Between the Pizzeria & the Ice Cream Parlor (tour reflections while reading Merle Haggard)


I thought that Thursday night’s show felt like surfing. It needed constant adjustment, deviating from set lists and agreed song formats and leaving me open to moving the songs where they needed to go. Boston was all about solidifying the show and Northampton about tearing it apart again. Portland or Brattleboro may have been the best show thus far but Northampton had the best moments: changing the melody of “Cantankerous Baby” or stepping out from behind the mic to play resonator to a couple sitting outdoors. I hope the ice cream shop tonight feels like a three ring circus. I intend to do some barking into the megaphone. Saugerties will be about minimizing the production for a bookstore audience and giving the lyrics less of a frame. The week’s almost over and it just began.

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Rest

The people we’ve met have made the trip what it is. Tina dancing within a hula hoop to “Tell Me Mama,” Lonnie playing harmonica along with our set, seeing old friends who mean so much to me in Somerville, Julie and Ian and Rachael welcoming us to Portland, a few people each night looking to discover new music and listening to what we’ve concocted. This is what must be done. We pack up the car every morning, unpack it for every show, and pack it into wherever we sleep each night. Even now sitting in the shade of an oak, I want to get in the car and drive.

Main Streets and Alley Ways

Every town still has its own identity. Brattleboro feels like a hybrid of upstate New York and New England in an old mill town. Northampton gravitates creativity. Portland has a grit to it and a New England heartiness to withstand wind and rain. My old stomping grounds at Vassar College feel foreign but then again, they always felt a bit foreign. But performing on WVKR was a joy, like falling into an old couch. I intended to play 2-3 songs but probably played 5-6, including “Feel Like Going Home,” a song that John Work and Alan Lomax recorded by Muddy Waters in the early ‘40s. From what Dan says, this song is becoming an unexpected audience favorite since it’s my most slide intensive workout.

A Restlessness Undefined

The resonator feels more natural to me every day, the harmonicas like old friends. And these songs seem more and more like offerings to a restless spirit. I’m reading Merle Haggard’s book My House of Memories. He’s one of the great songwriters of all time. His devil-may-care attitude is a guiding spirit behind this trip, where our tour title has felt more and more true. This job joins finesse with sheer will and the undertow is magnetic. Through the prison breaks and freight trains and borrowed cars of his youth, Haggard always seemed to be seeking something but never finding it. His house was in the music itself and he writes of finding such peace while singing a Lefty Frizzell number. When my ambitions get the best of me, his singing reminds me of this.

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