Two gigs this weekend. That is just great. Playing one after the next is what playing live music is all about really. It gets and keeps you in the flow of your energy. Always gives opportunities to refine tonight on what you learned last night.
Saturday it is off to Brussels at ‘Aux 12 Chaises’. If you don’t know what that means grab a chair and try a translation app. I have never played there before which makes for adventure from the moment I get to the door. Sounds like a tiny place, no? So if you wanna be sure of a seat, come early. You’ll get the extra treat of watching me set up, a ritual in itself. Apart from the fact that it is an ever changing ritual, of course, depending on the circumstances, I have become quite adept at fitting 3 guitars and myself on, say, 1,5 square meters. ‘Don’t wag your tail, you’ll topple the sanseveria in the window.’ I used to be the lead singer in a band that actually played some big (well, medium) sized stages and I enjoyed that a lot. Becoming a one man band takes one to smaller venues, for now (he said hopefully). But I still want to move around a lot when I play.
So recently I have (finally!) acquired myself a head mic, a thingy that fits on your ears and has a tiny mic next to your mouth. Its designers seem to assume that they gave the gizmo the color of human skin – I think it rather resembles pinkish toilet paper – it has been a joy. Actually that is putting it Way too mildly. Liberation, that’s what it is.
The one object I truly loathe in music is the microphone stand. Never mind the easily ‘trip-overeable’ guitar cables, the absent (or shrieking, for that matter) monitor speakers, go ahead, pour on those (urgh, red!) spot lights that turn my guitar’s fret board into a murky sea of invisibility, but please, not the hell of the microphone stand.
It will pivot away from you during your most emotional note like someone trying to avoid a kiss and its hinge will make it take a bow so the mic hits you in the teeth just when you want to sing and it just stands there, smirking at you when, eyes closed, you start singing the next refrain completely next to the mic instead of in it. But, really, these are minor problems. The One Major Issue I have with the microphone stand is simply: its very Presence on Stage. Whenever I want to start singing I have to go to it. So when I get deeply into some groove that is so very into the Moment I have to keep some internal controller going who tells me I need to move back to the damn thing in order to be heard when I start the next verse. How into the Moment can one be, then? And if I am playing something on my guitar that is so difficult that I feel the need to see where my fingers are and I want to sing at the same time, I am forced to crane my neck, look down out of the corner of my eye sockets while my lobsided lips are trying to keep in contact with the mic to get my voice out. Apart from giving me cramps it makes me look like I am the victim of some strange seizure, which, in a way, I am at that point.
So here is to the head mic. Even if it makes me look a bit like Lieutenant Uhura (one finger on ear: ‘Still no contact, captain.’) it gives me true artistic bodily intergrity playing live. Feel free to come and judge its color for yourself.
Welcome, dear reader. If it is your first time here, feel free to browse the Archives for the charted past of the making of my debut CD and the subsequent US mini-tour last year. If on the other hand you are returning to this place after a quite spell: welcome back.
In two weeks I will be off for a month long trip through the southern states of the US. I will be playing gigs, solo and with my, by now, Friend, Jimmy Robinson and others. I also hope to be recording tracks in a fine New Orleans studio. I am looking forward to new adventures, meeting a wide range of people, high way hypnosis, an in depth survey of roadside eating establishments and the inevitable spice of life: unforeseen circumstances.
There is a certain charm in returning to a place you have been before. I will be doing quite a lot of that in the time to come. First place on the list is here, this blog. I signed in and saw a picture of me and some Texan bikers, taken in Austin about a year ago(!). Austin is one place I will Not be returning to, this year. On the other hand, loads of brand new destinations are slowly showing their silhouette on the horizon.
So it has been a while since I blogged here. How have I been? Pretty good, thank you. Response to ‘Meet FLOATSTONE’ ranged from satisfying to frustrating, from harsh to euphoric, from pedantic to awed. I consider it a worthy step along a worthwhile path. The learning process was immense, both in practical, personal and intra-personal knowledge. I have it under the belt. The second CD is in the making, in a different kind of process, a direct result of making the first one and what experience it has brought me.
So if you wanna take that ride with me, be my guest. I am leaving on a jet plane. But not yet, first there are a few more ‘warm-up’ concerts close by, one of which will bring me back to the place where, in fact, it all started (again) years ago. I cherish the chance.
If you already are a follower of this blog, wipe the crumbs off the seat and buckle up (if you feel safer that way). If you are new and want to join the Ride, you can make a wordpress account and go to http://meetfloatstone.wordpress.com to get a seat OR you can send me a mail at email@example.com so I can let you know when a new post has been published.
Until soon, I hope.
PS. Why the mouse? Patience, reader, patience…
Austin. Texas. Nice. The city is Full of motorbikes. It’s the annual ROT bikers meeting, which brings over a hundred thousand bikers and biker chicks to the city. I have never seen and heard so many Harley Davidsons in my life, or bandanas for that matter. I am just incredibly lucky to have found a motel room this weekend. The motel parking lot is full of ‘em. These guys look like you don’t wanna pick a fight with ‘em. But if you take their pic, they love you a lot. Also, of course, there is my secret weapon: my guitar case. ‘Where ya playin’ at?’ ‘Tomorrah, (my Texan is gettin’ ta be real goowed) Skinny’s Ballroom at 8. Over on San Jacinto Boulevarrrr.’
‘Well tomorrah nite, Ted Nugent is the headliner at ROT.’ Well, I guess they wouldn’t wanna miss that. I would. But then, I come from a different world. Not any better, just different. If we got talking politics they would probaly consider me a communist. Real nice guys by the way, from Amarillo, Texas. The offer to send them the pic taken gives me the following address (server name changed to respect privacy): firstname.lastname@example.org. You gotta love ‘em.
South Congress is where it’s at in Austin. Bars with live music, great eating places, both restaurants and redesigned chrome caravans, great coffee with the ubiquitous free wifi. I could live here. So to speak. I drink a Belgian Bomber, an iced coffee named after a Belgian who kept asking for strong ice coffee that wasn’t sweet. We have taste, we really do. Since my gig at Flipnotics fell through at the last moment I have a day off. I spend it relaxing, noticing how very tired this trip is really making me, eating great food. I visit Flipnotics on what should have been my night. A small venue, filled to the brim. Outside lots of nooks and crannies to sit privately. I play guitar under the trees, I have exquisite latte. Life is good.
And last night I played Skinny’s Ballroom, my last US concert. Skinny’s is a narrow downtown bar with an excellent stage (lit with chandeliers!) a top notch sound guy and simply the best monitor mix I have ever experienced. I am blessed. My last US gig, I get to play for an hour and I get these circumstances to do it i. I repeat myself I know, but the crowd love what I do. I thoroughly enjoy this gig. Afterwards folks are appreciative too, the sound guy, who obviously knows his way around tells me to please come back. That’s the ticket.
Speaking of tickets, using them right now. I sit here finishing my last US blog post (for this trip anyway) at Houston airport, after having driven from Austin, early in the morning. Soon I’ll be in the clouds, which is a great place to end, since it’s a metaphor for where this whole experience has brought me as well as one for what will be the follow up on the venture. Things are looking good though, made great contacts, had beautiful musical encounters, have some plans and some work in the bag. Looks somewhat like a sunrise above the clouds at 10,000 feet. You should see that if you ever get the chance.
For those who are both Aurally and Visually Inclined, here’s the video from the performance of ‘The Well’ in New Orleans:
Last night I played my last Nashville set. The Basement sits, of course, in the basement of a record store. Entering it catapulted me back to my student days. Brick walls, low ceiling, spot lights: a dive. Full of college students and their friends. A young crowd, rock ‘n roll. I smile. Just what I needed, just what I didn’t expect to find in the city of rhinestone shirts. I hear a couple of bands play. They are all pretty good. I am second on the list for the New Faces Night. First on is another band called The Crumbs. Three guys, basic setup: drums, bass, guitar. They are, frankly, outstanding. Tight, energetic, balls. Adrenaline rush. Tough act to follow in a place like this with my sole acoustic guitar. But I have gotten such a kick out of hearing them play, I walk on stage, feel Totally at home and do a four song set I am quite happy with, it’s fast, energetic and yes, it has balls. Crowd enjoys it, like I do.
In the afternoon I had visited Gruhn’s Music in dowtown Nashville, simply the world’s best acoustic guitar store. If I had as much money as I had urge I would have walked out with two extra guitars. The store people are All experts in guitars, upstairs is a luthier’s workshop where guitars are custom prepared and there is the vintage room with priceless items. My host had heard me play my Takamine Limited Edition, pockmarked from all the torture I put it through. He was very appreciative of its sound. ‘You know what would really suit your style of playing? A Guildcrest.’ So he got on the phone and called George Gruhn personally to ask about a Guildcrest. Possible, yes, to be ordered, at 25,000$. Err, thanks for inquiring, but I will wait a while with that. At the store I sat in between the biggest collection of banjos and resonator guitars I have ever come across and there I fell in love with a cutaway National resonator guitar, but I turned my heart away from my wallet, walked on, looked back and walked on. Tried a baritone 8 string guitar which was talking to me as well, stepped away until its murmur was drowned behind the private room I had been offered to try it in. I Did buy a lot of strings that are just impossible to get at home and which I will eagerly try, an ingenious capo and two bottlenecks, which would really come to life on that National guit….Oh shut up.
And now, as I sit here in the morning sun, the birds and squirrels around me, the hammering of the woodpeckers in the trees, as I am getting ready to head for Austin and the last part of this trip, I am thinking this town is great too in a Completely different way from New Orleans. There are possibilities here if you want to go find them. There are extremely friendly people to meet, there is my host, who knows so much about this town and who loves what I do. There is truly, lots to think about. Which is good since that was the idea in the first place :to get experience and information out of this trip.
One thing that has struck me deeply is this: People on the whole, in this country as in mine, generally like my guitar style a lot. But over here, and only over here, they truly grasp the depth of my lyrics. The appreciation for my lyrics out here is Truly remarkable, it warms my heart to hear and feel directly expressed to me what my words Do to people. A gift in return for the gift I seem to give. And so, maybe it is no real surprise then, although really it Was to me: I have been approached here to write lyrics to a remarkable melody.
Another lil foot in?
I went to The Bluebird Café at 5. The Bluebird is the most important songwriter venue in Nashville. Many a career of famous songwriters and singers originally took off from there. Write in for playing starts at 5:30 and ends at 5:45. You fill in a slip of paper with your name, put it in the basket marked ’1st try’ and hope for your name to be drawn out. If so, you get to play one song. If you are not drawn you retrieve your slip and it gets stamped. Next time you come you can put it in the basket marked ’2nd try’ and you will play for sure.
The Bluebird Café sits in an unlikely spot in a row of stores along a road with a big strip of parking lot in front of it. As I arrive there’s is a 50 m line of people with guitars already cueing for the write up. By the time I get in line it has grown 10 more meters and it will continue to grow as I wait. Rather surreal. Wanna feel like the number you are as an artist in this town? Head out to this line. I get recognized and my hand gets shaken by other performers who were at The Commodore last night. ‘You rocked, man”.
In front of me in line stands Beatty, a friendly Nashville songwriter with a bald head, a ZZ top beard and a headless Hohner electric guitar over his shoulder. He explains everything I just wrote about the line up. He has a stamped slip from a previous night and actually doesn’t know yet whether he will use it or take his chances of getting drawn directly today. His head is getting sunburnt. I lend him my -unused by me, I got callous on my skull- cowboy hat. An assertive hostess in a white dress addresses the line about the procedure, making clear that not everybody will actually fit inside so those in the back of the line might not even get into the draw. We’ll see.
But I do get in, write my name on a slip of paper, drop it in the right basket and sit down on a bench to await the verdict next to a wall covered with pictures of writers and singers who got their career launched right here. First the host comes on stage and explains how it works at the Bluebird Café: Dont play a long song, don’t play long solo’s, be tuned and ready to walk on as the number before you walks of, NO talking in the room while someone is performing. And oh yes, the open mic here exists for 30 years now and because of that it will end an hour earlier so less people will get to play. Alright. Very businesslike this place is, and jam packed. Here comes the draw: thirteen people with a stamp first and then ten-something new ones. My name is not drawn. Oh well, I can go and play The Back Alley Diner later on anyway.
And then karma, or whatever you might wanna call it, strikes. I watch Beatty, who didn’t use his stamp and whose name Was drawn from the ’1st try’ basket, walk up to the host and hear him say ‘This gentleman here came all the way from Europe and is only in town for four days. I would like to give him my spot.’ How about that for being a true gentleman? So all of a sudden I am ‘number fifteen’. I watch, once again, a bunch of pretty mediocre artists lightened up by some pearls of true talent. I walk on, play ‘Lucky Star’ and get a great response. I give Beatty my CD as a token of my gratitude. I can mark the Bluebird on my list of played venues. However famous, it is definitely not my kind of place. It feels like it lives on the dreams of so many writers hoping for fame and glory, like an industry in itself. It’s true, people Have been discovered here, but the process is mixed with promo for songwriters courses, workshops, demo recording studios and the likes. In itself, a probably necessary, side niche industry of what Nashville as a music city is about.
Off into the evening. Heading dowtown, in between the skyscrapers. There is an alley called the Back Alley. In the middle of it sits, what else, The Back Alley Diner in between the back doors of offices and large shops, loading docks for trucks. Just as unlikely a place as where the Bluebird sits. At the bottom of the stairs leading to the door two young people with guitars are rehearsing. I recognize the girl as another fifteen year old I saw play at the Commodore Grill last night. She is a phenomenal talent. They are working on a duet. Just met right here, heard each other play and since there is room for more performing they decided to just go for it. That’s the spirit. Inside, a cozy bar, a small but entirely attentive crowd. Laid back, I like it a lot. I eat, listen to colleagues, I play four songs and people just love what I bring. Afterwards Julia Knight (remember that name) and her impromptu colleague with the equally wonderful voice and whose name I forgot, do the two songs they rehearsed outside and they are just great. Julia does a few more. I get asked to play more too. I do. A great experience. People walk up to me to talk, ask about my playing style, one tells me she fell in Love with me after five seconds. Very honest and straight from the heart. Smiles all around. Music is Magic.
Nashville. Music City USA. And, as my host who has lived and worked in the business here for 32 years states, The songwriters capital of the world. Everything oozes music here. And the city is Full of songwriters. So far I have thoroughly enjoyed becoming one more unknown fish in the ocean.
I drove in from New Orleans straight to a spot at Richard’s Café just outside of Nashville, strangely enough a Louisiana Restaurant with New Orleans style kitchen. Richard’s is heavily solicited by songwriters because they get to play longer there. His criteria for selecting artists to play at his place are tough, so getting a spot on the merit of my music’s website and the list of my shows posted there was already an acknowledgement of what he thinks of my music. The place was quiet and the patrons were very attentive. Richard joined in at the end playing some funky riffs on ‘On Fire.’
After a good nights sleep in what must be the best spot in the hills surrounding Nashville, playing a lot of guitar out in the sun, watching the hummingbirds, blue jays, cardinals and squirrels frolic, it was off to the Commodore Grill for its songwriters night and open mic. It starts at seven and ends at eleven. Within those four hours about fifty songwriters offer their songs to the audience. The big aim in this town for songwriters is to Sell a song. People live in the hopes of having someone from ‘the industry’ to be in the room and show interest in the song to be recorded by another, published, artist.
The writers at the beginning of the night get to play three songs. It goes like this: there are four stools, mikes and guitar cables and on walk four writers who, taking turns, play a song each. They do this for three turns, off they go and four new ones walk on. These guys and gals have already passed an earlier test, that allows them to play three songs: they have played the Open Mic before. The Open Mic, which comes after singers night is actually an Audition for the first part of the evening. Most of the songwriters I saw play weren’t very outstanding performers, singers or guitarists. That is not really the point here, as I said they want to sell the song they wrote. It becomes quickly obvious they just about all know each other from going from one singersnight to the next and it is clear that many write in collaboration. Lyrically themes range from ‘my ole country village’ over ‘I don’t know why you left me’ to songs built around one original line like ‘Where there is a will, there is a relative’. It’s the classic Americana romanticism that seems to be a standard here and which I personally find abysmally boring and wrung out, but hey, I am from another continent and listening to (which actually I don’t) our Belgian tear jerk singers is just as irritating.
Then came Open Mic and I walked on between a fifteen year old girl with braces and a real cool snappy song and an all american blonde with a classic country voice that, hopefully for her, will get picked up someday. When it was my turn I played ‘Lucky Star’ and, honestly, I got the biggest response of the whole evening, which was of course, a great thrill. This crowd is here for the music, this crowd listens. Slapping my guitar and hitting the harmonics, well, they love it. Strangely enough I thought the overall level of the open micers was higher than the songwriters before, heard some excellent people.
Afterwards I talked to a few colleagues, got business cards and an offer from Rich Krieger, an outstanding young songwriter from California to come and play gigs over there. ‘He’s got Northern California covered for me’. We’ll stay in touch, obviously. Debi Champion, host of the Commodore’s Writers night was telling me with a wide smile I am ‘welcome anytime’ in the future for a 3 song spot at her songwriters night.
Seems like I have elegantly got a tiny foot in the door here.