Places I've been. Sounds I've heard. What I'm looking for.

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Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States

Friday, July 07, 2006

Summer gigging: 2006

The summer's gone...obviously. It was a reasonably good one. I spent part of it playing some interesting shows with a regional pop/rock cover outfit: Brother Louie. (I do the guitar stuff...)

The band's schtick is to cover hits from the '60s, '70s, (and maybe something decent from the '80s), but with a decidely contemporary interpretation. Some of the more interesting shows were:

  • Summerfest - July 7. We played on a stage in front of a massive pile of gear belonging to the headliner - Steppenwolf. Wish I could've hung around to hear "The Pusher". I've always wanted to cover "Magic Carpet Ride", only with a decidely "urban-meets-techno-meets-Hendrix" vibe. Performance-wise, the experience was of an indifferent nature. We showed up, set up, played, and split. The small crowd of listeners were politely enthusiastic. Local axe-hero Scott Finch of Bluehand was kind enough to stand in for us on bass. (He has a beautifully dry sense of humor, sufficient to diminish the negative effects produced by the absence of a full-time bassist.)

  • Bobby Rockets - July 15 and September 23. Kind of wild place. One of the owners was involved in tour management for big acts like REO Speedwagon and Nine-Inch Nails. The walls are festooned with memorabilia from tours and photos of the "Mr. Rocket" himself with the likes of Kevin Cronin (sp.?), REO's one-time lead singer. The club is out in the countryside of southeastern Wisconsin - be6tween Burlington and Lake Geneva, and the clientele is a mix-up of bikers, college-age, and local color.

    The show on July 15th was largely a nightmare, owing to the ongoing bass-player saga. However, we definitely smoked on September 23rd, and the crowd ate it up. When the show that night was over and I was packed up (at 2:30 a.m.), I sat outside on the curb, drinking up the silence of the surrounding fields, the clarity of the night, and a million stars I'd never have seen in the city.

  • Bayview Bash - September 16. The Bash got started a few years back as a small, loosely organized gathering of local acts and food vendors attended by the residents of the Bayview neighborhood. This year, more than 20,000 showed up. Unlike the folks out in the country, these people are in to the exotic; hair, make-up, clothes, pets, trinkets, etc. The show was surreal. It started out great, descended in to madness as a result of "performer error", stopped, and resumed minus one musician. Not our best show, although we still received a surprising number of positive comments.

Overall, Brother Louie is a solid act, and a fun vehicle for some pretty hot creative growth.
(It's the classic insanity of musicians that generates the uncomfortable turbulence...)

In the meantime, I'm writing and tracking , working on material to pitch to film/tv opportunities and publishing houses, the compositions of friends, and sound for educational and corporate stuff.

More shows to come this fall and winter (the holiday parties), and travel - local and across the nation (as in down south...)

Monday, June 12, 2006

Visitors from down south

My folks came to visit this past week...all the way from Fairhope, Alabama. I wasn't sure how they'd react to the still-cool weather of Wisconsin, and northern Wisconsin in particular. Their reaction (20-plus years after leaving Wisconsin) was a pleasant surprise. They loved it!

Worth noting (Alabama and Wisconsin share a few things):

  • The community of Gulf Shores in Alabama has a significant number of Wisconsin transplants and snowbirds.
  • Alabama's Baldwin County has been highlighted in the recent past as a high growth area for retirees - many of whom hail from Wisconsin and Minnesota (as well as businesses).
  • Timberland is a big deal in both Alabama and Wisconsin. As a matter of fact, nearly two-thirds of the state of Alabama is covered in timber. Similarly, Wisconsin's "northwoods" features fabulous state forests, including the Northern Highland - American Legion state forest (headquartered in Boulder Junction, WI).
  • Alabama's gulf coast and Wisconsin's "northwoods" are both riddled with flea markets and resale shops. The town of Lake Tomahawk in Wisconsin, for example, features a total kitsch-fest with its weekend flea market throughout the summer months. It bears a distinct resemblance to the flea markets lining the Alabama country roads in the area known regionally as the "eastern shore", near Mobile Bay.

My father is a retired scientist and government forest economist. He is drawn to the study of plants and ecosystems, and while he was in Wisconsin, we visited the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory . On the day of our visit, the facility was practically empty and very quiet. It offered a pleasant respite in the middle of a summer afternoon. The following day, we headed north for a weekend at our cabin on the Wisconsin river in Oneida County.

These days, I don't need to fish to enjoy a body of water. It's enough to simply spend a little time relaxing on a porch with few concerns save those of determining what to eat, what to read, and where to wander tomorrow afternoon. During our stay on the river, the days were quiet and sunny, and we were fortunate enough to see bald eagles, herons, otters, and deer in the surrounding woods and on the water.

Ultimately, the gulf coast, the northwoods, and family always invoke a torrent of musical inspiration for me. After my parent left, I sat down with song ideas the visit prompted, and started recording sound sketches. When they've reached a state of presentability, I'll put 'em out here. In the meantime, I'll start planning a fall visit to the southland...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Out of the west, up to the "Northwoods"

Santa Fe

... Time to put a wrap on last month's trip to New Mexico. After visiting Los Alamos and Taos, we headed for Santa Fe. I was looking forward to hiking through the city, good food, and the art galleries along the famous Canyon Road.

Also, I was on the hunt for Mexican tile (a private obsession) - particularly the traditional patterns that originated in Spain. I found the ultimate source at Artesanos, (222 Galisteo St.).

In addition to rooms of tiles in myriad sizes and patterns, Artesanos also carries traditional southwestern and Mexican folk art. Talking with one of the owners, I learned that much of the folk art, particularly the stamped tinwork, has been learned and recreated by successive generations of families, stretching back in some cases to the late 18th century.

It's probably a cliche to comment on the depth of blue in western skies, but looking at the horizon over the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, I experienced a sense of endless clarity (not generally available in the midwest).

During our stay, we camped out at the Hotel St. Francis. Built in 1880 and located in the heart of downtown, it offers nice proximity to the Canyon Road, shops and restaurants, and the Plaza Mercado (location of the Cross of the Martyrs, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, and Institute of American Indian Arts).

When it was time to leave, I was completely committed to a return visit in the fall of 2006.
The smells (an invigorating mixture of pine, mesquite, and heated desert soil), the skies, the history, and memories of a lot of great food and music will be with me for a long time to come.

Up to Wisconsin's "Northwoods"
The beginning of summer in northern Wisconsin - specifically in and around Minocqua - is the ideal time for a retreat. In June, the bugs haven't entirely taken over yet, and the hardwoods are veiled with the pale, almost iridescent green leaves of the season's start.

My wife and I will head for lodgings on the Wisconsin River over this Memorial Day weekend. The walleye fishing is going to be fun (though not as intense as it will be during the traditional fall ritual). We'll drift down the river in canoes from a dam located on the south end of the Rainbow Flowage for a few miles, stop to eat, indulge in an afternoon siesta, and then take in a fish fry at a local restaurant followed by cribbage games into the wee hours.

If the George Brown, Jr. Ojibway Museum and Cultural Center in Lac du Flambeau is open during our visit, I'll check it out, too. If not, that's OK. A quiet afternoon among the trees by the river will suffice as well, and I always have a guitar and writing pad with me.

More to follow when we return...

Thursday, April 27, 2006

New Mexico

A Dose of Quiet Sun
In the weeks prior to our 4/13/06 departure for New Mexico, a fellow traveler referenced Kerouac's Desolation Angels, relishing the prospect of finding our own "Void" of sun-shot rock, nights filled with endless stars, and perhaps a brief glimpse of ourselves. (Corporate day gigs inevitably sap one's perspective.)

(Photo: Howard Bishop Ellis/2006)

The Rio Grande is fast and cold in April, as was the small creek running through Frijole Canyon in the Bandelier State Monument, not far from Los Alamos.

You find quiet waiting in a few old spots: thick in the empty shadows between the Kit Carson House and the adjacent stores in Taos, or in the cottonwoods at the edge of town, between the scarred grave markers in the cemetery where the sidewalk stops along with the rest of the town. It just becomes a highway headed out into the scrub toward Taos Pueblo.

(Photo: Howard Bishop Ellis/2006)

The silences one encounters here, coupled with the wind off the mountains, make room for other sounds in my head. The smell of the spring air - a mixture of woodsmoke and something sharp and green - add to the overall effect of something decidedly non-midwestern.

I thought about the sweet guitar lines in a film, "F.T.W. - The Last Ride", in which Mickey Rourke played an reticent but earnest rodeo rider-turned-felon, trying to make it back but going down anyway somewhere out west. You knew he was doomed from the get-go, but it all happened in a place that looked like Taos, and the guitar would gently burble in an irresistibly nostalgic fashion over the whole thing.

That music has resonated with me for so long - still does - but I haven't been able to track down a copy of the soundtrack. It's probably a good thing, too, because I'd probably let it influence my own compositional effort too much, rather than generating original ideas, albeit ones bearing an influence.

More to follow: Searching for Mexican tile, Santa Fe's Canyon Road, and 24 hours of Spanish food.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Beginning

I wrote for a long time. For magazines, newspapers, business people. Then, when I got a job making more than hand-to-mouth money, I stopped writing. In the time that has elapsed since then, I've kept on working at that same job (in the world of software development), traveled, written a lot of music, read a lot of books. Now it's time to write again. I think I'll merge all the life-stuff I've mentioned into this new channel - Travelsounds.

I go places and see things, people, phenomenon, and always am left with some kind of sound - a stream of notes or perhaps a colored rhythmic pulse - coursing through my head. Maybe it sinks in and gets written down and recorded. Maybe it just drifts away and is replaced by another "neural sonic artifact".

Anyway, that's what Travelsounds is and will be about.