Monday, September 18, 2017

It's Always Sunny in Frisco

It's always sunny in Frisco - at least, it is, when I visit. "Have you been to Frisco?" I asked the gentleman who picked me up from the airport in Sacramento. "Yeah, I've been Fresno, once," he replied. "No, Frisco," I said. "Oh, is San Francisco called Frisco for short?" the photographer asked me. I nodded and shook my head somehow at the same time. Until earlier this evening, I had thought Henry* was younger than I was and I would have chalked up his ignorance to Bay-area-specific vernacular to his youthful naivety. But as he'd informed me on this balmy evening, he was 40 years old.

Henry took me to my hotel which doubled as a photo studio. I had one more photo shoot scheduled, early afternoon the following day, in Concord. Then after finding my hotel in San Francisco, and changing into my show clothes, I was to head to the venue, where I'd be putting on a different kind of show. The photo shoots usually paid for the trip and part of my monthly salary, and then any cash proffered by a venue owner would be just enough to buy me the rest of my drinks for the evening (the ones not covered by the two drink tickets most clubs supply us musicians with), or some late night food, or my last BART ride back to the airport. But this trip was different: my shoots did pay as handsomely as ever, but the club I was going to be playing at was going to compensate me and the other acts on the bill generously. But when it came time to head out of my hotel room for the show, I began to feel like an impostor.

When I had told my friend, Kim, who lives near SF, where I would be playing at, she responded that El Rio was "kind of a big deal". I had been excited but it subsided as I got back into the routine of doing other jobs until it was time to leave for the Bay. An uber driver picked me up the night of the concert, in front of my hotel. He saw my guitar and asked me if I was playing at the famous gay bar that he was driving me to.

"I am," I replied.

"Oh, then you must be good! That place is kind of a big deal!" he exclaimed.

Oh boy, was I feeling nervous now? I told him this, and he suggested in his thick accent, that I relax and have fun. "As long as you're having fun, the crowd will have fun"! he reasoned.

I thought about people who were technically skilled, getting up on stage to perform music, and sometimes being tired of touring, or maybe just tired of life, and they sing and pluck their notes flawlessly but they don't put out any magic. It is like they are on E. Not the fun kind of E, no: empty. They have no energy to give the crowd, and the crowd wonders what they came for and why they are feeling disappointed by a night of music that was presented without any flubs, simultaneously. So perhaps I'd be alright even if I flubbed some of the chords or lines in the songs, as I was giving out the right vibe to the crowd.

Renaldo, my driver, had changed subjects and was offering me suggestions for dinner. I told him I had been hoping to find tacos near the venue. He stated that the Mission was rife was Mexican food, and I told him that I'd written a song about the Mission because I love so many things about it, including all of the delicious Mexican food. He told me that he and his family live in the Mission district and that they were from Mexico originally. I was his last fare, he told me, before heading home. He told me he'd listen to my music on youtube, and asked if he could open the car door for me when we arrived at El Rio.

He held the door open for me and I climbed out, feeling electricity run through my veins. I took a picture of myself, guitar strapped to my back, standing in front of El Rio. And then I quickly left on my quest for tacos.


The taqueria didn't have any tacos I could eat, only a burrito, but I had no complaints. I dashed back to the venue after devouring half and placing the other half in my purse (carefully wrapped in tin foil first). My stomach went from full to tight as I entered the club. I found the other musicians on the bill fairly quickly, a couple of whom I'd already met. One was telling me he admired the way I did things, with my weekend tours. He already knew that I was also a model. But somehow I went back to that feeling of being a fraud, someone who'd eventually be found undeserving of decent pay and a regal stage. Musicians back home paid me similar compliments and spoke of how they longed to get out on the road and get paid for playing music. Every once in a blue moon, on a drunken night, I'd tell them, "It's easy, but you might have to let people photograph you in your underwear sometimes."

I am grateful to have my modeling to bring me extra income and to pay for my trips, but I would love to be able to say one day that it was merely my music that was enabling me to hop from town to town. I'd say I'm retiring that old corset and those treacherous stilettos in favor of folking up more bars -- but in truth I know I'd still be using the stilettos to climb up on stage and tap my tambourine beneath my foot.

The person who booked the venue had listened to my music, and had ostensibly enjoyed it. Why are you sitting around questioning your ability to rock? I wondered. I had not only booked El Rio, famous Mission-area dive that had originated as a bar for leather daddies in the seventies, but they had asked me to build the entire line-up for the night. It was to include other artists who were good, who were LGBT-identified, and who could bring a crowd. And the night would be a success. I could already tell that before the opening act even when on, as people began to saunter in during his sound check.

My friend Kim was one of the wanderers who wandered in. We got a drink and then I showed her to the back room behind the bar, where all of the shows were held. We caught up a little. I was so excited to see her. I told her that if all the people who had filed in to see Eli stayed and watch my set, I would pee my pants.

After Eli's solid set, I climbed up onto the stage and assumed my position in front of the mic. I started out with my popular song, Not the Girl Next Door, and the audience's chatter quickly subsided. I felt that rush you get from pulling from all sides of the room the eyes and ears of everyone. I mentally crossed out some of the songs from the set list and inserted some others. When you have them right there with you, you do your best to intuit how to keep them there.

The crowd stayed with me til the very end, when I slid off the stage, just a melted puddle of love. As I made my way back to my friend, people stopped me to tell me they loved my warble. I thanked them and felt appreciative of them, and of my warble. Someone stopped me and told me he loved the song I had sung which I had prefaced with a comment about my grandmother saying it was her favorite tune even though I thought it was kind of dark. He explained that he liked what I said about my grandmother, because she was also his aunt, and "my name is Tom by the way," he added. My long lost cousin!

"I've heard about you! I'm so glad we're finally meeting!" I exclaimed.

"Well, actually I met you once, but you were in diapers. You've definitely upgraded your wardrobe since then!" he said, gesturing toward my little red dress.



After thanking him, I introduced him to Kim and we watched the Sweet Trade play a killer set. Tom let me hit his weed pen. He bemoaned how watching Jeopardy with my grandmother, a card-carrying MENSA member, was maddening as he had never gotten any of the questions figured out before she threw out every answer. I nodded and laughed, told him I knew what he meant. We all got download cards for the Sweet Trade's enchanting album, "the Huntress and the Gardener". After getting paid and saying goodbye to everyone, Kim and I rushed off for a nightcap at the Royal Cuckoo. I had seen it on the way to El Rio, had looked online to find that its staff only spun vinyl, and I liked the name of the joint, so I had suggested it. Kim's eyes lit up upon entering the place: some players were blowing horns and pecking out piano notes and making jazz. "Dude! How do we always find the coolest bars?" I asked her. Last time we'd left a gig together, in Oakland, we wound up drinking Sazeracs at a New Orleans-themed bar. Jazz and the Bay Area fit together in my head romantically, as I had grown up reading Kerouac and Ginsberg.

Outside on the patio, we met a couple from Mexico City and a man who was originally from Alaska but now lived in the Mission. They asked me to play my guitar so I did, and then they never let me put it away. After enough drinks, I managed to cajole Kim into playing the tambourine for me. It was a lovely evening even as a chill set in. The winds picked up and blew us back over to the taqueria. Kim bought a burrito for herself and I ate the leftover half in my bag, while we made more plans for beatific adventures in Frisco. I'd been so many times, but this time, I let myself feel as if I'd really made it. And I knew that I'd be back.


*All photographer and uber driver names changed to preserve anonymity.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

There's No Sorry in Bali

4/11/17

We are leaving Bali today. I can't believe the trip is almost over already!

As I looked over the edge of the cascading pool one last time yesterday, I meditated on some ideas that I would like carry home with me. First, I noticed all of the greenery in front of me and I thought, I want my inner life to be as lush and fecund as all of this. Then I thought of Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god who removes obstacles. He is everywhere you look in Bali. I decided that I wanted to be my own Ganesh, removing all the obstacles from my own path.

We are in Ubud now, and we arrived last night from Gili Trawagan. On our first night in Gili, we were invited to join our hosts and fellow guests of the Guava Garden hotel for a home-cooked meal in the lobby. One of the staff found us playing our ukes on our porch and asked if we'd also bring a ukulele. Jenny brought hers, as mine was being finicky in the tuning department. The hotel owners were a husband and wife from Gili and Sweden, respectively. They had a little girl who was less than 1 year old, who sat in a high chair, and everyone else sat on cushions on the floor. We were each given a Bintang beer and a glass of mineral water to drink, and the dinner was served buffet-style. The cook explained that everything was vegetarian except for the chicken at the very end of the table. There was lots of tofu and tempeh, and sauces like peanut sauce and coconut curry. For dessert they served watermelon.

Jen and I sat across from a woman and man traveling together from Australia, and one of them had brought their parents along. They were all originally from England but living in Australia now, so they traveled to Bali quite often, they explained. Next to us on my right sat a soft-spoken man from Singapore, and to Jenny's left sat our hosts. Next to our hosts sat a couple from France. We all chatted with each other in English. Our hosts told us about how much the island had changed over the years, and all of us guests traded stories about where we had been and where we were going.

After dessert, the hosts brought out a guitar, and asked us to play. I played "I'll Fly Away" on guitar, which I had been learning on my uke ever since I arrived in Bali. Then Jenny played "Folsom Prison Blues" on her uke, followed by "Bad Moon Rising", and we backed each other up on vocals. We were still tired from our long, scary boat ride, so we excused ourselves after those few songs and got up to head back to our room. One of our hosts began playing "Three Little Birds", which Jenny taught me to play a couple days ago. We both like that song, so we had to linger a little longer so that we could sing along with everyone. It was such a lovely and perfect evening!



The next day didn't start as well as the previous one had ended. I awoke with a deep sadness in my chest. There had been a heart break in my life recently; it stuck with me. I had managed to move from the crying-every-morning stage to the keep-on-keeping-on stage in these last few weeks since my break up. But suddenly the pain found me again.

After a lazy breakfast on our porch, we walked to the beach. We were starved for exercise, as we'd spent so much of the previous day stuck on a boat or a shuttle bus. So we walked as far along the dirty beach as we could, until it was even dirtier. We reached the filthiest part of the beach, where we found free bean bag chairs to sit in, and tried hard to ignore that they were covered in ants. We cracked open the beers we had just purchased at 10 AM. The sun was hiding behind thick gray clouds; the sky was reminiscent of Portland. Cats crawled around us without tails. One scampered up to us, flea-ridden, eyes squinting against the bright silver sky. "Oh kitty, you need sunglasses!" Jenny exclaimed.

I lit a cigarette even though I usually only smoke when I'm really drinking and that's usually at night time. I felt despondent, and I let it all out to Jenny. She let me cry it out. She asked how to make it better. I felt a little better already.

We decided that swimming in our hotel pool might cheer us up. It certainly sounded more appealing than swimming on garbage beach. As we walked back to the hotel, the clouds parted and the sun peeked its face out. He was fully revealing himself to us by the time we reached the pool. We drank of a couple of whiskeys by the pool and then began swimming, until we were both giddy. "See, this was all we needed!" Jenny cried. "I mean, how can you be happy on garbage beach?!"

The clean side of garbage beach

We went to lunch later and formulated a plan for that evening. I decided that I was in the right head space to drink a mushroom milkshake now. I mean they were served openly in bars on the island, and I didn't have my child with me, and I was cheering up from my heartache and having fun with my friend, so why not? It struck me as a once in a life time opportunity, like when people try weed when they normally don't smoke but they find themselves in Amsterdam. I knew it was little emotionally dangerous to throw mushrooms on top of a heartache, but how often in your life can you walk into a bar and order mushrooms? I wanted to take advantage, and tonight would be our last night in Gili.

After a nap, we went to a bar near the beach and got a light dinner and had a drink. I hadn't wanted to eat too much in case I got sick later from the mushrooms, and also hadn't wanted a full stomach to dampen my high. We weren't sure exactly where to buy the aforementioned mushroom milkshakes. We had been told by one bartender on our trip that he could make us one later for 250,000 rupiah (about $18.80 in US currency). That sounded a little steep to us for one drink. After dinner, we passed a bar that had a disco ball and a black light and we knew that they had to have mushroom milkshakes there. We walked in and I sauntered up to the bar, and try to sound casual. "Do you guys have... the shakes here?" Jenny thought that I looked like I knew what I was doing, but I thought that I sounded like a narc in an after school special.

"Yeah," the bartender said, nodding.

"How much?" I asked.

"One-fifty," he replied. One hundred and fifty thousand rupiah was the equivalent of $11. Jen and I looked at each other and nodded in agreement. Jenny only drank 1/3 of the shake because she didn't feel like tripping too hard. I drank the remaining 2/3, and then we walked across the street to the beach in an attempt to watch the sunset. The sun had already gone down so we actually just watched the sky get darker, as our bodies began to tingle with the excitement of something about to happen creeping into our veins. I was hopeful, as things already seemed a little bit funnier than usual as we began our walk home.

By the time we arrived back at our hotel, things were really funny but no visuals yet. We got into the pool, figuring that it would be a great place to come up. My legs looked strange to me by the light of the pool, underneath the wavy water. Suddenly the trees around me began to look fake and plastic. My stomach felt a little queasy. I knew then that it was really coming on. I told Jenny that I needed to go back to our cabin, in case I got sick. The hotel owners and staff were hanging out at the front desk which was right near the pool too, so it was kind of messing with my buzz a little bit.

Jenny followed me back to our cabin and we sat on the soft bench on our porch. I curled up inside a wet pool towel. I felt like one of the mangy cats on the island: dirty but resigned, and cuddly toward myself. We listened to some '70s rock. Then Jen played ukulele for me. She said she wasn't high. There were wicker blinds covering the front porch, and I watched them dance and breathe and melt into one another. The last call to prayer came and the chanting started up suddenly on a loud speaker somewhere in the distance. Soon we could hear a man somewhere to the left of us joining in. I'd heard the chanting all weekend, but it sounded different now. It felt different. I could feel every tone going through my body. Jenny stopped strumming the ukulele and we focused on the chanting for a while.

As the chants faded out, Jenny got back to playing her music, or tried to. She was fiddling with a song I had taught her, and then she was cracking up and flubbing some chords. She thrust the uke toward me and insisted that I play it instead. I protested that I was too high. It was only then that she admitted that she was also high. I gave it a shot, playing an old jazz song, my fingers full of electricity.

Jenny said her high was coming and going. Suddenly, darkness covered me like a tangled blanket that I couldn't find my way out of: my recent failed relationship came to mind and I wondered if everything that had gone wrong in the relationship had been solely my fault. I told my friend and she didn't know what to say to try to help me feel better. Maybe she was higher than she'd thought. I just flipped the thought over and over like a coin in my mind, until I could get to the positive side of it. I knew that my ex, one of my best friends, would've told me that there are two people in every relationship, so all of the problems could not be caused by just one of the people in the relationship. This provided some consolation.

Then Jenny insisted that she needed to go for a walk in the dark, back to town for more whiskey and cigarettes. I asked her not to go. She insisted that she would be fine. I was stuck to the bench on the porch, wanting to protect her but feeling helplessly sunken in. The sound of my protesting voice was as weak as the instant coffee that was served everywhere in Bali. She insisted that she would be safe. She leaned her faced towards mine and stuck out her tongue and hissed, and then slithered off like a lizard.

I still unsettled by the Thought. Not to mention my friend's lizard tongue. I missed how my ex and I were able to pull each other out of strange turns, so I sent him a text. He responded with: "You should think about anything that comes up, anything you want to think about at all, and remember that it doesn't have to ruin your trip. And remember that I'm always going to be around, and I'm happy that no matter what happens, you'll always be my best friend."

This made me feel much better. I went inside our room and laid down in my bed, watched music videos to keep my happy vibe going. "Down Under" by Men at Work, followed by "Don't Come Around Here No More" by Tom Petty, was a good combination. Jenny returned and used the restroom, then retreated to the porch. After checking in with her, I went back to my bed to lie down and sink into the come down. I closed my eyes and watched strange animals and insects dance inside my mind's eye until passed out.

The next day, sadness met me again with the dawn. I sat on the porch again, writing and eating breakfast, thinking about my ex again. There is no other person like him, I thought. He is the only version of him out there. The thought that he wasn't going to be in my life in the same way anymore broke my heart all over again. As I sat out on the porch and cried, Jenny came out and offered me a hug. I thought I'd begun to feel better, but later, when we sat on the beach, waiting for our boat back to Bali, I heard a bar near the beach playing the album, "Born to Die", by Lana del Rey. I thought it was a strange choice for beach music. It was an album my ex and I had listened to together quite often. I started bawling on the beach. Oh god. I was bawling in Bali. I felt like a pathetic mess. "I'm sorry," I said to Jen.

"Don't be sorry! There's no sorry in Bali!" she insisted. With that, I began to cheer up.

Our boat ride to Ubud was much smoother than our ride to Gili, but our shuttle ride took forever. It was only supposed to last about an hour, but we got stuck behind a festival, so for a couple hours we just moved about an inch every five minutes. Our driver got out and smoked a couple of times, until finally an Australian passenger got out as well, in search of beer for herself and her partner. She offered to buy for everyone else in the shuttle, so Jenny and I took her up on her offer. She walked across the street, up it, and down it. Jenny got out to have a cigarette. An English man and Lithuanian woman who were a couple were sitting next to the Australian's woman's boyfriend. We had all lost track of her. "How far will she go?" one of them mused. "Well, she is an Aussie," her boyfriend joked.



Everyone was hot and tired from the long ride. It was inconvenient but the good mood that Jenny had helped me find on the beach persisted nonetheless. I was taking in all the sights on our slow ride. We saw a woman holding a toddler and sitting topless in front of her home. The little one waved to all of us. We sipped our Indonesian beer. Finally we began to really move, though it still took another hour to get to Ubud. Green countryside stretched out for miles as we finally left the beach.

I looked at Jen and felt so grateful for her. She'd invited me and she'd picked out all of the accommodations. If it wasn't for her, I might never have made it to Bali. The next night in Ubud, I promised her then, I would take her out for a big, fat drink, knowing that she would probably try to keep her eyes open as late as she could that first night but would tired from the long voyage from Gili.

She couldn't wait for me to finish my drink after dinner that first night, before she headed back to our hotel to lay down. I couldn't blame her: the local wine was very bitter but I was determined to finish it after our long day. "I'm sorry," she said, her voice feeble but sincere. "Hey," I reminded her, "there's no sorry in Bali!" She cares for me and I care for her, and I'm learning when to let her go her own way. I think she will always come back when I need her.

Now I'm in a bathtub in Ubud, remembering that I deserve better than what I left behind in America, that maybe there was a reason my ex and I worked as friends and not as lovers. That's where this trip started, and also where it ends.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Braving Boats, Beaches and Bracelet Ladies

I awoke to the sound of a rooster crowing. A sticky heat crept into the room to dominate the air conditioning. I saw some bright colors out of the corner of my left eye and turned my head to find that my friend Jenny had left a few festive flowers right beside my pillow. Everything in Bali so far is different and lovely to wake up to. Portland, where I live, has been full of dreary winter and rainy spring days so far this year, with only a couple of brief, sunny reprieves.

Jenny was in her bikini and putting her face on. She was readying herself for a busy morning of lying around by the pool. After telling me where to find breakfast and coffee, she joked, "the Australians take all the cream though. I like to blame everything on the Australians." They were an easy target, I already knew, even though I had just arrived in Bali the previous evening. The place was rife with Australian tourists.

Bali is also lousy with street merchants, who stand in front of their shops trying to lure you in, desperate to relieve every tourist of all of their rupiah. We bobbed and weaved our way through them as we made our way to the beach later that day. "Hello, my friend," they all said to either one of us. To me, they always said, "Hey, green hair!" or "I like your hair!" and a couple of them just exclaimed, "Lady Gaga!"

"You're the bell of the Balinese ball, Amy!" Jenny said. "Damn, if I ever want to get laid in Indonesia, I'm going to dye my hair purple or something!"

We got down to the beach, each of us a sweaty mess under the glaring sun. We rented chairs with umbrellas and then all of the beach merchants descended upon us, in hopes that we'd buy their sunglasses, ice cream, or drinks (we acquiesced and bought a couple of cold beers). One man came by to try to sell us hats. Jen told him, "I spent all my money already!"

"Ahh," he replied, "tomorrow, if you want to hold onto your money, beware of the massage ladies! And the bracelet ladies! The bullshit-talking bracelet ladies."

Naturally we were intrigued, but we were also distracted by the funny ring that "bullshit-talking bracelet ladies" had to it. A woman walked by shortly after, her voice beckoning, "Massage?" I had to grab Jen's towel and cover me face to stifle my laugh.

After our one hour was up in our rented chairs, we walked from Kuta beach to a beach in Seminyak. We'd planned to eat on the beach and watch the sunset and hear live music and we found a bar where we could do all of these things. I like it here, even though it takes some getting used to that noodles are served for breakfast. The only dairy I get each day in the cream in my coffee, but I don't miss the sluggish feeling that plagues me when I've had too much dairy. Most places only serve instant coffee though, so that is another adjustment. But rice, veggies, fresh fish and Bintang beers are readily available everywhere and have pretty much become my diet here, and I can't complain.

The next day, we found a place that served real cappuccinos, for which we were eternally grateful. After lounging around by the pool for a couple hours, we headed back to the beach, where we played our ukuleles. People wanted their pictures taken with us as we played. Jenny pointed out that I had pictures taken of me for money back home, as a model. "Hey," she quipped, "she gets paid like, a thousand dollars an hour for this normally!"A man was lying in the sand just a few yards away from where Jenny sat. He kept smiling and staring at her, ostensibly enjoying the music. I went out to swim in the Indian ocean. Someone came by and started taking video of Jenny while she played more music. Then, she recounted to me later, the man lying in the sand nearby unbuckled his belt and took liberties with himself while Jenny played on. He was just fastening himself back up when I returned.

Today we took a long boat ride to one of the Gili Islands, where we'll spend the next 48 hours. The waves were prodigious and choppy. The boat ride felt treacherous. Jen gave me the Mexican equivalent of dramamine, stowed away from one of her other adventures, before, and during, the boat ride. I still felt a little queasy, especially when the two women in front of us started taking turns vomiting. Mercifully, Jenny and I kept our breakfasts down. I clutched my belongings or Jenny's hand in fear every time the boat shook, but finally, after an hour and a half of rocking back and forth, we arrived.

After we climbed out of the boat, scaled the side of it to get back to the front of it and jump off, we made the rest of our rainy voyage to the hotel on foot. We stepped mostly around, but sometimes through, big muddy puddles, as bicyclists and chickens scurried by. There are no cars on the island, only bikes and horse-drawn carriages. The rain and mud sticking to us, we finally found our little, rustic hotel, complete with an outdoor shower and toilet. I felt happy to take a tepid shower before lunch. I reflected on how I'd woken up today feeling sad that I was halfway through my trip to Bali already. I counted the days to see if I was wrong and if maybe I had more time ahead of me.

On our scary boat ride, I started counting the days before I leave Bali.

Now that I'm rested, clean and fed, I am happily between those two extremes: grateful for what I've experienced so far, and excited for what lies ahead, but relieved that I'll get to return home next week and see my son again.

As we'd traipsed through the mud, hauling all of our luggage to our hotel earlier today, a Australian man saw me struggling with my suitcase and offered to carry it over the mud puddles for me. I thanked him and he kept my bag from getting wet and filthy. "See Jen," I thought to myself, "there's something you can't blame an Aussie for: good old-fashioned chivalry." I can't wait to see what other kindhearted or bullshit-talking people we will meet on our adventure.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

My Top Five, Part Five, or My Favorite Show of All Time

For a long time Vienna held the record, until it was briefly usurped by Brooklyn, NY. But just a couple of months ago, I went on a mini-tour with my harmonica player, Kevin Raybon, and our final show of the weekend, in Seattle, blew everything else out of the water for me.

We had done a tour kick-off show at my favorite Portland venue, Jade Lounge, on Friday January 13th. The following day, we drove to Edmonds, WA for a photo shoot that I had scheduled with one of my favorite fashion and art photographers, Lars Giusti. Then Kevin picked me back up a few hours later and drove me to Monroe, WA, where we had our second show of the weekend. Kevin's family and some friends and fans of mine came out to support us and made the night pretty great. Then Kevin and I headed to Everett and spent the night in a divey motel downtown, but didn't have much time to rest up before another photo shoot for me the following day, in Kirkland, with another of my favorites, Chester West. But it was our final show of the weekend, the following night in Seattle, that took the cake.

We were scheduled to open the show that night at Hattie's Hat, a Ballard-area bar in Seattle where I had played at about a year before. When I played there last year, I was opening for an amazing blues man, Ray Cashman, who was on tour from Nashville. It was a treat for me to get to see him but we didn't have a very big crowd that night. But when I came back with Kevin, on January 15th of this year, we had a much better turn out. I cannot take the credit for this: there were a few people that I knew who came out to support us, but I'm fairly certain that most of the crowd was there to see the headliner, Natalie Quist. So what made this night so magical for me and Kevin, who now perform as Amy Bleu Duo? Well, a few things:

First of all, I had never met Natalie before, but I'd heard her name so many times. She tours the Northwest frequently, like I do, so I was always seeing that she was about to play some bar in some small town in Washington that I had just played, or that she had played some winery in Idaho the night before I would be there. So many times our paths nearly crossed. I heard from mutual friends that her music was incredible. Finally we got to meet at Hattie's, and she told me she had seen my name and heard so much about me for so long, too! We all got to the venue at about six PM that night for sound-check, and burgers. My friend, Charissa from Everett, hitched a ride with me and Kevin to help guarantee that it would be a fun night; Charissa always brings the fun. We were slated to open the show at 7 and Natalie would go on after, at 8 PM. A big crowd started filing in around 6:45.

This is the second thing that kicked ass about our night: the crowd came early, and they were quiet and respectful when Kevin and I took the stage. Their politeness seemed to melt into genuine interest pretty quickly. I played a few solo songs on my guitar, then invited Kevin up to play a song on his guitar while I sang back up and shook my egg shaker. Then he backed me up on harmonica for several songs. I belted out our cover of "Exes and Ohs", originally done by Elle King, and tapped my tambourine with my foot, while everyone bobbed their heads and tapped their toes along with us. Kevin absolutely killed it on the blues harp. Then he really brought the house down with his solo guitar-and-vocal performance of "Chelsea Hotel #2" by Leonard Cohen.

Another way that this night was a success was that we more than doubled our earnings in tips! After our set, we got sit back and relax and get mesmerized by the crafty lyrics, haunting vocals and crisp guitar sounds that Natalie provided. She had the crowd in the palm of her hand, and it was such a great feeling to know that we had also had them there. We connected with so many strangers that night! It was one of those nights that reminded me of why I follow my songs from town to town, when all the traveling and the photo shoots in between shows can be a lot of work, and the cost of being on the road is so great that sometimes you don't come home with much money.

As this series draws to a close (for now), I want to thank everyone who has been so hospitable and kind to me on the road. And I want to acknowledge that I have had way too many memorable shows in Portland, where I've lived for the past twelve years, and in Spokane, where I was born and where I returned to really begin my music career, in 2003. I couldn't pick my favorite out of shows where I sold out on CD release nights, where I had wardrobe malfunctions and gave the crowd more than they'd paid for with an eyeful of flesh, where I jammed with other musicians on their songs or they jumped in on mine and created a version of it that would only exist for that one moment in time. I will continue to play in Portland every month for a long time, if I am lucky, for the rest of my days. I will always come back and play my hometown, too, for as long as Spokane will have me back. So I challenge you, Spokane and Portland, give us our best show yet! I know you can.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

My Top Five, Part 4 (or My Second Best Show Ever)

In 2012, at the tender age of 31, I got into modeling. Actually, it was my best friend, Andrea Faith, who originally got me into it, when I was in my twenties. She was the first person to ever take a good photograph of me, when I was about 20. I was a young snow white, holding an apple, staring at the camera with my big eyes, asking the camera if it wants to bite the apple. Prior to that, everyone told me I was just not photogenic. I agreed with them, until Andrea changed my perspective and, really, my life, in this way.

Still, I didn't exactly know then how to parlay this into a living. I worked myriad minimum wage jobs, let the occasional lecher take my picture and played music at restaurants in exchange for free pizza and beer. Then I moved back to my hometown to live with a photographer boyfriend for a while. We dated for a year and he featured me in his gallery shows in local bars and coffee houses in Spokane -- until a nude photograph of me showed up in a coffee house I was performing music at, without my permission! It was classy and artistic but still, not what I wanted someone focusing on when they're supposed to be listening to my music.

There were some other artists I met along way who I modeled for, not for pay but in the name of art and friendship. There were a few random craigslist gigs for a small amount of beans. And then one day, just before I left for a six month long music tour, when I was 31, I realized that I needed to get serious about modeling, so that it could be my day job, while I lived on the road. It turned out to be the perfect day job: I could set my own hours and rates, I could shoot during the day and play my music at night, and I could find modeling gigs in every major city, and some smaller ones, too.

Flash forward four years: At age 35, I was modeling almost full time, on top of doing social work full time, and as for my music... I guess you could say I worked part time as a musician, but lived and breathed music all the time. I went to New York three times last year. Even after supporting myself for six months with modeling on my music tour in 2012, and going back to modeling on nights and weekends five weeks after I had my son, and making a really good living at it for the last couple years, I still never imagined that I would be in New York one day, modeling and playing music!

My friend Rosalee was another instrumental figure in my modeling career. I met her two years ago at a photographer's home studio near Seattle, but she turned out to live in Portland, just like I do. She attached to me quickly as she did not know many other models in the area, but I, on the other hand, but was intimidated at first by her beauty and also her street smarts about the industry. We did become fast friends though, and she has been more generous with her modeling contacts than any other model I've met. Whenever she works with a photographer that she likes, she tells them about me. So it was her idea that I should come to New York with her, in February of 2016, to meet and work with people that she knew there. Everyone she knew turned out to be unavailable to shoot with us, but we made some new contacts. I got to shoot in my lingerie on the Brooklyn Bridge and down on the streets of Manhattan in the early morning hours on a windy, chilly winter day, but I knew that I'd get a shot or two that would make it all worth it, and I did.

I looked for a music gig for months before our trip and finally found a venue that was willing to host me, with a caveat: I needed to book three other artists and build the whole show myself! Though this was daunting at first, I didn't balk because I had done the same thing in other towns like Seattle and Olympia, where I don't know many other musicians, but was able to find contacts by doing my research on Reverbnation.com.

Rather than searching for popular artists in New York in general, I refined my search and looked for singers specifically in Brooklyn, where I'd be playing. I met several popular Brooklyn-based artists online and, if they couldn't play, they referred me to other people whom I should talk to. Eventually I got my dream bill together: A pop goddess with a great following, an indie folk hero who had been featured on a popular late night television show, and a nationally touring artist who arrived just in time to headline after her band had finished opening for Ozzy Osbourne!

Rosalee was working as a promo model at a party that was running late that night, so she couldn't come to the show with me. I took the subway and ate a giant slice of pizza on my way to the show. I wasn't sure if anyone would be in the audience, if patrons would file in later to see only the artists that they had already heard. But the room quickly filled up as I was plugging in cables and gearing up for soundcheck. Damn, I should've taken a beta blocker but now it's too late in the game, I realized. Neurotic as ever, I started my set promptly at 9 PM. The room was one of those pin-drop quiet scenes, and a dark sea of faces with white shining eyes was facing me, hands clapping and then quieting so that their ears could hear more. Voices laughing in just the right spots on the funny songs, faces somber but sympathetic during sad songs. Right where you want them. My stomach felt a punch that wasn't unpleasant, like a rush after you've taken a pill and you know that intense euphoria is imminent.

Euphoria finally settled in as I heard the final round of applause, unplugged my instruments, and headed to the bar for a whiskey. The stage fright had nowhere to go but away. I didn't have to worry about fucking up any longer; all I had to think about was relaxing, listening to the other artists, sipping my whiskey and getting offered more whiskeys - along with compliments - from the denizens of the bar.

It was only after I returned back to the hotel that I realized that I had been buzzing all night from the adrenaline of playing a great show and connecting with audience members. The hotel room was so much quieter than the loud, dive bar, with my girl friend sleeping and the air conditioner humming. I suddenly felt exhausted and I figured that it was from expending so much energy at the show, adjusting to East Coast time, having a few whiskeys. Plus it was after midnight when I settled into my hotel bed to rest before I would wake up in the early morning hours for the aforementioned Brooklyn Bridge shoot. Little did I know, I was coming down with strep throat. But somehow I made out at six in the morning, with my weak cup of hotel coffee, into the February cold and hailed a cab, like it was no big deal.

My Top Five, Part 3

The first thing I can remember about my third greatest gig of all time is playing Madlibs in the car with my parents and brother on the way from Ljubljana, Slovenia to Vienna, Austria. It is the way that many good tours start out. Usually I’m suggesting dirty words to old friends or my band-mate these days; but my family was the original Madlib crew. My brother Jake was only a teenager, so he was the only one really age-appropriate for this game, but it worked for the rest of our gang with our combined emotional maturity levels.

There was a border with no one working at it when we crossed countries. I found it strange, but my parents said this was normal for that part of Europe. I suggested that we go to lunch at Cafe Landtmann, rumored to have been a favorite of Freud’s, when we reached Vienna. We knew that we would all generously be fed a vegetarian meal at the venue that I’d be playing at later, so we all agreed on soups and sandwiches at the famous cafe beforehand. A large hummingbird danced before our table, and we oohed and ahhed... until we noticed that he had antennae! He must be an exotic bug! Would he sting us?! we wondered, and we all screamed like crazy Americans and made everyone stare.The first thing I can remember about my third greatest gig of all time is playing Madlibs in the car with my parents and brother on the way from Ljubljana, Slovenia to Vienna, Austria. It is the way that many good tours start out. Usually I’m suggesting dirty words to old friends or my band-mate these days; but my family was the original Madlib crew. My brother Jake was only a teenager, so he was the only one really age-appropriate for this game, but it worked for the rest of our gang with our combined emotional maturity levels.

There was a border with no one working at it when we crossed countries. I found it strange, but my parents said this was normal for that part of Europe. I suggested that we go to lunch at Cafe Landtmann, rumored to have been a favorite of Freud’s, when we reached Vienna. We knew that we would all generously be fed a vegetarian meal at the venue that I’d be playing at later, so we all agreed on soups and sandwiches at the famous cafe beforehand. A large hummingbird danced before our table, and we oohed and ahhed... until we noticed that he had antennae! He must be an exotic bug! Would he sting us?! we wondered, and we all screamed like crazy Americans and made everyone stare.

My parents, being fairly reasonable people, rented someone’s apartment for the night for themselves and my brother, but I’d been promised a room at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, where I’d be performing at later. I saw my parents’ nice two-story town-home before the show, and they insisted that I could stay with them, but I said, “No way, a spare room at a strange college in a foreign country where I don’t know anyone else sounds way better!”

We all headed to the venue, called Tuwi, at BOKU (the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences) around dinner time. I got my soundcheck done and then joined my family and some new friends for vegan pasta and bread on picnic tables outside. It was a warm night in June of 2010. After dinner, we all went back inside the venue where they served all of us beer, even my brother, who was 14 at the time, but in all fairness, was super tall and had a full beard. Everyone smoked cigarettes and joints on the dance floor and they even danced to my music, which was something I had only seen children do before! I opened the set by greeting them with “Willkommen zur show!”and then apologizing for not knowing anymore German. My brother was standing around smoking and my parents were teasing him to go hit on college chicks because he looked so much older. Then my mom took pictures and videos of me playing, and the crowd asked for an encore. I teased them that they didn’t know yet that it was uncool to like me in America, and my mother asked me never to tell a crowd that ever again.

After my set, a jam band played, and then a DJ. My family retired to their own space for the night, but not before offering to take me back with them again. I insisted that I would be fine in the conference room that the staff had found for me to sleep in... with just a mattress on the floor... and no lock on the door. Never would this fly for 30-something me. But for just barely still 20-something me, it was apparently kosher. My family left so I tried some weed which I almost never did back then when I didn’t know the difference in strains and why some of them made me freak out! Smoke, dance, smoke, dance, repeat, all night, is what I did.

There were two African dudes fighting over me, who were both very handsome, but I was married. I wore a locket with his picture inside of it on that tour to remind me of how married I was, and to feel less lonely. One of these gentleman worked for the venue and kept supplying me with free beers all night, but I had to cut myself off and ask to be shown to my room. He led me to my room and explained how there was no lock and that he would check on me later. I didn’t like the sound of that. He tried to make a move but I showed him my locket. He waved at the picture and let out a tiny, “hello!” before leaving me alone.

After he left, I barricaded myself in the room, moving every piece of furniture I could find in front of the door. I didn’t want him or anyone else to try to come find me! The man who had shown me to my room told me that I would be paid for my performance the following day. I woke up and was grateful to find that everything was still in its place and that it did not look like anyone had tried to come into the conference room. Rubbed my eyes, gathered my things, and headed to the bathroom... Argh, no shower! I wrestled my grungy, kinky hair into two dirty pigtails and brushed my teeth in the sink. Then I headed downstairs in search of coffee and money.

In the cold, clear light of day, Tuwi was tranformed from a crazy night club / vegan restaurant, to just an ordinary hippie coffeehouse. I approached the counter and found a man working there, who hadn’t been at the show the night before. “Entschuldigen sie... Guten morgen. Wo ist Bridget?” I asked him. Bridget had booked me and I’d been told that she’d be paying me as well, so I had said “excuse me, good morning” and asked the man at the front counter where Bridget was.

The barista launched into a lengthy explanation, using way more German words than I understood. Geez, I really hadn’t thought this through. I backed up and asked him if he spoke English. He chuckled and confirmed that he did.

He poured me a cup of coffee and called Bridget on his phone. He spoke to her in more German and then got off the phone and addressed me. “Apparently there was a misunderstanding. Bridget thought that you were paid last night.” My forehead crinkled in concern and I’m sure my voice got squeaky, too. I asserted that I had not yet been paid, and he asked me if I could wait a few hours for Bridget to come in. I explained that my family was picking me up and that I had a plane to catch back to London, to begin my long journey back to the States. There was no way I could wait, and I needed to be paid before I left town.

The barista was very understanding and called Bridget again. She agreed that he could pay me out of the till as long as I could sign a receipt to verify that I’d received my full pay. He handed over a pile of Euros and I signed, and heaved a sigh of relief. My parents had left me with an emergency cell since I didn’t have a cell phone of my own back then. I called my parents and asked them to come pick me up. They arrived shortly after and more Madlibs were transcribed. I gave my brother a copy of my favorite book, 1984, which I had finished reading for the second time on that trip.

My parents and brother dropped me off at the small Ljubljana airport before they returned to their home there. I had one last pint of my favorite local beer that I had discovered when I had been visiting them and chilling out for a few days in Slovenia in between tour stops. I was almost too tired and partied out to finish that one last beer. Almost.

I took a plane to London, a plane to somewhere in between, and finally a plane to Portland. My husband arrived at the airport to pick me up. He didn’t drive but he’d wanted to meet me there and help me get home by shuttle or max train. He brought me a bouquet of flowers, and asked me all about my trip. I’d been gone for a couple of weeks, maybe just a week and a half, but it felt like we’d been apart for so long.

We decided to take a shuttle and I chattered on about my trip. When we got off and started walking home, he warned me that he had something unpleasant to tell me, but that he had wanted for me to be excited about my trip and to share it with him first. It was one of the kindest things that anyone had ever done for me.

When we reached our apartment, he broke the news to me, that one of my closest friends had died a couple days before I got home. Vanessa had been killed in a work accident. While she was working and passed away during the day on June 24th, 2010, it was night time in Vienna, and I was high and drunk but mostly jacked up on the good feeling of playing, at that time, the best show of my career. It felt paradoxical and impossible that these two things had happened at the exact same time. And then I didn’t want it to be one of my favorite shows anymore, for a while. Vanessa had been a performer as well: she opened for friends’ bands occasionally; she didn’t seem to pursue it as fiercely as I did. I felt guilt for having just finished my first European tour, and for having achieved some local success as well; I was touring the NW every other weekend those days. It was unnecessary guilt, my husband pointed out. If she had wanted it as badly, she would’ve pursued it harder. He reminded me how much she had loved being a welder, and how she died doing what she loved. It brought me peace, and it was another one of the kindest things he’d ever done for me.

Another friend told me, you make a space for her on stage and bring her with you. That is what I do now. And my fruit-loopy, sober, mountain dew-drinking, dancing-her-ass-off-at- any-opportune-moment friend, Vanessa, would have loved me playing in Vienna and I know she wouldn’t want me to feel bad for having fun that night, when I had no way of knowing what was happening back home. So I remember this show, and I always remember my family’s company, my audience’s ebullient response, my husband’s acts of kindness... and my friend, dancing, high on caffeine, as if she’d been in the crowd, or is now dancing in space.

My parents, being fairly reasonable people, rented someone’s apartment for the night for themselves and my brother, but I’d been promised a room at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, where I’d be performing at later. I saw my parents’ nice two-story town-home before the show, and they insisted that I could stay with them, but I said, “No way, a spare room at a strange college in a foreign country where I don’t know anyone else sounds way better!”

We all headed to the venue, called Tuwi, at BOKU (the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences) around dinner time. I got my soundcheck done and then joined my family and some new friends for vegan pasta and bread on picnic tables outside. It was a warm night in June of 2010. After dinner, we all went back inside the venue where they served all of us beer, even my brother, who was 14 at the time, but in all fairness, was super tall and had a full beard. Everyone smoked cigarettes and joints on the dance floor and they even danced to my music, which was something I had only seen children do before! I opened the set by greeting them with “Willkommen zur show!”and then apologizing for not knowing anymore German. My brother was standing around smoking and my parents were teasing him to go hit on college chicks because he looked so much older. Then my mom took pictures and videos of me playing, and the crowd asked for an encore. I teased them that they didn’t know yet that it was uncool to like me in America, and my mother asked me never to tell a crowd that ever again.

After my set, a jam band played, and then a DJ. My family retired to their own space for the night, but not before offering to take me back with them again. I insisted that I would be fine in the conference room that the staff had found for me to sleep in... with just a mattress on the floor... and no lock on the door. Never would this fly for 30-something me. But for just barely still 20-something me, it was apparently kosher. My family left so I tried some weed which I almost never did back then when I didn’t know the difference in strains and why some of them made me freak out! Smoke, dance, smoke, dance, repeat, all night, is what I did.

There were two African dudes fighting over me, who were both very handsome, but I was married. I wore a locket with his picture inside of it on that tour to remind me of how married I was, and to feel less lonely. One of these gentleman worked for the venue and kept supplying me with free beers all night, but I had to cut myself off and ask to be shown to my room. He led me to my room and explained how there was no lock and that he would check on me later. I didn’t like the sound of that. He tried to make a move but I showed him my locket. He waved at the picture and let out a tiny, “hello!” before leaving me alone.

After he left, I barricaded myself in the room, moving every piece of furniture I could find in front of the door. I didn’t want him or anyone else to try to come find me! The man who had shown me to my room told me that I would be paid for my performance the following day. I woke up and was grateful to find that everything was still in its place and that it did not look like anyone had tried to come into the conference room. Rubbed my eyes, gathered my things, and headed to the bathroom... Argh, no shower! I wrestled my grungy, kinky hair into two dirty pigtails and brushed my teeth in the sink. Then I headed downstairs in search of coffee and money.

In the cold, clear light of day, Tuwi was tranformed from a crazy night club / vegan restaurant, to just an ordinary hippie coffeehouse. I approached the counter and found a man working there, who hadn’t been at the show the night before. “Entschuldigen sie... Guten morgen. Wo ist Bridget?” I asked him. Bridget had booked me and I’d been told that she’d be paying me as well, so I had said “excuse me, good morning” and asked the man at the front counter where Bridget was.

The barista launched into a lengthy explanation, using way more German words than I understood. Geez, I really hadn’t thought this through. I backed up and asked him if he spoke English. He chuckled and confirmed that he did.

He poured me a cup of coffee and called Bridget on his phone. He spoke to her in more German and then got off the phone and addressed me. “Apparently there was a misunderstanding. Bridget thought that you were paid last night.” My forehead crinkled in concern and I’m sure my voice got squeaky, too. I asserted that I had not yet been paid, and he asked me if I could wait a few hours for Bridget to come in. I explained that my family was picking me up and that I had a plane to catch back to London, to begin my long journey back to the States. There was no way I could wait, and I needed to be paid before I left town.

The barista was very understanding and called Bridget again. She agreed that he could pay me out of the till as long as I could sign a receipt to verify that I’d received my full pay. He handed over a pile of Euros and I signed, and heaved a sigh of relief. My parents had left me with an emergency cell since I didn’t have a cell phone of my own back then. I called my parents and asked them to come pick me up. They arrived shortly after and more Madlibs were transcribed. I gave my brother a copy of my favorite book, 1984, which I had finished reading for the second time on that trip.

My parents and brother dropped me off at the small Ljubljana airport before they returned to their home there. I had one last pint of my favorite local beer that I had discovered when I had been visiting them and chilling out for a few days in Slovenia in between tour stops. I was almost too tired and partied out to finish that one last beer. Almost. I took a plane to London, a plane to somewhere in between, and finally a plane to Portland. My husband arrived at the airport to pick me up. He didn’t drive but he’d wanted to meet me there and help me get home by shuttle or max train. He brought me a bouquet of flowers, and asked me all about my trip. I’d been gone for a couple of weeks, maybe just a week and a half, but it felt like we’d been apart for so long.

We decided to take a shuttle and I chattered on about my trip. When we got off and started walking home, he warned me that he had something unpleasant to tell me, but that he had wanted for me to be excited about my trip and to share it with him first. It was one of the kindest things that anyone had ever done for me.

When we reached our apartment, he broke the news to me, that one of my closest friends had died a couple days before I got home. Vanessa had been killed in a work accident. While she was working and passed away during the day on June 24th, 2010, it was night time in Vienna, and I was high and drunk but mostly jacked up on the good feeling of playing, at that time, the best show of my career. It felt paradoxical and impossible that these two things had happened at the exact same time. And then I didn’t want it to be one of my favorite shows anymore, for a while. Vanessa had been a performer as well: she opened for friends’ bands occasionally; she didn’t seem to pursue it as fiercely as I did. I felt guilt for having just finished my first European tour, and for having achieved some local success as well; I was touring the NW every other weekend those days. It was unnecessary guilt, my husband pointed out. If she had wanted it as badly, she would’ve pursued it harder. He reminded me how much she had loved being a welder, and how she died doing what she loved. It brought me peace, and it was another one of the kindest things he’d ever done for me.

Another friend told me, you make a space for her on stage and bring her with you. That is what I do now. And my fruit-loopy, sober, mountain dew-drinking, dancing-her-ass-off-at- any-opportune-moment friend, Vanessa, would have loved me playing in Vienna and I know she wouldn’t want me to feel bad for having fun that night, when I had no way of knowing what was happening back home. So I remember this show, and I always remember my family’s company, my audience’s ebullient response, my husband’s acts of kindness... and my friend, dancing, high on caffeine, as if she’d been in the crowd, or is now dancing in space.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

My top five, part 2

My fourth most favorite show of all time took place in Amsterdam at the end of 2011, on my second European tour. I went to visit my family in the Hague, and then they delivered me to Amsterdam, where I flew out of on the following day. I remember it being an icy cold, windy day. The sky was gray and people were riding bikes everywhere and smoking pot all over the place, so I felt like I was right at home in Portland in some ways. But all of the buildings were older, and there were little canals and foot bridges and pot cafes that reminded you that you were somewhere else.

My family stood in line with me for one and a half, maybe two hours, outside in the freezing cold, waiting to get into the Anne Frank Museum. It was a touching act of kindness, since they had already been there, but they knew I wanted to go in. It was an incredible, grotesque and raw but important experience, going through and seeing these artifacts and proof of one of the most horrifying things that has happened in our history.

After we left the museum, we had dinner at the Hard Rock Amsterdam, because my family is American, so they like those old familiar comforts like chain restaurants. I don’t mind the Hard Rock at all, because I love seeing the memorabelia, and they usually have at least a veggie burger I can eat.

After dinner, my parents and brother needed to get back to the Hague; it was getting late. They dropped me off at my hotel, and I found another closet room waiting for me. It was clean and affordable so I had no complaints. I didn’t have a cell phone back then, so I had printed a map from the hotel to the train to the venue before I left my parents’ house. I had studied Dutch for a few months prior to my trip, to learn to say things like, “excuse me”, “hello”, “do you speak English” and “where is this?”

I got off of my train and was supposed to be looking out for the venue near a long bridge. I didn’t see it anywhere near the foot of the bridge, so I asked some passerby in Dutch, “excuse me, do you speak English? No? OK, where is this?” and pointed at my map. No one had seemed to have heard of this venue I was supposed to be playing. I started to get worried: I’d left with plenty of time to get to the venue early, but I hadn’t planned for getting this lost. Now I was walking back and forth across the bridge, looking for anything that vaguely resembled a bar. Asking people in Dutch, “where is this?” Asking some people who spoke Spanish, in the Spanish I know, which is very little and muy malo. “No se,” they responded.

I found some people who spoke English to ask for directions, but they were tourists, so they had no idea where anything was either. Seeing a line of house boats near the foot of the bridge, I took a chance. Roaming in the dark, passing boat after boat, felt futile. Then suddenly, I came across a boat with Christmas lights all over it and beer signs in the window. I noticed a small sign on the door that said, “Hannekes Boom”. This was it! I rushed into the venue, checking my watch just before I checked in at the bar. Oof, eight o’clock already! I never show up right when the show is meant to start; I always arrive early, to set up, so I felt pretty embarassed rolling in at 8.

“Don’t worry about it! Relax, have a beer!” said the bartender. She poured me a beer, asked me if I had any merchandise that I wanted to leave on the counter for her to sell for me. I hadn’t gone in with the proper working papers, but, being that it was the holiday season, I had figured out that if I wraped a pile of my own CDs in wrapping paper, customs would think they were just a gift. So I unwrapped my CDs and left them on the counter, selling out of the whole pile later that night.

I was opening for a jam band, and they had their own photographer with them. They had already set up their gear before I took the stage. I started playing my guitar and singing. Got about half way into set, when, one by one, members of the jam band began joining me on stage, without any provocation for me, and began playing their instruments along with my music. It felt serendipitous because they were all so tight and played so well by ear that they sounded like the back up band that I should have brought!

The band’s photographer took photos and we danced to the jam band together after my set. Everyone else in the room was just standing and nodding their heads slightly. “Why aren’t they dancing?” I asked Friso, the photographer. “ “They are Dutch,” he replied. “This is how they dance.”

“Ahh, I understand,” I said, thinking about white guys at concerts in Portland. Friso helped me through a hail storm and back to my hotel when the jam band was finished playing. I flew back to Portland the next morning, still buzzing from the warm reception in Amsterdam the night before. It was New Year’s Eve when I got home, and I was on my way to celebrate with my then-estranged-husband, and to start an exciting new chapter. The next year would bring a reconciliation, a six-month-long tour in the US, and a baby. What if I’d known when I was about to board that plane back to States? Would I have run toward it, or sat frozen, immobilized by the weight of the responsibility that all of those beautiful things would bring?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

My Top Five, Part 1

People always ask me what my favorite performance was so far. But I am a list-marker so I have a top five. I want to record it here, so that I don’t forget one day, when I am old.
5. London, first European tour, in 2010: 10 years after I’d moved away, I returned to the city where I had lived for two years (end of high school/first and only year of college; I’d gone through a certificate program instead of doing four years). I had other places to visit on the trip, but I needed to be back in London first. London and Portland are my favorite places that I’ve ever lived, so I supposed I love places with gloomy weather, despite my seasonal affective disorder. In the middle of my long voyage, I switched planes somewhere. After having gone through the trouble of requesting vegetarian meals for each flight, and sleeping through the first flight, I was finally going to eat. A flight attendant brought me a sandwich. I was mid-sandwich, wondering, how did they slice this tofu so thin?, when I noticed on the wrapper it did not say “vegetarian”, but was marked “kosher/Muslim”. Yep, I was eating meat. And I was a hardcore vegan at the time (and not the sloppy vegetarian that I am now).

The second flight was the longest but I couldn’t sleep: I was getting too excited to be back in London and perform there for the first time (besides an a cappella performance I did at an open mic once when I lived there). After I arrived, I quickly found the train so that I could find my hotel and drop off my suitcase. My hotel was charmingly antiquated, and my room was the size of a closet. My shower was right over my toilet, and I’d never seen that before, but I was happier than a pig a shit, so who needs a shower? I was back in London, and I was on my first European music tour.

After dropping off my bag, I took my ukulele and hopped on the tube, and headed to the venue. It was June, and when I stepped outside I found that it was unusually warm and sunny. I had to take off my sweater! Everyone from around those parts can attest that you only get two days a year that are warm and sunny and not grey and foggy, and so I thanked my lucky stars.

By the time I got to the venue and started drinking my pre-show beer, I realized that I had been awake and not eating for 24 hours straight! My body did not know what time it was or when to feed it, because of changing time zones. Thankfully I didn’t get messed up from the combination of drinking one beer on an empty stomach. I nailed my performance, and even had the guts to play a very personal, and, at the time, brand new song, called “S&M”. Everyone in the pub was quiet and staring at me. It was the highest compliment: after having lived in London, I was more accustomed to the locals being quiet and extremely civilized on the streets during the day, and then getting loud and wild in the pubs at night. I was so flattered that they were quiet and took in everything I had to say. Afterwards many denizens of the pub asked me for CDs but regrettably I hadn’t figured out how to smuggle them into another country without paying for a work permit (more on that later). Many of them told me how brave they thought I was, to be singing about my sexual feelings, wearing sexy clothes, traveling alone, not having a back-up band to keep me company... Yikes! I thought, good points! It was midnight then, I realized. Time to take the tube back to my hotel and sleep, and head to Italy for the first time the next morning. A violinist from the opening band helped me find the right train to take.

Back in my closet room in some sketchy part of London I’d never visited before that afternoon, I tried to eat some falafel I’d bought from a little diner on my way back, but it was truly awful falafel. It was too hard to bite into. I turned on the TV, feeling wired, not knowing how I’d sleep when my internal clock still didn’t know what time it was. Then I found BBC news and it was like an old relative had come to read me a bedtime story: so soothing and familiar. I left it on and drifted off. I visited Piccadilly Circus quickly the next day since I hadn’t had time for any tourist activities when I was working and commuting the day before. And then I caught a quick puddle-jumper to Milan, the first place I would ever go where they didn’t speak my language. I had studied Italian off and on my whole life, but nothing prepared me for being surrounded by strangers who were only speaking Italian and not English. I got the worst culture shock... and then got drunk enough to get over it, and speak about a toddler’s level of Italian to all the hungry men who were out at the bars... but that is a story for another day.