Wednesday, September 30, 2009

US Mini-Tour: 4 Gigs in 5 days

NY Taxis from the High Line
Flying back to NYC from Moscow was not so bad, I guess because I usually fly back to LA from Europe, so I am used to longer flights.  After landing at JFK, whisking through passport control and customs, and jumping into a waiting cab, I found myself on the doorstep of my dear friends Sono and Chuck's loft in the East Village. Vlad and Huun Huur Tu were staying at a friend's place in Harlem, and so I had a much needed day of adjusting from the jet lag and taking care of some US business.  Chuck is in Europe filming his music documentary of The Duke and The King, so things were quiet at the loft, and Sono and I had a great meal at a vegtarian restaurant - perhaps the most healthy meal I've had in a month. I caught up with my friend Aria for coffee, did a meet and greet with a writer, and then went to see the HiLine (very cool) and a somewhat surreal late night Mexican dinner with Sono in the village.

Carmen & Sayan record a radio interview in Carmen's cramped hotel room

Carmen arrived the next day, and Sayan, Vlad and I met him at his cramped hotel room (booked at the last minute) to record an interview for the "Echoes" NPR show. Then cab rides and shuffling around of people and equipment, ad we were all at the sound check for our gig at Poisson Rouge.  We loved this club - the sound and front of house were real pros, they fed us great food, and most important, the show and the audience were great.  No quartet this time, but violinist/violist Olympia Moy sat in with us and did a great job.

Onstage at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC

Violinist Olympia Moy and Jo (who helped with sound) at Poisson Rouge

Vladimir and his friend Sasha (the 4th Sasha we have met on this tour, and the prettiest)

Kaigolo, Carmen, Danielle (an NYC fan) and Sayan

Up at 6 am the next day to catch an early flight out of LaGuardia, a plane switch in Chicago, and then we found ourselves in Indianapolis, met by a van from Earlham College who took us to a Holiday Inn on the border of Indiana and Ohio.  We were all wiped out, and decided to have dinner at the Ground Round in the hotel.  The staff and hotel guests did not know what to make of us, and our waitress had never heard of Siberia, let alone Tuva.  We got a surprise package from Chad of some alligator skin (his family are alligator hunters) for the guys to use in instrument making, and Sayan and Kaigolo had some fun with freaking out the help by using them as bibs for dinner.

Mark at the airport in Chicago

Sayan tries on his new alligator bib

Kaigolo has one too

Another early morning, and we headed to Earlham College to rehearse with the college string quartet, who would play with us for the 2 Indiana gigs.  They were very excited, nervous, and after a shaky start, really rose to the occasion. After rehearsal and a quick lunch, we loaded up the vans and took a 3 hour drive to Bloomington where we would perform at the Lotus Festival.  We were late for sound check, so did the best we could, and a few hours later were on the main stage as the headliners for the night.  It was a good concert, and the kids from Earlham were beside themselves with excitement in being part of it.  I really enjoyed working with them and coaching them in their first real pro situation.

Mark at sound check at Lotus Festival

The band in concert at the Lotus Festival

The Earlham string quartet performing at Lotus

Loren's parents drove up from Kansas City to see us at Lotus

Radik & Alexi at one of our many airport layovers

Kaigolo and Alexi at the Earlham soundcheck

The next day, 3 hour ride back to Richmond, a quick sound check, quick dinner, and then we performed at Earlham College to a wildly enthusiastic audience of students and faculty. It was my favorite night of the "mini tour", and despite being exhausted from all the traveling, the band sounded great.  Sayan had been in a dark and pensive mood all day, but seemed to lighten up considerably after the show.  At 10 pm, we drove 2 hours to the airport in Indianapolis, and checked into the Radisson with a 4:30 am wakeup call in order to make our flight to Minneapolis.  For reasons not entirely clear to us (procrastination, cost) we had to take 3 flights to get to Minneapolis, making a 6 hour journey to what should have been a 2 hour flight if we went direct. The mood among the group was dark - everyone was exhausted, and Carmen was unhappy about the sound and content of the 2 shows in Indiana, and wanted to try a new set list and make other adjustments.  Sayan was back to his dark mood, and separated from the group at the airport layovers, trying to get some sleep.  Alexi and I played my travel guitar, Vladimir worked on his laptop and the rest just quietly kept to themselves most of the day.

The band and the student string players at Earlham

Alexi plays my travel guitar at yet another airport

We arrived in Minneapolis and were greeted by the very friendly and extremely helpful Dan Beers, who drove us to the hotel where we ran into the singer from Watcha Clan, for whom we would be opening at the Cedars Center.  We had a rehearsal with a new string quartet set for 3 pm, and that gave us only an hour to rest before heading over. Sayan announced that he and Huun Huur Tu did not want to go to the quartet rehearsal, much to my consternation, as it would be impossible to rehearse the acoustic songs without them.  After much discussion in Russian, Vladimir convinced the band to go, and I promised to make it as quick as possible so they could rest before the gig. The quartet, led by Jacqueline Utal, was amazing, and the acoustic rehearsal went really well and really quickly.  Dan picked us up and we got the gear over to the the venue, and then back to the hotel for a one hour rest, during which Carmen re-tooled the set list.

The sound check at Cedars was a tough one. The sound engineer, who had worked with HHT before, was favoring the acoustic sounds of HHT and the quartet over the electronica, not really understanding the concept we were going for. Carmen jumped in to get the sound in the house the way we usually worked, but met with great resistance from both the sound guy and Sayan and eventually got frustrated and gave up.  There was only a few minutes until the performance, so we had to leave the stage and let them open the house. 15 minutes later we took the stage, and it was a credit to everyone's professionalism that we performed a great show despite the fact that the sound on stage was terrible - Carmen's electronics were barely audible. We received a standing ovation and an encore, but after the show, the mood in the green room was very dark. Vladimir and Huun Huur Tu left soon after to go to a party at a friends house. Carmen broke down his gear and disappeared.  I chatted with the quartet for a while, then went back into the club to watch Watcha Clan, who gave a great performance.  I just danced away the sadness, noticing that Watcha Clan had brought their own sound person (smart). Eventually Carmen came back and also got into the Watcha Clan show, and when the club was finally empty the two of us, once again helped by Dan Beers, loaded up the van and headed back to the hotel.

Watcha Clan performs at Cedars in Minneapolis

The next morning, I did my final packing, checked out of the hotel, and texted Vladimir to tell him Carmen and I were leaving for the airport. It turned out they were all sleeping in before their van ride to Michigan for an acoustic gig. Sayan and Kaigolo came down, as they had not got the word about the late check out. They went outside, smoked a cigarette, and then said a quick goodbye and went back up to their rooms. Vlad came down for a couple of minutes, another quick goodbye, and I jumped on the van and headed to the airport with Watcha Clan and Carmen. Six hours and two flights later, I was waiting for a shuttle at LAX ,thinking about the next step in this amazing journey.


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