Steve Writes A Blog

MNF (And The Joys of Walking Distance) 

It had been years (probably around 20) since I attended my first and only NFL game - until Monday night, of course. And that 20-year mark is very appropriate, considering that 20 degrees was pretty much the temperature outside. Oh, yes, we were bundled up tight.

Why did I go? Obviously because the tickets were free! My one housemate's nephew works for ESPN so he got us tickets specifically for the Steelers vs. Titans game because my other housemate is a big Steelers fan. And I could give a damn. But if it's free, it's for me, so off we went kept warm by the layers of clothes, the hot chocolate, and the Jim Beam!

I actually had a pretty good time. I don't like watching football and don't root for a team (despite the large amount of Bills and Giants fans amongst my family and friends), but seeing it live was a lot of fun. The game goes a lot faster in person than on TV, and being in the thick of it with the fans was exciting. And since there really are very few Titans fans and Pittsburgh is only about 9 hours from Nashville, the place was filled with lots of Steelers fans. I'd have to say at least half the crowd was rooting for the Steelers, myself included because of my housemate (my allegiances are up for grabs).

And the best part? Aside from the Steelers winning, the good seats, the boisterous company, and the smuggled-in bourbon, we we were able to take Lyft there and then walk back. No fighting with traffic, no jacked up parking fees, and no having to drive, and that's the larger point of this post: everything is so close in Nashville, especially to where I live right now. Despite the cold, us walking home from LP Field was an easy 1.6 mile trip. When I went to the CMAs last week? We walked home. When I hit Rock Bottom a few days after that? Yeah, we walked both ways. If I want to catch a show at the Ryman Auditorium I can watch tickets online right up until showtime, buy tickets last minute, walk to the venue, and still make it on time. Back in Poughkeepsie the closest arena is in Manhattan, Albany, Long Island, or Hartford - trips that take a little planning and maybe even more driving. But not here. It's very convenient.

And then later on we went to the Hermitage Cafe for late night breakfast.

If You Watch Football on Thanksgiving, You're Part of the Problem (Updated) 

Last November, self-righteous, condescending, and professional internet troll blogger Matt Walsh posted this article entitled, "If You Shop on Thanksgiving, You Are Part of the Problem," and after being picked up by Huffington Post it quickly began making the rounds on Facebook. It's a post decrying the bloated growth of Black Friday to the point where our national day of Thanksgiving could now more accurately be called Black Thanksgiving (coincidentally also the name of my unwritten holiday-themed horror movie), as well as assigning the blame for the moral crumbling of a great American tradition to shoppers looking for a deal. And his views haven't changed given this recent tweet:
We live in a country that has a nasty problem with consumerism and debt, and stores being open for big sales on Thanksgiving is really all the evidence you need that the problem is getting worse. But now that we're well into another November, faux concern and anger over this practice is again spreading online, and I can't help but try to illuminate Matt and those who feel the same way he so surely does to the bigger picture that they are clearly missing (or simply choosing not to see). Just because you don't go shopping doesn't mean you're not a part of the same problem you're so seemingly miffed at.

Matt writes:
Capitalism is great, but some things are greater. Family is greater. Yes, these folks choose to work at these stores. Yes, they likely knew when they signed up that they'd be sacrificing their Thanksgivings. Yes, at least they have jobs. Yes, sure, and so what? If that's enough in your mind to justify participating in the destruction of a great American tradition -- good for you. But you COULD wait until Friday, couldn't you? And if you did wait until Friday, and if everyone waited until Friday, no store would ever open on Thanksgiving again, right? So you COULD take steps to protect Thanksgiving from the decay of materialism and consumerism, and, while you're at it, give this wonderful holiday back to the customer service representatives who have been forced to abandon it and cater to the stampeding throngs, right?
An interesting point there, and in light of it I would like to ask Matt, and everyone else who is outraged over stores being open on Thanksgiving, a few questions.

To start: do you watch football on Thanksgiving? Have you ever spent your holiday going to a game? If so, have you ever thought about all the people who have to work to make the game and the broadcast happen? The last game was less than 3 days ago on Monday night - can't you wait until Sunday for another? And if you did wait until Sunday, and if everyone waited til Sunday, no football game would ever be played on Thanksgiving again, right? From parking attendants, to ushers, to security, to food service workers, I'm sure they're all more than happy to give up their Thanksgivings so that you can sit home or in the stadium and enjoy yours more. But it's OK, because football makes the day more bearable and it's tradition, right?

Have you ever been to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, or watched it on TV? Have you ever thought of the number of extra cops who have to work because of that 4-hour commercial which, by the way, has become a glowing symbol of the very consumerism you have such a problem with? What about all the workers who have to staff the businesses along the parade route? I went to the parade when I was in 7th grade. We took a  Metro-North train into the city, had lunch at McDonald's in Times Square, and froze our asses off. But it's OK, because it's tradition, right?

One of my biggest pet peeves with holidays in general is that once 8PM rolls around, most everything is done with and there's really nothing to do...but you can always go to the movies. Have you ever gone to the movies on Thanksgiving? Do you think the people who sell you your ticket, sell you your snacks, run the projectors, and then clean the theaters are simply not interested in spending time with family and friends? I don't know, but regardless it's OK, because after all nothing says "giving thanks" like catching one of the probably 17 Thanksgiving Day showings of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 at your local Regal, right?

Lots of people consider it a holiday to not have to cook on Thanksgiving. Have you ever eaten at a restaurant on Thanksgiving? Maybe a Denny's. What about gotten coffee at a diner or a drink at a bar with some friends that you don't see very often? Do you think the wait staff and cooks have an aversion to being in close quarters with loved ones, and therefore are cool with working? Maybe it's a family establishment and so it's all good because they're all in it together. I really don't know.

If you are cooking, are you doing it all by candlelight over a campfire in your backyard? I doubt it, which means you're going to be using plenty of electricity and possibly gas, and you must realize that those services simply don't run themselves. Someone has to be manning the system, and someone has to be ready to go into the field to deal with emergencies and outages.

Occasionally when you're in the midst of cooking a meal you realize we forgot to buy something, and Thanksgiving is no different. So what do you do? Go out to the supermarket to grab it? If you couldn't remember the cranberries before the big day can't you just go with out them on the big day? Think of those people working the checkout register.

If you were to call 911, would you expect someone to answer and help to be sent your way? Probably. I have a paramedic friend who has worked Thanksgiving for years, and not because he doesn't like turkey.

What happens when you're on the way to grandma's and you realize your car is running is on empty?

Now of course I'm embellishing the point to drive it home - unfortunately that's what you have to do to compete in the bullshit hyperbolic, absolute "truth teller" world that an internet arbiter like Matt Walsh thrives in. Nuance is for lesser thinkers. This Thanksgiving I might watch football (though I'm not a huge fan), may watch the parade (though I find it kinda boring), and might hit a diner, grab a drink, or see a movie (though probably not The Hunger Games). I doubt I'll call 911, but who the hell knows? I won't be doing any shopping, but I also won't be under the delusion that nothing I do this holiday will have a negative impact on other people. Companies like Wal*Mart who employ workers at low wages and use shady compensation tactics to prevent them from truly making holiday pay should of course be ashamed of themselves, but the emergence of more "open for business" signs on Thanksgiving is merely an extension of a problem in America that has been building for years and years: those who can afford it will have good holidays, and those who cannot will work.

And just like you're so upset about Thanksgiving Day sales, I guarantee that in 10 years you will be flipping a shit if they decided to end them.

Because by that time it would be tradition, right?

How I Attended The 48th CMA Awards Courtesy Of The Doobie Brothers 

Country music was never my thing growing up, and as I've said before I never thought I would find myself living in Nashville. I also never thought I would find myself at the CMA Awards, a show that to be honest I don't know if I've ever sat down to watch on TV at home. But on Wednesday, November 4th - my 6-week anniversary of moving to Nashville - I not only went to the show, I went for free courtesy of The Doobie Brothers. What the hell? Yes, exactly. It's actually an amusing story, though less because of me and more because of dumb luck.

As a songwriter new to town, one of the first things I did was join NSAI - the Nashville Songwriters Association International - and of course I like them on the Facebook. Around 10:45AM Tuesday morning, the day before the CMAs, The Doobies posted the following message and picture, and NSAI shared it through their page:

Anyone who knows Nashville music knows that the picture is of Historic RCA Studio B, about a block from NSAI headquarters, and right next to Ben Fold's Grand Victor Sound Nashville Studio (formerly Historic RCA Studio A) that was recently saved from being demolished. I know right where that is, I thought. I could be there in 10 minutes. My girlfriend (a big country fan) was coming to town the next day and I knew she would love to go to the show, so after a few minutes of waffling I threw on some clothes and jumped in my car.

I got to the area around 11:20 - about 35 minutes after the picture had been posted - found a spot a block away on South St./Chet Atkins Pl., and started walking toward the studio. Then I may have started running. I had no idea how many other people were going to be trying to find these tickets, so I had to get there fast. And when I got there I one else around. The searched commenced. For about 20-25 minutes I looked all around the building, through the glass doors, under rocks, in trees. Anyone driving by probably couldn't understand why there was a weird guy crawling through bushes on Music Row, but you do what you gotta do. And for all my efforts I still found nothing. No envelope. No tickets. I was about ready to give up and go home.

Then the side door opened and a guy walked out wearing a laminate of some sort. I turned to him and said, "Hey, where are these Doobie Brothers tickets?" He held out his hand and gave them to me. Turns out he was the manager of Studio B and had found the tickets taped to the back of the tribute Roy Orbison guitar when he got to work that morning, but that he couldn't go to the show because he didn't have a sitter. I was dumbfounded. I took the tickets, shook his hand, and he went about welcoming a busload of tourists. A quick call to a number left with the tickets confirmed them, and I was asked to send a picture of me holding the tickets in front of the studio.

See what I mean? Dumb luck. I've had experiences and met people that I can in some way attribute to the work that I've done, but let's be honest here: the only reason I got these tickets was because I'm relatively new in town, don't have a lot going on during the day, and can leisurely browse Facebook at 10:45 in the morning!

Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, TN - November 5, 2014
So how was the show itself? It was cool. Very impressive seeing how they moved from act to act so seamlessly using one big stage in the front of the arena and one smaller stage in the back. They would lower facades on the main stage so that one artist could be setting up without being seen while another was performing, but our seats were high enough that we could see it all happening.

Pre-show view of the main stage from our seats
During commercial breaks clips from past CMAs were shown on the screens, and the crowd gave a very audible "boo" when Garth Brooks' "Friends In Low Places" clip was abruptly cut off to get ready to come back to the live broadcast (oh and by the way, that clip really shows how the country music scene has changed over the past 24 years). You could also hear the bands warming up, sometimes giving away to the arena audience what they were going to be playing. My favorite performance of the night was probably Carrie Underwood doing "Something In The Water," because it's a powerful song and she's such a monster singer. And say what you will about country music, but each band was tight. It was great hearing real musicians playing real instruments live. Jason Aldean could've used a little auto-tune, though.

The Doobie Brother's closed out the show with "Takin' It To The Streets," which was fitting for me because that was one of the first songs my cover band learned back in 2011. But Michael McDonald does a better Michael McDonald impression than any of us ever could.

My Favorite Open Mic In Nashville 

As a general rule, I don't really like open mics. I'm sure I've written about this before somewhere, but there it is again. The problem with open mics is embedded in their very format - they're open. Anyone can sign up, anyone can play. And as I wrote in my last post, even in Nashville that means on any given night the quality of the performers will range from "great" to "what the hell was that," and you hope that you lean more toward the former than the latter. But keeping that in mind - and the fact that I haven't been to every one Nashville has to offer - the open mic that is quickly becoming my favorite is the Douglas Corner Cafe. Why? I'll tell you.

Donnie Winters - The Douglas Corner Open Mic/Writer's Night is hosted by Donnie Winters, a friendly, welcoming musician who has been around for years and years. He's patient and relaxed with the performers, often joins some of the songwriters on their songs, and facilitates a great atmosphere to play and meet others.

Great Sound System - Not having the right mic placement or being unable to hear yourself well enough can really throw your performance off, especially for a keyboard player like myself. Guitar players have their instrument right with them as they're singing, but if I can't hear my keyboard well enough through the monitor it can make things difficult. Thankfully, that's never a problem here.

Two Songs - A lot of open mics in town you get one song, and when you sometimes have to sign up by 8 to not play til after 10, only getting to play one song can be frustrating. But at Douglas Corner you get 2 to show your work, every time.

Round Style - A writer's round is when you have three or four songwriters on stage, each taking turns playing a song, and this is how Douglas Corner is set up. Four writers on stage playing one song apiece, and then one song apiece again. It's good for the writers and the listeners.

The Regulars - Douglas Corner, unlike some other open mics, actually has regulars who play there every week, and most likely they're the ones you want to hear each week. Why do they keep coming back? My guess is the reasons that I've mentioned above.

$2.75 PBRs - This one should be pretty self-explanatory.

You Never Know What To Expect - The last time I played there I shared the stage with a husband & wife who sang foreign songs and spirituals a cappella. And during one of the songs by the 4th person on stage they started to slow dance. It was...weird. The wife was crazy. I'm sure that despite my efforts my face told the audience exactly what I was thinking.

I'll keep checking out open mics in town, but the bar's been set pretty high. I'll see you there on Tuesday.

Welcome To Nashville 

Well things are starting to settle down for me in my new Tennessee digs. I arrived in town on September 24 with a week-long Airbnb reservation so I could apartment hunt, and hunt I did. I looked at 5 or 6 places that I found on Craiglist, and I lucked into a house near downtown owned by a fellow musician/songwriter from Long Island who went to college in the Hudson Valley and has been in town for 10 years. Big Beatles fan, big Billy Joel fan. Pure coincidence.

I'm obviously still finding my way around and getting to know the lay of the land, but allow me to share some things that I've learned in my first two weeks in Nashville.

1. The traffic sucks. I was not expecting this, but the population of Nashville has outgrown the city, and it continues to grow. As a result, during rush hours Interstates 24, 40, and 60, can be miles of stop and go drivers, and the streets near downtown can be gridlocked for blocks. Oh, and rush hour starts around 3PM.

2. There are Targets everywhere. Back home there's a Target in Poughkeepsie, and ones in Kingston and Newburgh that I'd never go to, but in greater Nashville there's about 14. I feel like I can throw a stone from anywhere and hit one. I drive home from a Target and on the way I pass another Target. No joke.

3. The three main supermarket chains - Harris Teeter, Kroger, and Publix - all carry Boar's Head deli products. Need I say more? I didn't think so. Damn, I could go for a sandwich right now. And speaking of supermarkets...

4. Sales tax on groceries. The state of Tennessee does not have an income tax, so they need to raise money in other ways such as charging sales tax on groceries. In New York, groceries are sales tax-free, and I think that's the way it should be. Sales taxes are regressive to begin with, but to charge it on food? Bad form.

5. Open mics can suck just as much as everywhere else. Coming to Nashville you might think that open mics are going to be filled with top notch talent. Nope. Sorry. Not to say you can't find anyone great, but you're gonna have to wade through a lot of other music on the way. I played the open mic at the famous Bluebird Café on Monday, listened to about 33 other songwriters, and was really impressed by 1 of them. The rest ran the gamut of quality from bad to good like any other open mic I've been to. If you want really good songs, go to a writer's night, which is not open and features performers arranged in advance.

6. There are cash advance stores everywhere. Tennessee Quick Cash. A-1 Cash Advance. Evergreen Cash Advance. Inglewood Cash Advance. Advance Financial. Xpress Cash Advance. I noticed it when I visited in April, as well. It's sad.

7. Bolton's Spicy Chicken is really hot. The end.
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