Saturday, July 11, 2015

Go See D.C.

“And I wonder…if everything could ever feel this real forever,
if anything could ever be this good again” ~ Everlong

* * * * *

The Foo Fighters’ 20th Anniversary extravaganza will go down in history – mine, at least – and not just because Dave Grohl showed up on a throne; it was the first time attending a concert compelled me to finalize my Will. Until now, I’d thought only Kid Rock could make me do questionable things.

And, how funny is that? To think, amid the anticipation and excitement of attending our first Foo Fighters concert, we had to prepare to die. Now, I’m writing this, so you’ve no doubt deduced I made it out safely. But, I wouldn’t say I came through the experience wholly unscathed.

Washington, D.C. gets in your head. You don’t even have to visit to form an opinion about the place; it’s our nation’s capitol. It’s where we house POTUS, where our country’s leaders gather to debate – and theoretically solve – our country’s problems, and it’s where we keep our history, from our founding documents to the sometimes towering memorials we’ve dedicated to the men, women, soldiers, and thinkers who made our slice of civilization what it is. To tell the truth, while it pisses you off as much as inspires, it’s a bit overwhelming. I highly recommend it.

We drove straight through on Wednesday, July 1, allowing two full days to take in the sights before Saturday’s concert. The Metro carried us long distances, but mostly we walked – about ten miles a day. Our first stop was the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Our final stop the following evening was the Jefferson Memorial. In between, we either walked into or walked by Ford’s Theatre, the house where Lincoln died, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, a Masonic Temple, the Smithsonian’s National Art & Portrait Galleries, Library of Congress, Capitol, White House and Executive Offices Building, Washington Monument and the National Mall, Memorials for Lincoln, World War II, Vietnam, and the Korean War, Potomac River, Tidal Basin, and the extraordinarily poignant tribute to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. To name a few.

I tipped the street musicians all the cash I had on me. Scott bought a newspaper from a homeless man. In a median where two major streets converged, a grove of trees sheltered a long-ago abandoned fountain adorned with Zodiac signs. On an adjacent bench, next to an overloaded shopping cart, I noticed someone sleeping beneath a blanket.

We stood in lines at the National Archives for over an hour, despite bolting for the Rotunda the instant we were cleared to enter the building. Some whispers claimed the delay was ordered by the FBI. Regardless, we were glad to have made it our first stop, because the lines weren’t getting any shorter. I was disappointed to be denied access to “the big room” at the Library of Congress, but equally honored and humbled to have set foot inside at all. Next time, I’m going all the way in!

News about the gunman down the street from our hotel Thursday morning didn’t reach us for a day or two, which made it easy to calmly and reverently browse the Smithsonian’s collection of Presidential Portraits. At the Lincoln Memorial, before I could snap the picture I’d been eager to take of the Reflecting Pool, shouts from a security guard sent everyone scurrying outside. Law enforcement arrived scary fast, and somebody was quickly hauled out in handcuffs. Unlike dozens of other onlookers, we didn’t stick around to get video.

Near L’Enfant Square, we caught a glimpse of a nearby, deteriorating statue, surrounded by grass and discarded food and beverage containers. The stretch of concrete above I-395 felt like the land that time forgot. I saw a photographer taking pictures of an overflowing garbage can near China Town. There were panhandlers everywhere, and so much of the infrastructure – roads, bridges, buildings – needs serious attention. But, there are improvements and restorations going on all over, and I’m sure the city will maintain its grandeur long after we’re all gone. Well, mostly sure.

I’m embarrassed I know so little about FDR; no Commander in Chief in my lifetime has offered more inspiring words. It’s a shame we don’t make ‘em like that anymore. A park ranger at the Jefferson Memorial entertained Scott and other visitors for over thirty minutes, telling stories about America’s earliest days. Me, I leaned against the pillars, admired the skyline, and watched the paddle-boaters pedal their way around the Tidal Basin like slow-motion bumper cars. I was on a Founding Fathers high as we left, until I spied a seemingly unused tampon, smashed from rain and footfalls on one of the bottom portico steps. The level of disrespect left me temporarily dumbfounded. After a couple beers and repeated, internal assurances that someone was surely on top of the garbage and homeless things, so I didn’t need to get angry and write my congressman, I calmed down and fell asleep.

And then we went to a concert.

Independence Day. RFK Stadium looks like a lot of other places in D.C.: like it needs a good pressure washing, a can or twelve of paint, and a few extra screws. But, I felt safe knowing the National Armory was next door. On the granite slab that welcomed us, honoring the founder of the Redskins, someone had affixed a bright red RACIST sticker. Nobody made a move to rip it off. I found that oddly comforting.

The lineup was RDGLDGRN (a D.C. band added at the last minute), Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Gary Clark, Jr., Heart, LL Cool J, Buddy Guy, D.C.’s own Trouble Funk, and – ultimately – Foo Fighters. The sound, specifically the echo, was awful, and I had no room to dance (but, don’t think I didn’t). Between Joan Jett and Gary Clark, Jr., the infield and all uncovered seats were evacuated for over an hour due to nearby lightning. Smokers were herded to areas closest to the outside air, and garbage piled up quickly. I mentioned to event staff there were no receptacles up the ramp. Their reply was, “The whole stadium’s like that,” as if that made everything okay.

But, the garbage was gone within an hour. And, in the smoker’s “corner,” I met this really cool chick from Brazil. She’d been in the country only a month. I shared my cigarettes. She bought me a beer. Our seats were next to a couple from London, and thankfully one row removed from the downpour, so we never had to leave our seats. Once allowed back on the field, people running and sliding in the mud drew huge cheers from the crowd in the stadium. It was hilarious. And, while the sound did suck, the echo became part of the experience – which, in the end, was amazing.

Picture a wiry, goofy kid playing drums in an underground D.C. punk band. Imagine his exposure to poverty, homelessness, racism, drugs, and injustice, all the while surrounded by monuments to greatness. Imagine him wanting to change the world.

Let him grow up to play drums in a Seattle band, get lucky, get paid, reach icon status, then strip it all away when the band’s front man blows his head off because he can’t take it. Watch the boy fall apart. Then, watch him rise to his feet, pick up a guitar, and start a new band, one that – twenty years later – is arguably as big as the first. Let them build Sonic Highways and host an anniversary show unlike any other, where songwriters and musicians from across the country gather together to celebrate the diverse backgrounds, sounds, and cultures that define American music. And do it in his hometown, at RFK Stadium. On the Fourth of Fuckin' July.

And a few weeks before the show, break his leg.

Dave Grohl is like RFK Stadium, like D.C., like America: bruised and broken, but still awesome and inspiring. If you’re an American, you should consider finding out more about him. And, with or without Foo Fighters tickets, if you haven’t visited Washington, D.C., you should go. According to the map, it’s a tiny dot tucked in along the Virginia-Maryland border. But, it’s a scenic and powerful little place – that happens to belong to YOU, the citizens of America. If it’s yours, don’t you think you should know more about it?

With very few exceptions, access to the history D.C. stores for us is free of charge, from the Smithsonian Museums to the National Archives, so it doesn’t have to cost half as much as Disneyworld. Sure, you might see things that piss you off. I did. And that’s okay, because, in D.C., there’s a good chance you’ll run across something else that alternately moves you to greatness. I don’t see that as such an awful thing.

Now, run off and go change the world.

~ Dawn

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

I Am Your River: Part 2

(Continued from Part 1…)

From the west coast, the jam band Displace started making their way through the storm from Tampa. They were scheduled to go on at 4:00, but they didn’t make it. We’d decided to move the stage upstairs to the back house, where the equipment would be safer, and we’d still have enough room for a band and 60 or more spectators, depending on the weather. We had unplugged everything before the lightning started, and had secured the cover, thinking we were good. But, water got in, anyway. I found the microphones in a bag, sitting atop a rain-soaked rug. The speakers got a little spray, and every electrical cord and power strip we’d gathered and saved over the past two years got wet. Guests pitched in and brought everything inside. I blew on the microphones with the cool setting of a hair dryer for 30 minutes. We all prayed for sunshine.

We were expecting over 100 people Saturday night, and had anticipated collecting $2,000 or more. Instead, the rain changed everything; we started an hour and a half late, lost more than half our crowd, and spent almost zero time outside, enjoying the yard, playground, and stage we’d worked so hard to make just right. Everyone was discouraged, including Josh, whose band mates had deserted him. And then, after we fed five starving boys from Tampa and scrounged two dry power strips, the first band played.

Displace (and guest)

I met Displace and their manager in my yard in the middle of the night when the neighbors brought them home following a gig at Guanabanas. (Driving out here with strangers, to the dark back end of our neighborhood, they were surely terrified.) It was a no brainer to invite them. It was a thrill to watch them play for almost two hours in what was essentially our living room. (Loved their “GAS MONEY” jar.) Josh grabbed a stool and a guitar after the boys loaded up and headed west, and he entertained the small, intimate crowd of 30-40 for another hour or so. Again, the atmosphere was electric – magical – and we all sensed we were participating in something very rare and special.

Josh Hayden of Operative Me

Also victims of the weather, along with a grueling “Driving 95 South” tour, John Eddie and the guys arrived exhausted and three hours late. Not spying Kenny in the group, I inquired and learned about his family’s recent loss. My heart sunk, both for him and for the band as they’d be boarding the Kid Rock cruise without him. (His replacement, bassist Ethan Pilzer, played with Big & Rich and Jewel.) While guests helped carry gear upstairs, I welcomed everyone and filled them in on the changes from previous years. It wasn’t what they’d signed up for, but I hoped it would suffice, like it had for the previous bands. When the equipment was inspected, and it was determined the setup wasn’t adequate, we feared JE wouldn’t play at all.

But, he did. And it was the definition of rare and special. Among the twenty or more Kid Rock cruisers in attendance to witness the acoustic set he and P.K. performed were a half dozen or so dedicated souls who’d followed JE and the guys all the way from Jersey. Everyone sang along, and Laura knew every word to every song. She even brought a huge “who the hell is john eddie?” banner for us to hang before the show and a huger tray of hamburger cookies, with a side of chocolate and butterscotch guitars (can you say, mmmm?!). The next day, she sent me this note:

Thank you so much for having us at your party and into your home. I know the weather did not cooperate, but we had an awesome time. It was such a blessing to hear John’s real singing voice without electronics. It was truly a unique experience. Thank you again.

John Eddie and P.K. Lavengood

"John Eddie Unplugged"

Josh and Displace, like the prior bands, walked away happy with tips they never expected. Having agreed to play for donations like everyone else, JE didn’t roll on to Boca to “entertain the poor people” with much more than gas money, either. But, I was impressed he stepped up, anyway, and gave us a glimpse of himself that few are privileged to see. He also walked away with the satisfaction of knowing he’d made it possible for us to promote interaction between local musicians, help build their fan bases, expose diverse musical genres to a new audience, and support Florida musicians who, more often than not, still sleep in the van. I can’t thank him enough and am very proud to have been a part of it.

All that said, the highlight of my roller coaster weekend happened shortly after the music started on Saturday afternoon. Peanut’s daddy brought her over for a couple hours, so she could see music played for real. Her first musical love was Old MacDonald. By the time she reached the ripe age of six months, she was into James Brown and Donna Summer. Three months ago, she was mesmerized by Dorothy’s rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Lately, she loves First Kiss, but her new favorite is I Am a River by the Foo Fighters; she sings it all the time and often passes out instruments, so everyone can be in the band.

The band from Tampa had just started their set inside, in front of the bay window. Peanut was perched on her daddy’s shoulders as he hustled through the drizzle, ascended the stairs, crossed the deck, and entered the room. Her little blue eyes were transfixed. For several seconds, she didn’t move, only stared at the boys playing all those instruments in her house. Then her arms started to wiggle and her toes started to tap. When she looked down at me, still with a bewildered look on her face, I held out her blue and pink light sticks (gifts from a friend who attended Wanee with us last year). She took one in each hand and started waving them around. Her eyes twinkled, and she gave me a big grin and a tickled laugh. Then she wriggled to get down. And that was the end of that.

She spent almost the entire two-hour set dancing, singing, and playing with the band. And by that, I mean directly in front of the band (scroll up to the Displace photo). If we had allowed her past the extension cords, I’m sure she’d have crawled on top of Tucker’s base drum. She gazed, she studied, and she hysterically mimicked their “in the zone” faces (she seemed to really like Sam). I uncovered her ukulele, lighted tambourine, maracas, and princess keyboard, so she and the other two, only slightly older girls could join in. When she wasn’t front and center, she was dancing outside on the deck, or handing instruments to random people. It was priceless. We literally watched the river flow from the boys to the little girls.

I’ve always known it, subconsciously, but Dave Grohl helped me find the words: We are all connected by an invisible, underground river of music – every kind of music. My grandfather played jazz saxophone; Dad sang silly country songs whenever the mood struck, and Mom sang along with Dionne Warwick in the car; I played classical piano, sax, and percussion, with a little vocals thrown in (and I still sing in the car); my siblings played drums, trumpet, and trombone; my son plays guitar. Everyone in my family and circle of friends loves music. We turn each other on to new artists and sounds all the time, and I have met some of the finest people through those connections. And one person continuously leads me to the next. Whether we play, produce, promote, or just listen, sing, and share, music binds us and carries along its current, on to the next connection. At one and a half, our peanut has already firmly grasped hold of the raft. That makes me the happiest grandma on earth.

When the party was over and the final guests had departed, Scott cleaned out the last of our belongings from the motorhome, climbed into the cockpit, and set a course for Lorida. I followed some thirty minutes later, tired, sore, hoarse, and almost wishing I hadn’t had so much fun over the previous two weeks. On the hour and a half drive, I had time to watch the sun set and reflect. To be honest, I haven’t been this proud of myself in a while; I not only (FINALLY!) found a way to pay Josh Hayden a performance fee – he won’t take our money – we supported live, local music, made new friends, witnessed an amazing transition in our peanut, and overcame some of the most unexpected and bizarre hurdles the Campground’s ever encountered. And we did it with style.

Everything happens for a reason. I don’t know why it rained, but nothing would have been the same if it hadn’t. I don’t know why the same equipment we used last year didn’t work this year, but the evening wouldn’t have turned out like it did if it had. And, I don’t know how that beer got from the top of the table to the top of Canada’s luggage, tucked safely underneath, but…well, I guess there’s no silver lining to that one. Point is, I believe everything happened as it was supposed to; good, bad, or indifferent. And, I am a river. Just like Peanut. Just like you. And I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let a few rapids get in the way of flowing on to the next connection.

Listen. Play. Sing. Dance. Pass it on.

~ Dawn

I Am Your River: Part 1

“There is a river I’ve found
Into the wild
Under the ground
So here I go.” ~ Dave Grohl

“Don’t try to decipher the meaning of things...replace hatred with music.” ~ Lukas Nelson

“If you can’t see my heart you must be blind.” ~ Kid Rock

“I’ve got a real big deck.” ~ John Eddie

Our 1½-year-old granddaughter experienced a live music performance for the first time this past Saturday. And it wouldn’t have happened without Nashville singer/songwriter John Eddie. While I don’t make a habit of approaching performers on the Kid Rock cruise – or anywhere else, for that matter – I was impressed with JE and His Dirty Old Band when we saw him on the boat in 2012, and I just happened to run into him in a hallway while making a Jack Daniel’s run, so I thought, why not? To my surprise, he actually took a few minutes of his time to chat, which made me even more impressed. We bought a CD, I painted a sign for the signpost at home to direct guests to Scott’s “Real Big Deck” (named after the song), and we chalked up the experience as another amazing CTM ride.

The following year, after an interesting and unexpected chain of events, JE and his band kicked off CTM4 by performing in our back yard. With help from friends, the neighbors and I built a stage, cleaned up the property, coordinated food, snagged a local band (Operative Me) who offered to start the show and play free of charge, and – with only two weeks’ notice – put a Monday night party together that could only be described as “epic.” In 2014, for CTM5, we roasted a whole pig, had our neighbors’ oldest sing the National Anthem (she has the voice of an angel – everybody got chills), brought back Operative Me to open for JE and the band, and rocked the house again. It seemed only natural to do it a third time in 2015.

John Eddie at the "Scott D. & Dawn E. Scovill Amphitheatre at the Campground," 2014

Now, it’s worth mentioning that Scott and I haven’t been on a Chillin’ the Most Cruise since 2013. Some might get the impression our interest is waning. It’s quite the contrary, actually; through Kid Rock, we’ve discovered so many musicians, we decided to take the money we spend on the cruise and, instead, catch as many festivals and/or concerts as our schedules allow. Last year, we hit Wanee along the Suwannee River in Live Oak, SunFest in downtown West Palm, and Farm Aid in Raleigh, NC. This year, we’re heading back to SunFest and Wanee (and possibly Spirit of the Suwannee’s MagFest in the fall), plus we threw in a bucket list trip on July 4 to Washington, D.C., to catch the Foo Fighters’ 20th Anniversary show, which is a story, in and of itself...

My husband has a man crush on Dave Grohl. Until last summer, we didn’t know much about him beyond the fact that he’d played drums for Nirvana (being from the Pacific Northwest, specifically a town fewer than 100 miles from where Kurt Cobain grew up, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that). When HBO started promoting the new series Sonic Highways, our interest was piqued. Before the end of the first episode, we were converts. By the end of the second, we were worshippers. When the credits started rolling on the eighth and final episode, I made a silent, personal pledge to defend Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins, and the rest of the band to the death.

To quote a recent, brief acquaintance, “I might be bullshittin’ you, but I ain’t lyin’.”

Dave Grohl is a badass, and Sonic Highways – and all the offshoots it bred and will continue to breed – is a masterpiece. The concept that all music and all musicians from every city are connected through an underground river of history, sweat, vision, tears, persistence, and resistance is nothing short of inspiring. It’s also brilliantly true. For example: The first time we saw New Orleans artist Trombone Shorty was on a Kid Rock cruise. (To say I love New Orleans is an understatement.) When Shorty came to West Palm last year, we stood in the rain to watch him play Green Day’s Brain Stew, and it was the highlight of SunFest for us (yeah, that Kid Rock guy was alright, too). Learning more about his background on Sonic Highways was a treat, and we can’t wait to see him again at the July 4 show in D.C. this year as one of the seven other acts performing with the Foos.

Here’s another example: John Eddie’s bassist, Kenny Aaronson, has performed and/or recorded with a gazillion artists, including Joan Jett (also a scheduled performer July 4), Bob Dylan, Billy Squire, Lita Ford, Hall & Oates, and Brian Setzer, and he even teamed up for a year with Scott’s favorite Red Rocker Sammy Hagar – along with Journey’s Neil Schon and Santana’s drummer Michael Shrieve – and toured throughout 1983-84 under the band name HSAS. (Incidentally, for those who recognize the significance of numbers, I graduated high school in 1983, Scott graduated in 1984; once you start looking, you discover signs everywhere.) ;)

When I learned a few months ago that John Eddie might come back to the Campground, I took inspiration from Dave Grohl, Kid Rock, and JJ Grey, a back porch blues performer from Jacksonville we discovered at South Florida’s Langerado Music Festival in 2007, and grasped the opportunity to invite more local bands to join us. Thinking at least a couple would decline, I asked four bands: one from Tampa, three from here in the Palm Beaches. I told them they’d have to play for free, but I was confident we’d have a crowd, allowed them to bring/sell merchandise, and I promised to do my best to at least pay their travel expenses. To my astonishment, all four said yes.

Knowing there was no way we could guarantee a significant crowd for an entire day (and how many musicians do you think would be ready to play at 10am?), we were forced to turn our “OMG Not Another Pre-Pre-CTM Cruise Party” into a two-day festival. Room and tent reservations started pouring in. Back in November, when we made plans to borrow Scott’s parents’ motorhome for the Daytona 500, we didn’t realize the weekends were back-to-back, but – as it turned out – we were very grateful for the extra (dry) beds. For three months, and with help from the neighbors, local friends, family, and small contingencies from Michigan and Canada who generously arrived a week early to help, we clipped, scrubbed, pressure-washed, weeded, painted, groomed, nailed, glued, and screwed two acres, two houses, a playground, and a pool, all while managing to keep the baby and the chocolate boys (and their friends) fed and within the perimeters of the fence. We succeeded most of the time.

Squirrel Hollow & Enchanted Playground

The days between February 18 and 25 are a blur. My brother Jack and nephew Zachary flew in from Portland, Oregon, a day late, but we still managed to celebrate too much, stay up too late, watch a NASCAR race or two, catch a Kid Rock show, and build a stage in the yard. The Wednesday before our big party, I woke up at 4:30am (okay 5:22) and wearily drove the boys to the airport and said goodbye. Because we were expecting three new houseguests that afternoon, I knew I’d have to clean and/or replace linens in the Blue Room upstairs before they arrived, so I crawled back into bed after the airport run. Gotta say, though, it’s tough to sleep when the baby’s screaming outside the door, and you hear distant, far-off calls for “Rocko!” and “Roland!” indicating the chocolate boys had found another way out. I put a pillow over my head for a little while. It didn’t work.

By the time I drudgingly pulled my aching self away from the comfy bed, Canada had already turned over the Blue Room, and Michigan had done my laundry. I don’t think I hugged them hard enough. We cleaned (again), re-themed the back house (i.e., removed the Daytona memorabilia and switched to CTM stuff), re-stocked the fridge and coolers, finished weeding the yard, continued with the pressure-washing, took out the garbage and recycling, washed the windows, mowed the grass, fed the dog, watched the baby, and marveled that we had only two days left to prepare for what we hoped would be a bigger, badder, even more epic party than the previous two. (For the sake of full disclosure, we’ve actually hosted four pre-pre-cruise parties, but the first was held in Miami, so it wasn’t exactly the same.) Boy, were we in for a treat!

Our new houseguests arrived about 4:00, just after I tried to lie down again, and food prep commenced shortly before Scott got home around 6:30. For two days – armed with the knowledge and skill of a top rate chef – Scott and his kitchen crew brined, smoked, baked, pulled, chopped, stirred, sauced, and grilled enough food for a small army; neighbors and guests helped put the cover on the stage and set up electrical cords and lighting; our new friend with the beautiful white shepherd grabbed a shovel and went on poo patrol; I printed up flyers for guests and signs for the yard, hung banners, scrambled to finish last-minute stuff, guided the port-o-john truck to the proper location, fed (and repeatedly retrieved) two retrievers, responded to traveling guests’ questions via Facebook and phone, and tried my best to keep my blood pressure under control.

It rained a little on Friday, so we held off setting up tents until we needed them, and put the first guests in the motorhome. Luckily, it wasn’t warm that night, because – somehow, from the driveway to the yard – the power system shut down, rendering whoever slept there without lights, water, and A/C. When the first band arrived and started setting up, a section of the stage collapsed. Luckily, it wasn’t an area anyone needed, so they made due. (I understand we were also short two cables, but they made it work.) After they hit the kitchen to get poofed by the “staff,” they hit the stage. There was still a misty rain, but the crowd had continued to grow, nonetheless. By 7:00, attendance was at about 30.

First, Last & Always

Andrew Rodriguez of First, Last & Always blew us the fuck away. We’ve known Drew since he was in high school, the older brother of our son’s best friend. We hadn’t seen him in years, but we keep in touch on Facebook, I knew he had a rock band, and I thought I’d give him a shot. I’m SO glad I did! After their hour-ish-long set, Jangle Leg played for another hour or so. Scott and I first heard their folksy, bluesy sound the night before Thanksgiving last year, when we were invited by Josh of Operative Me to join them and a few other bands at a small nearby studio. The skies cleared, the music rocked, and the atmosphere was electric – with the assistance of the awesome “fairy lights” loaned to us by our dear friends in North Palm – and, while the bands had agreed to play for free, enough people threw money their way to give them all ear-to-ear grins. I was happy.

Crowd enjoying Jangle Leg

The weather was beautiful when we woke up Saturday. There were two tents and four dogs in the yard, and every room in the house – plus one bed in the motorhome – was full. The peanut was at her dad’s, and the holes in the fence had been fixed, so the morning was quiet and leisurely. Guests visited over coffee on the real big deck, petted the dogs, and made new friends. A really nice biker fixed our stage. A kind-hearted woman with a beautiful white shepherd picked up a shovel and embarked on poo patrol. Scott got the motorhome up and running for the rest of the arriving guests. If you asked anyone around me, I bet they would tell you I was glowing. And then it started to rain. And it didn’t stop.

(Go to Part 2)