Road blog: Brother Dege on tour - pt. 5

by Walter Pierce

Wherein the bearded one makes new friends, serenades sports fans, sees his first Great Lake, plays his first encore, and has a monster, three-hour set occasioned by random, robust tinkling of the ivories. Dude!

[Editor's note: Independent Weekly arts/entertainment writer Dege Legg is in the midst of a month-long music tour up the East Coast to Boston, west across the Upper Midwest and back down to Louisiana. His tour, in the guise of his latest musical persona, Brother Dege, is in support of his new record, Folk Songs of the American Longhair. Dege is filing reports of his experiences from the road throughout the tour. This fifth installment finds our intrepid tripper travelling from New England through the Midwest.]

Played an art space type place named AS220.
Cool joint. Good people, doing non-profit stuff, art, music, etc.
I park, walk the block, and check the lay of the land.
Vibing the natives
Not much going on other than
What one local tells me is the first Baptist church
Ever built in the U.S.
I walk up the street to peep it out.
It's a church alright.
I walk up to a bar down the way.
Nice place.
I ask a guy standing the by the door
What kind of bar is it?
"Gay Bar," he says.
I walk up to a park and to relax and read
Before sound check.
A homeless guy approaches me.
Asks for change and lays a sob story on me
About how he's from ____________, RI (insert some Rhode Island city
I've never heard of) and how he needs $2 to catch the bus
Or the train or something.
I give him what I got rattling round in my pocket
Because I hate to tell homeless people no
When I'm the road. Karma, maybe
When you're nice to them, they give good intelligence
About the city, the cops, the bad neighborhoods.
The Do's & Do Nots.
I hand him the change and then he asks for a cigarette.
Then a light.
Then if I have any weed.
Damn, dude. Chill.
Head back to club.
Soundcheck. Good sound man.
I ask if they have "subs," meaning sub-woofers.
Subs are where it is at. Bottom end.
I meet the opening act.
Bluesy, folky local songwriter guy named Eric French.
He's also a guitar instructor.
Eric's dad shows up. Nice guy.
The rest of his family and many of Eric's guitar students
Show up, too.
Nice people.
They can watch while I rip the world to shreds
And go deep into the blast furnace of my heart
And smelt iron.
But still.
Kind of what I do.
Long time Santeria fan, Skuby showed up.
Dude has been e-mailing us for a decade,
Buying and collecting everything Santeria, my other band,
Has ever put out.
It was interesting to meet him.
Good dude. Solid. Irish. Strong.
When I was loading in/out he lifted my 150-lb Mesa-Boogie amp head
With one arm like it was a tinker toy.
I was, like, "Damn, boy."
They grow the Irish strong up here.
Good dude. Loyal. Real.
Awesome to meet him after all these years.
You don't know if someone is real
Until you meet them face to face.
What with the anonymity of the Internet,
It's easy to pretend to be someone you are not.
I put Skuby to work at the merch table, selling CDs.
First draftee in the Merch Dept.
Eric played. He was good.
Clean, but rootsy.
They do their roots a little cleaner up here.
Not sure why.
I'm glad he played on the bill because
Half the crowd or more was his people.
I played. And left.
I don't even remember much about shows.
It's the time in between shows that I remember.
While playing, I'm in "Trance Mode," conserving my energy,
Concentrating, and searching the song for something new.
When not playing, I'm in "Scan Mode."
In Scan Mode, I soak up the environment, vibe the people,
Observe things, and just try to learn things.
Said goodbyes.
Drove out of town,
Happened upon an abandoned rest stop along the Interstate 95 or 90
Or Interstate-Whatever. They're all the same at this point in the tour.
The rest area was awesome.
Perfect. Closed and abandoned.
Bathrooms and everything all boarded up
Like a post-apocalyptic welcome center.
I like it. Quiet. No people. No hassle.
No headaches.
I park under some trees in the back
Near a trucker who has already set up camp.
I smoke in the dark
And think about how weird it is
I'm out here all alone, sleeping in crazy places
And just rolling around the country
Like a nomadic hillbilly.

I pull into Boston.
Shoot from one crazy on-ramp and interchange to the next,
Take the wrong exit.
Then all of sudden I'm lost
Find myself in the middle of Harvard campus.
A lot of the housing surrounding the campus
Is not that fancy smancy as I would've imagined.
Doesn't look that different from most state colleges
With the residential areas around it.
Cool, tasteful old houses like you see around
LSU and UL and other universities.
I could survive the Ivy League, I think.
I test my psychic skills and sense of direction
By not looking at the map
And just driving in the direction that feels right.
After about eight turns,
I get a good feeling, make a couple more turns
And miraculously land on the street the club is on.
Highland Rd.
I drive another couple miles.
And there it is, The Armory.
Venue I'm playing tonight.
Very nice.
I went Jedi Mind S**t on this one.
No map or nothing.
And came up gold.
Don't think I could do that every time,
But it's nice to know the intuition and gut
Are functioning at a higher capacity.
Early show.
The building is an old national guard armory
From way back in the day.
Maybe post-American Revolution, I don't know.
Everything has so much history up here
On the East coast.
Down south, everything that's old is made of old wood
So it tends to rot and whither away.
Maybe the Masons were on to something.
Venue is in a residential neighborhood.
It's an art/performance space.
The guy from the band Morphine
Who died a few years ago Mark Sandman
His record label is located in the basement.
Still putting out records.
Not sure how old the building is
But it looks like it could be Ben Franklin's castle.
So it's got to be pretty old.
Looks like a good place to smoke a pipe
And wear a powdered wig.
The booking agent didn't list the gig in the club calendar
Or any of the papers,
So the gig is kind of a bust
Aside from the fact that I meet
One of the coolest dudes ever, Mark Pinansky.
Dudes is awesome.
He's got a heavy rock band (Township)
But also does the folky, solo stuff on the side.
Just like me.
And he's good. Really good.
A true American Longhair.
Part-rocker, part peace-loving hippie dude.
Part art damaged explorer,
And part shit kicker.
Good sense of humor, good conversation,
And he's got killer songs and great Neil Young-like voice.
We hit it off from the get-go.
The dude is like my lost brother.
And his old band, Runner and the Thermodynamics (http://www.myspace.com/runnerandthethermodynamics)
Was the hotshot in the early 00s with the garage rock
Stuff that was kicking at that time.
They were on the cover of CMJ that kind of hot s**t.
Dude is rad.
Super talented.
We both bang out quick sets
And then go out drinking for a bit.
Skuby comes, too.
Good times.
I love hanging with new people
Who I can vibe with.
Gives me hope.
Reassures me that I am not alone.
Or too far out on my own trip
To relate to people any more.
This life has been a strange trip for me.
I'm not always sure where I am going.
Or where the road will lead.
I just let my gut take me into the unknown
And hope things work out.
It hasn't always been smooth sailing.
I've been to some pretty dark places
While burning my trail to the promised land.
But I always try to fight the good fight
And I always
Look for the light
Way back behind all the darkness.
When I am surrounded
By hulking mountains of night,
Lording over me,
I look for the light
And charge in its direction.
Even when that light is
But a small speck of nothing,
I still lunge in its direction,
Hoping that one of those
Little shards of starlight up there
Is shining down on me.
Amidst all that darkness.

I wake the next day
And grab my bike
Which I brought with me,
And go for a long ride
In search a coffee shop with wi-fi.
So I can check some e-mail.
Boston is a funny place.
It's definitely an Irish town.
After an hour of riding around,
I don't see ANY coffee shops.
But there is pizza shops and pubs EVERYWHERE.
About two of each on every block.
More pubs than pizza.
These folks like to drink.
This is definitely an Irish town.
Got to have a pub handy when you need it.

Man, I like the folks up here.
A Lot.
Especially, the Irish.
Good people.
Strong, proud, and vibrant folks.
They're all really friendly, sharp, and helpful.
And polite. Respectful.
The men are all sturdy and well-built.
Faces chiseled and aesthetically intriguing.
Interesting to look at.
All the guys look like WWII heroes
Or fire fighters.
Men's men.
They're open, friendly, and not filled with the
Paranoia and fear that seems to inhibit people
In some cities.
There's less neurosis and insecurity
And more balls.
They say hello to you first and nod.
Or just ask, what's up.
Chill and casual.
Not fearful and hesitant.
These people aren't cry babies.
I like that. A lot.
They know the world owes them nothing
And they act accordingly.
And are cool with it. Still strong.
I like people who know who they are
And aren't wrapped up in the raggedy gamble of
Figuring it out.
Jousting for position, hoping someone will like them.
These are guy's guys.
Just talking s**t.
And the accents; they're amazing.
Straight up The Departed style
Good Will Hunting accents.
It's freaking rad.
I love it.
This city and its people are way worthy.

The Indian hoteliers are another story.
The Indians from India.
Not native Americans.
The Indian community,
Specifically the one's that own and run hotels
Along the east coast have been completely rude
To me on this trip.
WTH is up with that?
Every single time I've stopped at an Indian-owned
Hotel, truck stop, or convenience store
To ask directions, they're been impatient, mean, uptight,
And just plain rude.
I stopped at one in Washington D.C.
And they owner actually raised his voice at me
When I wasn't writing down his
Kooky, long-winded directions to a specific interstate.
I walked out of there, backwards
Like I'd just accidentally walked on to the set
Of a horror movie.
This was after I asked him if I could simply
Grab my laptop and jump on their FREE WI-FI network
And Google the directions myself.
They refused.
I even said I would give him $10 to get on their wi-fi.
RUDE, mothers.
What happened to them?
Who F'ed them over so hard
That the majority of them are now registered D**kheads?
So sad and frustrating to deal with them.
One of my best friends, Krishna (drummer in Santeria)
Is from India.
He's the coolest, most level-headed dude on the planet.
And his family are the sweetest people you could ever meet.
So it's not an across-the-board Indian thing.
That's why this bums me out so much.
I LOVE the people from India
The culture, the food, the music, the people.
They are way up at the top of my list of things I love,
Which is why my little feelings get hurt.
It's like being a fan of Babe Ruth and baseball,
Where you approach him on the street
And he's a di**khead to you.
Maybe it's just an Indians-who-own/run-motels thing.
Krishna once told me a story about how
When he and his family moved to Louisiana,
His father got a job working in one of these Indian-owned hotels.
They paid his dad $1/hr.
His dad is Indian. These people were his father's friends.
That is insane.
I'm speechless.
Such a noble and spiritually profound race of people.
Yet the land of the free has seemingly not been good for them.
It's like they came to America,
Bought hotels, got too caught up in the almighty
American Rat Race for the dollar,
And the post-modern western machine of commerce
Chewed up their souls
And spat them out like an old nasty
Pieces of beef jerky.

Boston, MA.
Rad club.
Just south of the legendary Dorchester neighborhood.
This place is Boston in full effect.
It's a punk rock, underground type club.
Stickers pasted on everything.
Yet it's also a neighborhood pub
Where regular guys grab a drink after work.
I dig that.
Weirdos, beardos, punks, and working class folk
All coexist.
Sitting next to one another at the bar
Elbow to elbow
Sipping beers.
I park out front.
Check in with the bartender, Mike. Good dude.
I take a nap in the van before the show.
Sleep for three hours.
When I wake and roll out of the van,
The sidewalk is crowded.
Club is jumping.
And this is a Wednesday.
The first band has already started.
My new buddy, Marc Pinansky, is already at the club
And planted at the bar.
So is Skuby.
Those guys are my psychic corner stones
In Boston.
Good crowd for a Wednesday.
First band rocks.
Old school punk rock and roll with some metal in there.
Unfortunately, I've forgotten the name of their band.
But they were real good.
There was a guy named Paul in the band.
The crowd is interesting.
There are three big, tall guys in Boston Bruins hockey jerseys
In the club. Just hanging.
The Bruins are playing tonight (against Philadelphia, I think)
And the game is blasting from a TV
Mounted in a corner of the room.
First band finishes up.
I set up. Sound check quickly.
The Bruins are losing.
The guys in the jersey's are on the other side
Of the bar, heavily engaged in the game.
The Bruins score and the guys in the hockey jerseys
Start clapping.
I start the first song of my set, "Hard Row to Hoe"
At the same tempo they are clapping
While stomping on my stompbox.
I come banging out of the gate.
It registers on their radar.
They turn and keep clapping.
A minute later, they're no longer at the TV
But standing in front of the stage
And rocking out with me.
Hell yes.
They stayed up there the whole time
With me as I plowed through a fevered set
Trying to keep the action coming
While the game played.
Thanks, dudes.
They all bought CDs and yelled and hollered.
I thanked them after the show
And they were all straight up real people.
Solid dudes.
One of the guys was named Jim.
He thanked me for coming to Boston
And asked me to come back again.
That made my night.
Those three guys were the MVPs of the night
Hell yes, Boston.

I've got a 10-hour drive.
Boston to Cleveland.
Long haul.
Today is a "drive day."
No gig.
I head out and roll through MA
And upstate NY.
Man, upstate New York is beautiful.
No wonder they held Woodstock up here.
Rolling hills, farmlands, valley villages.
Amazing scenery.
I stare at it in awe and drive.
This would be a great place to live
And raise a family.
Live in an old farm house
And plant turnips or whatever.
Play guitar.
Eat lettuce.
Listen to Van Morrison.
And just vibe out.

Erie, PA
After eight hours of driving,
It begins to rain. Hard.
Rain, wind, whatnot
Whipping the van around like crazy.
Low visibility. Night.
Stressful in that old van.
It's a war.
The elements vs. me & the van.
I fight it till late in the night
And then finally pull into a truck stop.
I don't even make up my little van bed.
I just lay down on top of dirty clothes,
Burger wrappers, and weekly newspapers
I've been collecting
And fall to sleep
With the clatter of rain
Coming down on the roof of the van.
Singing me to sleep
A stranger, falling to sleep in an unfamiliar city.
In his car.

Truck stop parking lot.
Erie, PA.
Wake in the morning to dreary overcast skies.
Still raining.
I shower at the truck stop. $10.
Climb in the chair and turn the keys.
The van doesn't start.
Refuses to crank.
Not again.
Panic mode.
This old van is as sturdy as old vans come,
But I'm just a little burnt out
On the mechanical problems.
I check the engine, battery, belts, etc.
I'd left one of the windows of the van half open overnight.
So the interior was kind of moist.
I dried everything off.
Blew air in the ignition switch.
Did some hocus pocus.
The van cranks.
Thank, God

I need some chill time,
So I drive to Lake Erie
And stare at the water.
Park by the shore
I relax.
I've never seen any of the Great Lakes.
Looks just like the ocean.
It's nice. Peaceful.
I needed this.
I read, catch up on some writing,
Listen to the beach birds squawking,
And stare at the water.
I like water.
I feel more comfortable
When I am around large bodies of water.
This is a good one.
Peaceful. Scenic.
I roll out after a few hours and head toward club
Only to learn
There's weird stuff going on at the venue.
I pull up.
Place is empty except for a construction crew,
Pulling up the floors.
Turns out the owners sold the place
And it is now being renovated.
Previous owners had neglected to notify me
Or any of the other bands booked.
That's class.
But it happens.
Tony Bonyata, my publicist for this tour,
Pulls out a Hail Mary over the phones
And it gets me a pick-up gig at another venue.
Little club called The Barking Spider in Cleveland.
I get directions and roll.
Owner is sweetheart old guy named Martin.
His daughter, Jenna, helps him run the place.
Good folks. Cool of them to let me play
At their club on short notice.
I bang out a happy hour set
And sell $50 worth of CDs.
One of them to an old biker named Mike
I'd met earlier in the day
When standing in line at store for cigarettes.
Struck up a conversation.
Told him about the gig.
Boom. There he was, at the club, when I got there.
That's class.

Rolling through southern Ohio.
Southbound and down.
I exit off the interstate to gas up
And pass some people with horse buggies and beards
Selling stuff on the side of the road.
Amish folksin Ohio?
I have to find out.
Pull over.
It is Amish folks. YES.
I've always been curious about them and their culture,
So this is great.
They dress like pilgrims.
The women are wearing bonnets and cleavage covering dresses.
The flesh you see are their faces and hands.
The men wear plain, somewhat ill-fitting
Navy blue pants.
And these bib-looking things
Around their necks
That make them look like pilgrims.
And the men all have the Abe Lincoln beards.
No mustache.
They keep the beard, but shave the lip.
I wonder what prompted that move in their culture.
Back in the day,
Did one of the first Amish elders hate his mustache
But dug the beard, so he opted to shave it
And institute the policy?
Or did the others simply dig it and follow suit?
I look at the stuff their selling,
But I'm secretly studying them
Out of the corner of my eye
Because they are so fascinating.
It's like jumping in a time machine.
The Amish look so period-specific, that it almost
Comes off like a tourist showat state park or something.
But it's real.
They're selling baskets, jams, and flowers.
They're really sweet, gentle people.
Polite, happy, and kind. And peaceful.
And they're doing it. They're doing their thing.
Screw the modern world.
Screw the electricity.
Screw your cars, cell phones, and conveniences.
We've got the horses, the buggies, and the farm.
We don't need your modern world.
Amish are way more punk rock
Than anybody with tattoos. Period.
There's something refreshing and magical
And true
About seeing these people
Just sitting in the sun by the side of the road
Enjoying the day.
Quietly making it in this world.
It is something that is so much more real
In some ways than
All the rest of us
Caught up in the modern world
Stressing out
Standing next to one another,
Not talking, not interacting,
But instead
Just solemnly texting on our cell phones,
Wrapped up in our own little digital realms.
Detached, alienated, paranoid,
And weird.
I buy $40 worth of stuff from them
To give to my girlfriend
As a surprise when I get home.
Gonna be a cool surprise.
I roll out.
Say goodbye.
They stare at the Black Bayou Minstries van
As I pull away.
And they wave goodbye.
And smile.

Played Southgate House in Newport, Ken.
30 seconds across the river from Cincinnati.
Didn't realize I didn't know how to spell
"Cincinnati" till now.
City was jumping.
Reds game 5 minutes away,
So everybody on the street was wearing
Red and white Reds gear and such.
The club is an old, old general's house,
The guy that invented the Tommy Gun.
Cool club. Killer staff.
I pull van around back, squeeze down the skinny alley
Around Butch Walker's tour bus he's playing, too
And I park.
The load out is insane.
Pretty much I have to lug the amp, cab, guitars, etc
Up the alley, carry it around the building,
Up some stairs, into the club, down the hall,
And into the room.
It's a pretty good one-man work out.
Each piece of equipment ...I have to lug
Past Butch's giant tour bus.
I laugh to myself, wondering if Butch Walker
And his band are in there laughing at the crazy
Longhaired, bearded dude in the church van
Lugging gear all the way down the alley and
Into the club by himself.
They're in there probably playing video games
As the AC unit keeps the bus at a cool 65 degrees
While ole' Bro-Dege is out here humping and grunting
His way through the alley with all the ragged out gear.
The 4 x 12 cabinet was my favorite to lug.
Just because it's got a bad wheel on it,
So push-rolling it is out of the question.
I pick up the whole thing
Bear hug style
Like some demented mountain man
And growl my way up the alley
And around the bus
With the cabinet, passing gas, grunting,
And cursing the gods.
I made it, though.
Despite the gods
And their plot to humble me at every turn.
It keeps you real, I guess.

The show was insane.
I was contracted to play 3 sets.
Meaning about 3+ hours of music.
Roughly 9:30 to 1:30 a.m.
I knew this one was going to test me.
Not sure if I was up for it.
It's hard to play three hours of original music
With a whole band.
Try doing it solo. All originals.
Deep breath.
I kicked it off
And the rest was a blur.
Room stayed packed most of the night.
People jumping, drinking, dancing, and
Having fun with me.
It was killer.
The Reds won
And the place filled up even more.
Somewhere around two hours into the set,
I noticed there was an old piano
Sitting a few feet away from me
Pushed up against a wall.
I encouraged people who DID NOT know
How to play piano to jump on thing
And play jam with me.
It took about 10 mins of me hollering
For somebody to get up there.
First one, then two, then three happy drunk folks
Got on it and banged away.
It was the weirdest sounding s**t ever.
Like a free jazz, hillbilly jam.
And I loved it.
It was awesome.
I'd break the song down,
Then build it back up,
And they'd bang away atonally on that old piano.
Three astride.
A few people broke out their iPhones and filmed it.
I hope it makes it to YouTube, because
It was pretty rad in a nutty way.
After I got them rolling,
It was hard getting them to stop.

The last set I played pushed two hours in length.
I met my contracted time slot
And kept going.
Too much fun to stop it now.
I ended the set with a Hendrix-meets-Ry Cooder
Version of the Star-Spangled Banner.
They ate it up.
And it was done.
It was like climbing a mountain.
I made it to the top, though.

I did the monstrous load out alone.
Only this time I had to lug all the stuff
Through a maze of drunk people.
Having had a few drinks myself
It was yet another new challenge.
I passed the tour bus numerous times again
But it didn't annoy me as much
Because I'd climbed my own mountain
And now I was simply
Trucking down the other side.

Chicago, IL
Home of the electric blues.
Played a club three blocks away
From the old Chess records studio.
Tony Bonyata, the publicity guy for this tour,
Who lives up the road in Grand Rapids (I think)
Showed up and walked me over to it.
We took a few tourist photos.
All that history in that one building.
Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, etc.
Back to the club. Reggie's Music Joint.
Kid Willie, a local fan, showed up with his folks
And they worked the merch table.
Good people.
Real good people.
They threw a crawfish boil.
I wasn't expecting much, but
The crawfish were great.
Better than some boil houses in Louisiana.
They flew them in.
Seems the guy who did the boiling
Knew what he was doing.
I think his name was Steve.
Good job, Steve.
I knocked out my set.
It was a keeper.
I finished the set and the crowd wanted an encore.
First of the tour.
I gave them one.
I did an extended tribute to all the old blues greats
In the middle of "The World's Longest Hotdog."
And shut it down.
Said my goodbyes.
Talked a bunch of music stuff with Tony.
And rolled out.
Back into the unknown.

I like to leave a CD in every city
Along the tour.
Even if I'm just stopping to get gas.
So I bought some thick 2-sided tape.
I tape it to the back of the CD
And stick the CD to a bathroom stall door
At truck stops and gas stations.
Every town.
That way, somebody gets a free CD surprise
When they go to take dump.
It's like you're the winner of the
Folk Songs of American Longhair lotto
For the day.
If I don't use the bathroom,
I stick it to the gas pump
Or a crazy place
Like high up on a wall of the station.
It's cool to find something free
In a weird place.
Kind of like finding a $10 bill
On the ground, which is a good feeling.
Only this one is stuck to the wall.