Ruby Ramblings

Street Music and Nature
June 30, 2011, 7:45 pm
Filed under: Music, Travel | Tags: , , , , ,

Upcoming Shows:

7/1 – Friday, Blue, Congress St. Portland, 6 to 7:30pm – In the round with Griffin Sherry – further proof that there’s something in the water in Buxton, and Adam Klein on tour from Athens, Georgia.

7/2 – Saturday morning Farmer’s Market in Deering Oaks

7/3 – El Rayo, 101 York St. Portland, 7 -9pm – A great night of music with myself on tune-writing, vox, and guitar joined by one of longest running musical friends Joe Bloom on Harmonica, a new friend and amazing fiddle maker as well as player John Cooper on fiddle and dobro, and Devon Colella on Cello. It will be a really interesting night, and I hear the food is good too.

7/7 – Dogfish Cafe – come on down and sing a few.  I have the whole night to myself, but I’d like some other folks to join in too.  Leila Crockett and Griffin Sherry will be singing a few.

7/9 – Kennebunk Old Homes Day – The Hive 2-3:30ish

7/13 – Lonfellow Arts Center.  Maine Songwriters’ Association night at the Longfellow.  Will be joined by Drew Wyman on bass and Joe Bloom on Harmonica.

7/15 – Gritty’s Freeport.  Free for all – in more ways than one.

7/16 – Yarmouth Clam Fest – 4:30 on the Green something or other stage.  Joined by Zach Ovington on fiddle, Drew Wyman on Bass, and Joe Bloom on Harmonica.

Ant marks the spot.  I’m not sure about what.  If someone knows what the cool ant is for, let me know. For me, it marks the best spot to play some music during the Wed. Farmer’s Market in Monument Square.  First come first serve, and the quality of music in the farmer’s market is pretty spectacular if I may say so myself.

This week I had a really pleasant surprise by running into my old roommate and bandmate Leila.  I had just moved back from my first teaching job overseas in Thailand when I met Leila at an open mic.  I was talking about needing a place to live and she invited me over later that week to check out her place and her roommates to see how it would fit.  It was a great time in a vertible flophouse that included sporty types, musicians, and eventually a couple of eastern european girls who may have been prostituting out of the back door.  Leila is an amazing player and scholar of old timey music.  The dude is a regular at the farmer’s market, an old-time banjo and clarinet player who worked with Louis Armstrong when he was a teenager.   The one thing that can be said about Portland, is that it has no shortage of creative characters.

Playing music in the streets and unamplified in coffee shops have been my favorite shows this whole summer.  People tip, buy CDs, and feel like they can come up close and ask a question, talk about the songs, or tell a story or two themselves. Although that has the flip side of people walking up in the middle of  a song, like an adorable old lady on Wed., who just started  gabbing, ” I got one of them (guitar) for mother’s day.  I sure don’t know how to play it though.”  I’m not going to stop singing mid song to chat with you, unless you’re handsome and now wearing a ring.  Luckily, Leila, who was playing guitar, was able to talk to folks, and responded in a cheery voice, “Get a book!”

Last Saturday, as I was getting my guitar out of the car, a lady walked up to me.  Didn’t introduce herself or anything.  Just started gabbing about how her husband had a home studio and was looking for clients.  Guitar does not equal sucker willing to throw money in your general direction for services rendered in a mediocre manner.  Well, actually it does mean sucker, but for different reasons.  The music industry has morphed into this system where musicians spend considerably more money than they make putting out what have become “necessary” aspects of self-promotion – from recordings, to photos, to websites, to advertising, to playing shithole clubs that want you to buy beer by the case.  If there’s one thing I’ve realized this summer, it’s that I was right to trust my instincts to stay as far away from the meat-grinder and stick to the streets.  If I’m in your town, I’ll probably find a way to play a few tunes, but you can pretty much count on the fact that it won’t be at a bar.  I hear parking garages have good acoustics these days.

Besides spending every waking moment either playing, advertising for, or practicing music, I am trying to get out and enjoy what Maine has to offer.  The Maine Audubon Society at Gilsland Farm is one of my favorite places.  They have fields of peonies this summer, and I got away from the computer and the guitar long enough to hang out with the nieces and mom in this sanctuary by the ocean.

June 23, 2011, 9:43 pm
Filed under: Mexico, Music, Tlaquepaque, Travel

Upcoming Shows:

6/25 Gorham Grind, Main St. Gorham 10am-1pm

6/27 Champion’s Sports Bar, Travis James Humphrey hosts, 9pm, Biddeford

6/29 Portland Farmer’s Market, Monument Square, sometime between 9am and 2pm

7/1 Blue, songwriter round with Griffin Sherry, Adam Klein, and myself, 6pm to 9pm, congress St. Portland

7/7 Dogfish Cafe, Free St. Portland, 8 to 11pm

7/13 Longfellow Arts Center, Maine Songwriters Association showcase, 7pm

7/15 Gritty’s Freeport, 8pm

7/16 Yarmouth Clam Festival, 4:30

One of the things I love the most about Mexico is that there is music in the streets all the time.  From people practicing their favorite American rock tunes in their living rooms with the windows open, to mariachis, strolling trova singers, to jazz, to banda bands, to those god awful party bands with all the horns that don’t actually know any of the songs they are playing, or for that matter how to play their instruments.

Some of the best and worst experiences I’ve had coming back to Maine have been as a street musician.  For the first time ever, I have enough gigs (plus playing on the street most days since I have no prospect of work in Maine at the moment) that I am feeling a little burn out.  I don’t want to sing any of the songs I know, but then I do one particularly well and the feeling subsides.  I had the chance to participate in the 4th annual Music in the Square in Eliot Square Cambridge last weekend.  For me, the event was ruined by weather, another event happening that drowned out our busking style festival, and a general feeling of malaise and the creating music is hardly ever worth it.

One event that has been worth it is playing in the Portland Farmer’s Market in monument square.  This week I snuck in after a trio of tuba, banjo, and clarinet.  They are a professional group that has held the same spot on Wednesdays for years.  Everyone respects their time and their location, and they have created an institution of free, impromptu music.  The banjo player stuck around as I started to play for a bit.  He listened thoughtfully, picked up one of my cards, and said, “That, young lady, is some quality work. Not that it’s mine to give, but you have my official permission to use this spot.”

Working through gigs that have no monitors so the hired-hand bass player who was counting on hearing the changes is desperately trying to watch my left hand, trying to wrack my brain for one more fast song to sing over the din of young drunk folks who only want to hear Old Crow Medicine Show covers and don’t know who Neil Young is, and generally feeling like the drunk version of Bad Blake, that one comment from a respected musician can be enough to hold onto for a little while.

Now back to busking.  I was busking down by the Casco Bay Lines last week, and a man who clearly didn’t listen to anything I sang, distantly reached into his pocket to throw some change in the tip jar without slowing down or looking in my general direction.  One thing that most real street musicians are not, are beggars.  Although the money is a necessary and motivational part to continue making music, people stopping to enjoy, a smile, and a compliment are equally appreciated.  I think that people are afraid if they stop, they are going to be obligated to donate money, at least for me, that is definitely not the case.  Although it is highly appreciated, the point is to create an atmosphere.  To expose people to new music, and hopefully find a few people that connect to my version of the art.

Buffalo in the Rough
June 14, 2011, 3:43 pm
Filed under: Music

Upcoming Shows

Today, 6/14, Kennebunk Night Market, 5:30 to 7:30 “The Plaza” Route 1 near the Kennebunk Inn, ME

Friday 6/17, Bath 3rd Friday Art Walk, 55 Front St. 5-7pm, ME

Sat. 6/18, Harvard Make Music in the Square, 3pm, JKF Walkway, Cambridge, MA

6/22, Featured Performer, Dogfish Cafe, Free St. Portland,  8pm, ME

I think part of the reason I had a hard time acclimating to Buffalo was that I was still gushing over how much I loved Pittsburgh.  Ah, Pittsburgh, a town that has reinvented itself with great little forested neighborhoods that rides the line between southern friendliness and northern liberal mentalities.  Roving north there are two things that stuck out distinctly as differences in perspective.  The farther north you get the less people except to pay for music.  In south, peddling CDs, politely but pointedly passing tip jars, and putting a couple bucks in the bass player’s hat as it comes around are all normal ettiquitte for a night of homegrown music.  In Buffalo, the beautiful and eclectic Caz Cafe looked at me sideways when I asked if they had an in house tip jar, or if I should use my own.  Mentioning CDs felt like a taboo.

The second difference is that rather than wearing religion as a battle shield used to defend extreme opinions, judge people, and generally wreck havoc on social equanimity, I ended up in conversations with deeply Christian people in Buffalo whose religion was an outward expression of their compassion for other people and belief in Jesus.  I generally cringe when religion is mentioned in the south, but found my defensive shell melting as the folks in Buffalo showed they were mearly expressing their opinions or perspective, not trying to seperate themselves and prove their space as the chosen (therefore correct) ones.

My first impression of Buffalo as I drove around is that it is a rough city.  Worn down, chilly, cold shouldered.  I was texting with my friend in Nashville who is originally from Buffalo.  Her response was that it is a better place to live than to visit.  As the weekend went on, and I started to chat to more people, I saw that the charm of Buffalo is not in an elaborate downtown, but in its people. Once the ice was broken, I was made to feel like family by several different groups of people.  I had braved the cold exterior, and was allowed to stay and sit by the fire.

The lady I was staying with was the highlight of the visit.  I almost skipped out on a gig to just stay and talk with her.  We drank coffee, she taught me a new knitting stitch, and we chatted for hours.  She lives thirty minutes outside buffalo in the town she grew up in.  She admitted she’d never been to Buffalo before she graduated high school.  Seeing what was down the street was not a desire back then.  Despite admitting she’s hardly ever left the state of NY, she is a truly open thinker and wonderful to spend time with.  My friend had forgetten to mention that I was coming, which I could see on her face when she opened the door, but when I told her who I was, she immediately turned into a light, invited me to stay, and cooked up some mean hamburgers.  We talked about world politics, travel, and relationships.

South Buffalo

From Buffalo it’s onward to Portland, Maine. My hometown.  My mixed feelings.  It’s a great city full of restaurants, music venues, and art.  But it’s also the kind of place where people don’t smile at each at other on the street without prior introduction, where the frost heaves keep the streets in a constant state of car wrenching disrepair, where people don’t go out to see music, but half-listen to music while they get hammered and try to pick up people out of their league.  It’s cold, rainy, and dreary – and I’m not just talking about the weather.   It’s good to be home for a bit, but I’m already doubting my fantasies of staying for the year. The same kind of battle wounds, lonely weeks, and ups and downs are ok for traveling and new places, but having to face them in my hometown seems too daunting.  But I’ll give it some more time before deciding.  As usual there are many options on the table.

Mountain Towns
June 7, 2011, 11:11 pm
Filed under: Music, Travel

After a great night in Lexington with some new and old friends who showed much love and support, I got three wired hours of semi-sleep to get up at 5am to make the 6 hour trek to Thomas, WV.

I had my friend Chris in tow. It is great to have company while traveling (and to have a “ringer” at every show to start the clapping), but we did have one small problem with the navigation. Chris has never driven, ever, in his entire life, which makes giving him the sole job of human GPS more interesting than it should be. This is how getting around Lexington by car goes:
“Where should I go next.”
“Well, I think, maybe the best way to go is down this street, but that might be a one way since I only have to look one way when I use the crosswalk. A safer bet would be the next street. That must be two ways since I have to look both ways when crossing the street.”

At this point we are already passed both streets and driving in the general direction of Helsinki. A passenger must be able to give directions at faster than 10M PH since that is about the slowest I can go in 2nd gear without stalling out.

It was a beautiful and thankfully uneventful ride through the mountains to Thomas. It’s a small, lovely town with a decent trickle of tourists mostly from Pittsburgh and DC that come for a day or two of small town living. The Purple Fiddle has become a destination and has music twice a day on the weekends. I had a great responsive crowd for the afternoon slot, and enjoyed just having a lazy day with some Cold Trail Ale in a mason jar.

The evening show, was awesome, and I feel terrible that since all the day tourists were already on their way back to their respective cities, there was almost no crowd at all. The Giving Tree Band puts on a rockin’ live set and travels as an eight piece band. No small feat.




Next stop Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is seriously my new favorite city.

It’s like a major city hidden in a forest. It’s like a small mountain town, but with everything you could ever want. It’s hip, and it’s lush, and it has super friendly musicians.

I didn’t feel that way at first. As we were coming out of Maryland and up 51, I was pretty sure I was going to hate Pittsburgh. And then when Chris showed the most animation he had in hours by saying an exit was our exit, which turned out definitely not to be the exit, but a series of trial and error that lasted for a good hour. By the end of that, I decided I was ready to not only hate Pittsburgh, but swear off all passengers as well. Luckily, our mutual friend Abby saved not only Pittsburgh’s reputation, but was able to give the kind of tour of the city that only she could.  A geographer and native of Pittsburgh, we saw the ins, outs, and heard the stories behind little neighborhoods, the city steps, and the amazing architecture.

The open mic at Club Cafe was the best open mic I’ve been to anywhere in the country hands down. The musicianship was superb, with a multi instrumentalist named Bob standing out (and standing in with several regulars), and a cellist, Gordon Kirkwood, who played with a passion that was infectious.  What I saw at Club Cafe blew 90% of what happens at Nashville songwriter nights clear out of the water.

It might be time to consider a new home base.

Weekend in Kentucky
June 4, 2011, 8:28 pm
Filed under: Books, Music, Travel

This week’s shows

Sat., 6/4, Common Grounds Coffeehouse, Lexington, KY, 9pm

Sun., 6/5, The Purple Fiddle, Thomas, WV, 1-3pm

Monday, 6/6, Club Cafe’s Open Stage, 7pm, Pittsburgh

Friday, 6/10, Caz Cafe Coffee, 7pm, Buffalo, NY

It’s been an interesting string of (bad?) luck this week. I’ve had a great time hanging out with geographers and one of my longest running friends Chris. Every time I come to Lexington, I usually end up at the UK geographers happy hour, where a group of very cool, extremely educated folks inspire me to think about grad school again – just not for geography. Human Geographers are some of the most creative, and serially unemployed thinkers out there. I am seriously looking at TEFL/TESOL masters programs, and found a great one today at American University in DC, which includes a stint in the peace corps as part of the degree program.

But back to the music. Berea is a cute little town about an hour south of Lexington. Actually, it’s not that far south, but Lexington’s traffic is so horrendously bad for such a tiny city, that it takes that long to get there from here. Even though the really nice man who owns Main St. Cafe had done a lot of advertisement – no one was at the show. He said it was the worst day the restaurant had had since the day after New Years. That worked out fine for me, I did make some tips from the few people that were there, including a four year old girl who came up to me and said, “you sing REAL good.” It was a good chance to get the jitters out of some new songs.

Berea has great public art!

Tonight I’m at Common Grounds Coffeehouse in downtown Lexington – and just found out there is a huge outdoor festival happening down the street. This could go two ways – either no one will be in the coffeehouse because they’ll be outside boogieing to jam bands, or it will force a few folks in for beverages out of the crowds and the heat.

Tomorrow I get up at 5am to make it to WV for the afternoon show. My friend Chris is coming with me as far as Pittsburgh. We just picked up a copy of Mark Kurlansky Cod on audio for the drive at my favorite used book store in the world – The Friends of the Library in downtown Lex. It looks like tomorrow will be thunderstorms through-out NE WV, so that might keep folks away too. Sigh.

*All photos are Chris’; I forgot my camera this time, but that means for once, I’m actually in some of them.

Last Train to Knoxville
June 2, 2011, 6:59 pm
Filed under: Music, Travel

Shows for this weekend:

Today, Thursday, 6/2, Main St. Cafe, Berea, KY, 6pm

Sat., 6/4, Common Grounds Coffeehouse, Lexington, KY, 9pm

Sun., 6/5, The Purple Fiddle, Thomas, WV, 1-3pm


After some warm-up shows in Nashville, I’m officially on the road. First stop Knoxville, and my favorite radio station anywhere in the country, WDVX. They play all the stuff I like to listen to, so it felt darn good that I was allowed a slot on the Blue Plate Special. Some Knoxville friends came down, which was great, but I flubbed up worse than I probably ever have for anything. I played the entire first song completely wrong. The chords were in the right order, and I sang the words, but that was about it. I started with the wrong groove. At this point, there are only two options, stop, admit the mistake and hope to garner some audience sympathy, which in most cases I would have no problem doing. But this a live radio show, and one of my favorites. I decided to just try to make it work. It did OK, but I’m going to skip over that one as I edit out a song or two for your listening enjoyment. I felt like I hit a good stride by the end, but I still hate talking between songs. That was one nice thing playing in Mexico. There was no point for me to try to tell stories since most people wouldn’t have understood them. We could just stay in a nice little musicians bubble on the stage.

Blue Plate Special

The photo is from an awesome dude named Peter Scheffler who not only photographed the show and had a burned CD ready for me before I left so I could use them as promo shots, but he also bought a CD. This guy really loves music.

The other band on WDVX Tues. morning was
Scythian They are awesome, and use their respective family heritages to combine several different world regions into a highly energetic style with lots, and lots of different instruments. But I really liked their tour vehicle – an old Church Bus. They definitely don’t come across as the pious type.

Tuesday night I went down the Preservation Pub. I thought it was a songwriters night, but it ended up being a benefit for storm relief for the Red Cross, which was way cooler. They let me play a set even though I wasn’t on the roster, thanks to a guy named Pete. It looked like they raised a bit of money, which Preservation Pub matched dollar for dollar. I offered a couple CDs for the cause, or my dirty tour socks, but no one wanted those.

I hung around a bit the next morning, and went and saw the Wed. Blue Plate Special. I’m glad I did because Sam Lewis made me tear up at least twice. Check him out.

Click here to hear a clip from the WDVX show:
Venus Burns – Live WDVX

Buy Fieldnotes From a Caravan and put gas in my car. I’m also in need of toothpaste and face wash.

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