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.