Tag Archives: road trips

A little Jersey in Cincinnati: Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes

Hearts of Stone album coverI’m not sure how a 17-year-old northern Indiana girl in the seventies stumbled across Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, the quintessential New Jersey bar band. I suspect I must have read a review, possibly in Rolling Stone, of their great album Hearts of Stone. The review would surely have mentioned that Bruce Springsteen had written a couple of the songs and that Miami Steve Van Zandt was prominently featured.  I was a big Springsteen fan by then, so that would have been enough to send me to the record store to pick up the album. And I was hooked from the first time I spun that disc. Phenomenal songwriting, impeccable arrangements, passionate performances. I played that sucker over and over, especially “Trapped Again” which was simultaneously propelled and restrained by a super funky bass line, straining against its own architecture.

But the Jukes didn’t get radio play in Indiana, and they didn’t tour here, and I didn’t have any friends who were into them – so I lost  track of them for many years. They never broke as big as they deserved to, and I suppose there are all kinds of reasons for that, few of which have to do with the quality of the actual music they kept making. Personally I think some good rock writer needs to do a biography on Southside Johnny. It would be a fascinating look at the Jersey Shore music scene, and at someone who neither hit it big like his colleagues Springsteen and Bon Jovi nor bombed out completely and quit the business.

Anyway, the rise of social media & my connection with the international network of Springsteen fans put them back on my radar a few years ago. They’ve had a lot of personnel changes over the years, and a lot of cross-pollination with other bands including E Street, Bon Jovi, the Max Weinberg band on Conan O’Brien’s old show, etc. There’s a lot of Jukes and ex-Jukes running around out there, though Southside has always been at the helm. They tour, but hardly ever in my neck of the woods; Chicago now and then, but the dates never quite worked out for me. Plus, to he honest, there are a lot of bands out there touring on their past glory with most of the original members long gone off to greener pastures, and sometimes it is just not a good concert experience. So I was a little nervous about committing a big chunk of time and money to catch a show.

Fast forward to this year. I really, really wanted to make an epic early-autumn road trip out to the Jersey shore. I’ve never been, and so much of the music I love comes from there – plus I just plain haven’t seen the ocean in a few years. I schemed and plotted but between finding a good time to take that much time off & the financial thing, it started to become clear that this wasn’t the year for me and Jersey.

So I started looking around for something I could do on a three- or four-day weekend. Chicago, Louisville, Nashville, Cleveland, St. Louis… Cincinnati. I scoured the tour schedules of every artist I could think of that I liked enough to drive for, knowing that the road trip itself was half the goal. And there it was. Southside & the Jukes, at Bogart’s in Cincinnati on a Saturday night. I dithered and fussed. I tweeted. @msaleski tweeted back that the Jukes were killin’ it on this tour. And whoever runs the Jukes’ Twitter account pointed out:

Which I thought was a very good point.

So yeah. I bought a ticket and booked a hotel room. Decided to stay two nights so I could do a little sightseeing in a city I hadn’t set foot in for many years. I planned my ass off, like I always do, making a Google map and reading endless hotel and restaurant reviews. I spent more time planning than I was actually going to spend in Cincinnati but that is half the fun of it for me.

Bogart's marqueeFinally the weekend came. I enjoyed kicking back in my hotel room Friday night, sleeping in on Saturday (it’s my vacation and I can sleep if I want to), and spending a few hours at the zoo Saturday afternoon. As often happens, serendipity got me to Bogart’s at the perfect time; there were maybe half a dozen people waiting outside about half an hour before the doors were scheduled to open, so I knew I’d be able to snag a great spot on the floor. I chatted with folks as we waited and was pleased to find out I was neither the only one who’d driven in from out of town nor the only longtime fan who’d never managed to catch the band live.

I ended up smack dab in front, leaning on the barrier separating the audience from the stage, not too far off center. Not having people in front of you makes a huge difference when you’re 5 foot 1. I killed time chatting with the folks around me, sharing music recommendations. I love the anticipation before the show almost as much as I love the show itself.

As for the show itself? They flat-out killed it. I was looking forward to the show, but it exceeded my expectations by a fair margin. Very loose, very high-energy. What got played was pretty radically different from the written setlist, with Southside Johnny and former Cincinnati resident Jeff Kazee (who got a lot of the spotlight that night & was clearly relishing his return to his old stomping grounds) kicking into songs and letting the rest of the band catch up. A little ragged at times, but in the best way – and you gotta love an unexpected Elvis medley, not to mention THREE encores.

Southside Johnny and Jeff Kazee onstage

If one were a purist, one could argue about whether the current touring band is really the Asbury Jukes. It’s true that the only guy in this lineup who appeared on Hearts of Stone is Southside Johnny himself. But it’s not like the band was the same core group of guys for decades and now it’s a bunch of ringers; the lineup has always changed frequently. As noted in the Wikipedia article about the band, more than 100 people can claim to have been Jukes. Sure, you can make the case that when they play the older material, the current group is basically a cover band fronted by the original singer. But you know what? These guys sounded GREAT and I pretty much couldn’t stop dancing all night. And to me, that’s what matters. Great music played well, with humor and heart and energy. And you gotta love Southside for putting it all out there on the stage, playing a longer show (I didn’t time it, but definitely over two hours) than lots of guys half his age, leaving the audience sweaty and exhilarated. (One mark of a great rock show, for me: my feet hurt like hell when I got back to my room.)

Horn section

Musical highlights for me: “Till the Good is Gone” (which is just a great great song), “Talk To Me” (featuring a hilarious interlude in which Southside tried to get one of the security dudes at the front of the stage to sing along), and – the third encore, the one song I didn’t dare hope to get that night, one of the cornerstones of 17-year-old Anne’s soundtrack – “Trapped Again.” But really, it wasn’t the individual songs as much as it was the  whole sweaty, exuberant evening, which reaffirmed everything about why I love this music, why I love going to concerts, why it’s worth the 340-mile round trip (would have been less if Einstein here hadn’t booked a hotel way the heck up in Blue Ash, but oh well), and why I need to remember that if there’s ever any doubt I should always, always, always just buy the damn ticket and go to the show.

Southside Johnny and Glenn Alexander onstage

Setlist for October 5, 2013
Bogarts, Cincinnati, OH
(list via Natalie Ellis, as posted on the Asbury Jukes’ Facebook page)

I Only Want to Be With You
Passion Street
Lead Me On
Keep On Moving
I Played the Fool
You’re My Girl
All the Way Home
This Time It’s For Real
Till the Good Is Gone
Help Me
Without Love
Love On the Wrong Side of Town
Walk Away Renee
You Don’t Know Like I Know
Soul Man
Drown in My Own Tears (Jeff Kazee vocal)
Shake ‘Em Down
Don’t Be Cruel
Heartbreak Hotel
Fever
One More Night to Rock
Stand By Me
I Don’t Want to Go Home

First encore:
Talk to Me
Hearts of Stone

Second encore:
Better Way Home

Third encore:
Trapped Again

Band lineup:
Southside Johnny
Jeff Kazee
Glenn Alexander
Tony Tino
Tom Seguso
Neal Pawley
John Isley
Chris Anderson

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Useful Detours: D.A. Powell’s reading at Butler University

Sometimes roadblocks and road closures force you to detour in ways that turn out to be useful.

That isn’t a metaphor. Honest. So, I found out a while back that D.A. Powell would be reading in Butler University’s Visiting Writers Series, and knew I had to be there. Butler is on the north-ish side of Indianapolis, and since I drive like a little old lady, I always allow two hours to get there – it’s really not a bad drive at all, but far enough that I really have to want to go to a concert or a reading in order to make the effort. For a while there, I was driving an aging car that was actively trying to kill me (that’s an exaggeration, Mom) so the necessity of renting a car to get much of anywhere meant I got to places like Butler even less frequently – but now I have a sturdy reliable car, and I love driving, so yay for mini-road trips.

A few days ago, Indianapolis shut down two major thoroughfares through the city, I-65 and I-70, to do some major roadwork. For someone who lives 50-60 miles south of Indy I don’t actually spend that much time there, and I don’t know the roads all that well. So I puzzled over the detour maps for a while trying to figure out the best way to Butler, because of course my usual route is via I-65. Which was, you know, shut down. I decided the best thing would probably be to take I-465 about halfway around and then take 38th Street towards Butler, but between the construction sending people on all kinds of crazy detours and the fact that I would be getting into town around the tail end of rush hour (the reading was at 7:30 and hell if I was gonna be anywhere near late), I was afraid traffic would suck. So I allowed a full hour extra.

Traffic was fine, people. You wouldn’t even have known the construction was going on. I’m sure if I hadn’t planned ahead and had gotten into town only to find my exit closed I would have panicked, and if I’d tried to take back roads and cut through downtown or something I would have gotten lost (yes, I have a GPS; yes, I would have gotten lost anyway; I’m talented like that). But I was parked in the parking lot behind Clowes Hall at, um, 6:15 I think.

But then I sat in the car for a while poking at my phone, looking at Twitter and email and weather radar – and turns out if I’d left 45 minutes later, I would have been whomped on the way there by a badass thunderstorm, maybe even a couple of them. Wind, torrential rain, maybe even hail. I would have been cursing up a storm and hating my life. As it was, it sprinkled on me about ten drops as I walked from the car into the venue. So, go me. Hooray for detours and alternate routes!

D.A. Powell reading at Butler University podium

D.A. Powell reading at Butler University

The reading itself was, of course, fantastic. Powell read a couple of poems from Chronic (including the title poem, which knocks my socks off every time) and then the bulk of the reading was from his newest book, Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys. As always, listening to the poems (and Doug is a terrific reader of his own work) made me consider the poems differently than just reading them on the page – it’s like when you hear a song live after listening to the studio version a bunch of times, how just a little bit of changed phrasing makes a line stand out in a way that you think “wow, was that line even in there before?” And of course it was there all along, but hearing it in the moment, it’s different.

I’ve taken a couple of summer workshops with Doug Powell and besides being a phenomenal poet (which anyone who’s up on their contemporary poetry already knows), he’s also one of those teachers who can change a poet’s life. The thing about his workshops is: they were terrifying. Because I got pushed hard enough to write past anyplace I’d written before, and to tackle terrifying material. And at the same time, he created a space of absolute support and safety within the workshop, which made it okay to be terrified. Does that make sense? It might sound crazy if you’re not a writer, maybe. It’s not like I run around trying to get terrified for fun. I don’t like scary movies, I’m not crazy about rollercoasters – but being pushed to one’s creative brink like that is fucking exhilarating.

I haven’t been writing lately, and thinking about it now, I think it’s because I have backed away from letting myself be terrified. To be honest, real life has been terrifying enough on several occasions in the past couple of years, and I haven’t felt any desire to step out of my safety zone  when I didn’t absolutely have to. It’s hard to write when your life is busy being literal.

But I need to quit that safety zone like the bad habit that it is. I need to get back on the verbal tightrope. I just do.

On the way home I turned on the SiriusXM “Soul Town” station, which gave me some Sly & the Family Stone, some Al Green, some Stylistics, some Gladys Knight, and so on. Along the way I pulled into a gas station and scribbled out about half a poem, then bought an ice cream sandwich and drove the rest of the way in the dark, words bumping around inside my head in a way that I have been missing lately. Didn’t realize how much I’d missed it.

Also, it occurs to me that maybe nobody should ever try to write more than half a poem. I pretty much only get in trouble when I try too hard to finish them. From now on, I write half-poems. Terrifying? You bet. And hooray for that.

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Rock Stars and Road Trips

Anne Haines playing guitar circa 1978

Daydreamer. Me circa 1978.

When I was seventeen, I dreamed of travel. I loved listening to what I thought of as San Francisco music – 1960s Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, and the like – as well as some of the L.A. singer-songwriters of the time like Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac, and Joni Mitchell. I’d never been west of the Rockies, but for some reason California was where my daydreams drifted. (For that matter, I’d never seen the ocean, landlocked Midwestern girl that I was, and I was fascinated by the idea of that as well. Heart’s “Dreamboat Annie” album, with its ocean sounds, was a big favorite of mine.)

I’d taken guitar lessons for a couple of years, so of course that qualified me to daydream of being a rock star as well. I enjoyed writing songs, sensitive-singer-songwritery things as well as songs I played alone on my acoustic but on which I imagined screaming electric guitars and thunderous drums. I dreamed of riding around the country in my fancy tour bus, performing for appreciative crowds of thousands, and wearing really cool boots.

I won’t say that I didn’t have musical talent. I probably had enough. I’ve always had a good ear, and if I’d spent the time and effort and practiced a lot and worked really hard, I probably would have been a pretty good guitarist and a decent songwriter. Probably never would have been a great singer, but even without taking studio trickery into consideration, there are plenty of singers making a living out there with fairly ordinary voices. But I was shy, and didn’t always play well with others, and I never started a band. And I never had the onstage charisma or the pure chutzpah to put myself out there as a solo performer. Again, something that could likely have been remedied with some coaching and a lot of hard work – having grown up with a father who put himself through grad school and supported his family as a working musician, I have never had any illusions that being a musician was anything other than really hard work – so in the end the fact that I didn’t pursue this daydream is on me, completely, and my decision not to put in the work that would have been required.

When I went off to college in 1979 I sold my electric guitar (a little Gibson Melody Maker, and yes, I still regret this but at the time I needed the money more than I needed the guitar) and took the nylon-string and the Ovation roundback with me. I continued playing for fun but drifted away from practicing with any seriousness. But I still daydreamed of travel. I had a little road trip in mind that would involve driving south to New Orleans, then westward through the desert, on up the California coast to the Pacific Northwest, then home. I used to look at maps. I used to add up miles.

But I was an English major, so when I graduated I was pretty broke. By the time I was making enough money to even think about a six-week road trip I had a job, and cats, and … well, it never happened. I realized too, eventually, that I am not really a road-trip kind of person. I like comfort, and I like planning and having things go according to those plans. I’m not sure I would have done well as a touring musician, to be honest! In retrospect I would have done well to develop some technical skills and do some kind of studio work; I would’ve been a decent audio engineer, I suspect, or maybe even a producer. Water under the bridge, water under the bridge.

Those daydreams never completely go away, though. So that is why I occasionally do crazy things like drive 465 miles each way to Kansas City to see a Bruce Springsteen show (something I’ll be doing in November). It wasn’t until I was in my mid-forties that I had both the courage and the wherewithal to just jump in a car and hit the road for a rock & roll road trip; in 2008 I traveled to Nashville, St. Louis, and Kansas City for three shows in four nights, and that is still one of my favorite things I have ever done. I love driving hundreds of miles – with the right music and good weather it feels effortless as flight – and I especially love when I have a General Admission ticket and make a full day out of it, getting my wristband and lining up and hoping for a decent spot and waiting and waiting some more. I love the ritual of it: being let into the arena finally, finding my place, watching the tech crew make their final adjustments. The guitar tech rings out a few chords just to make certain. The lighting crew climbs up the flimsy monkey ladders into the rafters. Somebody comes out and tapes a setlist down. You can set your watch by all of this. The reserved seats begin to fill with people and the arena begins to fill with voices. Backstage, you know the band is performing whatever pre-show rituals they like to perform. And when the lights go down and the band strides out to claim the stage, which is one of my favorite moments in the world, it’s all the more joyous because of the hundreds of miles and the hours and the waiting and the ritual that led up to it.

Notre Dame's Athletic & Convocation Center, exterior view

Athletic & Convocation Center at Notre Dame

There is nothing better – nothing – than that moment when the lights go down. It’s like all at once the arena becomes as big as the heavens and as small as the pinpoint of a spotlight. The first arena shows I went to, when I was in high school, were in the basketball arena at Notre Dame University – at the time called the ACC (Athletic & Convocation Center) – which was a dome, and so it felt just a little like being inside a spaceship. When the lights went down and the roar from the crowd went up (along with no small amount of, er, herbivorous aroma – hey, it WAS the seventies), for just a moment it felt like you were launching into space. Then the spotlights hit, and you realize you are actually in the same room (albeit a very very large room) with someone whose voice has spent a lot of time in your ears, whose face you’ve looked at on album covers (and nowadays, on YouTube) – no matter how many times I see a performer it seems like there is always at least a momentary flash of “oh my gosh, it’s really him (or her)!”

Heady, and addictive, feelings all around. And feelings you cannot replicate with concert DVDs, with YouTube videos even if they pop up five minutes after the concert ends, with all the bootlegs and clippings in the world. I love recorded music, but man, nothing replaces the feeling of being in the room. NOTHING. And I love the road trips that I make for this. I still don’t think that I could travel for a living – I’m just too much of a middle-aged homebody now. But for a few days, there is something about making the effort, something about spending hours on the road and hours in line all for that unearthly moment of liftoff and the few short hours that follow it. I understand the concept of pilgrimage, now. So when you say I’m crazy to drive over 450 miles each way for a three-and-a-half hour show, yeah, maybe I am. But it’s a kind of crazy I’m in love with.

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Filed under music, ramblings, Springsteen