Manifest Destiny Tour
An expansion/stretching from coast to coast
I can hardly believe the distance I’ve traversed. Time no longer seems like an accurate gauge for the progress I’ve made. 2 months is an incomprehensible measurement for the states I’ve been to & the states I’ve been in. Maps & miles couldn’t help me pinpoint the location of my reality as I pursued my own personal touring manifest destiny.
I have to admit I was a little apprehensive starting out on my 8th DIY tour. I had spent the majority of February dealing with my first lymph node infection and it was still lingering as I headed towards DC. Luckily I was armed with an inhaler to keep my airways open and some vocal exercises to keep my vocal folds limber – although I did nearly cough up both my lungs between each song.
In my spare time I hit up the Smithsonian Zoo, an interesting animal-gazing hub. The main attraction is of course the baby panda. Maybe not the prettiest zoo, but I tramped all around it with all the other mid-day toddlers nonetheless.
My overnight bus landed me in the city center at mid-morning with plenty of time to write up my answers to interviews with Omaha’s The Reader about my upcoming Nebraskan tour stop and Creative Loafing Atlanta regarding my show at Little Star Bar the next day with an amazing line up of fellow toy pianists including Jeffrey Bützer & my new friend from the Florida International Toy Piano Festival, Amy O’Dell. But what’s a show without the presence of your favorite crew to catch up with in the dirty south?! I see you Kelsey, Abhinav, & Jihwan!
A slight bus mishap along the way had me semi-stranded a few hours from Orlando and it was looking like I would be late for my performance at Bernie Fest, my first politically active showcase. Thankfully another Megabus scooped us up so I could encourage my peers to get out and vote (you decide for who, just make your voice heard!) It’s so important that we not be the generation that supports progressive candidates without actually hitting the polling booths. Shout out to my cousin Lauren and her shop Silly & Savory for making epic Bernie T’s with her own screenprinting kit. (She also makes ultra adorable cards, I love every last one of them.)
Every time I’ve toured through Nola I’ve somehow managed to miss the opening hours of the voodoo cemetery, so this 4th time around I had a real serious agenda. Despite my partial-zombie status from having been on my second overnight bus in a week, I determined to make my way over.
An aside – I’ve come to notice a huge difference in the physical toll my style of touring is starting to take on me in comparison to when I first began touring 4 years ago. Maybe my memory is bad -it must be since when I’m at home on my plush couch making tour plans without a backpack and a toy piano to carry I seem to easily forget what weight feels like and the nearly physically impossible seems wildly to be entirely in the realm of kinetic potential for my limbs- but these days my 25 year old body is beginning to impose limitations on me. I am largely less capable of POWERING THROUGH situations that were uncomfortable but manageable at 21. An overnight bus trip used to be a little annoying but the next day I was energetic as ever, if not tired, and ready to explore my surroundings. No longer. Now an overnight bus results in my being in a small coma for the better portion of the following day. Powering through is a mode of being that has quickly been relegated to my past tense.
But the voodoo cemetery was worth trudging through my sleeplessness. Come 5pm though, I was napping and seriously considering not showing up to my show, which was my main reason for even being in New Orleans. (Don’t worry, I went.)
So let me backtrack a second. Literally 5 minutes after stepping off my overnight bus to Nola I get a government warning on my iPhone that the highway between Louisiana and Texas is closed due to flooding. My next stop is Houston. Basically I’m hoping 24 hours is enough for the water to abide so my Megabus isn’t cancelled since the week’s docket included a different show in a different city every single night. If I missed one show, I would have missed them all and I was not about to let my months of emailing go to waste. So the next morning I head over to the bus station bright and early to find that the buses aren’t going out. The Amtrak isn’t going out. The rental cars have been rented out. Most of the flights (and all the cheap ones) are sold out. I’m faced with the prospect of being stranded in New Orleans. Thanks to the quick wit of my mother (who’s helping hands called & questioned airline workers about the feasibility of getting me out of Louisiana on time for my show in Houston that night), I was able to round up a flight ticket that was leaving one hour from the time I got it. I was a 20 minute drive from the airport, so I called an uber and described (amidst the inward tear-shedding of my public-transit-&-cheap-bus adoring heart) my predicament of potential stranding should I miss this newly acquired flight, to which my driver graciously replied “not today”. And for the record, the whole dollar Megabus refunded me for my cancelled bus was a laughable consolation. It definitely didn’t cover the cost of my last-minute flight.
But! I made it to Houston, where I vowed to myself that the only other emergency flight I’d be taking would be straight back home to Long Island should any other mishaps befall me.
After arriving in Houston and having a quick but cherished reunion with my favorite zine-maker Nick, I decided to nurse my sanity back to stability with vegan enchiladas. Then I proceeded to chronicle my stress the best way I know how – by writing a new song called “Struggle” which details my desire to sink into the jaws of the earth should it prove to be a reprieve.
And cue the continual motion and perma-exhaustion contained within the scope of playing a different city every night & riding the bus at weirdly awful hours.
My favorite thing about getting off the bus in Dallas is having the omega word-crafting, junk-musician (fusion of Jazz & Funk), vibraphonist extraordinaire Nigel Newton there waiting for me. As a special surprise, one of his partners in crime -another friend from Berklee – and a staggeringly fascinating bassist Evan Veenstra happened to also be in town visiting. With only 24 hours to spare, we were able to catch up while grazing at the salad buffet, get situated for our St. Patrick’s day show (mostly improvised -fabulously I might add- on the part of Inner Lizard – the project Nigel & Evan share), and still make time for a few rousing rounds of chess with our friend Jude. We even held our tradition of breakfasting on Danish pancakes from Trader Joe’s with syrup and strawberries in the morning some all too short hours later.
After years of passing though Little Rock on my way between Dallas and Memphis, I finally made it off the bus and onto Arkansas soil! And I’m so glad I did! All the people I met in the quaint little city of Little Rock were incredibly hospitable and wildly friendly! My show at Vino’s Brewpub was amazing for a number of reasons. The first was the delectable root beer float they make there. I felt like an elementary school kid blessed to be having a pizza party in class. The second, and probably more portentous, was my public pronouncing of my new additional genre – GrandmaCore – steeping me in trans-generational, anachronistic duality. Perhaps I’m one of few young adults playing instruments made for infants while communing with my inner grandma. The third was my luck in meeting & sharing the stage with Chris of Don’t Cry Paula who was generous enough to offer to hang out with me after our show until my 4am bus. I ended up catching a ride with him to a friend’s place to crash for 2 hours and then getting another ride from my friend to the megabus station in the early AM.
Another aside: I’m so grateful for every single person on this tour or any other that has been kind enough to welcome me into their wheeled chariots to transport me from one place to another out of a deep connection to humanity & concern for the well-being of others.
Tell me the hours I kept in LR were anything other than unholy and grog-inducing, I dare you. Needless to say, I spent my first day in Memphis in a complete coma trying to recover. The evening didn’t go to waste though! Adam from DBJT and I went out to the drive in movies, which I adore entirely! Goodfellas was playing, which really made me feel at home, especially when I heard the 1010 wins radio tag playing on the on-screen radio, for which the sound was of course traveling through Adam’s car radio to reach us. The nostalgia got super meta since 1010 wins was the channel my mom always played in the car on our drives to Queens to visit my grandparents.
I’ve been fond of the DIY scene in Memphis since my first time touring through. This house show did not disappoint, especially since I was sharing the stage with my friends in Cougar Control Patrol, who’s music I really adore and who’s thematic aesthetic fits in so easily with my own.
I made the sad mistake of not staying in St Louis long enough. A single day was far too short a time. Coupled with the fact that St Louis is another city I had driven past on the Megabus plenty of times on my travels between Memphis & Chicago with my eyes lingering on its welcoming silvery arch but my feet remaining firmly in place aboard the bus, I was making some rookie mistakes to be sure. St Louis is a city jam-packed with history, culture, gorgeous architecture, and gregarious people. My most important order of business was to explore the State Capitol/Old Courthouse structure which, for all you American history buffs, is home to the famous Dred Scott trial (). I had a small crew of new friends joining me for my show at () and afterwards they gave a jovial night tour of the neighborhood with all their respective nostalgias in tact. If for no other reason, I’ll be sure to find myself in St Louis again to conquer the adult-specific playground residing within the majestic walls of the city museum. I’ve only been wistfully dreaming of performing in a playground installation made for adults for a decade or so! This may be my chance!
Cue the westward motion that followed pretty closely the path of adventuring cataloguers Lewis & Clarke.
Omaha’s downtown might not entice the eye too thoroughly, but the content & the pace of the city is too dear to miss. First and foremost, the people don’t get any nicer & the vibes do not get any more chill anywhere I’ve travelled anytime before. A few architectural gems pop out among the grayscale to remind you of the city’s age and role in middle American industry. The neighborhoods outside the city center boast groups of young families & friends leading their lifestyles by passion and interest with strong community ties. (There’s also a funeral home with a really cool neon sign and great stained glass windows.) I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the Joslyn art museum where there was a Wild West exhibit which was coincidentally congruent with my manifest destiny itinerary. I also have to say that the cook culture is so strong in Omaha. Having chef friends that are willing to give pro tips to hugely enhance the quality of your own culinary art form, ingestion & subsequent joy is about the greatest thing any dedicated eater can hope for. This time around I got up close and personal with the tasteful workings of the cast iron skillet and I’m never going back to life without it! So yea, if you don’t see me out on Long Island for a year or so, you can assume that Omaha is where I’ve relocated.
One of the coolest things about House of Loom is its wealth of plush velvet chaises, lounges, and couches all perfect in their magnificent abundance for my ritual pre-show nap, further indication of my GrandmaCore nature.
Oh yea – Omaha is also home to Saddle Creek Records and it’s no big deal but the guys in Cursive and The Faint are living there. I was lucky enough to be invited to do a live session at Cursive’s bar, O’Leaver’s, and you can listen to it ()here & read my blog post describing how that transpired ()here.
I’ve been eagerly awaiting the chance to pass through Colorado for the incredible connection to the outdoors it promises and for the opportunity to reunite with my dear friend Melanie Balderas, the amazingly talented mixing engineer that splendidly crafts the frequencies of each of my albums, and our friend Peter who shreds the dickens out of his guitar when he’s not arranging scores of intense difficulty for his job at SmartMusic (makers of the sheet music software Finale) where they both work. As an added bonus, I’ve befriended more SmartMusic staff members, including CJ who brilliantly recreated my graphic score for Spottings on Safari with the Finale shaper tool so that the giraffe heads and patches of grass are now computerized as special sheet music markings – a megalodon of a task which he accomplished simply for fun. My only source of dismay is that Finale will not be including these graphic symbols in their upcoming versions of the program for everyone to use, although I can’t imagine why anyone would want to indicate a rest with anything other than the splendor of a giraffe’s head 😉 With mountains so beautiful it’s just plain dumb, it’s hard to peel your eyes away from the skyline. I never tired of looking at them.
Maybe you’ve guessed the drill by now – the promise of exploring a State Capitol building is a promise that goes unwasted on me. Really that’s the focal point for first footsteps of exploration of Capitol cities for me. Something about seeing where the laws are dictated and where democracy takes the helm at the battlefront of justice on a regular basis in no small way brings me closer to my American roots and a sense of how approachable participation in our governmental system can be. But Denver’s State Capitol building was special for me. In the cupola resides a stained glass portrait of my ancestor Kit Carson, (), among a handful of similar portraits of men that helped shape the West. It was a surprise I easily could have missed.