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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Learning about humility - Redbank NJ to Danielson CT

I am somewhat impressed with my patience.
Life on the road requires this, plus humility, plus a heightened awareness of knowing that what's next is going to rock my world, far from the world i'm in right now. Redbank NJ, a very pretty town on the Atlantic and the Navesink River, is somewhat an "interesting" town to play in. I spent most of my 2 days here wondering why I was here. But I had gone on the pretext of a wonderful person who coaxed me down that way, now for my third time. His name is Joe, and he runs the Internet Cafe on Main Street.
Not much to look at inside, the white smudged walls and floors are a stale comparison to the quaintness of every other building in this town, which dates back to early settler times and has nice red brick or ornate victorian style walls. The Internet Cafe is like a 90s box, meant for a mini mall in east los angeles, so out of context. But.... still....twas our little base for 2 days. Notwithstanding, Joe works tirelessly bringing artists in to perform on a regular basis, and supports original music, so you can't scoff at that. Joe is our friend!
The drive to Redbank down the Garden State Parkway, from Montclair, was about 2 hours. It took us to the very Eastern tip of New Jersey, kind of parallel to Manhattan, so from where we stayed, you could see the buildings of NYC in the distance. Our first show (1 of 3) at the Internet Cafe was on the Sunday afternoon in the courtyard. Not as glamourous as it sounds, the courtyard is the back alley near the row of 10 garbage bins and a very messy arcade filled with empty dirty cups and trash. The PA was set up and we set to work. I've become the traveling salesman. My green warrior merch bag on wheels expands onto any table with CDs, books, t-shirts, mailing list, stickers... oh and don't forget the tip jar. If we didn't have that with us, we would certainly be running at a loss. Luckily we are about $200 ahead of ourselves, which means that all the gas, tolls, subways, accommodations have come under what we've made. But it's not without a sweat. While Melissa performs, I go around with the tip jar, mailing list and offer a free sticker from both of us if they do both. Then the next stage is, if we catch them with the first one, selling the cds, tees and book. When I'm performing, Melissa goes around. And on it goes all night. Phew. (I wipe the sweat from above my eyebrow).
Redbank afternoon in the courtyard attracted one 14 year old male, who preferred to talk about how many songs he's written (nice kid though), a couple who sat down for a quick coffee, and quite a few who used the alley to get where they needed to go, but not to destination ordinary tour. Alas, we played to rehearse, and were content to pack up and find a place to stay. This was an interesting and quite amusing moment. Joe, the Internet Cafe owner, had originally offered the upstairs of his house, which seemed glamorous discussing it on myspace with him. Then he tells me that it's all messy and he still has his Xmas tree up, and, "well, you can sleep on the pull out couch but..." Ahhh, no thanks. But he is kind, Joe, because he gave us some hotel money and off we went in search of the holy grail hotel, hopefully with a water view.
One hour and a half later, after much searching for a strip of hotels you'd think you'd find in an ocean town.... we found the one hotel that was available. Actually it was really cute, and it was on the ocean in a town called Sea Bright, called the Fairbanks Inn.., plus the waterway/lake behind with a mini marina and a swimming pool. Quite the spot. We still had half the money Joe gave us so we choofed off to one of 3 local fish restaurants and ordered some fish. But what we did do which was quite silly was spend all that remainder on the meal, which was $60. We've been so spend thrift on meals and then we blow it on one when we think we're playing with free money. Oh well. I guess it's all a monopoly game in the end.
We had to get back to the Internet cafe for gig number 2, featuring at the open mic. When we got there, it was deserted and all packed up and only 10pm. Weird town. So no gig.
I woke up desiring to sleep all day. Instead Melissa and I went for a nice long walk along the beach which was terrific. You could see NYC in the distance, and on the beach itself where a slew of giant clam shells which were a treat to photograph and i took a few as souvenirs. I wasn't attracted to swim because there were trillions and billions of jellyfish (thumbnail size) along the tide. Quite squishy when stepping on them, the seagulls picked at them a bit. Can't imagine they'd be that filling.
We headed back to Redbank for gig number 3, but a little earlier so we could capitalize on the venue and get online for a bit. I tried to find meaning in my tour life, sitting by the Redbank shore eating our left over fish from the night before, made into a fish sandwich. I really cannot claim my Redbank tour moment to be any way pleasing, except the company that I was keeping, cause Melissa rocks, and has a great attitude about going with the flow that has made our tour really, really enjoyable overall. In 2003 I came here for the first time with Eric Idle and we played the Count Basie Theater. Can't get better than that really. Lovely venue, lots of people, and the pay was great. This time around,.. just felt,... flat. This last gig, on the Monday night, was supposed to be a big one, and we were to headline the show. What actually happened was that barely anyone showed up to Billy Swift's promoted night, which may have something to do with their pre made tickets having the wrong date on them,... and when i did get up, i was cut off after 4 songs, which really sucked. But hey, I was ready to leave. Time to head north, back to tour baseland, Montclair NJ. Let's blow this joint. So after a slice of cheese cake at the local diner, we were outta here. Still, with much regret over the shows themselves, I do want to thank Joe for his hospitality and generosity.
Tuesday Sept 25 came quickly, waking up in our soft sheets and billowing comforter of Montclair NJ where our friends Patti and Susie and their 2 cats and 2 dogs and a girl named Grace have been our mid way point for many destinations of our tour. I needed a GTSL like it became my real fix. If you don't know what that is, get with the program and read previous entries. Hint: Starbucks.
This is the part where I announce the zig zag tour component. You see, we have already been to Boston, back down to NJ and now... we go back up to Connecticut. But for all good reasons. We had 3 appearances in CT, in the "quiet corner of New England" as they say. First stop, Mystic CT. Wow what a gorgeous town, and Bill Pere and the Connecticut Songwriters Association is a wonderful, inspiring and generous man. He invited me to come speak to his songwriters, and critique their songs, and thereby putting us up in the local Econolodge overnight... which by the way have THE nicest pillows ever. I felt like taking one with me but I refrained myself.
Mystic, as you should all know, is the home of Mystic Pizza, which was the location (albeit outside only) of the movie of same name that starred Julia Roberts in her first full feature. Mystic also claims the name of the other movie, Mystic River, though not too sure it was shot there. It also harbors the oldest American whaling boat, which I can't imagine is that politically correct nowadays to advertise that notion, except that in fact the town of Mystic boasts their whaling history quite strongly with ye olde whaling restaurants and antique stores.
I have become known to take up the local cuisine whenever I can. In Boston I had a clam chowder, and last year in Philly I had the Lobster Bisque. I usually taste the wine and beer of the region too. In Mystic I had everything to do with Lobster. I ate Lobster ravioli for dinner and a fresh Lobster roll for lunch the next day, which you eat at the side of the road and local lobster/seafood huts. Quite delicious, and contrarily inexpensive than what you would imagine lobster to cost. (Though nothing compares to the price of lobster in Puerto Nuevo in Baja, Mexico.)
The CSA songwriters workshop was a treat. I conducted my workshop - MPWR the path to artist empowerment, which is very close to my heart and experiences as an indie artist in the ever changing, and challenging, music industry. More about what I speak about at Suffice to say, here are a few notions I profess:
- Use an I AM affirmation when introducing yourself, made up of positive and concrete statements about who you are, your talents, and how you are making a difference in this world. No "I'm trying", "I wanna be", "If only I had", or any other self defeating statements.
- Define success on your own terms, not by how others define it or by commercial standards.
- Enjoy the journey, the process, not just the end result.
- Live your career with passion, for without it you have nothing.
- Optimism + Organized = Opportunity (this is my own coined phrase.
- Be a business person as well as an artist.
- Surround yourself by positive people and beware of energy zappers.
- Know your competitive edge (advantage), which is your talent + uniqueness.
- Follow your strengths.
- Endow success.
I ended my talk with a song: evolution, from my extraOrdinary life album, and Melissa accompanied me on guitar, while i sang and used the wooden beam holding up the roof as my drum while I banged on it with my hands for some awesome and comical effect. We sold books and cds, hopefully uplifting and inspiring a few more talented artists to believe in their path, and then it was time for bed.
Mystic is a lovely town to wander around with a chai latte in your hand and a camera in the other. Lots of little spiritual book and gift shops, bric a brac, and a splendid old draw bridge that allows sail boats with tall masts to enter into the quaint and yet majestic harbor, that is surrounded by million dollar water front homes. I, t was a great break for Melissa and I to just "be" tourists for a day and not have to think about big drives, big gigs or big internet work.
But we did eventually head up the 395 freeway to just outside Danielson CT, to an empty town called Brooklyn, where we checked into America's Best Value Inn. I can't say that it was the "best". Quite plain and horribly incomplete when it comes to space and amenities. Nor would I call it an "Inn", more like a road side motel that could possibly house truckers and cockroaches. But "Best Value" it was, at $45 for the night, using one of those coupons out of the hotel coupon books you can pick up at any road side diner or gas station. It also was in a prime location for a trucker or two, with the "Beef and Fish" joint which sounded really not. I mean, would you stop at a place that just had a huge neon sign that said "BEEF AND FISH". Okayyyy.....
We checked in. We did not eat at the beef and fish joint. We went to Putnam, 12 minutes north, and checked in to our gig venue "Victoria Street Cafe". This is a very cute and olde worldy style place, juxtaposed next to a huge antique store that had 3 old pianos in the shared alley way to the loo, none of them were in tune. So I set up my keyboard, Melissa her guitar, and we promptly and in remote controlled seasoned fashion, displayed our little merch stuff, hoping to make a quid.
And that we did. A deceiving little cafe, it is also the only thing open in Putnam. I'm still trying to work out why people live here. I know that it was a big cotton mill down in the 20s. Then the big flood of 55 wiped everything out and everyone left, save for a few who are still here... Dave, from the Cafe, was awesome, giving us free drinks and cake, and we performed our hearts out as if we were at Carnegie Hall, to the locals on their laptops and people playing chess. One guy, I think not quite altogether there, asked if I had played with Elvis. "No, love, but wasn't he a lovely man?". Yesssss. By the end of our sets, new people had come and gone and it was time for Melissa and I to do our finale, Don Henley's "Heart of the Matter", which is getting better one bar chord at a time. I swear by the end of this tour I'm going to know the first verse by heart.
We awoke to our first grey day (it has been so splendidly sunny for us), a cup of tea and a shared packet of oatmeal. No time for internetting... we were going APPLE picking! Yeah! We heard that there were apple orchards you could pick your own apples, and sure enough, 5 miles up the road, the Lapsley Orchard on the 169 was there for our pickin'. It was SO much fun. Basically, you take an empty plastic apple bag and go out into the orchard, where rows of apple trees are, and you pick your apples. There were different varieties, but we stumbled only upon the Macintosh variety. I thought alot of them were a bit green (meaning unripe) so we picked about 6 and headed back to pay. When we bit into one of the apples for the first time, oh my god, they were SO good and totally ripe. My mouth tingled with delight. CRUNCHY and tasty, and sweet, but not too sweet, and so so fresh. We couldn't contain ourselves. We hopped back into the orchard and picked 16 more. It cost us total of $5. What a treat, and a great diet for the rest of the tour. I don't think I'll ever be able to eat a floury apple again.

Driving with no destination, we happened upon the Buttery. I thought it was a real buttery, you know, where they make butter, and maybe cheese. "Oh goodie, let's go get some cheese. Goes very well with apples", I said. But we got there and it wasn't even close to a dairy of any kind except that they did have sheep. It was an exclusive restaurant. The type of restaurant where there is no menu, except you can eat everything, especially what they are cooking for the day. The type of restaurant Alec Baldwin and Paul Newman hang out at. And the type of restaurant you don't ask the price. The view was splendid. Rolling hills of green, with a gorgeous lake at the bottom, seemingly untouched. In fact, being the "quiet corner of New England", this area has been preserved by the government and will not be built up with golf courses or condos. It's a nice comfort, for an Aussie girl in America, who has been witnessing for 10 years a constant development in this country that is quite embarrassing, save for the Americans themselves who don't notice how much of an urban mini mall freeway mcmansion cookie cutter sprawl their country has become. This little piece of paradise in the center of Connecticut was like being back in Wollombi NSW Australia, and I even have to say the people are just as nice.

We returned to the Victoria Street Station for wifi, chai and some peace before our second gig. I spent most of the time sleeping sitting up in a chair, and I probably snored. But not as bad as the girl next me playing some kind of board game and snorting every 10 seconds. Oh the things you put up with in public locations.

We should have been in Dewey Beach already, for the start of the music festival, but we had one more gig in CT, at the Riverside, Danielson, about 12 minutes south of Putnam .Jenn, the booker, who's a sweet young gal who booked both nights for us (we found her on myspace!) set our expectations high for this gig, being a very trendy and popular restaurant on the river. When we got there, I can't say that it was trendy, but sure was popular, with families, who sauntered out for a meal from the woods, and their 4 children under the age of 4. All tables, families and kids. Where is my kids song collection when I need it! Melissa looked stunned and wondered how she was going to ease off from her fiery angsty soul wrenching repertoire to be more on the family audience side. I decided that I wouldn't perform "Touch Me" nor "Naked" and even "Temperamental Angel" turned into a family rated song where I got all the kiddies to hand clap through the song. Ho Hum. We did get a great fish meal out of it, with Melissa having white sea bass, and I had salmon.

Lessons learned on this trip.... be choosy with the gigs, even when all we need are nights to fill between one and another. Be humble and don't carry any airs about how hot we think we are, when the best audience member could be a three year old, who claps along and dances in the middle of the restaurant. Be ok with making $30 tips and put it all down to experience, the journey, building strength and becoming more and more clear where you REALLY want to be.

On to Montclair NJ at 10pm at night, half way between here and Dewey Beach. Worthy of a mention is the Tapan Zee Bridge, on the border of Connecticut, NY and NJ, and where a little town called Nyack sits right on the Hudson in upper NY. It's a wondrous bridge, that spans similarly like the Golden Gate in SF. And Nyack has some houses that i could definitely live in, right on the water, with the leaves changing on magnificent trees around. The leaves are really changing now in the North East, and it's certainly something that reflects my mind state.

We could be anywhere, but we are here, and we are growing as artists, human beings, and souls.

Melissa says "we're 30 bucks and 2 fish richer with our 20 apples". That's right!

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