Chapter 2 of The Punishment Rock

Southeast side of Iceland, July 1783–

The small, rural town of Klaustur sat in the direct path of an appendage of lava growing from the Laki fissure volcano. An apocalypse was upon the simple people of this land. The magma river had already swallowed many farms upland. The town’s people gathered at the small church led by Reverend Jon Stengrissom as the hellfire approached. With their demise eminently at hand, the Reverend delivered an impassioned prayer referred to as The Sermon of Fire. The advancing lava flow miraculously halted and the church and its people were spared.

However, this was a small victory among a much larger story. The crack in the Earth kept erupting for months afterwards, even as the calendar flipped into the next year. More importantly, it continued to eject massive amounts of poisonous gas high into the atmosphere.

Laki’s sulfur concoction spread throughout the northern hemisphere’s skies, and altered the climate worldwide. Millions of people perished either directly, or secondarily from its malicious reach.

The monstrous echo from this event continued to play out for years, and was heard and felt in many strange ways. Historical records would commemorate it as the year the sun became blood in the summer, and the rivers turned to ice in the winter. But that was not the only thing remembered and recorded. There was also a peculiar whisper that seeped through the under-cracks of cultures, spreading from one mouth to the other.

It was just whispers, but it told of a man, at a church, who stood up to Laki.

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Up the Hill – A Musical Recap

Turning 40 is a symbolic moment for many, with or without “Over the Hill” tiaras provided by good intentioned family members. Given that today is my day to sport said tiara, I must admit, it’s not hitting me too hard one way or the other. Perhaps, I’m fooling myself? But that’s not what this post is about.

I’m using the occasion to do something symbolically important – I’m hitting the publish button for my very first solo album. 10 tracks, 47 minutes, 5 years in the making.

ShutOutThe World3

Shut Out the World – A Shoebox Collection

^ Click the link to go to album: stream and download for free^

It’s important to me because for the previous 21 years I’ve written songs for groups to interpret, add to, subtract, and then perform. For the most part, it’s been a great thing. And I look forward to (hopefully) continuing the practice.

Maybe, another way of stating this is: I needed to get a solo album out of my system.

So, on to the purpose of this post – I thought it’d be fun to review the 4 chapters of my musical past (not including the prologue, which would equal me learning guitar, writing songs for my first open mics). Yes, some chapters are MUCH bigger than others, but whatever, I wrote songs for all of them.

I put together 5 videos to mark … what’s the word?

Progression? evolution? mood at the time?

Again, whatever…

I should note, each video is a pandora’s box if I were to get into the stories, people, location, time of year, smell of air, life crisis, etc.

Band 1: High Tide

Based in Columbus, OH. I formed the band with Rob Kortekamp (lead guitar) and Jake Newcomber (lead singer / rhythm guitar) and then I recruited John Winther (drums) from Cincinnati to round out the quartet. My time in the band was from 1997 (I think) to 1999 at which point I moved to Lake Tahoe, California. I played bass, and provided some background vocals.

This song was one I penned for the band. During this time period, I was immersing myself in the Bob Dylan and Grateful Dead worlds. Coming from a grunge background, some of this was welcomed, and some of it was force fed due to the people I ran with. Regardless, the music made its impression, and I think you hear it in the song.


Band 2: Blue Turtle Seduction

I formed the band in South Lake Tahoe, CA in 2001 with quite the cast of characters. By 2003 the lineup solidified into myself on guitar/vocals, Adam Navone on drums, Christian Zupancic on electric mandolin/violin/vocals, Glenn Stewart on harmonica/pan flute/vocals, and my brother, Steve Seals, on bass. We ran wild until 2010.

BTS started on the backbone of my songwriting, and I contributed the bulk of the core material throughout the entirety of the band’s existence. However, what each member added to the songs was the reason we accomplished what we did.

Manu Chao was easily the biggest influence on this band, and in hindsight, I wish we were better able to own the juice rather than play obtuse (Johnny Cochrane had no part in that statement).

Later when we were in the jam-bluegrass scene, our peers would be like, “hey, let’s jam on that Ralph so-and-so and the Pumpkin Patch boys tune, and we’d be like “um … (enter Beavis and Butthead laugh) what?” Such a weird thing to be playing golf on a tennis court.

At the time, I loved how Manu Chao’s albums were a mix of many languages, and Cenizas off our first CD, Under Sierra Ground (2004) was a result of that influence. A good friend of the band, Toby Adams, helped with the Spanish translations, and I thought it’d be cool to give him top lyric credit in the CD booklet.


I picked this tune off BTS’ second CD, Deep Sea Rodeo, because it reflects an element of my lyric style during these times. Influenced by friends during my first years in South Lake Tahoe, I enjoyed taking a pseudo slam poetry approach, which meant multiple syllable lyrics that were not meant to be listened to as linear stories. More like palettes to help form visions in the listener’s minds, unique to each.

Special note: Even though the liner notes do not state it as such, the word “Organtic” in the second verse was purposively written – it’s a combination of (obviously) ‘organic’ and ‘gigantic’. Fast forward a decade, and I think it’s a very appropriate word for our current pinterest-y, instagram-y, farm-to-table-y, beard-y craze.


This is not the obvious song to pick off of 2008’s 13 Floors, but it foreshadows what I’m pushing these days – Songs written exclusively for album purpose, which would be contrary to 95% of the rest of the material at that time – songs meant to translate to the live stage. Or, recordings based only on what the song needed versus making sure each band member was represented.


Band 3: The Hydrodynamics

Yes, to call this a band is a stretch. Yes, its tenure was brief. But it was the appropriate rebound to cling to during some tenuous times during the post full-time musician year of 2010 (read more about it here). Cassandra Osborne and Shara Seals on vocals. Andrew Harris on lead guitar. Me on the rest.

And more importantly, it gave me an outlet to continue writing and kinda’ performing. The song “Death By Fire” represents a shift in my lyrical approach. Having already started my book The Punishment Rock, I wanted to write more straight-forward character songs, and wha-la, this tune.


Band 4: Dad’s LPs

This band morphed out of The Hydrodynamics, and some of the tunes we worked up in Hydro transferred over to DLPs’ first album. I’d like to point out that it was this band that acted as my methadone, weaning me off of the live show fix, which I mean in a positive way. It wasn’t easy, but by 2014, making music purely for the sake of making music was more important to me than needing an audience’s approval. John Morales on lead vocal/drums, Chris Twomey on lead vocal/bass, Andrew Harris on lead guitar, and I rounded out the mix with rhythm guitar and backing vocals.

This tune was off the first cut, The Cherry Album (2011)Special note about “Relief”: I had a dream one night – I was doing something and somebody else was with me. A radio station was playing in the background. A song came on and I casually said, “Oh, this is the song that Jim James from My Morning Jacket and I wrote together.” It wasn’t a big deal to me in the dream. However, when I woke up, I was like, ‘wait a minute, I heard a song that Jim James and I wrote?! Oh shit – I have to remember it!’

Did I remember it? I tried. “Relief” was the best I could do.

Dad’s LPs recorded another album, Lemon on Fire (2014). John Morales had a treasure chest of great tunes for that one. It was weird at first and my ego struggled a bit with the idea of not contributing baseline songs, but once I embraced it (with encouragement from John), I fuckin’ loved the idea of only needing to contribute guitar ideas. In the end, I’m really proud of that album!

 


So, that’s the retrospective / quick summary through my songwriting past. To hear the present, check out:

Shut Out the World – A Shoebox Collection

Hint: I’ve embraced the synthesizer. (editor’s note: last sentence meant to be read in Arnold Schwarzenegger voice.)

Publisher’s note: I’m a normal working stiff these days (luckily, I like what I do), and my reach has grown very short, if not obsolete. (oh well) If you think someone else will like this, or the new album, then please share… I’ll buy you a drink next time we’re hanging out.

Chapter 1 of The Punishment Rock

A taste of what’s to come.

Somewhere above the Gulf of Mexico–

I was 42,000 feet in the air when I heard that awful, peculiar voice speak.

“What do you know of the real hierarchy?”

I opened my eyes, but my vision was foggy. My chest rose and fell in slow, shallow waves. The murmured hum that filled my ears made me question if I was underwater. I struggled to keep my eyes open.

Panic pulsed through my veins. I was either dying or already dead, and the soft light flooding my eyes was that of another world I couldn’t quite grasp. Nothingness enveloped me and I was suddenly filled with sorrow. I had an intuitive impression of who I’d been, but the details dripped away.

I was nobody.

My eyelids closed off the remaining light and I began to drift into oblivion.

“Daniel Bright, what do you know of real history?”

I heard the question echo in the vacuum of space between my temples. It was not my own voice, and in fact, what it really spoke were not those exact English words. It was a guttural dialect, but somehow I understood it. And this wasn’t the first time I’d heard it’s strange tongue. It was The Cataurix, and at that time, I had no idea what that name meant or how dangerous it could be.

“What do you know of the real spectrum of existence? Open your eyes.”

I felt motivation returning and I forced my eyelids apart. The soft light of my surroundings made it hard to focus on a man sitting five feet across from me. I managed a slight, audible grunt–it got his attention.

Surprised, he instantly leapt at me. I couldn’t resist as he grabbed my forehead, leaned my head back, and spread my right eyelid open. He laughed quietly as he inspected my pupil.

“That was a hefty dose of sedatives I gave you,” he muttered under his breath. “Either you have a good reserve of spunk, or quite a tolerance to narcotics.”

It’s probably both you fuck, I answered in my head.

He opened my mouth and I felt several drops of liquid hit my tongue.

“But,” he spoke again. “We can’t have you waking up just yet.“

I had no ability to withstand. The guy released his grip and then sat back in his seat. My head slumped forward and my shaggy brown hair resumed its messy position over my forehead.

With one final burst of willpower, I managed to lift my head and crack my right eye. A brief moment of clarity returned. I could see the blurred stranger cross his left leg over his right knee and clasp his hands together in his lap.

“I’m sorry we’ve done this to you,” he spoke calmly. “But you were the easiest to start with.”

He paused for a second, looked over his right shoulder, and then back to me. “A war is something not to be underestimated, and a war with this enemy is one you will not win. What you and your friends do not understand is–diamonds are forever, the human race is not! And since you do not recognize this–war is on its way!”

If he said anything else, I wouldn’t know. The new dose kicked in and I drifted into blackness, but not before that foreign voice spoke once more.

Will you accept?

Falling Forwards

Running chainsaw is all cock and balls.

Its ugly, and its sweaty … but it gets the job done.

That’s not to say it’s strictly a man’s endeavor; I’ve known some great female sawyers. But there’s a definite machismo to it – a single cylinder two-stroke engine driving razor-sharp teeth at 45 mph over and under an elongated oval steel bar – 7 units of horsepower vibrating up from fingers to wrists to shoulders – And the cacophonous noise of wood instantaneously giving away chip by chip. Any slip at any second, and limbs and digits can disappear.

However, do the job right, and columns of Mother Nature fall from their postured confidence exactly how you intended.

In 2000, when I was 24 years old, I was in charge of five others and given the task of fuel reduction and hazard tree removal in properties belonging to a state agency in the neighborhoods of Lake Tahoe, California. At this time my body was up to the task and my fragile ego thirsted for the adrenaline rush of proving I could combine nerves and brawn, and get the job done. In this beautiful mountain setting I returned for two more seasons before striking out on the proverbial American road to be a musician in a full-time touring band … a helluva’ way to spend one’s twenties.

Fast forward to July 2010.

Sweat dripped down from my hard hat, under my safety glasses, over my brow, and into my left eyeball; an annoying sting, but I squeezed my eyelid shut and did my best to ignore it. My right middle finger continued to bounce methodically on and off the throttle of my Stihl 660 power head. My left hand gripped tightly to the handlebar as I was making my first cut into a lumbering lodgepole pine.

Above me, a thick canopy of heavy branches splayed out in all directions. I was in the corner of a fifty-foot wide alley of land, tucked between fences and houses. The tree had a backwards lean towards power lines and a 25-foot wide road. On the other side of this road were vehicles and makeshift carports in front of dilapidated apartments.

It was a tight neighborhood that sat on spongy ground at the base of Heavenly Mountain. Lodgepoles in wet areas grow fast and wide, and tended to be weak. Put houses right next to them and they became potential hazards. Put those hazards on property owned by the State and it was best to prevent a future lawsuit by removing them. Thus, we’d already cleared about a dozen trees, which had been marked/designated by forester professionals on this 50 by 200 foot vacant lot stretching to the other side of the block.

It was late in the afternoon and this was the last tree. To my annoyance, an audience had gathered across the road equipped with lawn chairs and beverages to spectate our operation. I let my finger ease off the throttle and gazed back at them, calculating if they would have to scatter if things went wrong. I then looked up to the taut rope that shot from the tree 60-feet up. It sloped downwards for 200-feet before ending upon the trailer hitch of our F-350 work truck, which was positioned at the edge of the far road at a perpendicular angle. One crewmember sat in the driver’s seat of the idling vehicle and awaited my relayed instructions, which I would deliver with hand signals to the four other crewmembers standing to the left and right of the vehicle.

This rope was my insurance that I wouldn’t have to clear out my audience.

I squeezed my left eyelid a couple more times to clear the sweat and then pressed the throttle again, continuing my horizontal cut into the face of the trunk. My earplugs deafened the whir of the engine and an odor of gasoline mixed with 2-cycle engine oil wafted into my nostrils. This was my reality during the summer of 2010. I was heading into my mid-thirties and I was back behind a saw, whether I liked it or not.

It was a rough time. I was dealing with a failed business, the end of touring life, a sick father, and no road map as to how I should proceed into the future. I kept trying to remind myself I had no reason to complain – I’d been able to rock and roll around the country. And the band had a 7 year run, adventures galore, played a thousand plus shows from Hawaii to New York City, and went way further than, as one member put it, “our personal dynamics and talent should’ve ever allowed.” But in the end, it wasn’t realistic to sustain, and with barely a whimper of an announcement to our fan base, it was over – a terrible way to end things.

This all meant I quickly needed a new job and a steady paycheck. With the recession in full swing and a need to stay put in South Lake Tahoe for my Dad, I went for something I thought was easily attainable. The agency had kindly hired me back, to which I was grateful, and I was put in charge of five others about ten years my junior – or in other words, just like me in the beginning of the millennium. It was difficult at first for them to relate and vice-versa, but, luckily, it was a good group and we eventually settled into a productive dynamic.

However, I still couldn’t shake the feeling I had moved backwards in my life.

The saw ate deeper into the core of the tree until I paused to check my gunning sight to see that I was still on target. Satisfied with my first of three cuts, I pulled it out and re-jabbed the steel spikes, aka “The Dogs,” into the bark to position myself for the next cut.

The second cut started about a foot above the first and I angled the saw down at 45-degrees. The main goal of this cut was to meet the edges of the first horizontal cut, and to make it as clean as possible. Even small over or under shots left uncorrected could affect how a tree fell. And working around private property and power lines meant I needed the tree to fall exactly as I planned.

Since the saw was “dogged” into the trunk, it was less about holding up the power head and more about keeping it in its place as the chain and bar continued to eat down into the wood. This was a patient stretch – a Zen kind of moment when the rest of the world was tuned out and I awaited the saw to hit its destination points.

Unexpectedly, about 3/4th of the way into my cut, my attention was yanked away from the operation. Even over the 120-decibel engine and my earplugs, I could perceive yelling. I quickly looked up to see several of the crew frantically waving their arms.

Could they see something going on in the crown of the tree – something I couldn’t because I was at the base? I instinctually leapt a few feet back while simultaneously pulling the saw from the tree, and then sidestepped twenty feet away while frantically looking up. I didn’t see anything, but they were still waving and yelling. I killed the engine, and that’s when I heard it.

Sirens.

The F-350’s reverse lights were shining as the vehicle backed into the lot, releasing the tension from the rope. The tree relaxed towards the power lines. The sirens’ volume increased before two fire trucks appeared to the right on the far road. They shimmied past our truck and then accelerated towards their emergency.

Damn. What were the odds? Our truck had been taking up 3/4ths of a quiet road that probably hadn’t seen a fire truck for quite some time.

The F-350 inched forward again to reestablish the tension in the rope. I swallowed hard. Nothing had changed, but still my confidence had fallen a few notches. The audience behind me seemed to be getting a kick out of the entertainment we were providing. I yanked the starter cord and revved my 660 back to life. I reinserted the saw and finished the second cut to pop out a pie shaped piece of wood. A nice and clean notch remained and marked the direction the tree would fall.

I was assessing how I was going to make my third and final cut – the back cut – when a large truck passed on the road behind me, then slammed its brakes and hastily pulled off to the side to park.

‘Man, what now?’ I thought.

Out of the driver’s side sprang a thin, lanky guy with a big smile. I quickly recognized him. It was Frank.

Everyone loved Frank – including myself.

We’d worked together during my first stint as a crew leader and he’d since gone on to start his own successful tree company. He’d been in the neighborhood bidding on a job. I killed the saw and walked over to greet him. We shared a few laughs and then he turned his attention to the tree.

“Damn, that’s a lot of weight on the back there.”

He was referring to the branches on the opposite side of my felling direction – the weight pulling the tree back towards the power lines and apartments. Ten years ago, when things were a bit more cowboy, we’d have put gaffs around our shins and then spiked up the tree with flip-lines and a small arbor saw, cutting all the branches two-thirds up the tree before tying the safety rope nice and snug to the trunk. With the majority of the weight gone, it was hard to make a mistake.

I explained to Frank how the climbing program got axed sometime in the mid 2000’s because someone finally realized the insurance implications, or lack of in this case, were bad if something were to happen. No climbing, in my opinion, made our job more challenging, time-consuming, and dangerous. Frank agreed.

“Well, that’s pretty sketchy – what you’ve got going here.”

Fuck. If Frank thought it was sketchy, then it was. My confidence fell a few more notches as I went back to the operation. I thought he would’ve needed to get going, but he showed no signs of leaving – Another audience member.

I yanked the saw to life, and took a knee to position myself for the back cut. The goal of this cut was to make a horizontal line starting from the back, about two inches above the first cut. I would saw into the tree so all that remained was a 1” to 1½” slice of “holding wood,” a hinge, which  would guide the tree as it descended to the ground. If I left a larger portion on one side versus the other, the tree would pull to that side as it fell. Using different ratios of holding wood was also a way to counter a lean to the left or right.

As the saw sank deeper into the tree and the fibers holding it in place disappeared, the chances of movement one way or another exponentially grew. Combine that with the fact it was the end of a long day, the fire truck disturbance, and the audience behind me – and I was wound a bit tighter than normal. I did a dance with my head – up to the canopy, back to the saw, up to the canopy, back to the saw…

‘Wait a sec … shit! … Did it just lean back further?!’

A split second lightning bolt of alarm shot up my spine. I instantaneously glanced back at the things that would be destroyed if the tree were to fall backwards. Fuck. I looked back to the canopy.

‘Did it? Am I imagining things?’

Silence in my head, no answers … I panicked.

Without looking towards the truck, I raised my right arm and sliced forwards through the air, motioning for them to pull. Three seconds passed, as the truck inched slowly forward, the rope stretched, and nothing happened – but then the tree began to stubbornly give in to the force. Two seconds later and it was erect, standing straight up.

I went to my feet as I felt a wave of relief. I had avoided crushing power lines and carports. But – I then immediately realized this was no time for celebration. I had another abrupt predicament on my hands.

The tree was now falling forwards, but towards the six-foot fence that ran the length of the property line, and it looked like it could even take out the eaves of the house just on the other side with it’s burly branches. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

In my premature call to pull the tree, I had not finished my cut and left way too much holding wood on the far side, which was why the tree was pulling towards the private property. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

In wild abandon, I rifled the tip of my saw to the far side of the ever-revealing hinge. I gunned the throttle and madly cut as much holding wood on that side as I could. A sawyer could get fancy and cut parts of the hinge as a tree was falling – let it first fall through an alleyway in the canopy and then at the last second, cut wood and pull the tree closer to the chipper.

I was not doing this to be fancy. I was doing this to save my job.

Full throttle – the saw revved at a high pitch and then – Boom! The tree pounded the ground.

The foot-long slice of remaining holding wood left on my side was just enough to pull the tree back towards our lot, barely missing the eaves, and brushing against the fence.

And that was good enough.

I killed the engine and the audience behind me clapped. I could feel the veins in my neck pumping. Frank immediately came over, slapped me on the back, and let out a big laugh.

“Wow! That was close!”

I tried to smile, but could only manage a grimace. I looked at the audience, and then the fence, and then to my saw. It was at this moment I’d realized I missed my guitar and an audience clapping from what I did with that, not a chainsaw.

The rest of the crew ran over whooping with a buzz of excitement. I tried to act enthused, however I had enough. I told them we’d leave the tree as it was and come back the next day to finish cutting it up for firewood.

I took off my Kevlar chaps as I said good-bye to Frank. My pants were soaked with sweat underneath. My heart was still pumping in my throat. It was not like human life was in danger, and it was only a shitty house and fence, which in the bigger picture obviously didn’t mean anything, but it still got me worked up.

Over the course of the season there would be a few more close calls, but mostly safe and sound execution. I ran the saw less and less as the months went by. The adrenaline rush of controlling a tree’s fall was something I no longer craved like I had a decade earlier. At the end of the season I saw an opening to move into a non-labor position and I jumped ship, leaving my chainsawing days behind me.

Those few years post-band-small-business-owner were some strange and trying times. My Dad was on a slow, suffering ride out and my future wife and I were doing our best to pick up the pieces. The rock and rolling of my twenties had been replaced by the uncertainties of my thirties. But worse than that was the feeling that forward movement seemed to have ceased.

But in actuality, life never stopped and a slow transition into new endeavors transpired. And during that time I came to realize that my situation was not any different from the billions of lives that had come before. Ups and downs – sometimes just trying to get by and other times getting to do something worth a shit – but perpetually moving one step closer to the finish line.

So, now looking back on that strange time with chaps on my legs, music in my memory, and family weighing heavy on my heart – I can see that – with the help of my wife, family, and friends –

I did not fall backwards … and I barely missed the fence.

And that was good enough.

2010

This pic is not from that day, but sometime later in 2010. That’s a Jeffrey Pine – They’re almost always a way more predictable tree than Lodgepoles.

Falling Forwards

This is a Google Earth street view of the lot taken some time after we cleared the trees. The ugly pink house and fence on the left is new. What used to be there was the shitty house and fence I almost hit. Too bad I didn’t, their demo would have been paid for. 

Ike and The Ozarks

Seventy-some people were already dead before it even entered into the Gulf of Mexico.

The late summer water temperatures added fuel and the storm swelled in size. Hurricane Ike spent three and a half days in the gulf, growing in mass as it took aim at Texas. The class 2 storm made landfall at Galveston Island in the early hours of Saturday the Thirteenth, September 2008. A massive storm surge swamped the coast up to Louisiana. It moved inland and brought destruction to Houston. Ike then turned its course, weakening just enough to be deemed a Tropical Storm, but that didn’t mean its threat had subsided. It began a menacing advance into the interior of the United States.

Four hundred and thirty miles north of Houston, on a mountaintop in Arkansas, I peaked my head out of a large window-sized opening in a wooden buttress. Two stories below, the lead singer of The Wailers bounded back and forth across a stage while his long dreadlocks danced against his backside. Looking out onto a darkened field, it took a few seconds to let my eyes adjust before I could perceive the large crowd swaying and moving in unison to the tight back beat of the drummer and the thundering bass.

“Jah- Rasss-ta–fari!”

The singer proclaimed numerous times into the hot and humid nighttime air. A light rain began. I wondered if some of the rumors were true, about our location being in the direct path of a serious storm. I had no connection to the outside world. Our isolated location made for no cell phone reception, which did not bother me in the least. Nothing like being at a music festival being thrown by a very nice and generous family who provided great hospitality to all the musicians, and not having anything to distract from the weekend experiences. Check out and tune in… I could get behind that.

The main stage faced south-southwest and was an impressive homemade wooden structure, wide and deep enough to handle any major professional production. Flanked on each side were three-story towers, each with an inner staircase rising to top viewing rooms. A roof ran from the top of one tower to the other, covering the entirety of the stage. Below the stage, and accessed from the back, were the green rooms, and most importantly, a large common room where all artists and crew were welcome. Here, the kegs stayed forever tapped and my cup stayed forever full.

It was Saturday night, the last night of the festival, and I was standing in the stage left tower, in the “crow’s nest” room, joined by a dozen other musicians from around the country… all talking general nonsense. Half way through The Wailers set, the rain outside began to increase in intensity and fell in a slanted trajectory as a steady wind blew from the south. Not that I noticed, I was part of the general nonsense.

A couple songs later, the hypnotic drone of the reggae bass stopped suddenly, and an eerie silence followed. Everyone in the room immediately ceased running their mouths, and crowded into the window opening. Below, the stage manager and some crew were hastily escorting the band members off stage. Even with the roof overhead, all the electronics were getting soaked.

“Okay… well… I’m going to go on ahead and get out of this electrocution box!”

A random voice projected as several people started making immediately for the staircase. I didn’t object. I was thinking the exact same thing – a homemade stage is awesome and all, but I wondered how OSHA approved the thing really was. Somebody asked aloud as we rounded a flight of stairs,

“What do you think they’re going to do about Umphrey’s?”

Very good question I thought. The headliner of the festival, Umphrey’s McGee, was due on after The Wailers. They were a Midwest band that was very popular in the underground music scene that we all belonged to at the time. We hit the ground floor and scattered onto the gravel out back. Stagehands were rushing around in an effort to ‘batten down the hatches’. I decided to make for my band’s bus, which was not close, but once there, I figured I could find out the answer to a much more important question than ‘what about the headliner?’

“What about our late-night set?”

My band, Blue Turtle Seduction, had been invited back to the Mulberry Mountain Music Festival to repeat what we’d done the previous year; throw a four hour party set that went into the wee hours of the morning, in which we had just under twenty guest-musician sit-ins, and we, the band… hung on for dear life. We pulled it off, and thus, there we were a year later, hired to close the festivities down in a tent sitting at the rear of the main stage field.

I covered the distance of about three football fields pretty quickly, but was still fairly soaked by the time I made it to the shelter of our tour-bus-communal-apartment-on-wheels, which was parked to the west of the late-night tent. I changed into some new clothes and reentered our front gathering quarters. Our tour manager was addressing a couple of the members.

“They’re moving the Umphrey’s set to our stage… Get it all under the protection of the tent. And then you’ll go on afterwards.”

The question ‘What?’ entered my mind, quickly followed by the conclusion ‘Fuck’. Someone else half-jokingly, half-lamentingly said aloud,

“So you’re saying the headliner of the entire festival – is now opening for us.”

Our tour manager nodded. My stomach sank.

This went against the rules of the universe. There were natural laws that dictated a smooth flowing string of events when it came to a music festival. The headliner would play Rock-Gods on a large stage in front of the capacity audience, their show would end, and the crowd would stream back to their campsites. However, if a fraction of them wanted to eddy out, then there was a boutique band like us to entertain them in a club/bar size tent, letting them forget for a few more hours that the weekend was almost over.

I looked out the window and could see stage crew rolling rigs of equipment into the tent. My stomach turned again. I retreated to the back and listened to the rain pound the steel shell of our bus. For the next hour or so my mind was a spinning wheel.

‘Whatever… you can do this… Oh shit, can we do this? Whatever, you can do this… Oh shit…’

Finally, I subsided to the fruitlessness of this exercise and decided to grab a beer, head outside, and see how their set was progressing. Upon opening the bus door, I quickly realized it was not just raining – it was pouring buckets outside. I leapt over a large puddle and dashed to the tent. The walls had been pulled tightly down in an effort to protect everyone and everything inside, but streams of water still flowed in on the ground.

I entered the rear entrance. The place was going fucking nuts. The band and the fans were all feeding off the energy of nature’s elements and the close quarters. I saw our sound guy who was admirably watching the scene and shuffled my way over to him. He filled me in on the unfolding set.

“Their light guy said the band is on fire! They’re all on scaled down rigs, and it’s like they’re back in college… playing like they have everything to prove to the world! Gonna’ be one for the books!”

He then smiled at me.

“You ready to follow this?”

‘No, not at all’ is what went through my head, but I forced a smile in response. Back to the bus I went and returned to my loathing lair in the back of the vehicle. After a bit of time, the voice of our tour manager brought me to the front.

“The production manager called it, music is done for the weekend. Way too dangerous he said… The sound board station is sitting in a lagoon… he should’ve never even let Umphrey’s play he said!”

Well, that was that… all my internal fretting for nothing. I felt a bit ashamed. Then a new realization occurred to me. We’d traveled a long way to be here, and now our one and only set was cancelled.

Well, shit.

Someone passed out a round of beers, and another passed a bottle of Tequila.

This was life on the road.

We all shot the breeze for a while, trying to downplay the last couple hours of nerves. After a bit, we became aware of the absence of rain pounding against our windows. The storm was letting up, which was good, because I needed some air. I exited and was surprised at how calm the scene now was. I made my way around puddles and through mud to enter the tent towards the stage side just in time to see the crew loading up the last of Umphrey’s gear into a white moving truck. I walked over to stage left and congratulated the lead guitarist for the great set.

“Thanks man… that was fucking fun!”

His eyes glowed as he took a swig from a bottle. He deserved it; he’d played his ass off. I shook his hand and then joined another conversation nearby with some people I’d met two nights previous in Norman, Oklahoma. A group of festivalgoers pounded on djembes and bongos near the rear of the tent.

I’m pretty certain, at that moment, nobody in the tent, including myself, realized that the weather event called Ike was, in fact, not over, and the current peaceful setting was just a rotating hole called the ‘Eye of the Storm.’

Minutes later, the wind picked back up. This time it came out of the north, the opposite direction from where it had come before. I was talking more in depth with a musician from Oklahoma. The wind blew harder. Suddenly a woman ran into the tent with a very determined look on her face. She hopped onto the stage, pointed to the ceiling, and yelled at the top of her lungs.

“ALRIGHT, LISTEN UP YOU FUCKING HIPPIES!! STOP PLAYING THOSE FUCKING DRUMS AND GET OUT OF THIS TENT RIGHT NOW!! I FUCKING MEAN IT!!”

She was not messing around. I smiled at the other guy; we took her cue, and stepped out into the open air. Whether she had a direct line with NOAA or not, she must’ve known something, because abruptly a steady influx of gale force winds raced across the mountaintop. That late-night tent rippled from one side to the other. Rain pelted the side of my face. Another set of ripples coursed through the canvas roof as the wind velocity increased. The support system strained under the new direction of pressure. One new gust after another and it couldn’t withstand. The ropes snapped and the whole tent collapsed aggressively upon the stage, the PA system, and anything else that had been in there.

And just like that, shit was getting real.

“HELP!! I NEED HELP!!”

A voice called out, but not from under the tent. It came from behind us. The guy from Oklahoma hesitantly looked at me, as I turned around to see two people grappling and struggling with a much smaller structure. It was the late-night food-vending tent. I gave him a look. I could tell he was reluctant, but he followed me as I ran over. Several others had come to assist as well. The rain returned with a vengeance.

“I NEED YOU ALL TO GRAB CORNERS AND HELP ME STABALIZE THIS!! I CAN’T LET THIS TENT GO!!”

I could not tell if this guy was the owner or just a worker, but along with his assistant, he quickly took charge of us new recruits. And I quickly knew that I didn’t like his plan. I tried objecting, but it was hard to get my point across over the volume of wind and rain. He snapped back at me. I don’t remember what he said, but it didn’t matter. He was now acting like a commanding officer yelling at his troops to hold the line.

Water streamed down my glasses, so I took them off, put them in the pocket of my shorts, joined a thin, bearded person at a corner, and latched with both hands onto head-high flaps. Ten minutes into it and I was soaked to the bone, which is when I realized I had my flip phone in my other pocket. Fuck. My forearms were already getting tired as we wrestled with canvas and wind. Someone else yelled an objection, but our drill sergeant fired back.

“I CAN’T LET THIS STUFF GET DAMAGED… HOLD THE LINE!!”

That’s not what he said, but that’s how I remembered it, and I assumed he was referring to all the cooking implements under the tent, which seemed trivial to me. However, whether I liked it or not, we were now all a team. And if I bailed, then I bailed on my team. Everyone else must’ve arrived at the same conclusion because no one ran. My bearded partner and I put our heads down and let the elements punish us while we held onto our sail. Occasionally, he would yell something to me and then I would yell the same thing back.

“This is crazy!!”

“I know… This is crazy!!”

And that’s the way it stayed for a while. Whether it was thirty or forty-five minutes, or even an hour, I’m not sure.

The wind blew steady in velocity.

The rain fell in volume.

The scene was lit by a floodlight attached some forty feet up a power pole that was about sixty feet away, in the direction of the main stage, and into the wind. I began focusing on the lines that ran from this power pole, and whether they were insulated, charged, or not, I got a bad feeling. We were being pummeled by water from above and from below, as drops ricocheted off the ankle-deep puddles. I yelled to my partner an obvious conclusion.

“I’m going to try talking to this guy again!! We shouldn’t be out here!!”

Suddenly, looking beyond him towards the main stage, something caught my eye and it was not good. About two hundred yards away, a merchandise tent finally gave into the pressures and shot drastically skywards. I could not tell how high it was, but it was an air-bound projectile nonetheless and we were directly in its path. With a panicked glance, I focused on the power lines and then back to the incoming missile. Fuck.

Before I could yell or run, its arcing trajectory brought it just under the lines, crashed against the ground thirty feet away, and then blew quickly up against our tent. One of its poles struck someone on the other side. A voice screamed out in pain. I yelled to my frightened looking partner.

“Enough of this shit!! Hold my corner!!”

I ran around to the leeward side of the tent to find our leader and his assistant still grasping tightly to their side. I yelled over the wind.

“Dude!! We have to do something!! This is fucking ridiculous!!”

I expected a harsh reaction, but instead he suddenly looked like a panicked child who was way in over his head. He leaned in closely to my ear.

“I know man! I don’t know what to do… Tell me what to do!”

But before I could answer him, he came to his own conclusion.

“Hell with it, let’s just let it loose and get out of here!”

‘What? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me! I’m not about to do something we could’ve done an hour ago and avoided being out here in the first place.’

This was the answer that I wanted to say, however I answered with another.

“No way! We let go and this thing goes skyward just like that one! YOU’VE GOT TO BREAK IT DOWN!”

He looked at me and contemplated my suggestion. He regained his composure, stood straight, and ran around to each group giving his new command. I don’t know what he said, but in my imagination he kept with his drill sergeant tone.

“Okay you maggots!! Hold fast, while me and my second-in-command break this here tent down!!”

I rejoined my partner at our corner and the two worked on the inside, dismantling poles and such. In just minutes our entire group was pulling the canvas to the ground, slowly deflating our sail. The wind began working in our favor. Instead of filling it with air, it was now forcibly blowing it against the ground and his cooking set-up underneath.

The job was done.

My partner split one way and I yelled at my musician buddy and a couple others to follow me. We all sprinted towards the bus, I blasted the door release button, and we sprang inside.

It was a sudden one hundred and eighty degree shift in vibe.

Music played and there was a party going on with my band members, crew, and people from other bands.

Things like, “holy shit, where have you been?” were yelled. I grabbed a beer as I shuffled through. I went to the back and quickly took off everything I was wearing and threw the sopping wet mess into the bathroom. My phone was dead for good, but I didn’t care at that point. With a fresh, dry set of clothes I rejoined the group up front. Our road manager had already outfitted my soaking wet acquaintances with band t-shirts.

To my left, an easy-on-the-eyes friend from another band sat on a bench and smiled. She handed me a flask. I accepted graciously, took a long pull, and then looked to my right. The musician from Oklahoma, who’d reluctantly joined me in the ridiculous task, stared back. He seemed shaken up.

“Dude. I think that’s the most intense thing I’ve ever done in my life… I feel like I need to call my mom.”

I smiled and handed him the flask.

I’m not sure how long Ike raged on before finally subsiding, but the storm ran its course as we partied in the safety of our twenty-three ton steel tank. Finally, the wind died down and the rain stopped. People began exiting to their respective camps to survey the damage and members of our crew began retiring to their bunks.

I was still too amped to even think about sleeping. There was a knock at our door. It was my tent-corner partner and I stepped outside to greet him. He now had a long wooden staff in his right hand and wore a straw oriental hat. With his red, natty beard and his new implements, he suddenly looked to me like Gandalf, but in his early twenties.

In a slow draw, he told me his name and said,

“I’m a shay-man from east Oklahoma.”

I couldn’t help myself. I laughed pretty loudly.

“A what?”

He answered with a gleam in his eyes.

“A shaman from the ranch lands of Oklahoma.”

I put my hand on his shoulder.

“Okay…. how about we go for a walk and check out the damage.”

We walked around, and I did my best not to laugh at his staff. Eventually my adrenaline subsided and a deep tiredness overtook me. Around daybreak, I retreated back to the comfort of my bunk. It was only hours later I was awoken by a strange sensation of bus movement, but I quickly fell back to sleep. Many hours later I awoke again somewhere in Tennessee.

Upon coming to the front and joining the group I learned earlier we’d been stuck in the mud and a bulldozer had to yank us out. Most importantly though they told me no one had been seriously hurt during the storm. A tree had crashed onto a tent, but its occupants had been taking shelter in their vehicle. And someone’s car had been smashed, but the owner had been in a tent.

That Sunday, as we traveled east on Highway 40, Ike wreaked havoc in the Midwest, all the way up into Canada. It would go down on record as being the second most damaging storm in the United States, just behind Hurricane Katrina. The storm totals for the entirety of Ike were 195 dead – 112 in the U.S. – and an estimated $37.5 billion in damage, with $29.5 billion belonging to the States. It was the second most active tropical storm to reach Canada since records had been kept.

I reflected upon the previous evening, as I watched the hills of Tennessee pass by my window. Another crazy night had come and gone.

Years later I can now say I wish I’d talked to the Oklahoma ranching-Shaman more about the future during our damage surveying stroll. Being that he was a mystical person and all, maybe he could’ve gazed into the threads of the universe and warned me that Tropical Storm Ike was just the beginning of our troubles for that tour.

However… I did not.

And since we had no warning, we continued unsuspectingly east, toward more trials and tribulations.

This was life on the road.

Image

I don’t know who took this picture. I found it on the Blue Turtle Seduction Myspace (yes, it’s 2014 and Myspace still lives on the internet.) At the time, I was sleeping in the bus in the background. The white canvas is the remains of the late-night tent. The gear is the PA system that had been under the tent… And this mess up front was my rodeo ride.

Maybe I Should’ve Run Sooner?

I’d not seen it.

The flattened beer can slid one foot forward on the sidewalk creating a brief scraping noise. Just a moment ago, it’d been sitting harmlessly, hidden by darkness. Then my right foot landed on top of it and pushed it forward. No big deal.

It was a warm evening in the spring of 1999 and I was four months shy of graduating from The Ohio State University, home of tens of thousands of kids flocking from all points of the state to learn, get laid, and party like idiots newly released from years of incarceration. In the late nineties, OSU was the place to accomplish all three of these things. The majority of these young adults lived in apartments and houses squeezed into a 1.5 mile by 0.5 mile region just east of campus.

The south side of this area was where things got rowdy. Only once in my life had I been dead center in a police helicopter’s spotlight and it was with a red solo cup filled with watered down beer at an outdoor party in the heart of this area… 12th Street. This was the neighborhood where party supplies started at no less than ten kegs, people pissed everywhere and anywhere, blocks looked like a war-zone the next day, and most importantly…  you did not walk alone.

The North side, however, was the opposite. Juniors, Seniors, Grad-students and the like kept things a bit mellower, sophisticated parties that had kegs of dark brown beer and marijuana smoked out of glass bongs. I’d been at a gathering of this nature and it was time to get back to my duplex, where I lived further north with two roommates who were also my band mates. Usually they would’ve been there with me, but this night I was on my own. A girl caught my attention as I was leaving.

“You sure you’re alright walking by yourself?”

I smiled smugly and confidently.

“Yes, it’s not that far … I’m not concerned.”

I wasn’t concerned. It wasn’t far and I was on the North side. So that is how I found myself half way home, walking alone, and unintentionally stepping on a crushed beer can. The screech of it sliding across miniscule concrete texturing was annoying, but whatever. It hardly broke my stride.

However, a sudden and terse declaration, coming from somewhere to the right, made me rethink this conclusion.

“Hey Motherfucker!! What the fuck are you doing to my yard?!!”

The next series of observations happened in split seconds, in which I was suddenly aware of a singular impulse. Fear will make you quickly aware of your surroundings way before intelligence gets a chance to catch up. My heart raced as I took two additional steps, and most importantly, did not turn my head.

I flashed to an image of my surroundings, which my subconscious had observed fifty feet behind and just seconds before arriving to this spot. To my right, a lawn steeply sloped for a few feet before gently rising to a large corner house, which fit the typical design description of this area… built in the early 1900’s, contained four or five bedrooms, and usually housed five to eight college students. There was a porch and I assumed this held the source of the voice. The command and question were definitely directed at me because there was no one else on the corner or across the street.

And of course, I concluded, I’d done nothing to his yard. All I did was step on a beer can and push it forward, which meant this person was belligerent, probably bored, and looking for any excuse to fight.

My assessment was over as my second step landed square. I did not break stride as I stepped down the curb and into the cross street. I took a trajectory towards the kitty-corner. I was half way across when the agitated voice projected louder.

“Yo’ Motherfucker!! I’m talking to you bitch!!

I didn’t stop, nor look behind me. For the time being I was sticking with the “ignore-it-and-it-will-go-away” strategy. I stepped onto the far sidewalk and quickened my pace. Twenty feet further and the voice aggressively blared again. This time it sounded a new alarm, triggered by whatever Doppler Radar-like mechanism that exists in the brain – the one that can sense sound waves and recognizes that, as they are being created, the creator is moving forwards… and quickly.

Now I had no choice, but to stop and look behind. My brain took a Polaroid picture and I spent the next millisecond studying it. There was a guy and he was mid-skip in the intersection of roads I’d just crossed. Like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, his entire body was slanted out towards the right. His left foot was a few inches off the ground and pointed downwards. His right knee was lifted towards his midsection. Both arms shot upwards and away from his shoulders. His chest was puffed out. His hat was pulled snug and the brim was tattered and shaped into a tight arch probably from countless moments of aggressive manipulating. He had a very-popular-at-the-time shirt, a plaid long sleeve. If I had to bet money in Vegas, I’d wager Abercrombie and Fitch first, then American Eagle second. The perfect camouflage. But worst of all, there were two others right behind him.

“Yeah that’s right motherfucker!! I’m talking to you!!”

One after another, his legs reconnected with asphalt while his arms still protruded up in a “Victory” formation.

Immediately I could read their stories – it was a common one. These three were not students. They were from some town in the middle of a cornfield, got some clothes that the “big-city-college-kids” wear, and made the pilgrimage to the place they could get belligerent and live out the stereotype that countless before them had entrenched into our minds. These were the ones that came from far and wide for football games and were the ones that usually started the riots afterwards. OSU had its own city police force and these were the guys very much responsible for that.

The problem was, these three idiots were probably ruing their folly for picking the wrong “friend” to visit. If it had been “Billy” they would’ve been ten blocks south and in the middle of all the action. Instead it was “Tommy” who lived in the middle of bored-to-death-nothing-to-fuck-or-fight-ville and their little peon minds didn’t know how to read a map and figure out how to get down to the action. So instead, they sat on a dark porch continuing their constant inhalation of alcohol, which I’m sure started early in the day, maybe fueled it with some amphetamines, and cussed for something to do … And that’s when I came into the picture.

And now I was faced with a very important decision … Should I run? I was still seven-or-so blocks away from my place. If I were to run, it would confirm my guilt and my fate would be narrowed down to two simple outcomes, out-run them or fall short. I would be the prey and they would be the hunters who most likely would forget why they were even chasing me, but have 100% conviction to get their bird-on-a-run.

This was not the first time in my life I’d been jumped, but I’d escaped injury all times before, and quite frankly, thought I’d gotten to an age where I didn’t have to worry about this thing anymore. I was scared.

Unfortunately, since I took the finite amount of time to let these evaluations cross my mind, I ate up any possible window to run. If there was a chance, it was gone. I’m just not that brave. Some of my friends will rush towards the flames before the word “Fire” is even done rolling off my tongue. I, on the other hand, tend to have a window ranging from seconds to a minute where I stand frozen, trapped by my calculations.

They were closing in. I looked to my right.

Across the street, through the front living-room window of another large house showed the signs of a gathering. It was time to crash a party. I did a ninety-degree turn and walked briskly across the street. I heard them excitedly call out a string of indiscernible words, as I’m sure they were changing their own routes. I bounced up onto the other sidewalk, then bee-lined it to the front porch, sprung up the four steps, opened the door, and didn’t look back.

The entryway led into a dim corridor allowing me to enter without bringing any attention to myself. Two feet ahead and to the left was a wide entrance into a brightly lit room, which held twenty to thirty people. It was much like the party I’d left, a bit more highbrow, but still an OSU college gathering nonetheless.

My diminutive stature as a young adult had its advantages from time to time, especially when it came to going “unnoticed.” I put my head down and silently nudged through some people to make it to the far side of the room … next to a bright lamp. Not good. But it was too late. Before I had a chance to look for a better spot, I glanced back to the entry corridor and the three were there. They spotted me. They charged through a group and now surrounded me.

Three yellow-eyed hyenas wearing plaid shirts poked me in my chest and babbled weighted questions.

“What up son? How come you ran you little bitch?!!”

Now that I was face to face, I realized they were no bigger than I was. But their eyes were blank and there would be no reasoning with the bunch.

‘Why, of all the nights, was I not with my friends?’

‘Stick with your pack and nobody gets hurt.’

These were among the questions and statements that scampered across my psyche as I bounced between the three posturing jackasses. Suddenly, the obvious host of the party threw himself into the mix.

“Whoa!!! What the fuck is going on?!! Who are you?!!”

I replied quickly, but my words babbled out of my mouth.

“Just walking home … did nothing to these guys … came in here to get away…”

The three kept spewing intoxicated jabs and gibberish.

The host absorbed what I said, looked at the hyenas, took a moment of contemplation, and then responded.

“Listen. I’m sorry man, but you and these guys have to go.”

I didn’t blame him. The three giddily started shoving me towards the front door. I stepped out in front of them and turned to the room of people who were all in total and silent focus of our escapades.

“Please,” I futilely complained. “Can someone please just call the cops?!!”

This was in the days before cell phones, so if somebody were to take me up on my request, they’d have to make the call on a landline. I exited the house. I was above the four steps of the porch. I’d been in fights before, but I’d never been any good. And there was no way I was going to handle three of them. I expected a blow to the back of my head.

Right then I noticed a very attractive girl exiting the passenger side of a car parked in the street directly in front of the house. A tall, fit looking guy (enter stage left: Good Samaritan) was coming around the front to meet her. It seemed apparent they were arriving to the party. I leapt off the porch and ran down to him.

What I wanted to convey in a split second was, “Can you drive me away from here in this car … your car – right. this. fucking. instant?!!”

I’m not sure what I blathered, but he looked down at me with genuine concern. He was about to reply “what?” but he didn’t get a chance to finish. He obviously became very aware of three people moving aggressively towards me and he threw up both of his hands in a “stop” formation.

“Whoa!! What the hell is going on?!!”

This is the moment everything became very surreal. I never turned around to face the hyenas. I kept looking up at the guy, I think, to Jedi-mind-trick him into driving me out of there. The entire party must’ve immediately spilled out behind us, because in seconds, the scene was a chaotic mess of people. All awhile, the Good Samaritan wanted answers. Somehow the three dogs were now barking at him, but he was taller and bigger. Things began to move in slow motion. More people were now involved. I felt myself turning invisible. An odd aura began invading my peripheral. Was I fainting? I had no idea, but suddenly I became aware of the Samaritan leaning over, looking me in the eyes, and speaking a one-word command.

“Run.”

I stared blankly back, like he was speaking a foreign language.

“What?”

“Run.”

The bubble burst.

This time I understood. This time … I did not hesitate.

I turned on my heals and fell forward into an outright sprint.

I never looked back.

Fear, adrenaline, and anxiety fueled my pistons as I pushed my engine – faster, faster. Like a champion running back,  I charged straight for thirty yards and then cut an immediate left into a well-lit alleyway. Faster, faster. I cleared the length of one block in no time flat. Police sirens suddenly blared from somewhere behind me. I rounded another corner and two guys and a girl stood directly in front of me, inadvertently blocking my path. I came to a halt.

They looked at me and then towards the direction of the police sirens and then back to me.

“I swear that’s not… I didn’t do…!!”

I attempted a protest-slash-reasoning, but quickly retorted to a “fuck it” and then juked around the three and continued my sprint to the end zone. Five more blocks, each one a bit more pastoral, a bit more full-time-residents-less-college-students, and a bit safer. I was now on East Patterson. One more block and then…

Touchdown. I was home.

For days afterwards, I daydreamed of going back over to the house and asking about what happened. Did the cops come before any punches were thrown? Did those jackasses get hauled off? And most importantly, what happened to the Good Samaritan who intervened just in time? I’d bet his pretty girl threw herself all over him that night … her hero. At least I had hoped that’s how it played out, as some sort of reward offered from the universe instead of a feeble “thanks” from me.

I wanted to go over there, but each time I chickened out.

Like I said before … I’m just not that brave.