Friday, July 17, 2009

Stick Men Tour, part V: Kingston, NY and Princeton, NJ

Please don’t be pissed at me for taking way too long to wrap up this tour blog. Turns out, working and being a mom is really starting to cut into my blogging time. Who knew? But frankly, I’m dying to put a button on this because now that I’ve got you hooked, I intend to occasionally write about subjects that have absolutely nothing to do with Stick Men, or prog rock, or even music at all. Don’t run away. I promise it won’t suck…much.

There are really only a few things I’d like to highlight about the last two stops on the Stick Men east coast tour. The penultimate show was right here in our own back yard at Keegan Ales in Kingston. When Stick Men played there in January, the bar was absolutely packed. So much so, in fact, that my friend sneaked me up to the balcony area right above the stage so I could take some video…which I promptly and accidentally deleted while simultaneously fumbling with my cocktail and trying to delete a picture I took of my own thumb. That was a great show.

Stick Men played even better when they came back to Keegan Ales in June, and sadly, only about 40 people were there to witness it. One could chalk this up to a number of reasons: They played at the Bearsville Theatre, which is only a few miles from Keegan Ales, the week before. The day of the Keegan show had also been incredibly rainy and shitty, alternating between torrential downpours and irritating spit/drool rain. But I suspect it had more to do with the dozen or so other, much crappier acts that were playing at other venues nearby. “Non-threatening classic rock” cover bands. Screamy suburban angry white kid bands. Dirty trustfund hippie folk drivel, featuring harmonica, during which smelly girls with dirty long skirts would dance that stupid arm-waving hippie dance and end up sleeping with the guitarist who wears a ski cap even in the summer time. People around here seem to really dig that type of music, the kind you hear at a county fair. Anything new and interesting tends to get ignored in favor of bands that have been playing the same songs in the same dive bars and local street festivals for the past 35 years. I suspect, however, that it’s like that in many places in the US. Music is something people want done to them. They don’t want to have to THINK about it. “It’s the weekend,” cries the bar crowd. “I’m drunk on $1 Miller Lites, and I want you to do music at me!”

A friend from work met me at Keegan Ales to see the show. She had never heard Stick Men before, but she had met Michael a few times, and I’ve talked about the kind of music he plays, and she seemed genuinely interested. Back in the 70s, she used to do catering for bands that passed through a local college town, and back in those days, it was everyone. She remembers the Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, Richie Havens, Joe Cocker, and she got to hang out backstage and see the shows for free. She said she had heard every type of music from every kind of musician, from rock to jazz to funk to classical to avant garde classical to jazz fusion to Latin. “I’ve heard everything,” she told me at Keegan Ales before Stick Men took the stage.

“I’ve never heard anything like this,” she said after the second or third song. She stayed for over two hours of a three hour show, mouth hanging open, peppering me with questions about the Chapman Stick and all those gadgets on Pat’s drumset. Eventually, the dirty girl hippy dancers started to drift in, probably from other shows. Personally, I love trying to watch audience members attempt to dance to Stick Men. The ever-changing time signatures and beats in variations of 5 and 9 and 15 and 23-and-three-quarters keep them spasming off the 1 while they frantically try to find it again. And just when they think they’ve got it sorted out, something else changes and they’re still doing what they were doing before. Nothing is more hysterical. Next time you’re watching a band play and the hippie dancers show up, grab a bag of popcorn, sit back and enjoy the show.

It was another great performance, if terribly under-attended, and more importantly, it took us approximately 15 minutes to get back home and into bed, which is always a refreshing change.

Princeton, New Jersey. I had never been there, but I knew there was some kind of big school there, though, like Yale or Harvard or something. Anyway, after what seemed like a month of rain, it was stunningly beautiful on Saturday, June 27th. We knew that the venue was at a park or garden, but we assumed there would be clearly marked signs, pointing us toward an amphitheatre. Instead, all we found when we got to the address of the venue was a gigantic parking lot and very rustic-looking restrooms. Turns out, in order to get to the amphitheatre, we had to drive along a wooded bike path, where bikers, walkers and nature lovers dove out of the way. I fondly reminisced about having to drive on the sidewalk in Buffalo the week before, and considered myself lucky to have the opportunity to finally take the Stratus off-roading once again.

The amphitheatre was adorable, a little bowl surrounded by trees and opposite a pond filled with turtles, sunning themselves languidly on bales of hay on the shore. While Stick Men sound checked, I walked the path around the park, and eventually discovered a little footbridge that led to a tiny water fall and bench, nestled in the shade. I lamented that fact that I hadn’t known that this is where they were going to be playing, because Michael and I could have brought our daughters with us to play.

I stayed at that little peaceful spot for quite a while, testing the settings on my camera, staying cool and not bursting into flames in the sun. But more importantly, I stayed in that little spot for quite a while because of the appearance of another Super Fan. I’ve met one at nearly every show (I sense a recap!!). Here are some of my favorites:

1) Syracuse: Super fan who complimented me on being Michael’s girlfriend.
2) Buffalo: Super fan who rhythmlessly, drunkenly danced at the lip of the stage the whole night.
3) Natick: Super fan (remember John 3:16?) who sat in the front row right next to me and occasionally played drums on my leg.

But this guy in Princeton was a shining, singular example of a hardcore, well-intended and socially-awkward prog rock Super Fan. Perhaps the King of the Super Fans, in his own small universe. This dude did everything a true Super Fan would do:

1) He showed up to the venue hours before the show was to start, just to witness the sound check.
2) He sat right in the front during sound check the whole time.
3) He never left the amphitheatre during sound check, seemingly not once to pee or eat or anything, and believe me, I was watching.
4) He went up to the stage to talk to the band during the sound check every few mintues or so.
5) When the band was not on stage during sound check, he followed members of the band around to ask them questions and offer helpful tips.
6) He brought friends.

It might be ill-advised for me to say this, but it’s my blog so I’m going to. Potential Super Fans of the world, please keep this question in mind: How would you like it if a stranger showed up to your job, followed you around, talked about how good he is at his own job, offered you helpful tips on how to do your job better and asked you to give him a lesson on how to use the copy machine? And for hours on end? How long would it take you to lose your shit? I’m simply asking you to pose this question to yourself every now and again, when you’re thinking about driving 6 hours to stalk your favorite band during their sound check.

After having lunch in town, we headed back to the venue for the show. The amphitheatre is a bit of a hike from the parking lot, and more importantly, it’s a bit of a hike from the bathrooms. This proved rather unfortunate as I was suffering from some, ahem, gastro-intestinal discomfort. After the fourth frantic walk-run back to the bathrooms, I started to seriously consider staying in the parking lot for the show. But I remembered that it would soon be dark, and it was a park, after all, filled with trees, and I did grow up in Alaska and went camping in some pretty remote places, so I decided to take my chances.

I’m glad I did. There were some great moments during the show, including Michael popping a string right at the end of “Red” and witnessing what Tony referred to as a record-breaking string replacement. You can watch it all unfold on youtube, if you feel inclined. As night enveloped the amphitheatre, the fire flies came out and bobbed along in front of the stage, a much nicer thing to watch than hippie dancers or flailing, air-drumming Super Fans.

The tour was fun, and it ended perfectly at a great venue in front of a great crowd, but ultimately, I was ready to be finished. Our apartment was starting to look like a flop house. We had given up on laundry and were living out of our luggage, even on days when we were home. We hadn’t seen the girls in too long. Hell, we hadn’t even really seen each other in too long, and sitting in a car, racing toward a destination and then racing back, half asleep and bleary-eyed in the middle of the night, does not count as quality time with your significant other. We were beat and tired of driving. Our dishes were piling up, and the bedroom…I’m still not ready to discuss the state of the bedroom. And I was tired of dragging ass into work every day, falling asleep in meetings and letting hundreds of messages go ignored in my inbox. I am a creature of habit. I find my routine comforting. Being home, just being home, with my daughter and Michael and the fishies, is one of those simple joys that taste so much better after a long day at work, or a week in the car.

Three weeks after the final show in New Jersey, I’m starting to feel normal again. Except that I still haven’t cleaned out my car from the tour. You can keep your autographed CDs. I’ve got half-empty to-go cups from every rest stop from Buffalo, NY to Princeton, NJ. And maybe if you ask nicely, I'll have Michael sign one for you.


  1. wow...I'm kinda disappointed that I read this just now....
    I threw out those cups!

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