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……

SandyLand Tour Diary #3

Good God, it took me a long time to get this thing out. Last weekend was my last trip with Sandra and Joe for a while and it was the longest trip yet. Woooosh!  Here we go:

Friday:

I met Sandra and Joe at Sandra’s apartment where we hopped into a car and headed to the Airport. The handsome, easy-going and notably good-smelling Ari (if  I recall his name correctly) eased us through Manhattan in a swanky Mercedes of some kind. Sandy was keeping track of Serena Williams’ U.S. Open scores on the way there and cracking us up with her ranting and raving. I have never encountered anyone with the ability to pace like a lunatic whilst sitting in a moving automobile– until now, anyway.

Me, Sandra and Joe giving surly face on the airport shuttle bus.

Me, Sandra and Joe giving surly face on the airport shuttle bus.

Our  flight to Columbia, South Carolina was delayed, but the time in the the airport was actually a hoot. We made a couple of new friends who were waiting too. Ugh. I need to make note of names next time. After about an hour of delay we had a gigglly shuttle bus (?) journey from the gate to the small plane. We had a pretty uneventful flight to SC, easily got our rental car, checked into the super cute Sheraton hotel and ran over to dinner at Rossa Trattoria Italia for a spectacular dinner. The chef created a special vegan dish for me using a bounty of local and organic vegetables. It was really, really exceptional. We were all pretty exhausted from traveling all day, so  we headed back to the hotel and went to bed.

Saturday:

Saturday was a pretty easy day. We had Breakfast at Café Strudel, and were again struck by how friendly everyone was in Columbia. My good friends Chris and Carey were in town to visit Chris’ boyfriend Paul, so I spent most of the day with them while Sandra and Joe checked out the city. We all met back at the hotel, checked out and headed over to the Koger Center for sound check.

Joe is triple fisting the social media over breakfast at Cafe Strudel.

Joe is triple fisting the social media over breakfast at Cafe Strudel.

Because Sandra and Joe needed to be at a meet and greet after the show, my friend Chris stepped up and agreed to run the merch table, which went off perfectly. The show itself was pretty great, the intimate crowd was right on the ball with Sandra’s references.

We wound up loading up the car and heading for Savanna around 10:15 or so. Joe drove like a (cautious and safe) bat out of hell and got us to Savannah right around Midnight.

Carey, Me and Chris before the show at the Koger Center

Carey, Me and Chris before the show at the Koger Center

 

We pulled up to the hotel in Savannah at around 12:15 Sunday morning. The building was actually locked but a kind gentleman sporting a flaccid pizza box shuffled to the door and let us in without comment. We found our way to the front desk and while Joe checked us in, Sandra and I waited by the elevator and enjoyed the parade of drunken residents of the hotel, a good handful of them making glassy-eyed double takes when they recognized Sandra. Joe gave us Sandra’s key and I rode up to her “suite” with her to get her settled. Just as we were getting on the elevator, a woman in a halter top/dress combo and gemini tattoos on her shoulders shuffled out and seemed to recognize Sandra. We proceeded up to Sandra’s room.

The hotel’s signature aroma was more pronounced on Sandra’s floor, and being new to this whole touring thing and not knowing what to expect I decided to reserve comment and follow Sandra’s lead– perhaps a throwback to an old job I had as a waiter in Houston where a manager yelled at me for “acting hot” because it might alert our patrons to the fact that our air conditioning was out and it was over 90 degrees in the restaurant. Sandra kept it simple, an understated, “Oh no, honey. Uh-uh” under her breath as we approached her room.

Even by my decidedly low-standards, Sandra’s particle board and burnt umber burlap themed  suite was disgusting.  The dank smell was more pronounced than ever, prompting Sandra to say, simply, “We can’t stay here, let’s go.”

We headed back downstairs to discover that Joe had already gone up to his room. I tried to call his cell phone while Sandra talked to her new friend, The Woman With The Gemini Tattoos. Now wielding a rather desperate looking turkey wrap, the woman told Sandra how magical it was for her to meet Sandra Bernhard on this, her wedding night, because she and her sister (who was in the room upstairs, presumably kickin’ it with the happy groom) had been through quite a lot in the last year and to get through it, they had relied on watching Roseanne

Honestly, that really was a sweet story, now that I retell it, and I was stunned at how sweet Sandra was in the situation. Things were already feeling disastrous, it being the middle of the night in a strange city with no place to stay. Sandra chatted with the inebriated gemini lady and gave her a hug. I can’t imagine myself being so kind in the same situation.

The management at Club One went out of their way immediately to fix the situation.  The manager literally ran down the street from his post at the club to meet us at the hotel, and the club’s owner met us soon after at the spectacular Andaz hotel. While our arrival in Savannah was less than ideal, those guys really went out of their way to make it right.

Sunday

I woke up pretty early and decided to go out in search of a solid vegan breakfast. I wound up at The Sentient Bean after a walk through downtown Savannah and beautiful Forsyth Park. The Bean was just my kind of place and it was so nice to have a calm breakfast after such a crazy night and couple of days of traveling. The rest of that day stayed pretty calm. Sound check went easily and the afternoon show was my favorite of the shows I’ve been a part of so far. The audience was right on and so was Sandra. Really fun show.

Forsyth Fountain in Savannah, GA

Forsyth Fountain in Savannah, GA

I joined Sandra, Joe and a bunch of friends for a dinner at Cha Bella with Bobby Zarem (who I should have googled before dinner instead of after. Google him now and be amazed). Dinner was fantastic and a whirlwind of amazing conversations. I almost skipped out on dinner, but I am SO thankful I didn’t. It was great. Among the people at dinner were T Cooper whose book, Real Man Adventures I am reading and highly recommend.

Monday

We checked out of the hotel and headed to the airport without incident. We met a really great lady named Joan in the airport. She was so sweet and meeting her touched me in a really tangible way. Her story reminded me of having lost my mom last year, and brought me a sort of sad gratitude for the fact that we are all here on this planet for a short time. It’s so sad to say goodbye to the people we love when we have to, but what a gift that we are here now with the ability to affect and be kind to one another. #blessed. I really mean that one.

Sandra and Joe swinging at Cha Bella.

Sandra and Joe swinging at Cha Bella.

I’m just booked to play one more round of shows with Sandra in Natick, MA on Oct 17 and 18th, so obvs, no more SandyLand diaries until then. Just under two weeks till my solo show, so I’ll commence to freaking out about that now. Get your tickets here if you haven’t already!

 

 

Sandyland Tour Diary #2 (+)

I saw Without You I’m Nothing on the big screen when it was released in 1990. Some of my much-hipper-than-me friends were raving about Sandra Bernhard and how we had to go see it, so I signed up having no idea what to expect. I was around 21 years old and green in so many ways — having spent most of my teenage years in East Texas, so it’s funny that the film informed me culturally in a sort of backward way. For instance, at that time I had never heard much from Nina Simone. So, while I appreciated Sandra’s rendition of “Four Women” in the film, it wasn’t for a couple years when a boyfriend turned me on to Nina Simone and I heard the original “Four Women” and had a tremendous A-HA! moment that sent me right back to the film to reconnect with the cultural references I had missed the first time around.

In a similar way, my life is folding back on itself and I just finished my second road trip and weekend of performing with Sandra some 23 or so years later. I’m so happy that the new reality of Sandra Bernhard as car cohabitant and the person with whom I sit on stage has begun to take the place of Sandra as that famous artist I have been following for most of my adult life. Not that I was particularly star-struck (okay that might be a lie) but it was a little surreal at first and it’s really fun to be in “we’re all humans here” world.

We headed up to Helsinki Hudson Saturday afternoon from Sandra’s apartment with tour manager Joe Hubrich at the wheel. The drive was much easier than the previous weekend’s trip to the North Fork. We got to the club at around 5:15 just in time to do a sound check and have a quick rehearsal to iron out a couple of changes to one of the songs. As a musician I can be a little timid about performing music that isn’t written down note for note and performed the same way every time, so my prep for this gig with Sandra and her willingness to try new things on stage has really opened my eyes to the fact that I can handle myself pretty well in that setting. It’s a little nerve-wracking but also exhilarating to approach the part of a song we changed up just a few hours before and just go with it. I am psyched to be pushed out of my comfort zone and growing as a musician through this.

pre-show soundcheck and rehearsal with Sandra at Helsinki Hudson. Aug 30, 2013

pre-show soundcheck and rehearsal with Sandra at Helsinki Hudson. Aug 30, 2013

The Staff at Helsinki was great. Erica was on hand to make sure we had everything we needed and made us feel perfectly taken care of. Pete ran the sound flawlessly and the space itself was pretty spectacular. I fell immediately in love with the Yamaha baby grand piano. Musty Chiffon warmed up the sold out crowd (which included my sister, brother-in-law, BFF Ken and my Aunt Judie and Uncle Kevin). The show itself was solid and the crowd was really fantastic.  Since I was staying the weekend with my sis and bro-in-law, I said goodbye to Sandra and Joe after the show and proceeded to have a relaxing weekend in Chatham, NY amongst deers and shit like that.

I’m already feeling a bit sadzies about this coming weekend in Columbia, SC and Savanna, GA being my last with Sandra until Oct 17. The timing is perfect however, as it leaves my schedule open for writing and rehearsing new material for my solo show, Tentative Armor which I’m performing again on Sept 28th. (Get your tickets here so I can pay my string players!) I met with my director Adam Fitzgerald last night and I’m officially getting down to business. Writing a couple of new pieces for it and continuing to flesh out the orchestrations. So much to do, but so excited.

Sidenote: Adam’s current show, The Awake, got this absolutely STUNNING review in the New York Times. I was already proud to be working with Adam, but this just pushes it over the edge. The show stars 30 Rock’s Maulik Pancholy and is running for at least one more week. Check it out if there are still tickets available.

Finally, I’m sending out my monthly newsletter in the next couple of days and it will include a free download only available there. Sign up for it here.

Thanks for reading all of this and as always, thank you for supporting my work!

Sandra Bernhard “SandyLand” Tour Diary #1

This past weekend with Sandra Bernhard was fabulous. We traveled up to Mattituck, Long Island for two shows at The Old Mill Inn. Traffic out of the city was pretty intense, so it took us several hours to get up there. We checked into our hotel, which turned out to be a bit of a dump so we checked right back out after Sandra’s daughter and tour manager Joe Hubrich found us a new place to stay.

Sandra, Joe and me backstage at The Old Mill House on the North Fork of Long Island.

I was commenting to Joe after the show that the show itself was surreal feeling in that it felt so normal. I feel at home behind the piano and on stage, possibly more at home than I feel when hanging around and talking to people. So, I’d be doing that enchange of energy thing that you do when performing with another person, and then have a whispering thought (dudethatssandrabernhardyouronstagewithyouknow) and then I’d just go on about my business of enjoying making music. We’d had a quick rehearsal last Wednesday and a long time in the car for me to get over the celebrity thing. Granted, it’s been a short time working with her, but I’ve found her so far to be so gracious, laid back and perfectly lovely to work with.

Joe shopping at Garden of Eve.

Joe shopping at Garden of Eve.

After the show on Friday night, an audience member offered to let us hang out in his house the next day as he would be out of town. We stopped at Garden of Eve Farm to get some lunch on the way over to his house which was a super cute old farm house, “rustic but chic” was his perfect description. It was so nice spending the day there. So quiet and calm. We headed out for dinner at Noah’s in Greenport, then to the second show at the Old Mill Inn.

IMG_0720After the show, and Sandra’s mix and mingle at the merch table we hopped into the car and flew back to NYC in record time thanks to Joe’s skills. And, BOOM, first weekend done. I’m so looking forward to next Saturday at Helsinki in Hudson.

Of course, having that first weekend under my belt, and this week mostly off from teaching gives me a ton of time to get up to speed with the changes I want to make on my show before I remount it at Judson on September 28th. (Tickets here, by the by). I’d like to have all of my new string parts written by the end of the week, and and and… I actually have a bunch of work I want to get done. It’ll be worth it though. So excited about doing this show again!

Come see me in Hudson with Sandra, and then buy tickets for my solo show in September. Do it!