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Michael Engberg / Blog

Return to the Merry Widow

We first visited the Merry Widow campground, in Basin, Montana, about a year ago. It is just off Interstate 15, almost exactly halfway between Butte and Helena. It was a wonderful experience the last time around and we had a few days between playing some dates in Bozeman and heading on to Missoula, so we decided to spend a little time at Merry Widow again. We arrived on Thursday, set up camp, and I had parked myself next to the RV and started to play the guitar, when I was introduced to Bobcat Jack Everitt. He is a session player who once played for the Steve Miller Band (before Boz Scaggs took over that gig), and has spent the last twenty years or so touring with Van Morrison. In between, he plays a circuit of wineries (particularly in the Northwest), while also representing Gibson and Bose (he has endorsement deals with both those companies). We had a great time talking shop. One of the features of the Merry Widow campground is a large, barnlike structure that has been turned into a Rec hall. They have potluck dinners there on Wednesday nights, and the last time we visited, I played for one of those dinners and managed to sell nearly a dozen or so CD’s. One thing led to another, and Bobcat Jack and I decided to put on a show for the other campers last night. I was the opening act, and Jack very generously set me up to use his Bose sound system, as well as his wireless headset mike. Everything sounded wonderful. Once again, I sold nearly a dozen CD’s at the end of my show, with Jack doing the same after his set. It has been a real delight making the acquaintance of this man, who cut his teeth learning Chicago blues from the likes of Luther Allison and Buddy Guy (and all manner of others). I have been regaled with all manner of stories, as well as learning a few additional road tips from the man. A rather important side lesson: in the past, I would have felt compelled to try to emulate, or otherwise compete in some fashion with such a musician. I made a very conscious effort not to do so this time around. I reminded myself that I am who I am; my music is my own, and it has to stand on its own. I received what, for me was one of the best compliments I could have asked for. At the end of the night, Jack said, “You’ve got your own sound, and it’s good.” We’ve traded business cards and all, and I will look forward to chatting and hanging out with this guy for another day or two, before we head our different paths. This is one of the real treasures of our new gypsy existence: meeting some other fine musicians along the way.

Good thing I’m Not NASA

I am playing a batch of gigs in Casper, Wyoming for the month of June, while we enjoy the hospitality and grace of our friends Rebecca and Geoffrey Hunt, who have again allowed us (humans, kitties, dog, and guitars) to sojourn at their cabin on top of Casper Mountain. On Monday, June 9th, I played a gig where everything went off without a hitch. The next day, at another gig, I went to turn on my amplifier and nothing happened; no light on the back of the amplifier, no soft, barely present hiss of power in the speakers. Nothing. I checked power chords, outlets; everything I could think of, to no avail. I was forced to play “unplugged”, as it were, and fortunately, it was a smallish room, and a somewhat intimate-sized audience where that worked well enough (besides, I remember seeing Andres Segovia play Carnegie Hall without any amplification, so I figured I ought to be able to pull this off. After the gig, I picked up Pony at the Natrona County Public Library, and we hit a handful of music stores in the town of Casper. The one that was finally able to help us was Gigworx, in the Eastridge Mall. They introduced me to a new, incredibly compact Behringer amplifier; small enough to mount on a mic stand, and yet packing some 150 watts of power. Initially I was going to rent it for a few days, to cover the next couple of gigs, but it worked out so wonderfully well that I purchased the unit (the folks at Gigworx were kind enough to apply the rent I had paid to the purchase, and were just wonderful, friendly people to work with in all ways). I still hope to track down the problem in my Roland sound system. The lesson I have learned from this is to have a back up. And I have prided myself on doing so to a great extent (extra audio cables, power chords, and two guitars at any gig). But I was made keenly aware of where I had failed to carry through in this strategy. Fortunately, in my case, no one dies from such an oversight. Meanwhile, we are most glad to be back up on Casper Mountain. Wyoming, like many parts of the Rockies and the Southwest, has been getting an abundance of rain. This has resulted in a profusion of green grass and wild flowers of all sorts on the mountain. Our friends, Rebecca and Geoffrey, have joined us for a couple of weeks, along with a couple of their grandkids: Rhys and Owen. Rhys and Owen have taken to joining Rufus and me on longish hikes through the woods. The dog and the boys do a good job at wearing each other out. I have found some needed solitude each day in what is called the Sun Room, where I have set up computer, guitars, music books, calendars, and whatever else I may need to do my business. I manage to spend some hours of each day practicing, making phone calls and emails , working up new repertoire, and writing some new songs. Evenings usually feature some excellent meal that Pony, Geoffrey, and/or Rebecca cobble together in an excellent way, along with a movie, before sending the boys off to bed. So, any equipment failures or other setbacks notwithstanding, the pluses still very much outweigh the minuses.

And Who Before My Wondering Eyes Did Appear

He goes by the name of Bones. He has a big, beautiful, baritone voice. And he played a 12-string guitar with soft, nuanced expression while he sang songs by Pink Floyd, Nirvana, and REM. And as I listened to him, I got to thinking about the fact that last week marked the 80th anniversary of the birth of Elvis Aaron Presley. Presley died in 1977. Or so they say. There are some who have always believed that Elvis faked his death and just went into deep, deep cover. Now I’m not saying I subscribe to this particular theory. All I know is, as I watched Bones sing and play, I got to thinking that if Elvis were still alive, and if he let his hair grow down to his shoulders and go to a pale, silver-grey, and if he grew a bit of a goatee…… Last weekend, Fiddler’s Dream was hosting concerts to raise funds for some of their operating expenses. I was asked if I might come out and play a set to do my part, and I was happy to oblige. In addition to Bones, I saw a lovely young woman named Mitzy, who sang traditional folk songs while playing the auto harp or the guitar. She told of growing up in a tin sheet and tar paper shack in Arkansas (she now lives in Tucson). She told of joining the military and playing Tuba in one of the military bands, while traveling all over the world. She was a very engaging performer. I also saw Jason Dunn and the Open Graves; an old-timey/bluegrass trio of very fine musicians who took pride in specializing in up-tempo murder ballads. All in all, it was a wonderful night of music, and I was glad to be a part of it all. I realize that it’s been a long, long time since my last blog post. I have been playing gigs, to be sure; and working hard at booking tour dates for when I finally pick up stakes and move on from Phoenix. I have been enjoying some invigorating swimming sessions in the pool here at the Mesa Regal RV resort, and practicing guitar, learning new songs, writing new songs, and generally getting on with the daily business of life. Oh, and I’ve been using the DuoLingo App on my smart phone to work on achieving some level of fluency in French and Spanish. 2015 promises to be an exciting and busy year. I will be playing the Nick Fest in Casper, Wyoming in June. In between and thereafter, we will be traveling through New Mexico again, spending the month of May back in and around Denver, and heading up north to Montana and west out to parts of Washington, Oregon and California. We look forward to catching up with many friends old and new. And even though Elvis may have left the building, his spirit still walks among us.

New Video Material

Hello everyone. Just to let you know that there are currently four, and soon to be six new videos up on YouTube on the Michael Engberg Channel. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrxFkfTq-UOdUXKRm9uNZhQ The channel now has covers, instrumentals and other original singer/songwriter material. Go wild and have a listen.

Podcast Cherry Gets Broken Tomorrow Night

There is a program called The Quinnn Spinn, at WROM.net. I submitted my two latest albums to them a couple of weeks ago, and was notified that they look to feature some of my music on their New Music Showcase tomorrow (Friday, October 31) at 6pm EDT. They’re looking to play “Bumblebee Wages”, so if you haven’t checked that tune out as yet, feel free to look them up and tune in.

Help Me Into The Shallow Waters…

“How many laps did you do?” asked the stranger at the side of the pool, as I used the stairs to climb out from my session. “Fifty-one,” I replied. “Fifty-six laps is a mile,” the stranger informed me. That was on Saturday. On Sunday, I did sixty-one laps, making it a total of two miles in two days. My body was sore, but it was the good soreness of an intense workout. I have actually come to welcome that sense of ache. I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes some five years ago. My doctor at Kaiser Permanente allowed me to control the diabetes via diet and exercise. I test my blood nearly every morning, and while the diet has worked fairly well on its own merits, my chance to swim over the last couple of weeks has been a wonderful boost. I swim laps pretty much the first thing every morning, and since doing so, the glucometer readings have been steadily in the low 100’s (126 is considered the level at which you are considered diabetic, so anything under that Is definitely a positive step). All of us are finding features to our current stay at the Mesa Regal RV resort. Pony started teaching a class on polymer clay sculpture last week. It started with her just asking if she could have access to one of the multi-purpose rooms in the central hall, for the purpose of making more clay sculptures, and she was asked if she would be willing to teach others what she does (there’s an old saying: we teach that which we most must learn). She had four people show up for her first session, and looks forward to future sessions, every Tuesday and Thursday. And come November, she will have the opportunity to sell her sculptures at a local craft market. And on Saturday, Rufus met Kazam. Kazam is a two-year-old Siberian Husky. The runt of his litter, he’s only about 70 lbs., but that makes him an ideal playmate for Rufus. For three mornings straight, we have met Kazam and his owner at the northwest dog park in the RV park. The run about like loons, wrestle, and generally play with the sort of abandon that is a joy to witness. The last couple of days, Rufus has come back to crash on the couch or the bed, and dream puppy dreams. It has been awhile since he has been able to exercise so vigorously with another dog, and it has been leaving him tired (but in a really good way, I’d say). And so we are all finding our way, seeing what is possible for the next few months. After the swimming sessions, I go to work: phone calls for future gigs, keeping up this blog, practicing guitar and rehearsing new repertoire. I still tend to work on new songs while taking walks with Rufus. I read once that Willie Nelson makes up songs while driving his truck. He said if he couldn’t remember the song by the time he got back home, it wasn’t worth keeping. I can appreciate that philosophy. I apply a similar standard to the songs I come up with while walking with Rufus (I’m just glad that my songwriting buddy is content with the occasional dog biscuit for royalties).

Mesa Hot

For the first week of our return to Arizona, we were baked, and I don’t mean in some metaphoric “Ghosts of Bob Marley and Jerry Garcia giddily traipsing through the welcoming haze of Colorado” sort of way. For eight of the first nine days of our stay in Mesa (a southeast suburb of Phoenix), the temperatures hit at or over a hundred. The heat was a relentlessly intense as a Led Zeppelin riff (I’m thinking “Kashmir”, or maybe “Black Dog”). The two air conditioning units on our RV were valiantly chugging along. We started to experiment with insulating the windows, putting up blankets and/or reflecting panels, and that did help to reduce the effects a bit (and give our air conditioners a little slack to work with), but it has been the land of the lizards. Then, about two days ago, there was the deluge: about 36 hours of thunderstorms that brought down almost three inches of rain in all. It did bring down the temperatures a bit, and left large puddles hither and yon, in a town that doesn’t seem all that prepared for that sort of monsoon rainage. Then again, what town is, really? A year ago, when we first embarked on our gypsy lifestyle, we missed the storms that wracked Colorado and all but wiped out a couple of towns in the foothills. We got a taste of what that might have been like (although I seem to remember that stormage persisted for the better part of a week, or more). The thunder was most impressive: huge claps and growls of booming madness that had Rufus curling up with the Mama for most of the time. Still, I would not wish to suggest that all has been nothing but a hell of heat and thunderstorms. The gypsies are settled for the next few months (until the end of the year) here in Mesa, playing a variety of gigs in and around Phoenix. We took advantage of a Fall price special offered by the Mesa Regal RV resort. It’s actually a blend of RV spaces and pre-fab homes; some 2500 all told (or so I have been told). It is still a bit before the regular season; most of the snowbirds have not yet arrived. I feel a bit like Charlton Heston, in “The Omega Man”; wandering about a mostly empty community, enjoying the various amenities, and waiting for the zombies to invade. The amenities are good. There’s a lovely lap pool (some 25 meters, Pony figures). I have been swimming eight of the last ten days, since arriving. My body aches, but it is the good ache of regular workouts. I usually go fairly early in the morning (around 8 or so, after taking Rufus for our morning promenade), and swim for the better part of an hour. Another couple weeks or so of this, and I may even have a noticeable tan (and no longer be in danger of flashing the eyes of passing airplane pilots with my pasty white flesh, as my sister would describe it). I am scoping out venues, working on repertoire, writing new stuff, organizing tour plans for the next 9-12 months, and generally keeping plenty busy with a healthy mix of creative challenges and “takin’ care of business”. There are ashes (heat nothwithstanding), but, like the Phoenix, I look to be rising.

Care, Concern, and the Nature of Worry

Care, Concern, and the Nature of Worry Pony and I traveled into Santa Fe to meet a friend of ours last night. The plan was to meet our friend, Teri, at the Trader Joe’s in Santa Fe, at 5pm. We took a few minutes to fill our severely empty gas tank, but arrived at the Trader Joe’s parking lot at just a few minutes past 5. And we waited. While we waited, we were accosted by a couple of panhandlers. The second one, gave his tale homeless woe, and I offered to buy him a sandwich at the Subway, just across the parking lot from Trader Joe’s. He told me his name was Bodie. We walked into the Subway, and I let him order a footlong, along with a bottle of Coke. The whole bill came to about $10. I would have done better just to slip him a little change. Still… We waited. Bodie swung by on his bicycle to tell us that he was still trying to muster up some change to charge his cellphone (a homeless guy with a cellphone…?... well, okay). Still, at this point, having felt that I had donated enough to Bodie’s survival, we shrugged our shoulders as he went down to the other end of the parking lot on his bicycle. We waited. It was now nearly 6pm; almost an hour past the agreed upon meeting time. Pony tried calling Teri’s phone, but there was no response, and an announcement that the voicemail box was full. She sent a handful texts; another one every ten minutes or so. Still no response. Last week, there was a quote from the Dalia Lama posted on Facebook about worry. “If there is a solution, then you work towards that solution. If there is no solution, then worry will not change anything.” I am be paraphrasing a little, but that was the gist of it. I shared that quote, lending my own agreement to the spirit of it. But now as I was confronted with a form of worry that may not have been adequately covered by the Dalai Lama’s words. It is the worry of not knowing. In not knowing, you, you are not sure whether there is a solution or not. You do not know if there is something you can do, because you do not know what may have happened. By 6:30, we left a final text, giving the address of the restaurant we planned to go to for dinner, still having heard nothing. Worry. As we started up the car and prepared to head for the restaurant, Bodie rode by on his bicycle. “I’m not crying, but I hid the sandwich and the soda behind a trash can, and somebody stole it,” he told us. Sigh.

The Noisy Mind and the Quiet Room

On Saturday, Pony and I went to explore downtown Santa Fe. As we arrived and found parking for our car, the bells of the St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral began to ring. There were a handful of bells that, once they got going, created quite a din that filled the downtown plaza with their sound. At some point, I was reminded of those bells as I sat in the meditation hall of the Upaya Zen Center, in Santa Fe. Upaya is located in a quiet, unassuming little neighborhood in the eastern part of Santa Fe. I read about it in one of my zen Buddhist books, and decided to pay it a visit (up to now, I had never visited any Buddhist temple of any sort, zen or otherwise, despite the fact that I have been meditating for almost 40 years and have identified myself as a Buddhist for over a decade). It is a lovely community. Pony and I did not get any formal tour as such, but we wandered about a bit until we found the building that seems to serve as kitchen, dining hall, and office. There I met a gentleman named Michael who had all the appearances of being a monk (shaved head, black blouse and trousers, sandals). He led us to the meditation hall. Pony begged off going in for the meditation session, as she had a headache coming on. Michael suggested she might walk the gardens (including a labyrinth), while I removed my shoes and entered the meditation hall, and took a seat at a spot indicated for me. The hall is reasonably spacious; about the size of a small chapel, perhaps, with seating arranged around the perimeter. There are cushions on the floor, as well as a few stools and chairs for those who wished to sit in the manner Westerners are more accustomed to. It was an hour of meditation, starting with 25 minutes of seated meditation, then about ten minutes of walking meditation, followed by another 25 minutes of sitting (there is sort of a joke among zen Buddhists, found on t-shirts and bumper stickers, that says, “Don’t just do something…Sit there!”). I sat down to meditate, and the monkey mind kicked into full gear. Thoughts careened and raced and bumped and clashed within the walls of my mind. As I said, I was reminded of the clangor of the cathedral bells, and I really was afraid that my thoughts would be loud enough to disturb the others seated around me. It didn’t help that I had forgot to leave my cellphone in the car. It chimed twice (to inform me friends of mine had taken their turns in Words With Friends matches) before I found the volume control and turned it down to zero. Still, there was some stillness. And there was a moment where I felt like the front of my head was one big hole of endless “no-thing-ness”. There is a zen koan that asks, “What is your face before you are born?” And I found my self wondering, “Is this THAT?” I came out of the meditation session feeling incredibly calm and energized, and with a quiet, deep abiding sense of joy, or perhaps bliss. All of this, despite the frantic mischief of the monkey mind. I have had other moments of meditation where I have experienced profound stillness of the mind. I am sure I can and will do so again. In the meantime, I look forward to visiting Upaya at least one more time before we head on to Phoenix.

The Key

We have a banner hanging in the bedroom of our RV. It Is supposed to be a quote from Buddha. It says: “The key to happiness is not success. The key to success is happiness. Do what you love, and you will be successful.” [this would fit into the Eightfold Path under Right Action and Right Livelihood, I would say] Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were three straight days of doing what I love, here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. On Wednesday night, I met a gentleman who is a songwriter for cabaret shows (he has actually received checks from ASCAP, which, I admit, is something I am still hoping for at some point). On Thursday, I was playing the Casa Real Healthcare Center, where I met the staff psychologist. She introduced herself, and told me of growing up in Brooklyn, struggling with Spina Bifida. She told me of a couple of volunteers who would regularly visit the hospital (where she underwent several surgeries for her condition), and they would read to her and the other children. She told me that one of those volunteers was Malcolm X. She then told me how precious and healing it was for me to come and play for the residents of the healthcare center, and thanked me for my good work (she also agreed to send me an email with some suggested Spanish songs that I might learn and add to my growing repertoire). On Friday, I was at a small, private nursing home, where I had an audience of maybe ten. I played without a sound system (very much in the spirit of a House Concert, as it were). At the end of the show, the owner asked me to remind her what my fee was. To be honest, given the small audience and all, I was sort of bracing for the need to negotiate a lesser fee than I usually charge, especially when the owner’s eyes went wide in apparent surprise. But to my surprise, she said, “Can I pay you more?” She paid me almost double my usual fee, and told me to be sure to call the next time I look to be in town. Yesterday, I was reading one of my handful of books on Buddhism, when I came across an article that described a zen center here in Santa Fe. I looked them up on the internet, and found a schedule of meditation sessions open to the public. I intend to visit this center and see what I may learn. The last few days have been joyful. They have been filled with good work (Right Effort), and I have been filled with a feeling of being at peace with my world. We still have our challenges, here and there. The water heater is acting up in the RV, and we have not yet figured out what’s wrong (we suspect a bad fuse, which will mean a trip to Camping World on Monday to find a replacement). There is work to be done, and problems to be addressed, and yet, for the most part, I feel a very welcome sense of calm about it all. Lately, Pony has taken up the practice of expressing gratitude in posts on Facebook. I guess this is my version of the same, here.