether it's supposed to rain or be dry, but I heard this weekend was going to be hot so this morning I checked a ten-day forecast. Yeesh--we're predicted to be in the mid nineties (and humid)for at least the next five days. And when the heat is predicted to break late in the week, it's only supposed to go down into the high eighties.

The ABC evening news today reported that this heat wave affects pretty much the whole country. That doesn't really make the heat any less miserable, though, Nor does it really help to know that it's even hotter out in Nebraska. This sort of weather is what I most dislike about the Midwest. Makes me wish I were in Alaska. Come to think of it, Alaska has the best summer climate of any place I've ever been. The mosquitos can be a real pain, though, especially if you're anyplace outside of the main towns and cities.

I guess that would make Santa Barbara the best place overall to be in the summer. The only problem is that it's a really expensive place to live. In the late seventies I reluctantly decided Santa Barbara had become too expensive a place to live unless living there was the only thing I wanted to do. Nowadays, I don't think I could afford to live there even on those terms.
July 1, 2006, 1:04 pm

Water, Water Everywhere

Early in the week the first news reports of massive, nearly stationary rainstorms in the Mid-Atlantic states came as a surprise. By midweek the evening news was filled with video footage of widespread flooding in Pensylvania. Boy, did that bring back memories. Pennsylvania this week looked a whole lot like the upper Midwest in the summer of '93.

Like many other songwriters in the upper Midwest in '93, I wrote a flood song that year. I never liked the song enough to put it on a CD, and chances are I never will. I remember, though, that when I first played it for anyone to get feedback, several people said I'd better release it soon before it went out of date. Aside from one reference to Wisconsin and one to the Mississippi drainage, though, the song could fit the situation in Pennsylvania this week quite well. So, I guess the lesson here for songwriters is that natural disaster songs will never go out of date as long as they don't contain specific time and place references--and even if they do contan one or two such references, the song overall could remain timely.
June 25, 2006, 12:22 am

Sailing Dreams

My recording engineer and sometimes bass player has a twenty-six foot sailboat that sleeps up to, I think, six people. He got it for a pretty reasonable price, and this inspired me to do some research into used sailboat prices and into the practical considerations of living aboard a boat. At first this was just idle curiosity, but after I found out how cheaply you can pick up a used, livable sailboat, I had to start giving some serious consideration to the live-aboard life as an option for whenever I decide to stop working.

I'm pretty sure I won't follow through on this, but it's tempting to contemplate. I could probably sell my house and pick up a decent, liveable sailboat for half or less than half of what I could sell my house for. Of course, I'd have to learn an awful lot about sailing and sailboat maintenance, and I'd have to greatly reduce my accumulated possessions and adjust to a lifestyle that would be Spartan even by my standards.

I know that this whole idea is to some degree a romanticized pipe dream, and if I did try the live-aboard life I might discover pretty quickly that its disadvantages outweigh its advantages. If real estate prices keep up their recent trends, though, a whole lot more people might have to give serious consideration to becoming ocean-dwelling nomads or floating lake-dwellers as the only ways they could afford to own their own place to live, and
then the waterways could get awfully crowded. Maybe it would relieve traffic congestion on the highways ashore, though--assuming anyone can still afford gasoline, that is.
June 17, 2006, 9:19 pm

Playing Cultural Catch-up

Early this evening I happened to go on line and check the television listings. I'm glad I did since the Saturday evening Disney movie on ABC was Lady and the Tramp. I had seen a few isolated scenes over the years, but I had never seen most of the movie, which I find rather surprising given my age. I expected it to at least be an enjoyable movie, but I was surprised at how really good it is.
It definitely deserves it's reputation as a classic.
May 29, 2006, 8:17 am


Heard a rather interesting story on NPR a few days ago, which also showed up on either AOL or Google news on the internet this weekend. The scientific details are sketchy, as they often are when such stories first capture the attention of the general news media, but the gist of it is that scientists are working on something called metamatter that could allow them to manipulate visible light in such a way as to make objects invisible.

The news stories, almost predictably, drew parallels to Harry Potter's cloak of invisibility, but I got the impression a better analogy from fiction would be the Klingon (and Romulon?) technology of cloaked ships from Star Trek--at least in regards to visual cloaking.

Although this research has obvious military applications, one scientist gave as an example of a possible non-military application
the use of metamatter to cloak industrial facilities so they wouldn't interfere with scenic views.

Now, depending on how the technology would work, I can see the potential for all sorts of social conflicts keeping legislators and lawyers busy. If your neighbor builds a hideous house, could you take him to court and compel him to cloak it? Should local ordinances require that Hummers (especially stretch Hummers) and large RVs be cloaked whenever they're parked in a residential neighborhood? Would we need laws to prohibit driving a cloaked vehicle?

If the technology ever works on a large enough scale, I could imagine battles over cloakiing, say, the lakeshore casinos of South Lake Tahoe so that people who wish to could enjoy seeing the lake in something at least resembling its natural state. Maybe a compromise would be possible, with the casinos cloaked every other day or week or month. Imagine Las Vegas as a city that sometimes appears suddenly in the desert after seeming not to be there for a week or two. This would increase the surreal qualities of Vegas only slightly. Or, imagine Vegas strobing in and out of visibilty every few seconds. Now wouldn't that fit in nicely with its current ambience?
May 8, 2006, 10:55 pm

A Milestone

Last Friday my father died. I had been expecting it for some time, and he lived a long and full life and died at home very peacefully in his sleep, so it's not really a traumatic event. If anything, it's a relief that once his health had deteriorated to the point of being more or less confined to bed he went pretty quickly and didn't suffer through a painful, lingering death.

I've been particularly impressed by his neighbors. A lot of social pundits bemoan the loss of a sense of community in our society.
They should see the response of my parents' neighbors. In addition to the somewhat traditional stream of visitors bearing food, several of the neighbors have opened up their guest rooms to my relatives. One neighbor even brought a very practical gift of paper cups and plates, rolls of paper towels, and rolls of toilet paper. Not many people would think of toilet paper as something you might run out of with a horde of funeral guests dropping by.

A very nice surprise for the family occurred at the funeral home. At one point during the visitation the funeral director brought my mother a handwritten note from a group of strangers requesting a few private moments with the family. It turned out to be a group of PT boat veterans. None of them knew my father personally, but they had seen in his obituary that he served on PT boats in World War Two and they wanted to pay their respects as a group. PT boat veterans tend to feel a strong bond for anyone who served on the boats--perhaps in part because only about 14000 men served on PTs but probably mostly because they served on extremely small warships in a very big war.

So, next time you hear someone going on about the terrible lack of community in our society, don't believe a word of it.
April 24, 2006, 6:31 pm

Tornado aftermath

Last night was the first time I've been to Iowa City since the April 13th tornado. All, or at least most, of the loose debris has been cleaned up and things seem more or less back to normal. Much of the major damage is still
obvious, though, especially the buidings that suffered major damage.

Perhaps the most striking thing is the relatively random pattern of the damage. You can see a sort of storm path, but along that path you'll see a number of apparently undamaged buildings between two
severely damaged buildings. Also, most of the structural
damage (as opposed to such things as broken windows) is either concentrated on the south or west sides of buildings or consists of roofs being lifted off otherwise undamaged buildings. One building, however, lost about twenty to thirty feet of cinder-block wall from its northeast corner but otherwise looked intact. Just more evidence that you really can't predict what's going to happen in a tornado.

I've been doing some internet research lately on tornado safety. It still remains to be seen, though, whether I'll be heading to the basement at the first indication of future threats.
April 14, 2006, 7:53 pm


Last night I did stage lighting for a concert in Cedar Rapids. About half an hour before show time we got word of a tornado watch or warning, and the tech crew had a discussion about the options in the building for taking shelter. The options aren't particularly good, especially if we have much of an audience.

Right before show time the emergency sirens started going off, followed by announcements telling everyone in the area to take cover. Now, we had someone monitoring the weather reports, so it's not like we just casually ignored the situation, but nobody sought shelter, and the show went on, starting only a few minutes late. I didn't really give too much thought to the weather once the show started. About ten minutes into the show we could hear heavy rain on the roof, but overall the air didn't seem all that unsettled.

By the end of the show the weather had cleared, but then we started hearing about tornado damage in downtown Iowa City, about twenty-five miles to the south. In all the years I've lived in Iowa. tornadoes have always bypassed Iowa City, either to the west or to the east. One day two of them went by almost simultaneously, one on either side of town.

When I got home I checked the on-line sites of local newspapers and television stations, picking up some early indications of the damage. It wasn't until this morning, though, that I got a good indication of just how severe the damage was. The most impressive indication was the image of St. Patrick's church, a beautiful old brick church close by downtown. The front half of the roof, the entire steeple, and the upper half of the front wall were just gone.

I suspect I'll always remember that image. I've seen
lots of footage of houses and farm buidings totally
destroyed by tornadoes. I've seen tornadoes tearing roofing off more solid structures, such as cinder-block commercial buildings. But this is the first time I've seen a huge, solidly built, brick building pretty much torn apart. It's amazing that wind can do that.

I'd like to say I'll never again take a tornado warning lightly. But, human nature being what it is, that remains to be seen.
April 1, 2006, 10:32 pm

Urban Wildlife

Spring is more or less arriving in Iowa (unless it's yet another false spring, a phenomenon we've had a lot of this year), and the wildlife living in or near my yard is becoming more active. The rabbits are out and about.
I haven't been seeing much of the squirrels yet, but they've been tearing up my yard, digging up the acorns they buried in the late fall and early winter.

This morning, though, I got a real treat when a male
ring-necked pheasant flew across my yard. I haven't seen one of those in years, and I've certainly never seen one in a city before. The last time I saw one I was driving feed trucks in California, cruising down a two-lane
county road outside of Fresno with the windows rolled down when a sudden and very loud noise just outside
the driver's side-window startled the hell out of me.

When I looked to my left, a pheasant was about two feet away from me at eye level and beating his wings hard as he could, desperately trying to gain altitude. It seemed like he was going to come through the window and hitch a ride with me, but he got just enough altitude at the last moment to barely clear the cab.

That, of course, wasn't an urban wildlife incident. That pheasant was out among farm fields where you'd expect to find him. I have no idea why the pheasant this morning was hanging out in a city, but I enjoyed seeing him. Ring-necked pheasants are really beautiful birds, especially in flight.
March 20, 2006, 9:38 pm

Fort Wayne

Duh--I just noticed for the first time that I can put titles on my blog entries. Sure took me long enough to figure that out. I'll have to try to develop the habit of giving my entries titles.

I just returned from a trip to Fort Wayne, Indiana, to visit a friend and play a couple of coffeehouse gigs, one in Fort Wayne and one in Columbia City. I'd never been to the area before, and my overall first impression is that the Fort Wayne area is full of really friendly people.

The audiences at the coffeehouses were rather small but were very good audiences--very attentive listeners.
I'll definitely be looking forward to getting back to the area fairly soon.
February 26, 2006, 7:49 pm
Wow, I've really been neglecting this blog. I just noticed I posted no entries in January, and February is almost gone, so an entry is more than overdue.

Excuse me if I start out in curmudgeonly mode, but this morning I read an AOL article that I found outrageous, not to mention disturbing if it reflects the state of our culture. As the Olympics wind down, AOL weighed in with an article about how the television ratings for the games have slipped and the games don't appeal to young viewers in particular--and they quoted as an observation that deserves to be taken seriously some marketing expert's assertion that the games "have lost their soul."

This was followed up by ten suggestions for how to improve the games (actually for how to improve their television appeal). The majority of the suggestions were things that would either compromise the integrity of the competition (for example, allowing viewers to vote for winners in sports such as figure skating) or would bring the production values of "reality television" to the media coverage of the games. And the writer and editors of this article have the nerve to opine that the games have lost their soul? Of course, the quality of writing and reporting in
AOL stories is pretty pathetic anyway, so what can you expect from them?

Okay, that's enough of being curmudgeonly. Time to mention a few of the outstanding musicians I've had the pleasure of meeting in the past two months. Les Yeux Noirs are a sort of Gypsy-Yiddish-jazz band from Paris featuring two lead violins, and they put on a great, energetic show. If you ever notice that they're playing a concert near you, I highly recommend catching their show.

For something completely different, try a concert by Huun-Huur-Tu, a quartet of Tuvan throat singers. What, you may ask, are Tuvan throat singers? Well, Tuva is a small country that is a former Soviet republic and is now part of the Russian Federation and is on the Mongolian border. And throat singing is a centuries-old Tuvan singing technique that among other things allows a singer to sing two separate notes simultaneaously. I don't know how that is possible.

Finally, on Friday I did lighting for a concert by Peter Mulvey followed by Ellis Paul. I had heard of both of them before, and may have heard them on the radio, but I'd never heard either one live. They're both excellent songwriters and performers with excellent audience rapport. They also both appreciate and make a point of acknowledging the work of the tech crew, something that a lot of performers don't do.
December 31, 2005, 2:29 pm
New Year's eve has rolled around once more. I'll forego the festivities this evening and sort of slide into the new year quietly at home. I may not even notice when midnight comes around.

The past year, like most years, has been a mixture of the good and the not so good, but I'm glad to say nothing particularly bad happened. A few relatives died, but they were really old relatives who had lived long and full lives.

Among the positive highlights, I finally finished the four-year project of repainting my house.
At least I finished everything except the front door and the garage door. The best highlights of the year, though, had to be that I got to play backing musician for Melissa Rose Ziemer on a dozen occasions. Next best after that would have to be playing a few gigs with Mary Pat Reasoner backing me on sax and getting a chance to play backup to Lojo Russo again.

For the first time in about seven years I've gone through a year with no three to four thousand mile road trips, but they've been replaced by more numerous shorter road trips as I've been expanding my regional performance area on its east-west axis. Mostly the expansion has been to the west, out to Omaha. In the spring I'll be expanding it to the east when I play in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I suppose a priority for the coming year should be to also expand to the north and south.

The lack of really long drives means I haven't been able to give any new CDs an extreme road test, but a couple of newly acquired discs have passed the test of multiple short road trips. Underdog," the latest disc from Wishing Chair, and SONiA's "No Bomb is Smart" have yet to come out of the rotation in my car's audio system since they went in last spring. Another disc that seems likely to hold up very well to repeated plays on the road is "40 Days" by The Wailin' Jennys.

Thanks to everyone who came out to a show in the past year, and especially to those who bought CDs and to the handful of anonymous people who have been buying single-song downloads on the internet.

November 28, 2005, 12:16 am
I hope everybody had a good Thanksgiving, with lots of food and good company. Sometime Friday evening, after I polished off the leftovers that I thought would last me at least through Saturday, it occurred to me that in one sense for many people Thanksgiving is a time for getting attuned to the universe. For a day or two, like the universe, our waistlines are expanding.
November 6, 2005, 5:03 pm
Yesterday I played my monthly residential-care-facility gig. As usual, the elderly residents were a delightful and appreciative audience, but I immediately noticed the absence of one of my favorites--a woman whose short term memory was pretty much nonexistent but who remembered all the lyrics of all the old songs I play at this gig and always sang along. It turns out that sometime during the past month her Alzheimer's took a sudden turn for the worse, to the point that she had to be moved to another facility that could provide her with more intensive care than the one she's been living in.

Alzheimer's has to be one of the most insidious diseases common among the elderly. I think a few diseases, such as ALS (commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease) are worse, but among
the afflictions associated with old age I can think of none more frightening than Alzheimer's. To lose your mental capacities has to be worse than any physical pain or the loss of physical capacities. I'm not sure what the current state of research efforts towards finding a cure are, but I'm thinking I should find out and seriously think about what I can do to support those efforts.
October 17, 2005, 7:43 pm
This weekend I found gas for less than $2.50 a gallon for the first time in I don't know how long. Maybe a couple of months? I certainly hope prices keep edging down before I have to drive to Council Bluffs on Friday. If the recent price trend holds for a couple of months, maybe I'll be able to actually afford my usual December/January trip to the desert.

I had a rather interesting weekend. Friday night was my Des Moines musical debut. Not a very successful one in terms of money or audience size, but I have another gig scheduled at the venue, so maybe some of the people who were there will come back and bring some friends. One can always hope.

Saturday night made up for Friday, though. I played one of my most regular gigs, and even though I screwed up on the publicity, the crowd size was pretty good (I certainly hope that wasn't because I screwed up on the publicity). Anyway, I tried out a brand-new song, just a couple of days old. I had played it Friday, but the crowd was too small for that to be a really good test of the song. Saturday the place was fairly packed when I played it, and the crowd was quite diverse in ae range and personality types, so it was great to notice that practically everyone in the place was actively listening to the song, and the song got really strong applause. Guess it's a keeper. Sometimes I have no idea whether a song is any good until an audience lets me know.

Things got even more interesting Sunday night. It was the first time in about a month that I was free to do stage lighting at CSPS, and the band was really fine--a youngish band from Ireland called Grada.Their concert was very good, and their encore was truly great. Their music is excellent, and their interaction with the audience is exceptional. You can check them out at

The show Sunday was the last one of the band's U.S. tour this fall, and about four of their friends had flown in from Ireland for the show, so when the band asked if I wanted to join them for a drink after the show, I wasn't about to turn down that invitation. . We happened to go to a bar where a friend of mine, Steve Price, was playing a gig, and before the night was over Steve had invited several of the Irish musicians up on stage for some blues jamming.We ended up out until the wee hours, and seemingly a good time was had by all. I think I'm getting a bit old to be out partying with young Irish musicians, but it's sure fun to do stuff like that every now and then

I also met a Wisconsin-based singer-songwriter last night who has a truly marvelous voice. Her name is Ariane Lydon, and her music is well worth checking out. Her website is

If every weekend were like this weekend, I'm not sure whether that would make me a very contented musician or just really tired all the time.
October 3, 2005, 12:55 am
My new banjo has now played its first gig. It played very nicely and sounded much better than my old banjo, but I'm not sure how much that was due to the acoustic qualities of the banjo and how much might have been due to the pickup I put in it having volume and tone controls. It's the same kind of pickup I put in my other banjo, but that one doesn't have volume and tone controls. With the old banjo, to get the sort of deep, plunky tone I want I had to put the tone controls on my amp or PA pretty much at maximum lows and minimum highs. With the new setup I had to minimize the lows and turn up the highs on my amp and was still getting a somewhat deeper tone than I wanted. It's going to take a while to tweak the sound to where I want it.

My gig in Omaha Friday night went rather well. Given current gas prices I was pleased to have more than covered the cost of gas. According to the way the IRS figures mileage deductions, I lost money, but I did come home with more cash than I left with. But if gas prices were even where they were just before Hurricane Katrina I would have netted an additional twenty to thirty dollars. Since most venues--especially bars and coffehouses--aren't too likely to raise the fees they pay to performers, traveling musicians are in effect taking a significant pay cut. On the other hand, if enough people realize that a CD that used to cost six gallons of gas now only costs about four gallons of gas, maybe they'll buy more CDs.

Another positive thing about Friday's gig is that it was the first time in a long, long time that I've done a four-hour gig solo, and I didn't even come close to running out of material. If I had to, I probably could have done two more hours without repeating anyhing, That's good to know. The food at the venue was also excellent-- so much so that I'll end this entry with a plug for the place. If you're ever in Omaha and want a really good meal, try McFoster's Natural Kind Cafe.
From downtown Omaha, head west on Farnum to 38th Street and look for McFoster's on the left, facing 38th Street.
September 30, 2005, 12:45 am
If I were inclined toward paranoia, I'd be suspecting that someone who controls gas prices is reading my travel schedule and messing with me. All week gas prices in Cedar Rapids have been inching down a penny or two per day. Today they jumped up by about eighteen cents, which figures since I have to drive to Omaha tomorrow.

Up until last weekend I was willing to believe the explanations offered by news media for the rise in gas prices this year. But last weekend, for the first time ever, I found lower gas prices in the Chicago suburbs than in Cedar Rapids. The lowest gas prices anywhere in the vicinity of Chicago have consistently been twenty to thirty cents higher than in Cedar Rapids for years.
The effects of such things as hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and expanding demand in China and India do not explain why gas would suddenly be cheaper in the Chicago area than in Iowa.
So what is the explanation? I don't suppose it could be that oil companies are manipulating supplies and prices, could it?

On the bright side, though, I came back from Chicago with a new banjo. It's hard to let things get you down when you've got a new banjo.
September 17, 2005, 8:50 am
It took until mid September for us to get a break from the hot, muggy weather, but when cool weather finally arrived it arrived in a hurry. Overnight and early-morning temperatures in particular seem to have plummeted abruptly--almost as though we skipped a month and headed straight from August into October. That's fairly typical of Iowa, though, in that the only thing you can really predict about the weather around here is that it's unpredictable. I've been here for twenty years now, and as far as I can tell Iowa doesn't have a recognizable overall weather pattern.

About the only thing that seems to be consistent is that we really don't get much snow. Last week a touring musician from Rochester, New York, asked me if we get a lot of snow. Even though I started my answer by saying "not really," when I got into details as to what constitutes a big storm around here he literally snorted with laughter. Can't say I blame him since a single lake-effect blizzard in Rochester probably equals or exceeds Iowa's total annual snowfall.

Last weekend I played at an art-and crafts festival at Camp Hitaga north of Cedar Rapids. The festival is only in its second year, and this was the first year it included music. It was hardly a successful venture but it was rather a pleasant way to spend a day. About halfway from Cedar Rapids to the festival I realized the rest of the drive would be on roads I had never travelled before and would pass through a fairly sizeable town I'd never been in before. Sometimes I'm amazed by the amount of personally unexplored territory you can find in a local area you think you know well.
August 28, 2005, 11:51 pm
August has been a hot, dry month in Iowa. According to the news, this summer we've had the worst drought to hit the Midwest for many years. The advantage for me is that I didn't have to mow my lawn for over a month. About a week ago we had a real drenching on a Friday night that woke up my dormant grass, so I've had to mow once since then and will probably have to mow again sometime this week. Then I hope my grass goes dormant again for awhile.

I know the drought has been bad for farmers, but I like dry weather--and I'm sure glad I don't live in southern Florida or anywhere near New Orleans these days. My brother in Florida told me that some areas of southern Florida got eighteen to twenty inches of rain from the latest hurricane. I believe the heaviest rain I've ever seen amounted to seven inches, and I hope I never see that heavy a storm again. I can't imagine what an eighteen-inch rain storm would be like.

Overall, August would have been a fairly boring month around here except that I got to play second guitar and banjo with Melissa Rose Ziemer a few times and last night caught Lojo Russo in performance for the first time in more than a year and a half. Those are two women whose music I will never get tired of, and they're two of the coolest people I know.

The fall is shaping up as interesting, with gigs in Des Moines, Council Blufs, and Omaha--so I'm really hoping that gas prices will drop at least a little bit after Labor Day. I went through a stretch this summer when every time I had to make long drives, gas prices would jump ten to twenty cents just before I had to start traveling, and then the day after I filled my tank after getting back home they would drop five to ten cents. That pattern finally broke a few weeks ago, but if it returns this fall for the Des Moines and Omaha-area trips, travel is going to get somewhat expensive. Not much I can do about it, though, except to be glad that when I was car shopping a couple of years ago and I stuck with my instincts to reject any vehicles that couldn't average at least thirty miles per gallon. Wish I had one that could get forty, though.
August 1, 2005, 10:11 am
Local news broadcasts predictably ran stories this weekend about "moving day" in Iowa City--the day when probably thousands of University of Iowa students move from one rented house or apartment to another as leases expire and new ones begin. It's probably one of the country's largest single-day migrations within a single community, especially in terms of the percentage of the local population that's relocating.

Since I first arrived in Iowa about a week before Iowa City Moving Day, the stories made me realize that I've now lived in Iowa for twenty years, and I'm wondering how in the world that happened. Anytime prior to twenty-one years ago the thought that I might ever live in Iowa would have seemed inconceivable. When I did find myself in Iowa I expected to stay for maybe five years. Even more surprising than the length of time I've been in Iowa is the realization that I've now lived in Iowa longer than in any other state. A few years ago I realized I had lived in Iowa longer than anyplace else in my adult life, but now it's longer than anyplace else period.

Ironically, I just finished--or at neast nearly finished--a new song tentatively titled "As Long as I Keep Moving." The only thing that makes it an honest song is that my frequent travels qualify as "moving" in the sense it's used in the song. Still, I think I may have to figure out at what point I will have lived in Iowa for half my life and see if I can find a place to relocate to before that happens.
July 22, 2005, 7:02 pm
The mini road trip to Omaha and western Iowa worked out pretty decently. I think I grossed just enough money to cover gas and food, and sometimes that's about all you can ask for when you're working on expanding your semi-local performance area.

I had planned on finding a motel room Friday night, but I ended up spending yet another night sleeping in the car at an I-80 rest area. I guess old habits die hard. At least this particular old habit saves me money. I really wasn't prepared, though, for how hot it would be sleeping in the car even in the wee hours of the morning. A summer-weight sleeping bag would have definitely been too warm. Even a light blanket was way too warm. If I'm going to be making road trips in the summer I may have to take along a bedsheet.

On Tuesday I drove over to Des Moines to catch SONiA and the new incarnation of Disappear Fear. It was definitely worth the drive. I like SONiA's music better and better the more I hear it. Her latest CD, No Bomb is Smart, is excellent and seems likely to take up permanent residence in my road-trip rotation. For roughly the last two months my car's audio player has been loaded with discs by Wishing Chair, Karen Savoca, Melissa Rose Ziemer, and SONiA. I think that collection could get me through a six-month road trip.
July 6, 2005, 11:36 pm
It's just about time for getting back on the road--though on a smaller scale than in the past. Over the next four weeks I'll be playing gigs in Dubuque, Omaha, Manning (in western Iowa), and Cedar Falls. The Omaha gig will be my first show in Nebraska, though it's barely across the state line. I'm sure I'll be losing money on the trip--unless I happen to sell a lot of CDs--but at times it's necessary to lose money to reach new audiences. With any luck, this will be a start toward expanding my semi-local performance area to about a 300-mile radius, an area that includes five or six major cities (by Midwestern standards, anyway).

If I'm really lucky, I hope to eventually establish places to play in Des Moines, Omaha, Lincoln, and Denver or Laramie so I can make future climbing trips to Joshua Tree with a couple of gigs on the way out, a gig or two in California while I'm there, and a couple of gigs on the way back. I might even make enough money to pay for the gas. Such a grandiose dream, eh?
June 25, 2005, 8:31 am
It's been a few years since we've had a typically hot, humid summer in Iowa, but it's starting to look like our luck has run out. With the exception of one day, the past two weeks have been hot and muggy, with the past two or three days being particularly miserable. This morning I checked a ten-day forecast for the area. I wish I hadn't. The forecast calls for more of the same through the July 4th weekend. By the end of the week I'm likely to be wishing it were winter.

This is, however, a time of year of particular beauty in eastern Iowa, especially along the interstates. In many places the medians and outer right-of-way are covered with tall prairie grasses, many of which have been in full flower for the past couple of weeks. The varying heights and colors of the prairie grasses add some intriguing textures to the landscape.

I think it was about the time I moved to Iowa that a number of Midwestern states got into the idea of prairie restoration projects in a big way. I'd have to say it was a very good idea.
June 10, 2005, 5:15 am
Sometimes keeping irregular hours has its advantages. This past Monday at about one in the morning I walked out into my front yard and saw two deer wandering about at the far side of the field across the street . Seeing deer in urban settings in Iowa is hardly unusual, but I'd never seen them in my neighborhood before. I'd also never seen them so close to downtown Cedar Rapids, which is only eleven blocks away.

I watched the deer for about five minutes, and then they began heading towards me. I was hoping they would come all or at least most of the way across the field, but some of the neighborhood dogs started barking at them and spooked them. I wonder whether all the barking dogs were aware of the deer or whether only one or two were barking at the deer and the rest were only barking at each other.
May 27, 2005, 11:28 pm
Every so often, for business reasons rather than out of vanity (or so I tell myself), I'll do a Google search of my name to see what my current internet presence is like. I'm sure I'm not the only person to be puzzled about the criteria by which Google's web crawlers select and rank websites. A few months ago, after a long period of being the first site listed under a search of my name, my website slipped to the third spot. Then about a month ago it slipped to the fifth spot.

As I understand it, a site's rankings are based on the number of websites that link to it, and I knew of at least one site that has shut down that had a link to my site. So, I had been thinking of how to get some additional sites to link to my site (without resorting to unethical methods), but I hadn't done anything about it--so I have no idea why my site has suddenly gone back up to the first spot. Just another of the mysteries of cyberspace, I guess.

My latest Google search of my name produced one rather strange surprise, though--a site that I've never seen come up before listing race results for an 8K road race in Cedar Rapids. The odd thing is that the results are for a race I ran thirteen years ago. So, I'm wondering whether someone has only recently posted the results of a thirteen-year-old road race on the internet or whether the results have been posted for years and it's taken Google's spiders this long to find my name on that site. Either way, it seems odd. And now I'm wondering if any of my other old race times are posted on the internet. Just out of curiosity, maybe I should search for race results from the 1989 Twin Cities Marathon.

Meanwhile, I had a really cool bit of interaction a few days ago with one of the critters in my yard. I walked out of my house and startled a young rabbit--too young to be one of the rabbits that has really gotten used to my presence. He (or possibly she) didn't run very far, but he also didn't quite sit down, and his legs were quivering a bit. He was obviously ready to bolt. So, I squatted down to watch and see what he would do. After a few minutes he relaxed and sat down, then started grazing. Then came one hell of a surprise.

The rabbit suddenly turned his head and stared at me for a few seconds, and then ran directly at me, stopped about six feet away and stared at me for a bit longer--and then hopped to within two feet of me. I couldn't believe it. Still can't, really. It was all rather cool, but I do wonder about that rabbit's survival instincts. That one might not be around for very long.
May 4, 2005, 12:01 pm
Lately I've noticed an unusual addition to the wildlife population in my front yard. Aside from the neighborhood squirrels, for several years I've had a succession of wild rabbits that I think have a burrow under the bushes in front of my house, and an occasional raccoon or possum wanders through my yard. The new addition consists of a pair of mallard ducks (one mail, one female) who seem to have taken up residence in my yard and my next-door neighbor's yard. This is particularly surprising since I'm three-quarters of a mile from the nearest water. It's a pleasant surprise, though. My neighborhood is too close to the downtown area to have large wildlife such as deer, so the greater the variety of small wildlife that shares my small bit of land, the less urban my environment seems.
April 17, 2005, 11:36 am
It's been a busy month (minus a day) since my last post. The tail end of the spring break week made up for the lousy first part of the week. I had a decent local gig Friday night. Then on Saturday I had a Chicago gig that I was somewhat concerned about since I was opening for a rock band and could only guess at how well my music would go over with the audience that came to hear the headliners. It turned out my music went over very well, and chances look good for getting back into that venue before long.

After that, I had one week to get back into the routine of teaching before things got really busy musically for two weeks--an hour-long live radio show on a Monday night followed by a daytime college show the next morning (with Mary Pat Reasoner playing saxophone for me on both of those shows), then solo coffeehouse gigs on Friday and Saturday, followed by six straight days sort of road managing an eastern Iowa tour for Melissa Rose Ziemer.

For a variety of complicated reasons the tour was an exercise in controlled uncertainty, with an almost daily change in the cast of backing musicians and the lineup for some gigs falling into place at almost the last possible moment. Somehow everything worked out, and I got to play as a backing musician all six days--sometimes backing Melissa by myself, other times as part of a trio or quartet including Matt Baumann or Laurie Haag on drums and Fran Kondorf on bass. Matt is probably the best drummer I've ever met, unless Laurie is, and Fran, besides being a fine bass player, may be the coolest person on the planet. If you were trying to explain the slang concept of coolness to someone who didn't understand it, you couldn't find a better example than Fran. All in all it was quite a week--sort of like spending a week in a music fantasy camp and getting paid for it.

Tonight I'll be playing an opening-set gig in Iowa City with Mary Pat Reasoner, and then things will settle down for a while, with not much scheduled musically for the near future. That's probably a good thing since the semester is winding down and it will soon be time for the end-of-semester grading crunch.
March 18, 2005, 8:46 am
I've been having a really lousy week. It's spring break, and the first weekend of the break was actually pretty good. The high point of the weekend was getting to hear and hang out a bit with Erin O'Brien for the first time in about a year. She's a songwriter out of Madison, Wisconsin, who writes rather good songs and has an amazing voice. As of Monday, though, it's just been one thing after another going wrong.

Monday and Tuesday brought a combination of bad news and crisis financially, resulting in my cancelling my plans for the first half of the week. Then, with an important gig coming up tonight and a Chicago gig coming up tomorrow, the electronics on my stage guitar suddenly stopped working yesterday. The chances that I can get repairs done today are pretty slim, so I'm probably going to have to get through these gigs with one or the other of my backup guitars, neither of which is a really good option. The better of the two is does not really have a suitable sound for most of the songs I'll be doing this weekend, and the other one, though it probably has a more suitable sound, has a few major drawbacks.

Chances are pretty good that next week some of my students will cheerfully ask in class if I had a good break. I'm likely to growl at them.
March 6, 2005, 8:54 pm
Oops--seems I've been remiss again about keeping up on the blog. During school semesters a lull in blog entries often means I've been grading student papers. But I've also been busy with music stuff, and some of it has been really interesting. I've been working with Mary Pat
Reasoner, an excellent saxophone player, and we'll be unveiling the results tomorrow night in the first of three gigs we'll be doing together this month. We'll also be unveiling two brand-new songs (I've had a little burst of creativity lately).

This weekend I've also begun a stretch of five or six weeks that will be extremely busy musically, and it's gotten off to a good start. Friday night I took part in the Cedar Valley Acoustic Guitar Association's yearly fundraiser concert, and we had a great night. The concert took place in the Oster Regent Theater, a beautiful old restored theater in downtown Cedar Falls. Physically, it's perhaps the second best venue I've played (second only to the Galaxy, site of the JPF Music Awards last November), and we practically sold out the house.

On Saturday I played a short gig in a "residential care facility" and had a pretty cool inspiration
for a little medley. I'd been trying to think of familiar old songs that I know that I hadn't yet played for this audience in previous shows. I thought they'd like hearing "You Are My Sunshine," but I thought I knew only a small bit of the song. So I looked up the lyrics on the internet and discovered that I actually knew the entire song. It seems it's a very, very short song. Then it occurred to me that the song has a thematic similarity to some of the lyrics of "Red River Valley." Aha, says I--why not combine the two songs in a medley? So I did, and the old folks loved it.

Tonight I worked lights at CSPS for a concert by musicians I had never heard of. I decided some months ago that being a volunteer lighting tech for a nonprofit arts venue carries a responsibility to sign up to work shows you're not particularly interested in (though it's not actually a requirement). Tonight's show did sound from the promo material as though it might be a pretty good show, but I wasn't really sure what to expect. It turned out it wasn't a good show. It was a great show. The musicians--Randy Sabien on violin and Brian Torff on bass, accompanied by a couple of guitar players whose names I don't remember offhand--are some of the most amazing players I've ever heard. They are technical virtuosos and very lively performers, and they play some wonderful, seriously silly stuff. They also dealt with great aplomb with getting repeatedly buzzed by a bat in the second half of the concert, which had everyone in the hall in stitches. All in all, another great night.
February 12, 2005, 3:08 pm
Another weekend has rolled around and, aside from playing a gig last night, I'm being almost as lazy as can be. It's my last chance to enjoy a lazy weekend for awhile. Student papers will start coming in on Tuesday, and then my work hours will jump from seven or eight hours a week to so many hours I won't want to know how much time I'm spending on school-related work. If I ever kept track of those hours I might discover I'm making something like minimum wage.

I'll also be getting really busy musically in March and through the first week or so of April. Nothing much is going on musically for the next few weeks, though, so maybe I should take advantage of this opportunity to restring my stage guitar and banjo. They're both way overdue
for new strings.

I'm sometimes amazed at audience reaction to the banjo. A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure and honor of playing backup for Melissa Rose Ziemer on about a dozen of her songs during her latest mini-tour of eastern Iowa. The last performance was a college gig, with an audience consisting primarily of college students. I play the banjo on three of Melissa's songs, and we spread them out through the show. Late in the show Melissa did a song I don't play on, and I left the stage until she finished that song. As I walked back on stage and lifted my guitar from the rack, several people in the audience started chanting "banjo, banjo." Of course, that could be a compliment to my banjo playing or an insult to my guitar work.

A week or two earlier I was playing a coffeehouse gig in Cedar Falls, and a group of four or five eldery people near the far end of the coffeehouse was paying little attention to my music until I switched to the banjo. As soon as I started playing the banjo, one of the elderly women sat bolt upright and craned her neck to see around her companions so she could see the banjo. I presume it was out of curiosity or interest, not outrage or shock.

I've had similar experiences in Chicago and in local venues. People sitting with their backs to the stage paying no apparent attention to me will turn around and stare intently at my hands throughout a banjo piece. My older brother thinks its because banjo players' hands don't seem to be moving enough to account for all the notes coming out of the instrument. He may have a point. Or perhaps it's because I play an open-back five string, and both the sound and my playing style are quite different from what most people may have heard before by way of banjo music.

Last fall someone asked me what instruments I play, and when I said guitar and five-string banjo he said, "Oh, bluegrass." When I told him I don't play bluegrass he looked confused and asked, "What else can you play on a five-string banjo?" I'm not sure what I told him, but if anyone ever asks me that again, I'm going to answer something like: anything your imagination can come up with and your fingers can manage to play.

February 6, 2005, 7:55 am
I made several attempts to write a new journal entry last week, but the election in Iraq was all over the news, and that made it seem that in comparison to that event and the Asian tsunami and the killer musdslide in California, writing about what's been happening in my day-to-day life would be a trivial exercise.

Well, today I don't have that problem. It's Super Bowl Sunday, and millions of people will treat a football game as though it's the most important event in the world--not to mention that the media will devote hours of broadcast time and many, many pages of newsprint to hyperbolic coverage of a sports event. It's definitely not a day for keeping a sense of perspective--but just to be safe, I'm not going to turn on any news programs until I finish writing this entry.

I've also found a bit of nonsense from AOL helpful for getting over my writer's block about keeping things in perspective . I turned on my computer a couple of days ago and the welcome screen invited me to participate in a survey to determine "the greatest American." Not only is the concept of a single individual being "the greatest American" absurd, but the text on the welcome screen read: "Who Has Inspired You...Donald Trump? Katie Couric? Pick Greatest American Ever."

I can only wonder at the incredible idiocy of whoever thinks Donald Trump or Katie Couric should be mentioned as possible candidates to be named the greatest American ever--and AOL's management is displaying a fair degree of idiocy since they're presumably paying a supposedly professional writer to write such crap. It gets worse, though. Apparently this "Greatest American" thing is a joint project between AOL and The Discovery Channel, and the list of greatest Americans will air on The Discovery Channel later in the spring. It makes me wish I were a nationally syndicated columnist with a large readership. I'd urge my readers to subvert the entire project by taking part in the survey and nominating their own mothers or fathers.

Maybe I should write to several nationally syndicated columnists and suggest that they urge their readers to nominate their own mothers or fathers.
January 9, 2005, 9:49 pm
Sometimes it seems I make really good decisions through pure dumb luck. For the first time in something like six years I didn't go to Joshua Tree over the holidays, and the more I see news stories about the weather in southern California over the past few weeks, the more it seems like this happened to be a good year not to go. The weather in Joshua Tree itself was probably better than elsewhere, but just out of curiosity I checked on it last week on and it looked pretty wet and chilly. Even if the weather in Joshua Tree wasn't as bad as I suspect, I probably would have had some major problems with snow either on the drive out or on the return trip.

I did encounter pretty difficult driving conditions with snow in Chicago last week, but that was tame compared to dealing with mountain snowstorms out west. Dealing with the snow in Chicago was more entertaining than dangerous, though I did get good and stuck on a side street and needed the help of four kind strangers to push my car back to the center of the street where I could get some traction. Thanks, guys--whoever you are.

Yesterday I made my first venture into playing music gigs at what I guess are nowadays called residential care facilities for the elderly. I should have started doing that a long time ago. It doesn't pay much money, and it certainly isn't going to help get my music out to new CD-buying audiences, but you couldn't ask for a more enjoyable gig or a more attentive or appreciative audience. And I got to do some songs that I normally wouldn't perform. It was especially fun to do "You Belong to Me," a Jo Stafford classic from 1953 that I had never performed before. It's truly a great song.
December 24, 2004, 10:09 pm
Christmas morning officially arrived a few minutes ago. This will be the first time in six years I've been home for Christmas. It feels strange not to be on the road or in Joshua Tree on Christmas Day, but I'll still be putting in some miles--with a total of three or four trips to Chicago during a three-week period, hitting open mics to try to get some exposure in the Chicago music scene.
I probably should head up to the Twin Cities also, as well as a few smaller cities such as Des Moines or Dubuque. So, I'll no doubt be putting in lots of hours driving through the wee hours of the morning on the homeward legs of these little trips.

Overnight drives can be rather enjoyable, though, especially if you have a supply of good CDs and a multi-disc player (so you don't have to hassle with frequently having to change discs, which would be a real pain when you're traveling alone). Given all the long road trips I drive solo, I get to give CDs some really serious road testing. To be worthy of inclusion in the discs I take on the road, an album has to be one that I can listen to through at least two cycles of a six-disc rotation, and I have a few discs that far exceed that standard. Here's my current list of truly great music for the road.

1. "Not All Black and White"--Melissa Rose Ziemer. If I had to make a long road trip with only one CD, this is the one I'd choose. It's had a permanent place in my road rotation for a year now, and I often play it at least twice through each time it comes around. I don't think this one is ever coming out of the road mix.

2. "Just Enough Rope"--The Juleps. The worst feature of this album as road music is that it consists of two EPs, a five-track studio disc and a four-track live disc, and it takes up two slots in the disc player for only nine tracks. Still, both disks stayed in the rotation for roughly 12000 miles and then came out for only 1200 miles before going back in for the next 6000 miles, and the studio disc still holds a permanent spot in the rotation. The live disc now shares a slot with the next album.

3. "Gertrude"--Gertrude. Another album that stayed in the rotation for roughly 12000 miles, came out for about 1200 miles, and then went back in for about 6000 miles. Gertrude was Melissa Rose Ziemer's first band. The music is more or less pop/rock, and it's a great album for keeping you awake when it's four in the morning and you've been driving way too many hours.

4. "Stoic Abandon"--Lojo Russo. On its first road trip, this disc stayed in the rotation from Iowa to Boston. Only the three albums listed above have ever stayed in the rotation longer than that.

5 and 6. "Crow" and "The Ghost of Will Harbut"--Wishing Chair. These have been sharing a spot in the rotation since May. "Crow" is probably the better of the two discs, but either one typiclly stays in for five or six rotations before I switch to the other one.

7. "Come On, Come On"--Mary Chapin Carpenter. This is the first major-label release on my list. I think this is one of the best discs ever released on a major label, but it typically stays in rotation for only four to six cycles. It contains three or four of Carpenter's best hit songs, and the hits aren't the best songs on the album. It's particularly good for late-night driving.

8. "The Wind"--Warren Zevon. This is one of the two albums Zevon released after he found out he was dying, and it's really a great disc. It sometimes stays in the mix for eight to ten rotations.

9. "Sultans of Swing"--Dire Straits. This is a sixteen track compilation of Dire Straits' biggest hits and some less well-known but really interesting songs and instrumentals. A few of the tracks took a while to grow on me, but once they did I wondered why I didn't appreciate them sooner.

10. "Beautiful Wasteland"--Capercaillie. Capercaillie is a Scottish band that mostly does modern arrangements of traditional Scottish tunes, with occasional originals such as the title track. On two songs they're joined by two African women who sing traditional-type African music woven into the Scottish tunes. The result is an example of what's known as Afro-Celtic music, and it's really cool stuff.

11 and 12. "Kristin Shout" and " Smoking Kitten"--Kristin Shout. The only trouble with these discs is that they're too short. Each is a four-song EP. When they go into the rotation, though, each one typically stays there for at least five or six cycles.

Discerning readers may have noticed that almost all the discs on the above list are independent releases. That reflects my opinion of the current state of music. While the major labels do release some good albums, the most interesting music in my collection is not being put out by major labels, and my road mix doesn't include even half of the really good independent releases in my music collection.

So how do you find all this good independent music, other than by word of mouth or by listening to public radio or college radio? The easiest way is through online music stores specializing in independent releases--and the one I highly recommend is CD Baby, partly because they treat the musicians really well and partly because the way the site is set up makes it pretty easy to browse for music by musicians you've never heard of. You can browse randomly or by musical genre or by searching for people who sound somewhat like musicians you have heard of or by state--and I'm probably leaving out some of the search options. If you've never been to CD Baby, check it out sometime--and happy browsing.

December 15, 2004, 6:42 am
This week I'm learning a lesson I really shouldn't have needed to learn--that it's not a good idea to schedule music gigs during exam week. It wouldn't be a bad idea if all I had to do is administer and grade exams, but my writing courses don't have final exams. Instead they have final revision projects, which are very labor intensive to evaluate. I'm always amazed that each semester I somehow get through the stacks of papers that pile up in the last few weeks.

Sometime in the next few days I'll have to make a major decision--whether to forgo my usual December/January trip to Joshua Tree this year. The more rational parts of my brain tell me that even though gas prices have come down lately, they're still fairly high, and I could better use the next few weeks driving fewer miles and working on finding new performance opportunities within, say, a 300 mile radius of home. The less rational parts of my brain tell me to take advantage of every opportunity to get to Joshua Tree. Decisions, decisions.

December 4, 2004, 7:56 am
Looks like I've been neglecting the blog for the last few weeks. I suppose that's mostly because I'm not yet caught up on the backlog of grading student papers since I got back from California. Between grading papers, playing gigs, booking gigs, and just trying to keep up with the assorted little details of life, I'm certainly in no danger of being bored.

Even if I were less busy I couldn't possible get bored for the next few days since Melissa Rose Ziemer is in town for five days and playing gigs every one of those days. Lucky me (even if I made my own luck by helping to arrange her little mini-tour of Iowa).

Not only do I get to catch Melissa performing live for five consecutive days, but as a bonus I got to play banjo behind her last night on "Sweet Kisses." I also unexpectedly got to open for her when she was delayed getting out of Chicago. Opening for Melissa has been on my wish list as a musician for some time (the "wouldn't it be nice?" wish list as opposed to the wish list of realistic goals). I would have preferred different circumstances than last night, of course. Still, it's an honor to open for her, and it gave me an opportunity to do something I've thought for the last year or so would be sort of cool--to introduce Melissa to an audience by ending my set with "Moon Singer," which is about her. I'm not sure what she thought about that. During the final verse, though, I heard a tambourine accompaniment kick in. I looked to my right, where Melissa had started unpacking stuff from her gig bag. She had her tambourine on the floor and was standing against the wall and playing the tambourine with her foot. I just cracked up--not enough to not really interfere with finishing the song, but pretty close.

If you live in eastern Iowa, give yourself an early Christmas present. Check the schedule for Melissa's tour on my calendar page and get out to hear her. And if you don't have any of her CDs, buy at least one as a Christmas present to yourself. You won't regret it.

If you live somewhere other than eastern Iowa, Melissa will be doing an hour of live radio this Monday (Dec 6th) starting at about 7:05 p.m. Central Time, and you can pick it up by computer at:
If you've never heard Melissa and can tune in Monday, check out what you've been missing. If you have heard her before, you already know it's worthwhile to tune in.

November 16, 2004, 11:13 am
Today is my first day back at work, and so far it's gone pretty well. The work in the classroom is the easy part, however. The difficult part is trying to get my brain geared up for evaluating student papers again.

Spending a few days in the desert was definitely good for me. First, it would have been really stupid to make the drive to California and back if I hadn't spent more than two days there. Even with five days in California I spent about half the trip on the road. More important, it was good to discover that I can still at least follow climbs up to .10a in difficulty. Considering how little climbing I've done this year, that was a pleasant surprise. As a bonus, the coyotes were in full chorus this year. Last year they were unusually quiet--to the point where I wondered whether they had been decimated by disease or something. This year they seemed louder and more numerous than ever, and they gave evening concerts in addition to the usual four a.m. show. I love listening to coyotes in the desert night. It's probably my second favorite sound in nature--second only to the sound of wolves howling at night.

I had a few dicey moments on the drive back. I stopped to visit my Salt Lake City friends and had to choose between staying the night or pushing on further east that night. Between their reports of how much snow the surrounding mountains had just gotten and weather reports of another storm moving in, I decided I'd better push on and try to get out ahead of the snow. Sometime after midnight, having reached the rest area between Rock Springs and Rawlins (a bit less than halfway across Wyoming), I decided I was probably far enough ahead of the snow and should grab some sleep. A couple of hours later I woke up and checked the weather. It was still clear, so I went back to sleep. The next time I woke up, my first thought after opening my eyes was that the frost on the car windows seemed awfully thick. Then I realized it wasn't frost. It was snow--about five inches already on the ground and lots more falling out of the sky.

Halfway expecting I'd end up stranded in Wyoming for a day and night, I got on the road immediately. Driving conditions were really bad for about ten miles, but then the snow started letting up a bit and the road conditions got a lot better. Within twenty miles I had gotten out in front of the storm and felt pretty lucky I hadn't slept for another hour or two. Later, as I approached Laramie, I got into another storm, with really limited visibility, and I really began to worry about conditions on the high ridge east of Laramie. Before I reached Laramie, though, I drove out of the front end of the storm I was in, and it looked like the storm on the mountains east of town might be lifting. I did hit some light snow on the ridge, but nothing really significant. From that point on, it's essentially all downhill to Iowa, so I knew I was pretty well in the clear. I don't think I had ever before been as glad to get to Nebraska as I was that day.

I've been making one or two round trips across the Rockies between November and March each year for the last six years and have generally had really good luck with weather. I can't help suspecting my luck is bound to run out before too much longer.
November 10, 2004, 5:06 pm
I guess I owe my climbing partner who didn't show up yesterday an apology for characterizing him as unreliable. Turns out the reason I couldn't get hold of him was he spent a couple of nights out on search-and-rescue missions. That's certainly a good reason to be incommunicado.

Today I finally got in some serious climbing--three routes with Woody Stark. We started of with a 5.7, which was pretty easy for the grade except perhaps for the finishing move. Then we did a hard 5.9 and then a supposed 5.9 that was probably more like a 5.10a. I made some really strange moves near the top of that route, and I was really glad I wasn't on lead.

I can't believe I climbed a couple of routes of that difficulty in Joshua Tree without breaking my fingernails, but my nails survived the day, so I'll probably play a few tunes tonight at the open mic at the Beatnik before heading back to Iowa. I'm not really looking forward to at least two nights of sleeping in the car. Maybe I'll break down and spend one night in a motel.

November 9, 2004, 5:29 pm
Well, I ended up free soloing a couple of easy but relatively long routes today. The descent from the first one was more of an adventure than either climb. About a third of the way up the climb I encountered a move that I was pretty sure I wasn't going to want to downclimb, but I figured the descent wouldn't be a problem since the guidebook showed a fourth-class descent gully off to the right. Problem was, when I got to the top of the climb I discovered the descent gully wasn't accessible. Fortunately, I remembered a chimney that I had downclimbed before off towards the other end of the formation. I wasn't sure if I could access it from where I was, but it turned out I could after leaping across the top of the chimney. Then I worked my way around behind the back of the formation and headed down the fourth-class gully, only to discover the bottom of the gully was definitely not fourth class. So, nothing to do but climb back up the gully and take the long hike around the entire formation. Fun and games in the desert.

November 9, 2004, 10:37 am
It's a beautiful sunny day in the desert, and my climbing partner for the day has gone incommunicado. So, I'm trying to decide what to do today. I have a much more reliable partner scheduled for tomorrow, but for the rest of the day I have to decide whether to just explore, do some bouldering, or perhaps free solo a few easy routes. That last option is always a little dicey in Joshua Tree since routes that are rated within the range I'm comfortable free soloing are sometimes a lot more difficult than their rating, and if they are, you don't find out about it until you're up on the climb.

I've already backed off three or four free solos this trip. Just as my frustration level was getting pretty high, though, I did a couple of short crack climbs yesterday that were fairly entertaining. They were pretty easy, but they both were just hard enough to make me stop partway up and spend some time thinking about backing off. As often happens when you're free soloing, each also had a definite commitment move, meaning that once you make that move you feel your only choice is to complete the climb because you definitely don't want to downclimb that move you just made. Free soloing is such fun.
November 8, 2004, 2:28 pm
Back in the desert again. The drive out this time was a bit disorienting because I didn't get on the road until about seven hours after I intended to. That completely threw off my sense of how far to drive each day and when and where to sleep. Maybe I should drive home through Colorado rather than taking my usual route across Wyoming, just to shake things up a bit more.

The JPF Music Awards were rather fun. Lots of good music. I didn't win anything, but I did get to have a pretty long conversation with Derek Sivers of cdbaby. I did finally get on stage really late. Not many people there by the time I performed, but the cool thing was that among those still in the theater was a young punk band that performed a few slots before me--and the punk band really liked "Tiny Specks of Matter." Maybe someday I can get a punk band to cover it and make me some money.
October 24, 2004, 10:53 pm
Through much of last week I enjoyed mythological baseball (Red Sox vs Yankees), and I was quite delighted that the Sox pulled off such an amazing comeback. Now comes cosmological baseball. The Sox are in the World Series, and if the cosmic order remains intact they will lose the series in seven games. I figured out the day after the Sox eliminated the Yankees that if Boston actually wins the World Series, that will mean the cosmic order is completely out of whack and I might actually have a chance to win the JPF award I've been nominated for. Go Sox.

Of course, if the Sox win the series they'll completely mess up a good line of stage patter I've been using lately. In introducing "Tiny Specks of Matter," the song that caused one listener to describe my music as cheerfully nihilistic, I sometimes say that being a lifelong Red Sox fan explains how I developed a philosophy of cheerful nihilism. If the Sox win the series, to keep using that line I'll have to start claiming I've been a lifelong Cubs fan.

October 15, 2004, 11:01 am
The last few weeks I've been buried under stacks of student essays. I should finally get the last of them finished this weekend--and then on Tuesday the next stacks of essays will start coming in. Sometimes it seems like a never-ending cycle, and I'm always amazed at the end of each semester that I somehow manage to get all the end-of-semester papers graded.

It will be interesting to see whether going to California in November will seriously disrupt my classes. I've never before left for an extended period in the middle of a semester, and over the next two weeks I'll be scrambling to arrange substitute teachers, decide what I want them doing in class on the days they sub for me, and figure out how to reorganize my usual sequence of classes vs individual conferences--and I'll also have to decide whether to postpone the due dates for a major assignment for all my classes until after I get back or perhaps have one class turn it in before I go and take their papers with me to California, hoping that I'll have time to grade them during the trip.

One of the high points of recent weeks is that I got to hear Geoff Muldaur at CSPS last Sunday.
It seemed like a good night for learning more about the sound system than I would on most nights since Muldaur probably wouldn't keep the head sound tech as busy as a band would, and it worked out that way. I probably learned at least ten times as much as on any previous night and still had plenty of time to enjoy Muldaur's concert, which was really fine. The last time I heard him live he was playing in the Jim Kweskin Jug Band at the Newport Folk Festival, and he still has the same sweet, clear voice he had some forty years ago.

I have two gigs this weekend, and I'm trying to decide whether to perform a couple of songs I didn't write that I've only been working on for the last few days. Up until this week I had never even considered covering any of Melissa Rose Ziemer's songs since the difference between her vocal talent and mine is so vast I assumed I could never sing any of her songs. I have, however, been working on back-up instrumental parts to some of her songs in case I get a chance to play behind her when she comes to Iowa in December. One of the songs on which I had really gotten a second guitar part wired is "Safe Tonight" from her solo EP. A few days ago, for some reason I decided to slow the song down a bit and play around with melody variations of the lines I would otherwise have no chance of ever singing, and before long, to my utter amazement, I had a workable arrangement for my voice. Perhaps inspired by that, yesterday and today I worked out an arrangement of "Sweet Kisses," a far easier task. Maybe I'll try out "Sweet Kisses" tonight and then think about doing "Safe Tonight" tomorrow night in the comfort and security of familiar surroundings at the Blue Strawberry.

In December I'll have to try to get a chance to play my arrangements for Melissa. Until I do, whenever I play them I'll always be wondering whether she'd be pleased or appalled by what I've done to her songs.

September 24, 2004, 10:56 pm
It's hard to believe it's been almost a month since my last entry. It doesn't seem that long. I suppose it's because I've been adding new activities and responsibilities to my life. The latest, and potentially most time-consuming, is that I'm now a volunteer lighting and sound tech in training at CSPS, a local art gallery/performance venue run by a non-profit arts organization. The perks are considerable, though--particularly the opportunity to hear lots of good music for free (at least in terms of money), not to mention that I'll be meeting and hearing a lot of musicians from around the world who I probably wouldn't hear otherwise.

This week, for instance, I worked a show by Druha Trava, a band from the Czech and Slovak republics. They're supposedly a bluegrass band, and their instrument lineup is pretty much a bluegrass lineup (except that the banjo player occasionally switches to flute). I think that only about ten to fifteen percent of what they played the other night was bluegrass, though. They play all sorts of music, and they're damned good. The banjo player, Lubos Malina, is particularly impressive. (By the way, his first name has a diacritical mark over the s that I don't have available in this program--to pronounce it, say "lube" and "posh," then run the words together without the p. To get the pronunciation of his last name, it helps if you know what the word "marlin" sounds like when someone from Boston says it. If you can hear that in your head, then tack an "uh" on the end, you'll know how to pronounce Malina.)

Anyway, he's a master of every banjo technique I'm familiar with (other than my own eccentric ones), and then he does a few things I've never seen anyone do on a banjo before. It's been a while since I've heard Bela Fleck, so I'm not sure whether Malina is almost as good, as good, or better than Fleck, but he's definitely comparable to Fleck in both talent and creativity.

So far I've learned that lighting is definitely easier than sound, if only because the lighting board has a lot fewer controls than the sound board, the lighting generally involves fewer adjustments than the sound does, and the lighting techs don't have to interpret hand signals
from musicians. Those hand signals can get rather cryptic, and sometimes they get sort of frantic and then angry. Last night I was working lights on a show involving a band whose instruments included an accordian, a clarinet, and a trumpet--and the music was generally very loud. I think that each of those musicians went through at least one extended battle of wills with the sound tech, and they kept sending a manager type back to the booth to tell the sound tech what they wanted, and more often than not, the sound tech would explain why he wasn't going to give it to them. I was really glad I had nothing to do with sound last night. When the band and the sound tech are having problems with each other, nobody pays much attention to what the light techs are doing.

August 29, 2004, 6:49 pm
A cricket has moved into my house, and the chirping is apt to drive me a bit crazy, especially since I can't quite pin down where it's coming from. If this keeps up very long, all my music might start taking on the rhythm favored by the cricket.

Last night I stayed up really late--or perhaps it would be more accurate to say I stayed up really early this morning. I had a gig last night, so I stayed up until four-thirty or five watching the rebroadcast of the Olympics. The games provided enough highlights to make staying up worthwhile--especially the men's 5,000 meters, which turned out to be a pretty incredible race.
As an added bonus, if I hadn't stayed up I would have missed one of the finest summer nights I've ever known in Iowa. The night was really cool for August, and the sky was clear, with a brilliant full moon. To top it off, the field across the street from my house had patches of groundfog backlit by streetlights. Sometimes my not quite urban but not quite suburban neighborhood can be a really pretty place.

Last night I also had a new musical experience--playing a gig with a badly sprained little finger on my right hand. I think I must have sprained it on Friday while changing a tire. Otherwise I have no idea how I sprained it. It affected my playing a little bit at the start of the gig, but after a while I really didn't notice it, until it was time to tear down and load out the gear. It's a good thing the sprain was on my right hand and not my left, and that it wasn't one of the other fingers on my right hand.
August 17, 2004, 9:48 am
Summer classes are over and I'm wondering what to do with the next few days. The trip to Rochester put me way behind in grading, and I wasn't able to get grades turned in until yesterday. This leaves me with too little time to make it worthwhie to drive out to Idaho, and I'm thinking I should just stay home and get back to work on the multi-year project of painting my house, except that it's been raining, of course, and the forecast for the next few days includes quite a bit of rain.

Staying in Iowa this week does seem like a good idea, though, especially since I've now committed to driving to California in November by booking a gig in Yucca Valley the night before the JPF awards. To do the gig the way I would want to, I need to take two instruments, an amp, a couple of mic stands, and my mic bag--way too much stuff to fly with. Besides, if I flew out, I'd have to rent a car so I could get out to Yucca Valley for the gig, and then the trip starts getting too expensive, in terms of cah flow, anyway. It's amazing the lengths to which I'll rationalize things to avoid flying with an instrument.

August 4, 2004, 10:04 pm
The highway siren's song grows stronger once again. In a few days I'll be picking my son up at Chicago's O'Hare airport and making an overnight drive to Rochester, New York, for a wedding preceeded by an anniversary celebration for my parents. Then we'll be making another overnight drive back to Chicago. I don't know who's more insane--me for suggesting these travel arrangements or my son for agreeing to them.

A week later I'll probably be headed west--possibly to Idaho, but maybe only to central Wyoming. Plans are rather fluid at the moment. Meanwhile, I'm trying to work out the possibilities for taking enough time off from work in November to drive out to California for the JPF Awards, especially if I can arrange a gig or two in California. It's not just a matter of time but also of trying to figure out how much money I lose by either cancelling classes or hiring a substitute for at least one day that I won't have enough personal or sick leave to cover. I also have to consider the adverse effect on my classes of having a substitute for too many days.
All in all, it's not a really bright idea, but the thought of possibly getting a southern California gig or two and maybe also a few climbing days at Joshua Tree when the place is uncrowded is really tempting, as is the idea of getting back to Joshua Tree twice instead of once before the year is out. The desert siren is now singing harmony for the highway siren. They sing a really sweet song.

July 27, 2004, 9:15 pm
I'd like to thank all the people who have e-mailed me congratulations on my JPF Awards nomination. Congratulations are also in order for my friend Natalie Brown, who is currently getting her feet wet in her new job as orchestra director at Washington High School in Cedar Rapids.

Natalie is probably the best violinist/fiddler I know, and a pretty hot mandolin player as well, but she's been unable to perform since last fall due to tendonitis. This has deprived local music lovers of hearing one of our most talented musicians, and it's been particularly frustrating for me since Natalie and I had several projects planned that are on hold indefinitely. For months now I've had to periodically remind myself that as frustrating as the situation has been for me, it must be far more frustrating for Natalie. So, it's good to see her land a job that will (I hope) make good use of her talent.

I still hope her tendonitis will clear up and we'll be able to get our projects back on track. Everything I've written since last August I've written with either a violin or mandolin part by Natalie in mind--so none of those songs will ever sound quite right to me without her playing on them. If worse comes to worst, though, maybe someday she'll do orchestra arrangements of some of my songs (or a medley of my songs) and have her students play them in concert. I can already imagine a symphonic arrangement of "Well, Well, Well" played by a high school orchestra. Now that would be a strange thing to hear.

July 23, 2004, 7:53 pm
Some days start out well. Some days start out badly. Today started out really well.

Right after breakfast I checked my e-mail, not really expecting to find anything had come in overnight other than spam or an early-morning newsletter from work. Two new messages had come in. The predictable newletter caught my eye first, and then I noticed what was sitting above it--an announcement that the nominations for the 2004 Just Plain Folks Music Awards has been posted on the JPF website.

I didn't really expect to get an album nomination, but I had faint hopes that at least one track from my new CD would merit a song nomination. I checked the album nominations first, checking all the genres my disc could possibly qualify for--Americana, male singer songwriter,
new folk, roots, traditional folk. Nothing. Next I ran through the song nominations, checking all the above categories plus a few more. Still nothing.

I was almost at the bottom of the page and didn't even realize I was looking at a new category since someone had neglected to boldface the category title when out of the corner of my left eye I caught a familiar title. It didn't really register at first, and I almost went right by it. Even when I focused in on it and then saw my name in the columns for songwriter and artist, it took awhile for it to sink in that "Noodle Soup," the only guitar instrumental on the CD, had snagged a nomination in the "solo guitar" category.

The individual song nominations fall into forty-eight categories, with about twenty nominations per category. That's a total of over nine hundred nominations, but they were selected from more than 140,000 tracks on more than 10,000 albums from 85 countries. So, I'm feeling pretty good about getting a nomination. I think I'll have to treat myself to a wee dram of single malt scotch this evening to celebrate.

If you're not familiar with the nominated tune and want to give it a listen, go to my home page and click on the CD cover for "No Plans for the Day." That will take you to the CD Baby page for that album. Click on the title "Noodle Soup" and you'll be able to hear the first two minutes of the track.
July 21, 2004, 5:04 pm
I've finally reached the end of the mid-summer period when my day jobs take up way too much time. Most years I have a stretch of two and a half weeks with three courses overlapping--a night course that stretches throughout the summer and two six-week daytime course. This year I have a fourth class thrown into the mix. The daytime courses are the ones that make things hectic. Each one compresses all the work of a semester-long course into six weeks, so time management gets rather challenging while those two classes overlap. It will be nice to be only semi-busy.

A couple of weeks ago I was introducing a literature classes to character types and character analysis. One of my students asked if character traits and personality traits are the same thing.
I had never considered that question before, so I spent the next ten minutes or so working through an answer out loud (to the amusement of some students and the amazement or confusion of others who apparently were not used to the spectacle of a teacher working through a concept on the fly). I finally reached the tentative conclusion that character and personality overlap but are not the same, and that personality consists of the character traits that a person allows other people to see (though even as I write this I realize that in some cases personality could be a false front designed to completely conceal a person's character).

The next day I started re-reading Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" since it would soon be up for discussion in class. I hadn't read it for years, and within a few pages I realized that my student's question was directly relevant to that novel--that much of the novel is based on a difference between personality and character. It's always cool when a student asks me a question that makes me consider new concepts. It's even cooler when the question just happens to come at the perfect time to be useful for upcoming material.

July 6, 2004, 8:54 pm
Aargh. Last night I spent close to an hour composing a blog entry, and when I posted it I got an error message. End result--the entry never got posted and has disappeared into whatever the cyberspace equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle is. I don't think I'm going to bother rewriting that entry, so here's a brief synopsis:

1. Curmudgeonly comments concerning the Fourth of July and fireworks in the hands of idiots.
2. A paragraph regarding a bouldering workout on a local crag--the first time I've gotten in any sort of climbing for far too long. Perhaps you've heard of muscle memory? I think my arm muscles have amnesia.
3. More curmudgeonly comments, occasioned by the numerous beer cans and assorted other trash I hauled out of a state park yesterday--perhaps left behind by people who
like to play with fireworks at two or three in the morning.
4. An item for the "here's something I've never seen before" file--a Harley with a handicapped parking permit taped to the gas tank.

This brief summary of what got lost in cyberspace last night is probably less entertaining than the original (it's certainly less substantial), but I've had a very long day (and evening) at my day jobs and I'm tired. So, although this probably won't be accurate for at least another hour, I'm tempted to end this entry in the manner of a famous diarist who often ended his entries with the phrase "and so to bed."

June 13, 2004, 12:20 am
So far it's been another interesting weekend musically. Friday night I played in Cedar Falls as part of the Cedar Valley Acoustic Guitar Association's summer concert series in Overman Park. The park has a beautiful bandshell of the Hollywood Bowl type. Actually, since it doesn't have an amphitheatre or seating, it bears more of a resemblance to the bandshell by the Charles River in Boston. The only problem with the site is the relatively frequent passage of freight trains about a block away, accompanied by long blasts from their air horns. Other than that, and the occasional rumbling of a passing Harley or muscle car, it's a great place to play.

I had the last of six half-hour performance slots, and this being Iowa, I was a bit concerned that I might end up playing to the remnants of a dwindling audience. No need to worry, though, since in this concert series the music is followed by a movie, so the crowd gets larger as the concert goes on and movie time draws near. With a pretty good-sized crowd to play to and that beautiful stage to play from, I had an absolute blast during my set--and I also got really lucky with the weather. Severe thunderstorms had been forecast all day, but the weather stayed good throughout the concert. Then about twenty-five minutes after I finished playing, whoever was in charge of the movie shut it down and postponed the showing till Saturday night. I'd say that was a good decision considering the heavy rains I ended up driving through before getting out of the Cedar Falls/Waterloo area.

I spent Saturday afternoon touching base with one of the venues where I play recurring gigs and checking into the possibilities of booking at some new places. It was the sort of day that illustrates why the music business can drive you nuts. On the positive side, it looks likely that I could have at least one and maybe two new places to book gigs. However, I also learned that the person who books musicians at one of my favorite places to play is no longer doing the booking, and I probably won't find out until my next gig there whether the new person will want to give me further bookings. This is the second such change at that venue since last fall. I survived the first one. Now I'm hoping I'll survive the second--especially since this is not only one of my favorite gigs but also one that pays well. This is definitely not a business for anyone who can't handle a constant state of uncertainty.

On a very positive note, however, on Saturday evening I met yet another very impressive singer-songwriter at The Blue Strawberry. Her name is Jen Gloeckner, and she's out of Dubuque. I suppose I might characterize her music as somewhat jazzy contemporary folk, and she has a beautiful, deep, and powerful voice. If you live in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area, she has several gigs coming up in Iowa City in the next few weeks. You can check her website for the dates and places:

If you live in the KUNI broadcast area, she'll be doing her first "Live from Studio One" on June 28th from about 7:05 to 8 p.m. If you live outside the KUNI broadcast area, the show is simulcast on the internet at:

June 7, 2004, 9:21 pm
Sunday night the lead story on the early evening local news concerned a fatal shooting at a night club in Waterloo at about two o'clock Sunday morning. That explains all the police activity I drove through at about that time only a block or two from where Uncle Chuck Finch and I had been gigging Saturday night.

After the gig and the gear load-out, we sat around in the alley behind the club, just shooting the breeze until almost two o'clock. It was a pleasant and quiet late-spring night--about as peaceful and relaxing as could be. So hearing that a homicide occurred so close to us as we sat there chatting creates a sense of unreality. It also seems like the sort of incident that should inspire some sort of profound thoughts (or maybe a song?), but I've got nothing. At this point it's just another example that life and death are going on around us all the time, and that we're often unaware of much of what's happening.

Lately I've been sharing gigs with Uncle Chuck, and it's working out pretty well. In the past we simply alternated sets, but on Saturday we played together for the first time, mostly by way of me playing cajon behind Uncle Chuck during his sets. Adding any sort of percussion is a real advantage to acoustic performers doing bar gigs, and the cajon is such a little-known instrument in Iowa that it has a lot of curiosity value.

Sunday evening I played my cajon behind Kimberli during one of her gigs. Probably the most interesting bit for me was when we did her version of one of my songs. As we started it I realized that I had never before played that song as a backing musician. And, since Kimberli has never gotten the lyrics completely memorized, I had to improvise a cajon part while also trying to anticipate when Kimberli needed me to feed her a line of lyrics, while also keeping track mentally of the lyrics without singing them so I'd be ready to feed her the right lines. It was rather an interesting exercise in multi-tasking.

Back when I bought the cajon, I had my doubts about the wisdom of spending money on an instrument I might not use much, and I really didn't use it much for the first year or so that I had it. Lately, though, I've decided that getting the cajon was a really good idea. It's been opening up a lot of opportunities to play with other musicians that I wouldn't have without it, and it's an incredibly cool-sounding instrument and is loads of fun to play. Everybody should have one. Well, maybe everyone who has a sense of rhythm, anyway.

May 27, 2004, 11:59 am
Last week I cut my trip to Boston short and did a hard drive back to Iowa, pushing through with no overnight stops--just naps in rest areas. It was a good decision since my reward was three straight nights of listening to incredible music.

First, on Friday night, my good friend Kimberli had put together a women's showcase in Iowa City featuring three great musicians from Chicago: Melissa Rose Ziemer, Kristin Shout, and Desiree Irwin. Kimberli had to cancel her opening set and hosting duties due to a family emergency, but Mo Howe did a nice job of filling in as host as well as backing up the other musicians on harmonica. A really delightful surprise was that Gayla Drake Paul replaced Kimberli for the opening set. Gayla is perhaps the finest acoustic guitarist in eastern Iowa. Now I'm no slouch on guitar, but whenever I listen to Gayla play I feel like I don't really know how to play the instrument and never will.

Next came Kristin's set, with Melissa doing backing vocals on about half the numbers, then Dezi Irwin, with Mary Pat Reasoner sitting in on saxophone and Mo Howe on harmonica, then Melissa's set, with Mary Pat sitting in on sax and Dezi on keyboards and backing vocals. Then the whole thing wrapped up with all these incredible musicians (minus Gayla, who had to leave early) just jamming out for about an hour. The entire evening made for one of the best listening nights I've had in a long time. The only negative was that, although the evening started out with a fairly sizeable audience, about half the audience had left by 10:30. This just left me shaking my head as I really don't understand how people can leave in the middle of a show like that.

By the way, Mary Pat Reasoner is an amazing saxophonist, able to put perfect to near-perfect accompaniments on songs she's never heard before, regardless of key or musical style. After the first song Mary Pat played with her, Dezi Irwin was so impressed she declared she wanted to take Mary Pat home with her. If you ever get a chance to hear Mary Pat play sax, don't pass it up. She also does quite well as a solo singer-songwriter, accompanying herself on guitar, but I've only heard her do that once.

Friday night by itself would have made the hard drive home worthwhile, but the weekend's music was far from over. I had arranged a gig for Melissa, Kristen, and Dezi on Saturday night at The Blue Strawberry in Cedar Rapids. Dezi had to pull out because of some problems with her theater production in Chicago, but Kristin and Melissa, as I knew they would, put on a great show--performing both solo and together. Listening to either Melissa or Kristin perform solo is
pure pleasure, but when they harmonize I just get chills.

In the last hour of the Saturday show I had the pleasure and honor of playing cajon behind Kristin and Melissa on one of Kristin's songs (with Melissa, besides singing harmony, playing spoons--a talent I did not know she has, and which she does very well). I also got to play banjo behind them on one of Melissa's songs. I would have thought that getting to play backup for them would be the highlight of the weekend for me, but on reflection I realize it was just a nice bonus. The real highlight was just spending hours and hours listening to them perform.

As if that weren't enough of a musical weekend for anyone, on Sunday I went to CSPS for a benefit concert for the Iowa Women's Music Festival. I had never heard any of the performers and mostly went to support the festival and the friends who put it on. The headliner, Sonia, is very good, though it took me a couple of songs to warm up to her. I suspect that she might eventually make her way onto my list of favorite performers. The opening act, though, had me hooked right from the opening bars of their first song. They're a duo based out of Kentucky called Wishing Chair, and they're terrific. As with most of my favorite musicians, their music is hard to classify. It's loosely folk, but within that broad category, which encompasses lots of music styles these days, they play in many styles--and it's all good. I bought two of their discs.
"The Ghost of Will Harbut" is an excellent disc, but "Crow" is a phenomenal disc. Before the evening was over, I got a loose invitation from Kiya to play cajon with them sometime, and I hope I can take her up on that offer. Even more, though, I just hope I get a chance to see them live again. They put on a great show--great music, funny stage patter and stage antics, and great interaction with the audience.

Am I over-hyping these performers? Personally, I don't think that's possible. For more information about them, you can find multiple links to Melissa Rose Ziemer on my links page, and for information on Kristin Shout, Desiree Irwin, and Wishing Chair, here are their websites:

May 24, 2004, 7:48 am
I'm back home from another road trip, an abbreviated one to Boston for a couple of minor gigs involving half-hour to forty-five minute sets. Financially, the trip was a losing proposition, though I did make enough to get home on my gig money. From a music standpoint, the trip was all about exposure in a major market, not about money. Even more important than the gigs, though, was that I got to see my niece who recently returned from Iraq. I hadn't seen her in something like nine or ten years since every time I went east during that period the military had her off somewhere for training.

On the drive home I decided my favorite driving hours are from midnight to five in the morning. That's a particularly good time for driving through or past major urban areas to avoid heavy traffic. It's also a good time for getting into more substantial conversations with clerks at gas station/convenience stores than in the daytime hours.

I also concluded sometime during the drive home that Melissa Rose Ziemer's EP "Not All Black and White" must qualify as my favorite album ever. It's now held a permanent place in my six-disc road mix for about 8,000 miles, and I often play it twice through when it comes up in the rotation. It does have a brief outro that I consider a major flaw and that I usually skip, but the seven main tracks are all excellent songs, and I would rate at least four or five as great songs.

Gasoline prices were not as bad in the east as I expected, but they went up during the trip, and one particular increase in one area is perplexing. On the way east I took note of where the cheapest prices were so I could plan my gas stops on the return trip. The area around Kent, Ohio, had the lowest prices in Ohio, and the truck stops at Exit 173 on I-80 in Pennsylvania had the lowest prices east of the Mississippi. The day I left Boston I noticed prices had jumped about ten cents, but they were the same at those truck stops in Pennsylvania. When I hit eastern Ohio the prices were still under two dollars, but I passed up some stations figuring on finding slightly better prices near Kent. Instead, the stations near Kent that four days earlier had the lowest prices in Ohio now had the highest, having jumped twenty to thirty cents. Then, when I hit extreme western Ohio, prices were the same as they had been four days earlier.

I've read all sorts of explanations for fluctuations in gas prices, most of which are plausible as explanations for national or regional changes in prices--and state or local taxes can explain significant differences in prices within a region and a state, but I can't come up with a good explanation for a sudden jump of twenty to thirty cents in just one small area while the prices all around that area stay the same.

I can't help wondering what effect rising gas prices will have on independent musicians. For those whose careers are well-enough established that they can make a pretty comfortable living from their music it might just mean a significant but manageable reduction in their net income. For those who are trying to expand their performance areas from local to regional or from regional to national, or for those who have just reached the point where touring has gotten marginally profitable, higher gas prices could be a career killer.

May 9, 2004, 6:14 am
I've been having a few hectic weeks lately with the end-of-semester grading crunch, so it was good to get in a bit of recreation last night listening to some really fine musicians. It would have been better recreation, though, if I hadn't been grading student papers while listening.

The new coffeehouse in Cedar Rapids, The Blue Strawberry, has made the last few months a lot better than they would have been otherwise. Besides being one of my favorite places to play gigs, it's about the only place I can get out to hear other musicians while getting work done on papers, and the music's always good.

Last night's lineup consisted of a group of songwriters from Madison, Wisconsin--Andy Nath, Kris Adams, Erin O'Brien--and Andy's cousin Nick Lind from Iowa City. I had heard these folks once before, and they're really good. In fact, I had originally been scheduled to play last night, but when the owner asked me to move my gig forward a week to open up last night for these folks, I was more than glad to. They're all excellent songwriters and performers, and they put on a really enjoyable, casually structured, cooperative show--rotating performers after a handful of songs, working solo or in various duet combinations. You can check out Andy's website at

After their show was over, we walked around the corner and rode the elevators to the top of the Crown Plaza, where Andy's wife Leda did some guest vocals with Eddie Piccard's trio. It's been way too long since I got out to hear Eddie. All in, all, it was a most enjoyable evening. Good thing, too, since the next six days or so are going to be nothing but work, work, and more work, but then I'll be off to Boston for a couple of gigs. After all the work of the next few days, that long drive should actually be relaxing.

April 20, 2004, 9:30 pm
"Wheels down CONUS!" That brief message arrived in my e-mail yesterday. It means that my niece and her National Guard transportation company are out of Iraq and back in the U.S.

That ends a couple of fairly anxious weeks hoping they wouldn't be among the units extended because of recent developments in Iraq, and a slightly suspensful weekend as their departure from Iraq got delayed for undisclosed reasons. I can only imagine the feelings of the families of those troops that did get extended. If anyone who reads this has a friend or relative serving over there, especially among the ground troops, may your soldier stay safe and make it home soon.

March 31, 2004, 10:25 am
Last night I ran into a friend who gave me a hard time for not updating this blog. So this morning I decided it's past time for a new entry, and I was shocked to discover it's been two months since the last one. Where did the last two months go? I guess I've been busier lately than I realized. I'll try not to lose track of the passage of time that badly again--and thanks, Brett, for pointing out my neglect of the blog.

So what's been going on for the last two months? Well, I've had far too many student papers to read and evaluate, and lots more gigs than ever before (but still not enough). Perhaps the best thing locally is that Cedar Rapids is beginning to show signs that the local acoustic music scene might be improving. I emphasize the word might. I'll believe it's real if a year from now the scene is still improving or at least not reverting to the norm.

My burst of writing at the beginning of the year is over. I roughed out a new instrumental on the banjo last week, but otherwise I haven't written anything since mid-January. This is partly due to being busy with other stuff, but I also don't want to continue cranking out new songs at the rate I was writing them in January. I don't want to have a new CD completely written half a year or more before I can afford to record it. In practical terms, it's possible to be too prolific for your own good.

Probably the most fun I've had in the last two months was getting to spend a couple of hours on stage one night playing my conga cajon behind Lojo Russo. That was such a blast I'm surprised it's not illegal. If I were to list my favorite musicians, Lojo would definitely be among the top five--and she's about as cool as a person could possibly be. If you haven't heard her, check out the link to her website and see if she's playing in your area.
January 29, 2004, 10:54 pm
So much for my intention to write a retrospective assessment of the past year (see end of previous entry). Guess I didn't feel up to it. I'm thinking, though, that maybe I should write a monthly entry while I'm off the road. That idea came from reading David Fishken's monthly column on the Fishken and Groves website. Unlike his columns, which are usually extensive essays on all manner of topics, I'm more likely to just write chatty news entries about what I'm up to lately. I've found that one major benefit of this blog is that my parents and some of my friends read it when I'm on the road to see where I am and what I'm up to. At least one friend who has recently moved home to Europe told me she likes the blog so she can check up on me even if we've been out of touch for a while. So, I feel a responsibility to update the blog periodically so people won't wonder if I'm dead or something.

What I've been up to lately is writing like mad--four songs in the last three weeks. I don't know what's gotten into me. The odd thing is that for the previous four months, with lots of free time on my hands, I couldn't write anything. Now that I'm back at my day job, I'm writing more than ever before. It makes me wonder whether writing songs is a reaction against having to work. Or maybe when I didn't have to go to work I was having too much fun to write and I need to be grounded in the reality of having to work in order to write. If either of those explanations is true, I'll never be able to give up my day job to be a full-time performing songwriter.

Whatever the reason for my sudden burst of creativity, I now have half the songs for a new CD written. That's good if I can sell enough CDs this year to be able to produce a new CD early next year. But if I don't and I keep writing at this rate, I'll be getting really frustrated and might have to start looking for a wealthy patron. Anybody got a few thousand extra dollars lying around?

It's been relatively cold in Iowa lately, and I've been surprised at how easily I've adjusted to it after only recently returning from California. Of course, Joshua Tree can get pretty cold at night, and even in the daytime it can be bitter cold when the wind is up, so that's probably part of the reason I've adjusted easily. But it doesn't explain why I'm not only dressing more lightly for the cold than most other people around here but also dressing more lightly than I normally would for temperatures that are hovering around either side of zero degrees (F). Maybe I've just reached the point where I've been through so many changes of climate that neither my body nor my brain can figure out what's going on any more.
January 7, 2004, 4:40 pm
My luck with winter travel still holds. Up until Sunday, the weather forecasts for getting through Salt Lake and across Wyoming looked bleak for the entire week, but then a two-day window of clear weather opened up between storms and I took advantage, cruising back to Iowa on mostly clear and bone-dry roads. The only bad road conditions were on the ramps into rest areas. Most of them, especially in Wyoming, had a layer of slick, compacted snow on them, which made for a few entertaining moments involving low traction and inertia.

I can't really say I feel I'm back home. As I indicated in my last entry, I feel like I left home on Sunday--but my friends and the return to a work routine next week should gradually take the edge off that feeling. I would really like to relocate to Joshua Tree, but aside from the practical problems regarding work and the selling and buying of real estate, I have to consider the advantages of Iowa's central location when it comes to music-related travel. The places where I'm establishing a musical presence are a long way from Iowa, but they're an even longer way from each other.

Anyway, I'm now done with long road trips for a while--at least until May when I have to return to Boston. The longest trips I might take before then are only 1600 miles round trip--fairly short compared to the 2400 or so to Boston and back or the 3600 or more to anyplace in California and back--and Chicago or the Twin Cities or St. Louis now seem like local drives.

It's been an interesting year. If I feel up to it, maybe I'll do an extended retrospective assessment of it tomorrow or Friday.
January 4, 2004, 3:19 pm
In an hour or so, I'll be leaving Joshua Tree--or, as I told Steve Lester last night when he remarked that I'm turning into a desert rat, I'll be leaving home and driving back to the place I live. And, as life often goes, the weather has turned absolutely beautiful just as I'm leaving.

It's been quite a week. Between the Water Canyon gig, the New Year's Eve sort-of-open-mic at the Beatnik, and two evenings of getting invited up on stage by the musicians at the Beatnik, I've been on stage four times in the last week. Some vacation from the music business--and I'm not done with music-related business yet on this trip. On my way out of town I need to check out a number of leads a park ranger gave me this morning for possible places to play in Twenty-nine Palms.

Once again, I met some very good songwriters in Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley. Jill Cohn, out of Seattle, played Water Canyon last night. She's quite good, and I'm sure she has a website, though I don't have the URL. New Year's Eve at the Beatnik, the most impressive of the new talent I hadn't heard before was a young woman named Rachael (or Rae) Indigo. She has a really good voice and a smooth fingerpicking style. She doesn't have a CD or website yet, but she's working on both. I intend to exchange CDs with her when she gets one done (projected release date in the spring), and I expect that a link to her will eventually go up on my links page.

One final note--on my links page I describe the Beatnik Cafe as a great place to spend New Year's Eve. I've now decided that not only is that true, and not only is it the best place to be on New Year's in Joshua Tree, but it's also the best place anywhere to spend New Year's Eve as far as I'm concerned (except maybe at Kimberli's party if I were back in Iowa on New Year's).

January 2, 2004, 8:21 pm
Another Joshua Tree trip nears its end. The weather's been decent but changeable, and the climbing has been decent but a bit limited. Did a couple of hard climbs with Woody, met a friend of his named Tracy and belayed her through a long, hard, and intense lead in cold windy conditions (then told Woody to second the climb and clean the gear because I didn't think I could get up the route before dark), and today I did a couple of short, relatively easy, and really fun routes with Tracy--once again in really cold, windy conditions. I'm planning on two more days in Joshua Tree, then I'll start heading home because the weather reports for the return trip aren't very good. I think I need to allow lots of extra time in case my luck finally runs out with winter travel conditions.

A ranger told me today that it's supposed to snow in Joshua Tree tomorrow. I almost hope that's accurate since I haven't seen Joshua Tree with a blanket of snow before.
December 31, 2003, 8:02 pm
Had a really good day yesterday. Hooked up with a guy from Colorado, did five climbs with him, and sold two CDs. My partner did six climbs. He free soloed Aguille de Joshua Tree--an incredibly thin spire of rock that can only be free soloed since it's impossible to place protection on it anywhere. I stood on the desert floor and photographed him. Maybe some day I'll climb that thing, but if I do, it's going to be on a day when I've done two or three routes that are several grades harder than the Aguille and have been climbing exceptionally well. I'm technically capable of climbing it, but that thing is scary.

Last night at about 1:30 all the windows in my car were full of star reflections. It was incredibly cool.

The musicians from Seattle I jammed with Saturday night are Cat Kinsey and Chad Hinman. If you can find them on the internet, check them out. Their CDs are quite good.

December 29, 2003, 4:41 pm
Had a good night Saturday. It didn't start out well. The gig at Water Canyon was okay but frustrating for the first hour and a half or so. My friends from Salt Lake were there for the first hour, and they later told me they thought it went very well--but they were thinking only in terms of my performance. From up on the stage, it wasn't going very well at all. It's just work, and psychologically difficult work, when you're playing to a small and not very responsive audience.

A group of about six people came in for the last twenty minutes or so, though, and they made my night. They were attentive, responsive, even sang along whenever I invited them to, and they bought a CD. Good audiences make life much more pleasant for musicians--and when we have a good audience, we feed off their response and perform better.

After the gig, I stopped in at the Beatnik Cafe. Didn't expect to stay long, but I arrived just before the musicians took a break and got to chatting with them during the break. They invited me on stage with my banjo to jam with them and play one solo instrumental. Lots of fun, and two more fine musicians in my growing circle. They're from Seattle, and I'd tell you their names if I had their CDs in front of me. I could approximate their names, but I wouldn't want to get them wrong. Maybe I'll get their names into my next entry. They should eventually show up on my links page.

Got to climb with Woody Stark again yesterday. As always, it was an interesting day with lots of hard climbing and some falls
(but not leader falls, so they weren't particularly entertaining). It's a good thing I didn't climb with Woody on Saturday, before my gig. As I expected, my fingernails didn't last very long once I hooked up with Woody. Broke them on the first climb.
December 27, 2003, 3:45 pm
Back in my spiritual home, Joshua Tree. First day on the rocks and I've already taken a fall on lead, on my first lead of the trip. Good way to start. Normally it would be an indication that I'm trying hard enough, doing routes at or near the limits of my ability.
This fall, though, was on a route about four grades of difficulty below my limits. Between the climb being in the shade and a stiff wind blowing across the desert, my fingers got so numb that I couldn't keep them locked in what should have been an easy finger crack.

I almost broke my fingernails in that crack, so I decided I'm done climbing until after I play my gig tonight. Tomorow I can really start having fun on the rocks. The weather's supposed to be lousy the next couple of days, though. I've been really lucky with weather in Joshua Tree the last four or five years. I hope my luck's not about to run out.
December 24, 2003, 9:14 pm
It's Christmas eve, so--if anyone happens to read this by Christmas, whether you're someone I know or a complete stranger who just happened to surf into my little corner of cyberspace, Merry Christmas.

It occured to me that my last entry might give the impression that the drive out to California was rather rough. It wasn't really. The incidents I mentioned made up only a small part of the drive. Overall it was a pretty easy trip, especially for this time of year. The occasional bad conditions did make for a couple of tiring days in a row, but now I'm all rested up and ready for a mellow Christmas Day before getting back on the road on Friday.

Today I rode the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system for the first time in many years. While my son and I waited on the platform for a train, an announcement came over the public address system: "Due to the orange alert, all BART restrooms are closed. Sorry for the inconvenience." I assumed that "orange alert" referred to the national color-coded "homeland security" alert levels, and my first reaction was to wonder just what the security folks expect terrorists to do in the BART restrooms.
Did they get intelligence signals of a plot to stuff up the toilets and back up the sewers? Collect feces for manufacturing biological weapons?

I loved that "sorry for the inconvenience" line--as though it's just a minor inconvenience. For most people it may not turn into an inconvenience at all, but if you really need to use a restroom, "inconvenience" is a major understatement. And what kind of security do we really have if we can't have public restrooms?

This evening I heard that the alert is probably related to muggings in the restrooms, not to national security issues. If that's the case, is it really a good idea to use color-coded alert levels? Isn't that bound to create confusion with the anti-terrorism alert system? Aside from that, closing the restrooms seems like a really poor way to respond to the problem. It's certainly not a solution to the problem--not a real solution, anyway. It's like responding to a problem of muggings on the streets by telling law-abiding citizens to stay off the streets.

Maybe it all does tie back to "homeland security." Perhaps BART lacks the budget to effectively address the problem because of economic pressures on law-enforcement in general because of all the increased security requirements in the past couple of years. Whatever the reasons, it strikes me as just another symptom of the increasingly strange world we live in. Makes me glad I live in Iowa, where life is still relatively sane.
December 24, 2003, 12:46 am
I got lucky with the weather today (the 23rd). Last night in Salt Lake, one of the friends I was staying with called her brother in Reno to check on the weather forecast for Donner Summit. He had been up to Truckee earlier in the day and reported the summit was clear and no weather was supposed to move in until Christmas. She had also printed an official government weather forecast from the internet that showed a storm due to hit Christmas eve or Christmas morning--nothing before that. So, I should have no problem getting over the summit. Yeah, right.

I had some problems with dense fog west of Salt Lake and in eastern Nevada, but otherwise the weather was beautiful until I hit rain showers a few miles east of Sparks. Rain in Sparks could mean snow in the Sierra, and in Reno an electric sign over the interstate advised truckers to carry chains due to snow on the summit. At the California line truckers were required to pull into an inspection station to show they were carrying chains. The omens were not good, and the weather up ahead looked pretty bad, but as I climbed up the grades towards Truckee the storm appeared to be breaking up. The weather still seemed to be clearing even as I reached the east end of Truckee.

When the grade up to Donner Summit came into view, though, it was obvious that the summit was socked in, and signs were now telling everybody to carry chains, not just truckers. Now, I don't carry chains, and I refuse to drive with them, but if the CHP decides you need them to get over the summit, they're not going to make an exception no matter where you're from or how much experience you have driving in snow. Fortunately, I hit the summit early enough in the storm that they weren't requiring chains yet. I don't know if it got bad enough for them to require chains, but if the morning fog had been a bit denser or a bit more widespread, or if I hadn't gotten an early start out of Salt Lake, I might be stuck on the wrong side of the Sierra tonight--and I could have gotten stuck in Nevada by conditions nowhere near as bad as those I had already driven through in eastern Wyoming just because California officials don't believe people can drive in snow without chains.

The hairiest weather-related moment of the trip didn't even involve snow. Around the Wyoming-Utah border, I got into a bad visibility situation driving into the setting sun. Just about the time I was wishing
I could find an exit so I could wait for the sun to sink lower, the sun disappeared behind a low-lying cloud, and I could see again. A moment of relief was followed by the realization that the low cloud was a really low cloud, or perhaps a fog bank--and then I was in it and my windshield had suddenly gone opaque. Hardly any visibility at all. I scrambled to get my defroster cranking while I maintained minimal visibility with my windshield wipers and hoped not to miss a curve or run into the semi I knew was just a bit ahead of me. In the middle of all this the cosmos decided to show its sense of humor. Melissa Rose Ziemer's new disc was playing on the stereo, and just as I was most desperately trying to solve the visibility problem created by the cloud or fog that had solved the visibility problem created by the sun, Melissa sang the line, "There's a fine line between a blessing and a curse." Indeed.

December 20, 2003, 11:49 pm
Here it is the eve of another roadtrip and, as usual, I'm nowhere near as prepared for departure as I should be. It seems the hardest thing for me about a roadtrip is getting ready to leave. I'll be lucky if I get on the road before noon, and I need to at least make Laramie, Wyoming, tomorrow in order to have an easy day to Salt Lake City on Monday. Of course, if I get on the road really late, I could always make Salt Lake in 24 to 26 hours if I take a four to five hour nap somewhere in Nebraska. It's a lot easier to do that on the final leg of a trip, though, than it is on the first leg.

I'm a bit frustrated right now about the state of live acoustic music in eastern Iowa. We have no lack of talent around here, but it's hard to draw much of an audience for original acoustic music, or even original music of any type (except maybe in Iowa City). Last night at 3rd Street Live, Kimberli put on a women's acoustic showcase featuring five great performers from Chicago. I won't mention exactly how small the audience was, but to have such a wealth of out-of-town talent come to town and play to such a small audience is not only frustrating but also embarassing. At least it was a good audience that came to listen (with one noticeable exception, but even he wasn't too bad compared to some other people who consider it rude when musicians interfere with their conversations).

So, I'm about ready for a trip that doesn't have much to do with music as a business. Aside from one gig in Yucca Valley, this trip is pure vacation--visiting friends and family and climbing rocks. Probably falling off rocks too. In general, any rockclimbing trip in which I take no falls is a trip in which I'm not climbing hard enough. I have no objection to occasional days climbing only easy routes, though--especially if they're really aesthetic routes--and Joshua Tree has more aesthetic easy routes than any other area I know of. So, I'll probably enjoy a few easy climbing days, especially before my music gig since I'll be trying not to break my fingernails until after the gig. Fingerpicking and rockclimbing are not the most compatible activities in the world.
December 5, 2003, 11:42 am
Well, I'm going through one of the more unpleasant experiences a solo performer faces periodically. I have a CD release party scheduled in two days, and all week I've had a steadily worsening cold that I'm worried will leave me voiceless on Sunday. This is one of the things I worry about most as I try to make music more and more my main occupation (a goal I'm not even close to yet). The more gigs you book as a solo performer, the more likely it becomes that sooner or later you'll have to cancel a show due to illness. It has to be easier for duos or larger groups. As long as someone in the group is able to sing, you can still put on a show. Of course, that doesn't apply if the group is based primarily around one voice. Imagine, for example, the Eurythmics trying to put on a show without Annie Lennox's vocals. I doubt the audience would be very happy.

On a more positive note, Wednesday I got a chance to hear Stephanie Dosen live again, this time in a small, intimate setting. She's great live. Besides having a super voice and good songs, she has a delightfully twisted sense of humor that comes out in her stage patter. I definitely recommend catching her in live performance, especially if you have a chance to hear her in a small club.
November 18, 2003, 6:19 pm
Now that I'm back in Iowa, I've discovered that at least four people have been reading these journal entries. It's good to know somebody's reading this stuff, and it motivates me to add periodic entries while I'm not on the road.

The first week back was pretty busy--running errands, substitute teaching nine hours of classes over five days, going into the studio to record a new song, and finishing up the week with a three-hour gig on Friday night. Getting back in the classroom was probably good for me (as well as for my finances). It was a pretty easy week since I didn't have to do any grading, but I did have quite a bit of preparation to do for a literature class. I had to get accustomed again to my supposedly free time not being free at all. It was a good reality check, reminding me what my life will be like again come January.

This week I'm trying to adjust to being in Iowa with no imminent deadlines. I have a lot of music-related work I should be getting done. I am getting some of it done, but I don't have anything that I must get done any particular day. This is not good. Last night I realized that I don't have anything scheduled until December 7, and I found it really tempting to pack my climbing gear and instruments into the car and head back to Joshua Tree for a couple of weeks. I'd probably do it if it didn't mean putting another 4,000 miles or so on my car on top of the 5,000+ miles I'll be putting on it in December. The more responsible parts of my brain are telling me I should try not to drive the car off warranty until it's at least a year old. Being responsible isn't much fun.
November 9, 2003, 6:49 pm
Okay, now that I'm pretty well recovered from the road, let's see if I can finish up the Joshua Tree entry. First--music. The music scene in Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley is pretty amazing for a small desert community. If I listed and described all the fine musicians I met, and in some cases played with, I'd be writing this entry for the next week. So, with apologies to those I'm omitting, I'm going to focus on just three: Steve Lester, Ray Woods, and Priscilla Hartranft.
Eventually, I'll be adding links on my site to Steve and Priscilla. If you want to check them out in the meantime, go to and

I first met Steve and Ray last December at the Beatnik cafe. Steve is an accomplished musician, record company owner, sound musician, and all-around good guy. Ray is a drummer, and one of the few full-kit drummers that I would invite to accompany me on stage anytime. Last year I listened to him drumming behind a variety of acoustic musicians, deftly adding subtle percussion. To me, the mark of a great drummer as opposed to a good drummer is how good he or she is at subtle, minimalist drumming. Ray's a great one. It was fun getting to play with him, and I hope to do it again next month. Priscilla is from Reading, Pennsylvania. She has a beautiful, pure voice, and she writes interesting songs. I'm lucky she happened to be in Joshua Tree at the same time I was so that I could hear her incredible voice.

Much as I enjoy the music scene in Joshua Tree, it was rock climbing that first brought me there some thirty years ago, and it was rock climbing that brought me back five years ago and has kept me coming back. A year without at least one climbing trip to Joshua Tree would be a bad year.

This trip was pretty limited as far as climbing--just two real climbing days (along with one day of bouldering and a day of exploring areas I haven't yet climbed in). The climbing days were good ones, though. I teamed up with my friend Woody from Riverside, whom I hadn't climbed with for roughly two years. Woody was putting up routes in Joshua Tree back in the sixties, and he's still at it. Despite a bad fall last winter and an injury that his doctors said would keep him from ever climbing again, he hasn't slowed down much, if at all. He's still taking me up stuff I wouldn't be able to lead and inspiring me to lead harder stuff than I might want to if I weren't climbing with him. If I could climb with him more often I'd probably raise my leading ability a couple of grades pretty quickly.

A couple of interesting moments on the drive home: Driving through Las Vegas I noticed a couple of aircraft flying in tight formation, almost wingtip to wingtip. They were obviously military, but they seemed to be flying incredibly slowly. The reason became obvious when I got close enough to identify them as A10 Warthogs. I'd never seen them in flight before. Come to think of it, I'd never seen one at all except in photos or on television.

About fifty miles northeast of Vegas I saw something else I'd never seen before--two fighter jets refueling in flight from a tanker. In the middle of the refueling, they made a sweeping 180-degree turn. I have to marvel at the skill of the pilots, considering that each aircraft travels a different distance during the turn.

Tomorrow I go back into the classroom--only temporarily as a substitute, but five days of teaching will probably help make the transition back to teaching easier in January. I suspect it will seem strange to have a fairly normal week.

November 8, 2003, 2:41 pm
If you've read the Nov 5 entry and it seems to have ended abruptly, that's because I was running out of time on my half hour of rented internet access. Now I'm back in Iowa and will pick up where I left off.

Diana Whytock: It's always difficult to convey in print why a musician impresses me as much as Diana did. I've been meeting and hearing many excellent musicians during my travels. Every now and then, though, someone just stands out from all the others as being (or potentially being) someone really special. Diana Whytock is one of these. Based on the two originals of the four songs I heard her play, she's a good songwriter. She's also a good guitarist, and she has good stage presence and a really fine, powerful voice. She doesn't have a cd out yet, and I'm not sure what stage her musical career is in, or how serious she is about a musical career. I hope she has the drive and ambition to succeed, and that she never lets a producer screw up her music.

Initially I intended this entry to include all I would have liked to include from Joshua Tree, but I'm rather drowzy from driving from Salt Lake City to Cedar Rapids with just a four-hour nap along the way, followed by an afternoon of running errands. I'm going to take a nap. Maybe I'll get back to this journal in a few hours--maybe not until tomorrow.

November 5, 2003, 7:16 pm
Three and a half days in Joshua Tree has done much to ease the built-up tensions of the road. As soon as I arrived in the area I booked a gig for December at Water Canyon Coffee Company in Yucca Valley. That evening I played an open mic at Water Canyon, partly to check out the house sound system and partly to promote the December gig. Among the musicians, I was particularly impressed by a young woman from Big Bear, California. Her name is Diana Whytock, and I suspect you may be hearing that name in the future. She is definitely among the top singers I've heard on my travels.
November 2, 2003, 12:10 am
I'm about to disappear from cyberspace for a few days. I'm pulling out of Concord in the middle of the night to drive down to Joshua Tree. It's time to play on the rocks and listen to the coyotes sing at night.

I may get internet access again around Wednesday or Tuesday, or I may be offline for the next week. In the meantime, if you happen to be outside at night and look up at the moon, imagine sitting by a desert campfire under that moon. You can bet that's where I'll be.
October 30, 2003, 1:42 am
Good side trip the last two days to Chico and Davis to look up old friends and work up some music contacts. Because of a wrong turn early in the trip, I drove up to Sacramento via Highway 160 instead of the interstates. It's a really beautiful drive through some small river towns--slower than taking the interstates but much more pleasant.

Chico is an interesting town, and it seems like a good town for music, with three good coffeehouses that seem quite serious about being live music venues. Establish contacts at those coffeehouses would have been enough to make the drive worthwhile. Even better was getting a chance to hang out with Amos, one of my earliest climbing partners. The last time we saw each other must have been the late seventies or early eighties. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to get out for any real climbing, but we got in a few hours of gym climbing at the university. It felt strange to be climbing indoors when the weather's clear and warm, but it felt good to get some of the rust off my climbing muscles. Amos is also a fine guitarist, and we got in some really good jamming.

Stopped in to see Fred Brattain in Davis on my way back to the Bay Area. Fred's an excellent songwriter and guitarist, so naturally a visit to him included more good jamming. Even more fun, though, was to watch Fred working/excercising his four border collies. They're trained to whistle, voice, and hand commands, and it's amazing to watch Fred put them through their paces. Those dogs have more intelligence and discipline than many humans I've known.

Tomorrow I'll be off to Fresno. It occurred to me today that tomorrow I'll literally be living out the song "San Joaquin" from my first CD. That should produce some strange sensations.

October 27, 2003, 10:47 am
Drove up to Truckee last night to use the open mic at Bar of America as an audition for possible future gigs. The good news is my music passed muster. The bad news is that the months in which they book
solo acts and the months in which I could travel don't coincide until at least the spring of 2005. It's good to know I can book at such a place, frustrating to have the timing not working out.

Had an enjoyable night, though. Met some good musicians, got into some decent jams at the end of the evening, and got to introduce my son to the music of Capercallie and Old Blind Dogs on the drive.
Now I'm at the point, though, of counting my remaining cash and trying to figure out an efficient way to schedule the rest of the trip and whether I might have to cut it short. It's a good thing this fall is about making contacts and getting exposure rather than about making money.
October 26, 2003, 11:45 am
I suppose I should post something about what's happening musically so far on this trip, just in case anyone's wondering.

First stop was Denver for the monthly songwriter's showcase at Swallow Hill. As usual, it was a most pleasant evening of good music, and I sold a few CDs--a fairly good start to the trip. Then as I drove into California yesterday I had a moment of sudden inspiration and decided to stop off in Truckee to check out the live music scene. Ended up talking to the people who do the booking at two places, laying groundwork for possible future gigs. I'll probably be backtracking up to Truckee tonight to play at an open mic at Bar of America as a sort of audition for future gigs.

Bar of America is a really good room. It doesn't have a house PA, though--nor does the other place I checked out--so this has me rethinking what I need to be well equipped for music road trips. I can't really imagine hauling my current PA on road trips in my current vehicle. So, do I need a bigger vehicle or a smaller PA? And if I got a smaller PA, would it be sufficient for a room the size of Bar of America?
Should I book only at places that have a house PA, thus turning down gig opportunities at otherwise good venues?

Just one more way the music business can drive you crazy.
October 26, 2003, 11:27 am
Here's a somewhat touristy thing that could be worthwhile if you're passing through northeastern Colorado and have an hour or two to spare. The town of Sterling has many scuptures on display by local artist Bradford Rhea. Many of these are wood sculptures, carved from trees on-site, most of which have been moved to indoor locations to protect them from the elements and from insects.

If you're passing through during the daytime on I-76, stop in at the rest area/visitor information center at exit 125 to pick up a map to the sculptures. If you have only a few minutes to spare, you can at least check out the information center's gallery of photos of the tree carvings in their original locations.

If you have a little more time, I'd recommend checking out the two sculptures inside the public library, "Seraphim" and "Windlace" ("Windlace" is probably my favorite piece). Then you might head over to Columbine Park to check out "Skygrazers." If you still have time, a couple of pieces located at Northeast Junior College could be worth the time to find them. They're inside E.S. French Hall.

If you're passing throught the area after the visitor information center is closed, you can at least check out the bronze sculpture displayed outside the information center--or head up to the Ramada Inn south of the interstate. They have a large and pretty impressive piece displayed in their interior court by the pool.
October 25, 2003, 11:31 pm
Arrived in California today: the Sierra is beautiful, as always; the central valley is pretty dreary; traffic is a pain; gas is expensive (though not as bad as I thought it might be).

Somebody had a really bad day a bit west of Davis. Traffic on I-80 came to a crawl and then practically a standstill. Thick black smoke was pouring across the roadway up ahead. Turned out the traffic snarl was caused by a burning vehicle on the side of the road. Four lanes of traffic had to pass by practically one or two cars at a time whenever the smoke lifted enough to see what was beyond it.

The burning vehicle was totally engulfed--just a twisted frame with orange flames about four feet high.
It looked like a scene out of Iraq--like a vehicle hit by an RPG. The gas tank must have exploded at some point. Couldn't even tell what kind of a vehicle it had been until I got past it and took a quick glance in the rear-view and sae the grille of a pickup.

Like I said, somebody had a bad day.
October 21, 2003, 10:15 pm
Back on the road tomorrow--headed west to Denver, northern California, and Joshua Tree.
The worst thing about road trips is preparing for them. It always seems I have way too many errands I have to get done the day before I leave. Then comes the fun of figuring out what to pack, when to load it, and how best to pack it in the car. When you're hauling climbing gear, camping gear, and music gear, it's pretty hard to travel light, and I'm still working on finding the ideal way to arrange all the gear and still be able to quickly set up the car for sleeping in situations where camping is not an option.

I spent a lot of time last spring researching cars, trying to find the ideal vehicle for my travel requirements. I don't think it exists. I don't think the designers really understand what I need in a vehicle, though Honda' designers came close with the Element. If only they had made it a foot or two longer (maybe lowering the roof by about half a foot?), and if it got better gas mileage, it might be ideal. It was fun checking it out, though. If you're ever looking for something to do some afternoon, head to a Honda dealership and see if they'll let you play
with an Element. See how many different ways you can reconfigure the interior.

I'll be glad to be heading west again. The trips east were enjoyable, especially driving across central Pennsylvania as the trees were beginning to turn color, but I could use a dose of real open space. And unless I pick up some short-notice gigs that cause me to change my travel plans, getting back to Joshua Tree will feel a bit like coming home. I suspect I'm really a desert rat at heart.

October 11, 2003, 11:49 am
Strange incident on the road last night. I'm cruising along a rural stretch of interstate at about ten p.m. and another car overtakes me. We're the only two cars in sight. Suddenly a third car appears to my left, moving fast. It seems to have come from the median strip, and I'm thinking cop and glance at my speedomer. I'm seven or eight mph over the speed limit, and the second car is moving only a little faster than I am. The third car tucks in behind the second car, about two feet off his rear bumper. I ease my foot off the accelerator and slow slighty. So does the second car

We run in this position for several minutes. The third car doesn't look like a cop car. It looks something like a Camaro, and it's black (or looks black) and unmarked and has no light bar visible on top. So, I'm not sure what's going on, but it's not a particularly safe situation, so eventually I decide I need to get clear of this situation and accelerate to get past the other cars.

As soon as I pull up beside the third car, he turns on the flashing lights. At this point I'm not even sure who he wants to pull over, but I figure I better get out of the way, so I accelerate.
The cop pulls over into the right-hand lane, then the other car pulls in between us, and they both pull over to the shoulder. I'm left cruising alone, in the clear, and thinking that was pretty weird procedure by the cop.

I pull into the next rest area for a break and think about the incident. I can't decide whether the cop pulled the other driver for speeding or for obstructing traffic, or both. What strikes me most, though, is this: before the cop showed up, nobody was endangering anybody. Two drivers were speeding slightly on a nearly deserted interstate late at night. Neither was interfering with the other. Then a cop joined the mix and created a dangerous traffic situation. It seems to me that the purpose of traffic enforcement should be to promote safety. For all I know, that cop may have had some good reason that hasn't occured to me for pulling over that other driver. Surely, though, he could have used a safer procedure for doing so.

October 9, 2003, 8:50 pm
This is my second attempt at posting an entry from the road. The first one didn't work because a friend's IPO (which I won't identify, but the first syllable of its name rhymes with mirth) kept dumping me offline.

Anyway, it turns out one of the good things about being a road musician is getting the chance to look up old friends. Tonight I'm staying in Ohio with someone I haven't seen in twenty-five years. Last night in Baltimore I got to see some close friends I haven't seen in over thirty years. I guess I'm lucky that I can even say I have close friends I hadn't seen for that long.

This trip started with a milestone of sorts. For the first time in my adult life I got across Ohio without encoutering heavy rain or snow. Obviously, the cosmic order has been disturbed. This no doubt explains why both the Cubs and the Red Sox are still alive in the playoffs. Could this be the year that we see a Cubs-Red Sox World Series? Could either team win such a series? Or would it be called a draw sometime in December in the thirtieth inning of the seventh of seven marathon extra-inning games?
October 2, 2003, 5:38 pm
This blog (or journal, or news page, or whatever you prefer to call it) is a new feature I just added to the site today. I'm not sure how often I'll add entries, or just what the content will be.
You might find news items to supplement the performance calendar. You might find musings on practically any subject. Maybe you'll find the cyber equivalent of postcards from my travels.
At any rate, I'll try to keep the entries brief and to keep this feature from becoming an exercise in self-indulgence.

Check back periodically to see what I've posted. You probably won't find anything too profound. Maybe you'll find something that's at least interesting.

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