I’ve been checking out a lot of my peers recently. After playing the Singer Songwriter Cape May festival last weekend, I checked out every single one of the 150 artists who played it, with the intention of making connections with anyone whose music I liked. I soon realized that I had some pretty tough criteria when checking out someone online.

If I dig your music, I might subscribe to your newsletter, Like you, Friend you, follow your Twitter feed, subscribe to your Youtube account, add you to my Google+ circles, or send a friendly email. If you keep in touch, I’ll come see you play a show. If you’re really charming, I may buy an album, or help you set up a show in New York. I may, eventually, become a true fan.

None of this will happen, and I may bear a grudge against you forever, if:

– you require a Like to hear your music.
– your only website is a Facebook page and there is no easy link to hear music on it.
– your only website is a Myspace page.
– your only website is a Bandcamp page.
– the only way to hear music on your site is to follow a link to “Buy” it.
– you only have one song on your site.
– your bio includes hyperbole like: “amazing”, “stunning”, “peerless”, “awesome”, “hot”, etc.
– you feature more than one cover song on your site.
– your website is set to autoplay music as soon as the page is opened.
– you have multiple misspellings on the front page of your site. I’m sorry. It’s like a bad tattoo.
– the first 10 seconds of your first tune/video bore me. I’m REALLY sorry. That’s all you get in this day and age.

What’d I miss?




















How I roll, winter 2013. Green bag contains my Austin-bought boots and a bit of lunch, when times are good.

My suitcase on tour contains a ZT Acoustic amp (5″ speaker, 200 watts…awesome for a traveler, though heavy), a music stand I’ve converted into a mic stand, a merch table made of cardboard which attaches to the top of the suitcase, one box of CDs (I get more shipped to me halfway through tour), some extra batteries and cords, one pair of jeans, four t-shirts, five changes of underthangs and socks, a long-sleeve shirt, a razor and a toothbrush. Carrying along a full PA setup (mics and adapters are in my guitar case) means that I don’t have space for two weeks’ worth of clean clothing, so I count on doing laundry at least a couple of times per tour.

I had a five-hour ride from Jackson to Birmingham, but it started early in the day, and I was looking forward to arriving at 12:30. It’s very rare that I get many quiet hours in one place while on tour, and I was looking forward to an afternoon of relaxing while doing laundry. Some practice, a nap, a long shower…a dream.

I couldn’t find any hotel bargains in downtown¬†Birmingham, so I’d chosen one south of the city, but seemingly accessible by a local bus line. Piecing together a plan from the typically inscrutable local bus map (is it too much to ask that actual street names are used, rather than just the shape of the route?), I found that I could walk just two blocks from the Greyhound stop and grab the bus down to the hotel.


(My hotel was located somewhere on the grey line just to the left of the red line on this map. Street names? We don’t need no stinking street names!)

The journey was painless, my Greyhound pulled into Birmingham ahead of schedule (!), and in just a few minutes I was waiting at the bus stop. Things were looking great for my afternoon. The local bus showed up about 10 minutes late, but that didn’t ruffle my feathers a bit. I got settled and pulled up the GPS on my phone so I could follow where we were going.

The bus seemed to be stopping awfully frequently, and when I looked at the distance between where we were and where we were going, I realized that this was going to be a long trip if this kept up. We soon left behind the downtown buildings and entered into the outskirts with their lawns and fences, but we continued to stop at what seemed to be every other intersection to pick someone up or drop someone off. I watched the minutes tick away on this bus, and before long we had been in transit for an hour.



















The golden lady of Birmingham.

The vagueness of the transit map meant that I wasn’t entirely sure where I should be dropped off in order to have the shortest walk possible to the hotel, though there was a loop that seemed to circle my destination so it seemed certainly I could get pretty close to it. I spoke with the reticent driver when we seemed to be getting close to the beginning of the loop, and she indicated that I should stay on the bus to go around the loop, because there would be a stop closer to the hotel on the return trip. Fifteen more minutes of driving, and she left me off by a Waffle House (a staple of the South), with a vague wave pointing in the direction of my hotel.

I descended with my gear, then had a good look at my phone, as I couldn’t actually see the hotel from where I was and there were several streets to choose from, all heading off in different angles. I probably spent five minutes with the map and a compass app, trying to figure out how best to walk there. I finally set off on the quietest of the streets, and soon spotted a tall sign advertising the Super 8. Cool.

Unfortunately, the small street I was on terminated in a whizzing four-lane highway, crossed by another four-lane. Not only were there no crosswalks, there were no more sidewalks. I headed towards a stoplight, and ran across after a few minutes when a break appeared between cars turning left. I cut through a parking lot, keeping the hotel sign in sight, and came upon a smaller two-lane road, which didn’t have a sidewalk either. I couldn’t roll my heavy suitcase over the grass, so I picked it up, sweating with the effort so far, and trudged up the road. It soon turned into an upward slope, the hotel itself appeared in the distance, taunting me from the top of a hill.

At points along the road, even the grass petered out, with nothing but road to walk on. I had to jog in between driveways and gravel lots to avoid the many trucks coming up and down this busy stretch. The hotel seemed to be receding from sight, but finally I found myself in its parking lot, panting. The office was far on the other side, of course, so another few minutes of walking and I fairly collapsed into the lobby.

It was nearly three o’clock by now. So much for a restful afternoon. I checked in, threw my clothes into a washer and sat down with the transit map to figure out how much time I’d have before I needed to leave again to get to the gig. Though I looked at every possible combination of routes, the only way I could get to the 7 pm gig on time, allowing 20 minutes to walk to the bus stop, was to leave again at 4:30.

Of all nights, tonight I had to bring my own PA, so I needed to bring all my gear with me in the suitcase besides my gig bag with guitar and cords.I pulled everything extraneous out to lighten the load (which wasn’t much), pulled my clothes out of the dryer, then headed back out again, cursing my decision to stay so far South and wishing I’d spent the extra fifty bucks it would have cost me to stay in town.

I realize I’m just begging for pity at this point, but this trip was even worse. I dragged everything down to the bus stop, and shortly after arriving it started to rain. I took shelter under the overhang of an office building nearby, then waited for an hour for the bus to arrive. When we finally arrived in the city itself, I got off at a transfer point, then called a cab to pick me up, rather than risking another late bus. But when the taxi didn’t arrive in 15 minutes (they’d told me “10 to 30 minutes wait”), I took the bus that came first, and arrived at the gig five minutes after my start time.

Rojo’s was a nice-looking Mexican restaurant, with a lot of people inside. My spirits rose at the thought of playing to a good crowd, but I was immediately shown to the bar area, a room separated from the dining area by a soundproof door, and deserted inside but for the bartender and one table of three gentlemen engaged in loud conversation.

Tamping down my array of frustrations, I set up my PA as fast as I could, ordered some veggie tacos, and started to play, hoping to draw some people in. Gradually a few folks wandered in, and by the set break I was actually drawing a bit of attention. I tucked into the tacos – which were excellent, packed with top-notch soyrizo – and had a bit of conversation with someone who had seen my bio and decided to stop by and check me out. I played another set, and though the place never really got hopping, I did OK by the end, with several people stopping to pay compliments or buy a CD. I finished up, enjoyed a great local lager, and called a taxi to take me home through the pouring rain. Fifteen minutes later, I was back in the hotel, dry and happy but swearing never to put myself through this kind of local transit hell again.



It was a gorgeous morning in New Orleans, sunny and clear. I saw my friends off (a million thanks, S & J!), then decided to walk to the Amtrak station, about two miles away. Though I was lugging all of my crap with me, when do I ever get the chance to walk through the French Quarter? I hated to leave the city, and this seemed like the best possible way to say farewell.

I absolutely love the architecture here, and found myself stopping several times each block to shoot photos. I took so much time enjoying my walk that by the time I hit the business district, I only had a few minutes left to make my train. I hustled into the station, printed out my ticket, and ran aboard to take my seat.

When my pulse slowed and my breathing quieted, I came to the realization that I had an enormous amount of legroom, a table, and electrical jacks next to my seat. Oh right – the train. It was the first Amtrak of tour, and my coach seat felt like the height of luxury travel after all the buses.


(Southern swamp, from the train)

An afternoon of sheer bliss, and I arrived in Jackson, my first time there. The station was new and beautiful, and as I emerged on the far side, I could see my hotel just a block away. Wow. It, too, was new and beautiful (and a bargain), and I checked in, took a shower, then practiced a bit while looking out the windows at the plains.

Too soon, it was time to leave for the gig. I pulled up a map and realized that Hal & Mal’s was less than a mile away. What a confluence of convenience! I decided to walk (as I usually do, unless it’s more than 2 miles) and hoofed it over, encountering no other pedestrians in this typically Southern car-based city.

Hal & Mal’s has a big performance area, but as this was a mid-week show, I was going to play in the restaurant itself. It was a nice arrangement, with a PA and lights, and the staff treated me very well as I got established. I also talked with several locals who greeted me warmly and asked how my tour was going, they’d checked out my site and my music beforehand. Always nice to welcomed in this way.

I ordered a bowl of the bouillabaisse, which was incredible (why have I never tried this in New Orleans?!), and their “tamale pie”, which turned out to be nothing more than a pile of molten cheese over a flattened tamal. Oh well. I devoured the soup and dug out the masa and beans from under the cheddar, then it was time to go on.

Most of the seats in the place were occupied by this point, with a tableful of well-suited gentlemen directly in front of me. I couldn’t tell if they were executives, developers or politicians, but they had very important things to discuss very loudly, and they didn’t let up a second when I kicked off my set. I got some scattered applause (though certainly none from that particular party), and continued on, ignoring the suits as they ignored me. Finally, they packed up and left without a glance in my direction. Good riddance!

By the set break, a lot of the other people had started to pack up and head home for the night as well. I had been warned that Wednesdays are slow here, and I could see that the tables weren’t being filled by newcomers. Partway through of the set, though, a nicely-dressed couple came in, and immediately showed interest in what I was doing. A few tunes later, I mentioned that I was from New York, and the male half of the couple shouted out, “What part?”. After I finished out my set, for their and just a few others’ benefit, we chatted and it turns out they live in the East Village, and were on a road trip through the heartland. They wished me well on journey, as I did theirs, and I promised to keep in touch about my shows when I got back home. Funny how things like this happen on tour.

I have only been to New Orleans once before, on tour in 2010,but I immediately fell in love with it then. I felt like there was something undefinable, that goes beyond the gingerbread on the shotgun shacks and the brass bands and the po’boys, which gave it a feel like no other American city.


That feeling greeted me again when I disembarked from the Megabus, after a 5-hour trip from Houston. I decided to walk the mile and a half to my hotel, through the French Quarter and into the Marigny, just to enjoy it. I wasn’t even bothered by all the tourists (a group to which I belong, of course, more or less), with their plastic margarita glasses and bags of Cafe du Monde memorabilia. The city just exudes a welcoming, mysterious charm.


I met up with some friends from Arkansas who were spending a few days in the city, and had a beer at Lafitte’s, the oldest bar in the USA. It certainly looks it, from the age of the building and the bar itself, though the whirling frozen daquiri machines behind the bartenders showed how it had been upgraded to meet contemporary demands on Bourbon St.


I had an interview to do, so I returned to the hotel and connected with the journalist. It was a very in-depth conversation, with lots of questions about my various musical experiences before arriving on my current M.O., and was a lot of fun, though it went on for over 30 minutes and I began to wonder what kind of article she’d be turning out. (I hate to report that, as of this writing, I still haven’t seen any sign of the interview, which was to help promote the next night’s gig).

Then it was time to pull on my new boots, grab the guitar and head to the gig. I’d never been to Checkpoint Charlie’s before, and upon entering its prime corner location on Esplanade, found a yawning space with several levels and a good-size stage far in the corner. I plugged into their PA, noting the various signs declaring “$5 charge to use the PA – no charge if you don’t make $5”, which seemed pretty kind-hearted of them.

I was expected to provide 3 1/2 hours of music this evening, and I had resolved to not repeat anything, and to depend on originals as much as I possibly could. This meant bringing out a lot of tunes I wouldn’t normally play in a bar, like mellow fingerpicking pieces I’d written for weddings, but it seemed like a good challenge to mix them in.

When I hit the stage at 7 p.m., there were just a few people sitting at the bar, and a few in a raised area with billiard tables, none of them paying any attention. This is a tough situation; I didn’t want to waste my best songs on them, but I also wanted to try to grab their attention if I could. And at the same time, I wanted to make it seem like I was in control of the situation, so if someone walked in the door they’d be drawn in, not put off by the whiff of desperation. (Of course, I should be thinking about the music and the music alone, but these are some of the things that go through the head of a performer).

I decided to start out quiet, but confident, with some of the fingerpicking tunes, then tried out one of the few covers I’d planned to include, Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman”. That, finally, elicited some glances and a burst of applause at the end. I ramped up the energy a bit and continued on, happy to see that some of the glances turned into actual listening, and before long a few other people came through the door to join them.

I finished up the first set, took a short break, then went back on. More people showed up, replacing others who’d left, and I pushed on through my back catalog. I got some nice compliments on the next break, and some CD sales, and during the third set there were folks sitting in front of me for the sole purpose of listening and watching. I played four Beatles songs, and “Shenandoah”, but otherwise stuck to my own tunes, and by the time I was done my fingers were aching but I was happy with the way things had turned out. I rewarded myself with straight bourbon and some brass band action up the street at DBA, then an oyster po’boy after midnight with my friends. A great night.