On Tour, Part 1: 4 Dates In

My friend Leslie asked me to do a tour blog and I decided she’s right. And since I’m playing with three unrecorded songs on this tour it still fits.

Let me try not to overthink this:

I just finished the 4th show about an hour ago. I’m in Atlanta, heading to Charlottesville, VA at the crack of dawn. What’s it been like?

Well, for one thing, the tour is making me more conscious than ever that coming to see me perform is more like coming to a book of short stories – or maybe short plays – than a conventional concert. I mean, they ARE songs, and I am careful to keep variety in the set so as not to overwhelm the crowd, but when I finish up a real psychodrama like GUTTER BROKE just a little more than halfway through, I find myself wondering if this is what the audience thought they were signing up for – especially since so many of them have come to see the other performers.

But that’s not the real revelation of the tour . The real revelation is that so far these audiences are actually pretty enthusiastic. Just tonight, for instance, a short bespectacled woman waiting for the next band actually followed me back stage to find out where she could get my lyrics. And the applause each night has been strong, though tonight only a handful of the crowd knew my music. I find this hard to get my head around. All too often, I feel like I’m Patti Smith accidentally booked for a Red State Ladies Auxiliary Luncheon. Clearly, I need this tour as much for figuring out my place in the music world as for what the shows can do simply as shows.

San Francisco was a good start last week, on 4-person song-circle performance with Tom Goss, Jeremiah Clark and Daniel Owens. A benefit performance for the Metropolitan Community Church, organized by the amazing Mr. Goss himself. (I really like performing with other people, and this was like a warm bath.) It was an intimate, high-ceilinged church with an actual balcony, and some fans I only knew virtually stepped out from behind their Facebook pages to come out. I’m starting to think I don’t really have fans so much as friends made through music. I mean, if you like what I do, we probably have some things in common. OK, just let me have that Pollyanna moment.

The next night we brought the show to Molly Malone’s in LA, with Matt Alber replacing Daniel Owens. My first time playing that room, though it’s now my home city, and friends really packed the place for me. A new song WE WERE RIGHT finally fell into place for me.

Sunday saw me flying to the east coast, and my first show ever in Charlotte. The Patchwerk Playhaus is a performance space like no other: it’s exactly as described, a good sized room patched together with mis-matched bits of fabric and furniture and murals and I don’t know what all, and you’re as likely to hear a Captain Beefheart-ish band like CASE FEDERAL or free jazz or an actual play or a full-on traditional-style folkie like the great-playing, Maria Muldaur-ish looking Lea McLaughlin. People crowded in booths and bar stools or stretched out on sofas with blankets over their legs. Allyson runs the joint with a light touch, like she really really wants creative things to grow there. It made the town feel like a burgeoning creative center that only needs a paper interested in covering local arts to make it pop, Portland- or Louisville-style. I’ve also never had so many artists shove money at me to help me on my tour. I was moved, once I got over being guilt-ridden.

Then tonight there I was at Smith’s Olde Bar, which is an enormous complex, somehow, with various rooms devoted to entirely different things, like parties or pool players or sports-bar screens or just boisterous after-work drinkers. Then there was the music room with doors they fought to keep closed for me. You could hear the bass from the bar music thumping through the walls, and the murmur of the drinkers, but the sound system was good, and Mr. Macpherson kept it that way. It did occur to me – again – that this might be an odd place to come to hear dark and surreal short-story songs, but I found out later that a goodly portion of the crowd was a book club who had their meeting just before I arrived. Who woulda thunk it? Some of them got the most annoyed when people would arrive late and let in the bar noise. The most moving thing, though, was the fan/friend who drove six hours – yes, SIX (6) HOURS – to come see me perform. It really makes you feel a responsibility to the people who truly love the work you do.

And that’s the other thing that’s been on my mind on this, my first tour in eight or ten years. No matter what, you can’t really compare yourself to any other musician. Or I can’t, at least. I do the weird thing I do, and it means something very deep to the ones who have the ears for it. It’s silly to beat yourself up for not being John Mayer when you’re … well, not. And right now I’d feel guilty for abandoning the people who value what I do so deeply. I don’t care how few of them who feel that way. I care about them.

And, hell, I keep finding more of them on every date so far.

I should re-write this, clean it up, but screw it, here I am in all my sloppy, soppy glory.

OK, to bed.

© Dudley Saunders