All posts by suefink

There are multiple Sue Finks. This Sue Fink is a Chicago-based singer/songwriter, best known for her quirky humor and poignant songs. More info at http://suefink.com

The TOUR Aspect, Part I: Getting the gigs

So, Jane and I are home from our tour… and there’s still so much more to say.  For example, we mostly haven’t written about our GIGS, but more about our adventures.  Friends have said, “so glad you had such a lovely vacation!”  — but it wasn’t a vacation, it was a tour, with a total of nine shows along the way:  1 in the Bay area, 2 between SanFran and L.A., 3 in L.A., 1 in New Mexico, and 2 in Missouri, on the tail end.

Jane and I started working on this tour back in January, planning our itinerary and timeframe , and earnestly calling venues beginning around March.  While both of us are known in our hometowns of St. Louis and Chicago, respectively, we are NOT known nationally, especially out West, where we’d decided to tour.  Just because one decides to go on a national tour does not make one a nationally-KNOWN touring artist — “known” being the key word here.

When we contacted standard venues, the first question was:  “what is your draw?” — i.e., can we fill their venue?  We’d explain that this was our first tour out West, so the draw would be light (a few friends at best), and not surprisingly, most venues weren’t interested in booking us.  It’s not personal; it doesn’t matter if we put on a good show or not:  If we perform an excellent show to a mostly empty room, this benefits neither us nor the venue.  So, we either heard back “no” or worse, nothing at all, from a majority of venues we’d contacted.

Jane and I were fortunate enough to have a few friends and venue contacts who were willing to give us a shot; and for the house concerts we performed, which will be discussed in Part 2 — there is NO way we could have undertaken this tour.

House concerts — literally, concerts held in people’s homes — are the saving grace of most musicians these days.  I’m not talking about such arena-filling musicians as Bruce Springsteen or Garth Brooks — but, I am talking about pretty much everyone else.  So, that’s coming next.  But here, I thought I’d post a few pics from some of our other gigs.  Each was fun, and instructive, in its own way.

Our first show, at Michael McNevin’s Mudpuddle Music shop, was a great way to start our tour:
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I wrote more about this in a previous post.  Thanks again, Michael!

On Sunday 9/14, we performed outdoors at the beautiful Sculpterra Wine Gallery:
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Unfortunately it was unseasonably hot:  106 degrees in the shade!  We were very thankful for the small but dedicated audience who toughed it out, and for the nice musicians we met as well.

I don’t have a picture from our San Luis Obispo gig, but a highlight was meeting a relative of one of my Chicago friends, who came specifically to see us… it’s SO wonderful to meet friends of friends, or relatives, along the way, makes you feel so much more welcome!  We really appreciated the attentive audience, too.

We performed at Genghis Cohen, in L.A., to a small but welcoming audience.  The size of the audience was reflected in our payment; but the attentiveness, friendliness, and encouragement of the audience reflected on our loving this gig regardless.  We were so pleased to share this night with the talented and sweet Courtney Leigh Heins:
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We performed two wonderful house concerts in L.A. as well, to be discussed in the next part.  Our next gig was in Silver City NM, and while we were paid, fed, and treated well, turns out the night we played was not normally a music night, so the audience was small.  The staff seemed to enjoy us though! 🙂

Our next show was in Lebanon, MO, where we opened up for Walenia — a truly lovely couple, Corey and Shelley, and their band — thanks to my friend Chris Darby who introduced us.   (Take a look at the tour schedule on Chris’s page, if you really want to be impressed… that’s a LOT of dates!)  This was a nice show, because we were made to feel so welcome, and we got to play for Walenia’s audience.  Fun night!

We opened for Walenia on 9/27 at Simplicity Coffee and Tea, Lebanon MO
We opened for Walenia on 9/27 at Simplicity Coffee and Tea, Lebanon MO

Our final Tour show was at 1900 Park in St. Louis, a lovely gallery/performance space.  Our audience was comprised mostly of friends and family of Jane, and our talented friend Bill Isles, who opened for us.  This was an audience pre-disposed to like us.  It was a wonderful way to end our tour!
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A Matter of Perspective

This entry won’t be about a specific adventure, but more a comment on what we’ve been finding on this tour.  No surprise, a lot has to do with attitude.  The same coffee mug can be looked at by a group of friends; and one might find it lovely, another useful, another artistic… and still another, deformed, too large, etc.  And yet:  same coffee mug!

When I go on an adventure, I never expect anything, but I do anticipate some things and know other things.   For example:  I knew that Jane and I would have a good time on this tour.  How could we not?  We both enjoy meeting new friends, having adventures, sharing music, and seeing unusual things.  So, I anticipated a good time, and — with only a few days left before this tour’s end — I haven’t been disappointed.  Beyond that, I had no expectations.
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Grandma Prisbey’s Bottle Village, which I wrote about earlier, was something I’d been wanting to see for DECADES.  I knew that time had taken its toll, and that things once whole would now be broken; but I also anticipated that the spirit of Grandma Prisbey would shine through no matter what.  Beyond that, I had no expectations.  The actual experience we had will stick with me now, forever and always!
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We will write a separate post about the friends and family who have showered us with kindness on this trip.  Certainly we had no expectations other than that we’d get to catch up with them; the excellent conversations and the care they’ve shown us have far exceeded anything we might have imagined, anyways.

With our gigs (which we haven’t written about yet!), it’s definitely best not to have expectations.  Truly, each gig is a “ya just never know” experience:  Who will be in the audience?  Will the sound equipment work?  Will they like what you bring them?  I always anticipate a good time, and in general that’s what happens.  Some shows are more “successful” than others, emotionally and/or financially — but each show gives you new information to work with, which comes in handy in the future.  That’s been my experience.

This tour included two very special house concerts, amongst other shows, and both were lovely, moving, heartening, etc., beyond even my anticipation (which was simply that both we, our hosts, and our audiences, would enjoy ourselves).

In particular, we had a special show hosted by the “other Sue Fink“:  she and I had been corresponding since approx. 2003, but had never met; she’s a singer, songwriter, vocal instructor, and chorale director.   We found we had similar senses of humor, and although we’d talked about having a “Sue Fink Squared” show sometime, it was just a pipe dream until we decided to tour  Los Angeles.  Sue and her partner, Jane, hosted Jane Godfrey and me, in their home, and it truly blew my mind:   it was beyond anything I could’ve imagined!

Sue Fink and Sue Fink!
Sue Fink and Sue Fink!

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Jane, Jane, Sue, and Sue!

So much more I want to say, but the hour is very late.  I knew our country was beautiful, but I didn’t realize how continuous this beauty is.  More than once, as we drove along, we broke out singing “America the Beautiful” in earnest.  The ocean, desert, rocky craggy mountains and tree-filled mountains… as we drove along, the landscape changed and changed again, filling us with wonder.

Trees in Alpine, AZ
Trees in Alpine, AZ

The tour’s not over yet — not until after this weekend!  So, I’ll anticipate more excellent adventures, but without expectations … and, ya just never know what’s coming next!

Dreams, the Passage of Time: Grandma Prisbey’s Bottle Village

I’m know I’m posting this adventure out of order, but I just couldn’t wait.  Time is moving so quickly for us, as it does for all travelers:  every day is a new adventure, and by the time you finish one you’re on to the next, often before you’ve had time to soak it all in, contemplate what it all means.  I don’t want to lose the feelings I had at this particular place.

Actually, Grandma Prisbey’s Bottle Village was the impetus for this tour.  Earlier this year, I was reminded of an article I’d read (when in my 20s) in an airplane magazine, about a woman who’d built a “village” entirely out of bottles and other found objects — initially to house her 17,000 pencil collection.   She started building in her 50s.  The walks were mosiac; the structures, a mixture of bottles collected at dumps, cement, and whimsy.  She gave tours for a quarter and if she felt like it, she’d sing and play racy songs for you at the end.  When I’d initially read this, I thought:  I must meet her! (for she was still alive at the time)  But like many things, it got lost in my “to do” list and never happened.

But now, with renewed interest, I was able to find the Bottle Village online.  Thresie (Tressa) Luella Schafer (aka “Grandma Prisbey”) was born in 1896, 1 of 8 children; she married at 15, had 7 children (she outlived all but one), two husbands, and died at age 92 in 1988.   She didn’t start building the village until she was nearly 60.  While the Village was maintained, in 1994 a 6.7 magnitude earthquake hit the area, destroying or damaging much of the village.  And although the society received FEMA funding to rebuild, a local congressman protested this, calling it a “waste,” so the funding was rescinded.  Now it sits in disrepair, but is still a California State Historical Landmark, amongst other designations, and is open to the public for limited touring.  All this, and more, can be found on the website’s timeline.

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Once I knew we’d definitely be in the area, I went about securing a tour date.  Turned out not to be as easy as I’d hoped:  run by a limited number of volunteers, the tour dates didn’t meet our needs.  However, a very nice volunteer, Katherine, agreed to meet us at a mutually convenient time and let us have a “self-guided” tour.  I was ecstatic!  Karen (my friend and our host), Jane, and I met Kathleen on 9/17 at 11am.  BV_Sue01    The village is in a residential area, just a little bit of magic tucked into the lazy hazy ‘burbs!

I hope you’ll take the time to check out these pictures of the Village before the earthquake hit, because they’re stunning:  http://www.bottlevillage.com/photo_gallery/photo_gallery.htm  The pictures on our site are taken by Jane and me, and personally I think they’re equally stunning but totally different:  before and after pics.  Our pictures show the ravages of time and nature.  Earthquakes take their toll, as does lack of funding.  Volunteers meticulously collected the bottles from broken buildings and categorized them, should they ever be able to re-build:

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It was a very hot day, and other than us, not a soul around.  You could see the artistry in disrepair; but that had nothing to do with the spirit of the place.  The whimsical doll heads on sticks:  BV_Sue20

The “Spring Garden”:  BV_Jane14

Here’s one I almost forgot to add.  Under a board, on the ground, Katherine showed us some photos that were ensconced in the cement.  Of Grandma Prisbey’s  children, perhaps?
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Some of the pencils that Grandma Prisbey loved can still be seen in the ruins of the Round House (see below).  Also, note how the sunlight streams in through the bottles, like a stained glass effect:

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Here are a few photos from the damaged Fluorescent Tube Fountain. Doesn’t it look like the horses (and ducks) are barreling right out of the cement?

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The “Leaning Tower of Bottle Village”:
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A little bit of the ceramic walkways:
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Just a few of my favorites, showing both the ruins and the continuing life going on around them:
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A picture of Jane, our lovely guide Katherine (who brought us lemonade in jars!), and my friend Karen — we’ve been friends for over 30 years:
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And just a few more.
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What’s so remarkable to me is that I’d had this village in my head for over 30 years, and now, although it’s not in the same shape as it once was — but what is? — seeing it was not a disappointment, it was a statement on time, art, memories, spirit, and friendship.

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Please check out the links to the Village, above, and here’s one last link in case you’d like to get involved, or make a donation, to keep this dream viable and available to the public:  http://www.bottlevillage.com/faq/faq.htm

Niles/Fremont, Mudpuddle Music, and Michael McNevin…

They are all inter-related.  And somehow I’m related, too, by recent past, and now, by present, so is Jane.  Let’s see if I can explain:

I met Michael McNevin in the mid-90s when he toured Chicago.  I liked his music, and he invited me to attend a house concert — a concert in someone’s home, something I’d never heard of before — the next night.  I did this, and from that night I found a whole new discovery of folk music, the house concert scene, new friends… a whole new world.

Eventually I hosted Michael in a house concert myself.  And eventually I  started writing songs myself.  So, it was especially meaningful to me when Michael agreed to host Jane and me at his Mudpuddle Music Shop in Niles/Fremont CA — our first show of the “Ya Just Never Know” Tour!

As we drove from Reno to Niles, Michael gave us a “back road” way to get there.  Unfortunately, he forgot to say “left” or “right” at an important juncture, and Jane made the mistake of listening to my gut feel (I’m directionally dyslexic!)  But the drive — both the wrong way and eventually the right way — was beautiful, it was a hot sunny day and soon we rolled into downtown Niles:

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And soon we found the tiny, magical Mudpuddle shop:

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We went for drinks and dinner at the back patio of The Vine, on the next block:

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The top of these two photos is Michael hanging a poster for an upcoming show; the latter is Michael telling us about the history of Niles/Fremont.  There is some fascinating stuff, and I have to go over my notes before posting incorrectly.  But basically, Niles is a historic district of Fremont — it’s a separate unincorporated city.  Fremont is larger, and while the Mudpuddle shop has a Fremont address, it’s in Niles.   Again:  inter-related.  Michael told us about the silent movie industry, which used to be very big in Niles before moving to Hollywood, and other cool stuff too… which will have to be in a separate post because once again I’m talking too much. 🙂

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Michael grew up in Niles, and appears to know everyone in town.  It was fun watching all the activity going on around us, listening to Michael talk about the town, reminiscing about his time touring in Chicago, and talking about keeping up with old friends.  And then:  time for the show!

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It was fun, it was funky, it was warm and friendly… a GREAT way to begin our gigs!  Our friends Claudia Russell and Bruce Kaplan came to see us (as well as my friend Carol, who hosted us in SanFran, and Renee, a relation by my sister’s marriage, amongst others).    Here we are after the show:

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In addition to all this, a videographer friend of Michael’s, Ken Bushman, happened to be there, and he not only shot footage from our show, but enhanced it in really cool ways, for example, interspersing my Damsel in Distress video by Mary Lewis with my performance of the song:  

After our sets, which were “audibles” — a football term we learned from Michael, which pretty much means to do things “on the fly” — there was a song circle, where many talented folks performed.  The whole night was absolutely magical.  If you’re in the area, check out Michael’s website to see what other performances he’s hosting at Mudpuddle, and around Niles.

So much more to say, but I think they’re about to kick us out of the coffee shop! 🙂  Thanks again, Michael McNevin!!

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Out the Window: Salt Lake City to Reno, 9/10

When one of us is driving, the other is taking pictures.  (Actually, sometimes the driver also just points out the window and clicks, without really looking… because ya just never know what amazing thing the camera will capture!)

We got in late to Salt Lake City on 9/9.  Basically, we blogged and slept, and left early on the 10th for Reno, where we’d be visiting my friends Darlynne and Paul.  On the way there, we saw a lot of SALT:

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The first picture shows the Morton Salt girl, but it’s hard to see.  (You can click any picture, and it’ll get bigger so you can see better).  The other two:  mountains of salt!  Think about that next time you use your little salt shaker! 🙂

The landscape from SLC and along Nevada reminded me of the moon… not that I’ve ever been on the moon, of course, but it’s what I’d imagine it to be.  It looked like white quicksand, but there were tire tracks along the perimeter, so that was really interesting:

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And there was a Train to Nowhere… at least that’s what it looked like to me.  We saw a few of these, trains in the middle of nowhere, not necessarily moving, either.  Like ghost trains, perhaps?

I love funky roadside signs.  This is when we were approaching Nevada, I think:
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I kept waiting for some showgirls to come running down from the mountains!

We stopped for gas shortly thereafter… no doubt we were in Nevada now!

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Once we reached Reno, Darlynne and Paul showered us with kindness, food, hospitality, and comfort.  Everywhere we go we’ve been the recipients of kindness, friendship and care.  But, practicing brevity:  more on that in another post! 🙂

Colorado: Part 1, Red Rocks Amphitheatre!

We left St. Louis on 9/6, spent a blessedly uneventful night in Hays, KS, then drove in to Colorado, where we stayed with Jane’s brother Rich and his lovely wife Heidi.

Jane, Rich, and Heidi at Red Rocks
Jane, Rich, and Heidi at Red Rocks

The first night there, I met up with dear friend Nancy Walker (formerly with Sons of the Never Wrong; she moved to NY, and last year, to CO).   Suffice to say that there’s nothing like reconnecting with old friends and catching up, and picking up right where you left off.  I can’t believe I forgot to take a picture!   Nancy looks great, is happy, and loves her new home.  So glad we were able to meet!

The next day, Jane and I followed Rich and Heidi up to Red Rocks Amphitheatre — you’ll never guess what color the mountain rocks are! 🙂

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Here is what the amphitheatre looks like:

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Amazing to see those red rocks, the long rows of seats, the little exercisers working out on the steps… and down below, the massive stage, blending in with nature, and imagining all the amazing artists who’ve played there, the sun going down, illuminating the rocks… as Jane said, it was awesome in the true sense of the word!

Inside the visitor center, one could see plaques with naming all the performers, from Nat King Cole to Igor Stravinsky.  Duke Ellington, Fleetwood Mac, Dan Fogleberg…  An entire wall full of names, from the 1940s to the present.   A heady lineup indeed.  And, on another wall were amazing posters, and pictures of those who’d performed there… including my “boyfriend,” Bruce Springsteen!  (Doesn’t this picture look like he’s patting me on the head? 🙂 )

(doesn't it look like he's patting me on the head?)
photo by Jane Godfrey

Although we were only there for a brief time, I feel as though we’re now part of this history.  I’d love to see a show there some time, but for now must use my imagination.  Definitely worth visiting!

Display at Red Rocks visitor center
Display at Red Rocks visitor center

More info on this venue can be found here.

Driving to Jane’s, or: the Solo Drive

On 9/4, I left Chicago for Jane’s around 6pm — only six hours behind schedule, a new record for me.  I’m always running late, but this was ridiculous!  Now I’d be driving mostly in darkness… which would completely change my CD setlist.

It’s always the setlist that makes the drive, that informs the journey.  Before I leave, when choosing which CDs to bring, sometimes one will say, “no, I’d best stay here” and another says “why not choose me?”  and I do as I’m bidden.    Once in the car, it’s a matter of which gets played when.  Sometimes I reach for a CD and it says “not yet.”  The right CD always gets played at the right time; it’s the soundtrack to the adventure, it informs you, on some cellular level (cells in your body, NOT cell phone service!) what’s going to happen next.

In this case, I’d just received Steve Dawson‘s new CD, “Funeral Bonsai Wedding,” shortly before the trip; I’d pre-ordered it, knowing that I’d be missing its Chicago release on 9/12.  When I tried to play it pre-trip, I couldn’t get past the first song:  I love it (“Ezra Pound and the Big Wood River”), Steve played it solo in an in-the-round we’d done in May, it’s epic, and I’d been waiting for its release for months.  It’s so amazing that as soon as it finished I’d just play it again… and again, and again.  It’s like eating a particularly tasty food item in a meal, you just don’t want to rush to the next item, you want to savor each item separately.  So I saved this CD for my trip.  (Plus, I love anticipation and delayed gratification! 🙂 )

I played other lovely CDs first, and waited until I was whipping along I55, the sun completely gone, total darkness.  In went “Funeral Bonsai Wedding.”  Played the first song, and forced myself not to re-play, to move past.  I’ll just say:  the vibraphone is prevalent throughout.  It’s insistent.  It’s the voice of someone’s favorite aunt, a little jarring at first, that distinctive laugh, you wonder if she’s doing it on purpose; then you don’t notice it anymore, other than that without her voice the conversation would be so much duller, and now she’s part of your family, too.  That was like the vibraphone for me.  At first I noticed it constantly; then I didn’t, unless I thought about it.

There was one song that was so forceful and rhythmic, I had the distinct feeling that if I rolled the window down to let in the night, I might veer off into blackness and space and never fully return.  I finally got the guts to do this, but I had to really concentrate on staying here on earth.  This is a powerful album, folks, from beginning to end.  I don’t fully understand everything, which I like.  I’ll be giving it multiple listens and getting something different out of each one.  And Jane and I will listen at some point, too.

By the time I arrived at Jane’s, at 11pm, I was fully energized.

Driving solo is a completely different energy than driving with a companion… but both Jane and I feel the same way about CDs making the trip.  More on that in another post!