Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tennessee Road Trip, pt. VIII

The big day.

It began with all sorts of great motivated thoughts like washing the car and my laundry and changing strings in the morning that eventually dissipated into drinking a bunch of coffee and reading the Memphis Commerical Appeal over a bowl of Robert's homemade granola. Much more appealing, although lazier, too.

My stupid cel phone, the highly-touted but ultimately not very convenient Sprint Instinct, has a GPS system. It's the first GPS that I've used a lot, so I don't know if this is really the way all of them work. The directions I first get are usually completely wrong. I follow the little lady's voice and try to do a u-turn with my van as I am ordinarily instructed (difficult to believe that I'm always pointed the wrong way, but I bet there are some people I know who would concur with the GPS); once I'm headed in what I believe to be the right direction, new instructions pop up with alarming regularity. I drive for a while and it settles in, only to have it freeze up with the voice crying softly "GPS signal is weak". It's tempting to pull over to the side of the road and weep along with it, but most of the time, I just trundle along in the last direction I was pointed. Then, God help you, when a phone call comes in, you have to either take it or ignore it at a potentially critical juncture in the journey. Most of the time, to its credit, I do get to where I'm supposed to go via its directions, but it being in the phone and using a tiny display and a small whispery voice makes for more involved driving habits on my part. Now that I have the cigarette lighter all re-fused, I guess I'll be taking the standalone unit that Smart Wife bought for us after my disastrous journey from NC to camp to Atlanta to Wilkes County. The concept of GPS is great, but I guess the execution is better with a different unit other than my phone.

So I did actually get to the airport in time; it was a pretty straight shot down the 240 for me. Chris' flight got in slightly early, and he had checked bags this time. So I did three loops around the baggage pick up area, getting shooed away each time by the parking police. They REALLY don't want you to stop your car there; ideally, the arriving passenger would launch their baggage into an open door in your vehicle and then swing in through the window to their seat.

We rolled back to the Maches' house. I couldn't remember if Robert and Chris had ever met, but apparently they did at one of the Drifters' alcohol-soaked performances in Chapel Hill. Chris got the quarter tour of Robert's renovations, then it was off to practice with Ilene.

When we were done, we ate at Bogie's Deli, which is off of Overton Square. That area used to be a really busy place, with nightclubs and restaurants up and down both sides of the street. When I lived in Memphis briefly in 1978, there was a Strings and Things guitar store there, and Solomon Alfred's (where I saw John Hartford play) and the Friday's restaurant where Big Star had the back cover picture of Radio City made. All that's gone (Strings and Things got torched during the firemen's and policemen's strike of that fall), and there seems to be life creeping back in around the area but nothing conclusive or earth-shatteringly interesting.

I showered and shaved, and then we ran some of the songs again with Robert on mandolin. It was interesting to think that I'd have members of both of the bands I was in the longest playing together.

We followed Robert over to the convention, parking the van and leaving Ilene's bass amp in the car.

A pair of glass doors on the mezzanine floor opened ahead of us, and we were surrounded by the denizens of the Folk Alliance convention. All shapes, all sizes, mostly strumming guitars or plucking bass viols and singing. There was a grand assortment of hats, from porkpie to bonnet, in evidence. Chris picked up his nametag and we left a day pass for Ilene's husband Ben.

Lots of activity there on the mezzanine, and lots of people we knew: Greg Trooper, who had a showcase the same time as us, was the first to stick out his hand and welcome us. Ilene and Ben got there, and Ilene thought she'd had a Jack White sighting outside the hotel (we saw the guy later and realized it was not him). Susan and her band arrived and checked in. David Hirshland from Bug Music was strolling around, so we told him we had our new record coming out. Ebet Roberts, a talented and well-known photographer who had shot the dB's many times in the 1980's, was wandering around. Kim Carson, New Orleanean country singer deluxe, with whom I've played in her band The Casualties, was there too. Victoria Williams was there to see a little of Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion who were playing next door to us. Louis Meyers, who runs this whole shebang, gave me a big end-of-the-day-for-him hug. 'It was just star after star after star,' a la J&H Productions.

Our set started late because one of the acts who shall remain nameless decided to go well over their allotted time. So by the time we reached our fourth song, the PA guy was signaling for us to stop. We whined about it a little, having been promised a set's worth of time, and went right on playing for a few songs more. The attendance was spotty for us, mainly because (we found out later) people were starting to go up to the hotel room showcases at ten, when our show was starting.

We did play well. Ilene was solid as a rock on bass, and Robert twisted some mandolin lines around the songs. Chris and I sang nicely, and the people who were there seemed to like it. We packed and started the trek up to the Duo Coop room, having been warned that elevator service was slow, limited and crowded. Johnny and Sarah Lee's manager showed me the route to the unoccupied freight elevator, having lost track of Chris. Rode up with them (and their sleeping daughter Sophie, draped over Sarah Lee's shoulder) and found myself on a floor littered with cases and performers and signage.

I found Susan in the hall of the 19th floor, and she invited me to play on "The Rain Song" with her band and Robert. We jokingly referred to it as rehearsing for the Drifters' reunion gig. It was fun, sounded great, felt very natural.

We played right after Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart, who are long-time adherents to this part of the music business apparently. They sounded great; she's got a percussive guitar style like Nic Jones, and Mark's acoustic was just about the most present instrument I've ever been around. Stacey's mom was in the room that night, and they sang a beautiful song about Stacey's dad. Very moving.

Chris and I did "Early in the Monring", "Nothing is Wrong", "Something Came Over Me", "Taken" (requested by, I found out later, the brother of an old friend of Smart Wife's and mine with whom we worked for years at Borders) and "Angels". Lots of smiling faces. "We'd like to play at your house concerts, and if you don't do house concerts, we' d like to play at your house" I told the assembled group. "Well, it depends on what you're having for dinner" was Chris' riposte. I think they liked us, let's see what happens next.

It was nearing two in the morning, and since we'd both been up for a long time, we decided to leave.

I wish I'd had GPS to find my car. For the second night running, I could not remember how to get to the parking area where I left it. Tonight, it took an excruciating forty-five minutes of scanning spaces and walking up ramps and seeking help from hotel security who were watching us on closed-circuit tv as we caromed around the bowels of the hotel.

Got back to the Maches before Robert, and Chris and I hit the hay. I guess it was a successful first step into this new demimonde we hope to inhabit, although I'm really growing tired of losing my car at the end of the day.

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