Apr 30, 2009

Burning That Bridge

When it comes to commercial songwriting there are a few things that you can always count on. These aspects of songwriting include but are not limited to repeating hooks, catchy lyrics, and consistent structure. Most people recognize or relate with songs that contain more than one of these things without even thinking about it. More often than not, these components make or break a song, really, they are what commercial songwriting is all about.

As a songwriter, I write for enjoyment but I can't help but want people to enjoy my music as well. My listener's enjoyment always fits into the equation when I'm writing a song. I search my brain for meaningful and creative lyrical ideas, memorable hooks that make my tune recognizable, and I follow song structures that most popular songs have today. (Most popular songs of all time for that matter.)

When I say structure, I'm referring to the verse/chorus/verse/chorus route that is most common. It's really the most popular and accepted way to go, just turn on the radio or pop in your favorite cd. Even though there are so many other options I find myself falling back there every time. I don't see anything wrong with it right now, I just want to pump out quality tunes. But the big decision is what to do after that second chorus and most commonly becomes the downfall to most of my song ideas, especially of late.

This spot after the second chorus is a common place for a bridge. It's the part of the song that should tie together the song, basically creating a "bridge" from the main part of the song and connect it to the end. A bridge allows you to piece together your story giving closure and making sense to the meaning behind your ideas.

It's easy to try to add that bridge even when it's not needed just to fit that structure that feels so right. I've found the bridge is an easy fall back when you have no idea what to do next. Maybe throw in a couple of minor chords, hold out a couple of vocal notes, call it good and hit the chorus for the last time. But when is it right to burn the bridge and add a solo to build to an exciting climax or even another verse?

I fight with every song to make sure it's not the same as the last and keeping away from the imminent bridge is always a good start . You can follow similar structures and write songs that feel right without forcing parts that just don't fit. Knowing when not to force it is the important part and that's a battle that I'm fighting on a song to song basis. My intuition usually treats me well and I tend to follow it whenever I can. Get that intuition to pair with a little inspiration and we'll all be in business.

Apr 29, 2009

I'm Back Baby (Random Pics)

Not sure if it's a good thing but I'm back at "home" in Kansas. I spent the last week cruising around New England, wearing a monkey suit for a wedding, visiting the family, and flying on various sized airplanes from airport to airport while trying to avoid the swine flu.

(I'd never flown on anything as big as a 757 before and that on-flight entertainment is key! I listened to some 70's and 80's tunage, watched some Two and Half Men and 30 Rock, and also listened to the captain talk to air traffic control. It's cool stuff.)

I say I'm not sure if it's a "good thing" that I'm back here in Kansas because of the habits I've gotten myself into. I was hoping the trip back to my real home (or at least original home) would change things but I'm seeing myself sink into that same old routine no sooner than this morning after getting back late last night.

I didn't so much as open my lyric book the whole trip and my guitar is still in her bed. So sad. Overall the trip went well though. We flew into Portland, Maine. Had to do some driving between Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. They look close together but there are a lot of roads and trees among all three.

I got to see most of my family, KJ's family, and even my little nephew. (Yeah, he's a cat.) Also had a chance to visit the old alma mater, the University of Maine. It's always interesting checking out the old workplace, Alfond Arena. Got to chat with the former boss and see all
the crazy changes that have taken place since I've been there. Of course, it's almost May so there was no ice.

I'm rambling, I apologize. I just wanted to say that I'm back and ready to get back in the swing of things. Hopefully not too in the swing of things because my old habits are killing me. It's not making me music and sure as hell isn't getting me a job.

Keep rockin', I've got some catching up to do. I need to unpack, do laundry, some random cleaning, and watch lots of tv shows on the DVR.

Apr 21, 2009

Message To My Readers and Fellow Entrecarders

If you read my message below you'll see I'm heading out of town (more like half way across the country) for a week. Since I'm not very technologically advanced my blog posts and Entrecard drops are going to be struggling a bit in the next week.

I think my connectivity rating is probably a 2 out of 10. No internet on my cell phone, no laptop with wi-fi; I won't be blog posting from airport terminals or Tweeting from an airport tarmac.

So as far as Entrecard is concerned I won't be consistently dropping back like I always do for the next week, so don't take offense. I really appreciate you dropping and I'll make up for it when I get back.

And for all you other readers, I'll be hitting up a computer when I can so keep checking back. I really appreciate all my readers and all my Entrecard droppers, you're a major motivation for me to keep this blog rolling.

Keep rockin' everyone!

It's Finally Time...I'm Going Home

I thought April 22nd seemed like it was ages away but it's almost here. Tomorrow morning (very early tomorrow morning), KJ and I heading to the airport in Kansas City to hitch a flight to Portland, Maine. That's with a connector in Chicago. Once we arrive we're heading straight down to Massachusetts so we can be involved with our roommates wedding in New Hampshire on Friday.

(Wow, I didn't realize how many states this involved until this very minute.)

On Saturday we're driving back up to Maine to spend some time with our fams before heading back to Kansas next Tuesday. It's going to be a hectic and very long week, but it will be worth it. I'm still coughing up a lung and though my sinus congestion is much better, I'm afraid this could be a bit miserable. I'm hoping for the best though and doing all I can to at least get better by Friday.

We still haven't done any packing. That's my job for today. (Here I am procrastinating by writing this message.) I also wanted to clean this place up a bit so we don't come back to a hell hole. My plan is to polish up my guitar and put her to bed for the first time in a long time so she doesn't collect more dust than necessary. I wish I could take her with me but putting her through baggage claim sketches me out something wicked. Plus, I don't think I'd have much opportunity to play. (I'm here close to 24/7 and I've barely touched her lately. Sad.)

Being sick is way more distracting to my personal writing process than I wish it was. I'm easily distracted anyway but when I'm constantly coughing, sneezing, and amazingly frustrated for being sick in the first place, it doesn't bode well for my state of mind or my creativity. (I know excuses, excuses but I'm a finicky artist.)

But anyway, enough procrastinating, I need to get to work. It's going to be a long week my friends. Keep rockin!

Apr 19, 2009

Abba-Zaba: Taffy, Peanut Butter, Music In Food

I'm still rockin' this sinus infection so I didn't get much sleep last night and it got me thinking...about Abba-Zaba bars. You know, the chewy taffy with the peanut butter center. You may not agree but I feel that is truly music in food form.

If you've never had an Abba-Zaba you're truly missing out. It's known for it's famous yellow and black checked wrapper and I've read that they are mostly found west of the Rockies. But you can find them at specialty candy stores and sometimes grocery stores all over the country. I'm pretty sure I found my first one at a Shaw's Supermarket in Maine. (That's a complete guess.)

The first time I remember seeing one was in the movie Half Baked when young Thurgood Jenkins (Dave Chappelle's character) and his friends get high for the first time and as they decide to go on a munchy run he pulls a gigantic weed hallucinated bar off the shelf. (Enjoy the clip here.)

KJ got me one on her trip to Kansas City yesterday and I couldn't have been more excited. It's been quite a while since I enjoyed the "long lasting fun" of an Abba-Zaba. It truly was music in my mouth. If you know me or have followed this blog, you know it's hard to go wrong with me and peanut butter, hence "The Peanut Butter Cup Analogy", my fave piece of clothing being a bright orange shirt bearing the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup logo...and oh yeah, I just ate at Fluffernutter sandwich.

(I hope you're following me in this post. First Abba-Zaba, now Fluffernutter. A lot of people don't know what a Fluffernutter sandwich is. An east coast thing as far as I know. It's basically a peanut butter and Marshmallow Fluff sandwich, Fluff being marshmallow creme.)

Yeah, this barely has anything to do with music but I get excited about little things. That's how compelling my life is that moment. With that and being sick it's the smallest things that bring me the most joy. Do yourself a favor and find yourself an Abba-Zaba. Warning to those without strong teeth, it takes some work but it's well worth it.

Rock on!

Live Shows, I Dropped The Ball On This One

After my visit to Kansas City to see Bela Fleck a couple of weeks ago, I really started to think about how much I miss going to shows. (It was a great story. If you missed it check it out here.) I also thought about how it would be give me a good chance to share my experiences, pictures and all.

Bela Fleck and the African Project was a good chance to expand my musical horizons a little a bit, get a little cultured, and truly get a different perspective on music. (It's easy to get in a "rut" by always listening to the same music and not giving those other genres a chance.) Back in college and the couple years after I used to hit up a lot of shows, not only because I was in a band, but because it was so fun and intense to catch my favorite bands in a live show. I'd really like to get back in the habit of seeing shows consistently, and I can't help but want to hit up the hard rocking shows that I'm used to.

Though I really don't want to spend the money, I've been consistently searching for shows in the area so I can start to get my rock on once again. Being only about an hour away from KCMO, the odds of finding big shows is definitely up. Also, living in a great music town like Lawrence gives me the good chance to hit up local bands on a nightly basis. My search usually starts at Jambase.com, which is a great concert directory for any area you're looking to see a show.

A couple of weeks ago, even without the help of sites like Jambase.com, I learned about an amazing show put on 98.9 The Rock in Kansas City. It's an annaul festival called Rock Fest that we heard about last year but just missed as we moved out after it took place. I thought this was going to be the show to get me out of my drought.

The festival is ginormous. We're talking about close to 20 bands including Korn, Buckcherry, Shinedown, Theory of a Deadman, Saving Abel, Rev Theory and Drowning Pool. We're talking two stages set in the middle of Kansas City. We're talking all day, rockin' hard with 50,000 people around you. I've never even imagined being part of a crowd this big and a show this hardcore but this year was going to be the year. Pre-sale tickets were only $20 a piece, we'd snag them before they sold out, and we'd be heading to KCMO on May 30th.

Or so I thought.

When it came down to actually getting the tickets I kind of procrastinated. As excited as I was about the show, it was still hard justifying the $40, $40 that I really don't have. (Don't forget, jobless dude here.) So I waited. The first day of pre-sale passed, the second day passed, and by the third day the need to buy immediately passed my mind until about 20 minutes after it was too late.

The price more of less doubled (I definitely couldn't justify it then, not matter how bad I wanted to go) and as of right now, all 50,00 tickets are sold out. I totally dropped the ball on this one and I know I'm going to be kicking myself all summer. Maybe I got the punishment I deserved with this ridiculous sinus infection that's had me in bed for the past 3 days.

Needless to say I'm going to be getting right on the next tickets that I want to purchase if I want to get this live show trend on a roll. Either that or I'm getting started slowly by hitting up some local bands and testing the local scene's waters. I like supporting local artists because I know from experience how hard it is to get those people in front of you.

Eh, for now, back to bed. It's Sunday, and I'm alone all day. I'm feeling ok about that.

Apr 15, 2009

Finding A Place of Solace

Sometimes you just have to get away. The need to "get away" doesn't need to be as dramatic as those Southwest Airlines commercials make it out to be but sometimes it can be just as necessary.

When it comes to writing music, I always like having that place that I can relax, be alone, and concentrate. Most of the time it's the corner of a quiet room or a certain chair that I find especially comfortable. I feel like having a place like this is essential to my creative process because no matter what I have those places that I can always rely on being creative.

At times, those places aren't really enough. So I feel finding a place outside my home, outside of the norm (especially this apartment where I spend way too much of my time) is key. It's a place to be away from the world, if only for a short time to collect my thoughts and really take in my surroundings.

Lately, oddly enough, that place has been my car. There's something relaxing about my car that I can't explain. It's nice to be able to drive somewhere, put it in park, listen to music or just sit in silence and write whatever may come out.

Yesterday in particular, my place of solace wasn't in the car but sitting on a rock wall in a field behind our complex. I hate to reveal my secret because now when no one can find me and it's a nice day, they may very well know where I am but yesterday was nice enough where I really have to share. (And I think most would understand if I'm there I want to be alone.)

This field isn't the nicest place around. It's in a spot where there used to be a house, back before this development existed. You can see the remnants of the driveway, what used to be some landscaping, and obviously, the rock wall where I sat. The view could be better, but not by much. It's marred by some left over construction junk, lots of houses, and a factory in the distance, but overall it's relaxing and beautiful to see the flatness of Kansas but also the surprising hilliness as well.

I sat on that rock wall for a little more than an hour with my Moleskine notebook in my lap. I wasn't sure what I wanted to write, all I knew was that I wanted to put the pen to paper. The light breeze made it difficult at times to hold the pages down and I got a bit of a sunburn but my time up there resulted in almost two full pages of writing. The writing ended up being a list of ideas for posts on this very blog, this post idea was #42.

I'll admit I kind of got carried away while I was up there as well. It was so relaxing to sit in the breeze soaking in the sun that I found myself staring off into the distance for a unknown amount of time. If someone were to walk by they probably would have looked at me kind of funny. But beside that little bit of a sunburn on the back of my neck it worked out ok. I don't think I'd have it any other way.

It's nice to know that that place is there and I look forward to finding more of those places in this great Kansas landscape. I can only hope that it leads to some good inspiration.

Even if you don't write, whatever you do, do you have a place of solace, a place to get away?

Apr 14, 2009

Entrecard 300 Drops, WTH!

So this is very off topic and readers that aren't members of Entrecard probably won't understand. None the less, I had to say something.

As you know if you're an Entrecard member, EC has a 300 drop a day limit. Yesterday I decided that I'd try to rack up some credits, first off, by getting my daily drops in. 300 doesn't sound like that much so I figured it wouldn't be a big deal. Maybe take me an hour or a little more.

Holy crap, not even close! It took me close to a full day of off and on dropping. I decided to use a new technique which was to use the Firefox EC toolbar like Graham suggested thinking it would give me some speed but after a little while I'd start hitting blogs that didn't have a widget so the toolbar vanished or blogs that no longer exist. It turned out to be a nightmare.

I finally hit 300 sometime around 6:30 in the evening after starting late morning. I've read on a lot of blogs that some people make it a habit of dropping their max 300 every day. So for those of you out there, fill me in, how do you do it?

I'm definitely not making a run at 300 today. I think I'll stick with my normal technique of hitting back my faves and also those that drop me. So far that's been my best method but I tend not to find new blogs. Any insight is welcome. I'd appreciate it.

Apr 12, 2009

Lazy Sunday: Happy Easter!

So I'm still fighting off this cold and what a day for that, but it's going to be a good one, I can feel it. (It's always a good start when you get served breakfast in bed. Awwww, KJ.) It would be great to get rid of these sniffles but more than anything I'm looking forward to this delicious blueberry pie!

I can't take any credit for it, that goes to my KJ, but the sweet picture is all me. Oh yeah. It smells like heaven through the whole house, it's amazing.

Otherwise, I'm here to enjoy the aroma all alone as everyone else in the house went out for a nice Easter lunch with some friends. I basically wussed out and didn't want to spread my germs all over the place and ruin everyone's holiday non-illness.

It's nice to have some alone time which is usually a good time to do some playing, but I'm holding off with the singing to play it safe, plus I don't want my head to explode will all this sinus pressure. You probably didn't need to hear that but 'tis the truth.

Overall, I've been slacking and uninspired. Bad me. I promised to get the songwriting rolling this year and in the first 3 and half months I've only really rolled out two tunes (Only Apart and Done With This. Listen!). But there are many on the way and I really don't want to be all talk (or type in this case.)

But for now, I think I'll watch some Battlestar Gallactica (thanks Matt!) and drink some oj. Ahhhhhh....Have a rockin' Easter!

Apr 10, 2009

And The Tradition Continues

I have an on going tradition that has been alive since I've had the ability to drive as well as play cd's in my car. Even before that really, as sometimes I'd copy my cd's over to cassette so I could blast them in my first car that I drove to and from high school. (See From The CD Shelf, Our Lady Peace - Spiritual Machines)

This tradition involves the purchasing of new albums, immediately unwrapping them in the store parking lot, rolling down the windows, weather permitting, and taking the long route home to give my new purchase(s) the loud justice they deserve.

The tradition has taken a back seat lately as my cd purchasing has been few and far between with this lack of job crap. You know, this whole trying to be responsible stuff which I'm not doing to well with considering I don't even have a job. But my thirst for new music can't be held off too long and I'm the kind of person (apparently the rare kind of person recently) that likes to buy music and hold the album in his hand rather than download on the internet, whether it be legal or illegal.

I made the mistake of tempting myself a bit too much yesterday as I figured I'd change things up by getting out of the house for once. After filling my gas tank, I headed to Best Buy to kill some time. Being a media freak, whether it be music, movies, video games, or computers, Best Buy is one those places I could waste half a day (which is why I applied for a job there). If I happen to waste half of the day there, it's hard to come out empty handed. As was the case yesterday.

Earlier I had rummaged through my wallet and I found an old gift card that ended up having about $20 left on it, so I reasoned with myself that it was ok to pick out a cd or something else that was $20 or less. I took my sweet time picking something out, long enough where I got asked if I needed help 3 times, twice by the same guy. (Some people may see that as annoying but I say that's good service!)

Since Wii games are usually in the $50 price range I settled on a cd after my third trip through the section. (Each time I passed through I kept telling myself just because I had $20 it didn't mean I had to spend it.) Nothing really popped out except for the deluxe edition of the new album by Hinder titled "Take It To The Limit". I'm not a huge fan, but I really enjoyed their first album and they also put on a pretty good live show as KJ and I caught them when they played in Orono, Maine a couple of years ago.

If you haven't heard of Hinder, they are the epitome of the sex, drugs, and rock & roll rockers. This is not just evident in their songs like "Use Me" off this latest album and their hit "Get Stoned" from their first album, but also their album art.

I was given a little suprise when I tore open the package to the album in the Best Buy parking lot. I slid the cardboard case out of the outer cardboard sleeve and folded it open to be introduced to album art that is nothing short of pornographic. Nothing raunchy in my mind (Americans as a whole are a little prudish if you ask me) but there is plenty of female nudity and party pics with the band throughout, truly showcasing their I-don't-give-a-crap attitude about their perspective on rock & roll.

(What does a pineapple with sunglasses have to do with anything? I don't know, I just wanted another picture and I'm stupid.)

I guess I should have taken the adult content label a little more seriously when I picked it up but overall I think it's kinda funny and you gotta salute the band for doing it despite the controversy that it could bring. This album is definitely staying on a high shelf for when my kids decide they want to take a look through my music collection, when that time comes.

Overall, "Take It To The Limit" is a decent album. Upbeat tunes balanced with some touchy ballads, great melodies and the raunchy kind of writing that you'd expect from the band. (I can't say it's any worse subject-wise than what Nickelback has been putting out the last couple of albums.) It was a little chilly so I kept the windows mostly up for this long drive home but even with a full tank of gas and the long route home I still didn't get through the 17 tracks on this deluxe edition.

It probably won't be for a while but I can't wait for my next album purchase so I can keep the tradition going strong. Rock on!

Apr 8, 2009

Word Box Wednesday or Whiny Wednesday?

I'm feeling a bit under the weather today so I'm saying the heck with Word Box Wednesday this week. (Plus, I didn't really come up with anything else for the word "human". My bad.) So instead, this Wednesday is going to become Whiny Wednesday, minus the whining because I don't like to whine or complain. Instead I'm going to write about one of the rare times I got sick and it actually ended up being a deal, music wise that is.

Overall, I hate being sick. Especially the tiredness and the sore throat stuff because it impairs my ability to sing. I do a pretty good job at staying healthy but when I do get all phlegmy and sore, I get outright pissy. I can't help it. When you sing most everyday and you're not able to do it for a couple of days, or even as long as a week, it definitely sucks.

It was definitely a big deal in my Now Transmission days. As I was the lead singer it was important to keep my golden pipes in the best condition possible. I only remember canceling one show because of an illness and it had more to do with my muscle in my neck tweaking out and nothing to do with my vocal chords. I wanted to keep the streak alive when we headed to Boston for a Battle of the Bands. (Don't ask me the date or year, I'm blanking on that right now.)

It was a rare occasion that we headed to Boston for a gig but when we did it felt like the big time. Not that the shows really had that much more of a crowd than we were used to, it was just that big city feeling when you go from playing in East Nowhere, Maine to the hopping Boston metro.

This Boston gig was going to be spread over two nights. If we made it past the first round at a club called T.T. the Bears, we'd play the next night at the Middle East, a popular Cambridge club, for the finals. A couple of days before our trip I started to get a tickle in the back of my throat. This lead to plenty of coughing and eventually a good case of laryngitis, where I almost completely lost my voice. It was a similar feeling to one I had back on our very first show where I blew my voice in the middle of a set, but we don't need to talk about that.

This Battle of the Bands was a big deal for us so we decided to play the show, even though I wouldn't be singing. What we did was spontaneously switch the lineup a bit. Our bass player Jason moved to lead vocals, I went to lead guitar, and Ray, the lead guitarist went to bass. Obviously, Andy our drummer stayed behind his kit. Instead of playing our allotted two songs we rocked an unrehearsed version of our current "single" She's Not There by it's lonesome. (You can check out She's Not There on Now Transmission's Myspace.)

Jason was a great singer, I wasn't worried about this ability to rock it at the front of the stage, nor was I worried about Ray's bass skills. I was a little concerned with my skills on lead guitar. I wrote the song, so I knew how to play it, but these were the days before I strapped on a guitar to play rhythm so my on stage guitar chops were slim to none. We made it through just fine and caught a lucky break when not all the bands showed up and we got a free ride to the final round at the Middle East.

We rocked with the same configuration that night as well. We didn't win but I thought we definitely did the song justice especially considering the situation. It turned out to be a pretty fun change of pace with all of us (well, most of us) moving into another role we weren't used to but I can't even explain how frustrating it was not being able to do my true part, or even hold a conversation for that matter. I also always kind of wondered what would have happened had we been able to play two songs at full strength. I guess we'll never know.

Here's to never getting that sick again! It's the middle of the day but I think I'll down some NyQuil and hit this crap before it gets me down good so I can get some energy and get singing again. The sooner the better. Keep rockin'!

Update: I did some research to help out my terrible memory and discovered that this trip to Boston took place September 26th and 28th of 2005! Holy crap, that seems like ages ago!

Apr 6, 2009

Who Needs Guitar Lessons? I do.

It feels like a lot longer but I've only been playing guitar for about 8 years. I started fooling around with a guitar that my sister borrowed from a friend at the beginning of my senior year in high school. Then after messing around with basic chords and cruising the internet for tabs of easy songs that my fingers could most easily fumble through, my parents decided it was time for an upgrade, a guitar of my own. My journey with Siggy began at my high school graduation party.

It's been a good self-taught ride so far and I'm proud of where I've gotten myself so far. But my self-taughtness (Not a word is it?) is starting to shine through and my lack of skills is beginning to become frustrating.

I started writing music sometime in my first year in college, mostly with simple, first position chords and straight forward melodies. And really, there's nothing wrong with that. It's not the simplicity of the song but the quality of the song as a whole that makes it good. But, especially in recent years, as my songwriting skills have slowly developed, there are so many things that play in my head and that I want to fit into a song, but I just don't know how to translate it into actual music.

I know a lot of this has to do with my lack of technical knowledge when it comes to the guitar. I'm stuck playing the same chords, strumming the same rhythms, and altogether, not really knowing what I'm doing. I don't write music because I know it's musically correct, I write because I know what I like hear and I understand what sounds good and fits together.

Once I net myself a job I think one of my top priorities is to find someone locally that I can build some knowledge from. I know if I want to take my music to the next level and if I want to get out of the rut that I've been in, I need to learn more than I have the patience to teach myself.

Reading books, getting tips and learning other people's songs is all well and good, but sitting down with someone that has much more guitar knowledge than me is really going to make all the difference. Back in college I had similar thoughts about my singing skills and how I could improve for the band I was in. I took lessons for a month or so and though a bit uncomfortable, I feel it really made a difference.

So first comes job, then comes money, then comes guitar mastery. Good plan.

Apr 4, 2009

Rockin' at the Phog

We just got back from the WNIT basketball championship at Allen Fieldhouse. It matched the University of Kansas versus South Florida. The Jayhawks dropped it 75-71.

We decided to head to downtown Lawrence this morning before breakfast and get us some KU t-shirts so our New England butts would fit in a little. Our closests are full of Maine blue but no crimson and blue.

It was pretty intense to be part of the largest crowd to watch a women's basketball game at the Phog (16,311). These Jayhawk fans take their basketball seriously out here. It's too bad they couldn't pull it out but it was a good experience none the less. Hopefully we can hit up a men's game next year as well and see what it's all about.

Apr 3, 2009

Bela Fleck and the Africa Project in KCMO

I was worried that today's story about the show in KCMO (Kansas City, Missouri for those unaware) would end up "running out of gas" like yesterday's story about the KU women's basketball game. Boy, was I wrong. In fact, I'm not sure how I thought that this trip would let down, especially with the outcome.

Last night I went to the famous Uptown Theater in KCMO with a couple of friends to see Bela Fleck and the African Project. If you aren't familiar with Bela Fleck, he is a 11-time Grammy winning artist that is considered one of the premier banjo players in the world. He has gained extensive notiriety with his group Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and has performed all around the world showcasing a style of banjo playing that makes you see the instrument in a brand new light. (belafleck.com)

Minus his Flecktones, this show showcased collaborations with a group of mostly African performers whose instrumental talents ranged from acoustic guitar and kalimba to a harp called a kora and a tin can full of broken glass attached to a stick. The modest sized crowd was even treated to a taste of incredible bluegrass fiddle playing which blended almost seamlessly with the African vibe despite some technical difficulties with the mics. The speed, accuracy and passion that these performers displayed left my mind blown at the talent that these musicians hold.

Each performer brought their own cultural and personal touches to the mix as they performed individually or in duets while also collaborating with Bela on his banjo. The end of the night culminated in a 2 song, stage crowding finale that brought the whole night together into a rhythmic chorus of strings, percussion and vocals that filled the room, kept your foot tapping and forced a smile upon your face.

Though this music isn't usually what's adorning my music playlists, the night was a true cultural awakening and a major eye opener to the musical possibilities that surround us. A show like this gives you a great appreciation for music as an art form that goes way beyond radio singles, charts, and popularity contests. I highly recommend dropping your pop music expectations and checking out Bela Fleck in any of his collaborative incarnations. Our tickets were free from a friend, but I would have paid good money to gain this great experience.

And though the music truly showcased the night, the story does nothing but get better. The doors opened at 7:00pm and since we were about 40 minutes early, we decided to hit up a bar that was across the street. The minute we walked into the bar, a sports bar no less, we had a weird vibe, but not being familiar with the area we brushed it off. It didn't take more than a couple of minutes to realize something was up as one of us noticed a pair of golden testicles hanging from the ceiling. This is where we pieced things together.

With the fear of being stereotypical here, things started to become obvious. The bar was full of men, not odd for a sports bar, but these men were pretty friendly with each other, namely the pair behind the bar serving drinks. Along with the cherry in my friend's drinks and the poster of a shirtless David Beckham behind the pool table, it was rather obvious that we had stumbled into a gay bar.

A quick cell phone internet search proved our theories. After the drinks were finished we leisurely walked out of the place with what seemed like a hundred pairs of eyes on us, although that was probably in my head. But the story doesn't end there.

We turned the corner and walked toward the theater only to be accosted by what I assumed to be a homeless man who spun us a story about how he had just been released from prison after a 25 year jail sentence and he needed any contributions we could muster so that he could buy a pair of boots for $7.50 at the Salvation Army for a construction job he had lined up for the next day. My friends handed over some leftover change from our gay bar experience to help the man out. Can't say I believed the whole story but the guy had a firm handshake going for him.

Overall, it was a very exciting night. Sorry for the novel, just had to get this out, I couldn't make this stuff up!

Apr 2, 2009

Pump Up The Jock Jams

You tend to forget the intensity and the sheer magnitude of a live sporting event when you haven't been to one in a while. You see the ruckus on tv, you see the insane fans and the action on the field or court, but you really don't get the whole vibe. It's about being among thousands of people, most of whom are cheering for the same outcome. It's about having to scream to the person next to you just to be heard over the cheering, the band, or the loudspeaker that's blasting AC/DC during a timeout.

I haven't been to many games recently, especially compared to when I was in college where I attended most every home men's and women's basketball as well as men's ice hockey game. Since I've moved to Kansas I've only caught one game which was a KU football game in the rain. That is, until my roomies gave us some tix for KJ, I and a couple of friends to hit up the KU women's basketball game in the Final Four of the WNIT last night. (That's the Women's National Invitation Tournament for those unaware. It's basically a tourney for those that don't make the NCAA tournament.)

Of course, the game was at the historic Allen Fieldhouse. It was filled to about half capacity (about 8,300 people) for this game against Illinois State and it was pretty intense. I can't imagine being in the place for a big men's basketball game, they did win the national championship last year. The sounds and the overall vibe transported me back to my college days while I was working at Alfond Arena for men's ice hockey games. (Hockey is to UMaine as basketball is to the University of Kansas.)

It took a few minutes to get used to the blasting pep bands, just like the old days, but once the game started, the action was the highlight and it was great to see the KU women make it to the championship with a close fought win. I look forward to hitting up the championship game on Saturday right there at "The Phog".

To cap off a fun night, the four of us got shown on the scoreboard screen, the first time I'd ever been on there. I played it cool and just kept clapping. I didn't feel like being one of those people that goes nuts waving or hides their face in embarrassment. Oh, and we did get caught in the parking garage while my "low gas" light glared me in the face. I was a little nervous but we made it out alright. I can say that would have been a lot more embarrassing than getting my 10 seconds on the arena scoreboard.

I don't know where I was going with this post. It was meant to be about how music (I do like to stay on topic) and the excitement of being at a game in person really pales in comparison to watching at home on the tube. I feel like it just ended being a boring pictorial story that captures the simplicity and "excitement" of my life.

I'm going to a show in Kansas City tonight, hopefully tomorrow's story won't run out of gas like this one. Keep rockin'!

Apr 1, 2009

Word Box Wednesday #4 - Human

It's WBW once again. Things are rolling along pretty well and each Wednesday I'm definitely getting some good ideas in the attempt to get my head out of this brain freeze that it's been in lately. Hopefully I've been giving you some good insight on what the songwriting process is all about.

Last Wednesday's word was "human". I tooled around with the word a little bit, mostly last Friday while I was laying in bed. This is a ballpark figure but I'd say around 65% of my quality song ideas come after I've curled up in bed ready to doze off. I guess that's where my mind is finally relaxed. Often I'll hear full songs play in my head as if I just heard them on the radio. It's the epitome of frustration because I really don't want to have to get up but I'll take the inspiration whenever or wherever it comes.

I was lucky that this bit of inspiration concerning the word "human" came before lights out. I can't count how many times I've fumbled in the dark to find my cell phone to light my notebook just enough to get down a line or two. (No lamp on my side of the bed. No nightstand either. I like to think of myself as a minimalist at times.)

The somewhat sloppy lyric that flowed out of me that night has the working title "Tin Man". And yes, it's the very Tin Man you're thinking of from the Wizard of Oz. I got KJ the Sci-Fi miniseries for Christmas and the title found it's way into my title list. It seemed to fit my state of mind at the time as my thoughts wandered around the concept of what makes us human. The Tin Man from Oz sort of straddles the line of what you think to be human and what is not. I mean, he's made of metal, but he used to be a person, chopping wood like anyone else.

So are we human because we have skin, organs, bodies, or minds that can think rationally and fingers that can type blog posts? Scientifically, that's probably true. But are there times when you feel a little less than human, maybe because you're timid, scared, or don't feel you make a significant contribution to society? Or maybe because you feel alone and don't have someone to love? (Going to the Wizard to get a heart, see where this is going?)

Since the word "human" has got my synapses firing a little more than usual I'm going to extend the word for another week. We'll see what happens. Hopefully by then I'll have something to share or at least or more solid concept. (It's a big mess all over the page right now, but that's how I like it, it means my mind is working the way it should.)

Feel free to contribute in the comments below and let me know what "human" means to you. Keep rockin', you know I will.
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