Monday, May 23, 2016

Rascal Flatts, Purple Rain and a Comedian

NOTE: Written on Thursday night after the show, finished Sunday night, posted Monday morning.

I have no pictures of tonight's show in downtown Greenville, SC, so I'll try to get near 1000 words.

Drove down from Durham yesterday afternoon, and I got an automated calendar reminder that said rehearsal was at 6. I got in touch with music director and Hootie bandmate Mark Bryan who cooled my jets and told me it was nine, as I'd originally thought. So the rest of the drive was all about playlists on repeat and water bottles.

The show was part of the entertainment for the BMW Charity Pro-Am golf tournament held in the city. Mark and Dean Felber, Hootie's bassist, were among the celebrities playing golf and Mark has provided the entertainment for the tourney for several years. This was my first time, joining my adjunct Hootie percussion buddy, Gary Greene, Mark and Dean as the house band.

We were rehearsing and staying at the Westin Poinsett Hotel which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The Poinsett was built in 1925 but was most recently rehabilitated in 2000, and it's been the top-rated hotel in Greenville since. With staircases that evoked M.C. Escher and Hogwarts, I got turned around a few times getting between parking deck, the front door, the Poinsett Ballroom where we rehearsed and my commodious room, significantly numbered 219 (my birthday). Stairs delivered you to mezzanines and ballrooms at each level. The first few times, I turned once too many and ended up in front of the same wall again and again. I'm not a very good lab rat, I don't learn from my mistakes.

Drew Copeland
Javier Colon
House band practice was running songs with Wendy Bryan, Andrew Copeland and Javier, all folks we've worked with in the past and whose tunes we have arranged in the past. Wendy and Mark have a duo called Sittin' in a Tree and we worked up two songs from their EP to start the show. Got to rock on my twangin' dual Pro Jr. rig and break out the mandolin.  Drew plays with Sister Hazel, a very cool band who are contemporaries and friends with the Hooties. He’s also an excruciatingly funny guy to be around, and we laughed so hard between going through his tunes. Javier Colon has come and sung at so many Monday After The Masters shows I’ve lost count. He always turns in an exceptional, emotional performance, and his songs for this gig were very cool, especially his new single “Gravity.” which has a sweeping and luxurious sound we aimed to make as well. (We even had a guest apparition of Doug Jones, lead singer for Cravin Melon, another long-time friend band for whom Gary is drummer. I wrote a couple songs with them once upon a time, too.) 

Absent were the two members of Rascal Flatts who were to join us on Thursday, guitarist Joe Don Rooney and bassist/pianist Jay DeMarcus. We weren't absolutely sure how they wanted to do one of their hits, and I prayed I wouldn't have to play the piano on it. It's good they didn't come because we couldn't plug in our piano anyway. All rehearsal on keyboards was done on my trusty NORD with the not-great piano sound; the RF song would have also required a larger range of keys than the NORD offered.

When we were done, I was pretty well beat from an early morning, but we hauled our gear (Gary and I brought our own hand trucks!) to a vacant ballroom in the hotel that we were told was not in use. But not five minutes after we were finished, hotel security informed us that THAT ballroom had a breakfast in it at 8. So we moved to another ballroom that was absolutely, positively uninhabited for the foreseeable future and called it a night after that.

This morning, I slept in, having remembered to turn off my regular 5:30am alarm. Gary took me down to Greenville's stunning Falls Park on the Reedy.

While you could feel the bridge wobble a bit when joggers ran past, the compelling view was just unreal. Gary said that the area had been in bad shape until all this was built. The waterfalls were loud! A pair of teenagers had sat on a sloped boulder with a 20-foot drop, and my inner parent cringed.  I had wanted to return after the gig to see it all lit up, but did not. For another trip to Greenville, I guess!) 

Soundcheck was made lively by the realization that a piano had not been acquired. But the production company was able to bring one in, right in time for the show. Crisis averted.

My Les Paul Jr.
The rain was really a mist most of the afternoon, but it was steady. My Les Paul Jr. had a thin sheen of water on its yellow face by the end of the night. I didn't have to use it. The Telecaster was at its best, staying in tune and allowing me to sound good on all the guitar parts I did. 

How was the show, you ask? Pretty good, I would say. After a long, tight set from a Spartanburg horn band whose name I managed to forget, we took the stage and went pretty much straight through all the tunes we'd rehearsed, mostly sounding great. We even did some Hootie songs, with Mark taking the lead vocal. Wendy, Drew and Javier's tunes were all played fairly impeccably, considering there wasn't a lot of time in rehearsal (read: I didn't screw up Javier's songs after slogging through them the night before, yay me!)

Joe Don and Jay
Then we had Joe Don and Jay join us. Jay went to the bass, and they started out with Dan Baird's Georgia Satellites classic "Keep Your Hands to Yourself." We've played that song a lot over the years so no surprises there. Then I crouched behind my amps as Jay sang the RF hit "Bless the Broken Road" from the piano. Everyone in the crowd knew the song--in fact, I may well have been the only person present who was unfamiliar with it. I did, however, develop a theory about the subject matter as I crouched, but I think I may keep my theory to myself.

Then I was behind the NORD once again for the RF cover of Tom Cochrane's "Life Is a Highway." (It took all my restraint not to grab the Fender and do the repeating triplet guitar octaves that are in the original, but RF left that hook out of their version and substituted a lot of rote three-part harmonies in the chorus. I guess that the band's marketing department felt the triplets might confuse their audience.)

TV's Gary Valentine
Not TV's Gary Valentine
At the end of the show, everyone was on stage for a well-meaning version of "Purple Rain" as the mist became more prominent to the assembled crowd. "Everyone" included television comedian Gary Valentine who is also a long-time MAM participant and who took a verse of the song as lead singer. (He is not to be confused with the former Blondie bassist/The Know frontman/author Gary Valentine who has nothing to do with this show or the comedian.) 

Then the RF guys beat a hasty retreat to their tour bus which was parked behind the stage. Never saw them again. Mark did some tv interviews at side stage, and I went to retrieve my van from the hotel parking deck. With my hand truck loaded up with damp gear, I rolled down past the tour bus where the party was rockin' apparently and popped everything into the van, ready to return to Durham, the family and general normalcy in the morning. 

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