Saturday, May 31, 2014

A life changing trip to Music City, USA

Me in awe as I hold Johnny Cash's 1970's era Martin D-41 courtesy of Bill Miller and the Johnny Cash Museum

Me wearing Johnny's custom made coat, worn at his Madison Square Garden concert, again courtesy of Bill Miller and the Cash museum

TPAC, Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Nashville 

Lunch on press day at an East Nashville landmark

Me and the boys during press at the Johnny Cash Museum

James playing a 1956 Gibson during our interview with Jason Courson of

Robbie in Tootsie's alley, where Hank Williams reportedly passed out on the steps behind him

Our amazing meeting with Joanne Cash-Yates and Cindy Cash

Me and the boys with Luther Perkins' widow, Margie

Me with Johnny's youngest brother, Tommy

Me and Margie, right in front of a picture of her husband, and his Fender Telecaster

One of my favorite sights in Nashville, the Cash mural

Paying my respects to Johnny and June

In a strange twist of fate, we stumbled upon Luther's grave

The ruins of Johnny and June's house on the lake in Hendersonville

Robby and Frace on their first visit to the Ryman

Me, nearly fainting as Bill Miller places Johnny's coat on me

Krug in front of our mural 

A great rendering of Johnny and June in Robert's Western World 

Mr. Chet Atkins 

Hello everyone, and welcome to yet another long overdue yet action packed blog!  It's been a pretty busy few weeks for us out here on tour, and this week's blog recaps probably the busiest week on tour I can remember since perhaps our first trip to Memphis, more than 2 years ago.  Here we go!!!!

This, above most others, was the week that we were all looking forward to.  Along with being a bit intimidated, there was also a definite excitement to bring our show to Nashville, and to enjoy the history of the town at the same time.  We flew in on Monday from West Palm, and I was honestly pretty damn tired.  I'm not sure if it was from lack of sleep the night before, or that I was unable to sleep on the planes as I usually do, but I was dragging a bit when I got in.  So, after planning to do a few things in town that night I opted instead to lay low.  However, it being Cinco de Mayo, I decided to head to a Mexican restaurant (named Cinco de Mayo; very apropos) with Frace, Robby and Stephanie in my company rental car.  It was a bit away from the hotel, but actually not far from downtown.  The food was very good, and it was nice to get out a bit and celebrate, since it always seems we are working on such holidays.  Following a good dinner and an obligatory margarita, we headed home for the evening.  I spent the rest of the evening in my room, napping on and off, and preparing for what would prove to be a very busy week.  

I had grand plans on Tuesday, and decided to invite some of the cast along to enjoy the sights with me.  So that morning I led a caravan of Kelly, Corey, James, Frace and Robby to nearby Hendersonville.  With each trip I take to Nashville (this is my 4th trip in 3 years) I make it a point to pay my respects to Johnny and June at their gravesite at the Hendersonville Memorial Gardens.  So, the group of us headed there first; I was the only one who had ever been there before.  We went straight to Johnny and June's final resting place and spent quite a long time in silence paying our respects to them, as well as Mother Maybelle, Ezra and Anita Carter.  I had never really wandered around the cemetery at all, and I was unaware that Johnny's parents Ray and Carrie were buried close by; so we also paid our respects to them.  After some research, we realized that Johnny's long time guitarist Luther Perkins was also buried there.  We really had no way of figuring out where his grave was, so we just wandered for a bit.  Low and behold, we stumbled upon it (pictured above) as we were turning around to leave.  A beautiful and humble gravestone, reflecting the life of a man who was just that: humble.  It meant a lot that we were able to pay our respects to so many people that though we had never met, meant so much to us.  With heavy hearts and minds we got in our cars and headed to our next destination.  Not far from the Memorial Gardens are the ruins of Johnny and June's house on the lake.  After Johnny passed away in 2003, the house and grounds were acquired by Barry Gibb of the Bee-Gees.  While having workmen renovate the house, an electrical fire broke out during the night and burned much of the house to the ground; thus adding to the folklore that the house was only meant to be inhabited by Johnny and June.  Though there is a large fence surrounding the complex, there are certainly a few places where you can see the rubble and what clearly was the house's former glory.  The grounds are falling apart a bit, but the area is still quite lovely.  Everyone in the group was pretty taken aback by the sights, and were eager to move on to everything else the day had in store.  We left Hendersonville and made the drive to downtown Nashville, where the plan was to see a couple things before heading home.  We all met up at the Ryman Auditorium, former home of the Grand Ole Opry, and known as the Mother Church of Country Music.  Corey and James opted to get food rather than take the tour, so the 4 of us went along on our own.  Though this was my third trip to the Ryman, I always enjoy being there.  There is certainly an aura about the place that is very inviting, special and also gives me the chills.  Anybody who is anybody in country music for the most part has played the Ryman, as well as many modern and contemporary bands and acts of all genres including Coldplay, Band Of Horses and the Black Keys.  You can almost feel the history dripping from the walls.  Though we didn't stay there for too long, we thoroughly enjoyed our self guided tour.  We were all feeling a bit hungry, so we stopped in Jack's BBQ on Broadway to grab a quick bite.  Some great, authentic home cooking that was not only tasty, but quick and cheap and exactly what we were looking for.  James and Corey had finished their eats, and so the entire group met up at one of my favorite places in Nashville, Ernest Tubb's Record Shop.  The whole group made our way down Broadway to the last stop on our grand tour of the day, The Johnny Cash Museum.  Over the last few years (and finally meeting in person this year in Palm Desert) I have struck up a friendship with Bill Miller and his wife Shannon, founders of the museum.  Not only had we been looking forward to our trip to Nashville, but they were also looking forward to hosting us at the museum.  So, I got in touch with Bill and let him know that we were making our way to his amazing museum.  A quick mention of our involvement with Million Dollar Quartet, and the staff let the entire group in for free, which was amazingly sweet and generous.  And so our group walked into the hallowed ground of the Johnny Cash Museum.  This was my second trip to the museum itself, having visited once when the museum was not yet open, but the store was.  I was amazed yet again at how fantastic the museum is, but also that there were new parts that had opened since I had visited last summer, including the event space that plays Cash concert footage while the museum is open, and a hallway filled with Johnny's full length albums and 45's.  New features or not, I could visit that museum 1,000 times and never get bored.  I was glad to see that my people were really enjoying it as well, and during our visit, Bill, Shannon and Sidney Robinson (who takes care of all of their promotions, etc.) came to meet us.  Everyone in the group echoed my feelings about how well done the entire museum is, and Bill asked if we wanted to accompany him to a part of the building that most people don't get to see.  We all took the trek upstairs, and let me tell you....everyone was glad we did.  Along with some memorabilia that is not on display in the museum, Bill presented me with Johnny's 1970's era Martin D-41 guitar (pictured above); after the initial shock of holding what I was, I attempted to play it with my hands shaking and sweaty.  James and Frace also took a turn, and that is when I thought the excitement would end.  Just then, Bill returned with something he said he had brought out just for me: Johnny's coat from the Madison Square Garden concert.  He took it off the hanger, and helped me try it on.  It could not have fit more perfectly.  It gave me chills as I put it on (above) and I couldn't have felt more in debt to Bill for helping us experience something truly special at the Cash museum.  It had been an extremely full day, and after running a quick errand with Frace after chatting with Bill, Shannon, Sydney, Chuck Bauman (a Cash family friend who works at the museum) and meeting Randall Bart (another museum worker) we headed home to get some much needed downtime before heading to the show that night.  James and I headed out in enough time to drive downtown and find parking, and made our way to the TPAC (above).  We were all pretty nervous going into the show that night; it's kinda hard not to be in Music City USA, afterall.  It was similar feeling to our stops in Memphis (though I can't speak from experience as I did not perform in the show there) in that there are so many musicians, family members and friends of the icons were are portraying.  All of our fears and trepidation was put aside as soon as the curtain rose, though.  The response from the crowd was warm, enthusiastic and amazing.  And certainly not what we were expecting from the crowds in Nashville.  But if opening night was any indication, it was going to be a great week.  Following the show, we had a very nice reception in the lobby of the theatre (though it was not what was originally planned for opening night.  If you want to know the full story, you'll have to ask me in person :) ) full of VIP's, press, and some lovely audience members.  We stayed for quite a while chatting with everyone, including our very own music director Chuck Mead and our general manager, Lane Marsh.  We headed home, and I met a few of the boys in the hotel bar for a beer before heading to bed after a long but amazing day.  

All of us had a good amount of press on Wednesday, and after Vince and Chuck did a radio interview early in the morning, Chuck joined Cody and I for a TV interview.  It went quite well, and after having a bit of down time at our hotel, James and John joined the three of us to do a bit more press.  Chuck suggested to our press rep that we head to Rotier's for lunch; a place he had eaten with his band BR5-49 quite frequently.  MMM MMM MMMM.  Talk about some great home cookin'.  We even got the sit in the booth adorned with BR5-49's picture....sitting at that very table.  After a nice long lunch and some great food and convo, we headed downtown to the Johnny Cash Museum for my second visit in as many days.  We were able to walk around a bit, but mostly we were there in a barrage of flash bulbs and questions from as slew of reporters and interviewers.  But they couldn't have picked a better place to have us.  And I certainly hope it gave my good friend Bill Miller even more exposure that his amazing museum has already gotten.  It was a lengthy day of press, but a great one (see pictures above).  We all went back home to get some rest before the show that night, and we were not disappointed by the amazing crowd again that night.  After a long and eventful day, I decided to go home and lay low for the evening.  

We had more press on Thursday, but this time the boys and I went to the theatre for it.  In one of the other performance spaces, we were joined by Chuck, a moderator and a professor from Vanderbilt University for a talkback panel and some acoustic performances.  It was all pretty interesting, and I think the audience got a lot of information in the hour we spoke and performed.  Following that, we did a radio interview with Jason Courson and  I had met Jason at the TPAC in August when I visited during their gala.  I was seated at the same table as Jason and his wife, and he constructed an amazing MDQ juke box.  We had kept in touch, and I did my best to help him set up this interview.  After talking for quite a while and answering questions, he broke out his 1956 Gibson for us to pass around.  We ended up singing Riverside in my dressing room, and it came out extremely well.  It was one of the best and most fun interviews we had done in a while, and it's always great to be able to help out a friend.  After another lengthy day of press, we headed home to chill before work.  That night was one I had been looking forward to, but was certainly pretty nervous for.  It was rumored that Reba McEntire would be in the audience, but that wasn't at all what made me nervous.  In attendance at the show that night were Bill Miller, his wife Shannon and son Blake, Randall Bart and his wife, Chuck Bauman, Joanne Cash-Yates (Johnny's youngest sister) and her husband Harry, and Cindy Cash (Johnny's daughter) and her husband.  Though the Millers and the Yates' had seen the show before, it was pretty nerve wracking to know that entire group was out there (pictures above).  They met us afterward, and I was flattered to find that Joanne and Harry remembered me from having met them in Memphis last March.  Cindy Cash was very pleasant, and actually had no idea who I had played in the show when we met.  She was looking around asking her aunt "Who played dad?" And when Joanne pointed to me, she spun around and said "Oh!  You played dad?  I'm so sorry I didn't recognize you.  Aunt Joanne, will you take a picture with me and dad?"  I'm getting tears in my eyes now even as I type this.  After we had our picture taken together (which I have to figure out how to get a copy of) she looked at me and said "Ya know, I've seen a lot of people play my dad.  You really should be proud, and so would he.  You sound and look great, but the most impressive thing that you really captured was his humbleness".  I will never forget that sentence as long as I live.  It was an emotional and heartwarming meeting with the family and Cash Museum friends.  And just when I thought it was over, Joanne and Harry invited us to walk them to their car in order to give us autographed and personalized pictures of her and Johnny, as well a copy of her new documentary.  Such wonderful, humble and amazing people.  It's a day I will never ever forget.  We left the Cash family and headed to Robert's Western World on Broadway to grab some food and hear some live music.  It was pretty crowded, but we found a nice little corner upstairs for all us to sit in.  Brad and Cody ended up being called up by the band (who were FANTASTIC, by the way) and we had an awesome night, enjoying some great music and each other's company.  

After the excitement of the week, I tried to take it a little easy on Friday, popping into a few places I had never been and revisiting others that I wanted to see more in.  I finally stopped in Tootsie's Orchid Lounge for a few pictures, and even visited the new Hatch Show Print store inside the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.  I didn't like it quite as much as the old store on Broadway, but it was still pretty neat.  After a quick bite back at Jack's BBQ, it was time to chill before the show that evening.  I had a few friends there including Kira, Natalie and Quincy whom I had just met.  They had been following Cody and Tyler in Elvis tribute festivals for quite some time, so they were glad to get to see him (Cody) do something a little different.  After grabbing a bite to eat in a trendy little area of town where it is rumored Taylor Swift lives, I headed to meet the cast at Chuck Mead's house for a bit out in East Nashville.  We had a blast hanging out and feeling like we were a bit more at home than a hotel.  Another great day and night.  

Saturday brought a usual busy day with two shows, and between them I wandered all the way down to Broadway on foot to get the famous fried bologna sandwich at Robert's.  I'm glad I got it, but I can't say it was the best fried bologna sandwich I had ever had.  It was totally worth it though.  I also took care of a bunch of stuff in my trunk before the second show that evening, and as had become routine, the audience blew us away yet again.  I was pretty tired from the week, so I opted to stay in for the evening.  

Sunday was busy as well, but we packed a little more into the day on top of the two performances.  Chuck Bauman had gotten in touch with me to let me know that Luther Perkins' (Johnny's guitarist until his untimely death in 1968) widow Margie had not only seen the show during the week with little fanfare, but she really wanted to meet me.  So, I set up a meeting at the Johnny Cash Museum between shows that day.  I brought Brad, Frace and James with me, and we headed to Nashville Street Taco before going to meet Margie.  She was so nervous to meet us, which we couldn't believe because we were SO nervous to meet her.  She had so many amazing things to say about the show, and told us endless stories about the days of Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two, and her time on the road with her husband.  What an amazing, beautiful, humble and wonderful woman.  She signed pictures for all of us, and even gave me one of her in front of the Million Dollar Quartet picture at Sun Studio.  She was actually the one who insisted we pose for pictures (above), and we were more than happy to oblige.  We didn't want to leave, but we had to head back to the hotel in order to prepare for the show that night.  Bradly ended up going on, and I was so glad he got to get a taste of the Nashville crowd.  He was very nervous, but it was probably the best show he had done yet.  Following closing night I had yet ANOTHER amazing opportunity. Bill Miller had contacted me in reference to Tommy Cash (Johnny's youngest brother) wanting to see the show that night, and I of course was more than willing to help, and again a bit nervous for him to see the show. After the performance, he met me at the stage door (picture above), and we talked for quite a while. He was very complimentary about the show and my performance, and was just pleased at how positive the whole night was; there are too many people that want to talk about the negative things from Johnny's past (a specific author in particular) and he was pleased to know there are people like me spreading the good word about his brother's life. Again, brought to tears and flattered.  I ended up heading out with much of the group to a bar and music venue called the Stone Fox on Chuck's request that night, and also to give Cody a but of a goodbye party. Cody was the first person I met standing outside the Snapple center waiting for our first day of rehearsal all the way back on September 11, 2011. And though he says he is not coming back, I have a feeling he will. I know that won't be the last time I see him. It was a great night, and the band was pretty spectacular. All in all, a great way to celebrate our last night in Nashville. 

Sorry this installment is so overdue, but I hope I made up for it with all of the news, pictures and excitement! Coming soon is the recap of our week in Madison, WI. Thanks for tuning in, and please check back soon!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A low key week in our last foray into the Sunshine State

The Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, West Palm Beach

A beautiful little theatre in the CityPlace 

Hello everyone!  Sorry for the lack of pictures this time around, but I didn't stray all that far from the hotel this week.  The weather was quite nice, but I think with all of our travel lately, I just needed another week to just sit and chill.  And, to prepare for what promised to be a very crazy week in Nashville.  So, here are the events of our week in West Palm!

We made the relatively short drive from Jacksonville on Monday with very little excitement, which is always good for a travel day.  We got in in the mid afternoon, so we had plenty of time to get settled and enjoy the warm, albeit blustery weather.  I had not mentioned it before, but two weeks prior we were joined by two new crew members.  Dani and Robby V took two weeks off to head to Aruba for vacation and to attend a couple of weddings, so we were joined by Dan Krohne (he and his now wife Jillian were on tour with us for the first year and a half) and Emily Stamm; Emily was a completely new member of the crew, and it was a pleasure to have her out with us.  I mention it now, because they were slated to leave us following load in the next day.  Anywho, after chilling a bit I was getting pretty hungry, but also wanted to get some groceries.  Our rooms were quite nice, and we had full kitchens.  So my plan for the week was to get cozy and homey and make most of my meals at home.  So, I ventured to the nearly Publix and grabbed a whole bunch of food to last me the week....and then some.  Tara and Sam greeted James in West Palm; it was the first time we had seen them in months, and thankfully only a few weeks for him.  They offered kindly to order some Thai food for them if I got them a few things at the grocery store, so when I returned I had a nice dinner with the Franklin-Barry's in their hotel room.  And yes, Sam, your daddy's food was very spicy.  After that, I laid low for much of the night in my room, snacking a bit as the night went on.  

I stuck to my room for the most part on Tuesday, with a little stop in the gym for some overdue exercise.  Following that, I made myself a nice sandwich and potato salad in my room and watched TV for much of the day before getting ready to head to work.  The boys and I headed downtown to the Kravis Center (above) and made our way backstage.  The theatre was quite nice, and thankfully our crew had had a pretty smooth load in.  What wasn't smooth, however was a good amount of the show.  After our usual 45 minute sound check in our first show in each city, all seemed well.  We dispersed to our dressing rooms to prepare for the show.  The curtain rose, and Blue Suede Shoes was met with thunderous applause.  The show continued on well, but when James prepared to start Who Do You Love by grabbing the maracas from the drum riser (which he had checked, as always, during sound check)....they were gone.  On the fly, he had to figure out what to tell Jerry Lee (John) to do.  The awkwardness and maraca-less show continued as I entered, fully aware of the problem and prepared with alternate dialogue I had come up with; it was pretty obvious to all that there was a problem, as the crew was frantically trying to figure out where they could have possibly gone and how to fix it.  Once we made it through the weird patch, the show went pretty well.  But it will forever be remembered as the "missing maraca show".  Following the opening night show, we headed home where I decided to stay in for the duration.  

An uncharacteristic 2 show day greeted us on Wednesday, so there was very little else going on.  Two great shows that day, and surprise visit from our very own director Eric Schaeffer (often known as just Mr. Phillips).  We only saw him for a few minutes, but he was sticking around for another day, so I knew we would be seeing him again.  Between shows I simply made myself food and stayed in my room.  All in all a very low key day, minus having two shows on a Wednesday.  

We had some early press on Thursday for the four of us....and rather than get negative....I will say it....could have gone better.  Moving right along....
Because it was early, and press had been a bit stressful, I went home to nap for a bit before going about my day.  I made food at home again, and made my way to the theatre with the boys for the show that night.  The show went quite well, and I incorporated the couple of notes Mr. Phillips had given me from the night before.  It was Kelly's birthday, so we all celebrated prior to the show with some cake and singing in the company/stage management office.  Our plan was to take her out that night, but she wasn't feeling the greatest.  So instead we headed to the Ale House that was very close by for some food and drinks with Mr. Phillips.  Cody and Brad wandered to a western bar closeby, and coaxed us to join them.  I wouldn't say it was all that "western", but we had a good time hanging for a bit before heading home.  

Again I stayed in for much of the day on Friday, making my meals at home.  I did, however venture out to buy a few things at Walgreens, and decided to stop in Best Buy on a whim.  We had gotten $100 gift cards for doing the meet and greets in Jacksonville, and I also had a $20 reward for the store.  Low and behold, they had a camera that I had been looking at on sale, and....I pulled the trigger.  So I am now that owner of a beautiful new Sony camera!  And though I only took some test shots with it, not to worry; you will see PLENTY of pictures in my next installment.  After heading home to play with my new toy and making dinner, the boys and I headed to the show, where Robby would be taking over as Elvis for the rest of the weekend.  We all had a great show that night, and Robby felt like it was perhaps his best performance as Elvis to date.  I would have to agree.  His nerves are gone, and he is able to let loose and enjoy himself while putting on a great and consistent show.  Well done, my friend.  

Saturday was the usual busy day with two shows, and along with making my meals at home (and sneaking in some McDonald's which I was craving for some reason) and getting a few things at Target that I had forgotten to get at Walgreens.  Robby nailed both shows, and we all had a great double day at work.  

Sunday brought only one show, and an evening off; something we very rarely experienced.  Our closing performance went off without a hitch, and then it was back to the hotel to enjoy the evening.  I dropped James off and decided to head downtown in search of makeup (I'm such an actor), browse Lucky Brand and grab some dinner.  No dice on the makeup, as it seems the Macy's at CityPlace in West Palm Beach is the only one EVER to not have a MAC counter.  Very odd.  Undeterred, I went to Lucky Brand and looked around for a while.  I ended up buying a couple of shirts, one for Robby in celebration of his successful weekend as Elvis.  And then I headed to the Mellow Mushroom for what I had been craving all week....PIZZA.  I ordered a bigger pizza than I could eat, knowing that I would most likely be hungry later on, and I was correct.  I got home and spent the remainder of my night in my room, watching TV and movies and just generally relaxing.  And I'm glad I did; the week that was about to come was going to be bereft of moments like that.  

So, there's our week in West Palm.  I know it wasn't the most exciting, but I ASSURE you that our week/my blog in Nashville will more than make up for it.  Thank you for tuning in, and get ready for one hell of a blog next week!!!