Warm hands on beaten-up spinal columns, 3-second in-between sets recognitions, “free beer handed to me as I remind the soundperson to fix the bass amp,” and the words, the words
THE TRAVELING BONFIRES / VAGRANT WIND, Leg 3
May 7-14 2005. New York City, Baltimore MD, Washington DC.
GEORGE WASHINGTON University's indoor Hippodrome struck--or eeriely snuggled up at me like an insistent shot of Jose Cuervo snaking down my chest on a 5am winter storm. It's warm wakeupper alright but it's also intoxicatingly out-of-there.
The venue of the event--"Students Taking Action Now for Dafur"--where I read two poems with The Rhythm Insurgency shook me like a private Hard Rock Café than a campus chill-out accessory (that I’ve known in my own college time). There was a pretty decent row of neat bowling lanes on the same floor, various TV screens with the NBA playoffs beaming like sugar-coated enticements, cuddly Jennifer couches to lounge on… All these counterpointing fiery, sublime passion exuding out of the students’ radical spirits. Ah, no rough-textured city street gutters, for the time being.
As I read "Black Poem, Blue Ink, Red Blood" and "What is Peace?" -- I knew, I felt that the words connected like a flaming bullet conjectured deep, deep down. It was definitely one of my coolest gigs.
That--THAT--is what Paul Simon sermonizes as "the sound of silence," the aching contradiction that magnifies, articulates, empowers a sociopolitical kick. That is where we exuberantly, persistently separate the dark from the light, the black from the white--and scream out the true, sincere message of humanity. We have been pretty comfortable lately... we should switch off the TV, mute the bowling alleys, dump the sofa bed, and head out the streets. Rock it, young people!
THUS I BEGUN the Third Leg of the Vagrant Wind Road Journey. After an energetic, sweetly-tiring mini-tour of Washington DC's Adams Morgan and DuPont Circle neighborhoods with Lacy McAuley -- climaxed by twin, half-nervous, stolen swigs of Stolichnaya at a park bench afront Uncle Sam's seat of power -- I joined Laurie Blair, Kristen Arant, Jessica Philie, and the rest of The Insurgency's spoken word/drumming ensemble with GWU's student performers on a 3-hour wake-up advocacy directed at the ongoing famine/genocide in Sudan.
After spending two nights and a day in Lacy's pad in Alexandria VA... she drove me back to the Greyhound on the 9th (morning) for my trip to New York City, where the second "Leg Three" show happens at the C-Note in The Village. I didn’t make it to the first two sets--by Ophir Drive (aka Sarah Blackman, 7-8pm) and The Atomic Grind Show (8-9pm)--but I was able to stride in the fully-packed club as Mambola started its set.
"We'd like to thank Pasckie Pascua of the Traveling Bonfires for organizing this show," Ruben Austria interjected on the middle of their set. "He traveled 18 hours, North Carolina to New York, to watch a one-hour show."
That's all I ever needed to soothe my aching backs (walking from 1st Avenue all the way to Thompkins Square to Avenue A to C, with my laptop wearing me down like a payloader on my left shoulder). Sarah (aka Ophir D) was still there, alright... I said hello for about 7 seconds, shook hands with AGS's bassist Geoff Zink, then I slid back to the bar and finished my $5 Corona--that's all I could afford for the night, I guess. I wanted to talk more with Sarah and exchange pleasantries with the The Atomic Grinds, but... maybe it's the relatively expensive beer (yes, dearie, no PBR or Natty Bo in downtown Manhattan), my nonchalant snobbishness or aloofness at it again, or I was just plain-and-simple tired. But Sarah promised to buy me ten beers the next time I get to New York so...
AFTER THE C-NOTE show, I spent few hours at a pizza joint, chatting (or listening) with Ruben and the rest of the Mambolas and their friends, including sister Liza and bro John. As usual, Benrubs made us all squirm and/or laugh with his surreal, grim, crazy subway stories ("This middle-aged Chinese woman caught this subway rat by her foot... on her white Nike shoes, then stomped at the poor fella and then squashed the dude dead, eekkk, eeekkkk, then picked the lifeless thing up, and dumped it!") Oh well, I think I'll book Ruben as a standup comic next time...
My next day in New York, I spent with longtime friends Kate O'Haley in her Brooklyn flat, Renrick Pascual (across the Hudson River to Heights, Jersey City), and Lally Cenabre in Manhattan. What's so touching about chillin' and hangin' out with my Filipino buddies, every time I hit NYC or New Jersey, is that--I feel I just "arrived home" to my most intimate soul, I spend moments with friends who are more concerned with the amount of sleep that I take or the "healthiness" of the junk food that I swallow than the "success" of my American journey... or "...whatever it is that you are searching for" (as Kate puts it).
It's not that my other non-Pinoy friends aren’t concerned about these endearing, heartfelt intimacies... they do, they really do, especially Marta The Nicer Osbourne (who never fail to email me every two hours), and for this particular trip--Lacy (who even cooked/prepared my travel food and dinners/breakfasts… notwithstanding fatigue/sleepiness, she offered to pick me in Baltimore from DC and VA, and back, on the last night and day of this particular leg), and Daniel Stuelpnagel who provided my crash bed for almost five days in his new apartment near Fells Point's waterfront neighborhood in Baltimore.
The C-Note show... It was one of those gigs that most talent buyers and booking agents call "successful." Mike McHugh of New Century Productions--the booking mainman that I deal with in New York--was so pleased with The Bonfires bookings at the C-Note that he again offered me more spots at the club this summer. (So Mambola and Ophir Drive--with new find, the two-sister Albany NY duo Sweet Bread--will be back there at the C-Note on July 5, plus in hopefully other NY clubs, this summer.) I wish I still had time. I wasn’t able to attend to other planned, important NYC chores—with promotions consultant Mabel Arenas and club owner/manager Nell Castellvi in Queens, artist Jennifer Larkin in the East Village, and radio host Jason Baquilod in New Jersey. I will have to do all these on the upcoming leg.
MAY 11, WED, BALTIMORE. Daniel Stuelpnagel (himself preparing for a twin art exhibition opening that week) picked me up at the Greyhound. We didn’t have much time so we drove straight to Frederick MD... I was a featured poet in a monthly writers gathering by a community group called Dreamers Poetry Series, on invite from its head honcho Daniel Armstrong.
It was a very attentive, intimate audience, mostly older than the usual crowd (that listen to my work)--held in a sort of landmarked coffeehouse. An Indonesian woman shared her poetry in Bahasa and Mandarin (her fiance read the English translation) and an older man read a poem about my home-country (Philippines) that he wrote when he fought with Filipino soldiers in the Pacific during WWII. Another man read a rhyming verse about chickens as the cappuccino machine supplied the background effects. It was so cool... I was also able to sell two CDs and three chapbooks. (The next day, the 12th, I just spent time whiling away hours beside the waterfront of Fells Point.)
FRIDAY THE 13TH, The Bonfires third show/gig for this leg--The Royal, Federal Hills, seven acts, including two high school bands from Gaithersburg MD--Crease and Payoff, who brought their parents and cousins and other relatives to watch them rock ("Take my breath away..." / "Oh my love, my darlin'...") The owner (a guy named Mark, who looked like Simon Cowell of American Idol) was very hopeful about a huge turnout for the night (based on our cool turnout precedents at Frazier's).
The City Paper had three cool mentions about The Bonfires show that week... We had a pretty within-minimum draw for the night, but I guess, we just expected too much. On a given night, it was fine--but the hype wasn’t cool, sometimes The Bonfires is so hyped up that I felt like a superman-who-cant-lose-a-kryptonite, you know what I'm saying? What if it wasn’t The Bonfires organizing, what if it's just a three-act gig that's booked on random? I mean, a 50+ draw for the night was within-expectation, but when people hear that we had 200+ on two consecutive gigs/dates in a Hampden club, well, that's too stiff an act to follow (considering that it's our first gig at The Royal). Yes, I was silently frustrated with the turnout. Eric Pepa (Angie's dad) and Jimmy Almario supplied all my beers that night (so thankful about The Indie/Dale Hoffman's short review of Angie's EP) + a t-shirt and a 1/4 first-ad in the next Indie issue, so why am I sulking?
And yes, Darlyn Horgos was there again (it touched me so to see friends show up in almost all of my invites). However, more than half of the acts and their crowd were below age limit (to drink alcohol), so that's bad news to club business. So no matter how Eric and Jimmy, and Gino Inocentes and Marco Galsim, consumed more beers, the bar's ain’t gonna be happy. The door earned its beyond-$150 cut (but the club also gets 30% cut on top of that), so...
FELLS POINT, THE 14TH. It was the Wydeye show, the last show on this leg. Rollickin’ beatboxer, Shodekeh, showed up. It was a rainy night... quite the ambiance that asks for intimate poetry, I guess. Dominic aka Shodekeh started it up, sort of.
Wydeye has a very cozy, comfy living-room feel, by the way. As usual, the two couch/seven-to-eight chairs were all occupied. Darlyn (I can call her Darlin', I guess, for always being present) read her "hometown/bedroom breezy" poetry straight from a neatly-collected journal... Johns Hopkins student Estella Ramirez, the other featured singer-songwriter strode in soaking wet, coming from a marquee rockfest featuring Coldplay and Foo Fighters.
Estella’s voice has a kneading, warm rawness to it, very warm... and yes, as she promised me, she sang "Cucurucucu Paloma." Nice, warm evening. There were three sets of couples, focusedly listening (one pair--the young woman sat by her boyfriend's lap)... Audrey was there, too, and another man that I usually see in Bonfires gigs in Baltimore—familiar faces, familiar moments…
As I walked back from Aliceanna Street all the way to Fleet Street towards Canton where Daniel's pad is located... I felt that the minor sadness of the previous night's gig at The Royal was over, it was just a night, it was over. And to culminate a satisfying evening, I felt quiet joy to know that Daniel's second-day of exhibition opening with friends Cinder Hypki and Naomi Sullivan was a huge success ("I didn’t expect it, I am overwhelmed!") The studio-gallery was filled with people, Daniel sold two paintings...
THE FOLLOWING DAY, the 15th... I was supposed to attend another invite from students of Goucher College (a personal invite from a cute young woman named Iris who was at my Red Emma’s reading last month) to an event by an environmental activist group (BuGs) at The Jerk Store near The Harbor. But I was already very tired... I consumed the morning in Daniel's pad, catching up on my emails and Indie writings. In the afternoon, I again went near the waters of Fells Point and wrote a few poems, had some beers and chilled oysters at The Admiral's Cup, later had dinner with Daniel... and then engaged him to lengthy conversations as I waited for Lacy to pick me up at around 11pm.
Again, I spent another night in Lacy's pad in Alexandria... before noontime, she drove me to the Greyhound for my trip back to Asheville. I was supposed to read poems in another invite from a group called Word Works (c/o Yvette Moreno) based in Chevy Chase MD, near DC, I think--but, yes, I overshot/overbooked myself, I gotta rest, so I didn’t go. As I strode inside the terminal towards ticketing, Lacy called out with a bag of food and a jug of water... Yes, again, I forgot these things.
THE INTIMACY of this neverending journey, not the seeming physical/material "success" of the tiring efforts and "sublime madnesses" are the beautiful gifts of humanity that, I know, make The Blue Sky God/dess watch over me, and supply me more energy and inspiration to carry on... The food prepared just for me, the warm hands massaging my beaten-up spinal column, the 3-second recognition said on the mic before each song, the free beer handed to me as I remind the soundperson to fix the bass amp, and the words... the words...
"...I had not glanced at your photo on my mobile phone, but I did notice your long dark hairs on my pillow, and shared with you a distant smile...” Yes, the journey has just begun... it never ends, it always begins. The fourth leg has started in Chapel Hill NC last Friday, May 20th. See you this weekend, somewhere in Baltimore...
Asheville NC. 1:20pm.
May 23, 2005.