Monday, August 28, 2006

Summers end, New Job, Gratitude 3X, Connections Festival and Cafe Felix R.I.P.

Summer has come to an end! Well that is how it feels anyway. Last week I started a new job at Go Like The Wind Montessori School in Ann Arbor. I was hired to develop a new instrumental music program and help out in their newly formed middle school. It means that I will be getting up early every day and going to the same place for 9 months. This is a novelty to someone used to getting on mapquest everytime they go out to work. The school and teachers have been so great. For most of my adult life I have lived with the thought that a 'real job' was one where you come home tired, complaining, and restricted. I guess I got lucky, because this job feels so open, creative, and free. Today I finished developing my first Music Program Handbook, which is the rough outline of how the first year of the instrumental program will go. I think I thought of everything, but truly I know I have not. That is the excitement of it though. I will begin music classes next week, and I can't wait!

So now, on to the gigs I have played. Boy, it sure is tough to write about a months worth of gigs in one blog. I guess I need to stay on top of things more. I could just forget about a few of them, but that is not what I want to do with this. I want to remember everything. I am not sure why, but it seems like the way to do it. I am sorry there has not been more pictures. I really want to get the camera fixed. O.K. enough rambling....let's see....the last time I wrote I think I was getting ready to play with Gratitude at a Batmitzva in Ann Arbor. It was a fun show. It was for one of the members of my World Percussion Ensemble, Julie Norris. Actually it was for her daughter, but Julie was the one that set it all up, (a hip Mom indeed!) We played with big Kelly on bass, Guy Barker on Guitar, and Lamar Woodall on lead pan and saxophone. The crowd was great, and the party kept moving all night. I actually did a lot of singing on this one, which is a new thing for me and Gratitude. I have been singing backup with the family, but never the lead. I was amazed at how many lyrics I remembered just from listening to the songs for years from the kit. I am not sure how it sounded, but it sure was fun. It was also the first time in a long time that I got to play with Guy. He is one of my favorite musicians that I have ever played with. Very few match his energy and excitement while playing. It doesn't matter what the gig is, he is always there 110%. It was a special treat at the end of the night when Julie grabbed a drum and we got to jam together. Lamar took his mic and put it under her drum and her family loved it. She was really jammin!

The next gig was 2 weeks later in Clarkston, I think it was on the 24th. The band was the same, except for the bass was manned by Anthony instead of Big Kelly. Anthony is younger and a true bass man, whereas Kelly is first a drummer, but playes bass rather well. It was a corporate gig, which usually means we get booked and paid by someone other than those who are actually at the show. Corporate gigs have a tendency to be a little sterile, and not so much party based. This particular show was outside in a park in Clarkston, MI. and it was an appreciation event for the owners of Malibu boats. We played our butts off, but the crowd was scattered all over the park, so the response was hard to gage. The D.J. who spun between sets loved us though, which was nice, although I wouldn't be surprised if he got the whole gig next year. That might sound a bit like sour grapes, but the concept 'D.J.'s' has been a touchy subject lately. More on that in a bit.

A couple of days later I had a double booking. The first was at the Connections Festival in Ann Arbor. I played the opening piece for an Indian dance troupe led by Madhavi Mai. It was South Indian dance with North Indian tabla accompaniment, so I had a little trouble figuring out how to fit. But it turned out to be a good experience, although playing just one piece on a nice stage like that is much too short a time to take it all in. To top it off, I had to hurry off stage and make my way up Pontiac Trail to my next gig in South Lyon, MI. with the Gratitude Steel Band. This time it was with the family, and man, were they sounding great! When I began with the band back in 2001, Dayjumbe was 6, Janiela was 13, and Corretta was just 15. I have watched them grow into their instruments and music like watching a vine find its way up a building, or around a tree. So natural and powerful. There is so much to be said for total dedication. The Russel family is the most dedicated group of musicians I have ever played with. Playing music is truly their life. Chances are, they are playing as you read this. It is inspiring. Once again, I am excited to see what the future holds. The gig was a simple house party in the middle of a huge sub. I think it was a benefit for diabities, or lukemia, or something like that. We could have been playing on the big stage for all anyone in the band cared. It was a great gig to play.

So that brings us to the latest gig. This past Friday, I played with Deep Blue at Cafe Felix. It would be the last time we would play there. We got word as soon as we arrived that they were trying something new and couln't fit us into their budget any longer. Can you guess what something new might be?..........yep......DJ!! I must say, I was expecting this. It was great to have a regular gig for the past 3 years, but nothing lasts forever. Ecspecially when you are the only band that playes at a particular venue. They started by changing the layout, then they added a bar, they changed uniforms, menue items, and finally the house band. I was sad to see it go. I wish them luck. It was fun while it lasted. Being a part of the hoppin' Ann Arbor downtown scene can really get the juices flowing. I wonder what the next gig will be......

Friday, August 11, 2006

Gratitude all wet, twice, Summer camp, Deep Blue, Gratitude in Style

Hello,

I can't believe I haven't told you about this yet. I had a gig with Gratitude on Gross Ile or in Gross Ile, or whatever, it is an island..I think, just south of Detroit. Anyway, we were playing outside under a beautiful big white tent for their country club's carribean night. Everyone was excited and the atmosphere was fine. We played about 3/4ths of our show and the manager said they were going to stop the show because of the lighning overhead. Within 10 minutes of his announcement the sky got dark and opened up into a torrential downpour. Then the wind picked up and the rain was blowing in from the side so hard it was like being in a carwash with no car. I packed up my drums very fast and tried to help the family keep their instruments somewhat out of the storm until they backed up the trailer that housed all the cases. I always keep my cases close to my set on outdoor gigs. This was not the first time I was stuck in the rain, but it was definitely the worst, and even though I did a record pack up, (about 10 minutes from the last beat to in my truck), I still had to empty everything the next day, dump water out of the cases, and towel off all the hardware. I could only imagine what the steel drums looked like.
Two days later I had a gig in Troy, MI at the Troy historical museum. Another outdoor gig, and another day with clouds on the horizon. This time we were in a gazebo about 10 feet above the crowd and I was in back and couldn't see anyone or anything but the newly formed rust on Dayjumbe's steel pan. The gig was fun and the crowd was into it. I felt like I was in some sort of studio and we were playing on the radio. I couln't see the audience, but I could hear them, it was a little strange feeling. We played a 90 minute to try to get in a full show before the rain came. We did. It was 90 minutes exactly from when we started to when the rain came. So, once again, we were packing up in the rain. It was not nearly as bad as two nights before, but it felt like someone was just 'rubbing it in' a little.
*side note* That night my sister Evelyn came down from Marquette, MI to spend the night and catch a ride to the airport for an early flight on her way back to Namibia, Africa to meet and marry her fiance Adnan, whom she met while doing work for the Peace Corps this past year. GOOD LUCK EVIE!! She arrived safely two days later.

Once I was dry from the wettest week of gigging I can remember I found myself back at Go Like The Wind Montessori school each morning for a week. I had signed up to teach a hand drum workshop. Little did I know it would be for ages 3-9. I was a little worried at first, but once we got the drums, shakers, and gongs going, the week flew by and I had a great time. Thanks to my wife, Jody, who helped out a lot and made my job that much more fufilling.

On that Friday I played with Deep Blue at Cafe Felix in Ann Arbor. There was no manager around to remind us about the new kinds of music he wanted to hear us play, but we have started adjusting our sets to include a bit more smooth and swingin' jazz to please and itch they have been having. It was fun, although I was tired from the full week.

Saturday I got to rest up a little before heading out to a lake in West Bloomfield to play a house party. Well, actually it was a house-boat party. I was playing with Lamar Woodall on lead pan, and Kelly on the bass guitar, a small Gratitude crew. The house was on a lake and we had to set up on a house boat that was tied to about 5 other houseboats. The boats loaded up with party goers and set sail for a nice little cruise around the lake. We docked at another house and had burgers and brats. We stayed on the boat and played while everyone ate. Then it was off to the final stop, the Tikki Bar. By the time we got their it was dark and we headed home. The whole party was being photographed and reported on by Style Magazine. They took a ton of pictures and everyone seemed to be on their best party behavior. I thought it was a bit funny how everyone would dance while they took the pictures and then sit. It was fun though, I have never seen such party focus. No one talked about anything to serious, and everyone smiled all the time. It was addictive. Look for the article in the coming months of Style Magazine.

Thanks for reading, and I will write again soon.

John

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