Hail and Farewell Shaker and Vine

My first official gig in Portland was last Friday, at a wine bar called Shaker and Vine.  It was a bit disconcerting to learn (the morning of the gig) that, due to some sort of issue with the Fire Marshall, the place was going to close down after the weekend.  Still, you make the best of it.

The real pleasure of the gig was opening for an old friend, Cody Weathers.  Cody is a singer/songwriter who used to bump around Denver (some almost twenty years ago, now).  He and I crossed paths many times in the early 90’s, especially as he used to come out to several of the Open Stages that I hosted at that time.  I remembered Cody’s energy and unique style from those days and looked forward to catching up with him.

 I have to say it was even more of a pleasure than I had anticipated.  Cody’s songwriting has grown and developed in a beautiful, organic way.  He has a very charismatic stage presence, and his songs are energetic, with a lot of contrast in rhythm, tempo , chord changes and lovely lyrics.  He has acquired a band: bass, drums and lead guitar that complement his sound in an excellent way.  Part of what really made the evening was the chance to just sit and listen to Cody. 

And he has proved to be a very generous and valuable friend, in that he has given me many good tips on places to play, venues to check out, people to meet, and such. 

Last night (Tuesday night), I took his suggestion to go to Malibu’s in Vancouver, WA (just across the river and the border from Portland), and meet Eric TwoRivers, who hosts an open stage there on a weekly basis.  Eric turned out to be a big guy with an equally big heart (and laugh), and a long, colorful history in the Music Biz (turns out he used to be part of the house band for Dick Clark’s Bandstand, and one of the other musicians told me that he was once a member of the Strawberry Alarm Clock, although I didn’t have a chance to run that one by Eric). 

There is a real camaraderie at the Tuesday Open Stage at Malibu’s.  But while that can sometimes turn into an insular sort of scene, I have to say that the musicians there were an incredibly welcoming bunch.  After my set, I was told of a couple of other places to play around the area, including an invitation by musician, Steve Rodin, to join him this Saturday at the Yukon Tavern. 

I have to say that Oregon, in general, has made me feel very welcome.  And while I mourn my very brief connection with Shaker and Vine, I look forward to exploring a lot more of Portland over the next couple of weeks. 

An Oakridge Boy for One Night

“I believe I have found my audience,” I said. 

“Oh, you mean hippies?!?” replied a guy in the crowd.

I was playing Brewer’s Union Local 180, a pub in Oakridge, OR (about 40 miles south and east of Eugene).  Pony and I drove the wet, rainy highway (it is Oregon) through beautiful, incredibly green forest, alongside the Willamette River (which is a right fine river at that; wide, fairly deep, and full and rushing with water from all the rain).  On the drive to Oakridge, looking at the river and through the rain-spattered windshield, I couldn’t help think of some of the drought-stricken territory we had traveled through: California, Arizona, and even Colorado to a fair extent.   You could say that nature has its own form of income inequality, exacerbated by recent climate change. 

The Brewers Local 180 is a wonderful, friendly pub, and Ted (the owner) and Patty and Judy and Steve and all the folks working there do a helluva job to make you feel welcome and at home.  Ted apologized for what he described as something of a slow night (and blamed the weather for discouraging a lot of folks from coming out), but there were still a fair number of people there, and they were enjoying my show, every song and story of it. 

There was a family from Bend, OR, sort of passing through: Dad, Mom, and daughter, Ashley (somewhere in the 10-12 year age range, I am estimating).  Ashley is one of my newest and best fans.  She bought all five CD’s and had me sign one of them.  I encouraged her to check out these blogs, to keep track of how our travels go.  Ashley’s Mom told us that Ashley thought it was one of the most fun nights she’d ever known.  I am flattered and pleased. 

At the end of the night, Ted treated me to a pint of porter (needless to say, he brews all his own beers).  It was straight from the cask and as fine a porter as anything I’ve tasted anywhere.  All in all, it was one of those really magical nights.  My hands and voice were in fine shape, and I had a fantastic time.  It’s one of those nights that just reminds me how lucky I am to do this thing that I love, and to share it with a welcoming audience.  Pure.  Gold. 

The next day (Saturday), I played a set for the Eugene Saturday Market.  It is a farmers market, with much more besides; a large food court (with a very diverse offering of Asian, Afghani, Mexican, traditional American and more), and all manner of jewelry, games, gifts, and notions of all sorts.  We had a fine time wandering about after my set, and I purchased a small bonsai to add to our household (the trick will be protecting it from curious kitties). 

“The West Coast is turning out to be a very welcoming place,”  I remarked.  Pony just smiled one of those “I-told-you-so” grins.

Another Great Day in Rufus World

Another Great Day in Rufus World

Monday, the 5th of May (Cinco de Mayo), and Rufus and I begin our day in the Sleepy Hollow RV Park, just north of Willits, California, hiking up a steep mountain road.  About  a mile or two up, Rufus turns and scales this bank cut out for the road.  I would have put the bank at just about vertical, and I certainly didn’t expect my dog to just blithely scale it like it was any other part of the terrain.  My dog seems to be part goat. 

I admit that I am often somewhat in awe of my puppy.  There is, first of all, the fact that he is nearly three years old (will officially turn three next month) and he still shows the energy and excitement of a pup.  He is one of the most naturally friendly critters I have ever known.  He takes great pleasure in meeting people, other dogs, cats, squirrels, and all manner of life on this planet.  More than once, I have referred to him as my Goodwill Ambassador. 

He is clever, a quick learner at many things, and incredibly fast.  When he runs full out, I have only seen a few dogs faster than him.  And his running is such an expression of pure joy.  I search for dog parks, or other opportunities where I can let him off leash, and it gladdens my heart almost as much as his to watch him run. 

He is pure mutt.  People are forever asking, or just speculating as to his breed.  He is one of a kind (and is assured of being so, as we did neuter him early on), and a handsome mutt, at that.  He has the health and vitality that is often associated with mutts.  I have hopes that he will be around for a good, long time. 

Upon returning from our morning walk, Pony, Margaret and I had a short breakfast, then packed up Cecilia (our RV), hooked up Gypsy Rose (our tow car) and headed for our next stop: the Humboldt County Fairgrounds, in Ferndale, California. 

The Fairgrounds have a nice RV park that is about ten miles from the ocean shore.  So after settling into our new berth, Pony, Margaret, Rufus and I drove over to the nearby beach.  We spent a good hour there, and I was able to let Rufus off of his leash.  I used the Chuckit to toss the ball for him, and we all walked a good stretch of the beach, while Rufus ran to his heart’s content. 

The waves were coming in strong and white-capped: something of a new experience for the puppy.  It was coming on the end of a beautiful day, and we were all just enjoying the moment.  Pony, Rufus, the kitties, and I have gone from one coast to the other in the last 8 months, with a good bit of meandering about in between.  Despite the occasional challenge, here and there, the journey has been much of what we had hoped for.  We have seen some beautiful country, caught up with good friends that are scattered all over this nation, and made a few new friends, as well.  We are far from done with our adventure. 

Meanwhile, I try to learn a thing or two from my puppy, and eagerly look forward to what each day may bring. 

Still a Plum Gig

“This is a John Denver song,” I say, “but it’s sort of before he became John Denver.  John started out as Henry John Deuschendorf.  His father was an officer in the Air Force, and John grew up an army brat, travelling all over the world.  He changed his name to John Denver when he thought that would be easier for folks to remember.  But early on, he wrote this song that Peter, Paul and Mary recorded and made into a hit,” and I launch into “Leaving On A Jet Plane.” 

I spend a little over an hour with the folks at Plum Tree Care Center.  I play some folk songs, a couple of old country tunes, a couple of jazz standards, some J.S. Bach; my usual eclectic mix.  Along the way, I tell stories: about the songs, about me, about our travels in the RV (with the three cats and the dog), and about my guitars.  Folks are listening.  Folks are smiling.  Folks are clapping and moving when I launch into a rousing rendition of Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya”.  The hour passes easily, and I enjoy myself the whole time, sharing tunes and stories, and enjoying this time with an appreciative audience.  I finish my set just at the onset of lunch, and proceed to pack up my gear as the staff begins to bring out meals for my audience. 

Teresa asks the residents to vote as to whether they want to hire me (I have been told that this is a standard procedure, but it makes me wonder all over if I am going to see the paycheck from this gig). 

It’s not that I am some total mercenary.  Honestly, if money were my biggest concern, I could have sold insurance with my Dad years ago.  All musicians are called to their profession.  That’s what the word, ‘vocation’, means: a ‘calling’.  But you still want to pay the rent, as it were.  I have a chance to tell Teresa about the generator in the RV breaking down in Las Vegas, and the subsequent repair bill of nearly $3,000.  I am hoping that it will persuade to make sure that check gets processed and mailed to my drop-box. 

Teresa suggests that I could come back onc a month, at which point I have to explain that, since I am touring all okver ther country, the best I could promise would be to come back next yiear.

“Next year,” she nods.  “You can come back for our UN Day and play some Swedish music.”

I wish I could be sure that this is some sort of expression of her sense of humor, but honestly, I have no idea. 

A Plum Gig

“This appearance is complimentary, right?” asked Teresa, the Activities Director for the Plum Tree Care Center, in San Jose, CA. 

“No,” I replied, calmly, diplomatically, as I handed her the invoice and the filled-out W9 form.  “You’ll see there, on the invoice, that you’re getting nearly a 50% discount from my usual fee.”

“I will not be able to process this until June,” she says.  It is the first day of May, and I am wondering how long it will be until I see payment for this gig (if at all).

I’m setting up my sound system and tuning up my guitars while Teresa looks over the invoice. 

“Engberg.  What kind of name is that?” she asks.

“It’s an old Swedish name,” I answer.

“Oh, so you can do some Swedish music  for us?”

I am thinking that I really don’t know a single Swedish song.  Ironically, just the night before, I was trying to make Pony feel better by playing the movie, “Mama Mia” for her (Pony has been wrestling with a cold that’s been hanging on for a few weeks now, and “Mama Mia” is a favorite movie of hers).  For a brief moment, I wonder if I could possibly pull off an ABBA song of one sort or another.  Nope.  I don’t know either the words or the music well enough to make that attempt.  I mentally file a note in my to do list to learn an ABBA song.  Because….. well, because you never know when you’ll be playing in a nursing home where a five-foot-tall Filipino Activities Director is going to look at your name and ask if you can play and Swedish songs. 

It is the first day of May, and my performance coincides with Arts and Crafts time in the common room (which also doubles as the dining room), so a dozen or so of the residents are gathered at a few tables, making flowers with green and yellow construction paper, scissors and glue.  I am finishing with tuning up my guitars when Teresa introduces me as coming from New York.  Honestly, I have no idea where that notion comes from. 

“Actually,” I tell the residents, “ I am from Colorado.”  I introduce my first tune, “The Star of the County Down”, and launch into it. 

When I finish, Teresa says, “So, if you are from Colorado, you can do some John Denver for us?”

I can do some John Denver, of course; whether or not I’m from Colorado.  I learned a handful of John Denver tunes years ago, while still growing up in Iowa.  I suppress the impulse to sort of shake my head in wonder, and introduce the song.

[continued with part two: Still a plum of a gig]

The Bistro, Hayward, CA

“I still want to hear some Bach,” said the guy at the bar. 

The Bistro, in Hayward, California, is a friendly bar, with a group of regulars who are up for just about anything.  I played from 7-11pm (an hour more than I was actually booked for; I thought I started at 7, and proceeded to do so, only to find that I was actually booked for 8-11).  I played a little bit of everything: a lot of stuff from my five CD’s, plus a wide variety of covers that I have acquired over the years.  I had played some Rolling Stones and Beatles, a bit of celtic music, and had just finished my rousing version of “The Witch Doctor” (by Alvin and the Chipmunks), when I got this request for Bach.  So, Alvin and the Chipmunks was followed by the Prelude from the First Cello Suite. 

That is my kind of gig.

 A couple of friends who live nearby came out to cheer me on, and a good time was had by all. One of the things I can say about the regulars at The Bistro is that they are not shy about dropping money into the tip jar (a tip bucket, actually, and it got nicely full by the end of the evening).  Several CD’s were sold as well, making for a very successful evening all around.

Two more favorite moments of mine: there was a young man, named Timmy, who was celebrating his birthday (quite possibly his 21st birthday; he certainly looked young enough).  He was chatting with a couple of his friends when I launched into my rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”.  He left the company of his friends to sit at the table directly in front of the stage, watching me like a hawk throughout the performance.  At the end of the tune, he dropped some money into the tip bucket and gave me a bow with a bit of applause. 

Then, at the end of the gig, a couple of gals were telling me how much they loved the last tune that I played (“Spinning On A Blue Planet”), and wanted to buy the Collage CD on the strength of that one tune. 

We didn’t get to bed until well after midnight, but I was up for some time after that, reading in bed, and still energized from a thoroughly fun evening.  It’s nights like this that remind me how much I love what I do for a living, and how fortunate I am to continue doing it. 

“I’m not sure I trust that audience at The Bistro,” said Pony, at the end of the evening.

“Why is that?” I asked.

 “Because they laughed at all of your jokes,” she answered. 

My kind of place: The Bistro. 


The Road to Pleasanton

I turned up the speed of the windshield wipers another notch, just as my caught another sign along the side of the road.  “Less water means fewer jobs”, it read.

I’d seen several such signs posted along the road from Bakersfield towards San Francisco.  California is in the midst of an awful drought, and farmers are complaining the are getting short shrift in the rationing of water.  It rained for most of the day , as we traveled from Bakersfield.  I am sure the farmers would welcome every bit of moisture, as much as I was sure it would not be nearly enough. 

We are camped at an RV park situated on the Alameda County Fairgrounds, in Pleasanton.  I confess that I wasn’t even aware of the town of Pleasanton until Pony found it for us.  The campgrounds are as good as you could ask for, with water, electricity, sewage, free WiFi; all the amenities, as it were.  There are a couple of sizeable fields, although all dogs are expected to remain on leash at all times.  Some of the other park residents have told me of a few dog parks fairly close by.  I hope Rufus and I may have the chance to find one over the next few days. 

Pleasanton itself looks like something off of a Hollywood lot, in that it is full of good-looking houses with well-tended yards, and the downtown area (Main Street, no less) is a collection of several restaurants and shops, with a True Value hardware store being the only franchise among the bunch (there is a separate shopping center, a little closer to the campgrounds, where you can find a Safeway grocery store, a Wells Fargo bank, a Starbucks, and several of the sorts of stores that grow like mushrooms all across the U.S.).

I have a gig tonight (Tuesday night) in nearby Hayward, at a place called The Bistro, and another performance in San Jose, at the Plum Tree Care Center, on Thursday.  In between, I am doing the usual bit of taking care of business.  Phone calls and emails are shuffled in between bouts of playing guitar and rehearsing repertoire, with occasional walking breaks for Rufus and me.  Sunday was a very cool day, but we still broke out the grill and had some chicken and brats.  Yesterday, Pony used our convection oven to cook some roast lamb and fried potatoes.  It’s all rather idyllic, really.  It’s good work, good weather, and good company. 

By the end of the week, we’ll be moving on up the West Coast, with gigs in Eugene and Portland, Oregon,  coming up,  followed by a fairly extensive stay in the Seattle area.  I am looking at Pleasanton as what I hope to be an omen for what we may encounter over the next few weeks, and on into the summer. 


“Where  you from,” he asked

I was in a Walmart parking lot, and the guy asking the question was a skinny , dark fellow in a reddish/orange t-shirt. 

Where I am from is becoming a more interesting question anymore.  This was last Thursday, and the generator in our RV had got fixed by about 3pm, giving us the time to drive from Las Vegas to Bakersfield by that evening (sometime around 8:30, give or take).  Officially, our mailing address is a dropbox in Sandford, North Carolina (the Reverb Nation site actually insists that this be the address officially listed there, creating the interesting consequence that, according to Reverb Nation, I am the number one singer/songwriter of the Sanford/North Carolina area, even though I have not as yet actually been to Sanford, let alone play there). 

Our new official place of residence, as it were, is Bestos Road, on top of Casper Mountain, in Wyoming.  Our friends Rebecca and Geoff own this wonderful cabin and have allowed us to roost there on occasion – it’s a lovely base to have while the road trip continues). The two months we spent on the mountain at the beginning of this year is the most we are likely to be in one place anywhere over the next year (and, if it works out with out landlords, we plan to spend three months of winter on the mountain next year, while I record some new tracks, among other things).

But, for the sake of convenience, I told this guy I was from Denver.  He nodded, taking in this information, shook my hand, told me his name was Del. 

“All of this used to be a dairy farm, years ago,” he tells me, his arm sweeping over the Walmart parking lot.  “It was worth maybe $10,000 an acre then.  ‘Probably worth like $10 million, now.  What you doing in Bakersfield?”

I told him I was just passing through; that I’m a touring musician, heading to the San Francisco area to do a couple of gigs.

“Really!” he said.  “You know Charlie Watts, drummer for the Rolling Stones?  That’s my people.  He and Naomi Watts.”

“The actress?”  I inquired.

“Yeah, we’re related,” he said.  “Richard Watts, that’s my name.”

“I thought you said your name was Del.”

“Del’s my middle name,” he explained.  “Richard Del Watts, that’s me.”

Okay then. 

I wasn’t aware that Charlie Watts and Naomi Watts were related, let alone that they had a common relative in Bakersfield, California.  But who knows who you might meet in the middle of a Walmart parking lot in the middle of an evening.  For what it’s worth, Charlie and Naomi, Richard sends his regards. 


Sorry, Cheryl Crow.  No, really.

Even yesterday, after sitting for more than five hours in our little tow car (with three adults, three cats, and a dog), I remained hopeful that we might make it to California in time for my scheduled gig at The Rellik Tavern. 

But it was not to be. 

The trouble started on Sunday, as we were making our way from Flagstaff, back to Vegas, so that Kevin and Kathy could catch their evening flight, and Gary and Rita could check in to the Palazzo Hotel for the night and catch their own flight back to Atlanta on Monday).  About midway back to Vegas, we tried to turn on our auxiliary generator, to use the overhead AC.  The generator cranked, but it wouldn’t turn over.  Kevin and Gary thought it might just be a battery problem.  We were all hoping that would be the case, at least, since that would be the easiest fix to the problem. 

But it was not to be.

Come Monday, we started with trying to replace the batteries.  Actually, I would have liked to start by testing  the existing batteries.  But the Napa auto parts folk insisted on installing new batteries.  It was only after that failed to have any positive effect on the generator did they get around to testing our old batteries, which turned out to be just fine (and given that the tester was a little, hand-held unit, I still don’t know why they couldn’t have started with that in the first place). 

The next part was calling around town to find someone who could take a look at our generator and start working on it.  We ended up at Findlay’s RV, just a couple of miles down from Sam’s Town (the hotel/RV park we’d been staying at for the last week).  This was the part where we all ended up in the tow car, while Findlay’s proceeded to look at the generator.  Their initial thought was a bad starter, and they would have to yank the generator out and order the part (overnight shipping).  At least we could then get back into the RV and drive it back to Sam’s Town for the night. 

The next day, we waited and waited (and waited) for news from Findlay’s.  By 1:30pm, we had to leave Sam’s Town, or be charged for another day.  We parked at Findlay’s and waited some more.  All the time, I am calculating: how many hours will I have left to drive some 540 miles to Benicia, California, and play a gig scheduled for tomorrow night. 

Then we were told that the problem was not the starter; or at least not the primary problem.  Apparently there is something called a “stater” that went out, subsequently causing the starter to burn out.  It would take a couple of more days (ordering another part, since it seems nothing that we really need is right here in Vegas).  I called the Rellik Tavern to inform them we were broke down in Vegas, and there was no way I would be able to be there in time.  They were pretty sanguine about it (and I hope they won’t hold it against me, next time I try to book a date with them). 




“Even his dentures got melted down.”

I heard this on the shuttle bus, the Wednesday before Easter, as we were traveling from Sam’s Town to the MGM Grand to see the Cirque du Soleil production of Ka´.  By “we” I mean my lovely wife, Pony, my charming mother-in-law, Margaret; my friend Kevin, with his wife Kathy; and my friend Gary with his wife, Rita.  Months ago, we had organized to all meet in Las Vegas for a bit of actual vacation; doing the touristy thing with checking out the strip and a couple of shows.  Pony had found Sam’s Town: a combination hotel and RV park, with the requisite casino, several restaurants and shops, and many of the amenities one looks for in while vacationing in Vegas. 

But the topic on everyone’s minds and lips this evening was the RV that burned down that morning in the Sam’s Town RV park.  It is one of the chief fears of all RV owners (as I have come to learn).  RV’s are vulnerable to fire, and can burn down within minutes.  Indeed, Pony and I saw one catch fire on I-80 while going through Nebraska a few years back.  The thing was nothing but a smoldering hunk of metal within about 15 minutes. 

In this case, the RV belonged to an elderly couple, and apparently the wife was disabled.  Someone (I did not learn who) ran in to carry her out while the husband was also escorted from the growing flames.  There was some concern that their cat may have perished, but the kitty was found a few hours later.  The burned-out wreck of the RV remains in its assigned lot in Sam’s Town RV, yellow tape cordoning it off from the other residents.  Only the front grill and two front tires remain to give any impression of what once sat there. 

A box was set out in front of one of the RV’s closest to the main entrance of the park, accepting donations for the couple.  They were expected to spend a few days in a nearby hospital, after which they would be provided lodging for about a week, courtesy of Sam’s Town.  People were donating clothes, some tins of cat food, and whatever other sundry articles that someone could spare and thought the couple could use. 

Naturally, I thought of the sum of our lives that travels with us in our beloved Cecilia: the three cats, the dog, the two guitars, and all the other stuff.  It’s not everything we own in the world (some bigger articles of furniture, and a few other cherished objects have been put into storage, or are being held for us by various friends).  Still, I can imagine how terrible I would feel, how hard it would be to endure such a loss.  I hope I may never have to find out first-hand.                               

Like many of the other residents, we donated a few articles of clothing that we felt we could spare (plus a tin or two of cat food).  Like many of the residents, I think we did it to create some good karma; as an offering of sorts, to the gods of the road, to ward off bad fortune in our own travels.  

Here’s hoping it works.