Boulder, CO – “Band-o-Babes” – The Fox Theater- April 22, 1999

Last night, a dozen badass babes stormed the stage at The Fox Theater for “The Women From Mars,” CD release party. Each of us had contributed a song to the compilation going on sale that night. Proceeds would go to fighting breast cancer and MS.

The song I contributed to the Women From Mars CD

“The Women from Mars” is a composite of Boulder-based-musician-babes who got sick being ships in the night due to hectic touring schedules and booked a monthly gig in town to support and inspire one another (and howl at the moon). No matter where we are in our travels, we do our best to make it back for these gigs (all of which support breast cancer awareness and prevention)

I met up with my songstress sisters early on the morning of the gig for a group radio interview at KCNU. A dusting of winter white covered crocus and daffodils. Snow in April is just one of the strange little quirks of living in Colorado. I cradled my unswaddled guitar to my chest attempting to keep my baby from going out of tune in the cold between car and station. Inside the lobby, Libby Kirkpatrick greeted me with warm coffee and praise for my song on the CD, “and I’m picky,” she added. Her soft brown curls threatened to spring like kamikaze pilots from her head. Moved by her sincere words, I felt a rush of gratitude.

As our estrogen rich collective filled the halls drinking coffee and laughing over road tales, Libby suggested I teach the other girls backups to my “Red Room.” I felt honored by their willingness to lend their voices to lifting MY music onto the airwaves. With my orange bunny hat in hand, the morning’s joy set the stage for the upcoming show.

Backstage, downstairs, in the blue lights of the green room, we primped, trying on wigs, high-top tube socks, tiaras and taffeta tutus. We bartered in horror stories from our travels and consoled each other’s laments and losses. We learned each other’s songs, going two and three at a time into the dimly lit bathroom with guitars to rehearse harmonies without disturbing the camaraderie of our sisters outside.

The stage was lit up with candles and feather boas, guitars and a smattering of percussion instruments shaped like exotic fruit. The audience’s faces were glowing and adoring and supportive. The lineup was: Beth Quist, Maya Dorn, Jude Ponds, Nicole Jamrose, Marie Beer, Monica Augustine, Wendy Woo, Libby Kirkpatrick, Me, Maggie Simpson and Hannah Alkire.

Each Woman took the spotlight for a short set while the rest of us watched from the stairwell in admiration. The night went off without a hitch. All the ladies joined me for “Happy Now” and as our voices braided into one siren call, I thought how lucky I am to have such remarkable, beautiful and talented female friends. Friends, strong enough to support one another’s talent rather than see it as competition to try to tare down.

The snow, which had turned to rain, was pounding and cold when we loaded our instruments into the back alley around 3 a.m. I was buzzing as I kissed and hugged my tribe goodbye and drove home. When I walked in my front door, the electricity blew, leaving me to strip out of wet, clinging clothes in the dark. As I did so, I wondered suspiciously if my inner voltage had caused the blackout.

I don’t think I’ve ever slept so well.

Denver, CO – “No Ground” -The Tuft Theater at Swallow Hill & The Fox- April 10, 1999

I like to play alone sometimes. It feels sort of like freefalling out of a plane; exhilarating and raw. Chögyam Trungpa once said “The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is, there’s no ground.” 

But the truth is, I AM scared. I’m scared to own my own success least someone come along and move into or claim it as their own. Sometimes I hope I won’t ever attain it so that I’ll never have it to lose.

I played this one solo, opening for bluegrass-badass Peter Ostroushko before a packed house of one hundred and fifty. “An intimate evening” read the billing. I plunked down into one of the red theater seats and pretended to read a flier while Mr. Ostroushko finished checking his violin.

Kipp drove us down to Denver from Boulder after I’d sound check with “The Samples” at The Fox. There’d been a blackout due to a heavy wind storm the night before and soundcheck was a mostly acoustic event. Sean, “The Samples” lead singer had called me earlier in the day to ask if I’d play a song with them that night. Secretly I suspected his invitation was a ploy to get into my pants. But a gig’s a gig and if women musicians know anything it’s how to play Roadrunner to Wile E Coyotes.

The plan was to play my set in Denver, pack up, and drive back to Boulder (approx. 1hr) to play my one song with “The Samples” and boogie before any funny business arose.

While I took the stage in Denver to check my guitar, Kipp went out to find food. He came back with some delicious flan and an iced tea and we sojourned to the red-carpeted fortress upstairs. There, we sprawled on the floor stretching newly laced guitar strings, drinking soda, and watching the ceiling expand, our heads propped against my empty guitar case.

Peter’s audience was charming. Each eye I met in the crowd was like a little spark from a campfire. The wide-eyed wonder of a five-year-old delighted me from stage left. He seemed captivated by my tunes as if they were fireflies. Out of the corner of my eye, I’d watch him sneak up on one of my songs, capture it, and spy on it between his fingers before releasing it gently into the air. Laughter danced between chords as the tales behind my songs tumbled out. Stage banter is an art in itself. I learned that from my dad, a master of the spaces between the music.

Frisco, CO – “Coco Coffee” – Barkley’s – April 8, 1999

I’m embarrassed about the interview I did with Wendy Kale for The Daily Camera yesterday.  Wonderful Wendy had taken me for coffee and we’d sat on the porch of Buchannan’s letting the wild Colorado gusts dust us a shade earthier by the minute. By the time we went our separate ways, we could have passed for clay sculptures of ourselves.  Wendy, an exceptional journalist, and soul, I know she’ll write a nice piece about the smattering of Colorado gigs we have coming up before we hit the road again next month (this time heading east). 

I think I sounded pretentious and I’d cringed as I slid back in my little Rav 4 and tried to scrape the caked-on dirt in my rear-view mirror.  I realized I seemed boastful telling her I’d been offered record deals and turned them down, like I’m the only musician who could be, but doesn’t want to be, famous.  Like I’m some sort of lone wolf in the music scene.  Yuck.   It took me two hours to wash Colorado out of my face and just as long to forgive myself for acting so pompous.

When the boys showed up at my house at 5:30 I was delighted to listen to them whine about wanting to go back on the road. I’m a little desperate to get back out myself.  Not because I don’t love being home or because the road is easy but because the band is becoming more and more like my family and coming home requires readjustments no chiropractor can crack.

It was a relief to be back in Moby as we hauled ass for a one-off* in Frisco.  Dellucchi had Moby’s carpets vacuumed and the dashboard dusted and she looked like a new van.  We opened fan mail, listened to homemade CDs people had given us to listen to, and stopped at our favorite Loaf ‘N Jug for coco coffee and cheap sunglasses.

The band caught up on the week we’d spent apart.  Every one of us had been through the wringer: Breakups, one of us was fired from our day job, parking tickets, dog houses we’d metaphorically slept in, bike accidents and days we’d slept through entirely. Glad to be home much?

We got to Barkley’s a little late and didn’t get to sound-check until 15 minutes before the show. Our audience was already in attendance which made me self-conscious and rushed. As a result, I played the show with monitors that sounded like tin cans echoing my voice from the bottom of a well. My performance, no doubt, suffered as a result.

It was an OK show. Nothing really to write home about (though that’s what I’m doing) and the people in the audience were sweet, attentive, and seemingly had a wonderful time.

The boys fell asleep on the way home but Delucchi and I were wired on coco coffee and Excedrin we’d taken for our brewing headaches. By the time the guys dropped me at my house it was 3 am.  It was cold.  I was alone again; just me and my guitar and the moon hanging overhead, huge and orange like a pendant against the breast of the mountains.

*A one-off is a single gig, untethered to a proper tour.

Photo by Mohammad Alizade

Boulder, CO – “I Miss The Road” – April 4, 1999

Perhaps it was naive to expect that I could catapult myself a thousand miles away, sing in front of hundreds, grow accustomed to strangers and strange beds, cope with peeing in cups and between cars, and return home unchanged.

Now I am depressed, mourning the person I was just over a month ago. I’m left curious about who I am now and what that will mean for my existing relationships. Kipp wants me to move in with him. That seems unwise and unlikely.

My bedroom at 6th and Pine in Boulder

I feel hollow. It’s Easter and I imagine my mom, at home on Martha’s Vineyard, hiding easter eggs and crying that Ben and I are on separate tours and not there to find them. The soft pink carpet under my feet feels like luxurious, alien moss as I wander to and from the bathroom. For the past four days at home, this has been the extent of my travels; my daily commute. I’ve been trying to find my land legs, but I’m trapped in a flannel cocoon, unable to lift my aluminum blinds to discern day from night. I find myself unable to return phone calls—even to close friends—much less meet up for coffee.

I guess I miss the road. I long for the novelty of waking up in a different hotel room each morning, the freedom to not make my bed. I yearn for midnight diners, shared laughter with Nisa in dimly lit green rooms, and gas station breakfasts. I miss the thrill of stage lights, the sensation of eyes upon me as I pour out a song, the intimate act of signing CDs, arms, and guitars. I miss the camaraderie of new friends, a cold beer on stage, the buzz of neon lights, and even the stench of Clorox battling the backdrop of smoke, spirits, spilled guts, and bad tunes. I miss the open road.  I miss my band.

My heart is heavy and my head is full of these soporific thoughts as I commute through alien moss from the bathroom back to my flannel haven.

Crested Butte, CO – “Goodnight Road” – Performing Arts Center – March 31, 1999

It’s nice to be back in the dry fresh Colorado mountain air.  We arrived in Crested Butte late Tuesday after a 15-hour drive. I (wo)manned the wheel most of the day, stopping at different super-duper-uber-markets for deli meats and bread so “Chef Brian” could make us all sandwiches on our makeshift Igloo countertop.

Photo by Sand Crain

At a rest stop in Moab, we stretched our legs and marveled at the vastness between canyon walls.  The rich red, rock formations looked Dr. Seuss drawn and contrasted against the vivid blue desert sky. Nisa drove when night fell because, despite the illumination from an almost full moon, I am mostly night blind.

We crashed haphazardly and fully clothed on our friend’s, Ernesto & Dave’s, couches, futons and floors only to be woken up by their dogs at 6 am.

It snowed all day.  The white whisper, a welcome guest as Crested Butte’s slopes have been devoid of snow.  The excitement around town was palpable.  Rad-sters and dude-sters lugged snowboards to work with them.  They slung skins and ski poles over their shoulders and packed knee pads alongside their wishful thinking.

The band grabbed coffee and some soggy eggs from a grumpy waitress on the main drag.   Rejuvenated, I taught a little yoga class for the boys back at the house, dodging Ernesto’s pups who considered downward dogs an invitation for kissing.  I am going to take a little credit here… I introduced my band to yoga at the beginning of this trip and their flexibility is greatly improved.  Brian Mcrae can even touch his toes now!

If I’d considered the day cold, the nighttime was bitter.  Both instruments and vocal cords took extra warming up to stay in tune.  The Crested Butte Performing Art Center is one of my favorite places to play. It’s a 250-seated theater with decadent on-stage carpeting and great acoustics.

The show was celebratory, considering it was our last for a while. Eager to return home, we galloped like restless horses through the performance. Now, finally at home and exhausted, I plan to immerse myself in sleep for a good five days.

Goodnight moon.

Goodnight mic stand.

Goodnight boys in the band.

Goodnight van.

Goodnight road and songs we played.

Goodnight friends made along the way.

Somewhere in Oregon – “Sagebrush and Freedom” -March 29, 1999

The windows are opened and the scent of sagebrush and freedom pour through us. We move at a lethargic 60 miles per hour, which is okay when you have nowhere to be, and are somewhere in Oregon headed toward Boise Idaho. It’s dark in the van.

A Game is on the radio, Duke vs. UCONN. We’re split on who we want to win but 1/2 of us are indifferent. I spilled Diet Coke on my seat and now I’m sitting in a sticky wet spot.

During commercial breaks (which seem longer than programs these days) we tell our “back in the good ol’ days” stories. So far we’ve heard about “The Largest Acorn” from Chris Soucy, and the one about “The Sinking Boat and Wet Oreos” from Mr. Mcrae.  I told a story about the time I had to have a spinal tap, and Nisa told us that when she was younger, she threw herself through a glass door because her mother insisted she come in for dinner. What a strange and wonderful group we have.

Seattle, WA – “What I’ve Learned” -Sit & Spin – March 27, 1999

Our morning was a struggle against gravity and the allure of a warm bed.  I must’ve asked that poor woman at the front desk for 3 callbacks after her first attempt to rouse us at 9 am.  I could hear desperate rain pelting against the window, trying to force its way inside from behind brown paisley curtains.  Soucy, one bed over, drooled, face down into his Clorox-scented pillow. 

Our battle against sleep was won only when Dellucci yelled “It’s Shari’s time!” from outside the hotel door and the promise of waffles and hashbrowns proved stronger than slumber.

The Sit and Spin is an eccentric gem. Imbued with a distinct bohemian charm, this funky venue masquerades as a Laundromat by day and a bustling hub of music, games, food, and drinks by night. Its walls are adorned with board games, ranging from Strategy to Monopoly, creating a vibrant, playful energy.

While Dellucci wrestled a rebellious bass drum mic that refused to comply, the rest of us peeled off soggy jeans and tees until the lot of us were down to our skivvies and whatever towels the bar had on hand.  Tossing drenched threads into one of Sit & Spin’s hefty driers (one that could probably spin a small car) we huddled around a game of “Sorry” and listened to soundcheck slowly take shape in the background.

As we draw the curtains on our first national tour and start to head back over the Rocky Mountains, what I’ve learned and need to remember is this;  It’s not enough to be good.  Music is only a fraction of why audiences go to see live music. 

When I step on a stage, whether it’s bathed in a spotlight or nestled in a dim corner of a coffee shop, there’s an unspoken promise I am making to those who came to honor me with their ears. I’m not just there to play; I’m there to connect, to give a piece of myself that can’t be gifted any other way but through song.

The next time I pack my guitar case, tune strings, and set out on the road, I want to remember that I carry more than just a heart full of melodies with me. I’m a modern-day troubadour, sharing tales through rhythm and rhyme that echo back to a time when stories weren’t just told, they were sung.

I want to remember to stay open, like the road that stretches its arms out to me.  To be compassionate, like the old cracked door of a venue that’s seen decades of artists leave their hearts on stage. I want to remember to play every note like it’s a secret confided which whispers, “We’ve shared something real tonight.” I want to remember that songs, masquerading as music, are a feast for the soul.

And until the next leg of gigs… I want to sleep. Only one show left on the way back to the stable.

Portland, OR – “Lack of Space” – The White Eagle – March 26, 1999

Lack of space is a true test of band harmony.”-Brian Mcrae

Never were truer words spoken.  Stuck for seventeen hours in a van with seven other souls on a rainy day could make even the most Zen monk cranky… and we ain’t no monks. 

Dawn was breaking when we checked out of Chez Delluchi.  The sun, like a bald orange head, peeked at us over the suburban rooftops and cast an eerie glow on a threatening sky.  By the time we negotiated the twists and turns of Chris’s cul-de-sac, it started to drizzle.  Our first stop was Safeway for breakfast (raw carrots, candy, deli meats, and soda…we’re trying to be healthy).

By the time we hit I-550 our bodies had moulded together to accommodate
our new passengers:

  • Kipp (my boyfriend who’d come to support us on the road but if you asked the band, had realllly come to boss us around and eat all our food) and
  • Kate (my pal from Nashville who probably didn’t fathom the adventure she signed up for when she accepted a lift with us from San Fran to Oregon)

We fit together like slightly abused puzzle pieces against the already uncomfortable grey leatherette seats of Moby.  We used one another’s knees as armrests and shoulders as pillows.   3-weeks worth of clothing lolled like sleeping dog tongues out of ½ zipped bags.  Our warm damp bodies frosted up the windows where the boys drew penis’ in the fogged glass, snickering and pointing at their artwork.  My yarn traced the road, zigging and zagging and tangling people together like flies in a spider’s web. 

By the time we reached the petrified forest, our nerves looked like my yarn; frayed.  I took a solitary walk deep into the forest to find some serenity and reclaim my space.  I bathed in the forest feeling the tension wash off me with every step. 

With the rain, our constant companion, we took turns at the wheel – enthusiastically calling dibs on the driver seat – the only uncrowded spot in the van.  Kenny managed to clip a stray dog during his stretch but luckily didn’t kill him.    It was an infinitely long drive and we didn’t reach our hotel until 3 am.

The onslaught of the rain continued unabated on the following day. Our venue, The White Eagle, in downtown Portland, was rumored to be haunted. If I were a ghost I’d probably haunt it too.  Its walls were adorned with woolen Turkish and Persian rugs, with lanterns casting flickering shadows on a ‘Palmistry’ mural that marked our humble stage.  We retreated to the green room, a glorified kitchen supply closet, as our fans began to trickle in.  And despite the weather, we managed an exhilarating sold-out show.

Mill Valley, CA – “Fluffernutters” Sweetwater – March 24, 1999

I woke up on Delucchi’s sister’s floor.  We’d made it to the Goldengate bridge just after midnight last night and while Chris’ family had retired before we arrived, they’d left the lights on, food on the stove, and futons on the floor with unrolled sleeping bags in lollypop colors.   I hit the pillow hard and woke only due to the racket downstairs.  Brian and Delluchi’s dad were one-upping each other’s drum skills on dualing samplers in the basement.  It wasn’t the drumming so much as the two of them yelling over their deafening headphones:  “Listen to this.”  “No, no.  Listen to this.” “What?”  “What’id you say?”  “WHAT?” they shouted over one another.

It’s a luxury to wake up in a home.  People who open their houses to bands are a rare breed.  I don’t know if I’d be so brave.  These folks (The Delluchi’s included) don’t appear to balk at 6 loads of laundry, the rancid baked-on stench of smoke and booze that follows bands like a bad habit, the inevitable din of instruments unshethed and played at all hours of night, the inside jokes a band has formed which alienate everyone not in the band, the depraved voracity a band has for food and comfort and space that they can’t help but devour like a pack of wanton dogs straight from the pound. 

A band on the road becomes a beast with a mind of its own. 

Sweetwater was a warm blessing on a rainy day.  Its spiced, honey-colored wooden walls, floor, and stage glistened in the dampness.  Downstairs, the green room featured old newspaper clippings, vintage posters, and stickers from all the “greats” who’d played there before us.  I sipped a cold coffee from a leaky paper cup and toured my musical heroes on the wall; Elvis Costello, Jerry Garcia, Huey Lewis, John Lee Hooker, Ritchie Havens, Ry Cooder, Bonnie Raitt, Sammy Hagar, and Carlos Santana. Soucy came with tape sent from the bar to hang our own poster beside the rest.   What an honor.  Who knows, maybe in 30 years time, we’ll have blended into the history here.

The audience was generous, attentive, and plentiful, and “Actress” went over particularly well (despite Kenny losing his pink wig at the Gallaxy Theater gig in Santa Ana). 

I was delighted to run into an old babysitter, Jane Hogan, who was now shorter than me but otherwise, unchanged.  Jane was one of Ben’s and my favorite sitters. She used to host “Pig Outs” for us when we were lucky enough to spend the night at her family’s house in Cranford, New Jersey. She reminded me of her “All you can eat Fluffernutters.” I wish she’d brought one with her.

When unexpected old pals like Jane show up at gigs, it makes life like one perpetual surprise party.

San Francisco- “Riders” – Hotel Utah – March 23, 1999

The Hotel Utah was built in 1908 as a saloon and hotel. It is small and intimate like playing in the belly of a whale. Backstage, someone mysterious had sent me a bouquet of wildflowers with no name attached. Whoever you are, thank you so much.  

I took advantage of a fully stocked rider to sample an assortment of medicinal teas; echinacea, throat coat, gypsy cold care, and ginger lemon.  A rider is a band’s list of backstage needs a venue agrees to provide.  A rider is sent before a gig, along with a contract agreeing to fees, times, and dates and an aditional stage plot marking the location of monitors, mic stands, cables, and players on stage.  A venue usually tries hard to accommodate rider requests but sometimes they’re so ridiculous they become notorious.  Infamously:

  • Van Halen requested NO brown M&Ms backstage.
  • Elton John had two dressing rooms on his rider and
  • Iggy Pop once requested seven dwarves, a Bob Hope impersonator, Grolsch beer, and two bottles of red wine, “preferably something we’ve heard of but still can’t pronounce.”

Though the tea was delicious, it did little to soothe my undeniable lyangitis.  In the mirror, my eyes were bloodshot and glassy from sneezing.  Talking was too painful so I tied some loose yarn around my neck, strapped a notepad to it, and took a vow of silence until showtime, communicating between the lines in bold letters to my band. 

The owner of Hotel Utah looked skeptical, wondering if I could fulfill my end of the contract and perhaps regretting having bought all those expensive teas for me.  But haha!  Dr. Theater came through and while I admit, not all my high notes came out smelling like roses, I managed to get through the night before returning to vocal abstinence and passing little notes to my band.

Notes on the way back to the hotel…