Sunday, February 3, 2013

Freezing temperatures, the desert, and forgotten American heroes


A bit of a contradictory title, but the best way to describe the past week!  I hope this blog finds everyone well, and that your January is great!
This past week was an interesting one, as it was the first week since I have been on tour that I was not with everyone as the tour continued.  I certainly missed everyone, but it was also great to be out on my own.  So, this blog will be a little split, but I wanted to make sure I still talked about what the boys and m'am where doing in Schenectady, as well as what my experience in Arizona was like. 
The boys and m'am spent the week in the subzero temperatures of Schenectady, NY, home of one of my favorite theatres, Proctor's.  In the 6 years I toured with the Nebraska Theatre Caravan's production of A Christmas Carol, I played the Proctor's 4 times.  It is an unbelievably gorgeous old theatre; it also it attached to an "arcade" with an historic hotel, music store, and quite a few little shops inside it.  The theatre went through a massive renovation the one year my tour didn't head there, and though it is very modern now and able to accomodate bigger national tours, it definitely lost a smidge of the charm behind the curtain.  The theatre itself remains relatively unchanged from the time it was built, but the back of the theatre now hosts many more modern dressing rooms, and a larger loading dock.  Originally, the dressing rooms were on a series of 4 or 5 floors with railings that gave a look all the way down to stage right.  One of these, in the middle of all of the rest, was never used by actors; in fact, it had become a bit of a storage room to deter anyone from going inside.  Why, you may ask?  Because.  It is haunted. 
Now, I realize that there are quite a few people that don't believe in ghosts, and may think that that type of thing is extremely far-fetched.  I assure you, with the things that I saw, it is.....VERY MUCH HAUNTED.  I'm sad that I didn't get to be there, but I certainly didn't miss the cold.  It was cold there, even for a Maine boy.
But, the cast was honored by being presented the key to the city (pictured above), and they had a great experience at the Blue Note record store; again, jealous. 
However, I was out in the sunny weather in the greater Phoenix area of Arizona, premiering my show, Walkin' The Line: A Tribute to Johnny Cash.  This is something that has been in the works even before I was on tour.  JR McAlexander is a friend of mine who music directed me in countless shows.  He now owns a production company of his own, and had approached me with the idea of putting together an original Johnny Cash tribute.  I got the week off, and for the majority of tour in my spare time, I have been piecing together bits of biographical dialogue, and finding exactly the right songs for the show.  And now, all of my work was about to come to life. 
I arrived in Phoenix on Sunday night while my cast was closing Million Dollar Quartet in Providence, and after moving into my condo for the week, I went straight into rehearsal.  I knew JR and Chris Rose on bass from working with them before.  But the other three musicians I had never met.  Things gelled very quickly, and we opened the next day.....gulp. 
Monday night we ventured to the Sunland Village East RV Park and set up.  It was a moderately small stage, but the room held a couple hundred people.  It was nerve-wracking for sure to get up there for the first time, but we all made it through with limited problems.  The next day we did two shows at another park, this time the first show had about 350 people, and the evening show was sold out with about 400.  They had asked for a show with no intermission, so me and the boys cut 4 songs; crazy to be up there so long without a break....but both crowds really seemed to enjoy it. 
On Wednesday, I had the day off with no show, so I went to Milano's music in downtown Mesa to look at guitars, Bookman's music (one of my favorite resale stores) and bought entirely too many books, and just chilled for much of the night.  The next day we had probably our best show at Mountain Brook Village, close to Apache Junction in Gold Canyon.  Just goregeous in that area....and, the show was sold out in this great little space with a band shell.  The crowd was so raucous (perhaps it's that they all brought their own alcohol....), that when I stepped onstage after intermission to sing A Boy Named Sue, it sounded like the original recording at San Quentin!
I used my day off on Friday to drive far out into the desert and visit the Ira Hayes memorial.  Now for a little history lesson.  Ira Hayes was a member of the Pima Indian tribe, located in the Phoenix Valley.  His tribe was quite poor when WWII came around, and Ira enlisted in the Marines in the hopes that he would bring prosperity to his tribe.  He was one of the 5 Marines who hoisted the American flag after the battle of Iwo Jima, imortalized on film and in pictures.  When he came back from the war he went on tours around the country; but his "fame" was short lived.  There was nothing for him on the reservation, and he began drinking and was often in jail.  He died on the reservation, face down in a ditch...where he drowned.  It's a horribly sad, yet very important story.  This man who was a war hero who was all but forgotten, along with his people.  As I drove out there, the desolation I witnessed was just unbelievable.  Dirty faced kids playing in the desert sand.  Mangy dogs roming the streets.  Homes and buildings that look like they belonged in WWII era France after having been bombed by Nazi planes.  Just awful.  The park was closed, but I was able to take some pictures through the the trip was a success overall.  If you would like to know more about Ira Hayes, I suggest the book A Heartbeat and A Guitar; it's about Ira, Johnny Cash, and Peter LaFarge, the Native American singer/songwriter who wrote the song.  On a sidenote, I was pleased that that song got such a warm response; the whole reason I added it into the show was that we were in the very land his people lived in.  So I was glad the meaning was not lost on them. 
My final show was on Saturday night at the Apache Junction High School Performing Arts Center.  A great little theatre, that by showtime was completely filled with 650 people.  Again....just crazy to think that there were that many people in an audience waiting to see my show.  A show that at one point was just a pipe dream, but now had become a reality.  The show went extremely well, and I will be getting a video of the performance soon that I will share clips of!
I flew out of Phoenix on Sunday morning, and after a long day of travel, arrived in Albany, NY at 1 AM on Monday morning.  Let me tell was cold.  And, quite a bit different from the desert climate I had just come from.  The next morning, after little sleep, I put all of my belongings on the bus, and was greeted with warm welcomes and questions from everyone I saw.  It really was great to be back. 
So, it seems like the cast and crew, though having to deal with bitter cold, had a great week, and mine was quite a success.  I am writing you now from The Sweetest Place on Earth, Hershey, PA.  We close the show tonight and head off to Columbus, OH tomorrow.  So, I will be working on this week's blog hopefully in the next few days.  I apologize for the lack of videos lately, but there will be more soon I hope!  Anyway, enjoy, and thanks for following!!!

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