The Secret City – Woodstock

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One of my very favorite ongoing projects is my role as pianist and choir director for the Obie Award-winning The Secret City.  I always struggle to describe what exactly it is and my friends who attend invariably say, “well, that wasn’t what you described!” To which I reply, “Well, then, how would you describe it?”  Then they say, “oh, yeah. I guess I don’t know.” Then I just stand there looking smug, but not really.

Anyway,  here’s how the Secret City’s website describes it:

The Secret City is an on-going performance gathering for people who believe in the arts. Part ceremony, part salon, part tent revival, each gathering has a different theme and features an ever-changing roster of artists and performers sharing work relating to the theme.

Each event has a visual art component, food offering, live music, guest performances, storytelling, community interaction, silent meditation, The Secret City Singers, special outfits and JOY, which is central to the mission of The Secret City.

This past weekend, we took The Secret City to Woodstock, NY for the first time. I had a hell of a time getting out of the city with my keyboard, choir-mistress Raquel Cion and cellist Leah Coloff. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that the plan of renting a car for the three of us and our music gear gave way to three bus tickets and my departure sans keyboard. Artistic Director Chris Wells worked on finding us a keyboard to use for the service while the three of us left the driving to Trailways.

We finally arrived and commenced to rehearsing the choir and band in preparation for the show. A community member, Mina,  brought us a small keyboard that worked just fine to get us through our rehearsal and our local band musicians Brian Macaluso (drums) and Mark Lerner (bass) brought us a keyboard and amp, respectively. We were totally good to go.

Shucking corn at the Wells-Lucy estate

Shucking corn at the Wells-Lucy estate

After rehearsal, we all headed over to Chris and his boyfriend Bobby Lucy‘s house at the Byrdcliffe Artist Colony for food and fellowship. There was a mini city of tents set up in the front yard and the grill was going. I had such a great time chatting with the various artists who make up the roster of performers and volunteers for The Secret City.  My travel induced frustration melted away over grilled corn on the cob and lively chit chat out in the woods. Just lovely.

Secret (tent) City

Secret (tent) City

The service the next day was exceptional. The Woodstock community showed up in droves and a surprising number of Secret City supporters drove up from New York City to attend as well.  After the service, I had lunch with music director Jeremy Bass,  Annie Engman and friends and then caught a ride back to Brooklyn with Annie’s mom.

Though I love to perform and love being around people, I am also a very indoorsy introvert. As such, I tend to avoid events such as this that require exposure to the elements and conversation with people from whom there is no escape.  Alright, that might be a touch of an exaggeration.. Still, I am so happy I had this opportunity to kick myself out of my shell for a couple of days and to connect with some fantastic people. Not to mention the pleasure of helping to bring this organization I am so in love with to a new town.

Leah caught this great photo of me before the service on Sunday.

Leah caught this great photo of me before the service on Sunday.

The next NYC Secret City service will be on September 28th at Dixon Place (another NYC institution I adore), you should make a point to be there. You’re in LA, you say? No problem, there are services there, too. Go. And while you are waiting for the next service, maybe take a peek at the Secret City’s fundraising drive and throw in a dollar or two.

p.s. I took a few more photos of the weekend which you can check out in this flickr album.




Hell yes, Michael. Hell yes.


Craig WIlkins made this. Check out his band at once:

I posted it all over the internets, but somehow I always seem to forget this little ol’ blog here. It funded. My kickstarter funded. I couldn’t believe it and it was honestly looking pretty bleak for a while there. This morning I noticed that on June 19th I posted on my Instagram that I had one day left and nearly $2000 left to raise before I met my goal. Not only did I hit the goal, but I surpassed it by $750! Nearly $2700 dollars raised in one day. 181 (or 183 depending on where you look) people contributed and pushed me over the goal. I can’t even…

So what this means to me as an artist is pretty revolutionary. In my life, anyway. In my last three performances of Tentative Armor and in the recording of the “Go.” single it actually cost me money. I pay musicians, recording studios, car services to get my gear to venues. It’s expensive and I just accepted that that was how it was. I really didn’t keep great track of how much I spent for the Dixon Place show, but here’s an estimate.

  • $400.00 Publicity (this includes the pittance I paid John Ong for designing the postcards)
  • $600.00 Musicians
  • $50.00 Van with gear to venue (my brother-in-law kindly payed for my trip home)
  • $40.00 Tickets I comped for industry people I wanted to see the show.
  • $200.00 to my director, Adam Fitzgerald. (Again, a pittance considering the amount of work he put into it.)

That’s a total of $1290 and Dixon Place gave me a stipend of $150* so thats $1140 out of pocket expenses to perform my show the way I wanted it to be.  I should also note that videographer Blake Drummond and I have a kind of barter system going where we do work for each other and just let it balance out. Were it not for my relationship with him, that would have been at least another $300.00 expense. Come to think of it, Adam and I have a similar arrangement, but I felt things were weighing heavily in my favor so I threw a little cash his way.

My motivation for writing this all out like this is to really underscore how important it was to get that Kickstarter funding. This album is going to be my most expensive creative endeavor yet, and the fact that I am going into this  thing knowing that it is not going to cost me anything is huge.  After all is said and done, I will have some product left over – CDs, Books, and T-Shirts – so there is actually the potential for me to actually *gasp* make a profit off of this project.

All of that money talk is well and good but there is a deeper level of support happening here that I want to talk about too: your belief in me as an artist.

I had the idea for doing this show just over a year ago. Truly. For the first reading of it at Judson I was terrified and filled with self-doubt. I literally verbally said “shut-up” to those critical voices in my head on a daily basis. I was trying something brand new for me – performing this collection of stories I had written in my apartment alone. I didn’t really know if the material was good, if I was good at performing it or if anyone gave two shits about what I had to say. Here we are, just over a year later and 181 of you have said “Yes. We believe in you. Here’s some money. Do it.”

I don’t think there is a way to really  express what that means to me, but I think you get the idea.

This past Sunday I spent the entire day in the studio recording piano, vocal, strings and oboe. It was such a relief to be free from worry about what the financial expense was really going to cost me. I also knew that there were at least 181 people who want to hear what I come up with in the studio. I didn’t have to worry that I was going to be spending money I couldn’t afford to be making a piece of art that no one was going to care about. You told me already that you care, and I can’t thank you enough.

I’ll continue to keep everyone posted on the progress here on the blog, and on my YouTube channel with periodic vlogs like the one I posted below. Comment. Share. Ask. Let me hear from you. It really means so much when this is a two way relationship.

Thank you tremendously for your support in whatever way you give it. Thank you.

*That $150 from Dixon Place might seem like a really small amount to pay an artist, so I want to add that they provided me with rehearsal space, publicity via their e-mail blast, the beautiful theater space and a tech director.

Five Tasks of Grief

This is a piece from Tentative Armor called “Five Tasks of Grief.” I’ve performed it a few times and have really fantastic videos from each performance, but it just hasn’t felt right to share this piece out of the context of the show – not to mention the fact that it is such a painful story that deals with the time I spent caring for my mother during the last three weeks before she passed away.

I was taking to some new friends tonight and trying to describe my show, and then thinking later about how I am always timid to say how proud I am of my work. I think this show is really unique and unlike many things out in the world. I guess why I decided it’s finally time to share this piece. People who haven’t seen the show have only my half-assed, self-deprecating description of the show and the fun, easy to digest moments that have shared on these internets.

“Five Tasks of Grief” is hard. I could barely get through this performance of it without losing my shit, and rehearsing it often leads to, well, losing my shit but I think it is important to share it. After I performed it for the first time at Judson Memorial Church last year, a woman I didn’t know came up to me and gave me a massive hug. She told me she was going through a similar experience with her grandmother and feeling so alone. Hearing my story helped her. A number of people have shared with me that the sister song (if you will) to this piece, “Go.” has brought them comfort and support in times of grief.

I had the first part of this piece written for several weeks before I finally shared it with my director Adam Fitzgerald.  I had gotten through the part where I get the call from my brother.  When I told Adam that I wasn’t sure where to go with it, he asked, “Well, what are the five tasks of grief?”

That’s when I realized I had written this piece about a piece of paper whose contents I’d still not been able to give more than a passing glance. Soon after that I had the idea of interspersing the entries from the daily gratitude lists I kept during that time between  the five tasks read by my dear friend Daaimah Mubashshir. The piece was finished soon after that. This is the performance of it from last March, which was the first time I performed it with my spectacular string section.

Of course, I should add here that you can help get this piece and the rest of the show in the hands of more people by pre-ordering the Tentative Armor book and/or album over on my kickstarter page. I believe in this work of mine, as difficult as that is to put in writing.

Thanks for reading all of this, and I welcome your comments about this piece. It really means a great deal to me, and I am happy to be in a place where I am able to share it.

Tentative Armor Album and Book



I’m excited to announce that I am going to be recording music from Tentative Armor starting late next month. The tentative (hehe) plan is to record piano, strings, oboe and voice at Benny’s Wash and Dry in late June and I’ll spend the summer mixing the album. I’ll release the song “Invocation” as a single late in the summer and then release the album itself in October (ish) with a big ol’ album release concert someplace magical.

The extra special news about this is that my friend and frequent collaborator luke kurtis will be designing a full-color art book to accompany the album! I am so excited about this, and luke has already send me a first draft of the book. It’s really stunning and captures the spirit of the show perfectly.

I launched a kickstarter campaign yesterday (click here to check it out) to help fund the project. you can preorder lots of coolness at different levels. I’d really love your support in the form of a pre-order or even just your help in spreading the word. Just 29 days remain!

Thank you!

SandyLand Tour Diary #4: New England

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these tour diaries, but this last weekend with Sandra Bernhard was so extra-especially fantastic that I just have to write about it.

Sandra, Henya (our road manager), and I met early Friday morning to start the journey up to Plymouth, New Hampshire for our first show at  The Silver Center for the Arts. It was about a 5 hour drive, but it actually felt pretty quick. We were well stocked with snacks so we made the whole drive with just one quick stop, checked into our markedly rustic rooms at The Common Man Inn and made our way over to the theater for sound check.

This time around I noticed that I almost always have a sense of apprehension heading to these new venues. We are always well briefed on what to expect at each place, but you can never really tell exactly how the piano and sound will be until you are in the space, and we’ve encountered some less than desirable situations. In the case of The Silver Center, though, everything was spot on. The piano was a spectacular 9′ Steinway and the sound was perfect. We were greeted by the director of the center and a team of students who would be our crew for the show.

As is often the case, Sandra had some new ideas for the show which required me to track some chord charts and music down on my iPad. Tech director Bob Bruemmer and house manager Ginny Fisher were perfectly accommodating with my requests for printing out music and I got all the new changes ready to go in plenty of time to have a relaxed dinner before the show.

The great thing about this gig with Sandra (though it’s often a stressful thing about this gig) is that I am pushed out of my comfort zone and thereby discovering that I am capable of more than I realized. With many singers I play for, the goal is a sort of on-stage perfection, so the process of creating and planning happens well before the performance. With Sandra, I’m beginning to see that the process is continual. While this means a bit of a scramble before a show now and then, it also brings a sense of excitement and discovery to each show as well.

The show that night went off perfectly, we wrapped up merch table and signing pretty quickly and made it back to the hotel  and to bed before it was too incredibly late.

The dreary road to Ogunquit.

The dreary road to Ogunquit.

At around noon on Saturday we checked out of the hotel and headed up to Ogunquit, Maine for the next show at Johnathan’s. It was a pretty easy drive, but we were all ready for lunch an hour or so into the drive. A mile or two after we verbalized the desire to find a cute organic market or something, we came upon an oasis in the middle of this seemingly endless stretch of highway – Susty’s Cafe. All organic, all vegan, all amazing. I can’t tell you how hard it is to find good vegan food on the road, so I was thrilled. We were served by the owner, Norma, who was perfectly delightful and steered us through the fantastic menu with ease.

I loved this mantra on the bathroom wall at Susty's Cafe

I loved this mantra on the bathroom wall at Susty’s Cafe

We made it to Jonathan’s soon after that, checked into our hotel room and headed to the performance space for sound check. This place was much smaller, but I was really happy with the piano and the sound was surprisingly good, too. Honestly, though, the whole set-up seemed a little make-shift at first.  We were sequestered in a small dining doom that was to serve as our dressing room, green room and dining room connected to an icy-cold stairway that led up to the performance space which Sandra aptly compared to a rec room.

When the time came for the show, though, I could tell that it was going to be a good one. The room was packed and the audience went WILD when Sandra was announced. She made her way to the stage through the packed house and instead of starting the opening tune, she riffed and interacted with the crowd as I vamped underneath. That opening song is usually 3-4 minutes at most, but on that Sunday night, it must have gone on for 10-15 minutes. No joke. Sandy  ad-libbed her way through it, adding bits of other songs, observations about the weird space and there were some bizarre audience participation moments that only served to bring the perfect Bernhard insanity to its zenith. A brilliant show ensued.

My friends Wendy and Michelle came out to the show (and brought me a huge bag of vegan snacks for the road– thanks guys!) so it was fun seeing them out there during all of this. I dare say this was my favorite of the shows I’ve done with Sandra to date.

By Sunday, the three of us were pretty wiped out. Breakfast at the hotel, followed by a pretty uneventful drive back to NYC. Lots of napping and snacking and laughs about the Saturday night show. Really not much to tell about this day.

All in all, a pretty spectacular weekend. I love checking out new towns, staying in hotels and really enjoyed riding the wave of creativity with a sense of adventure rather than panic about adding something new at the last minute. Everything turns out great, and the energy and freshness that comes from allowing (and savoring) the unexpected  makes for a really invigorating show.

From the land of my solo work, I planning a couple of things that I am not quite ready to share yet. There will be some recording involved, but in a pretty cool way.  Sooooooooon……

Younique Abilities

Adam Farris was my student years ago when I taught at St Catherine’s Montessori in Houston he continues to inspire me with his positivity and perseverance. He has started a small business called Younique Abilities that supports people with unique abilities. I’d love it if you could check them out and give some support. Here’s some more info:

Hello, my name is Adam. I was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome in 1994 at the age of six. Later, in July of 2012, I was diagnosed with a form of autism called pervasive developmental disorder. As a child, I didn’t understand Tourette’s syndrome and would ask myself, “What is that?” My conditions were confusing and frustrating, but they were also illuminating and life-shaping. I share my story in the hopes that people with so-called disabilities will read it and realize that they, too, can achieve great things.

My father brought me up to advocate for myself

He took me to public places like the movie theaters, and out to dinner or lunch at restaurants. I would have tics, involuntary sounds and movements that I can’t control, which are the most noticeable symptom of Tourette’s syndrome. In the past, my tics took the form of loud hooting and shouting noises. It kind of hurt to go into a restaurant or any quiet place and have an outbreak of tics and know that people were staring at me. They made comments. But, when that happened, my father taught me to talk to them about Tourette’s syndrome and help them understand that I am just like anyone one else with the ability to do anything anybody else can. That is what made me into the man I am today.

I go to the HUB Houston where I have gained confidence in myself. When I was in woodworking class, I asked my teacher if I could get on a saw. He said I could try it out. So I got on a saw that made very precise lines, and my hands stopped shaking all together from my Tourette Syndrome. I realized then that if I could do this, I could do anything.

Because of my autism, I basically had no friends

and was getting kicked out of places left and right.  My social skills were so bad that I could not keep a job. I couldn’t stay in a restaurant or a business without being barred. When I was diagnosed with autism in 2012, I had the chance to move to North Carolina and went to a transitional living program. There, I learned to have much better social skills and worked on my life skills. I am still trying to learn to be independent and one day that will happen.

Maybe None of Us Are Really ‘Disabled’

Look at me now. See how far I have come from 2012 to 2019. Some people might say that’s a long time; I say that’s just a short time. Now I do have friends, I do have a job, and I can stay in a business or restaurant as long as I want to. I have maintained a job at Walmart for 4 years . I thank my family and friends for all that they do for me.

I am also the  Founder & President  of Younique Abilities, a Small business that sells awareness products—about 90-95% of which is handmade and had made by individuals with a unique ability. At the end of each year, we donate part of our sales to a local, deserving nonprofit organization.

Adam Farris Inspirational Speaker & Advocate, the inspiration you need for your event.  Adam finds it important to advocate for individuals of all backgrounds. Adam Farris Inspirational Speaker & advocate is an advocate to anyone who needs him. Adam Farris believes that  You Can Do Whatever You Put Your Mind To You Just Have To Believe In Yourself And Reach Your Maximum Potential and shoot for the stars. Adam has a form of Autism and Tourette syndrome, That has not stopped him from over coming the impossible, to become the possible.

“Hi My name is Adam Farris, I am 31 years old, and I don’t think of myself as disabled because I have been able to accomplish so much. Maybe none of us are really “disabled,” maybe we are all just different people with unique abilities. The world needs to understand that all of us are alike