Friday, June 12, 2015

Tour Dates, TV & Radio Appearances, In-store Performances

I'll keep the list of dates updated here.

Sunday, June 14 – tGG, Nashville, TN, East Room (with Granville Automatic & Wyatt Espalin) 9pm

Tuesday, June 16 – tGG,, Rock Island, IL (private day session,

Tuesday, June 16 – tGG, Second Unitarian Church, Chicago, IL (Lincoln Park area) 7:30pm

Wednesday, June 17 – tGG, Grand Rapids, MI - NBC WOOD-TV Morning show performance and interview, live stream at 11AM local time -

Wednesday, June 17 – tGG, Grand Rapids, MI - WYCE 88.1FM, on-air interview & performance 11:00am

Wednesday, June 17 – tGG opening for Indigo Girls, Grand Rapids, MI, Meijer Gardens Amphitheater 7pm

Thursday, Jun 18 – tGG, Kalamazoo, MI - Green Light Music In-store 3:30pm

Thursday, June 18 – tGG, Kalamazoo, MI, Old Dog Tavern (with Valentiger) 9pm

Friday, June 19 – tGG, opening for Indigo Girls, Ann Arbor, MI, Summer Festival (University of Michigan Power Center) 8pm

Saturday, Jun 20 – tGG, Cleveland, OH - Blue Arrow Records In-store 4pm

Saturday, June 20 – tGG, Cleveland, OH, The Bevy in Birdtown (with Tanya Kos) 7pm

Sunday, June 21 – tGG, Indianapolis, IN, Melody Inn (with Old Grand Dad, Scotch Hollow, Those Lazy Cabineers) show at 9pm, we’ll go on at 12m

Monday, June 22 – tGG, Knoxville, TN, Preservation Pub 10pm

Tuesday, June 23 – tGG opening for Indigo Girls, Asheville, TN, Orange Peel 8pm

Wednesday, June 24 – tGG opening for Indigo Girls, Chattanooga, TN, Track 29 8pm (our closest show to Atlanta with Indigo Girls)

Thursday, June 25 – tGG opening for Indigo Girls + Kristy Lee , Mobile, AL, Saenger Theater 8pm

Sunday, June 28 – tGG, Kennesaw, GA - KSU's OWL Radio, on-air performance and interview

Sunday, June 28 – tGG, Atlanta, GA, Red Light Café (early show, celebrating the end of the tour, with Garner Sloan, Love Me Till My Heart Stops) Doors 6pm, show starts 7pm

If you have friends in any of the towns above, feel free to invite them out to the shows, and tell them to say hi. Info can be found: (all links to the Facebook events) (links to music, etc)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Red-tailed Hawks, Moose and Squirrel

I posted yesterday on my Facebook page about constantly seeing red-tailed hawks this week.

I saw one on back-to-back days walking in between tall buildings where I work, as it called to me and circled high overhead before sailing off into the distance. And then, on subsequent mornings at home, one has been loudly talking to me as I walk to my car in the parking lot by my house.

Knowing that birds portend certain meaning in Native cultures, I looked up the significance. In my FB post, I summarized it as "Messengers of the divine gifts being brought to me."

My friend Carl took it to another level:
Steven Farmer sees them as having a serious message: "You’re caught up in too many details, so step back so you can get a greater perspective on the situation. Stay alert and focused on the task before you, eliminating as many distractions as possible. Spend some time observing and studying the situation, and when it’s time for action, make it quick and decisive. Pay close attention to your surroundings, as you’re about to receive an important message. Be aware of any personal or psychic attacks, and be prepared to defend yourself. Stop trying to change others or the situation, and work instead on accepting things as they are."
Drop the mic. Boom.

I had also posted a few days ago one of my favorite quotes from the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon; "Eenie meenie, chili beanie, the spirits are about to speak! Are they friendly spirits? Just listen!"

Four days to go until the Good Graces tour. Most tasks are complete save for final packing, loading up the van, and hitting the road. Practicing is rapidly becoming counter-productive. Checklists have been double-checked for the 18th time. Not really enough time left to change things. Guess it is time to let go, let things happen, and enjoy the moments.

I find myself standing in this vortex, so much energy spinning around, like standing in a river and holding on to shore, bracing against the flow. I realize how exhausting it has been to keep expectations and profiles low, deflect congratulations, remain humble, and generally act like nothing has changed.

And while I truly believe that I had little to do with my good fortune, beyond just being myself, doing my thing, and showing up for day-to-day life, I am acutely aware I am a recipient of and conduit for what ever is going on and what ever important messages are being relayed.

So, finally time to let go of shore and float down this stream. This dream.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Checklist, Checklist, 1, 2, 3

Six days from heading out on the Good Graces tour and the first show in Nashville.

This past weekend was spent closing out a number of "in-progress" items on my tour checklist. It feels like 90% of the logistics necessary to plan before we leave have been accomplished, and my checklist keeps getting shorter and shorter as I knock items off the list.

Excitement and bit of exhaustion are creeping in now that the cannon has been pointed and we're getting ready to light the fuse.

I'm a firm believer in lists. I would forget half of what I need without them.

Here's a sample of what mine looks like today:
Jim’s Running List of Things To Do 
Keyboard stand, case, and laptop extension- DONE, 88 key case- DONE
Notify work peeps- DONE
Notify other work peeps- DONE
Notify family - DONE
Notify Facebook, Different Skies, etc - DONE
Get sound replacement for June 13 folk show- DONE
Gear insurance - DONE
Stencils for cases - DONE
Pedal board - DONE
Dentist Appt- DONE
Get Sensitive Chaos CDs made- DONE
Make Sensitive Chaos signs for merch - DONE
Stage clothes - DONE
Get case for printer/supplies - DONE
Set up iPad - DONE
Road playlist - DONE
Reading material - DONE
Get Merch box together - DONE
Config Pelican Case - MOSTLY DONE
Set up road laptop - IN PROGRESS
Back up Kronos and copy into Dropbox too - DONE For Files. Still need samples.
Decide what food/drink to bring with
Read the above as investment, both in time and money, into preparing for this tour.

Personal investment, ala time off from work, using vacation time, rehearsal time. 

Equipment investment in cases, keyboard file backups, and insurance to protect my gear, as well as a few items to make sure I sound good and can set things up/tear things down quickly and reliably for the now 16 performances we'll be playing. 

There's clothes investment to be comfortable and project the right image on stage.

I'm attempting to sell a few of my solo Sensitive Chaos CDs, so needed to press up a few and a case to demo and present. 

There's being able to communicate and accomplish business stuff on tour. And promote our progress to family and fans.

And there's lots of down time, so things to read, things to listen to, things to document all the places we're traveling to as well as the people we'll meet, and our own experiences performing, and what to snack on during the drives.

I was discussing all of this with a friend last Friday and her comment was "nobody knows this is what you have to do for this kind of touring." And each individual in the band has there own list. And Kim and Tracy's list is larger because they've been taking on the larger share of booking shows, booking hotels, booking vans, dealing with road managers and promotion people, etc.

We have no managers, no roadies, no equipment techs. So it's truly a very DIY experience, for better or for worse. Mostly for the better, but definitely for more work. And we own the outcome, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Which means it will be authentic if nothing else.

I'm glad I got started when I did. I think I'll just be able to check everything off my list before hitting the road.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Getting Used To Concert Halls

Here is a photo from last night's the Good Graces rehearsal. We thought we should spend at least one rehearsal from the stage of a large venue and through Tracy's connections, we were able to spend a few minutes at Emory University's Schwartz Center for Performing Arts amazing hall. After spending many rehearsals in relatively small rehearsal spaces, we wanted to feel what a large stage and audience space felt like, how our on-stage setup actually worked, and what playing the songs actually sounded like in this formation.

This shot is of my new keyboard setup. The new part is the keyboard stand itself, the pedal board and cable snake that connect up the iPad, Korg Kronos X, and the StudioLogic SL880 Pro. The keyboard stand is a König & Meyer Spider Pro, which I selected because of the room at the bottom of the stand for pedals and comfort for standing while playing. I've adjusted the arms on the stand so that iPad holder does not interfere with the Korg's touchscreen, and the Korg and StudioLogic keyboards are at a perfect height for playing while standing.

The custom pedal board holds my volume, sustain, and "leslie" control switch along the front of the board, and 2 stereo Radial ProD2 direct boxes, and AC power strip. And all of the cables that connect to the devices on the stand are cabled up into a snake that I can quickly connect. I timed both my setup and tear down, and I can get set up in 9 minutes from cases to what you see above, and can tear down in 9 minutes from what you see back down into cases. And all of my cases are on wheels.

I should mention that I've got duplicates of pedals, cables, adapter for my iPad, and extra direct boxes in case something goes down over the course of the tour.

Back to the Schwartz Center, the acoustics are amazing. We played at normal rehearsal volumes through our normal amps and we could have done a show without a PA. All with glorious 4 second reverb decay. I could get used to this.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Band As Community, Community As Band

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Good Graces are more of an evolving collective of great musicians, rather than a solid lineup of a few people. What I love about Atlanta is the community feel of the music scene and the mutual admiration and support a large group of musicians and bands give each other. Almost to the point of incestuousness.

A couple of recent events have highlighted this fact:

1) Thunderbox, one of the main rental rehearsal spaces in Atlanta, closed, a victim of in-town redevelopment activity. Bands in other rehearsal spaces reacted and reached out to help with everything from helping folks move their gear out, to temporary storage for displaced bands' equipment, to offers of rehearsal spaces.

2) Organizers of The Happenstance just announced there would be no 12th event. The collective musical shudder and sigh in the Atlanta area was palpable. The Happenstance was an 11-year holiday/charity/musical institution that for one day each year, created 6 new bands out of musicians who had never played together before, had them go off and create 3-4 new songs and learn a cover tune, then come back in the evening and perform to a standing room-only audience whose entry fees went to fund local charities. The connections and friendships formed through this event bound many of us from across musical genres together in ways that is hard to describe.

I participated in three Happenstances; 2006, 2011, and 2013. Kim Ware was a drummer in the 2006 event and, though we weren't paired in the same band, it was my introduction to her. She would shortly release her first Good Graces album and I would shortly join her collective.

On this tour, in addition to Kim, I will also share the stage with two other incredible musicians; John McNicholas (guitar, bass, vocals) and Tracy Clark (bass, guitar, glockenspiel, melodica, percussion, vocals).

I first met John just after he arrived in Atlanta from Tampa, Florida. I was a co-host of the Atlanta Songwriters Series, then a weekly singer/songwriter event held at the Aurora Coffee location in Virginia-Highlands (moved later to Kavarna), and John performed one of his first Atlanta shows at our event. I instantly fell in love with his songs and guitar work. John joined several bands, including Mary O. Harrison's band the Tiny Tears that Kim Ware was the drummer.

John was one of the first to join the Good Graces when Kim was putting together a live group. He has been a constant presence in the Good Graces ever since, both live and on recordings. John has also contributed to one of my Sensitive Chaos tunes, Seeker After Pattern's "Simon Stilites Dreams of Rain." And I joined John's band, The Sunset District, for both live shows and recordings. John is also a Happenstance alum.

When I first started Sensitive Chaos, my idea was to make it a duo, in the mold of Yaz. Synth-pop electronics with vocals. The vocals part of the equation never got off the ground and until recently, Sensitive Chaos has been totally instrumental. But one of the people I spoke to about the idea (though she may not remember it) was Tracy Clark, bassist/multi-instrumentalist and singer for Silent Kids, the Blue Hour, Mary O's Tiny Tears/Virginia Plane, Chickens and Pigs, and The Preakness, among others. Tracy is also a Happenstance alum. And she has been one of the Good Graces collective for awhile.

So a band from the same community of friends. A group of friends from the same bands. So far so fun!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Blessings and Carpe Diem

Many folks have asked how the Good Graces got invited to open for the Indigo Girls. In a nutshell, it truly is a story of the right musician writing and recording the right song at the right moment and getting it heard by the right person.

Kim recorded part of Close to the Sun at Rob Dyson's studio in Atlanta. Rob also works with the Indigo Girls and one day he played a song of Kim's for Emily. She liked it, and seemingly, that was the end of the story. A year later, Kim receives an email out of the blue inviting the Good Graces to open for the Indigo Girls on five dates in June 2015.

Play the lotto for better chances, this is truly a once-in-a-career moment. You can't explain it. It's a Zen Koan.

As Kim stated in one of her "every thought" emails to the band:
"I am not even looking at this as some sort of "stepping stone" to some bigger experience or "great exposure" or whatever. This is the sort of thing that bands work for years to try and get. This IS the experience. I can't call this a "dream come true," because my dreams are something like "play at Eddie's Attic." I would never dream of something this ridiculous."
And why do I get to participate in this incredibly humbling and mind blowing event? As best as I can tell, I am the most ready, willing, and able keyboardist in the Good Graces stable for this assignment. Others, that would have likely been on the bus first, had circumstances that kept them from committing. Blessings and carpe diem. And much more Zen.

Or in the words of Yoda, Do or do not, there is no try.

It's Been A Long Time Since I've Played This Much Piano

Keyboard geekiness ahead...

I began as a musician playing my Mom's spinet piano and took piano lessons from 4th through 7th grade from Ms. Lipton. I wasn't a great student, but I played in all the recitals and was given the "Beethoven Award" at 7th grade graduation. I'm pretty sure every student got some award from Ms. Lipton.

I stopped playing until high school when Rick Wakeman and Yes would light a fire under my musical interest. I built a synthesizer from a kit and bought a Farfisa Mini-Compact organ. I eventually added a Fender Rhodes electric piano to my collection many years later, but for all intents and purposes, I mostly played on synth-action keyboards. Keyboards with little resistance when you press down on the keys. For hundreds of performances and studio sessions.

Fast forward to 2013 when I upgraded my main performance keyboard to a pretty top-of-the-line Korg Kronos X workstation, a keyboard that replicates all the sounds I need for all my bands, including pianos, electric pianos, organs, synthesizers, sound effects makers, strings, choirs, horns, well, you name it, it does it. I bought the 61-key version of the keyboard, specifically because it weighs much less than the next step up with the piano-action keyboard. But I loved the feel the piano-action provided and the way it sounded with the real piano and electric piano sounds, as well as the orchestral sounds.

So I asked around and my friend John Rossi III offered me one of his older, now unused StudioLogic SL880 Pro 88-key piano action controllers that makes no sound by itself, but is used to control other keyboards via MIDI.

When it arrived, I hooked it up and yes, it is big and heavy, and it makes the Kronos sound great. And then it sat in my studio for two years.

Until Kim invited me to do this monumental tour. To be able to play with the finesse on the songs with piano and have the extra octaves of sound for lots of other sounds I'm using on tour, I quickly started to figure out how to get a piano-action controller into my rig.

The StudioLogic was not my first choice to take on the road. This particular keyboard is well known for being finicky. Mine had a "feels solid, yet feels fragile" quality to it, that until I opened it up and made it tour-worthy by tightening up screws and bolts and taping connectors together, seemed a little risky. After researching options, that all turned out to be too expensive, I settled on taking out what I already owned, and so far, the StudioLogic is working out great. I love the feel and when I'm rehearsing with it at home with headphones on, it sounds like and feels like I'm sitting in front of a real piano. I've actually starting preferring playing the piano-action on the StudioLogic to the synth-action on the Korg.

Two of the centerpiece songs from the Good Graces Close to the Sun album ("Under the Weather" and "Cold in California") feature some gospel-y, country-fied piano, and I'm having to stretch my skills to incorporate as much of that 'spririt' as I can (because I am not a gospel-y/country-fied piano player by any means). So I am playing much more piano, practicing these songs on this piano-action keyboard. It's been several decades since I've played this much piano. I'm loving rediscovering it.

The last time I spent playing this much piano and practicing this much was when I moved to Brooklyn, NY with no job and had a lot of time on my hands. I practiced scales on my Rhodes and composed and recorded songs everyday for months. It was probably a peak in my musical dexterity. I hope to be close by the time we finish this tour.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

And So It Begins...

How does anything like this begin?

For me, it began with a text on Tuesday, April 28 from my friend and leader of the Good Graces, Kim Ware: "Jim, please check your email."

And in my gmail inbox was an email, subject line "the Good Graces tour in June"

Hi Jim, 
First, this is super confidential. 
And, I'm sorry to interrupt your workday with it! But I need to get all the details figured out asap. 
the Good Graces got asked to open a leg of the Indigo Girls' tour this June.  
It is going to require practice 2-3 x a week and being gone from around the 14th or so til the 26th. 
Here are the dates from their management: 
June 17 - Grand Rapids, Mejer Gardens
June 18 - off
June 19 - Summer Festival, Ann Arbor
June 20 - symphony show - no opener
June 21 - benefit - no opener
June 22 - off
June 23 - Asheville, Chattanooga or Mobile
June 24 - Asheville, Chattanooga or Mobile
June 25- Asheville, Chattanooga or Mobile 
This is not a joke. :) 
Let me know what you think. I know it's a lot to ask...
The mind boggles. What do I think? What do I think? I think holy another word for moly, that's what I think.

My brain was racing with questions: How did this happen? How can I take two weeks off? How will my wife react? What gear would I need?  Can I play these songs well enough? How large are the venues? Is this really happening? Over and over, ad infinitum.

Then the adrenaline really kicked in.

OK, there's really no other choice. Of course I want to do this. But first, I need to talk to the wife.

In the meantime, Kim shares some logistics she has already set in motion. Rehearsal schedules and locations, initial thoughts on additional tour dates leading up to and surrounding the Indigo Girls dates, and lodging ideas.

We're in uncharted territory. Just the past weekend, the Good Graces performed at Steve's Live Music in Atlanta, a small, nice listening room that might hold 100 people on a good night. With the Indigo Girls, there might be ten times that many at some of the shows. We've done a weekend tour here and there, but not one of this length or logistical complexity in a long, long time.

I should give you some band context. The Good Graces is less of a "band" band and more of a musical collective band that revolves around Kim Ware, her songs, and different groups of musicians that support her and the songs at different points in time. There are some musicians, engineers, producers that are part of the recording process and others that join the group to play those songs live. Kim plays many shows solo, and will often add one additional player to cover extra guitar, bass, background vocals, or percussion, or will move into trio or quartet mode with more players to cover keyboards, more percussion, extra guitars/basses/vocals.

I am lucky to have been playing with Kim for almost eight years, starting just as her first CD, Sunset Over Saxapahaw, was released, and including both live performances of most of her recorded output, as well as a few of the recordings along the way, including the EP Bring On the Tambourines!

The Good Graces most recent album, 2014's Close to the Sun is fantastic and blew up big in the bloginterwebosphere. I have watched The Good Graces musical and production sophistication grow over time and the keyboard parts and atmospheres on the new record were contributed by some really great players. Several band configurations have formed to support the album over the past 10 months, and I joined on for shows last November and just a few weeks ago in late April. I'll need to raise my game for these new shows. I'm a meat and potatoes player at best, and the parts on the record are a couple of steps above that.

I want Kim and her songs to shine. As the adrenaline subsides, the fear that creeps in is the one of letting down my friends in front of hundreds of people. The excitement quickly overcomes the fear and it turns into motivation to practice, practice, practice.

I head home to share the news with the family. I'm floating a hundred feet in the air.

The Good Graces Open For The Indigo Girls

I'm reviving my blog. It's been dormant since after my last solo record, Sensitive Chaos Amerisynthecana, was released back in 2013. There is much musical activity going on right now, and I need a place to document it. I'll thank myself for it later.

Yes, there is a new Sensitive Chaos album in the works, with four songs mixed and ready, another handful of songs ready to be mixed, and two songs that need a few overdubs. More on that in a later post.

And yes, I've been having great fun performing out with several bands including the Good Graces, The Sunset District, and Blackfox. It is the Good Graces that is kicking me into action at the moment and will be the primary subject of this blog for the next month.

You see, the Good Graces have been invited to open for the Indigo Girls for five dates in June, and I have been invited to occupy the keyboard seat for the Good Graces for this two-week tour that will also include a mess of shows in and around the Indigo Girls dates, up and down the central part of the U.S.

So, we (Kim Ware, John McNicholas, Tracy Clark, and I) are two weeks away from hitting the road, and I'll be attempting to document all the activity that is going into preparing for our tour. Not only the logistical, but also the emotional and the technical aspects I have personally been going through. There have been lots of all of this so far, and I'm sure they'll be lots more before we're done.

Here's the announced tour schedule so far:

Sunday, June 14 – tGG, Nashville, TN, East Room (with Granville Automatic & Wyatt Espalin) 9pm

Tuesday, June 16 – tGG,, Rock Island, IL (day session), & Second Unitarian Church, Chicago, IL 7:00pm

Wednesday, June 17 – tGG opening for Indigo Girls, Grand Rapids, MI, Mejer Gardens 7pm

Thursday, June 18 – tGG, Kalamazoo, MI, Old Dog Tavern (with Valentiger) 9pm

Friday, June 19 – tGG, opening for Indigo Girls, Ann Arbor, MI, Summer Festival (Power Center) 8pm

Saturday, June 20 – tGG, Cleveland, OH, The Bevy in Birdtown (Lakewood area) 7pm

Sunday, June 21 – tGG, Indianapolis, IN, Melody Inn 9pm

Monday, June 22 – tGG, Knoxville, TN, Preservation Pub 10pm

Tuesday, June 23 – tGG opening for Indigo Girls, Asheville, NC, Orange Peel 8pm

Wednesday, June 24 – tGG opening for Indigo Girls, Chattanooga, TN, Track 29 8pm

Thursday, June 25 – tGG opening for Indigo Girls + Kristy Lee, Mobile, AL, Saenger Theater 8pm