Well, I am back in Portland Oregon, after 11 days in Texas. William Downing had such a profound effect on the people around him. I heard stories of him as an actor (the CIA tried to recruit him at age 16 after scouting his drama teacher's class); as a budding novelist (he had an idea for a 3-layered story, an idea he only talked about to his cousin Dawn, but never drafted...and she wants to draft it at some point); about songs he had started over the years and never finished (One of these, "Lost and Found", I am going to cover and release at some point); and as a "grumpy man with a beard" (I thought this was hilarious). Ultimately, his family's real happy, and his toil was blessed. My time at La Palapa since Will's passing always feels special. I imagined the first time I went back, it would be really sad...but there was a joy there, untainted by loss, untainted by any change in seasons...the Rio Grande Valley has one of the poorest economies in the nation, and yet, "they've got more freedom and time then they can stand, and everything is turning out just as they planned..." There is an easy love of life going on there, and family, friends, and Culture, including music, get everyone by. I performed 4 Will Downing songs there, for about 100 people, thanks to Bob Coleman ("like the lantern") slipping me into the lineup at the last minute...and of course, Huge Sally got a full, rockin', long-overdue set (it had been exactly one year since we appeared last in the valley)! Jake Riggs was On.His.Game! Once I headed down to Surfside/Lake Jackson, things got really interesting. Among the venues were Wursthaus, a german-themed warehouse-style pub; Dido's, a sea-food restaurant on a river with the classiest, friendliest owners you can possibly imagine; and Bridge Bait, a bayside bait-and-tackle shop that actually had a soundsystem set up for buskers like myself! I got to know William's family down there really well...I hadn't seen them all since William and I (and Megan Cronin and Jake) all travelled out to Brazoria County, and also San Antonio and Austin for a series of Huge Sally, Dirty Street Singer, and Tummybuckles shows in 2010. It was a fantastic catch-up, and a bonding experience through the power of music and memories. Also, I was staying in a house that was literally 100 feet or less from the surf of the Gulf of Mexico. Wow! I would not be the songwriter, performer, or man that I am today if it were not for William Downing's profound example of life. Not only did his music bind us all together, but he showed us all how to love unconditionally, without regard for circumstance, self-made pressure, or even boughts with despair. Before we would all get together, we were floating on air...and then, for weeks afterwards as well. "I posted lost and found all over this town I'm taking you up, on the deal you laid down Our song's in the air, But my ear's to the ground Cuz I really gotta see you and its all over town, Yeah, I really wanna see you and its all over town..."
William Downing was my former bandmate, and my friend. I met him after an Evelate show in 2005, outside a suburban dive bar at 2 in the morning. He played a couple songs for me in the parking lot, and his producer, Rob Lewis, asked me if I'd like to help him make a record. I said that William's songs Immediately struck me as brilliant, and I'd love to. We made three albums together over the next 7 years, and Rob also ended up producing Cold-Hearted Bastard (Huge Sally, 2008), and Searchlights In Mexico (2008) with me as well. William's third album never got released; he passed away in May 2012 before turning in the final artwork, liner notes, credits, etc. The recordings, however, were finished and mastered, and the album was to be named "I Ain't So Dumb". William lived his last days in the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas, in the town of Mercedes. He recorded all of his music up in Portland Oregon with me, flown out and executive-produced by Rob Lewis. After his 2nd album, "Claire Avenue", experienced some success, William immediately put his success right back into the community. He helped Huge Sally find our footing: setting up shows, encouraging us, and lighting our fires. The same with Chris Baron Music. And, I even brought The Tummybuckles down to Texas one year, and Will embraced that band as if it were his own. His heart was full, and his head was strong. I remember driving around Texas with him, going between Mercedes, Austin, and Brazoria County, listening to music (I ended up covering "Bandit", from Neil Young's 2006 album Greendale, because it was Will's favorite track), talking about anything and everything, and even handwriting out some of his newer lyrics for me while I took a turn driving. One time, on one drive, we listened to nothing but Claire Avenue the whole time, roughly ten times through, over and over, without a break. He was so proud of that album, and for good reason: it is INDEED his finest work, through and through, in my opinion. I was proud to be heading down to perform a brief tribute set in his former hometown of Mercedes TX last Saturday (Feb 21st). His friends and former neighbors (and some family) set up a music festival at the restaurant La Palapa, where Will used to host open mics and perform regularly, trying to get a scene going. Huge Sally was there, Bob Coleman was there, Ricky Santori (sp?) was there...and a real sweet local Mercedes band called The Texas Sweethearts (look 'em up!). I have been re-learning all of Will's recorded music, and set up a short tour between Mercedes, Houston, Surfside, and Lake Jackson, where much of his family lives. Check out https://www.facebook.com/ChrisBaronPlaysWillDowning, a page created by K8npdx to promote this series! More blogging on all of this later...
Being down here in Texas, with my great friend Jake Riggs, is reminding me how silly good music can be. One thing that I've never been able to do is write clever, humorous turns of phrase...all my songs are so serious! Jake and I used to talk about this on tour (our last tour was 2010). He was struggling with the same thing. Too serious, "deep", etc. Some of the great songwriters we know of, William Downing included, had superb serious songs..but also...funny turns of phrase and silly song subjects to go along in the catalog. One thing I'm working on down here is laying the foundation for a new mentality that will foster this kind of creative output. Jake has a couple of new songs that are rather hilarious. I've been covering Will's songs, and several of those have made larger audiences giggle and shuffle as I move through. Next up: Chris Baron will give it a try. So far, I'm not very funny. Rather droll. Ooob. In other Huge Sally news, Huge Sally KICKED BUTT at our first reunion show, @ One2One bar in Austin last Tuesday (Feb 17). Courtesy of Gregg Ware, the same cool owner but in a different (and better?) venue space. Thanks to everyone who came out to support...we had a killer crowd, and it was a very friendly atmosphere. I love One2One. Check out their new location next time you can. Tonight, Friday night, is our main show of the Austin leg, in Bastrop. We leave in 2 hours!
Last Sunday night, A Valentine For Richard was staged. Richard Colombo purchased Artichoke Music, along with his partner Jim, in 2006. He transformed it from simply a retail shop into a thriving local community, then a full-on nonprofit school/retail-store/destination-venue. Artichoke has been my personal favorite venue to play at, of all time. It is a Listening Room, and one of the best parts about it is that because of the community that Richard built, there is always a full house, interested to Listen! I first met Richard in 2006 when Jake Riggs and I (Huge Sally) wandered in, looking for a new acoustic guitar for Jake. The very first guitar that Richard and Jim sold was: to Jake! From there, conversations struck up about their room and their stage in the back, and within a few years, I was developing as a songwriter in ways that I had never previously imagined. I was a wild rock and roller back then, and Richard would have me every few months for his Friday Night Coffeehouse series, where he hand-picked 5 performers to play 25 minutes each, hosted, and ran the sound board. My songs and performance ran outside the box, and I never repeated a song, so a lot of good-natured ribbing happened. It was like "oh god, what's Chris Baron gonna try to do this time...?" I got to know members of the local songwriting community here, Eric McEuen showed me how to get the audience to sing along with your song. Paul Sanchez told a story before one of his performances about singing on the playground as an enthusiastic youth, and the people around him telling him "to stop singing...until he got Here" (to Artichoke Music). This spurred my song "This Must Be Artichoke", which is honored to be on the compilation CD Artichoke Nights Volume II, and which has grown to become one of the standard theme songs of the community. At the big event, A Valentine For Richard, on February 15th 2015, Richard formally handed control and direction to a new administrator, so he could focus more on teaching, travelling, and not being an administrator. The new gal, Kathy, has been wonderful so far, and kind to Richard as he struggled with his decision to walk away. I was very grateful, and honored, to be one of ten special hosts on this night. I chose to perform a couple of William Downing songs, "6 Drinks For Rob & Jen", and "I Do What I Want, And Call It My Job", and I even snuck in a cover of a Richard Colombo original instrumental piece from his 2001 album Carry The Dream...called "Hope For Tomorrow"...he was surprised...Got him! At the end of the night, all the hosts, and performers, and a few extra friends (including Megan Cronin), got up onstage to sing "This Must Be Artichoke" along with the entire 150-person room. Richard also got to perform a few songs, and say a few words, and he kept his composure really well. It is an honor to know him, and it was a great privilege to be a part of this incredible, memorable night. Cheers to Richard Colombo & Jim Morris!
Another fantastic night @ Park Place Cafe happened last weekend. I know I am a little late on this blog…but I had some things going on. I originally discovered the small coffee shop known as "PPC" in west Gresham through Doug Henderson, of The Grodie Bros, and Lo-Tech Promotions fame. Spud (as Doug prefers to be called) is an unrelenting, unabashed supporter of live music, and live musicians. He has a built-in ability to bring people together, stoke the community, and inspire the meek. I really enjoy his trio, and each of his bandmates, and I owe a lot to him in my development as a local performer. This night was extra special because it was Spud's birthday. There was cake, presented by "new" owner Omar, and a breathing-room-only crowd…The Grodie Bros opened the night in traditional fashion, ripping through their set for family and friends. I went second, and had the pleasure of being joined by "Piers Von Grodie" on the harmonica for "She Don't Like The Way I Roll" (a Will Downing cover) and being joined by the "Band Von Grodie" for "Down With The Shine" (an Avett Brothers cover). My dear friend and conspirator Dors Ward (formerly of the Portland band Broken Soviet) sang with me on quite a few songs. He is Awesome. Also of note: K8npdx. She was on the camera The Whole Time, and nobody can ask for a better friend and conspirator than K8. She is truly exceptional, selfless, and with a keen eye for excellence. If you are lucky enough to know her, YOU KNOW what I mean. I really appreciate everyone who came out to support Live Music, and to express our undying love for SPUD!
I have always been a big proponent of following your heart and doing exactly what you want to do. It sounds so simple, right? But there are people who spend years—decades, even—trying to find a true sense of purpose for themselves. My advice? Just find the thing you enjoy doing more than anything else, your one true passion, and do it for the rest of your life on nights and weekends when you’re exhausted and cranky and just want to go to bed. It could be anything—music, writing, drawing, acting, teaching—it really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that once you know what you want to do, you dive in a full 10 percent and spend the other 90 torturing yourself because you know damn well that it’s far too late to make a drastic career change, and that you’re stuck on this mind-numbing path for the rest of your life. Is there any other way to live? I can’t stress this enough: Do what you love…in between work commitments, and family commitments, and commitments that tend to pop up and take immediate precedence over doing the thing you love. Because the bottom line is that life is short, and you owe it to yourself to spend the majority of it giving yourself wholly and completely to something you absolutely hate, and 20 minutes here and there doing what you feel you were put on this earth to do. Before you get started, though, you need to find the one interest or activity that truly fulfills you in ways nothing else can. Then, really immerse yourself in it for a few fleeting moments after an exhausting 10-hour day at a desk job and an excruciating 65-minute commute home. During nights when all you really want to do is lie down and shut your eyes for a few precious hours before you have to drag yourself out of bed for work the next morning, or on weekends when your friends want to hang out and you’re dying to just lie on your couch and watch TV because you’re too fatigued to even think straight—these are the times when you need to do what you enjoy most in life. Because when you get right down to it, everyone has dreams, and you deserve the chance—hell, you owe it to yourself—to pursue those dreams when you only have enough energy to change out of your work clothes and make yourself a half-assed dinner before passing out. Say, for example, that your passion is painting. Well, what are you waiting for? Get out there and buy a canvas and some painting supplies! Go sign up for art classes! And when you get so overwhelmed with your job and your personal life that you barely have enough time to see your girlfriend or boyfriend or husband or wife, let alone do anything else, go ahead and skip classes for a few weeks. Then let those paint brushes sit in your room untouched for six months because a major work project came up and you had a bunch of weddings to go to and your kid got sick and money is tighter than you thought it would be and you have to work overtime. And then finally pick those brushes back up again only to realize you’re so rusty that you begin to question whether this was all a giant waste of time, whether you even want to paint anymore, and whether this was just some sort of immature little fantasy you had as a kid and that maybe it’s finally time to grow the fuck up, let painting go, and join the real world because, let’s face it, not everyone gets to live out their dreams. Not only does that sound fulfilling, but it also sounds pretty fun. Really, the biggest obstacle to overcome here—aside from every single obligation you have to your friends, family, job, and financial future—is you. And I’ll tell you this much: You don’t want to wake up in 10 years and think to yourself, “What if I had just gone after my dreams during those brief 30-minute lunch breaks when I was younger?” Because even if it doesn’t work out, don’t you owe it to yourself to look in the mirror and confidently say, “You know what, I gave it my best half-hearted shot”? -by David Ferguson
You can look into a person's eyes, and tell if they are Present, or not. In those glazed-over moments, what goes on? Perhaps it is different for everyone. I have moments when my anxiety starts to swell up. And for me, the music in my head just.gets.louder. Sometimes its a song that I like, concentrated, and I'm feeling safe through waves of detailed memory. Other times, its a song I am jealous of, or otherwise bothered by, and it grates on me, feeling like its pounding in my head unwelcome yet untamable. I think its a defense mechanism to drown out "the noise", and center myself under a childlike blanket. If you are talking to me at a time when this happens (maybe your words are bothering me!), I will seem to blank out for awhile, eyes far away, your voice a distant echo amidst a rich, silent swell of harmony and melody. If nobody is around, it still can happen this way, and I just drift silently with myself. The more my anxiety grows, the louder and more clear the music gets. Its weird! Eventually, though, since everything is eventual, I come back. And that is where my new song begins: "When Will You Come Back?"
An Extra showcase. Because the last Thursday of 2014 was going to fall on Christmas Day, and then New Years Day the following Thursday, I was short one (1) "final show". So, I was offered Tuesday December 23rd, 2014, and I took it. December 18th, the previous Thursday, was Great. And this Final Weagle Tuesday: GREAT. Martin Hill opened the show with his main henchmen Jack and Tim. I call them The Martin Hill Tree, because they feed, grow, and well a beautiful canopy over Martin's songs. Joe Tomaino was second, in a red-accent suit, and with a considerable audience. Joe is fierce on guitar, and bearded on lyrics. John Manns, fresh off a new album, kept a drifty crowd together in his Slot # 3 with lots of thumb-guitar-bass and simply, great, songs. Check out "Sweet Home Band" online. Megan Cronin & Overwinter were focused and melodious. She is a compelling solo performer on the guitar/vocals, and also a rip-roaring viola expert! So last but not least, was Woody Moran & Kelly Brightwell. Kelly is a very nice lady, with a very nice-looking new album. I will be listening to it shortly. Woody is a dear friend, poppy on vocals and chordal on guitar…he is a fantastic Portland Musician with many roots. Thanks to everyone who was there, and hope to see you again soon. White Eagle Thursdays made for quite a special year, and despite all the pitfalls and derails that happened in 2014 (just like every year), I feel deep down like 2014 was my most successful year of music-making in a long time. Happy New Year 2015!
And thus, 15 months of Weekly Weagle draws to a close for Thursday evenings. It was a tremendously musical year for me, and it all started when Lisa Lepine passed my name to Alex Widman of the White Eagle, and he agreed to take a chance on me as a host. I used my weekly happy hour time slot to give back to the local community that had supported me as a songwriter around Portland for the last several years. Each week, I invited special guests to perform a set. When I took the stage myself, I tried to play different songs every week, mostly so the bartenders and regulars would not get bored. On Thursday December 18th, I had my Final Weekly Weagle, and I'd like to tell you about the seven local phenoms that were invited to perform: Shane Brown, Noah Stroup, Andrew Goncalves, John Rankin, Dan Weber, Dan Dover, and The Grodie Bros. --- I think of Shane's music as "bluesy grunge-reggae." Its very paced, and bass-heavy, and often lyrically dark…and he has developed a pop-reggae stylization that is very catchy. Shane is a special songwriter, and is going to go on to do great things. --- Noah Stroup was the bass player in Maryspeak, and we made our album together in 2004, in Corvallis Oregon. After the band drifted apart, we all did our separate things; I moved on to Evelate and Huge Sally, and Noah formed Stairway Denied as the lead singer. His bluesy pipes and solid rhythm-guitar playing are very cool. He has a new band together, and I can't wait to see them! --- Andrew Goncalves just released his first-ever solo album, called "Fire Inside." I know every single song on it, because I was lucky enough to be around when he was writing it! He would perform them live at cool venues like White Eagle for my happy hour spot, Pacific City Music Festival, and sometimes even with his trio Boa Saida in 2012-2013. --- John Rankin I have been a fan of for about 4 years now, first getting to know him through Daniel Work's community (The Noted), and then following his band Commonly Courteous around. His Soul & Roll style resounds with anyone who loves music, and he has some of the better dynamic senses I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing. --- Dan Weber is a very such successful country-style singer-songwriter, traveling around the country playing house concerts. He has an album out as of 2013, "Ash and Bone", and is set to record a brand new Live album in March 2015. He writes deeply anthemic local folk songs, always wears a cowboy hat, and Always Totally Brings it when he performs; one of the most 'mindful' performers I've ever seen. --- Dan Dover is a local legend. He is a great poet in his own right, but he also does something that I admire very much: puts the local community First. He encourages, he hosts song circles and house concerts, he finds, he networks, he brings people together and helps them realize the importance of Feeling Great. He is a tremendous man and his partner Cheryl helped push me to be the songwriter I am today by giving me a chance one dusty night at the Buffalo Gap in southwest Portland. --- The Grodie Bros are community builders, just like Dan & Cheryl. They host Pacific City Music Fest every year, host concerts and parties of their own, and enthusiastically support all that is good about local music. Uncle Spud has never written a song of his own, but luckily, Rich Waggs handles that, and Spud sings, and Piers adds a solid third to their wildly lovable lineup. I love their John Prine covers, and I love their originals more than that, and I love them as people the most of all. Thank you to everyone who helped make White Eagle special from 2013-2014, Thursday Happy Hour!
Another Great night at Artichoke Music. Joe Tomaino played a Real Set there, as a solo artist, with an acoustic guitar…standing up! He played "Light A Fire", one of my favorite rock songs of his, and "Ocean", his sweet-one-minute-fingerpicker. I also especially enjoyed his 2-mic technique, where the copper one gets a whole lotta reverb, and only the most dynamic of attentions. It was nice to see my friends Vicki and Britta there, their first time to Artichoke…and even Megan came (Very rare for one of my sets). Joe's family was in town, visiting from Reno NV. And also, his brother, our very own Crabass, made his way to Artichoke to support. Joe and Jesse and I all sang "End Of Line" together for Joe's first song. K8 was there with the camera, and I think a "Live @ Artichoke" Dvd might be in the works...I played 4 covers: "The Perfect Space", "Bring Your Love To Me", "Dying Day", and "Don't Fence Me In". To Richard Columbo, the legendary host of Friday Night Coffeehouse, I would say this: Keep the mustache for 25 more years, and PLEASE keep hosting Friday nights! Also of note: Don Wheatley's 18-minute story about his grandfather, and a bit of his family history. Wow. Every time I see Don, I just want to give him a Huge Hug. If you ever see him live, make sure you ask him to perform his "…we will have a good time…" song…In conclusion, I really appreciate everything that Artichoke Music and Richard Columbo do. Cheers to Them!