It's hard to document a tour while you’re on it ~ especially if you’re the driver. Yeah I like to drive. I better, right? This is the fourth time in five years I have driven from Texas to Canada and back and I love it. It is the ultimate “do without doing” kind of activity for me. I can feel productive while just sitting there. This arrangement is just fine with my current traveling companions - the FABULOUS Lynda Millard and the UNDEAFEATABLE Nikki Combs. While I drive they get to play on their mobile devices, kindles, laptops, cell phones, all while listening to whatever book is playing into the car stereo. Listening to audible books is now an addiction for me. Like some folks turn on the TV every night ~ I like to turn on a book while driving. I am not driving now, thank goodness. What I am doing is sitting outside my car (so I can plug in my lap top while I type this) at our camp at the Kaleidoscope Gathering in Golden Lake, Ontario. I am not sure what the temp is but I have on three layers of clothes plus my shark beanie and my pirate coat… and it is August. This Texan LOVES it.
We are listening to the book American Gods by Neil Gaiman at the moment. It's not the one we started out with. Before we left I posted the question to my friends on facebook – “What’s a good sci-fi action/adventure book series?” I got lots of great suggestions because I have a lot of smarty-pants on my friend list. I picked one that sounded good. I already don’t remember the title because I got six chapters in and I couldn’t listen anymore. If by chapter six I have to force myself to pay attention when there is only highway to distract me, I am done. And since Lynda and Nikki agreed with this decision, we started searching for other books. It is a good thing we did. “American Gods” has been a magical narration to this tour from the start. Right at the part in the book when they are driving into Madison WI taking exit 14 for Spring Green, we took that EXACT exit to our first stop in Madison, WI for National Women’s Music Fest. Let me repeat – RIGHT AT THE SAME TIME IT HAPPENED IN THE BOOK WE TOOK THE SAME EXIT. What are the odds? We didn’t plan it that way, no, and we had no idea there was any mention of Wisconsin when we chose the book. We let the story run and took breaks when we felt like it just like we always do. Of all the friggin' highways we could be on in the country - we were right where our characters were, quite literally. But I will come back to the book later - just like we do when we hop back in the car - because when we got to the hotel in Madison we hit the ground running! It was Wednesday July 3 and we were exhausted already.
Let me splain…
We left from Austin on Sunday June 30. We gave ourselves some extra time because the first day you leave for tour is always the most preparation intensive and therefore giving yourself more time to figure out the car/trailer pack is a good idea. For the past two years I had been traveling alone in my car and now I had two more people going with me. I thought, “We can do this…right? I’ll leave my bike behind and that should make enough room for two more.” Oh contraire. On Sunday morning we put our collective stuff in a big pile in Lynda’s garage and immediately started to pull things out because it was painfully obvious it wouldn’t all fit. “OK so we don’t need this, this or this.” And to demonstrate how little room there actually was, we had to leave behind the acoustic guitar. We only needed it for one song so we thought it would be OK. We have come to sorely regret this decision. The resulting pack, however, was a work of sheer mastery. With all remaining items shoved into all remaining space we were off by mid afternoon. This is one of my favorite parts ~ when I don’t have to think about what I need to pack, what time we are leaving, where we are going, how we are going to get there, etc. etc. and we are just driving. From now on all the people and stuff are all in one place as we zoom along the highway and across the country. It’s a scruffy world within a world, making a magical adventure every day. The first day we made it as far as Texarkana where we stayed at our friend Mike Mankins house. The next day, Monday, we drove to Fayetteville, AR so we could rehearse with Jori Costello of Big Bad Gina. OMG I LOVE HER SO MUCH. On top of everything else she has to do, she also agreed to play drums and sing with Lynda and I at National Women’s Music Fest (heretofor called NWMF) where her kick ass band Big Bad Gina was also playing. We only had this one afternoon to rehearse then we were off to visit Lynda’s folks in Kansas. Rehearsal was fabulous and afterward I bolted over for a quick rendezvous with Andrea Sumers ~ fey mama LTD <3
The next day Tuesday, we drove to Osawatomie KS to have a quick visit with Lynda’s family; mother, father, cousins and great aunt Maxine, who had just recovered from a recent illness. Lynda was feeling very strongly like we should go see her. We were happy she would be joining us for dinner that night. We went to a Mexican restaurant in town, which to our discriminating Texas taste was really pretty good. We were just diving in to the chips when her Cousin Judy arrived and said that Maxine was not feeling well afterall and would not be joining us. That made us sad so we decided to go by and say a quick hello to her after dinner. She lived at a retirement home not far from the restaurant. We each took turns going in to say hello.. Lynda dearly loves her Aunt Maxine, who is truly one of the most precious and hilarious women I have ever known. I watched as she went in. She bent over Maxine and put her head in her hands and told her over and over again how much she loved her. It was a very sweet moment.
The following day, Wednesday, we started out on the ten-hour ride to NWMF. While driving we got the call. Maxine had passed away that morning! We were all reeling, especially Lynda. This was completely unexpected. Maxine had simply not been feeling well the night before – said her stomach was hurting. Yet all that Lynda could think about was how blessed she was to get to see her beloved Maxine on her last night on earth and tell her over and over again how much she loved her. Not many of us get the chance to do this. If it had happened at any other time, we may have missed that chance. It was a divine affirmation in a BIG way that we were on the right path. We pulled over at the first rest stop, said a prayer of thanks, sent her love and held each other for a moment.
Several hours later we pulled up at NWMF. Lynda was in a surreal state of shock and we were all exhausted after our fourth straight day of driving. No time to take it all in. We sat quietly in the hotel dining room eating a light dinner. Our biggest show of the tour was the very next day and we needed to get some sleep.
Thursday was a brand new day. We set up to practice in our hotel room and began to prep for the show. We had a quick rehearsal with Jori and then took our instruments down to the main stage area on a luggage cart for sound check. This is one of the benefits to being at a fest that is held inside a big beautiful hotel. OMG, I am back at National! It was just now really sinking in.
National Women’s Music Fest is a truly unique and wondrous event. It is the oldest music fest for women. It feels to me like a community cornerstone, a foundation of support and nurturing for so many in women’s music - a place that women can cycle back to each year for renewal and recharge. The line up was fabulous with Cris Williamson, Melissa Ferrick, Jean and June Millington, Laura Love, Big Bad Gina and many more. I was honored beyond words to be there and excited and nervous about my show on the main stage Thursday night. The first show of a tour is usually the warm up - the one where all the kinks get ironed out. I could not afford for this to be the “kinky” show. But Lynda and I were ready and Jori is so amazing. We sounded good at rehearsal (our voices were like butta) so I felt ready. Now if my nerves would just cooperate.
Backstage before my show I could not help but have a flashback to last year when I was on that very same stage performing for the Women in the Arts Talent competition. Barb Neligan and I tied for the win and were both given main stage slots as a result. Now here I was ~ it was a dream come true. With so much nervousness and excitement running through me I spontaneously did push ups to calm myself. Part of me felt ridiculous but I think it really helped. I was glad I got to listen to Barb Neligan, who was up before me. She made me laugh with her hilarious routine and that helped to distract me. (We still need to have that beer, Barb!) Then it was my turn. The show went very well. I was so proud of both Lynda and Jori, who performed flawlessly – no kinks. I was also happy with my own performance which is rare for me. To cap it off, master African drummer Wahru, Rani Quimba and Rene Janski of Big Bad Gina all came up and played djembes with us on Come Down for the finale. After the show, Jori, Lynda and I hugged and hugged and reveled in the moment together. I am beyond thankful and honored to have had the opportunity to play that stage with those amazing women! Thank you NWMF for all that you are and all that you do to strengthen the women's community and its music. High from the show we went out front and watched the amazing Voices of Africa. We were mesmerized by the drumming and the dancing, the rhythm, color and spirit of their performance ~ beautiful.
With my show now behind me I could focus on the awesomeness of the rest of the fest. There were so many great workshops, vendors and performers that it was overwhelming in the best possible way. I could go on and on and on about so many different things I experienced there but I would be writing for days and since I am still on tour I don’t have the time for that. So I will stick to the high points. First participating in the drum chorus led by Wharu was fantastic. Her skill and leadership guided our newly assembled group of drummers, who were of every skill level, to sound like we been playing together for years ~ no small feat. Thanks again Wharu for your amazing talent and relaxed method of teaching that had us all sounding like pros. Then there was my Chakra toning workshop. The women who participated had some powerful energy to go with some powerful pipes. We sent a rainbow blast of energy through the fest and even had some very personal moments of healing and revelation. A special thank you to everyone who participated! Also, in celebration of the recent supreme court victories for gay marriage everybody stood up and starting singing “Going to the Chapel” in the lobby of the Marriot. It was a very healthy part of that balanced breakfast. Go my sistahs! And of course there was the Big Bad Gina show during which I did not sit down once (too busy dancin) – except maybe during a slow song or two. Once again I reveled in the sweet music and magic that only they can bring. They possess so much talent and creative genius - It’s a sound that I need to hear live a few times a year or I start to get twitchy. You rock my world my sweet sisters! I love you so! It was so very hard to say goodbye to everyone. I look forward to many more National Women’s Music Fests. I trust you will always be here! We need you!!!
OK so back in the car… and back to American Gods. Decompression from an event like National takes some time. So what would be the perfect world between worlds to do this? ~ the House on the Rock of course. In the book, the Gods were meeting there and we were only 30 minutes away! We could not miss the opportunity to experience in person what Neil Gaiman’s character Wednesday calls 'a real place of power, a window to the eminent, a call from the void to recognize your truly transcendent self'. The House On the Rock, according to Wednesday, is one of the many American road-side attractions built in response to that call. In my experience, there is not another time when I am more consistently transcendent than when I am on the road; on tour for long miles and days, experiencing people and places I never would otherwise, seeing things I never would seek out by themselves. I am constantly amazed, entertained, surprised and expanded by the experiences that happen in this unsolicited way. So off we went, to meet our spontaneous destiny. And as it happens we got to the House on the Rock at about the same time of day as our characters. They were only selling tickets for about another half hour since it takes two hours to see the whole thing and they close at 5. “Two hours?” I thought. From the looks of things at the entrance, there was no way there was that much to see. Oh contraire. There was WAY TOO MUCH to see and we didn’t even do the whole thing. Inside this maze of hallways that go up and down and in and out of different rooms, there was the most amazing collection of everything collectable from the mid19th to early 20th century; among them the world’s largest collection of mechanical player instruments as well as cars, planes, model ships, guns, masks, dolls, advertisements and dental equipment; a giant sea monster battle, hot air balloons, ornately carved carriages along makeshift brick streets where shop windows display puppets and carved tusks among jillions of other things. If there is something coin-operated from the early 20th century it is there and if you have a coin you can make it work. We got our fortunes told by one of those coin-op fortune-tellers like in the movie “BIG”. And my passion level was measured on the Throne of Passion. I think I was “WILD!” We took thousands of pictures in the worst possible light. You couldn’t use your flash cause everything is behind a glass so none of them came out very good. Then we got to the spot we had been waiting for - the world’s largest carousel. This was the place where our characters could take a ride and access the dimension where the Gods were coming together to meet. This was my favorite part of the “house” and I could have tripped out in there for hours. Alas this was not to be cause they were closing and we had to make the drive to Cleveland.
Back we were in the car. After House on the Rock we wanted to go back a bit in the audio book to hear Gaiman’s description of the House on the Rock from a now familiar perspective. He has such a beautifully poetic yet straight to the heart way with words. We stopped at the Weary Traveler in Madison for dinner (we picked it because we identified with the name) then headed out to Cleveland. We knew we were going to stop for the night somewhere along the way since we were getting a late start and we had four gigs ahead of us that week. No sense in pushing it since we had an extra day. Looking along our route I noticed that we were going through Chicago, my birthplace. Lynda made a joke that we should find a hotel in my old neighborhood. Well it turns out that is exactly what we did. In the morning with the aid of a street name and our GPS we found ourselves driving slowly down my old street looking for the house where my parents first brought me back from the hospital, and where I lived until 6 years old. Here I was again, face to face with my spontaneous destiny and it was shaking me to the core. I looked left and right as we drove slowly down the street and suddenly there it was. I didn't know the address, but I knew the house. It was an emotional experience for me. Just the day before I had no idea we would be doing this. I found It makes a significant difference when you don't project your thoughts onto an experience for days ahead of time; For example if we had planned this trip and I had spent days imagining driving down that street and how it would make me feel. This way I was more open to the moment when it happened. I was truly moved by being there in ways I can't fully put into words. My inner 6 year old was bouncing up and down and my current self felt a bittersweet longing for what would never be again.
From there we Headed out to Cleveland.
Coming up: more about Cleveland, Brushwood and Canada in part 2 and part 3 of Spontaneous Destiny