Old Soul, Sacramento, CA

Sacramento Amtrak station

This day started off not so well, waking up before my alarm but not well-rested (still adjusting to the time change), and suddenly realizing that I’d left my laptop power cord at the gig. Frantic emails commenced to everyone at the space, but I soon found out that nobody was going to be there until long after I had to skip town. By a stroke of luck, my host also uses Thinkpads, and let me borrow a spare charger to be mailed back after tour. It’s not the first time this has happened – I’ve “donated” dozens of things over my various tours, from books to mic stands to pairs of pants – but this is a mission-critical piece of gear and I’m lucky things were resolved so easily.

After that dramatic start, the morning continued busily, firing off dozens of texts to people I hadn’t yet been able to see, while catching up on various bits of business. I nailed down an early lunch date with a friend, and soon it was time to go. A bit regretfully, I packed up my things and left the comfortable house.

It was a beautiful day, and we were able to dine in the open air. My friend has been experiencing a uniquely devastating series of events, and though resolution is near, it was some heavy stuff to be apprised of. I was glad for the opportunity to hear about it in person and offer what support I could, but it was a little sad to know that I wouldn’t be able to do so again anytime soon. 

Because my visiting time is so short, sometimes there’s not the chance to really process this kind of thing (or share some good stuff, for balance) before my next stop, and it becomes like another bag over my shoulder. Not necessarily a heavy burden, but something that I carry with me and which I’m quite aware of, long after I’ve moved on to the next town. There have some tours where I’ve gotten a dose of tough news from several people in a row, and the bag becomes heavier. It’s a wonderful thing that my travels can be so social – this Northwest/Midwest circuit began as a series of stops where I knew folks – but it adds a dimension beyond the music that’s not always just fun and games.

After some errands in Oakland, I caught my first Amtrak train of the tour, off to Sacramento. I had a group of four seats to myself, it was a sunny day, and as I plugged in my various gadgets and stretched out I was again reminded of why I love traveling this way. It’s just so easy, even luxurious, compared to a car (or a plane). So much legroom, the ability to get up and walk, decent bathrooms…definitely the best way to get around the country, if you ask me. 

One of the challenges of touring by train is that the gig is guaranteed not to be very rarely close to the station, so I’m dependent on local public transport. I’ve found that there almost always is a way to get from any given point A to a given point B by local transport, but it takes research and sometimes it takes a whole lot of time. Sacramento is not a great town for transportation, though there are streetcars as well as buses neither comes very often and they’re often heavily crowded. When my train arrived this day, I made a quick phone call then popped over to the closest intersection, only to find that I’d just missed my best opportunity for a bus to Old Soul, with the next not due to arrive for 25 minutes. Sigh. I walked along the desolate streets of afterhours downtown Sacramento to amuse myself until the bus caught up to me, and I arrived at the gig with 10 minutes to set up.

Things are tough all over, but even the Super Friends are outta cash?

No PA at the place, so I plugged into my little ZT acoustic amp. It’s small, powerful, and packed with nice features, but I’ve already discovered it’s not built for the road. Between last tour and the first few days of this one, the front grille popped off (the plastic pegs holding it on snapped in two), one of the feet was ripped away, then tonight one of the screws that attach the handle pulled straight out of the body, completely stripped. (Makers of gear, send me anything for two weeks; I’ll road-test the hell out of it).

Old Soul is a sprawling coffeeshop, and most of the many seats were filled tonight, albeit many of them occupied by students glued to their laptops. I took a minute to stretch my hands, and launched out with The First Hurrah, which has become my standard starter. It’s upbeat, not especially difficult to play, and seems to get people’s attention, so it works. It felt good, and I was pleased that a number of the clientele seemed to be watching, even though it’s an instrumental tune. The biggest problem with playing instrumental music, I’ve found, is that most people automatically relegate it to the background. I suppose it makes sense, as they probably hear instrumental stuff primarily in movie soundtracks, where a visual takes the focus, or as audio wallpaper in a restaurant or bar. People who listen primarily to pop music are trained to listen for the vocal when it’s time to focus on music. 

I’ve struggled with that over the years. Even though I write many vocal tunes, and enjoy playing and singing them, I prefer having my instrumental work be paramount in a set. I’ve tried having a vocal set in the middle of a lot of instrumentals, I’ve tried open instrumental and finishing vocal, I’ve tried sprinkling just a few instrumentals in the context of a mainly vocal set, but I think I’m now hitting on a good formula, where I sing four or maybe five tunes in a set, throwing them in for variety. It really seems to be working so far, this tour, I really like the flow and I feel like people have been listening more than in earlier attempts.

The whole set went well, the best one so far in terms of feeling confident and playing decently too. Nice words from a lot of folks afterward, then Ross Hammond finished out the evening with a set from his trio, with Shawn Hale on bass and Vanessa Cruz on drums. I grabbed a very nice local amber ale and a veggie panini, sat right in front and loved every minute of their sometimes-tender, sometimes-fiery approach on Ross’s original tunes.

Afterward, Ross and I caught up over tea, both wishing clear heads the next day, then he dropped me at the Amtrak station for the midnight train to Corvallis.