Part One -- Off to St Croix - Thanks, Edelman!!!
So how cool is my company? My day job is working as a public relations professional for high tech companies (my main client is Adobe Systems) for Edelman, the largest independent PR firm on the planet. One of the cool programs for helping keep employees growing is called the Edelman Escape.
From the company Web site:
Have you ever wanted to record a song or help rebuild houses in a disaster zone? Edelman employees have pursued these and many other personal passions as part of Edelman Escape, which rewards employees with time off and a stipend for a one-week trip to fulfill a long-held dream.
I will spare you the gory details of my full submission but in 2008 I put in for a week backing up alt-country singer songwriter Matt Vrba on one of his biannual tours of Europe and lo and behold I was graciously accepted for an Escape around this idea! Two years later and a few changed details and I am off to St Croix in the Virgin Islands today for a week of shows with Matt, culminating in a live house concert recording this Saturday for Matt’s next CD.
How cool is that? Thanks Edelman and here we go…
Part Two -- St Croix Day One - Island Time
My first clue that things were a little different on these islands was when my flight from Dallas landed in Puerto Rico, on time I might add. Close to boarding time, it was announced that our plane (and two others) had 'mechanical difficulties' and would all be delayed. They would let us know how long of a delay in 20 minutes. 20 minutes later, no news but we'll tell you in another 20 minutes. 2 and half hours later we departed, but not before about six ambiguous updates, the last of which coincided with the airport for the most part shutting down. I thought I would be spending the night...
I bring this up b/c there is a bit of a laissez-faire here. Playfully called "Island Time" it just means that no one is any kind of a big rush to get anything done, including making a plane take off on time, taking a food order, bringing your bill etc. Luckily I adjust to island time pretty well.
Vrba’s place is a villa-style bungalow in the hills with a pool and a view of the ocean. Not too shabby. In true musician fashion, I am on a pull out bed in the office area. Woke at about 4 a.m to the loudest most insane lightning and thunder, so severe it knocked out power to the house for two hours. Wow, what a welcome!
Monday was supposed to be a rehearsal day - Vrba intends to record about 30 tunes at the house concert on Saturday and pick the best 12 or so for his CD. Some of these songs I know already and others are new. But even the ones I know, he plays a little differently.
So we went over a number of tunes parked on the beach at Chenay Bay Resort. Got pretty hot so we took a break. I ordered nachos from the bar and 15 minutes later was informed they were out of chips. Island time, remember! They are out of chips? I thought that was pretty funny.
After dinner, we wound up playing an impromptu gig at a friend's house – a graduation party with a bunch of guests/family visiting from fabulous Kansas, and that was a nice way to cap off the evening. That technically makes five gigs in six days here, and I like that. This is why I am here.
Overall, the songs Matt wants to record Saturday are all very, very good IMO. I am stoked to have this week capped off by a gig that will yield a CD release. All in all a good start to the trip.
Part Three -- St Croix Day Two - More Island Time
Tuesday was supposed to be our first official gig day, with a 6 to 9 p.m. show at a place called Spratnet, which is a bar/club right on the sandy North Shore of the island - about a 45 minute drive.
Much of the day was spent getting ready for the show. As noted earlier, I smuggled an arsenal of electric guitar effects in a backpack onto the plane, and today was the day we'd hook 'em all up to the amp I am borrowing here to figure out how to get the best sounds for the music - the right tools for the right job, as Hank Hill would say.
More strings changed as well - the island humidity makes brand new guitar strings sound dead and flat in about six hours.
Then the loading of the car and 45 minute drive to the gig. We pull up and the place looks pretty quiet. Matt says, "This does not look good." Sure enough, there is no gig. Calvin, the owner asks if Matt got his messages, and of course there were no messages to be gotten - the dude just decided to not open the bar this week for whatever reason. Spotty cell service on the island provides a pretty convenient general excuse for not calling anyone anyway.
Matt is generally fairly irritated - rightly so - and says there is no way we came all the way out here for no gig. Thus begins a trip to the various surrounding bars to see who wants a surprise concert in exchange for dinner and drinks. Coincidentally we end up playing at the one place on North Shore Matt has never played before - Rowdy Joes. A few phone calls ensue (we use my phone because I actually HAVE reception on the North Shore) and a good crowd trickles in.
All in all it's a great gig. Matt and I click on the tunes. Amp sounds pretty good. A few tips, a few CDs sold. Sadly, this "island time" concept frequently extends throughout the whole business of music anyway, and this 'the gig is cancelled, let's just line another one up right now' thing happens a lot, everywhere. I was pretty sure when the Spratnet gig fell through that we'd find something, even if it was playing for dinner and tips. You just have to roll with it and make do, and a lot of times the gig is better for it anyway!