The Casbah, Durham NC – June 12 2013

(My guitar got the first window seat of its life – thanks, American Air!)

The gig at the Casbah near the end of my springtime tour was my favorite night of the whole dozen stops on that particular trip. I had loads of difficulty setting everything up, but once I did it turned out to be one of those great shows where everything works. First starters, I was able to play unplugged in a room with fantastic acoustics, and not by design – it just so happens that the Casbah’s bar room sounds amazing. I really enjoyed the music made by the rest of people on the bill, and the people who came to watch were so warm and friendly to us all.

After an experience like that, of course I wanted to do it again, so as soon as I got back home I contacted the booker and set up another date, also unplugged, and with the same bill. With that nailed down, I set about trying to book another show or two to make a short tour.

Unfortunately, nothing else worked out for the strict date needs that I had. But I found a cheap flight down, and decided that it was worth it for this one show, since it was such a good possibility. Plus, I have a number of friends in the area, and seeing them would have been worth the trouble on its own. So I went ahead and booked the flight, and found a $3 Megabus ticket for the return trip (yeah!). All was looking good.

The flight down was easy as pie (I guess that’s the point, eh?). I got stopped briefly in security as they’d found something suspicious in my shoulder bag. When I got pulled over to the side of the line, the uniformed gentleman pulled out the offending item, a thinline condenser mic. He examined it for a second, then leaned over to me and asked, in an polite whisper, “This is a nose-hair trimmer, right?” I explained its actual function and was let go, dubious metal object in tow.

I caught an easy local bus into town, and was happy to find that the Casbah is located just two blocks from the main transit hub. I found a lovely coffeeshop in between called Otis & Parker, and settled in to guzzle some tea and catch up on computering for a few hours before walking over to the club in the shockingly humid late afternoon.

The bartender had just arrived, and she let me into the Casbah’s front room where we had played last time. The first thing I noticed was that weird overexposed glow that every club has in the daylight – these places are made for the dark. The second thing that struck me was the enormous pool table planted in the dead middle of the room. I went over and experimentally gave it a little shove, to see if it could be moved out of the way. It didn’t budge an inch. I slipped both my hands under the chunky rim and tried to lift one end. No movement whatsoever…the table was staying.

Trying to repress my disappointment, I asked the bartender how bands have been setting up for the other unplugged shows. She said everyone sorta does it differently, some even in the corner of the main stage room. That didn’t seem promising – that room is very industrial and grey, while the front room feels like a cozy neighborhood pub to me – so I scoped out the whole thing and finally decided to set up in a corner directly behind the pool table. It felt slightly ridiculous, but I would be able to seen from most of the room, and it would give the crowd unblocked access to the most important things – the bar and the bathroom. I helped her to set up some chairs, then laid out my merch and ducked out to grab a veggie kabob from the place next door.

When I returned, my co-performers had arrived. We caught up a bit, then I sat down in the back room and warmed up, enjoying the sound in the cavernous space. I don’t often get the chance to warm up properly on the road – the green room is a rare luxury – but when I do, my first tune of the night always comes out better.

Our crowd started to arrive, though as it got closer to 8 it became clear that it would be a slow night, another disappointment for me as I’d really tried to garner some press attention. Still, when Jeff and Adam started to play, on the far side of that enormous billiard table, I immediately started to enjoy myself. I felt enveloped in the warm sound and the inviting space, and by the time I was due onstage I was in a fine mood. Even the low attendance wasn’t bothering me, the room felt full of life.

My hands felt in good shape from the warm-up, and I think it helped me feel more relaxed starting out. I managed to play my opening tune at a much more reasonable tempo than the breakneck speed I often dive into, a good thing. Next was “If You Won’t I Will”, and the body thumps at the ended sounded so big bouncing off the walls. A blast.

The rest of the set flew by (with a nice reaction to the brand-new, as-yet-unnamed koto-bridge song) and I decided to end up with “Shenandoah” followed by the new “Dog & Kid”. It’s been quite a while since I’ve played that old folk tune, but it feels so comfortable, always. I used to play it nearly every show, and this reminded me why.

“Dog & Kid” was another fun one to blast out, and my set was over. I grabbed a local porter (impressive, the range of local beers that exist in this town) and settled in to enjoy the closing set by Anthony Neff. A great night, in the end, and totally worth the trip.