Two Sunrises on the Same Day

I’ve been able to add quite a few cities to the list of places I’ve played in front of audiences this year.  I regret that Huzhou, China is not one of them, even though I just came back from there.

Huzhou – which is about three hours’ drive away from Shanghai – is twelve time zones away from my home.  For all practical purposes, it is on the other side of the world from Boston. This leads to some really weird travel when flying there and coming back.  First, you fly neither east nor west, really. Instead the flight path is mostly longitudinal as that’s the most direct route (the world being round and all that).* 2019-11-01 03.09.45

The other true time travel piece of the puzzle is how one either races away from the night – and loses – or races toward the night and gains another sunrise.  Flying to China you cross not only 12 zones but also the date line, and pretty much lose two days. Right now, however – coming home – I clearly remember waking up to what passes for a sunny day in Huzhou.  That was a long time ago. The sun set. And now out my window it is rising again. And it is still the same date. For me, October 31, 2019 will have been 36 hours long.

2019-11-01 03.12.21There is of course a lesson or metaphor here about second chances and the beauty of a sunrise.  But it’s been a long day, and I think I’ll let you ponder this all for yourselves.

 

*Neat trick: get a globe and run a piece of string between Boston and Shanghai and you’ll see what I mean.  Also pretty cool to try it for other city pairs.

Good Nights and Learning Nights

Ok, so it’s been a little over a year of performing live now. Have really been enjoying it, and just about every night out is better than the one before. 

Just about, that is. 

For those of us who tend towards the self-critical, one of the hardest things to do is to backslide. And yes, that’s the word we use sometimes. The we-were-doing-so-well and the it’s-just-not-there. And maybe it never was and we were just fooling ourselves for a bit and now we’re back to where we should be – amateur, dreamer, pretender. 

Sometimes by a miracle (or a hell of a lot of work and therapy) we remember that in fact all of this feeling of inadequacy is a natural side effect of learning and growing. 

What the hell am I on about? Well, I tried something new in my slot at the regular Monday open mic with Andrew and Terrance. Went with my Telecaster instead of my acoustic and also brought the small pedalboard (just to make it less twangy). Also didn’t really figure out which songs I wanted to do until the day before (not intentionally, but still).

And it was pretty bad, by my standards. Missed chord changes, weak voice, forgotten words, thin guitar. 

Just about everything was bad, and all that after a week of feeling really great about how far my music and performance has come. 

I’d forgotten that I’d spent all of Saturday working on a new song, including recording basic tracks and overdubs. At kind of the last minute I’d decided to do two original songs: one that I’d played live once, and one that I hadn’t quite figured out the live arrangement for. I was using the pedalboard out at a gig for the first time. 

Had Sir Humphrey been nearby, he would have described my choices as “brave”. 

On the way out, I ran into one of the comics who had also performed that night:

“How was your night? I think I missed your songs.”

“Well, there are good nights and there are learning nights, and I learned a lot.”

“Yup….  Same for me.”

Except he was great!

Every Other Night

As the king of understatement, I’ll say the past 10 days or so have been pretty eventful. By which I mean the following: 

  • Sept 15 – played at an open mic at Article 24, Allston, MA
  • Sept 16 – played at an open mic at Bill’s Pizza, Newton Centre, MA
  • Sept 17 – played at an open mic at Tommy Doyle’s, Nonantum, MA
  • Sept 20 – played my first long-set solo gig at Tommy Doyle’s, Nonantum, MA
  • Sept 23 – played at an open mic at Cask & Barrel in Edmonton, AB
  • Sept 25 – played along with a few friends as a full band at The Leaf Bar in Edmonton, AB

Back when I started playing live again, I had no idea that I would be playing this often in this many locations to this many people quite so soon. To say it’s an adventure is another understatement. 

And that Sept 20 show – oh my God, that was an incredible night! I am so thankful to the friends who turned out, and those who came up afterward asking about my music. I must be an absolute junkie for this stuff, because I am looking forward to my next fix like that.

2019-09-23 23.08.35Edmonton on the 23rd was also a special night. Nominally just another open mic, but after I’d played my little set of a couple of songs and gone back to my chair, about a dozen of my area friends came in and demanded that I do a second set. I am thankful that I still had an opportunity to get up and do another four songs without displacing somebody else that wanted to come to the mic and sing.

Truly I hope – and I am committed to making it so – that this is just the beginning for me. There are new songs bubbling around in my mind, dying to be written. Every day I learn a little bit more about how to play better, how to sing better, and how to find a voice that feels authentic to me. 

Thank you for coming with me on this journey. Thank you for listening to my music, and please let me know if you have ideas for new places to play!  And please checking www.tunnel18band.com as we add more content, music and stuff TBD!

 

Marathon Week

I’ve spent bits of my career going from town to town (up and down the dial…) and from hotel room to hotel room.  As much as that part of the life description is exactly as I’d dreamed as a teenager, the majority of that time has been travel for work rather than for playing music.

This week marks an interesting change.  I have a long solo acoustic set on Friday (at Tommy’s Doyle’s in Newton MA.  Details in the link), and I’m warming up by doing three open mic sets Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday night.  Immediately following the gig on Friday, I’ll jump a plane Saturday morning to head back to Edmonton, AB (my home away from home) and am planning to play Duggan’s Boundary on Tuesday and likely at least one other event.

Anyway, the upshot is, please come out and see me at any of the following this week:

  • Sunday, Sept 15 – Article 24, Brighton, MA (approx 10pm)
  • Monday, Sept 16 – Bill’s Pizza, Newton Centre, MA (8:20pm)
  • Tuesday, Sept 17 – Tommy Doyle’s, Nonantum, MA (Sometime after 8:30pm)
  • Friday, Sept 20 – Tommy Doyle’s, Nonantum, MA (Long solo set, starting 10pm)

2019-09-15 18.28.45If you do make it out Friday night, I’ll be bringing a little merch to hand out.  Look for CD’s (for those who live in a simpler time) of the first album and USB sticks with songs from album 1 and 2.  All are free, so just come and see me at some point in the evening.

Thanks, and have a great week!

-Chris

Climbing

I have a lot of baggage.

Literally, I have a lot of baggage – see examples at right.  Over one two-day period here in August I started the day with a hiking pack and an overnight bag, transitioned to a guitar case to play an open mic, and then grabbed my carry-on and computer bag to head to the airport at 5:30 the next morning.2019-08-22 08.14.41

So, that’s

  • Hiking pack
  • Overnight bag
  • Guitar case 
  • Roller bag
  • Computer bag

Not all of them at the same time.  Not all of them useful in the same way.  And at least one of them more beloved than the others (and P.S.: it’s not the computer bag).

The second favorite bag is the hiking pack, though that relationship is a little complicated.  My son and I have been on multiple significant, multiple-day hikes over a span of years that goes back to about when he was 10 years old.  Many of those hikes occurred in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and many of them were arduous, in the cold, in the rain, and with a pack that made me wonder if my shoulders would ever recover.  Terrain has ranged from flat and grassy to alpine garden to boulder scramble to near-vertical ravine.  2019-08-18 13.21.59

This past weekend’s hike was a one-day, but pretty difficult climb up the Hunt Trail to the peak of Mt. Katahdin, the highest point in Maine and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.  

It’s a hard truck. 5 miles in, 5 miles out, and 4400 vertical feet of elevation change. A good deal of that 4,400 feet occurs in what is called the Gateway – a near-vertical boulder scramble at the edge of an outcropping of the mountain. 

We were in fog for most of our climb. This was certainly disconcerting as it could rain at any moment and become very slippery, but in hindsight it actually was very helpful. The fog kept us from being able to see completely where we were going or where the summit was, but it also made us feel a little bit more enclosed than we actually were. In those few moments where the fog cleared, there was a very distinct feeling that we were scaling the outside of the building. In the same moments, there was the realization that however we went up, we are eventually going to have to come down!

But, then we got to the top….

2019-08-18 09.58.49

As you might be able to guess, it’d be easy for me to make the analogy to songwriting, or to my playing, or to performing.  But you’re all smart and creative and feeling people – you can make that connection on your own.

Tonight I’m doing a different type of climbing.  I am reliably informed that we are currently nearing our cruising altitude of 30,000 feet and will be making our connection more or less on time so that I may make it home in that vague in-between place that can be called either Wednesday night or Thursday morning.  

It’s a pretty empty flight, and the attendants had us shift around for weight and balance – and I have found myself in an empty row as a result.

As an overly experienced flier, I almost always take an aisle seat so I can get out and make my next flight (or get the hell home or to the hotel).  But tonight, look out that window….2019-08-21 20.34.04

…sometimes you’re reminded to stop, look around, and remember why the climb is worth it.

Fighting the Self Doubts

RedDeerIt’s been a lively and busy summer so far, and last night I just did my 21st open mic night since first getting back out on the stage last September. It’s been a transformative experience, and I am incredibly appreciative of the community of artists that I have been able to find, particularly in Newton, Massachusetts and in Edmonton, Alberta.

I can feel that my songwriting has changed in the last 10 months of performing. Being around all of these other artists is incredibly humbling. The depth and array of talent is astounding. It is hard not to think of it as a competition when these incredible artists get to the stage before you and completely blow you away with their talent, their depth of feeling and performance…   and then, after you get over that little bruise to your own self-esteem and that hurt little being that is inside of you, you can take what you have seen and see it as inspiration for becoming a better songwriter, better performer, and even maybe a little more pleasant individual. 

The hosts of these open mic nights can make or break them. In particular, I have found two events that have become very dear to me both because of the encouragement of the hosts of one and the opportunities that have been presented by the host of another. 

Andrew Geano and Terrance Reeves host the open mic jam at Bill’s Pizza in Newton, MA.  They were there when I first brought the guitar back out of the case to perform live,  and both of them have been an incredible source of encouragement on songwriting and on how to improve my live performance. Please look both of them up – Terrance is a local music producer and mixer in addition to being a great open mic night host.  Andrew is genuinely one of the nicest people I know, and also is an incredible singer-songwriter. You can find his work on Spotify and also find his live gigs here. 2019-08-10 05.52.42

The other gig that has been a source of opportunity for me is Tim Ko’s open mic night at Tommy Doyle’s in Nonantum.  In addition to giving local musicians a place to play, Tim uses his open mic night to find people to take on longer sets around the MetroWest area. It is through Tim that I’m gonna be playing my first longform solo gig on September 20 at Tommy Doyle’s.

 

I have to go catch a plane now, but I look forward to talking with you again soon. Please mark September 20 on your calendar, and I’ll get you more details really soon!

Chris Steele Reporting

2019-07-04 17.45.15Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

In other words, I am once again sitting in Massachusetts, but only for a short time.  The last two weeks were Edmonton and the Jersey shore, and next week is Berlin. I have actually spent the 4th here in the US, which has been a little bit of an unusual event for me, but there you go.

First, a little bit of a public service announcement:  If you’re going to try to play guitar 4-8 hours a day, perhaps do a little bit more for fingertip skin care than I have been doing. I was doing a bit of recording over the past two days and had to stop due to flaying (look it up).

Second, wow and oh my god it’s been a great few weeks of work and play!  Got to play three shows over a five day period in late June, doing about ten songs total.  Two locations in MA and one in AB, including playing with A BAND for the first time in years at the Leaf Bar in Edmonton.  All I can say is that “In The End” and “Caroline” sound excellent with a full band, and I hope you get to hear them that way soon.

2019-06-19 21.08.19I’ve also been working on recording yet another new tune (“In a Minor Key”) in the very slight open moments between getting on different planes.  And yet, it’s getting done. The Tom Petty influence on my songwriting is apparent, but there are also harder elements in there as well.  

The song itself is another one of those gifts that just arrives.  The main verse progression just started playing itself – to the degree that I was wondering if I’d heard it elsewhere.  It’s in Am (a frequent key for me), so I decided to take a lyrical direction off of that. The chorus posed a challenge as the key chords did not seem to include the melody notes I wanted.  So… key change for a bar or two. And finally, a few bars of 2/4 mixed in with the 4/4 just to make the transitions interesting. Certainly allowable.   

More again soon, but a question: I’ve been thinking that perhaps the Wayfinding album ought to come out as a Chris Steele work.  Tunnel 18 will always be there and I will pay it due honor and respect over time.  But Wayfinding has been my own little baby.  So….?

Keep Going

Played my 12th open mic last night since getting back to the stage.  I am incredibly happy for the opportunity to perform my songs and for the support from the community of musicians around me as well as from Jen (without whom I don’t know I’d be able to do this).

Still, I get frustrated.  I’m not where I want to be as a performer.  Last night for example it got late into the evening, and it was cold and wet outside.  I fumbled my pick and then dropped it outright during the 3 song set. I also premiered a new song that I messed up right at the end (just after the emotional crescendo of the break).2019-05-28 22.40.32

So, I’m not meeting my own standard of perfect every time.  I’m not in a place where someone is going to be handing me a record deal right as I get away from the microphone.

But I do get compliments on the songs themselves, and that means so much to me.  And I also feel so much more certain of myself each time I walk up to the mic. At the beginning I was a nervous wreck, uncertain whether I’d be physically able to play.  Now I have the freedom to try to think through how I want to play –  where and how to bring the emotional content.

I know one simple solution is to just play out more, and now that I am off the road for a little bit I will try to do that (folks, look for me around Newton!).  I plan to pick more from the 12 songs I’ve already been playing live to make them more solid and better performances. I’m working towards being able to do my own set, so that’s the next step.

Please come on out and see me play sometime.  I’d love to share this music with you, and I’ll do my best to give you a good show.

Cleveland

On the road again, this time through Cleveland and then on to Toronto and Edmonton for the second half of the week. 

While in the Cleveland airport, I had a quick moment of déjà vu, and then of revelation. In the picture to the side you will see an area where I spent an overnight in the airport in April 1993. I was returning to Chapel Hill, North Carolina from my first trip to California. It was a long set of flights, and I didn’t quite realize what I was getting into when I made the reservation.

At that time American Express would allow students to get one flight anywhere in the United States round-trip for $199. So, I used mine to go out to San Francisco to a meeting where I hoped I might also find a job. The flight out was easy, leaving from Raleigh and making one connection in Newark. The flight back was San Francisco to Denver to Cleveland to Newark to Greensboro. Once I arrived in Greensboro, my girlfriend at the time was to pick me up and drive me back to Chapel Hill.

The whole return trip was a “direct” flight, meaning I didn’t have to change planes, but it was more like riding a local bus route.

What I’d also failed to grasp was that the flight would shut down and overnight in Cleveland. Again, this is a concept I would understand (and prepare for) better in years to come, but I had no experience to prepare me for it.2019-05-07 17.57.25

So, we got to Cleveland, they told us to get off the plane, get our bags, and check back in when the airport opened in the morning. Not realizing that this was part of the plan, and I had of course made no arrangements. So I slept right about where this picture was taken. And by slept, I meant dealt with a massive headache from not having eaten for the previous 24 hours except for the candy bar in Denver that gave me an initial sugar rush, followed by a migraine.

Morning came; I checked back in, and started off on my remaining flights. Got picked up by my then-girlfriend in Greensboro, met her parents for the first time (yup), and then drove back to Chapel Hill where I took a long shower followed by a long nap.

I tell the story because there were multiple points during that whole journey where I felt multiple flavors of “What’s going on? Why am I here? I’m completely screwing this up, I’m an idiot. If you screw this up, imagine what else you’re going to screw up.”

Walking through this part of the airport, that memory and those feelings came right back. And then I remembered they always go away.  It usually turns out that I haven’t screwed up, or have done so only very minorly. And if I screw up, so what? I’ve learned something. And then I do better the next time.

With all the storms that I’ve withstood, still don’t think that I’m damaged goods.

So, maybe a long way around to share that song with you, but I hope you also see from this very minor example of stress and recovery that the sun always rises the next day.   And then you get on the next plane and go to the next destination.