Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Flat Tire In Paradise with Mountain Heart

It’s March 9, 2010 if I’m not mistaken. It seems I’ve lost all track of the date, time, and especially the fast paced lifestyle I’m used to. The Mountain Heart guys and I have been in St. Croix in the Virgin Islands for a week now!! We had yet another ridiculous day of travel on the way down with the airlines that I will touch on later because I wanna focus on the positives first :).

What they say about operating on "island time" is so true. I found myself waking up at 9 or 10 a.m. most mornings, and then lounging around on the beach until gig time in the evenings. The eighty-degree temperatures, midnight swims, amazing food, loyal music fans, and overall positive vibe on the island was beyond refreshing for us. Early in the trip I commented to one of the guys that, "it takes me about 48 hours to acclimate to everything on a trip like this and then, I’m golden." That was definitely the case this time. After about a day and a half of going through technology withdrawal, I finally felt comfortable having my cell phone off, my Facebooks, Twitter, and MySpace not updated :). I got my body hydrated enough to handle the heat, and most of all, I got used to having to ride in cars on the wrong side of the road with crazy Cruzans running 65mph into 90 degree turns! It’s amazing how much more you seem to get out of human interaction and life in general without all the unnecessary daily distractions. The conversations we had and especially the music that was created, was much more than a light connection between the individuals involved. Each encounter seemed to mean a little more. The amazing support of the crowds and all of our friends on the island just took this experience to another level. At least once a night, something very special happened on stage and I think the crowd knew it. I personally felt like my soul was spilling out in front of me..."it was like a mixture of Fergie and Jesus". :) I said all that to say that there’s something truly special about St. Croix and the amazing people that reside there.

Ok, back from Utopia and into the real world. Oddly enough, it seems all of our not-so-fun experiences on the road lately have been with one airline in particular. I’m not gonna reveal their name but if you fly often, you probably know the origination of the real Delta Blues :). This flight was no exception. After an argument between Jim VanCleve and the "gate-keeper" about checking his fiddle, running out of fuel OVER THE OCEAN, a flat tire on landing and a massive unplanned layover in San Juan, PR we finally made it to St. Croix safe and sound about 8 hours late. On a lighter somewhat-side-note, we were flying with two unbelievably talented musicians that were going to be gigging with us on St. Croix. The international finger-style guitar champion Tim Thompson and his super talented son, Myles had to endure all this fun on the plane with Jim and I :). The laugh of the evening was that we probably could’ve gotten in a rowboat and made the trek quicker than we would by waiting for the next flight. After all of this ever so familiar unusual misfortune with the airline, we landed safely and headed to the resort.

We were taken to The Buccaneer by a dear friend of ours, Brian Silber. He and his gal Denise are not only great promoters, they’re the most thoughtful folks you’ll ever meet, and they’re both very artistic. Brian is a respected violin player that we always bring up to jam with us whenever we’re near each other. Denise is an amazing painter and one of the deepest humans I’ve ever talked to. Not sure if you can tell that I like these folks??? :) This is my little way of expressing how much we appreciate them and their hard work and especially the relationships we’ve all created with them over the last year or so.
Arriving at the Buccaneer is amazing. The outside of this place viewed from the gates reminds me of the Eagles album “Hotel California”. Except, The Buccaneer is absolutely in the middle of paradise. I’ve stayed there twice and I’m BLOWN AWAY by the service and overall reputation this place has. When you’re in the islands and you say “I’m staying over at The Buccaneer”, people always stop and look at you like they’re jealous or something. Brian and Denise put together a VERY generous care package that they left in our rooms. Along with that, sat a bottle of some tasty Cruzan Rum that the hotel presented to us as a token of their appreciation for our stay and for the concerts we all brought to the island. I’m not going to go into detail about all the down time throughout our visit. Just know that the beaches were awesome and the fellowship among the guys in the band was something we’ve needed for a long time.

The second night there, Jim and I were booked as headliners in the exclusive concert room, The Brass Parrot at The Buccaneer. The show was a way for us to give back to the resort for all they’ve done for us. It was also an experiment for the band and Brian that turned into an over-sold audience who had an amazing dinner and rocked out with us for almost 3 hours. I had the lamb, which was stellar, and we featured all the guys in Mountain Heart, Brian Silber, as well as Tim and Myles Thompson at different times throughout the show. This was truly an amazing sold out night that no one involved will soon forget.

The next night, we played our main gig of the week at The Island Center. This venue was the nicest place I’ve ever seen on the island for a concert. We had Tim and Myles jamming with the Mountain Heart gang, 40 GREAT volunteers, and a top-notch sound company that helped us work quickly to adjust to all the rental gear that was flown in for the show. The show that night was insane! There was a massive storm coming through that dumped rain outside but these people didn’t care. They piled in with us and partied all night. There will be videos of this amazing night of music online soon.

The next evening, I was booked to play a few hours with Aaron Ramsey from the band on the other side of the island at The 19th Hole in Carambola. I love this area on St. Croix as well. Once again, thanks to Brian and Denise, Aaron and I had a standing-room-only crowd there to support us. Myles and Tim opened up the night with a ton of music that was soooo far over my head that I would have been afraid to set in if they had asked :). Check them out if you’re not already aware of how amazing they are. After a great dinner, we took the stage and played a very diverse group of tunes that included some originals, a lot of old soul tunes by artist like Michael McDonald and Donny Hathaway, and we even worked in a few bluegrass and rock songs with the rest of the Mountain Heart guys who were hanging at the gig that night. Talk about pressure, its tough having your partners pick you apart from the audience. After the gig, we all went back to celebrate another crazy success at The Buccaneer.

Last night, we played our fourth and final night on the island. Jim and I were booked as a duo in another area at The Buccaneer that accommodates live music. The common trend stood true there as well. About a half hour before the gig, the people started piling in to have some drinks, dinner, and party with us. The management and all of the staff really hooked us up again with a monster C7 Yamaha piano for me to play and once again the best food and service you’ll ever find. Lucky for us, Jason Moore and Aaron were still on island so they decided to join us for the majority of the show. This crowd was off the chain. Believe it or not, a lot of the folks in the audience were seeing us for the fourth time in four days. I was completely crazy. They supported us to the fullest every single night and I think we definitely connected with almost everyone there at some point. The Mountain Heart boys were having a blast, and once again I felt like I was weightless on stage. We went for things that we would never attempt in a controlled environment and although a few mistakes came with that, a lot of magic was left on the stage as a result. We played and sang and the entire audience stayed 4 hours. Management actually had to cut us off at some point because of the hotel’s noise ordinance and because of the rowdy friends and fans that refused to go home. Keep in mind, this was the middle of the of the night on a MONDAY! It was truly special and Brad, the general manager, and the outstanding staff there handled everyone perfectly and admitted to one of the best nights they’d ever had.

Today we were greeted with friends by the pool and some delicious lunch from Brian and Denise before we flew out. I simply can’t say enough about my second trip to St. Croix or the fantastic people there. Thanks again to The Buccaneer and to Brian and Denise and all of the very special people that helped that aren’t mentioned here. Everyone was so appreciated by us. We also especially wanna thank D’addario for providing us with strings down there in that hot and humid climate. Humidity can do a number on stings in a hurry…you guys are the best! I’ve probably developed carpal tunnel after all this typing, :) but the good news is I think we’re almost to Atlanta! Check out Facebook or our websites for pictures of this journey if you like:
Sorry to be long-winded, but this trip had so many dimensions that I just had to touch on. Until the next time….


Josh Shilling

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Perils Of A Traveling Musician

I'm on a flight with the Mountain Heart gang somewhere over Montana right now that’s bound for Nashville. We had a ridiculous call time this morning at like 3:45am to leave Seattle…. definitely not musician-friendly hours. Mountain Heart and lots of other great bands and D’addario lovers including Kenny and Amanda Smith, The Infamous Stringdusters, The Seldom Scene, and so many more, were performing at an awesome festival called Wintergrass in Seattle this weekend. We had three great shows with amazing crowds to play to, and I got to really enjoy my first visit and tour of the city.

We had some SWANK hotel rooms this trip and the overall vibe from the people was perfect. In case you were wondering, the rumors are true....there was literally a Starbucks in every direction within a hundred yards. However, I didn’t make it to the original one on Pike Place.

As nice as all that was, I do have to mention what a terrible time we had traveling out this week. I’ll make it brief so I don’t ruin anyone else’s day. Basically, it started when we were leaving the Nashville airport. After checking our bags and paying the $25 “luggage care” fees, we stood in a half hour line just to find out that we had a 3-hour delay. That was not the best news considering that put us arriving at like 3 or 4 am CST at that point. After finding that out, we had to stand in another half hour line to get on another connecting flight because obviously, we weren’t going to make it on the original flight to Cincinnati. During the ticket changes, Jim from the band, was handed a “seat request” that looks like a ticket and we got new baggage claim and tracking info since we weren’t flying via Cincinnati. He was told that he and I were seated together on the next flight to Atlanta and then to Seattle. The clerk said “that’s as good as a ticket” when we asked about the seat request thing…”I’m just out of ticket stubs for my printer but that will get you your seat.”

So we waited around and after standing in yet another half hour line to board the flight to ATL, Jim was told “sir, this flight is sold out and your seat request isn’t going to get you on this flight. At that point, obviously the airline didn’t have ANYTHING together and Jim was going to be 24 hours late getting to the gig and was going to miss 2 of 3 performances. After fighting and then begging for something to be worked out, the (obviously having a bad day) clerk somehow worked Jim on the flight. Relieved to finally be in the air, we took off with a sense of peace. We got to Atlanta and then hopped the connecting flight to Seattle, which was quite a bit longer that I figured. We landed there as scheduled and headed down to baggage claim.

After the 12-hour ordeal to actually make it TO Seattle, we quickly noticed over half the band had one thing in common. Keep in mind, there are 6 members of Mountain Heart and we flew on 3 different flights from 3 different cities. The obvious bad news was, half of us didn’t have any luggage…at all! We had a missing bass and all of our checked luggage including laptops, everyone’s stage clothes, some stage gear and even pile of D’addario strings were all MIA. Completely pissed off at this point, we had to deal with the lost luggage personnel who obviously also were having a VERY BAD day (see the trend), in order to track our stuff.

They found Jim’s and my luggage and of course as anyone would suspect, it had safely made it to Cincinnati on our original flight but somehow, it never made it to Seattle. However, Jason’s bass was not so lucky as it was completely lost. They offered us no answers as to where it was or even MIGHT BE or when or IF he’d get it back. The offered no apologies, or even seem to care either way. After all, it’s not their stuff right? No, I’m not sarcastic So, we filled out all of the paperwork to start the process of tracking and shipping our gear and then headed off in a shuttle to the hotel.

The next morning, of course none of our stuff had arrived and we were at this point forced to borrow instruments and wear dirty underwear and t-shirts on stage in front of thousands of people, which was pretty embarrassing. Then came the 2nd performance….still in the same dirty everything, still with no answer or explanation from the airline. Nearing the end of this trip and after EVERYTHING work or music related was finished, the courier service dropped all of our stuff off without notifying us in the middle of the night!

Thankful to have everything back finally and especially to have on some clean drawers, we wrote this one off as a lesson learned when it comes to this particular airline. Just an FYI, Jim and myself wrote a song about this experience titled “The Delta Airline Blues” and we performed it in front of 10,000 people Saturday night and yes, it’s already on youtube. I’ll try to attach a link below in case you want to help us raise public awareness of airline injustice. Funny thing is, we all just had to check everything they lost and returned again just a bit ago and pay the same insane baggage fees to have them “shipped and handled with care” or just lost, which is WAY more likely.

Traveling as a musician has its good points and its bad; I think it’s important to see both sides! Since this incident consumed the majority of our trip, we felt it needed to be shared! Every profession has its on-the-job hazards. The next stop for the band is home, albeit for only 24 hours. Then we’re off to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. Jim and I have been before and I quickly learned to absolutely LOVE the vibe there along with the sites. We’ll fill you in next week on how everything goes. Clear blue water and skies, beautiful beaches, amazing food, 75-degree temps, and night swimming in the winter months, pretty much rocks.

As I’m typing this, I’m listening to one guy talk to his partner about this big sales job they’re in the middle of and how tough times are with his company. There’s a baby that WILL NOT stop crying across the isle, an old man that’s gently snoring, and a woman in front of me that’s obviously having some health troubles and has been in the hospital. All that being said, I just had a very calming feeling come over me as I think about why I’m on this plane. And it’s not for some job I hate or some family emergency; we’re traveling to bring our music to people across the world. That was simply a childhood dream and I’m getting to live it now.

So, I’m powering up my iPod to find something soothing to listen to and add to the little “positive bubble” around me. We’re very blessed to be able to survive doing what we do and it’s only possible because of all the great supporters out there. So, thanks to all the listeners and all the folks like D’addario that have helped myself and Mountain Heart throughout our careers. An update from St. Croix is coming soon!

Until the next time
Josh Shilling of Mountain Heart