Trip Peek #49
Trip #126
Stone Pony Picnic

This picture is from my 2015 Stone Pony Picnic outing to see Willie Nile in Asbury Park, New Jersey. The trip name comes from the fact that the performance took place at the legendary Stone Pony and the picture at right proves it. Although this was the fifth time I’d seen Willie, it was the first time I’d seen him with all members of his current band in place. Killer! The Nile show was on the second night of the six day trip and I bracketed it with a stop near Philadelphia to see a guitarist I’ve been listening to for years and a return to the Stony Pony for a tribute to the man who is responsible for a whole lot of its legend. So that took care of half of the trip and I filled out the remainder with a gay pride parade, a stop on E Street, a visit to a pretzel factory, and nitro powered beverages at a pair of breweries just 140 miles apart on the same “street” (US-50).

Trip Peeks are short articles published when my world is too busy or too boring for a current events piece to be completed in time for the Sunday posting. In addition to a photo thumbnail from a completed road trip, each Peek includes a brief description of that photo plus links to the full sized photo and the associated trip journal.

Rock ‘n’ Rail Redux

pic01cThe train was canceled on my first attempt to ride the rails to DC for a concert and on the second attempt it was hours late. This time it was just right and I’m in the nation’s capital ready to see Willie Nile and his band perform their new album. I’m just a little late for the cherry blossoms and the weather doesn’t look all that promising but I hope to get to look around the mall a little bit before show time.

The journal for the trip is here. This entry is to let blog subscribers know of the trip and to provide a place for comments.

Music Review
World War Willie
Willie Nile

wwwillie_cvrI’ve been a serious Willie Nile fan for barely two years or something like 5% of his career. I feel bad about that. I know I missed a lot and assumed that I’d missed him at his peak. World War Willie makes that assumption laughable.

I’ve told elsewhere how I remembered 1980’s “Vagabond Moon” only after his 2013 road trip anthem, “American Ride”, caught my ear and how I was subsequently blown away seeing him live in February of 2014. I can’t say for certain that Willie, who is just a little over a year younger than me, is as energetic on stage as he once was but it’s possible. Are the shows I’ve seen as good as the ones I’ve missed? How do performances of the most recent two years compare to those that came before? I can’t know that but I do know that they are outstanding and compare most favorably with some great past concerts that I didn’t miss.

While it is impossible to go back to attend those missed shows, it is quite possible to listen to music created in the past and I did that eagerly. There were no disappointments. Earlier Willie Nile albums held up well when compared to American Ride and vice versa.

The first new Willie Nile product to be released following my conversion was 2014’s If I Was a River. It was a delight but different. It was mostly solo and acoustic and maybe the sort of album that fools like me think of an aging rocker doing as he slows down but Willie wasn’t slowing down at all. The piano was his first instrument and he told writer Peter Gerstenzang that he had “…wanted to do an all-piano album for a number of years”.  He also told Gerstenzang that, “I’m gonna make a full-on rockin’ album with my band for the next release.” And so he has.

The new album rocks as hard as Places I Have Never Been or Streets of New York or any of the other previous Willie Nile offerings. As guitarist Poppa Chubby says, in one of the first outside things I read about World War Willie, “There’s not a single down moment on this record.” What there is is eleven new songs and one cover. There is serious stuff like “”Let’s All Come Together” and fun stuff like the title track and “Grandpa Rocks”. And of course there is serious stuff disguised as fun stuff like “Citibank Nile”. The lone cover is Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” which Nile has frequently played live and on which he has put his own stamp.

Great characters populate great songs. Folks in my age bracket might identify with the subject of “Grandpa Rocks” whose “hair what’s left grows down to his socks” and who wears a “‘been there’ grin”. I feel like the line “He ain’t afraid of dyin’ he just likes bein’ alive” fits perfectly. The “Runaway Girl” is “a two-dream girl in a one-horse town”. The album’s most disturbing character appears in what is currently my favorite song in the collection. With “fire in her eyes and a pint between her thighs” the young girl in “Trouble Down in Diamond Town” is clearly set on self destruction. The song’s slightly syncopated three shots mark some of the most efficient and effective use of drumsticks this side of the opening of the Eagles’ “Hotel California”.

Drummer Alex Alexander provides a lot more than three shots. Neither he nor bassist Johnny Pisano are ever intrusive but focusing on either will reveal some truly impressive work that both supports the tunes and drives them forward. One time Eagle Steuart Smith contributes guitar to a couple of tracks including the Levon Helm tribute “When Levon Sings”. However most of the album’s guitar work comes from band regular Matt Hogan and that includes some mighty nice slide playing on the bluesy “Citybank Nile”.

“Grandpa Rocks” ends with the spoken words “Where’s my cane? Who are these people?Get offa my cloud.” It’s natural to think that Grandpa is Willie and that those words come from the real Willie Nile. However just a little thought is all that’s required to see that that simply can’t be true. Everybody’s welcome on Willie’s cloud. Climb aboard and listen up.

Stone Pony Picnic

stoneplogoI’m off to at least one concert, maybe two, and there’s a pretty good chance I’ll also get to see a parade. The for-sure concert is Willie Nile’s 35th Anniversary Show at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey, on Friday night. The maybe is a Bruce Springsteen tribute band playing the same place on Saturday. The parade is a gay pride event on Sunday.

The journal for the trip is here. This entry is to let blog subscribers know of the trip and to provide a place for comments.

Not A Bad Week At All

wnile01It’s been a pretty full week. It included several things that could have been turned into blog posts if I felt the urge but none for which the urge was felt. I was about to schedule a Trip Peek to fulfill my Sunday morning commitment when I decided to just list the week’s activities and include a few pictures from my favorite.

On Sunday I went to the afternoon performance of Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash at Playhouse in the Park. The play was over before the big football game started so I watched some of that, too, but I liked the play a whole lot more.

Monday was Groundhog Day and, although I didn’t didn’t actually travel to the home of any of the prognosticating rodents this year, I did make the quasi-traditional visit to Bob Evans for ground hog & eggs and I did follow the reports. There are three furry forecasters whose jurisdictions I think I might be in. One is Punxsutawney Phil who is the most famous and whose forecasts might, for all I know, apply to the whole world. The others are Buckeye Chuck, Ohio’s Official State Groundhog, who makes his predictions in Marion, and Rosie who lives and works in nearer-to-my-home Dayton. Phil and Rosie saw their shadows. Chuck did not. What now? There isn’t even a geographic pattern. I don’t know whether to hunker down for six more weeks of winter or get ready for it to be over in a month and a half.

Tuesday I did nothing but meet the gang for some Buzztime trivia. The temperature was in the 40s on Wednesday so I walked down to Flipdaddy’s for exercise then ate a Burger of the Month to nullify it.

A string of nights out began on Thursday with the Bare Boards Theater Company‘s performance of Rabbit Hole. This isn’t a trivial play but the BBTC nailed the first performance of their first production. I attended with my daughter and both of us were entertained and impressed.

wnile02wnile03wnile04On Friday it was a Willie Nile concert at The Southgate House Revival. I became an overnight fan of Willie after seeing him for the first time last year and bought my ticket to this show as soon as I heard about it. I learned just a few days ago that, rather than the anticipated full band show, this would be a performance with just Willie and bassist Johnny Pisano. I thought things might get toned down and I’d be disappointed. No so and not so. I’ll admit to missing Matt Hogan’s guitar licks now and then but I got to focus on and appreciate Johnny’s outstanding bass work even more. Far from being disappointed, it was, as you can see, my favorite event of the week.

The Cincinnati Winter Blues Festival took place on Friday and Saturday. I wrapped up my week by going to the festival’s second night with a few friends. The night’s headliner was young guitar phenom Joanne Shaw Taylor and she did not disappoint. The festival was successful to the point of being uncomfortably crowded. Maybe I’m just getting too old for this sort of thing even when it’s got chandeliers and marble staircases.

Chip Shot

Ballreich chips & Jolly rootbeerMaybe I wouldn’t normally drive to Michigan just for a concert and maybe I wouldn’t normally drive to northern Ohio just for a potato chip, but at the trailing edge of a winter that has snow falling in the last week of March, either would have qualified as raison d’roadtrip. Together, they could not be denied.

As a child, I had a certain amount of fondness for the well-oiled curled-up and crunchy product of the long gone Star Potato Chip Company in nearby North Star, Ohio. There was also a brief period in my early twenties when I faced the risk of addiction to Mikesell’s Green Onion Potato Chips. Since then, although I’ve certainly eaten my share of chips and crisps and even those impostors that are neatly stacked in tubes, I’ve not had a favorite. I hadn’t really thought about it until a Jim Grey blog post made me realize that I lived in a state that was a legitimate “King of the Chips” contender. The post is here and well worth reading but the important point for me was that Jim, after some serious research, had picked two Ohio made chips as his favorites.

The musical part of the equation is that Willie Nile, who I’ve recently discovered I like a lot, would play his last concert before heading to Spain in Ann Arbor, Michigan. One of Jim’s picks is based in Tiffin, Ohio, which is, if you look at it with the proper motivation, right on the way to Ann Arbor. You could also look at it with the idea that, once you’ve driven to Tiffin, Ann Arbor is just a hop, skip, and a jump farther. Either way works for me.

Ballreich chipsBallreich chipsI headed north on I-75 then left the interstate at Findlay to follow US 224 to Tiffin. If I had studied the history of Ballreich Brothers Inc. a little better, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find it in what is basically a residential area on the east side of town. Big buildings have been built and much equipment installed over the last 90+ years but the company remains located right where Fred and Ethel Ballreich started making potato chips in a copper kettle in their garage in 1920. Although the company store is open Monday through Friday during the Christmas season, the normal schedule is Friday’s only. Lucky thing that I was going to a Friday concert and even luckier that I checked in advance since I initially thought of stopping on the way home. In addition to all the company’s snack products, the store offers clothing, mugs, and other items bearing the company logo. I grabbed both a large and a small bag of the Original Marcelled chips and a big bag of sweet potato chips which were unexpected but immediately snagged my interest. I intended to also get a small bag of Sour Cream & Onion but another surprise, Salt & Vinegar, must have distracted me because I let the Sour Cream & Onion get away.

Jolly's root beer, Tiffin, OHI had forgotten that a Jolly’s Root Beer stand existed in Tiffin but instantly recalled the connection with the two in Hamilton, Ohio. The ones in Hamilton can be traced back to 1938 and founder Vinny Jolivette. This one was started by Vinny’s brother, Roy, in 1947. The stand surprised me but the fact that it was open — with temperatures in the 40s — surprised me even more. I’m sure the idea started to form as soon as I saw the Jolly’s sign and it was fully formed by the time I left the Ballreich company store. Rather than having my first Ballreich experience in the parking lot or as I drove out of town, I headed back to the drive-in and that’s how the photo at the top of the article came to be.

Even though I thought I knew what Jim was talking about with his dry chips and moist chips, it wasn’t until I chomped down on one of Ballreich’s beauties that I really understood. All the moisture and much of the flavor had disappeared from my chip supply so gradually that I didn’t consciously miss it. I do now, of course, but I fortunately live in Ohio and, even though Ballreich’s hasn’t reached Cincinnati yet, I frequently pass thorough places where they are supposed to be available. I’ll be OK.

Lamp Post Inn, Ann Arbor, MII asked a couple Michiganers about independent motels in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti resident, Russell Rein, reported that only one remained standing that he knew of. One was enough. The Lamp Post Inn had pretty good reviews, reasonable rates, and a very acceptable location. There is a peek inside my room here. The location became more than acceptable when I searched for Friday Lenten “fish fries” and found one within walking distance of the motel. I’ve made a habit of attending a variety of such events for the last few years and this year am planning on posting some sort of summary after Easter.

The Ark, Ann Arbor, MIThe concert venue, The Ark, was just a couple of miles away. It’s quite a nice place on the second floor of the building in the picture. I’m guessing that it seats no more than 300 and less than a third of those are reserved. I had been able to buy the last reserved seat because, as is often the case, few people want a single seat. Overall, the show was close to being sold out but not quite.

Willie NileI bought a Nile CD, Places I Have Never Been, at that impressive concert in Newport, Kentucky, in February (my post here) then ordered American Ride online. Those two CDs, one more than twenty years old and the other less than a year old, went into heavy rotation in the car. I was becoming quite a fan and thinking I’d like to see another show now that I was a little better prepared. The Ann Arbor show was not only the last in the States for awhile, it was also the closest. Every time I listened to one of those CDs, I would be ready to make plans as soon as I got home. Then some time would pass and I would talk myself out of it. Eventually I listened to Willie Nile and read about potato chips on the same day.

Larry BeersJohnny PisanoMatt HoganThe lineup was the same as it had been in February. Guitarist Matt Hogan and Bassist Johnny Pisano had a little more room than they had in Newport and used it. They certainly had not stood still at the earlier show but here they were just a little showier and they also teased each other a little more. A picture here is just a hint at how much fun they were having together. I’ve read that Alex Alexander has played at least some of the shows since Newport but not this one. I’d kind of like to see the group with him sometime but I sure can’t complain about the job that Larry’s doing. I claimed to have forgotten his last name when I wrote about the concert in Newport but now I have to think that I never heard it properly. Beers! How could I forget the name Beers? Larry Beers is the name and top notch drumming is his game.

Willie Nile bandWillie Nile bandWillie is now off to tour Spain but will be back in the US in May. There is currently nothing very close to me on his schedule but I’ll keep watching. I’ve a lot of catching up to do.

P.S., The sweet potato chips are excellent.

windshield chipADDENDUM 2-Apr-2014: I don’t know how I missed this obvious title connection when I wrapped up this post Saturday night. Earlier in the day, as I left Columbus in traffic, I heard a now familiar clack and soon located this crater in my windshield. “Chip shot” indeed!

Concert Review
Willie Nile
Southgate House Revival

Willie NileWhen Willie Nile‘s American Ride appeared on my road trip oriented radar last spring, I thought his name sounded vaguely familiar but couldn’t really connect it with anything. When I later heard a tune, Vagabond Moon, from his 1980 debut album, it, too, sounded vaguely familiar. I probably did hear both the name and the music thirty years ago but I didn’t hear it enough or pay enough attention for it to stick with me. I’m now realizing that I am certainly the poorer for that and I’m learning that I’m not alone.

I was pretty happy when I first learned that Willie was coming to the Southgate House Revival in Newport, Kentucky. Then, when I found out it would be on Groundhog Day Eve and my plans for the holiday started to form, Willie’s concert got pushed aside. I intended to visit a friend in northern Illinois where another Willie, a groundhog named Woodstock Willie, is the focus of a pretty good party in the town where the movie Groundhog Day was filmed. Then weather forecasts, which turned out to be rather accurate, called for several inches of snow in Illinois and I decided to stay in Ohio which meant I could make the concert and that was a very good thing.

Even after the event was firmly on my agenda, I had no idea that it would compel me to post my first actual concert review. I didn’t have a camera with me and, though I could have tried to grab something with my phone, I did not and resorted to a stock publicity shot to start this post. Fortunately, Kirsten O’Connell shared this photo of the show on Willie’s Facebook page so you can get a glimpse of how things looked.

Thinking I would not be be going, I did no research and had no idea what to expect. I thought it quite possible that it would be a solo show with just Willie and a guitar. Boy, was that ever wrong. Willie took the stage with a topnotch high-powered 4-piece that blew me and the rest of the packed Revival Room away.

There are three performance spaces at SGHR. The Sanctuary is the biggest and there is a stage in the smallish Lounge. The Revival Room is a mid-sized place on the second floor. Yes, SGHR is a re-purposed church; the 1866 Grace Methodist Episcopal Church. How they resisted calling the upstairs venue The Upper Room, I’ll never know. I’ve seen a few shows in the Sanctuary and a couple in the Lounge. This was my first time in the Revival Room and it instantly became my favorite. It held forty-eight folding chairs. There would have been fifty but the middle of five rows was truncated by support posts. Every seat was filled and another thirty or so people stood at the back and along the walls.

The show was riveting from beginning to end. Despite never having seen Willie Nile before and knowing only a few of the songs, I felt right at home. There was a touch of Springsteen and Dylan and Grahm Parker and Lou Reed and Elvis Costello and other rock ‘n’ rollers I can’t exactly name. But it was all Willie Nile. Willie doesn’t bring to mind first tier singer-songwriters because he mimics them but because he is one.

The band was top tier, too. I believe Alex Alexander, who played drums on the American Ride album, has been touring with the group but Larry the Chicago Guy (Sorry, forgot the last name.) is wielding the sticks for a few shows. If that subtracted anything from the performance, it’s hard to imagine what. The group was tight and professional. Matt Hogan’s guitar solos were impressive without being over indulgent and bassist Johnny Pisano got in his own share of fancy licks — and leaps. Hogan and Pisano both appear on American Ride. In addition to looking good and sounding great, it was obvious that all four musicians were enjoying themselves to the max. Nothing impresses me more than an entertainer having fun while delivering quality.

Things mellowed briefly when Willie sat down at an electric piano — after they found the plug — and the band left the stage. The piano is Willie’s first instrument. He performed The Crossing solo then moved onto Love is a Train. One by one, the others returned as the song progressed and before long the train was a rockin’. Apparently a song and a half of mellow is enough for Willie. Other songs I remember were three dedications to musicians the world lost quite recently. Heaven Help The Lonely was dedicated to Phil Everly, One Guitar to Pete Seeger, and a rousing version of Sweet Jane was dedicated to the man who wrote it, Lou Reed. Surprisingly, he did not play American Ride and I did not miss it and I mean that both it not being played and me not missing it were surprises. I don’t mean that I did not notice its absence; I mean that the concert seemed full and complete and satisfying without it.

Early on, Willie let it be known that he thought SGHR was a pretty cool place. He also talked of it being his first time in Kentucky until a fan in the front row reminded him of his 1980 gig opening for The Who in Lexington. Willie smiled at the correction and said he intended to be back again before long. I believe him and I’ll be waiting.

I learned of the song American Ride, first on the radio then in this video, in the week preceding the start of my Lincoln Highway centennial drive. The album had not yet been released but the title song was available as a 99 cent download. I bought the song and had thoughts of it playing as we departed Times Square. I failed at making that happen but, at 7:23 AM on June 22, as we were leaving Manhattan, I did send the following pre-written Tweet:

Leaving New York City with a tank of gas.
Got my bag and my camera, I’m gonna get out fast.

The album was released June 25.