After Auburn (which was so quick I don’t really have any photos of it), we had a day off and decided to find some Thai food and an AT&T store in Montgomery. Seems that my phone has decided not to take or make calls without a crazy buzzing in the background. The AT&T people told me to take it to Apple, which was in Birmingham, which means I have an appointment with them in Austin now. Anyway.

Montgomery, AL

We found Thai food in a building that was down by the waterfront (I think the Alabama River? I forget) in an old train depot that is now a visitor’s center. The food was tasty, and then we started walking downtown Montgomery. I knew it was a hub of Civil Rights Movement activity but the city very kindly puts historical markers everywhere so you know where you are. We found Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church where Martin Luther King, Jr. was pastor for a while and where the Montgomery Bus Boycott plan was hatched after Rosa Parks was arrested.

Dexter Avenue Baptist Church

We saw the State Capitol where George Wallace’s infamous speech, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” was given. (Sorry, George…you lose).

Montgomery was also where Hank Williams had roots and where his funeral happened. There is a statue of him across from City Hall.

Hank Williams Statue

There’s also a big Civil Rights Memorial…we didn’t go in but the outside fountain was designed by Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Civil Rights Memorial

It’s a pretty neat day when you just stumble on things like that, and Montgomery is a pretty city. Then we drove to Orange Beach, AL…

So one of the many fun things about traveling with dogs is that they have to be walked and that happens after all gigs. Last Monday was played in Savannah, and while sometimes I defer to the motel room and flip through cable after a long day, sometimes I venture out with Susan and the dogs and see the sights. We were especially fortunate because the gig was in downtown Savannah, and we found good parking, and it was perfect weather.

Parker's Market

First things first, I needed a restroom stop and we looked for a convenience store. Turns out we found the fanciest convenience store ever called Parker’s…it had the usual rows of beverages and donuts and magazines…but it had what can best be described as shelves of yuppie food. And the coolest bathroom hand dryer I have ever seen. It’s the little things I am impressed by.

Then we set to walking around old Savannah, full of impressive old houses and Civil War (and before) history. The downtown is arranged around tons of squares, which are usually parks, and you can Google the park name and see whose house was on the square and things like that. Nerdy fun!

Cathedral of St. John

We found the Cathedral of St. John by Googling “double spire gothic cathedral Savannah” because we saw it in the distance but didn’t know what it was. I love Google.

Definitely a town I want to go back to and see more of up close. Then it was on to Auburn, AL.

We stayed with some folks in Winnsboro…after we woke up after our all night drive, we crashed their lovely home and yard filled with azaleas and other floral wonders in full bloom. Winnsboro is an old town…old enough to, according to the locals, have been pretty much burned down during General Sherman’s March to the Sea. Legend has it that Sherman was a history buff, though, so he left certain landmarks standing like the Winnsboro Clock Tower. My pamphlet from the Chamber of Commerce tells me it is the “oldest continuously running clock tower in the U.S.” There you go.

Winnsboro Clock Tower

Our good friend Michael Hearne had played there a few days prior and his family lives in Winnsboro, so he stayed around to play with Susan. It was lovely.

Winnsboro, SC

We had a short drive to Savannah so we lollygagged (I love that word) around Winnsboro for a bit and met Esther the church organist who had to be in her 70’s and was playing every day that week for Holy Week (I think she called it “Holy Moly Week”) and multiple services on Easter and Good Friday. Then we decided to eat lunch at a picnic table, where Susan met her new friend Bee-uford. He would not leave her alone, and even followed us to the car. I was scared he would hop in and be transported to Savannah, which doesn’t seem like a good idea for a bee. But he decided to let her go…he is probably still buzzing around Winnsboro looking for his friend that smells like grapes.

A Bee and a Grape

Then it was onward to Savannah…

Somewhere in Virginia

Near the Monitor-Merrimac Bridge

I have been having a blast hanging out in “The South.” I’m not sure if I am supposed to call it that, as we had a whole discussion about what constitutes “The Mid-Atlantic States” versus “The South” and when do we hit “The Deep South”? I haven’t googled it so I’m just going to speculate and approximate terms.

Virginia Ceramic Pig!

Anyway, we left a rainy Ashland, Virginia on Saturday morning and drove to Elizabeth City, NC. I saw so many American history spots along the way I wanted to stop at, but alas, we had a gig to get to that night. But seriously…Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown? Glory! And a ton of battlefields.

Anyway, as we got to Elizabeth City the clouds were pretty threatening but the rain held off until well into our show which kept everyone indoors…at the gig. Brilliant. When we left it wasn’t raining anymore and we thought nothing of starting the drive down the road to cut some hours off of Sunday’s drive by heading down the road. Little did we know we should have taken the chance for a hotel when it was there.

Elizabeth City, NC

Elizabeth City

Turns out that about 60 or 240 (something like that) tornadoes had ripped through North Carolina, south of where we were that day. We were going to Winnsboro, SC…south. In Wilson, NC we decided to call a motel and see what their rates were. They said ominously, “We are completely full.” Interesting. So I called another one…same deal. Then we began to put together the storms and the completely full motels and listened to the radio and realized we probably weren’t going to find anything open.

As we drove it got eerie as we noticed that whole exits, usually lit up beyond belief with trucks stops and such, were dark because of power outages. We could see some idling truck lights which is how we knew anything was even there, but nothing is creepier than an unlit truck stop because they are always open. The roads were clear but we saw quite a few fallen trees right along the edge. I am sure if it were daytime we would have been able to see a lot more destruction. The other creepy part was the rest areas, which usually have a few trucks parked in them overnight, were completely packed with cars. I’m assuming all those folks were displaced by storms, which was a somber thought.

We must have driven over 100 miles with packed rest areas and no motel rooms, to the point where we did the 6 hour drive to the next town and got there at 6 AM. The kind folks we were staying with were not expecting us until the afternoon, and we thought it would be rude to call at 6 AM, so we caught some sleep in the car before we did. It was a strange series of events but we felt really fortunate to have dodged all the tornadoes the day before…we had no clue how bad it was.

More in the next post about our time in South Carolina…they are the epitome of Southern hospitality!

Being from New Mexico, anything east of Missouri is “EAST” to me, and I love visiting this part of the country. We had a minute to walk around downtown Knoxville on Thursday and I was impressed at how old the buildings were. Then I read that, of course, Knoxville was very central in The Civil War. Since it’s the sesquicentennial (a word that I still cannot say without slowing it down to half speed and trying 4 times), this part of the nation is aglow with Civil War stuff these days. I’m making notes of cities I want to visit for kicks and explore more, and Knoxville fits the bill.

Knoxville, TN


We have actually been to Asheville, NC and Ashland, VA since Knoxville…and today we head to Elizabeth City, NC.  Something about a rain storm.

Tonight is Little Rock, AR – tomorrow to Knoxville, TN to Asheville, NC to Ashland, VA to Elizabeth City, NC to Winnsboro, SC to Savannah, GA to Auburn, AL to Orange Beach, AL to Lake Charles, LA to Houston, TX. Twelve days of folk and roll. It’s always good to start the whole thing off with a little seat dancing in the car.

Just (Car) Dance

Oh my. I knew it would be fun, but it was SOFUNICAN’TSTANDIT. (Technical term). I knew Lady Gaga would be great, but seeing it for yourself for the first time is an amazing thing. The whole day was pretty awesome, as Gaga Buddy Susan and I deemed it to be a “Real Vacation” in which we did things like “not work.” Whoa. We spent the drive from Austin to Houston listening to every piece of Gaga on my iPod, consisting of The Fame Monster album, the Born This Way single, and some live stuff that is floating around. We were studied.

Thai Food in Houston!

The first stop in Houston was for Thai food, but we had to no time to eat at the restaurant because we had to get ready for the rock show. We decided to stay in a hotel close to the Toyota Center, and you can get a surprisingly fancy hotel for a not-fancy price if you internet around a little bit. Yes, I just made “internet” a verb. The outfit assembly was awesome…Susan is a costuming genius (who knew?) and can do wonders with some AstroTurf and some floral wire.

Prep Time!
Prepare to Morph.

Look At That Hair
It’s hard to do your hair when it is 2 feet over your head.

Susan's Gaga Outfit
Gaga Suz

I went with close-to-joining-the-KISS-army style makeup and a Mad Hatter meets Clockwork Orange theme. I did not do it on purpose, it was a “Let’s wander around Party City and pick up fun stuff” type of planning on my part. It all seemed to work, though.

Half Done Face
“Didn’t you used to play guitar for KISS?”

Clockwork Jpo

We headed to the Monster Ball at the Toyota Center and immediately the parking attendant wanted to take our picture, which was simply the start of what was to come. We weren’t the only people dressed up by any means, but a lot of the non-dressed up people apparently made it a mission to take photos of all the dressed up people. So we posed for a lot of photos. Everyone was super cool, but I get it now that celebrities get annoyed because maybe they’re just standing in line trying to order a bottle of water and 6 people ask to take their picture and they just want water. It was fun for a night…if being photographed by strangers was a consistent part of my day I’d go crazy. I digress.

Semi Precious Weapons opened and they were good…they can definitely own a stage. Then we waited for a set change. AND THEN THERE WAS THE MONSTER BALL. Two hours of of this electro-pop-dance show coupled with a Broadway production and plot and coupled again with straight up Lady Gaga chat time. It was pretty amazing.

. Gaga

She played all the hits (which are many)…and she plays piano like a rock star. Like if Elton John was a 25 year-old girl. And then she stands on the keyboard and plays it with her boot heel. Then the piano is on fire. What? Yes. Then she spends 5 minutes talking about her new album and how much she loves mixing records, like we were all watching her at a coffeehouse or something. Then she blows your mind by doing an incredible dance number in ridiculously high heels.


The guy behind us is smirking.

I was right in my previous blog about the message…everyone was there to have a good time and be themselves. We took that as the invitation to NOT be our usual selves, which worked out just fine. As we recapped the night we loved how everyone from a 60-year old woman celebrating her birthday to a pack (a horde!) of teenage girls wanted their photo taken with us. I’ve been to a lot of country music arena shows, and there is a LOT more beer sold and spilled at one of those than I saw last night. Probably because half the audience wasn’t old enough to buy it and the other half couldn’t afford it ($8.75 for a beer, yo).

We got a lecture about bullying, a promise that she never lip syncs any of her shows, and an inspirational speech about working hard and making things happen. I was amazed at how Gaga, who JUST turned 25, commanded the attention of 18,000 people for 2 hours. She does this crazy show every night and climbs in the bus and does it again, and she had to tell US to get on our feet and start dancing. You would think she would be the tired one, but I didn’t see one lag in energy from the first note to the last dance step.

So there we go. I’m still thrilled. It was a fantastically entertaining show, an inspirational one, and an educational one. Gaga gets to do it on a large scale, but I learned if you can use every interaction with someone (or someones…or an arena full of people) by giving them a little light and hope and positivity for the day, you’re doing a good thing.

Paws up.

Gaga Vision

Of course I bought some merch.

What went through my mind just now…

“Oh crap I haven’t blogged in a while.”
“I’m seeing LADY GAGA tomorrow night, I need to blog about that.”
“Oh look, new comments on my last post. One with a question that I should answer.”

And this is why this post is about Lady Gaga and building community. Mariana asked a great question…how DOES an artist build a community? A large one at that. We all have family and friends, but that community is not usually big enough, rich enough, and really truly supportive enough to sustain a musician. (Your uncle might like your music because he likes you, but he might not be a diehard fan. Sorry uncles).

Costume Accoutrement

This is part of my costume to see Lady Gaga tonight in Houston. Yes, I am dressing up. I am kind of a cranky curmudgeon when it comes to Halloween, but I have had a lot of fun gathering costume ideas and accessories for this show. I got to pondering why that was the case.

Lady Gaga, when you study her, is not the typical pop star. Beyond the things I like about her such as her killer piano skills, her writing credits, her crazy outfits…she most importantly comes with a message that she makes sure her fans know. It pretty much amounts to, “Be who you are.” Not “look at me look at me I’m a skinny pop star let’s all go on diets” or “I’m so angsty let’s all mope.” From the gist I get from her interviews and what people say about her shows, the vibe is “we’re all here to have a good time, whoever we are.”

So yeah. You’ll get a lot of what society would label “freaks” at a show like this (that definition is another conversation for someone else’s blog). I’ll bet money I’ll also see a ton of flip flops and jeans. Completely nondescript white bread (I am one so I can say it) types.

Gaga has created a community among her fan base by not having a definition for them at all. Anyone is free and encouraged to go to a Gaga show. Her message is acceptance, because we’re all there for the music and the spectacle, not to show off our midriffs. This very thing makes me think it’s cool to dress up in something I would not be caught dead in outside the confines of the Toyota Center in Houston. With my midriff completely covered, thank you very much.

It’s almost an anti-definition of pinpointing your fan base…to take anyone and everyone and have that define your crowd. It’s the only way I can think to explain how a folkie like me is going to spend 3 hours among 10,000 other screaming folks tonight singing along to “Pokerface.”

There’s a more concrete answer to this community thing that I will address further, one a little more centered on the singer-songwriter. I’ll get to that, but first I need to attach my orange feather boa to my red cape.