News for October 2011

Day 5,6,7 – Rachel. Was. Right.

(I’ve got to wrap this tour up. Too much has happened in the days since.  I’ll condense, be conciser, what have you. It’ll be the highlights reel. It’ll still be long though, so get comfy. And thanks for joining in.)

I slept poorly. That’s not entirely true. (Is this entire blog based on a lie?) I slept great. Until 3am. Then I tossed and turned and worried worthlessly about how to get Our Lady up and running in time to make it to St. Louis by Monday night. Can one do anything to repair a Vanagon at 3am on a Sunday morning at a Marriot in Arkansas? Exactly. But that logic was wasted on me.

Up at 6, in room coffee, down to the front by 7, where Jonathan and I were picked up by Clint.

We had a great morning at Good Shepherd. I can’t emphasize enough what a great host congregation these folks were! Thank you.

Jonathan and I did parts of the music at 2 services and then the entire 3rd service. I ran off and did some preschool music in the middle of one of those too. The musical highlight was probably singing Jonathan’s ‘If You Have a Question,’ which took on new meaning when he sang, ‘when you lie awake at 3am, trouble going through your mind…’ All too familiar.

Clint included a plea for a VW mechanic in the announcements. It turns out one member, Josh, used to have an ’85. Mine’s an ’86. I called him after lunch and he met me at the hotel.

Before I hit the road, my friend Rachel Kurtz, who used to have a VW bus, told me, “Remember: the best part about driving around the country in an old VW is meeting all the great people that you’ll be asking for help.” Josh is proof that Rachel was right. We monkeyed for hours. He ran me to the parts store for a new air filter. Pretty much he gave up his entire afternoon with his family to help me out. In the end, though better, it was still doing the same thing. And Josh bought me supper. That’s right, the guy that gave up his entire afternoon bought ME supper. I’ve heard tales of Arkansawyers being a bit backwards. If this is what folks mean by that, it’s the best backwards ever. I’ll say it again: Rachel was right.

Despite multiple offers to stay with kind families at church I was in need of a little introversion/pity party. I coughed up the dough and spent the night at the hotel. Got some laundry done. Watched the Home and Garden network. Sat in the hot tub. Called home. It was a good choice. (Even when Jodi pointed out, “You took the antique road show on the road. What do you expect?” Dang you voice of reason!)

Monday started with coffee and instant oatmeal made from the incredibly hot tap water. Seriously, it was that hot. Freaky. But handy too.

I called my mechanic back in Minneapolis and they gave me a list of things to check. The staff at the Marriot was stand out awesome. The maintenance man lent me tools. And took his stab at what might be wrong. (Did I mention Rachel was right?) Eventually though it was time to get a tow. So I called my friends at AAA. A short 1 1/2 hrs. later Our Lady was on the tow truck headed for “Friend’s Foreign Auto.” It turns out Kenny Friend was a kind man that took pity on my plight and dropped everything including the Porsche he was working on. (In his words, “That guy’s picking up his Porsche in his dad’s Cadillac. You’re stuck here and you’re screwed. He can wait, I’ll get you on the road.”) Kenny did indeed get me on the road. Rachel Kurtz was right again. (Me ego can’t take much more of this!) Once everything was yippee skippy Kenny and I took it for a test drive. Mid drive he looked at me and said, “So you’re a musician?”


“You get to do what you love for a living?”


“So do I. Isn’t it great?”

How cool is that? The mechanic and I are celebrating the joy of vocation!

Well, I didn’t get out of Fayetteville till 4pm when all was said and done. (It was a temp sensor.) Earlier in the day I had to call my St. Louis contacts and cancel the house show I was booked for. This is the first time that I’ve ever had to cancel a show. It sucked.

I didn’t have anything booked on Tuesday and Wednesday’s show was just an hour from home so I decided to head straight north and get back to my family.

By 10pm I was in Missouri stopping for gas. I filled up the tank and went inside to pay and get some coffee. I walked back out and there was a big puddle of gas growing from a drip that traced back to my fuel tank. For real. I walked back into the shop and told them, “I’m leaking gas all over.” This was exciting for them. Probably more excitement than they’re used to on a Monday night at 10pm. A big old guy in overalls and a teenage female relative came out to look. (Not sure what the relationship was, not sure I wanted to know. A different kind of backwards.) She jumped under the van and started feeling around. “I think yer tank’s cracked.” The old dude looked at me and said, “Do you smoke?” Then he proceeded to recount a conversation he once had with a CA highway patrol man who made it clear that 99% of cars that catch on fire just burn up. They don’t blow up. Worse case scenario I’d be part of the 99%. Hmmm…

Super comforting information. Thanks Uncle Jessy. (Not sure if Rachel was right about this one…)

I was tired. I wanted to go home. I started Our Lady and she neither caught on fire nor blew up. I pulled her away from the pumps and parked. I called Jodi, not to tell her that I was leaking flammable liquids, but simply to say I love you and kiss the girls. Than I unlocked all the doors. I put all the guitars by the sliding door so that I could chuck ’em out quick if I needed too. I pulled out the fire extinguisher from the back (safety first) pulled the pin and set it on the passenger seat. Said a prayer, crossed my fingers, and took off down the road. I made it just north of Des Moines, incident free. I only filled up half a tank at a time. I camped out in a parking lot, woke up with the sun and on Day 7 I was home just after lunch.

All in one piece.

Graced by a family that makes room for my vocation and Our Lady of Disrepair.

Isn’t it great?

Posted: October 20th, 2011
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Comments: 1 Comment.

DAY 4: dumb phone, new band, dead van

(From the road journal’s of Nate Houge’s recent tour to Arkansas and back in his 86 Vanagon)

I started the day by burning my fingers on my backpacking stove while heating up water for coffee. Not cool. In fact, very hot. Rearranging the instruments to make room for company I headed for a nearby coffee shop to get caught up on e-mail and check directions to the airport where I’d be picking up Jonathan Rundman. At the coffee shop a little girl sat down next to me with her mother. She was 6. She was into motocross. She had come in to watch a clip of her on the previous nights news. Check it out:–20110930,0,4917184.story

I love meeting famous people. Speaking of famous people, it was time to meet Jonathan at the airport.  Jonathan and I were doing a series of shows in Fayetteville Arkansas thanks to Clint Schnekloth and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.  Because of Kaivama commitments in MN, Jonathan was flying in for the event.  I used my ‘smart’ phone to get directions to the airport. It lied. After 45 minutes of backroads I ended up at a closed road with no marked detour. After another 15 minutes of driving I ended up at an intersection that I later discovered was about 8 minutes from the coffee shop from which I had set out an hour earlier. Grrr… On a brighter note, I had brought along the Jonathan Richman classic, “Jonathan Goes Country.” (A gift from Matt Marohl, thank you once again!) And on picking up Rundman I put it on the Richman track, “You’re Crazy For Taking The Bus” which has the appropriate line, “You take the plane and I’ll take the bus this time.”

And so we headed back in to town to meet up with our host Clint and his family for some delicious barbeque. Then, as we were just about to pull into the church parking lot my vanagon crapped out. (I think that’s the technical term…) I was able to get her into the lot and there was so much else to do I just left her for later.

We met up with our drummer for the night, a local jazz drummer by the name of Steve Wilkes. In addition to his busy schedule in the local music scene he’s also the co-founder of home brewing’s longest running podcast and instructional website, So in addition to talking about music I was able to pick his brain a bit about home brewing and wild yeast breads too. What a fun guy! (Pun intended.)

We set up for a rehearsal. We rehearsed with Jonathan and myself playing the role of each other’s bass player. We tore down. We drove to downtown Fayetteville. We set up. We played a short rock and roll set for the 100,000+ cyclists that had come to town. Not just to see us… but I get to spin this however I want, right? Sweet. We tore down. We drove back to Good Shepherd Lutheran church. We set up. We played a great set to a full auditorium. We tore down. We packed everything into a Sunday School room so that we could set it all up the next morning in the Sanctuary. Practice and two shows. Wow. But what a blast. It was fun after playing acoustic sets all week to plug in the Tele and be loud. It was also fun to pretend to be a bass player for the night. Always a good time.

Back out to the parking lot and the Vanagon started just great. It even got us halfway to our hotel before crapping out again. This time I was able to feather the clutch and accelerator and keep it moving at all of… 8mph? It was a four lane road. And all our biker fans were on it. Thankfully we got to the hotel with a smoking clutch, a worrisome Nate, and a calm and collected Jonathan who talked me down. It was a good night to have a comfortable bed. Jonathan went out to get something to eat. I went to bed exhausted with an alarm set for 6am to get ready for church. And deal with Our Lady of Disrepair. (That’s our Vanagon’s name.)

Posted: October 14th, 2011
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Day 3: Woody, AOK, Joy

(For those of you just joining us, I’m posting road journals from my recent tour to Arkansas and back – October 2011)

Day 3 – Woody, AOK, Joy

I woke up in the Michelson’s basement. Thankfully, that’s also where I had fallen asleep. I love it when it works out that way. After breakfast, joining the kids at the bus stop, and receiving a lovingly packed sack lunch from Tera, I was off once again. Southbound on I-35. After an hour or so I was nearing the Oklahoma border so I did what any halfways self aware folky would do. I put in a Woody Guthrie CD. A collection under the title, “Hard Travelin’” And indeed I was singing along with Woody as I entered his home state and pulled into the rest stop and Welcome Center. My first shock was that there were no visible signs of Woody at the rest stop. No statues. No “Home of Woody Guthrie” banners. Weird. I went into the Welcome Center where two kind and (assuming the standard ratio between age and wisdom) incredibly wise ladies were answering people’s questions about some dude by the name of Garth Brooks. I patiently waited my turn and finally got to ask my big question, “Where was Woody born?” Blank stare. Perhaps I wasn’t showing proper respect. “Where was Mr. Woody Guthrie born?” A slightly less blank stare. Then she replied, “I believe he is from Oklahoma, but I’m not sure where he was born.” What? What kind of Welcome Center is this? Where is the wisdom of my elders when I need it? She consulted the other lady who pulled out a list, “We have a list of most of those places…” pause, “but I don’t see it on here.” She had list of 50+ people and where they were born and Woody wasn’t on it? Not cool Oklahoma. Not cool. I mumbled thanks, filled up on free coffee, walked outside and pulled out my smart phone. Within 10 strokes of my thumb I had lept beyond the circle of my elders and landed in the greener pastures of the world wide web. Okemah. That’s where he was born. Google, 1. Kind old ladies, 0. I had my answer but it had come at a price. I felt dirty inside.

But let’s not dwell.

As it turns out Okemah wasn’t on my way and I don’t exactly have my hopes up that anyone in Okemah is aware of their status as birthplace of the author of our nation’s unofficial national anthem. I felt a side trip would only lead to disappointment.

Instead I headed straight for Joy Lutheran in Tulsa. This would be my first ever gig in the AOK (Arkansas Oklahoma) Synod of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) (Abbreviating doesn’t always save time when you end up spelling it out anyway. Oh well. Whatevs.) (Whatever.)

Pastor Nathan Allen was at the church and it was great to meet face to face. I had contacted him about my open date on the calendar and he graciously offered his congregation as a host for a concert. I really appreciate that! I had a chance to crash at the church for a few hours and catch up on e-mail and piano lessons and then Nathan and his son picked me up for dinner. We went to a great German restaurant where I had a killer Reuben. Between the amazing food and conversation we lost track of time until he noticed it was 10 minutes till I was supposed to start and we were about 8 minutes away! We bolted for church and made it, barely late, and luckily someone else had opened the building. It was a smaller crowd, but that doesn’t bug me a bit. Of course it’s always great to play for a big crowd, but I’ve learned to never take that for granted. I’ve played tons of shows to single digit crowds. I’ve also played to thousands. The thing is either way I get to do what I love. I think sometimes smaller crowds are unduly hard on themselves. Don’t be! I’m pretty much a nobody in Tulsa OK. The fact that anybody would book me and come out to see me is above and beyond in my book. So thank you Nathan and Joy Lutheran for taking a risk on me and hosting the concert! It was a great time and a warm welcome. I’m honored. Let’s do it again.

After the concert and a Pepsi for the road, I headed for Arkansas via the comfy and familiar surroundings of another Walmart parking lot. Ah, the glamor of it all.

Posted: October 12th, 2011
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Comments: 1 Comment.

Day 2: Roller Coaster, Piano Lessons, Wichita.

I woke up in a Walmart parking lot. That’s not something you get to say everyday. I walked in and bought a juice and wandered for a bit under the eerie fluorescent lighting. Then I made my way back to Our Lady and got out my stove and french press. I was going to make oatmeal too only to realize I didn’t have a spoon. I thought about going back in for one and then figured I’d rather get on the road. So I drank my coffee, ate some apples, moved guitars out of the front seat and put them back on the bed and I was off.

Vanagons have notoriously small wheels. Larger wheels are a common upgrade. Among other things they add stability. Driving through Kansas I could see why someone might fork over a thousand bucks for this upgrade. I had both hands on the wheel at all times. No knee driving while I poured myself another cup of coffee. You know how at the end of a roller coaster ride you rattle up to the platform and the cars lurch to a stop and your head is stilling bobbling from the last hard turn? That’s what if felt like pulling into rest stops. It was a bouncy ride.

I made it to Wichita in time for a late lunch with my contacts there – The Michelsons. I’ve known Lowell and Tera since ’97. They’re in my top 5 cool couples. Seriously. They’re great, joyful, encouraging, fun, awesome… all that stuff. Of course I don’t know them super well, so maybe once you get to know them they’re jerks.

But I don’t think that’s possible.

As if that wasn’t enough my friend Cathy Pino was in town too. Cathy is, among other things, a great musician and songwriter. (If you’ve been to a Lutheran camp in the last 10 years I’m guessing you know her song, “You Are The Light of the World.”) Cathy lives in the Twin Cities also but we only see each other at mutual friend gatherings. In this case the mutual friends were the Michelsons. In Wichita. Hey, whatever it takes to hang out with the cool kids!

The afternoon was filled with great food, fun hanging out, and a dinner of deep fried pickles and green beans. (Don’t knock it till you try it.)

Lowell is a pastor and one of the folks in the congregation hosts house concerts. That’s where I fit in. Lowell and Cathy had prior engagements with a Glocal Mission event but Tera and their 3 kids came along to the House concert. At dinner I discovered that their oldest son and I were both taking piano lessons and we were both using the same book – he’s actually ahead of me. (Hey, I’m only 3 lessons into this, gimme a break!) The home that was hosting had a beautiful grand piano so before the concert we compared notes. I had my books with me and the Michelson kids went to town as my opening act.  Firefly, Young Hunter, Mexican Jumping Beans… They played all the hits! And better than me!

The concert continued with me and instruments I can actually play. It was a great and enthusiastic crowd. At one point we did a few kids songs and I busted out the scarves for them to wave around and there was 100% participation! You gotta love it when everyone feels comfortable enough to be that silly with each other. They even did Monkey Dance. Wow.

After the show we headed back to the Michelsons for yogurt parfaits (Pure Rock and Roll!) and homework (the kids, not me). A full and wonderful day.

Posted: October 7th, 2011
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Day 1: Hitchhikers, Mass Murderers, Des Moines

I spent the last eight days on tour in our 86 Weekender, affectionately known in our family as ‘Our Lady of Disrepair.’ She did just fine for the first half of the tour, and indeed she got me home with only one cancelled house concert in her wake.

Day 1: Hitchhiker, Mass Murderer, Des Moines.

I took off at noon from sunny St. Paul and headed south on 35 for Des Moines IA. No gauges were flashing, my new upper control arm bushings weren’t squeaking, and the radio was loud enough for me to hear. I was thinking about an NPR story I heard a few days prior on the lost art of hitchhiking and thought to myself how long it had been since I had seen a hitchhiker in Minnesota. I decided that if I saw any I’d give them a ride. It seemed like the Vanagon thing to do.

Ten minutes later I did.

His name was Pat. I saw him with his backpack and thumbout and immediately slammed on the brakes. A squeaky quarter mile later I had come to a full stop and he was running the distance to me. Pat was great. We talked all the way to Des Moines about cars and scooters and life.

He had once driven a 50cc scooter from Louisville, Kentucky to Southern California. I can’t imagine hitchhiking was much slower.

I learned that if you’re on the road with no place to stay that the storage sheds in the Lowe’s and Home Depot parking lots make for decent housing and that employess are used to it and will sometimes bring you donuts and coffee. I’ll tuck that info away for future tours.

About an hour into our conversation there was a lull and I relfected on how Pat was proof that hitchhikers are normal people just like you and me. That’s when he broke the silence with, “How’s it feel to be a mass murderer?” Talk about a conversation killer. I wasn’t sure what the proper response was at this point. Was he accusing me? I could reply, ‘I don’t know. You tell me.’ But I could only see that taking things to the next degree of awkward. In my hesitation he clarified, “Look at your windshield. How many bugs ya gonna kill like this?” Note to self: Don’t pick up hitchhikers for their sense of humor.

We talked about hitchhiking. He told me bits of his life story. Divorce, sobriety, adult daughters and how they worry about him. He has a smart phone to keep in touch. He’s on facebook. He gave me his e-mail address. He used to have a big house, cars, atv’s, boats, and a job to pay for it all. And the more he got the more he had to work and the more he had to work the more he had to maintain and eventually he had a heart attack. He got rid of it all. He travels at his own speed. On his own time. He told me he’s never felt more free. All that stuff just holds you down.

I dropped Pat off at the edge of town and made my way to St. Johns where my friend Bob Speirs is a pastor. St. Johns is a beautiful old downtown church. On Wednesday’s they have a community meal. We’re not talking hot dish. This week was pork tenderloin with garlic broccoli and peach cobbler. It was fantastic! I played a few songs for the large group after dinner then lead the singing for a short worship service that followed. After that I vistited different small groups and we chatted and sang songs. I had a great time with the preschoolers, then off to middle school, and finally to the high school group. One of the high schoolers played guitar and so he played mine and I played acoustic lap steel and we lead songs from Becoming Liturgy. It was great!

On the way out that evening, Bob was helping me carry stuff to the van and there was a homeless man in the courtyard of the church. He was apologetic and started to get up but Bob made it clear that he was welcome to stay there in the shelter and security that the courtyard provided. Bob told me that sometimes there are up to a dozen folks who make their home there during the summer. If you’ve got the space share it.

I got a headstart on the next days drive and made my way south. I camped out in a Walmart parking lot in Cameron MO. Parked by the RV’s and Semi’s Our Lady of Disrepair fit right in. In a pesky little sibling sort of way.  I slept great. What a beautful start to the tour.

Posted: October 6th, 2011
Categories: Uncategorized
Comments: 1 Comment.

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