This is the last stop on this two week run. Newport, Kentucky. You can really just consider this an outlying city or town that comprises the Cincinnati metro area. The architecture of the homes looks almost urban colonial style with their narrow length and two to three stories of floors. I’d think I was in a city in the northeast if it wasn’t for the empty thin strips of space between each house. Enough space to accommodate a car but not always utilized for this purpose. Most of the small downtown shops and bars are made of brick too, another indicator of their antiquity. Where the venue is located, the Southgate House Revival, it’s right in downtown and I notice there is a profusion of little bars around the neighborhood as well. Most still have their 50’s style art-deco sign with some still with operating neon accents and outlines. I know this because I took a slight walk after our sound check. The ‘Brass Ass’ was my favorite for a namesake. The sign had the word ‘Brass’ in capital letters on a vertical plane with the picture of a donkey or ‘Ass’ at the intersecting circle on the bottom and all highlighted in neon too. The sign was vintage 50’s or 60’s with a bit of wear n’ tear on it but working and legible nonetheless. I felt silly because as I was viewing all of these bars deciphering and guessing at some of the coy names given to these varied establishments, I kept thinking, brass mule, brass donkey, which both I thought were totally suitable for a bar name, but when I got close I saw it written on some notice in their window, the Brass Ass. I thought ‘Of course!’ silly me, a much better marketing name.
As I said before, the venue is an old Methodist church that was purchased and made into a multi-roomed live music complex. I know with the use of the word complex it kind of bespeaks certain modernity to the building as if the ‘ex’ on the end gives it a corporate ‘veneer’ in your imagination of it. Not so, although the church is rather large, the owners are definitely not corporate. They’re just music lovers with pragmatism and methods at economic efficacy. The main room, the Sanctuary, is of course what you would envision when one mentions a church. With its large spacious room, sans pews, and high ceilings and its original stained glass windows positioned down the lengths of the sides telling various stories from the Bible, it’s a beautiful room. Also included is the original pipe organ situated in the rear of the room. The owner told me that the organ is listed on a historic registry of pipe organs that still reside in their original location. It’s never been moved once it was built and placed there. The owner informed me of this information as I questioned her while the Bottle Rockets were setting up their sound check. (If CDG fans remember, Robert Kearns, a former occupier of the bass chair in my group during the Love > Me days. He now has held the Sheryl Crow gig the past two plus years. Robert was in the Bottle Rockets) It was also told to me the doings of all the acoustic work that was done in the big room to kill the natural echoes and sound bouncing of the waves. I’ve played in some gymnasiums and other venues that weren’t originally intended for loud amplified modern systems and you get an actual delay or echo that will just nauseate you if listened to for an extended period of time. The acoustic panels are placed all over the room, on the roof and down the sides and in the back to absorb these bouncing waves so their projection is just forward and then dies. Accoutrements of the sort, the panels, are not cheap and this room has quite a few but the owners, being economically minded, this is the live music biz, a proven money vortex or worm-hole where you money disappears into another dimension not located in your bank account, researched how the panels were made and then bought the materials and made the panels themselves. I was impressed. The Bottle Rockets sounded great with their Americana songs and the panels were doing their job; the room sounded great. I leaned down into the venue matriarch’s ear, ‘One day…’ She knew what I meant and she said, ‘Get some people to your shows and we’ll put you in here.’
The other of the two stages is located in the bar that services the main room I was just in. Everything from rock bands to acoustic singer/songwriter to what else; Bluegrass bands, we are in Kentucky after all, plays this room and its capacity is probably around a hundred to a hundred and fifty if you stuff it. No permanent PA so each band has the responsibility to bring their own and the one tonight’s band just dragged in is a ‘PA on a stick’ set-up. Our room is upstairs of course. I was told that the room we’re playing in is actually the original church and the big room was added on rather than the other way around as the normal convention of thinking would assume but it makes sense as a congregation grows so does the room they pray in. Upstairs is called the Revival room and you can really get the vibe of that. The room does have an old style stage in there, one you can imagine an elementary school play is presented on, and it does have a permanent PA with it. We’re obviously the second-tier band on the bill and although the room isn’t that large, there is a bar up here so one does not have to venture downstairs and then attempt to carry drinks upstairs. I’d say it’s about the same capacity as the little downstairs room. The stage size is comfortable for our trio set-up and we finish our sound check and wait for our time to hit the stage. I have to really reflect on my technique because my left ring finger has a hole on the tip from me playing so hard the past two weeks and wearing right through the layers of skin. The layer that lays exposed is just raw and red and tender and the tip is slightly swollen too so now any amount of pressure applied on the tip is a bit painful, well really it’s an annoying pain. It’s the kind of pain that makes you pull your hand back as if in a flame or from sticking a sharp object in it like a sewing needle while stitching something up. I can’t even practice during the day cuz’ I have to save it and let it toughen up and heal but the pain is coming, no doubt about it. The solace I take is that the pain somewhat subsides after about 3 or 4 songs but it’s a pain that has to be endured and experienced. No way around it. It can be unsettling and it interrupts your thought process. I’ve done this many times but it never ever gets easier.
We start and I’m not having an easy time and even though the pressure pain will subside a bit, you still have to avoid that hole in my finger cuz’ that’s where the real bell ringer of pain is. The gig is having disastrous effects on my playing and I’m growing a bit frustrated with my hindrances. I then make a horrendous mistake while playing ‘Fire’ and jump to the middle solo instead of going to the ‘Move over and let Jimi..’ part, yeah let me take over and make a hash out of this. It’s embarrassing and I show my obvious frustration after the song is done by throwing my pic down on the stage. I manage to get through the next songs and I’m starting to come out and regain some kind of control of my normal faculties. With my confidence growing, I start trying to connect up my emotional side with my thought process side and the merger is getting easier and the natural flow is beginning to come. By the time we get to ‘Sundown Blues’ I’m back to trying modal attempts off a certain scale and also mix in different rhythmic phrases using John’s drumming to contrast to. Sometimes it works and it flows with good results, and sometimes it’s a bit of a jumble. John and I have to be kind of on the same page and tonight’s OK. We have better but we’ve had worse too, we’re only human. If we were a cover band and played the same thing every night it would be one thing but we’re not and at the level I’m at right now, playing like a gypsy band from town to town and able to express myself differently because this level affords me that luxury, I take full advantage of this. I’m always trying to learn to expand my horizons in my music and technique. That’s why I do this; to improve on my axe. But if we were playing big halls on a tour supporting someone big, you bet your ass I’d have a show together. It sounds boring but this has to be done. I’ve tried it the ‘free-form’ way and it doesn’t project to the back rows on a consistent level. You’ll have some good nights but not consistently. You have to be consistent on the bigger stage to take advantage of the opportunity you’re given by playing to larger audiences in the support role because for the most part the majority of people there didn’t come to see you play so you have to leave an impression of the professional somewhat polished kind. But for now I can let my Freak Flag wave and enjoy the station I currently occupy. The gig ends on an emotional high point and we play ‘People Say’ for the encore and this song is getting better too.
Not a bad way to end the tour. We return home on Saturday, we all comment how weird it feels to not be playing tonight but it happens, and as I write the last blog from this tour today I can start to get into a practice regiment because I’ve given my finger a rest and it felt fine with the little bit of playing I did last night while watching Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Hamlet’.
It’s back to work for me because I still want to be better. Even after all these years and gigs played, I still think I have a long, long way to go in expressing myself musically. The metronome will be busy today. Till next time and always play from the Heart. – chris duarte