Gig Report: Friday at the Soundbox

It was time for some observable Berries activity last night, as we were paying another visit to Simpsonville’s Soundbox Tavern. The 80% of the band who live in or near to Mondoville gathered at the studio at 7 p.m., and Larry rode with me in the drum hauler as we made the 50-minute drive to the Upstate. We were first to arrive, and the other guys showed up a few minutes later, in time to load in.

Soundbox Marquee

Although we were the titular headliner, we were the second of the three bands to perform last night — which was actually at our request, as the other two bands were relatively local. First up were Streetfish, a recently formed band from Greenville. One thing that caught our attention was the band’s guitarist, an older, bearded fellow who happened to be wearing an outfit (dark vest, dark blue shirt, slacks) that was nearly identical to the ensemble that Larry (an older, bearded fellow) of the Berries was wearing. As we were introducing ourselves to the guys, the guitarist stepped up, “I’m Larry,” he said.

“So’s he,” I said. Holy doppelgangers, Batman. And then it was time for their set, so I settled onto a sofa by the soundboard and Justin and I shared a pizza as Streetfish powered their way through a set of original alt-rock with a strong 90s groove and a leavening of covers that fit the vibe quite nicely. They also brought a significant crowd to the show, and the fans gave the local heroes the support they earned. In fact, the response was warm enough to spark an encore, a cover of Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love.” Streetfish appear to have a good thing going — and I expect they’ll only get stronger as they get more shows under their belts.

We were up next, and broke out a 16-song set that included a couple of new songs. We capped the set with our own encore, a cover of the Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird.” Although we’ve played Soundbox several times now, we’re still the out-of-towners on the bill, and so we don’t really have a built-in audience there, which we do in Real City, for example. We meet new audiences every time we play Upstate. This means that every time we’re there, we see it as an opportunity to win the audience over,  and judging from the kind words we got as we cleared the stage, I think we did a solid job last night.

People at our shows are often struck because four of us take lead vocals at different points in the set — and because I’m one of the four. But last night, members of both of the other bands asked how we decide who sings what. Basically, people sing the songs they wrote, and I also take most of the covers, possibly because I’m frequently the guy who finds them for the band. Meanwhile, I always get a few comments from people about the “singing drummer” bit, but it really doesn’t seem that hard to me — the voice just becomes one more limb to coordinate as I play. I sing more in this band than I have in other groups, but part of that also has historically been a function of microphone issues around the kit. Ultimately, though I think that as a singer, I’m a reasonably competent drummer.

Three-fifths of the band hit the road after our set, but Larry and I stuck around to see Finding Freedom, another Greenville band. They opened the set with a nice rendition of the Eagles’ version of “Seven Bridges Road”, including the a cappella sections. While I’m not an Eagles fan (indeed, I lean toward a “Dude from The Big Lebowski position), I respected FF’s willingness to open with a challenging vocal number like that. They also took what I thought was an unusual step by covering a song from Needtobreathe, an Upstate band that has made it to a higher level, having released several albums and doing the national tour thing.

Like Needtobreathe, Finding Freedom does bluesy, mainstream classic-sounding rock with a decidedly southern inflection, and could be played back-to-back with acts like Tom Petty or the Black Crowes without cognitive dissonance. An equally interesting point of comparison (to me, anyway) is that the band’s lyrics have a spiritual dimension without spilling into the preachiness that shows up in too much “Christian Contemporary Music.” The band offered a nice, tight mix of the spiritual and the secular, and the audience responded warmly.

We congratulated them on a nice set as Larry and I picked up our pay and got on the road. I dropped Larry off at his place, went home, had a few brownies that Mrs. M had thoughtfully left for me, and got to bed a few minutes before three this morning. As usual, it was a good time, meeting new people and hearing some new music. Our next scheduled gig is next month at our Art Bar home base, but I’m already looking forward to getting back Upstate as well.

Posted in Music | Leave a comment

An Observation from a Percussing Professor

The classroom across the hall from mine has a faulty HVAC unit. While the unit still seems to fulfill its purpose, it’s pretty loud. Today, there’s a loud rattling emanating from that side of the room, sounding for all the world like castanets. Doubtless it’s annoying enough in itself, but it may be even worse for me, because I keep hearing rhythms in the not-quite-random noise, which makes me think of the songs that go with those rhythms. Thus far today, I’ve found myself distractedly humming this:


but on my way back to my office, it morphed into this classic opening:

and it’s on the verge of going full earworm on me.

I can only hope I shake it off before tonight’s gig. And that the climate control there is quiet.

Posted in Culture, Education, Music, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment

A Few Words from LB, and a Look at the Weekend

I’m pleased to report that the “Mountain Times” section of the Watauga Democrat  is sporting a chat with Lawrence Block about the decade’s finest collection of short fiction inspired by the work of Edward Hopper. Along the way he mentions an upcoming anthology of his that will include another of my stories. As ever, it’s an honor to be on the team. Check it out.

In other news, the Berries are headed to the Soundbox Tavern tomorrow night for a show with Finding Freedom and Streetfish. This will be a bit of a challenge, as our set will likely conflict with a sizable portion of the titanic struggle between UCLA and my beloved Kentucky Wildcats in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Nonetheless, I’ll try to keep smacking out the 2 and 4 as necessary, and doubtless a gig report will follow. See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Literature, Music | Leave a comment

Lenten Devotional — 17 March 17

Longtime readers of the blog are aware that for several years, the college where I work has sponsored a series of Advent devotional messages, written by members of the campus community. I usually contribute a couple each year.

Well, this is the second year that the college has decided to create a series of devotions for Lent as well. I’m contributing two of those as well, and my first one was for today. As with the Advent pieces, we’re assigned a passage of Scripture for our particular day. We write a short reflection, and offer a prayer. So here it is for today; I hope it proves useful.

Genesis 3:20-24 King James Version (KJV)

20 And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.

21 Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.

22 And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

23 Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.


If you’re of a certain age, you’re probably familiar with the song “Woodstock”, which Joni Mitchell wrote and Crosby, Stills and Nash made famous. The chorus called that generation to action: “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” But long before that, our artists, thinkers and dreamers have sought to recover that great good place, the world for which our hearts know they were made. And for all that time, we’ve seen that our own efforts – even our best efforts – are not enough to find our way back there. The world without death is beyond the reach of our earthly knowledge, and the way there is blocked, whether by an angel’s flaming sword or by our own natures.

Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on that earthly knowledge, thanks to the mercy of God. The Incarnation of God as Christ became the Way by which we can one day regain what we lost through our own actions. During Lent, we consider how Christ was willing to step into the finite world with all its shortcomings and needs, and how His suffering took place so that someday, we might not only return to the Garden, but to somewhere and some when better still.


Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of the world you gave us. And thank You because when we showed ourselves unable to accept and live in that perfection, You brought Your perfection to us, and gave us a pathway home. In the name of Your Son, amen.

Posted in Education, Faith, Music, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

QotD: Civitate Dei and the City of Man

I am not a Southern Baptist — never have been, and was not raised in that particular faith tradition. These days, I tend to refer to myself as an amateur Christian, both because I like the fact that that the word amateur derives from the word and concept of love, and because I’m not nearly good enough at Christianity to turn pro. However, the Southern Baptist Convention is headquartered in the city of my birth, and they represent the largest Protestant denomination in the country. (I have previously joked about living on Mondoville’s Lutheran island in the midst of a sea of Baptists — indeed, most of the college’s students are Baptist, despite the school’s Lutheran affiliation.) A colleague of mine from the Religion department has observed that there is a Southern Baptist veneer on nearly all the Protestant churches in this part of the country.

Put another way, when the Southern Baptists get a cold, a lot of churches sneeze, especially down here. Consequently, I find myself with something more than neighborly interest when things get lively on their side of the denominational fence. That brings us to some current controversy regarding a gentleman named Russell Moore (no relation, as far as I know).

National Review Online‘s David French offers an interesting look at Mr. Moore’s doings — most notably the fact that he spoke out against both Clinton and Trump in last year’s election:

The core of his critique was simple: that American Christians shouldn’t excuse or rationalize sin for the sake of political victory in any single election. Moreover, the same moral standards one applies to political opponents should also apply to one’s political friends. If sexual misconduct, for example, rendered Bill Clinton unfit for office in the 1990s, how should Christians think about a thrice-married serial adulterer in 2016 — especially one who bragged about grabbing women by the genitals?

This strikes me as a legitimate point, as does French’s statement a bit later:

The role of a Christian leader isn’t to put his finger in the air, take the pulse of his constituency, and respond accordingly. It’s to know and do the will of God, and to call the church to do the same — even when the church is making poor choices.

And for this particular amateur Christian, that’s the QotD. Ends are not the only things that matter — the means we choose (or elect) for achieving those ends matter as well. That may not be a practical consideration in our politicized culture — so much the worse for the culture.

Posted in Culture, Faith, Politics | 2 Comments

Look Homeward, Mondo! Spring Break Potpourri

I’m back in Mondoville, having returned yesterday from a few days in the city of my birth. Things that happened…

I drove to Nashville on Wednesday, with a stopover in Knoxville to have lunch with the Mad Dog at one of my principal vices. But the road was calling our names — I had a couple of hours to drive yet, and the Mads were preparing for their own Spring Break trip… to Hawaii. Still, it was good to see the Mad Dog, and it gave me a chance to attempt to develop my parking lot selfie skills.

Todd and me at Krystal

I made it to my hotel, near my old neighborhood. Nashville’s population has grown dramatically in the last few decades, and my particular burb, Hermitage, has turned in many ways into a warning about sprawl. Fast-food joints and strip malls jostle one another along a strip of Interstate 40, and the place I stayed was just off the exit ramp, tucked behind  a Mexican restaurant.

After I got settled in, I reached out to my friends Michael Dearing and Carl Groves, and told them they could find me by looking for the plumes of smoke from the exploding meth labs. But the room was clean, if in need of some maintenance — missing wall plates where the cable for the TV came out, a night light in need of replacement, and a bathroom vent fan that had given up the ghost, that sort of thing — and the wifi connection was good. As I told my aunt later, it was the sort of place where one might feel okay about taking a truck stop hooker, possibly even if she was still alive. I didn’t feel unsafe or anything — it was just a little skeevy, to borrow a term from the Spawn. And at fifty bucks a night while the city was hosting the SEC Basketball tournament, it was the best deal in the area.

My next stop was my aunt’s house. They knew I was coming to town, but they hadn’t expected me until Thursday, so my appearance was a bit of a surprise. We went out for dinner at the Mexican restaurant I mentioned earlier. It was crowded, and after having the nachos, I understood why. And it made getting back to my room easy enough. In fact, the restaurant’s parking lot was pretty full, so I had just parked in front of my room and walked the 200 or so feet to the restaurant. So after telling my aunt and uncle goodnight, I walked back to my room, read a little bit of a Michael Connelly paperback, and called it a night.


I woke up around seven on Thursday morning, and headed for the shower. Apparently no one had used my room for a while, because when I turned the water on, there was a brief gout of rusty water before it ran clear and I could perform my morning ablutions. I had planned on using the motel’s shampoo, but instead of the usual tiny bottles, I found a tiny packet of what appeared to be Kevlar, and my wet hands weren’t going to get it pulled open, so I wound up washing my hair with the bar of hotel soap.

After getting civilized, I went out to the cemetery where my parents, maternal grandparents, and the cousin who was my closest childhood friend (he died when we were thirteen) are interred. It was a gorgeous day, unseasonably warm and sunny. I got a collapsible chair out of my car, and sat there for a couple of hours, until it was time to drive back to the old neighborhood for lunch at a barbecue place (It’s too nice to be called a “joint.”) Our server looked like Alex Rodriguez, but as I told him, he’s young and could still be a decent human being. As we enjoyed the rib tips special, Carl, Mike, and I talked about music (of course), family, and other general catching up — the sort of thing that guys who have been friends for 46 years do. As it turns out, Carl’s eldest (who is in the Air Force) will be assigned soon to a location about sixty miles from Mondoville. As Carl just got his pilot’s license, and since we have a small public airport and some vacant bedrooms, we agreed that visits were likely in the offing.

Afterwards, we got a shot of the three of us:

With Carl and Dearing at Famous Daves

As I told Mrs. M, I don’t look quite so large around my homies. Of course, it helps that Carl’s 6′ 2″ and Mike’s 6′ 3″.

And here’s what we looked like 39 years earlier, at our first gig — the Donelson Jr. High talent show:

Donelson Talent Show

Carl’s on guitar at left, Mike is on bass in the center. Our dashikis were made by Mike’s mom, who taught Home Ec.

After that, Mike and I rode over to his mother’s place, where I hadn’t been in years. His mom remains very active, and we watched a bit of basketball on TV while we hung around for a bit. From there, I went back to my aunt’s, and picked her up for a trip to Hobby Lobby, where I bought flowers for my return to the cemetery on Friday. I also took her for a drive through our old subdivision.

When I lived there, the neighborhood was primarily blue-collar, with occasional white-collar sections. My grandparents (a fire fighter and a drugstore cashier) were pretty typical residents. These days, at least on my block, it seems to be more of a tank-top neighborhood. The house across the street from my old one sports what appears to be a life-sized concrete statue of Elvis in the Army. I suppose it makes sense — I’m from a region and from a social class that supplies a disproportionately large segment of our military personnel. Not sure why the statue looks so much like Big E, though.

Meanwhile, the house next door to my old one appears to have had a concrete lawn ornament store explode in the front yard. Bedraggled fawns, geese, birdbaths, and saints’ statues form a Maginot Line of weather-damaged tchotchkes between their house and my old one.

As for my old place, I’m not entirely sure it’s occupied — the mailbox lay in the front yard’s ditch, having fallen or been knocked loose from the 4 x 4 that held it up. A couple of years ago, previous occupants had planted a small jungle of foliage in the front yard, but that has been cleared away, and it actually looks better than it had:

7003 Bonnamere

After I got Aunt Glo home, she arranged the flowers before heading to a meeting of her homeowners’ association with my uncle. I picked up a cheap Little Caesar’s pizza and a couple of sodas and retired to my room for the evening.

At first, I thought I might watch some basketball on TV, but in order for that to happen, I had to get the TV turned on. After a bit of furniture moving, I discovered that the TV had been unplugged up. I fixed that, and got the TV turned on, but I couldn’t find the appropriate input channel, and after a while I gave up, got online, and read a little more Connelly before I called it a night.


After a fitful sleep, the next morning I finished the leftover pizza for breakfast. I opened the door of the minifridge to get out my Sundrop — and discovered that the TV was not the only thing that had been left unplugged. So I drove to Aunt Glo’s, picked up the flowers, and drove back to the cemetery.

A cold front had blown through the area overnight, and it was much cooler, although still sunny, and the wind was pretty sharp. I still stayed for a couple of hours — I don’t get there as often as I’d like, and I’m never really ready to leave when I go. I’m not entirely on the level of the child in Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven“, but I get her point.

As I’ve mentioned before, the cemetery is also the final resting place for a number of music business luminaries. One of my colleagues, the Nerd Girl, happens to be a fan of the late Marty Robbins, and Mr. Robbins was (and as far as I know, still is) buried in another section of the graveyard, so I drove to the back of the cemetery, near the Interstate, and sent her a souvenir of the necropolis:

Marty Robbins

But Mr. Robbins’s grave was not as obvious as I thought it might be, and when I walked to the first large marker I saw, I discovered that I had found another notable musician — Larrie Londin, the legendary session drummer who played for everyone from Marvin Gaye to Adrian Belew and Journey. His marker is about the same size as Robbins’s.


As I mentioned these graves are in a little-used section of the cemetery, and I noticed that the floral urn at Mr. Londin’s grave was empty. I had already placed my flowers with my family, but I thought Londin should be remembered as well. And that’s why, unless someone has been there in the last couple of days, Mr. Londin’s urn is now the home of a used pair of Zildjian drumsticks, size 7A. Thanks for the music, sir.


I got back to Aunt Glo’s house in time for lunch and the second half of my beloved Kentucky Wildcats’ win over Georgia in the SEC quarterfinals. Kentucky’s fans are legendary for their devotion to the team and their willingness to travel and display that devotion, and there were plenty of blue shirts in the stands. I knew there were even more outside, and that the Big Blue Nation would be out in force in Nashville this weekend.

Carl picked me up around nine that evening, and we went downtown to catch Mike Dearing’s blues band in Printers’ Alley. Well, actually, it’s Stacy Mitchhart‘s band, but Mike has played with Stacy for years, and serves as the band’s musical director as well. Sure enough, the bar was wall-to-wall with Kentucky fans. “My people,” I said when we walked in. Carl looked at me oddly. “UK fans.”

“Oh, OK,” he said. “I thought you meant barflies.”

Mike had put us on the guest list, and the servers found us a corner overlooking Mike’s end of the stage. I drank a couple of cokes as the band made its way through the first of two 105-minute(!) sets. He came up and joined us during the break, and while we were sitting there, Carl asked what the deal was with all the UK fans.

“When you live in Kentucky,” I said, “you’re used to having people make fun of you. Shoeless hilljacks, inbreds — that sort of thing. But you have UK basketball. These folks,” I said, “live and die with the Cats, and most of them will never get the chance to get a good seat in Rupp Arena — it’s always sold out. So a lot of these people plan their vacations around the tournament. They literally have been looking forward to this all year.” And they were having a good time, and so did I. Mike even got a couple of vocal turns on covers of “Peg” by Steely Dan and the Police’s “Roxanne.” Neither of these are what you would call blues standards, but I can assure you that musically speaking, neither tune is a walk in the park. The fact that the band pulled this off with the same effortlessness and panache they displayed in the simpler tunes is a reminder that you can walk into any bar in Nashville and find amazing players.

But it was well past midnight when the second set got rolling, so Carl and I headed home, and as I walked to the car, I was reminded of something I already knew — how much the city has changed over the decades since I lived there. When I was a kid, the headquarters of the Life and Casualty Insurance Co. was the titan of the city’s skyline.

L and C 1970s

It’s still there.


I’m older and grayer too, I guess, but I’m glad to have made the trip.


There was light snow falling when I woke up yesterday morning, and while I remember how to drive in that, I wasn’t sure that everyone else on the Interstate would, so I went ahead and got rolling.

Apart from a few flurries as I went through the Smokies, though, the drive wasn’t bad — the worst part of the whole business was the briny grunge slung into my windshield by the cars in front of me. So I made it home yesterday evening, and wrote this as I watched Kentucky claim the conference tournament championship. And now all those fans I mentioned earlier are heading back to their homes, a day after I headed back to mine.

With luck, I’ll be back soon.

Posted in Culture, Family, Literature, Music, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment

Scattered and Covered for Me, Thanks

If you’ve spent much time in the South, Waffle House is as much a part of life as college football and oppressive humidity. This may be even more true for musicians, shift workers, drunks, college students, and other devotees of the vampire schedule (N.B.: some of these categories overlap.), because it’s not at all unusual to discover that Waffle House is the only 24-hour eatery around.

That was certainly the case in Mondoville until a couple of years ago, when Sonic decided to stay open around the clock. We have a couple of Waffle Houses here; one is at one of Mondoville’s three Interstate exits, and the more recent one (likely to be called “the new Waffle House”, even fifty years from now) is closer to the center of town, near the Wal-Mart. More than a few of my former and current students have sworn allegiance to one or the other.

The restaurants themselves are fascinating mixes of standardization and quirkiness, with chain-wide jargon and codes, and with chefs who prepare meals quickly and efficiently without written tickets. The jukebox will have a mix of country tunes, perhaps a smidgen of redneck rock, and (best of all, for me, anyway) the chain’s own songs, pressed on their private label.

<p><a href=”″>Color Me Gone</a> from <a href=”″>Waffle House</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Even though Clan Mondo doesn’t eat there that often, I can’t help but smile when I’m coming home from one trip or another and I see the familiar yellow-and-black grid of Mondoville’s Waffle House signs — they let me know that I’m only a few minutes from my family and my bed. As I said, Waffle House is part of the fabric of life down here.

I’m writing about Waffle House this morning because the chain’s co-founder, Joe Rogers, has died at the age of 97. He started the company with a real-estate investor in 1955, and saw it grow to more than 1800 locations over the ensuing 60+ years. I doubt he realized at first that he was building a cultural institution, but like millions of others over the decades (most of whom paid cash — the company didn’t take plastic until 2006), I’m glad he did.

So long, Mr. Rogers, and thanks for being a part of the South.

A tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to James Mills, via Facebook.

Posted in Culture, Music | 1 Comment