Saturday, May 25, 2013

The end of the road....


Billy on his way to his last press day
Photo by David Elkins

Ben E., Ben G., and me and the batting cages

Billy and Rosie in one of the many watering holes in Tombstone

One of my favorite, and most haunted places: The Birdcage Theatre

The last photo of me and my Thunderstudy brothers

Ben and Lizzie with Sam after our closing performance in Tucson

The Music Call at the Tucson Convention Center

Na-Na Na-Na Na-Na Na-Na Na-Na Na-Na Na-Na Na-Na....Bat Scott!!! 
The many cactuses at the Desert Museum



 A stagecoach from the 1880's, still in use in Tombstone
Tombstone Firehouse

One of the most famous graves in the world, for someone that no one knows
I apologize that it has taken me so long to write and post this blog.  Perhaps it was a reluctance on my part, because it is the last one.  Well, at least for a while. it is.....

Hello friends, and welcome to my blog from the Arizona desert! This will be my last blog on tour for quite a while. But enough of that for now....

We arrived in Tucson on Monday, and couldn't have been happier to find the warm weather that awaited us after our cold, rainy couple of weeks in St. Louis. I decided to rent myself a car for the last week, knowing that there was a bunch I wanted to see, and was just looking forward to a little independence and freedom. I picked up my car and headed to our hotel, and once I settled in, I headed out for coffee and a few things at Target. 

The next day, I was determined to get out and do some things before opening night.  So, I went out in search of food, and to get acclimated to the city.  Unfortunately, the entire city was under massive construction because they are adding a streetcar line; so, what should've been a 3 minute drive to the theatre became a very complicated 30 minute drive.  I wanted to drive over so I knew where I would be going that evening....and then I decided it was much better to walk.  I did, however, see a bit of the town.  I drove onto the University of Arizona campus and visited one of my favorite record store chains (a sort of sister store to Bullmoose in Maine), Zia Records.  I spent entirely too much money, and headed to Whole Foods to get a few supplies before heading home to chill before opening night.  After a successful opening night show, most of the cast, crew and I hopped on a shuttle and headed to a house owned by one of Peter's friends.  She had a wonderful spread of Tex Mex food for us, and we sat around eating, drinking, singing and being merry.  It was one of the only nights of it's kind on the entire tour, and since it was our closing week, it was not to be repeated. 

The following day, I headed to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (pictures above).  Really almost more of a wild life refuge, and scenic overlook.  After a long drive through the breathtaking mountains, I parked and walked around the museum for nearly 3 hours.  It was quite interesting to see all of the species of animals that live in the region, and to learn about why/how these animals and the plant life developed the defense mechanisms they did.  And, because it wasn't the heat of summer yet, it was certainly hot, but not TOO hot.  It was a gorgeous day to just walk around by myself.  On the way back I drove by Old Tucson, which looked much more like a theme park than an old west town....because that's essentially what it is.....but, it was only open on the weekends, so I just stopped to take a few pictures.  I headed back to rest and get out of the sun before the show that evening. 

On Thursday, James, Ben Eells and I headed a bit north to hit some balls at a batting cage I had found online.  It was a bit of an adventure to find it, but we had fun nevertheless.  It's always nice to be able to share my love of baseball with someone, and to get out and get a little exercise.  We headed back, and Ben and I threw the ball for a while before adjourning to the cooler temperatures of our hotel rooms.  I knew I needed to get a few things done, so I made the trip to FedEx to send out my guitar and mandolin for the last time.  I stopped and got a Chicago dog at a local place, and headed home to nurse what had become the first migraine headache I'd had in a few years.  That evening, Corey's father and step mother had set up a cocktail party for us at the Cushing Street Bar and Grill close to the theatre.  I wasn't feeling the greatest, so I didn't stay long.  But, I still wanted to go and thank them for having us.  At the show that evening, local celebrity/MDQ alumnus Robert Shaw joined the boys and m'am onstage to do a encore of Shake, Rattle and Roll.  We met afterwards, and talked about mutual friends, and our roles in the Johnny Cash world.  He's a pretty awesome guy. 

Friday brought our caravan of cars heading to Tombstone, AZ.  I had been before a few years ago, and after talking about it at length, I had gotten a bunch of people interested in joining me down there.  The town (though quite touristy now) has changed very little since the 1880's.  It's just fun to walk up and down the dirt streets and see cowboys dressed in period garb, buildings much as they were at the time, and even see a terrible reenactment of the gunfight at the OK Corral.  The highlight of the town for me is definitely the Bird Cage Theatre, which was closed in 1881.  It houses the original Black Moriah, used to take corpses to the Boot Hill Cemetery outside of town.  It also tells of a much seedier side of the evenings in Tombstone, and has tons of artifacts from the period of Wyatt Earp, The Earp brothers and Doc Holliday.  It's just fun to step back in time like that.  We all had an amazing time, and wished we hadn't had to head back to Tucson for work. 

I laid pretty low on Saturday, and between shows on Sunday I headed to the trendy 4th Ave area to visit a little art gallery/shop called Pop Cycle.  I had gotten a tip from James that they had a lot of Johnny Cash pop art for purchase.  I, of course, did not walk out empty handed.  Then, it was back home for a bit before heading to the theatre for our 552nd and final show. 

By all accounts, the show went amazingly well.  We all met in the office for our final meeting beforehand, and it was certainly a bittersweet moment to say goodbye to a show that had been a part of all of us for so long.  Some of us, for nearly two years.  But, with few tears, the boys and m'am rocked it out, and left it all out on stage.  After some time in our own rooms, we all headed to the pool deck to enjoy some cocktails, and pizza provided by Billy's dad.  It was a really nice way to relax and enjoy each other's company before we all went our separate ways the next day. 

So, that's all she wrote, folks.  Now, I will say, that the tour is going out again next fall, and some of us will be on it.  But, things are a bit up in the air for now.  So, until things are solidified, it truly marks the end of an era.  When I have updates on the cast, and whether I will be back myself, I will update you. 

Following closing, I had a wonderful week in Florida with Amy!  Now, I write this well overdue blog from the comfort of my home in Maine, as I watch it rain outside for the 5th consecutive  I'll be doing some different things this summer; I'm reviewing for's Maine section, which means I'll be seeing tons of FREE, great theatre.  I'm taking a trip to NYC next week to see a show or two, support Corey at one of his gigs, and to have a meeting concerning a possible upcoming project for me (fingers crossed).  So, I hope this blog finds you well, and I will be back with more as soon as I get more information.  Until then, take care, and keep checking back for news!!!


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Take me out to the ballgame, the Arch, and Happy Trails to Cody....

Our billboard in St. Louis

The boys doing a promo shot in front of the Arch
(photo by David Elkins)

The view from right field at Busch Stadium
(photo by David Elkins)

Busch Stadium

Me doing my best to educate Ben on the magical game of baseball
(photo by Ben Eells)

Kelly, before throwing out the 1st pitch

The gang at the game
(photo by Ben Eells)

Kelly on the big screen!

Yeah!!  MDQ!!!!

My Monte Cristo dog

The Arch

My burger at Bailey's Range

A nighttime view of the Arch from my hotel room

Cody's going away party
(photo by Ben Eells)

(photo by Ben Eells)

Me signing the door on my big boy dressing room for the week

My final performance as Sam Phillips
The Fabulous Fox Theatre


Busch Stadium as seen from the top of the Arch

The reflection of the Arch on the river

The old courthouse where the Dred Scott case was tried

The Sun Theatre, near the Fox
The City Museum

Ben's 1st baseball game

Hello, everyone!  It's hard to believe that our two weeks in St. Louis have come to a close, and that only one more week is left of tour.  Most of the week I have been working tirelessly to piece together a lot of my video clips into a documentary for the boys and m'am.  But, I certainly have done plenty of other things.  So, here's what I've been up to in the city that is home to the Gateway To The West. 

We arrived in St. Louis from New Orleans on our first Monday here, and after settling in a bit, Austin and I headed to get some groceries at Target and Trader Joe's.  We haven't seen a Trader Joe's close to us in quite a while, so it was nice to get some good, cheap groceries for our long stint here. 

The next morning I drove Austin to work, and then headed to one of the few places I had been in this city: Union Station and the Hard Rock Café (duh).  The Thunderstudy boys and I did a promo here for this engagement back in the 1st year of tour, and I actually toured the Fox with my 1st tour of A Christmas Carol, nearly 11 years ago.  Union Station is a GIANT train station that is no longer in use, but has been converted into retail space.  Honestly, it's not in very good shape.  It looked a lot better when I was here in 2001....but this time I took a lot of pictures of the structure itself.  It's a pretty impressive building (pictures above).  I, of course, went to the Hard Rock Café to take pictures and get some pins.  After that I took the advice of Adam Richman, host of Man Vs. Food on the Travel Channel, and headed off the beaten path to a place called Iron Barley for their Monte Cristo hotdog (pictured above).  It was certainly worth the drive....two hot dogs split down the middle and grilled, with two buns, Swiss cheese and raspberry jam.  MMM MMM MMM.  Following my meal, I headed back home to chill before opening night at the Fabulous Fox.  As I said, this is one of the few theatres on tour that I have actually played before, and it is certainly one of my favorites (pictures above).  It is also among the largest theatres in the country, and certainly top 3 as far as the largest I have ever played.  Technically, the Fox in Atlanta has more seats, but this theatre certainly LOOKS bigger. More about the theatre toward the end of my blog.  Opening night went extremely well as usual, and the theatre threw us an opening night party in one of their private rooms upstairs.  It was a nice chill night, and I even had a couple of friends come to the show.  As always, it's nice to see friendly faces on the road. 

On Wednesday, it was a beautiful day, so I decided to take the short walk next door to the Arch (pictures above).  Having been to this city twice, I had never gotten a chance to visit the Arch, so I felt I had to.  I'm really glad I did.  It really is spectacular; a true marvel of modern engineering.  It's so associated with the city, it's hard to imagine that there was a time when it wasn't here.  In fact, I hadn't realized it was only built in the mid '60's.  There is a great documentary in the welcome center that I highly recommend, and after watching it, I headed to the top of the arch......

The experience was almost like waiting in line for Space Mountain at Disney; walking through the innards of the Arch to get to a very small pod that transported me to the top.  It's about 630 ft high....and though I'm not the greatest with heights, because it is completely enclosed, I felt much safer up there then I did at the CN Tower in Toronto, or in any of the insanely tall buildings I have visited on tour.  I took a bunch of pictures from the top, including some of the nearby Busch Stadium where the St. Louis Cardinals play.  Again, more on that later. 

I made my way out of the Arch, continuing to take pictures, and made my way to the courthouse nearby.  Though not in use anymore, this courthouse is famous for having housed the Dred Scott case.  I won't bore you with history, but if you aren't familiar with the case, I suggest you look it up.  It's a very important part of U.S. history.  I walked around our area a bit more, and then headed back to the hotel to get ready for the evening. 

On Thursday, a large group of us were invited to go to the City Museum, not far away.  It's really less of a museum, and more of a giant playground.  Housed in an old shoe factory, everything inside the building comprising the "exhibits" (pictures above) is all second-hand material.  Items collected to show the history of St. Louis, as well as some modern art that has been incorporated into the design.  It's a place for children of all ages to play.  We spent quite a bit of time there, walking through tunnels and caves, and even sliding down a 10-story slide that is original to the building, used as a chute to send shoes down to the factory floor below.  It really was a ton of fun.  Following that, a small group of us headed to get some tasty burgers at Bailey's Range.  Everything there was organic, and the burgers were pretty amazing.  I finished off my meal with a vanilla/salted caramel shake.  Yum yum yum.  Once again, we headed to work that evening, and aside from packing a giant box to be shipped home (can you believe tour is really ending????), my project for the week while at the theatre was to take pictures of every "tag" or wall mural of all of the shows that have toured there.  That's 31 years of shows....I had my work cut out for me (my favorites, and the MDQ tag are pictured above). 

I laid pretty low Friday, as the weather went from gorgeous to frigid and rainy.  To quote the movie Waiting For Guffman: "Ya know, they say if you don't like the weather in MissourAH, just wait five minutes.  I'm confident that here in Blaine we can get that down to 3 or 4 minutes." I think everyone was a little bothered that they had already sent most of their warm clothing home.  But, at least we had warm weather to look forward to the following week.  I spent most of this down time in my room working on my tour opus; a piecing together of a bunch of the videos I have taken on tour.  What started as a small project quickly became a long documentary.  More on that later. Saturday was a pretty bleak day.  This was most troubling to me because time is getting short, and we had had very few days to throw the baseball around.  In fact, Ben had not gotten to throw a ball at all, or use his brand new glove we got him in Des Moines.  C'mon, Missouri!  Help us out here!!!!  However, David Sonneborn went on for the matinee show, and Jam went on that evening for a large group of friends and family from his hometown; watching him perform on the very stage he grew up watching shows on.  That certainly brightened the rainy day. 

Sunday was a bit better, and that afternoon Katie went on.  That evening was important for 2 reasons: I was about to start a week as Sam Phillips, and it marked Cody's last show.  Pretty hard to believe that nearly 2 years ago Cody and I were the first two cast members to meet outside the Snapple Theatre in New York to start rehearsals.  As sad as it was to see him go, I was really pleased to be able to share his last show with him.  That night, we gave him a little Happy Trails party at a bowling alley (pictures above), and the following day, he headed home to Arkansas with his dad.

AHHHHHH Monday.  Not only was it a rare Monday with no travel....not only was it finally a beautiful day.....but, it was a day all about BASEBALL.  Corey, Ben and I FINALLY got to throw...underneath the Arch.  Pretty damn cool.  Kelly joined us after a bit to ask for some tips, as she would be throwing out the first pitch at the Cardinals v Reds game we were attending that evening.  I gave both her and Ben as many good tips as I could; Ben has been playing cricket forever, so the concept was certainly not lost on him.  It was just a challenge for him at first to not try to catch and throw barehanded...but he is a quick learner.  After a little chill time in my room, I met Austin and Ben to head to the park early for the full baseball experience.  I know that most people show up just before game time, or after, and sit and talk most of the game.  Most people call baseball "boring"; that's because most people don't understand the game fully, so when there isn't any "action", they get lost.  I've been watching and playing baseball since I was about 3 years old, so there is NEVER a dull moment for me.  We started the day by giving Ben his first throwing experience, and I was determined to make his first ballgame a time to remember.  We got to the park and immediately got some hot dogs; you really can't go to a game without getting a hot dog.  Not in my book, at least.  We walked around the grand stand a bit, and looked at some souvenirs; we even found a Reds hat for Ben!  We walked through the tunnel to head out to our seats in right field, and man, what a beautiful ballpark (pictures above).  Kelly threw out the first pitch (video below) and we had a great time at the game.  Little Sam joined James and Tara and the group, so it was pretty awesome to see him take in the game.  Ben's Reds won, and they even interviewed Kelly and the boys during the game!  It was a really great night. 

Tuesday was another pleasant day, so I walked around a bit more, and got some nice exterior shots of Busch Stadium.  I feel very fortunate to have seen so many ballparks in our travels; I didn't get to see games at all of them, but still.  New parks I have visited on tour at this point (hopefully I don't leave any out):  The Rogers Center (formerly the Sky Dome) in Toronto, Busch Stadium, PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Safeco Field in Seattle, Chase Field in Phoenix (I had been there before), AT&T Park in San Francisco, Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, Comerica Park in Detroit (I had been there also), Fluor Field in Greenville (home of the Greenville Drive, home of the Red Sox A affiliate), Camden Yards in Baltimore, Progressive Field in Cleveland, and Turner Field in Atlanta.  There's really only a few now that I have not seen.  Perhaps I'll see the rest soon. 
Following my wandering around, I went back home to prepare for my week as Mr. Phillips. 

On Wednesday, I took a little drive to the Blueberry Hill area, and went to one of the best record stores I've ever been to, Vintage Vinyl.  I was there for quite a while before grabbing some gourmet mac n' cheese nearby, and heading to pick up Austin to do some errands.  Then again, off to the show that night.  It was Kelly's birthday, so we had a very low key celebration at a restaurant nearby following the show. 

Thursday brought one of the few matinees during the week we have done on tour, and afterwards some of the cast and I went on a guided tour of the Fox (pictures above).  When you play a theatre with that much history, it's great to get some insight into why it was built, and how it has stayed open for so long. We are very blessed to play these gorgeous, historic houses.  Just unreal. 

Friday was MISERABLE.  Pouring, cold, and awful.  I laid low yet again.  Saturday brought my final two show day as Sam, and a visit to an Irish pub that evening.  Sunday came early, and we performed our last show at the Fox on a matinee.  It is probably what will end up being my final performance as Sam Phillips.  It's been a great ride; I'd really have to go back and look, but it marks about 30 shows as Sam Phillips.  Not a bad record for a Thunderstudy.  The weather was iffy yet again that day, so I used the evening to pack and prepare for our travel day to Tucson, where I'm writing you from now. 

One week left.  Just one week.  After more than 500 shows, and almost two years of touring, we have only a week left.  It's a lot of emotions at once; I think people are all ready to go home...but, I also think it will hit people like a ton of bricks on the last evening here, or when they get home the following week.  It's been a great ride, and I hope we celebrate in style this week. 

As I mentioned before, I've been working tirelessly to piece together video clips that I've taken over the last 2 years.  I have about 215 videos, which amounts to about 7 1/2 hours of, it has taken quite a while to choose which videos to use, cut them down, edit them, etc.  But, I finally finished it in St. Louis.  Now I plan to have a viewing with the cast, and send a link to it for all of the people who have come and gone from our tour. 

So, kids, it is approaching my last blog of tour.  I have some good news to announce soon, and some good opportunities this summer, so I have a feeling I won't be far away.  I hope the spring is treating all of you well, and that you tune in for my last tour blog next week.  Take care, everyone!