Jumping Off a Cliff and Building a Plane on the Way Down

I picked up Joe (Craven) from the airport in Milwaukee and we raced to the gig. I hadn’t seen Joe since last May when I took the train out to California to record an album with him. We were heading to the Stoughton Opera House to perform the Ho Ho Joe and Stanton Claus Holiday Variety Show. If we made all the right turns we would show up to the venue with a half hour to spare before the doors opened. An hour and a half drive. Just enough time to write the setlist! Luckily, so to speak, this wasn’t our first rodeo.

The setlist was complete. We made it into town. We pull up across the street from the venue just as a firetruck decorated with Christmas lights blocks us off and leads a downtown holiday parade. Across the street we can see the venue manager and my stage crew looking appalled that we didn’t make it in time. I kicked the van into reverse and somehow we made it in time to soundcheck and start the show. Joe even found 5 minutes to rehearse a song with my keyboard player that they would later perform together onstage after just meeting, The Flatbush Waltz in G minor. This wasn’t our second rodeo either.

The show was spectacular. We even made it snow! There were a few costume changes, including a cameo onstage by (gluten-free cookies) Dancing Santa. Joe connected with the audience with his charisma, musical talent, and thought provoking words and theatrical spoken-word bits. Then it was off to my wife’s parent’s house for a wink.

We woke up early, guzzled down some coffee, and headed out the door for our two hour journey north to Viroqua, WI for a matinee show with the Iowans at the newly renovated Landmark Community Center Theater. The theater was painted for a High School production of “As You Like It” and had all these trees everywhere. Growing for Good, a local greenhouse, supplied fresh and piney holiday decorations. The show was a blur. We packed up and drove across the Mississippi River to Winona, MN for a club show with bluesman Mike Munson. This is a good point in my story to mention that we carried a leg lamp, you know, the one from the movie “A Christmas Story”, to every show. That was our only stage holiday decoration except some garland and three poinsettias. The highlight of the evening was a toss up between it snowing onstage again (thanks to our snow machine) and the improv jam we had at the end of the night. My percussionist did a rap over Joe Craven beat-boxing and Mike Munson playing Hawaiin style slack key slide guitar on an old resonator. Then we slept.

We woke up for an eight a.m. soundcheck at a local charter community school. Joe performed in front of 120 kids from the ages of 4-18. He had them totally engaged the whole time while dancing, shouting, singing, beat-boxing, ripping fiddle stomps, and showing them all the ways that anyone can make music out of just about anything i.e. turning a metal dinner plate into a cymbal or showing off his homemade banjo made out of a tin can and some spare parts. After the performance the school’s Teen Press did a short interview and we were on our merry way to the next school two and a half hours away. We had three hours to get there and set up. Lucky for us, I drive fast and know a lot of short cuts. The next school assembly performance was at a Waldorf Community Charter School based on a Summer Camp on a beautiful glacial lake in Central Wisconsin.

After the gig we headed to our B&B for a nap. I started a fire in the wood stove and took in the moment. We had dinner with some dear friends and we talked into the night. I was able to introduce Joe to Tom Pease who is another hero and mentor of mine. The next morning we woke, had our ritual cup of coffee, and drove the 3 hours back to Milwaukee where we had walnut burgers at Beans and Barley and hugged our goodbyes. Joe was headed back to California to finish recording his latest project, A Garcia Songbook, and I headed back to the bosomy hills of the Wisconsin Driftless to see my family, catch up on some booking, and call in to a radio interview to promote a show this coming weekend for the final leg of my tour with Teague Alexy in Minneapolis and St. Cloud, MN.

1,200 miles from the East Coast of Wisco to the West Side into Minnesnowta. Five shows in 3 days. It was a good run with lots of great music, friends, laughter, creativity, artful living, yummy food, kids playing, and fellowship. I can't relive it so I might as well BLOG about it.

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