Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The birthplace of Delta Blues, a homecoming for H. Brad, and the tale of 2 Springfields

One of the first juke joints offering blues to the people of Mississippi

The Dockery Plantation, known as the birthplace of Mississippi Delta Blues

Bologna Performing Arts Center, Cleveland, MS

Vada Sheid Performing Arts Center, Mountain Home, AR

Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts, Springfield, MO

Sangamon Auditorium, Springfield, IL

Me Springfield, IL

My dear friend and IWU SoTA alum Maggie came to visit!  

And so did my IWU dance/movement/stage combat professor Jean!

Hey everyone!  My apologies for another overdue blog, but as I have said a million times, it is busy out here.  This week's blog tells the tale of a week in the moderately distant past; of Blues legends, Arkansas nights, and visits with good friends.  Without further ado, here are the events of the week.  

After our great day off in Memphis, the cast headed to Cleveland, MS on Tuesday with an impending show that night.  It wasn't too long a drive, and though I was not feeling the greatest (which seems to becoming a trend....), I was excited for the events of the afternoon precluding our show.  Colin Escott (Sun historian, musical know-it-all, and the writer of our script as well as the amazing book about Sun, Good Rockin' Tonight) had contacted Gabe about bringing him and a couple of other people on a bit of an early American music pilgrimage not far from our hotel in Cleveland, and he asked Jake and I to tag along.  So we hopped in Colin's SUV as he drove us to seemingly the middle of nowhere for us to take in some musical history.  First we stopped at Po' Monkeys (above), a jook joint featuring the best of the best blues musicians from all around the Delta since the mid 40's.  A crazy little place that is apparently only open "when somethin's going on".  We then headed a little further away from the hotel to visit what is widely regarded as the birthplace of the blues, The Dockery Plantation (above).  It was here that legendary blues man Charlie Patton honed his skills while farming the land, with a slew of other musicians that changed the face of the blues, and thus were instrumental in creating what we now know as Rock n' Roll.  We talked to the caretaker for quite a while as he pointed out all of the places where Charlie and others honed their craft, and he gave us more information than I could have imagined about the history of the area, the plantation and the birth of an art form.  After a great afternoon, the four of us headed back to the hotel for a little bit of downtime before our only show in Cleveland that night.  We headed to the theatre that night, and greeted Frace and Jimmy who were joining us on stage that night at the Bologna Performing Arts Center (above).  The show went off without a hitch, and the folks of Cleveland, MS were definitely ready for our type of show.  Colin and his wife were in attendance, and it was really nice to catch up with them a bit after not having seen them for so long.  After the show I laid pretty low in my hotel room, as I anticipated the long drive to Arkansas the next day.  

The drive to Mountain Home, AR took much of the day on Wednesday, so when we got in it was time to lay low a bit.  I headed to the nearby Sonic for dinner that evening after driving around trying to find a place, and following some time in my room I headed to the Arena Bar within walking distance of the hotel to join the crew and some of the cast.  We played arcade games, had a beer or two and hung out for quite a while before adjourning to the hotel for some rest.  

Thursday was a bit stressful for me; I had hit a bit of a deadline to tape an audition for my agent, and as I had mentioned before, I hadn't been feeling well for much of the week before.  So, it was now or never.  While trying to go over my sides and music, as well as enlist the help of Frace and Jimmy to read with me and tape, I was also fielding phone calls from my agent (turning down 3 jobs in the course of a 10 minute phone call is never easy), and taking Jake to get his hair cut and for lunch.  Sheesh.  It was a busy afternoon.  Once my audition was taped, it took forever to upload, edit, and subsequently send it out, so it had me a bit frustrated.  Once finished, I jumped in the car with Jake to head to a nearby resale store, Flashback, to shop for some clothes and records quickly before we headed to work.  I of course found a couple of Cash records, and the two of us jetted back to the hotel to pick up Gabe for another one off show that night.  Brad went on for the closest he would get to a hometown crowd that night, and Frace was on for Bryan again, who had taken a couple of personal days.  Though the space was a bit strange (above), the show that night at the Vada Sheid Performing Arts Center went extremely well.  After the show, I invited the boys and m'am to my room for a viewing of My Father and the Man In Black, the documentary made by my friend and son of Johnny's longtime manager, Jonathan Holiff (he met all of us last year at rehearsals in NYC, if you recall).  After the movie and a moderately late night, it was time for some rest.  

We had a nice late bus call on Friday for our drive to the first of two Springfields of the week, Springfield, MO.  We arrived at our hotel in the early afternoon, and I spent much of the afternoon chilling in my hotel room.  The boys and I jumped in the car that evening (our hotel was a bit in the middle of nowhere) to grab a bite to eat and some much needed caffeination before making our way to the Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts (above) for the first of 3 shows in town.  Bryan was back for the show that evening, Bradley joined us as Carl again and it went extremely well; the crowd was not as enthusiastic as the prior two towns perhaps, but they were still great.  I went back to the hotel after the show with the boys, and after getting sucked into a few things on my computer and on tv, I headed to Patrick's room where he, Jake, Colte and I listened to some of our recently procured records.  We were up pretty late, so I headed back to my room for some sleep in the early morning. 

Thought moderately busy with two shows, my Saturday was pretty low key.  Jake got a bit of an allergic attack with some of the allergens in the air, so Skye was on for both show that day, doing a great job as usual.  I opted to head back to the hotel by my lonesome between shows for a short nap, and then grabbed a nice salad at Panera before the show that evening; all three shows in MO went quite well, and after a quiet night by myself at the hotel that night, it was time to head to bed before another travel day into a show on Sunday.  

It was a bit of a drive to Springfield, IL that day, but we did have quite a bit of time to rest at the hotel.  I had been looking forward to our return engagement at the Sangamon Auditorium (above) for quite some time.  Not only had the audience been INSANE there the year prior (we were booked for this year's show that same night), but I had quite a few friends coming to the show.  Due to our close proximity to Bloomington, it would be one of the first times a few of my professors from IWU would have the opportunity to see me perform since I graduated 14 years ago.  The boys and I headed to the theatre that evening, a bit tired from the week but ready to do one last great show.  And, as they had been before, the audience blew us away.  It was truly one of the best shows and audiences we had had in quite some time.  Afterward, I met up with Nancy Loitz (head of the School of Theatre Arts during my days there) and her daughter Zoe (who was probably 4 the last time I saw her), my dear friend Maggie (above) who graduated a few years ahead of me, and Jean Kerr (above) who taught me just about everything I know about movement, dance and stage combat.  It was really heartwarming to see and talk to them, and though Nancy and Zoe needed to leave, Maggie and Jean planned to join the cast and I for some live music downtown.  On my way out of the theatre, I ran into a van of folks from Bloomington who desperately wanted to meet the IWU grad in the show.  We talked for quite a while, and it turned out that a few of them had actually seen me in shows at school.  Pretty crazy.  I headed to Bar None with Gabe to catch Big Sandy and the Fly Rite Boys, a great rockabilly band that Patrick knew personally and had played drums for.  It just so happened that they were in town at the same time as us, so it was pretty cool that we got to catch their set.  I got to catch up a bit more with Maggie and Jean before they had to make their way back to Bloomington, and the boys and I stayed for the rest of Sandy's set, after which I of course bought all of their merch.  We then headed back to the hotel for the impending travel day to Oklahoma City the next day. 

Another week is crossed off our schedule, and each blog I write brings us one week closer to the end of tour; a crazy thought.  I hope you enjoyed this week's installment, and please tune in for tornado fun and bad weather (and bugs), and a whole lot more from Oklahoma City next time around!  

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Another stop in Texas, balmy theatre conditions in Shreveport, back to Arkansas and another rock n' roll pilgrimage

The Temple Theatre, Lufkin, TX 

The historic Municipal Auditorium, home of the Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA

The boys with the King 

The Strand Theatre, Shreveport, LA

Maumelle Performing Arts Center, Maumelle/Little Rock, AR

A little pilgrimage (my 4th) to Memphis, and of course, Sun Studio

Gabe and Carl!  It was Gabe's first trip to Sun!

One of many of Jake and Elvis

"Hey, Mr. Phillips? My name's Carl Perkins, this here's my brother Jay.  We drove down from Jackson to play you a couple of tunes."

Probably my favorite picture I have ever taken of the exterior of Sun 

Ike Turner's saxophone, used on what is often considered the first Rock n' Roll song, Jackie Brenton's Rocket 88

A familiar sight....

"I stood right here"

Gabe overwhelmed at the thought of standing exactly where Carl did for all of his historic sessions 

The new home of the Hard Rock in Memphis.  Of course I had to check it out!!

An awesome Johnny Cash display in the new Hard Rock 

My 5th trip to Graceland, and Gabe's 1st! 

Look out, Jack

Some awesome new shots of the show, thanks to the good folks in Lufkin 

A great shot of sound check at the Strand, thanks to Bryan Langlitz

Jake with Estelle Brown, member of the legendary Sweet Inspirations, who sang backups for Elvis for many years at the end of his life

The cast with Sonny Burgess and the legendary Pacers, Sun recording artists 

Sonny and The Pacers

Patrick and the Pacers' drummer Bobby Crafford 

A sensible selfie with the picture I know so well

Hey, y'all!  Welcome to the latest late installment of my blog!  As usual, it's been a busy couple of weeks out here on the road, and this one was no exception.  I am writing this blog from the confines of our first stage manager's apartment (David Lober, who is now the PSM for Matilda on Broadway) in New York City.  Time for a little layoff before the final stretch of tour commences.  It's crazy to think that in just a few short weeks it will all come to and end.  But, until then, I have plenty to catch you up on.  Here's what transpired this week:

After our nice stint in the state of Colorado, we made the long trek to Texas on Monday.  An hour and a half drive to Colorado Springs, followed by a couple of flights to Dallas and finally Houston, and then a 2 hour drive to Lufkin.  We were all pretty tired once we got in, but thankfully we had some time before it got too late.  After laying low for quite a bit, I joined some of the cast and crew around the fire pit at our hotel, before I decided it was time to finally get some shut eye.  

I woke up nice and late on Tuesday morning, and spent much of the day laying low inside.  The weather had turned quite warm, so I went out in search of food, coffee and some essentials at Walmart, all within walking distance of the theatre.  Following that, I spent much of the day laying low and waiting for my friend Sonia to arrive from Austin; it just so happened she was there on vacation from NYC, and so she made the trip out to Lufkin for the evening to see our show!  It was great catching up with her for a bit, but then it was time for me and the boys to head to the show.  The boys and I headed to the Temple Theatre (above) for the first of two shows in town, and before the show we were able to wish Laura a very happy birthday!  The show went amazingly well in Lufkin that night, and following a successful opening the cast and crew decided to have a BBQ at the hotel, in the parking lot where the crew bus was parked.  The beer and wine flowed, charred mammal flesh and seared fruits and vegetables were consumed; all in all, it was a nice night for the cast, crew and even our truck drivers to get together and let go a bit.  

Wednesday also brought another laid back day, but I did do a few productive things.  I got a nice sushi lunch before heading to Best Buy to find a new laptop bag; my trusty black pinstriped one had started to fall apart, and it was honestly just too big for my new MacBook.  So, I walked out with exactly the bag I wanted and headed home to transfer all of my goods.  Then I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing before our last show in Lufkin that night.  After a great closing show, I ventured to Buffalo Wild Wings (man am I getting sick of chains....) with Gabe, Jeffrey and Justin for a bite.  When we got back, I invited Gabe and Jeff over to watch a documentary I had been dangling in front of Gabe for quite a while, Rockabilly Legends.  The documentary as a whole is quite good, but I wanted to show Gabe this one particular interview with Carl Perkins toward the end of his life.  After a late night and some great entertainment, it was time to rest.  

We made our way to Shreveport the next day, and thankfully we had quite a bit of time to chill in our rooms once we got in.  It was a short drive with a late start, so that gave us a bit more time to sleep and not stress too much about the travel day.  I had been looking forward to our short stint in Shreveport, as it meant we would be able to take a trip to the home of the Louisiana Hayride (above), The Municipal Auditorium.  The boys and I headed to the theatre a bit early that night so we would be able to see the place, and after wandering for a bit and taking it all in, we headed to the Strand Theatre (above) for our only show that night.  What a gorgeous old theatre.  The crowd in Shreveport definitely came to rock that night, and we even had a special guest in our midst, as we learned shortly before curtain.  Estelle Brown (above with Jake) had been a member of the Sweet Inspirations, the backing group for Elvis for quite a number of years.  Jake got to meet her afterwards, and hear tales of her time performing with the King.  All in all, it had been a successful day.  Following that, a few of us headed to the Rockin' Rodeo bar near the hotel for a bit of fun and karaoke.  Then, it was off to slumberland.  

Friday brought another travel day to Little Rock, AR, and I was not feeling well.  I usually only get sick about once every 8 months, but it seems as of late I have not been able to stay healthy, which I have chalked up to the constant travel and weather change.  I did my best to rest on the bus and was feeling a bit better by the time we got in to rainy Little Rock.  The theatre we were playing was actually about 20 miles away in Maumelle, as the usual tour house in Little Rock was closed for renovation.  So, with little time to spare for relaxation and food, the boys and I headed to the Maumelle Performing Arts Center (above) for some rehearsal before the show that night.  Sonny Burgess and the Legendary Pacers (with the cast above) was in town to sit in with the band that night and perform their first Sun hit, Red Headed Woman.  So they joined us on stage for a short rehearsal and sound check before our normal sound check when moving into a new venue.  It was great to be onstage with some true legends of Sun, and to hear all of their stories about their first encounters wit Sam Phillips.  Following the rehearsal I attempted to get a nap in before our full sound check to little success.  The audience was a bit reserved that night, but that didn't stop us from having a great show, and enjoying our raucous encore with Sonny and the boys.  After a long and eventful day, it was time for me to go home and see if I could sleep off my meager cold.  

Saturday brought our typical 2 show day, with Jimmy on as Jerry Lee for both shows.  The commute to and from the theatre certainly put a damper on our free time, but both shows did end up going quite well.  The audiences as a whole in Maumelle were quite a bit more reserved and quiet than we had become accustomed to, but that didn't stop us from giving it our all.  Between shows I did my best to rest after getting some Jimmy John's next door, and it really was necessary considering how poorly I was feeling and how busy a night I had ahead.  My old boss and friend Will Prather was in town that night with Lauren Sobon and Russell Thompson in tow, checking out our production for their upcoming hand off of our tour to them for a non union run.  It was great to catch up with all of them over a craft beer with the cast at the Flying Saucer in downtown Little Rock, even if I had been feeling pretty lousy.  I stayed out for a bit with them before we all decided it was time to call it a night.  

We had only one show to look forward to the next day, and then an impending day off.  Thankfully that show was a matinee; because like the rest of the shows in Maumelle, the audience was quite lackluster.  Following the show I headed to run a few errands with Jake, and then we made our way downtown to get some food at a place called Big Whiskey.  I was still not feeling the greatest, so once we got back to the hotel, I laid low and even napped for a bit.  That day was Aly's birthday, and she had invited people out to a place called 109 that night; craft cocktails and such.  So, once I finally dragged myself out of my bed, I made the short walk to join much of the cast and crew.  It was a pretty fun night, though there were definitely some dramatic moments.  My lips are sealed.......

With the day off on Monday, a few of us had decided to make our way to Memphis.  As the early morning approached, it appeared that it would just be Gabe, Jake and I; and I was just fine with taking the small group.  I was still coughing a lot, but feeling a bit better.  I certainly wasn't going to back out of our trip, so I tried to make the most of it.  We talked a lot on the way, and the 2 hour drive seemed to go very quickly.  Gabe had been to Memphis before, but hadn't been to many of the places Jake and I had been, so we intended to be his tour guides.  The first stop was Sun Studio, which seemed more than appropriate.  No matter how many times I visit the studio, it is just as special and meaningful each and every time.  I got some great pictures of the boys (above), and even tried some new black and white offerings; I do have hundreds of pictures from past trips, after all.  We had a great time there, so we headed downtown to get some lunch at my favorite BBQ spot, Rendezvous.  The only problem was, it is closed on Monday. So, we were out of luck.  We opted to walk around a bit more before heading for lunch, so we went into the Peabody Hotel, and of course into Lansky's.  We even got to talk to Mr. Lanksy (the original namesake's son) for a bit before moving on.  We walked toward Beale, and I noticed the new home of the Hard Rock Cafe (above), and also the new/old home of another Lansky's location.  Apparently it was back where it had originally been.  We shopped around there for a bit before walking the length of Beale in search of BBQ.  Most places were closed on Monday, including Jerry Lee Lewis' semi new place (new since I had been back to Memphis).  I suggested a place I had been to quite a bit, The Pig.  We were all starving at that point, so just about anything would have done.  But the Pig has some great BBQ, and was certainly exactly what we were looking for.  Then it was time to think about either heading out of town, or trying to get to Graceland before it closed; the day had truly flown by.  As Gabe had never been, we opted to head out and try to make the final tour of Graceland.  By some stroke of luck, we just barely made it, and embarked on the final tour they would do that day.  This marked what I think is the 4th time I've been to Graceland.  Now, don't get me wrong; I like Elvis and all, and the tour is pretty great.  But, I'm not sure I ever need to go again after the 4th visit.  We took our time following John Stamos' (yes, that's right.  Not a joke) voice around the house and grounds, and even got to head to the archives, a building I had never been to on the tour before.  We then headed back to the welcome center to visit the car museum, and all of the other exhibits along the way (multiple pictures above).  Once we finished, it was time to gas up, grab some necessities and hit the road back to Little Rock.  The drive back seemed to take even less time, and once we landed we all went our several ways.  I grabbed a bite to eat and opted to have an early night in my room before our trek to Cleveland, MS the next day.  

So, that's about all from another eventful week out here on the road.  More to come from the next two weeks before our layoff (which I am currently writing from), and I hope y'all will stay tuned!  Thanks for reading!!!