BOSTON AND CHOCOLATE

Bob Matros (engineer on the two recent CD’s) moved from Boston, Massachusetts to Colorado (Arvada, in particular) nearly two years ago.  About two weeks ago, I got an email from him:

“Can you give me the name of that voice teacher you were recommending to Ashely?” he asked.  “I’ve been thinking I could maybe use a few lessons myself.”

I wrote back to him, “Ironically, she moved to Boston in August.”

As long as we were more or less in the neighbourhood, Pony and I set aside a day to travel to Boston and look in on Gina Razon (the voice teacher, and opera singer extraordinaire), her husband, Karl, and their three-year-old daughter, Aria.  We arrived at about 10:30 am, in time for a scheduled brunch.  Gina and Karl are steadfast vegetarians, but Gina’s cooking can persuade you that this dietary choice need not be any sort of hardship. 

After brunch, we set to walk about the City.  Karl scored big time in finding a lovely and comfortable apartment that is in a prime location in what is called the Back Bay neighbourhood of Boston. 

“If I could get up on the roof of my apartment building, I could throw something at the Berklee School of Music from here,” said Karl.  In addition to being a stone’s throw from Berklee, the BSO  Hall is in easy walking distance, as well as the Public Library, Beacon Hill, a few major parks, the Prudential Mall, and all manner of other interesting shops and amenities.  Karl can walk about three blocks to where he works; making it possible for him to share lunch with Gina and Aria. Gina was almost apologetic about the fact that, since it was a Sunday, all the music stores were closed.  Pony allowed it was probably better that way.

So we wandered and saw the Public Library (a beautiful, huge place, with an inner courtyard that offers a serene place to sit, read, think grand thoughts), the park where swans and ducks reside, the primary church of Christian Scientists (no really:  it is apparently referred to as the First Church of that particular denomination, and it can easily stand up to many a cathedral), and much more.  Towards the end of our afternoon outing, we stopped off at a place called Max Brenner’s; a chocolate shop and restaurant that apparently is also a well-known feature of downtown Boston.  While most of our party opted for various versions of Hot Chocolate (rightfully so:  it was a chilly day), I challenged the waitress to bring me the most chocolaty milk shake they could conjure.  And they did!! I was not disappointed. 

Although Gina had done reasonably well in Colorado (she had a good collection of voice students and had created her own opera production company), she and Karl had made the move to the East Coast to give her more professional opportunities.  She and I did a bit of comparing notes, in that both of us had undertaken to make a push into new territory, as it were; in search of greater possibilities.  Both Gina and Karl were finding Boston a good fit, while Pony and I were finding our new gypsy lifestyle full of pleasant adventures (and yes, a few challenges; but nothing that we couldn’t handle). 

Come Monday, the plan was to head back south.  But there was sort of a quest along the way. 

BREW’D AWAKENING COFFEE HAUS

October 26

Looking back at the listing on the Good Sam site, we now understand the dollar signs that were placed next to pets and showers.  The Pines RV Park charged us an extra $5 per day for Rufus (and figured they were giving us a break not charging us for any of the cats).  It was Friday morning (getting ready for the gig at Fat Daddy’s) that I was made aware that the shower they provided in the main office building cost four quarters per use.  We have a shower in the RV (which we used throughout our Massachusetts sojourn), so it wasn’t that terrible of an inconvenience; just annoying.  It was very much a nickel-and-dime sort of thing.  The folks running the place were friendly enough, but I guess we’d got a bit spoiled during our stay at Mahlon Dickerson (in New Jersey); that was a county park with heated bath and shower buildings (and really nice showers, at that!), and some lovely hiking trails and all.  The Pines were just a bit of a disappointment in comparison.

On Saturday, we made our way to Lowell, for the gig at Brew’d Awakening Coffee Haus.  It is located on the ground floor of a condo building in downtown Lowell.  It is a smallish place, with some fine, funky artwork all over the walls.  It was a bit hectic as I was setting up, as it was an official Trick or Treat afternoon for the neighbourhood kids, and Brew’d Awakening was dishing out candy right and left to costumed tykes when we first arrived. 

Brew’d Awakening also had a particular condition on musical performances, in that all the tunes had to be either original or Public Domain.  I played two hours, with just a short break in the middle (to sell a few CD’s), but this particular requirement on repertoire proved no problem for me.  And again, I enjoyed an appreciative, listening audience. 

After the gig, on the way back to the campsite, we stopped at a Farmer’s Market to pick up some fresh fruit and veggies.  At this point, I should explain that, as I was growing up, my Grandmother Engberg would make me a Boston Cream cake for my birthday.  Pony tried to find one for my latest birthday (last Thursday, the 24th of October), but had had no success.  Then, lo and behold, this Farmer’s Market also sold pies and cakes, and they had a small Boston Cream cake on hand.  Pony explained to the two sister who ran the place why I was so jazzed at this discovery, so one of them wrapped the cake up in a plastic container with a blue ribbon and a candle.  I ate it that night.  I ate it all!  A guilty pleasure, but worth it, every forkful.

FAT DADDY’S

October 25

We left Mahlon Dickerson Reservation, in Jefferson Township, New Jersey, to make our way to Ashby, Massachusetts.  I had two gigs: one in Nashua, New Hampshire, and the other in Lowell, Massachusetts, and there was an RV park in Ashby that was reasonably close to both venues (and not yet closed for the season, which is proving to be more or a factor as we get closer to November).

Fat Daddy’s Café, in Nashua, was a total blast.  It is a comfortable, bright, welcoming place, and owner Pauline Yates is a lovely, energetic  and endearing soul.  And she loves to cut a rug! She got up to dance with a couple of the customers, as well as her daughter and a grand-daughter (I have to say that I get a particular pleasure as a solo performer when I can inspire people to dance).  It is also to Pauline’s credit that she mustered up a fine audience for the night, including another musician (Paul was his name) who had played at Fat Daddy’s just the night before my performance. 

The audience made me feel very welcome.  They were there to listen and enjoy, and I did my very best to not disappoint them.  Pony and I set up various video recording devices and are hopeful there will be some useful footage to add to the batch already up on YouTube. 

Gigs like these are really the reason I was never all that attracted to drugs.  For me, playing for an appreciative, listening and responsive audience is a high better than any drug (not that I have much experience with chemicals to compare, but then I have never been tempted when I can have the occasional gig like this). 

 

THE MANY HATS BEHIND MANY HATS

October 22

Yesterday, Rufus and I did another hike.  We did not get lost this time, but still did a fine, brisk walk for a little over 90 minutes. 

The rest of the day was taken up with practicing guitar and taking care of business.  Pony and I had the latest in a series of business meetings; this one primarily devoted to planning an itinerary for 2014, along with some discussion about other tasks we need to attend to over the next few days.  I also spent a good amount of time doing some further research on marketing, identifying some additional questions that will require some more digging around in books and on the web.

I named my business Many Hats Music as a symbolic representation of the many different roles I play in my business.  In addition to performer, composer, recording artist and producer, I am frequently my own booking agent, publicist, and CEO of the corporation (which now also includes the recording label, which was previously run in tandem with my good friend and fellow founding member, Robynne Pennington).  And quite honestly, several of these roles could each be a full-time job in their own right.  I am also variously roadie, sound engineer, and driver. 

The bottom line is that every day is pretty full with things that demand attention.  Although I would blissfully spend many hours of a day just practicing guitar and rehearsing repertoire, I have to balance it with all these other tasks just to maintain and try to increase the business. 

Pony is an equal partner in all of this.  She has taken on most of the burden of building and maintaining our websites, as well as researching what we can do to increase our online presence and commerce.  She also does much to keep the books and try to hold us to a budget.  She is also trying to teach me what she has learned so far, as there will come a point when I have to attend to some of these tasks, as well (we have identified at least a couple of times in 2014 when we will be traveling separately, and I will have to be able to take care of everything in her absence). 

After attending to business, I went and got a pizza from Frank’s Pizza (again in the nearby Jefferson Township).  It was a much-needed reward after a long day.  We watched episodes from the first season of “Fringe” and munched on pizza.  Oh, and Pony found seven ticks on the dog.  So there was the added of fun of holding the puppy still while Pony used tweezers to rid Rufus of these unwelcome guests. 

NEW FRIENDS ON THE ROAD

October 18

“I hear singing,” Pony said.  She was once again organizing the storage bins that line the bottom of Ceci, our RV. 

It turned out that she heard a couple about four lots down from our own.  Tim and Kris were playing guitars (Tim on a steel string, Kris on a nylon string) and running through some tunes.  Rufus and I walked over to say hello, and it turned out that they had a beautiful Great Pyrenees puppy, about 18 months old (give or take), named Bella.  I invited Tim and Kris over to our place for some “ice tea” (the campsite is designated a “dry site”, so no obvious use of alcohol is permitted).  They came bearing a certain amount of their own “ice tea” to share.  Pony brought out a variety of cheese and crackers to munch on, as well. 

Kris runs an online business through Ebay.  Tim does construction and HVAC.  Tim was telling me about being plenty busy over the last year, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.  Although he also described some difficulties. 

“A lot of people are still fighting with insurance companies, trying to figure out how much money they actually have to rebuild.” As it turns out, just the other day, I heard a guy on the Public Radio speaking on this very issue.  He was complaining that he had been paying Homeowners and Flood insurance for some 16 years, and now was having a devil of a time getting the insurance company to process his claim. 

Meanwhile, Kris and Pony were having their own conversation on matters of philosophy and spirituality (Kris’ online business deals with New Age and Metaphysical goods of one sort or another). 

At some point, I broke out my guitars, in part to show them to Tim, who is an avid guitar hobbyist and can appreciate a well-made instrument.  I let him try out Betty and Virginie, then played some tunes from the two new CD’s. 

“How much are your CD’s,” Tim asked, “because I’m not leaving here without them.”  And so a somewhat spontaneous and informal house concert in our own rolling home resulted in the sale of a couple of CD’s (I found myself wondering if I could somehow develop this into an additional playing opportunity; staging our own house concerts out of our RV as we camp in one place or another). 

The next night, we all had dinner together at the Jefferson Diner, in the town nearby.  The Jefferson Diner has been featured on The Food Channel, and with some good reason.  We all agreed that the food was pretty tasty. 

In addition to meeting Tim and Kris, I also met Rich and Carrie: a couple, originally from Vermont, who had converted an old school bus into an RV and had the goal of staying in each of the 48 contiguous states of the United States (“and maybe Alaska, if I can work it out,” Rich told me).  They have two cats that they walk around with harnesses and leashes, so I had a conversation with them about how that might be done.  Rich told me they started by putting the harnesses on the cats to wear constantly, in their bus, for a few weeks.  Then they added leashes for a few more weeks before finally taking them outside.  Pony and I decided we might give this a try (with Murphy, at the very least).   

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

An introduction to the circle of some of our main characters:

_MG_0273ME (Michael Engberg):  an earnest, idealistic, pun-spouting, zen singer/songwriter/guitarist  (not always in that order). As the head of Many Hats Music, Inc., I variously operate as artistic director, CEO, booking agent, record producer, PR person, driver,  and … oh, yeah! …. the sole performing artist (at least for now).

Leone “Pony” Moyse: my lovely, witty, wise wife; she is occasional chauffeur, webmistress, roadie, cook extraordinaire, chief artistic sounding board, budget director and muse.

Zebie: our black cat and oldest pet.  We believe that Zebie is an alien, and uses the computers when we sleep to communicate with her “mother ship”.  She is a master of shadows: you can be looking in a corner, see nothing there, look again, and see two golden eyes.  100_1196

Sam-cat: our orange tabby, sleep-meister, dream walker and Cat-fu master.

Murphy: our big, fluffy, grey-and-white, escape artist and chief source of mischief.IMG_0028

Rufus: at a little over two years old, our 100% friendly, goodwill ambassador and perpetual puppy. IMG_0014

Betty: one of two steel string guitars built by luthier Edward Dick, she is possibly my loudest guitar.

Virginie: the youngest of the guitars built for me by Edward Dick, she has a Swiss spruce top, back and sides of African blackwood (one of the few woods that will sink if thrown into water, because of its density), a neck of Spanish cedar, with ebony fretboard and a rosette of marbled maple.  She is a nylon string with already a rich and powerful voice.  She is also the last gift from my father, as I used some gold coins he left me when he died to commission her creation.  She is named for one of our dear French friends.

Ceci (Cecilia): our 2002 Winnebago Brave, 33-foot RV.

Our Yellow Submarine: our 2007 Ford Focus (manual drive).  It is towed behind Ceci as we take the long treks of the tour, used for short trips to gigs, market, and such. 

My Little Nagger: the sportline pedometer I keep in my pocket almost always. 

Bert and Ernie: the two gargoyles that sit in the corners of Ceci’s dashboard.

Buddha: sitting squarely in the middle of the RV’s dashboard. 

And this makes up the central cast in our traveling home and roadshow. 

FIND MY WAY AROUND

Last week, while still in Annapolis, we had dinner with Dave and Nancy, friends of Gordon and Stacia, who have become new friends of ours.  Apparently, Dave used to work as a chef.  Now I have never worked as a chef, but there was a time, many years ago (just out of college), when I spent a bit of time as a waiter in my hometown of Burlington, working for one of the fancier restaurants in town.  One of the items on the menu, Steak Diane, called for me to do the final preparations table side (including a dramatic flambe’).  I remarked to Pony that I would like to re-learn that recipe, so she had bought a couple of steaks at the Amish Market in Annapolis, and Monday night, it was time for me to make my attempt to recreate Steak Diane. 

I’ll admit that I was stressing out about it some:  Pony had been doing the vast majority of cooking in the RV, and I still felt a bit less than familiar with the kitchen area.  But we downloaded the recipe and I found all the necessary ingredients, chopped and mixed and prepped, then lit the stove and proceeded with cooking dinner.  Pony helped by steaming some vegetables while I concentrated on the main course.  We had a bottle of red wine to accompany the meal. 

Somewhat to my surprise, the Steak Diane turned out excellently! I did not do the whole flambe’ thing:  I have heard horror stories about fires in RV’s and have grown ultra-cautious about such things (Pony had suggested that I could cook with the grill outside, but the park has multiple warnings about black bears that roam the woods, and I wasn’t all that thrilled about inviting such neighbours to our feast by dint of grilling and flaming meat outdoors, especially as night had already set in).  Regardless, as I said, the dinner turned out fantastic, and we were both happy campers with delightfully full bellies.

The next morning, I decided that Rufus and I should hike one of the trails.  Pony had bruised her big toe a few days ago, so she decided against joining us.  The trailhead said the trail was 3.5 miles long, so I figured maybe an hour or so of hiking.  It was a pleasant, cloudy morning.  It was obvious that we are in the middle of Autumn, with a thick carpet of leaves draped over moss-covered boulders.  It was all very scenic and serene.

Two and a half hours later, I had to admit that we were lost.  I had been following little blue squares that marked the trail along various trees, but then the blue squares turned into blue diamonds, and at some point we were at a highway, but it did not look like the highway I knew next to the entrance of the camp site.  Fortunately, the cell phone was working, so I got hold of Pony and she said she would get in the car to come look for us.  Meanwhile, I managed to flag down a driver who told me that we were on Ridge Road (the road next to the campsite entrance is Weldon Road), so we had managed to trek to the other side of the park, to the other road that borders it. 

I found a driveway just off Ridge Road, and a boulder to sit and wait for Pony.  In my side pouch, I had a small book of poetry by my friend, Dan Giancola.  So I sat and read poetry to Rufus while we waited (my voice reading the poetry seemed to calm my puppy down a bit).  After half an hour or so, Rufus saw our Yellow Submarine approaching and started squirming with joy.  We got home, and had a rather late brunch, after which the puppy and I took an afternoon nap.  We were both a bit tuckered out from our big adventure.  I admit that I am probably too citified to be very adept at the hiking/camping thing.  But I am hoping I am not too old to learn a few new tricks.  Meanwhile, for what it’s worth, the dog and I got a really good stretch of the legs. 

EAT, PRAY, AND CALL THE MECHANIC, PTII

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BEAUTIFUL FRENCHTOWN

I went over to the market and got some bread rolls, meat, cheese, and other things to make sandwiches for a late lunch.  After that, Pony, Rufus and I walked along the river path that borders the Delaware River to the downtown district.  We walked along Main Street, stopping at a coffeehouse that was catty corner to a boutique pet shop.  Pony got herself a latte and a chai for me while I got Rufus a chew stick.  Our doggie continues to act as our good will ambassador, as various people came by to remark on what a nice dog he was (“good looking” or “what a nice disposition he has”  and other such things).  Soon enough, the sun was setting and it was time to make our way back to the RV.  We spent the night munching on oysters, crackers, cheese and other such munchies, drinking wine and watching episodes from the first season of “Grimm”.

The next morning, after an early phone call, I carefully nursed the RV up “the hill” to Koches Auto Repair, on the east end of town.  We had unhitched our yellow submarine, so Pony drove ahead to scout out where we needed to go.  We left the RV in the capable hands of John Koches (warning him and his associates about the kitties, and especially about Murphy), then Rufus, Pony and I drove back into town to find some breakfast. 

Several of the town folk had told us to check out the Frenchtown Café, and we found the breakfast there worth all the praise.  It was a busy place, but we were fortunate enough to get a table adjoining the front window.  I have never been a coffee drinker, but Pony told me it was mighty fine.  I had a breakfast casserole of hard-boiled eggs, ham and onions in a cream and cheese sauce that was instant comfort food (yum!),

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BY THE RIVER IN FRENCHTOWN

 

It took all day for the RV to be fixed.  John Koches was very thorough, and showed us the bad work of previous mechanics regarding the spark plugs and such (we are going to have some words with the guys in Iowa).  We finally got back on the road again sometime after 5pm.  The thing is, Lola was still programmed to avoid tollways, so a 67 mile trip became a meandering trek through various small townships, over rolling hills and around sharp curves on often narrow roads, while night swiftly came on.  Then Lola could not actually find the entrance to the camping site we were booked in.  We ended up parking the RV in a middle school parking lot and unhitching our Yellow Submarine, with Pony once again scouting ahead to see where we needed to go.  She succeeded in finding the place and led me to it.  We dumped our black and grey water tanks, found our allotted space and finally settled in for the night around 10pm or so.  It had been a very long day, and everyone was a bit on edge as a result.  But at least we had made it to our latest home.