Yesterday, just before doing my regular Sunday Steel Drum Party, I participated in a pre-mothers' day Zoom performance for the Tabernacle M.B. Church in Tallahassee, Florida. It was a blast!
Yesterday, just before doing my regular Sunday Steel Drum Party, I participated in a pre-mothers' day Zoom performance for the Tabernacle M.B. Church in Tallahassee, Florida. It was a blast!
As I mentioned, my drive to my first gig in Nebraska was a bit of a haze. I remember stopping somewhere in the mountains in Montana late at night and finding a hotel to sleep in. Turned out it was next to the train tracks, crude oil trains running back and forth all night... I slept for maybe 4 or 5 hours then got on my way again. Things got a little dicey later on Sunday with my wakefulness so I had to stop and take a nap in my car. By Sunday night I really wasn’t sure if I would make it for my first gig, but with help from the lovely and talented Anne Heneberry (who made hotel reservations for me on Sunday night as I exhausting my driving capacity for the day), I was able to make it to a hotel within striking distance of my first gig the next day. I was already so grateful for me new (used) Toyota Sienna with all its bells and whistles that I'm not used to, like cruise control. They sure did come in handy during the driving. I'm pretty sure that I will destroy the cargo area of this vehicle sooner rather than later with all the gear loading and unloading and its plastic trim. We'll see how it lasts and whether I need to move back towards a real cargo vehicle soon, but for now surely am enjoying the bells and whistles!
One of my most vivid memories of the marathon trip to Nebraska was driving into Sunday night not knowing if I would make it to my first show the next morning and finding a radio station that was all Native American singing and drumming. Driving off into the unknown darkness listening to this haunting and beautiful music so rooted in this new and flat land that I have rarely traversed.
I showed up at my first school gig the next morning not terribly confident that everything would go smoothly.
But all of my performing instincts just kicked right in even though I was dog tired. The show was a great success! The staff were quite friendly and the principle even invited me to stay with his family if I came back through the area on my tour or future tours. Wow, was I surprised that the first show went so well!
I was off and running! After the first week of touring I took stock. Sitting in a cafe in Canby, MN. I realized I had driven something like 2500 to 3000 miles in the past week and performed 12 solo shows in front of perhaps 1000 to 2000 students total. It was a HUGE challenge to get ready for the tour. It used to take me between 1.5 to 2.5 hours to set up and at least 1 hour to break down. In this first week I had had 15 minutes to set up at most shows. My new Fender Expo line array PA system didn’t sound quite as good as my Bose system but it sure did set up quickly and fills a gymnasium well. And I realizing that when I'm playing in echo chambers most of the time the added audio quality isn't really missed … well, maybe just a bit on the high end is missed. Anyway, all my work seemed to have paid off and I was able to get set up in the time I had and the shows were ROCKIN'!! Forget being big in Japan, I felt I was big in the Midwest with the K-8 crowd!
Now the trick was to settle into life on the road and figure out what to do on the weekends. Sisseton, SD, my first weekend stop, was not inspiring me at all. Here are some pictures of downtown Sisseton and the shuttered theater to give you some idea of why I was lacking inspiration.
I got a random call around August of 2013 asking if I wanted to do a solo tour of schools all over the Midwest during the 2014/2015 school year. If you are making a living as a musician you should be somewhat used to booking out a year or more in advance. Nevertheless, this offer made me nervous. Not only was it far in the future but the schedule and transportation elements sounded… basically they sounded impossible. If I were to do this tour I would need to drive alone to the Midwest and put between 9,000 and 12,000 miles on my vehicle in the space of just over 7 weeks. This would definitely mean replacing my old drum mobile that I have been driving for the past 15 years.
Much more intimidating, however, was the scheduling. I would have to perform 2 or 3 shows per day every weekday and be able to set up and tear down in 30 minutes (which during the tour I realized was on the long side since I actually often only had 15 minutes to set up). I would need to be completely self-contained in terms of audio gear since I couldn't count on school sound systems to be adequate for musical performance, or even to be available or working for that matter. My setup time in the summer of 2013 had come down from about 2 to 2.5 hours to the breathtakingly fast 1 to 1.5 hours. Now I would have to cut my fastest setup time in half (and as I found out later, cut it by half again).
After thinking about it for several weeks though I decided to go for it. It just seemed like such a wonderful opportunity to enrich the educations of a diverse group of kids all over the Midwest and to have a fascinating experience.
I spent the next year researching equipment and customizing and streamlining my setup until it arrived at this (minus the surf boards and the steel drum on the right):
The real tricky part was finding a sound system that would cover an audience up to 300 (which I found out on the tour was actually up to about 700) but also still be very quick to set up and not too heavy. This was no easy task. I use Bose systems because they sound great for what I typically do, but with a 30-minute-setup goal they take too long and are too heavy. I spent months researching various systems and testing them. Thanks to the local Sennheiser rep I was able to get a K-Array system to try out. I even went out to Whidbey Island to do a side-by-side test of my two Bose systems and the K-Array.
After spending perhaps a month trying to get the K-Array to sound like I wanted it I gave up and was back to square one. I only was able to find something that I hoped would work about 4 weeks before the tour started. What I found was a brand new product that hadn’t reached any stores yet, the Fender Expo. I believe I was the first person to buy one at Guitar Center in Washington, perhaps even on the West Cost. You can see the fender to my left in the picture below:
With the tour just a few weeks away I still didn’t have a new vehicle that would make a trip of this type possible. After having not shopped for or purchased a vehicle in 15 years this was very stressful! I ended up finally purchasing a car less than a week before the start of my tour. Thanks to all who helped me figure that out, especially the Ronalds! Meet the new drum mobile, braving the Midwest elements like a trooper!
If you’re looking for a used car and need help, let me know! I’ll put you in touch with the Ronalds and you’ll be in good hands.
Now all that was left was to pack and go… how hard could that be?
Well, since I was so short on time, it was very hard. Untested vehicle, untested equipment setup, never having loaded or unloaded my equipment in or out of the new vehicle, needing to be prepared to make the show go on in whatever performance situation I would find myself, being prepared for Midwest winter weather… I need to thank everyone who helped me get through this, particularly Anne Heneberry!! I couldn't have done it without Annie!
In the end I was supposed to leave on Friday morning to get to Nebraska for my first show on Monday morning. What actually happened was that I had stuff spread all over the house until Saturday morning.
I had to make sure all my equipment was working, make sure I had all the cables plus spare cables and parts, clothes, cases, etc. etc. etc. Here's what the living room looked like (just don’t tell Annie!)
I didn’t get on the road until Saturday afternoon at about 1pm after having had only a few hours of sleep the previous several days. That left me with just over 40 hours to drive solo to my first gig in Nebraska. As you can imagine, the drive was a bit of a blur. But I was already really appreciating my new car and its stereo and cruise control!
Tune in next time to see if I made it to Nebraska in time for the first show on Monday morning!
An intense flurry of gigs and workshops over the past week or so. So very rewarding! Being a full-time musician is very hard work. This week it felt worth it, like I was inspiring people and making a difference. Thank you so much to King County Libraries, Pierce County Library System, and especially to Gilbert Elementary in Yakima. Also much gratefulness to all the fabulous musicians I work with when I am not performing solo. And a big big thanks to all the young people that inspired me with their creativity and enthusiasm creating the wildest recycled instruments you've ever seen!
I’ve just returned from the Caribbean and Panama Canal on Holland America’s Statendam where I was performing and teaching steel drums to passengers. I met so many great people and they were so excited to learn about the music of the region. For a number of them studying steel drums was on their bucket list. What an honor to help them achieve an item on their list! Below is a video with a few sights and sounds from this musical adventure…
I’m happy to be back and headed into (potentially) the good weather season in the Northwest. We have a number of great events in the next few weeks, and several are open to the public.
Many Voices, One Land 2012 program
Sponsored by the King County Library System
I’ll be performing 4 shows as part of the King County Library System’s “Many Voices, One Land” 2012 program. Translated from Caribbean English, Pan Leggo means “steel drum party.” In the show I share the joy of exploring other cultures through music by recounting my quirky musical journey from Seattle grunge kid to Steel Drum musician. In the process audiences learn some music and cultural history and gain insight into being resourceful and creative. My interactive web site provides learning opportunities before and after the show.
More information is at:
PUBLIC PERFORMANCES FOR MANY VOICES:
Today, Fri, March 23, 5pm – 6pm
Crossroads Bellevue Shopping Center, 15600 NE 8th St. Bellevue, Washington
If you haven’t been to Crossroads it is probably the coolest “mall” around. They have a great stage in the middle of the building and have many live music and cultural events there. The performance features Ian Dobson's Pan Leggo trio with me, Christian Krehbiel, and special guest Ernesto Pediangco on percussion. This is an all-ages show and is great for kids!
Sat, March 31, 2pm – 3pm
Vashon Library, 17210 Vashon Hwy. S.W., Vashon Island, Washington 98070
This is an all-ages show and is great for kids!
SCHOOL AND OTHER PERFORMANCES:
Wed, March 28, 2:30pm – 3:30pm
Sammamish Teen Center
If you know a teen who is a member of the Teen Center tell'em to come on down to the show.
Thu, March 29, 12:45pm – 1:45pm
Cedarcrest High School, 29000 NE 150th St., Duvall, WA 98019
If you know a student at Cedarcrest tell'em not to miss this show.
It would be great to see you at one of these shows!
Hello Caribbean Music Lovers,
Island Time Oasis Begins
There hasn’t been a ton of sun this summer in the Northwest… so far…
But I am trying to provide the perfect solution!
Tomorrow we start “Island Time Oasis” at the sophisticated and elegant Willows Lodge, just across the street from Chateau Ste. Michelle winery in Woodinville, WA.
Our goal is to take our listeners away on a mid-week Caribbean escape. We’ll do this every week through August and we’re hoping that people will come out enjoy the elegance and beauty of Seattle’s wine country with fine wine, great food, and the lovely earthy sounds of the wooden marimba mixed with the tropical, ethereal sounds of the steel drum. I will be playing steel pan and other percussion and lending my vocal stylings to the music. The multi-talented Christian Krehbiel will be featured on marimba, steel pan, and percussion. The East Side’s very own well-known drummer, marimba player, and drum teacher, Frank Heye will round out the trio. Some very special musical guests will also join us throughout the summer.
We’re also offering something called the Pan Leggo Passport (get 5 stamps on your passport by going to 5 Pan Leggo shows and get a free CD, a steel drum lesson, a dance lesson, or other prizes). It’s the same concept as your stamp card at the local coffee shop, only better!
Seattle to the Caribbean Show-Beginnings
As I’ve discussed in previous posts, I am working on a new show for cruise ship theaters, performing arts centers, and other venues. Click here to see a very short video of me trying out some very rough show ideas and making lots of mistakes in Nassau, Bahamas aboard the MS Statendam (a Holland America Line cruise ship). Enjoy this little glimpse into the messy process of a new show being born. Someday soon you'll be able to come out and see the completed show!
I’ve had some interesting gigs so far this summer, as usual. For one thing, the weather was not cooperating well in May and June! I had two events on my birthday. Both were outdoors, the first outdoor events of the season in the Northwest. Well, it poured rain. This makes my life quite a bit more difficult as I have to work very hard to keep the equipment dry and dry off what gets wet as soon as possible. That part was a challenge, not to mention some unbelievable traffic in Bellevue that made it challenging getting from the first gig to the second. Nevertheless, we had people at both events out dancing in the rain, conga-lining in the rain, etc. etc. At one point I really wanted to do one of my trademark parades, but it had just started pouring rain. I looked at my band and they were gung ho to get out and have a shower-what a great band! We paraded around in the rain and my pan filled up with water. These are very delicate instruments and I normally try to keep them away from water, but I decided to go for it. However, as it started to get enough water to cover a few of the notes it radically changed the pitch on those notes (made them horribly flat). I thought “I’ve done it now, I’ve ruined my drum.” Luckily when I emptied the water out the drum was back to normal.
I had a very funny experience in downtown Seattle at the end of June. I had a gig scheduled at a private bachalorette party. I called the day before to check on logistics to find that there were man potential issues. I recommended having me set up in one spot near where the bulk of the guests would be. The client thought I should be up above their heads though on a small balcony. There were many potential problems with this idea, one being that she might get a noise complaint. Nevertheless I said I’d play up there if she really wanted. So, I did end up playing on this small balcony. Basically what this meant was that I was playing perched on the side of a 6 story building in downtown Seattle. The sound was echoing throughout the high-rises. The sunset was georgious. People began coming out of their high-rise condos all around and dancing on the roofs and balconies. On the street people were stopping on the street corners and gathering in little bunches and applauding and yelling up to me between the songs. It was perfect! She came up at the end of my set and asked me to play for another hour. I then strapped on my steel pan to do a little parading around as I often do, even in small parties. As I came down the stairs playing my pan (not an easy task) I saw some guys dressed as police men entering the apartment. I kept thinking, “hey, you should stop playing now in case they are here because of a noise complaint.” Finally I did stop. All the ladies at the bachelorette party though were thrilled. You see, the lady throwing the party had planned only good clean fun and had assured me that there would be no male strippers there. But now, much to her guests’ relief, here were the strippers… “oh wait, you really are police men?” This was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen. The police trying to speak to the apartment owner and explain to her about the noise complaint and all of her guests crowded around the police snapping pictures and hooting. At the end they asked the 2 police to at least pose for a picture with everyone. The police said that too much was probably going to end up on Facebook as it is and they politely took their leave. Several of the ladies commented to me about how cute the police were after the police left. Too funny to make this up.
Here are a few more funny anecdotes from last summer:
One-We had an Archbishop playing the shaker with my duo at one event.
Two-I had a show at 3rd place books the other day. I was trying to explain to the audience what my band name means: Pan=steel drum, Leggo=in Trinidad means have a good time, party. One kid kept standing right up front next to the stage though. Finally he asked in front of the entire audience when we were going to be playing with the Legos? I had to disappoint him... I fear that Leggo has a hard time competing with Lego in childrens' minds.
Well, here it is at last, my music-travel blog. I’ve been wanting to make this happen for years now. I’m helping that this blog will help me to realize my life vision: to bring the world together in a small way through music and technology. For all of you who love music and travel and are interested in creative new ways that we can use technology to break down barriers of distance and culture and enhance self-expression, this is the blog for you.
At the moment I am on a musical adventure on a Holland America Lines cruise ship. I was hired to perform on steel drums, percussion, and vocals. Currently though I am also covering on drum set for a different band on the ship. I’ll be writing about this experience on the MS Statendam and hopefully including some pictures and videos when possible. I also have many hours of video and audio of me traveling and performing in various places, particularly Mexico and Trinidad/Tobago. So I’ll be jumping around in time a bit, relating stories and videos and audio from my current musical adventure as well as other musical adventures from the previous 5 years or so.
I’ll start by doing a post one time per week. If all goes well I’ll increase that.
You can always track exactly where the ship is by clicking this link or pasting it to your browser:
Please feel free to give me feedback!
The project for the past few weeks has been just to get here to the ship and to get settled in. There are a LOT of rules on the ship and it can be a challenge for sure, especially for someone like myself who is not accustomed to corporate life. My band-mates are awesome! We play in a band called the HAL Kats. Every Holland America boat has this band. On my first day on the boat I was already helping to fill in for the singer who was in quarantine because she had a cold. Last week the drummer in the other band on ship, the Neptunes, had a family emergency and had to leave the boat. Now I am filling in for him on drum set. So I am splitting my time between the HAL Kats and the Neptunes. It seems to be shaping up that I play steel pan and sing for the poolside sets with the HAL Kats and then play the later dance sets with the Neptunes.
My latest scheme is that I am trying to organize an international jam session for when we arrive in Puerto Vallarta. I am working with my Cuban drummer friend, Lazaro Poey, to find a location in Vallarta and get some of the local Cuban and Mexican musicians there to come out and jam with some of the Statendam musicians. We’ll see if I can pull it off.
Until next week…
Week of October 26th:
Oooops! I’m already late with my second blog post. Well, here it is, better late than never!
To track where the ship is at this moment simply go to:
Oh, and here is something that Holland America wants me to say if I discuss them at all in my blog:
The views expressed on this website/weblog are mine alone
and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, Holland America Line.
So I had some stomach problems a few days ago, plus maybe a little bit of fever. They put me in isolation in the medical center for 12 hours (as they have done now for various band members). That was an interesting experience! I’ve never been placed in solitary before. At least there was a television (which my cabin-mate and I have elected not to have in our cabin).
The past 1.5 weeks have been real cool at times and very challenging at others. The cool part is that I am perfect for these ships. My duties covering for all sorts of folks have continued as I am still covering for the drummer in the Neptunes (and will be until November 12th when we reach Ft. Lauderdale) and I covered for the vocalist again. I get tons of great feedback when I play steel drum and sing and people come up and ask about the instrument as they typically do on my land gigs. I am also a big star with the Neptunes because there are some VERY serious dancers on board who will stay through all 5 sets of the Neptunes and dance. They are always so vocal about how glad they are to see me when I am able to play for the Neptunes. So the different groups are basically fighting to get me to play for them. I also did my second show in the theater this week (on the last ship I did most of the shows, but they don’t use percussion on many of the shows on the Statendam). The show was by Jim Curry who does a John Denver tribute. He uses nice visuals behind him also. He was very complimentary about my playing and even pointed me out specifically to the audience during the show. People seemed to like the visual aspect of what I was doing also. They had me placed farther up front than any other musicians except Jim Curry, so I was almost like a co-star on stage. It would be fun to work with Jim Curry in the future, either on or off the ship. We hung out a few times in the days after the show. He stared in an HBO special or something about John Denver’s life. I need to check it out.
I’m wondering if people partly respond to what I am doing because I am not afraid since I don’t actually need this gig for financial reasons so I don’t mind taking a few risks (although not as many as I normally take with events that I do on land). Unfortunately some of the great musicians on this ship that I work with I think are so worried about keeping their job that they aren’t able to play with the creativity and enthusiasm that they could. The last ship I was on, the Eurodam (HAL), didn’t feel like this nearly as much and the musicians seemed to feel a little more at liberty to take some risks and express themselves a bit more. It is more challenging on this ship in many ways as it is smaller so rehearsal/practice is more difficult. Also the route is much longer and more varied which means the fly on performers change all the time so we don’t get familiar with the shows and we don’t get familiar with the routine of where we play on the ship at what time, etc. Plus the cruise director and events manager are quite different than my last ship. So, one or a combination of all of these factors is probably the reason that performing on this ship seems so different than the last one.
The party planner came up to me a few days ago and told me how much she liked what I do and said it made her job so much easier. The cruise director also asked me about maybe teaching some dance and passengers have even requested that I dance with them or teach them dance. They even request this sometimes when I am playing drums with the Neptunes (meaning that if I got up to dance there would be no drums in the music).
Someone yelled out a few days ago when we were playing at the poolside that they see me performing everywhere and wanted to know if I was being paid overtime. I most definitely am not being paid overtime. I joked over the microphone that there are several of me on this ship : ) Anyway, I have to be careful my head doesn’t get too big. It’s sort of like I feel I can’t do anything wrong (at least musically, when it comes to the regulations on the boat I seem to always be inadvertently breaking some rule).
Unfortunately the jam session that I had hoped to organize in Puerto Vallarta or Sayulita, Mexico, fell through. It is so difficult to organize things in Mexico! Communication problems or people just don’t respond. I’ll try again for next time I’m in Vallarta. Hopefully I didn’t scare away my super incredible Cuban drummer friend in Vallarta, Lazaro Poey (www.lazarojazz.com). I was trying to get him on the Cruise Ship for a visit when I arrived and the form I needed to fill out required some passport information… maybe he thought I was asking for too much info.
I met the one Brazilian guy on the ship last week and got to speak some Portuguese. That was fun! He was so amazed that I had only been in Portugal 2.5 months and spoke as well as I do. He claimed my Portuguese is better than his English, but I don’t think that is true at all. I’ve been speaking lots of Spanish lately also, of course.
When we got to Vallarta I took the bus out to Sayulita (about 1 hour) and just wandered into town knowing I would run into people I know. I got to visit briefly with a few of my friends there, especially Paulina and Daniel. I also briefly saw Pepe LePeu and a few others. It was wonderful to see Sayulita and hang out with friends but also WAY to short a time.
Today I got off the ship for the afternoon. We were in Puerto Chiapas. It is always too short a stay in all these places for me. I love to be able to hang out someplace for a long time and really absorb the culture. From the time I had though I quite enjoyed Chiapas. I took a bus from the relatively new Cruise ship port to Tapachula, which is apparently the 2nd largest city in Chiapas. The downtown area around the plaza was wonderfully buzzing with life. I quite liked the energy of the place. There was one of those large stages set up in the plaza with lights and sound system. I often saw these around Vallarta. They’ll usually have a big banda music group playing. Unfortunately in Tapachula I wasn’t there for show time, however. There was a very good marimba group playing at the culture center though. They were clearly there for the tourists because the cruise ship was in, but many locals were there enjoying the music also. To liven things up some of the male employees of the tourist board would ask some of the cruise passengers to dance. Then one of the females asked me to dance and I think everyone was pretty surprised when I could dance well.
Tomorrow we’ll be in Guatemala. I was getting pretty excited to go down to Antigua and wander around. I studied Spanish and lived there for 3 months when I was 20 years old and the civil war in Guatemala was in full swing. I would love to see what it is like now! Unfortunately I received my schedule tonight and we have a training for emergency stuff at 10:30am and then my band has a rehearsal for a show at 1:30. So basically we don’t have time to do anything but step of the boat and see what is in the immediate vicinity of the cruise terminal for a few minutes. Unfortunately this happens a lot with our schedule.
So, the difficult part of the past 1.5 weeks has been continuing to try to adjust to working in a corporate environment. I have almost no experience in a corporate environment. At this point I am an entrepreneurial musician to the core, always ready to try new things to create the best entertainment for people that I can. For reasons that I still don’t fully understand a cruise line (and for that matter other corporations like Bahama Breeze) seem to be a very different situations when it comes to music. I can understand that they need to be concerned with quality control, so they implement measures to make the entertainment consistent from one ship to the next. The problem is that these measures tend to take the life out of the music a lot of the time and reduce it to the lowest common denominator.
At this point I definitely have a number of important questions and concerns that aren’t being addressed by anyone at Holland America and I’m not at all sure whether I would return for another contract nearly this long or for any contract at all really. It may be also that it doesn’t really make business sense for me to perform on these ships as they don’t pay much at all for the amount of playing we do. In any case I know that my goal is to be a featured performer (fly on) on the ships and not just a band member or bandleader. That way I can perform on the ships for shorter periods and earn quite a bit more and, most importantly, have the opportunity to offer a truly Caribbean-focused show featuring dance and steel drums and other Caribbean percussion. Cruise ships in general could definitely use a little more variety in the shows they offer (in my opinion of course) and I just can’t see how a show on a Caribbean cruise featuring steel drums wouldn’t be a hit and strike the passengers as very relevant.
I’m going to try to stick this contract out though and see what happens.
B-Ball at 1:30am in Panama City Harbor
I’ve been playing at least 5 sets per day for the past week. It is quite a lot of playing! I have been getting quite worn down by it. I do much more difficult days when I am playing in the summer around Washington State, but I think here it is just the non-stop nature of the performing here on the ship that gets exhausting. We play 7 days per week! Normally I don’t think (?) I would be playing quite so much, but since they have me trying to cover 2 positions I’m maxing out or going over my allowed playing time every day. I’ve also been keeping up my business at home booking gigs for my band while I’m away and booking events for when I get back this winter and for summer 2010 (and beyond). It’s quite a challenge from out here on the boat since internet is quite slow and expensive. Luckily though I now have my associate Jennifer Neymeyer to help me with some of this booking work. She is doing a great job!!!
I’m still getting plenty of kudos from passengers and even sold a CD or two in the gift shop. Nevertheless, this gig can be quite a challenge sometimes. Yesterday, for example, it was so windy that my shade umbrella didn’t work at all because it was blowing inside out and my music stand kept falling into my drum. So basically the only thing I could do was to stand there holding my music stand so it wouldn’t blow over and perform playing with only one hand. Luckily the wind and sun died down in the middle of the set.
Yesterday was our only opportunity to get off the ship. We were at the entrance to the Panama Canal. It is quite an impressive place with Panama City looming and hundreds of ships anchored around waiting to transit through the canal. Panama City’s skyline seems to go on for quite a long ways. I never thought of it as that big a city, but maybe it is. Anyway, we all thought we would be unable to go ashore. The Statendam arrived in the evening when we had all of our sets scheduled. There was to be a big party next to the Lido deck pool. However, Holland America has regulations that say the band can’t play when the cover on the Lido deck is closed. For some reason nobody could get it open, so we waited around for the first hour when our set was supposed to be and then they finally let us go since it didn’t seem to be happening. All of us in the Hal Kats plus a cast member or two ran down to the tender boats to go ashore. It was pretty surreal floating around in the tender boat with all the large boats lurking in the shadows. There didn’t seem to be a lot of lights on at night in Panama generally. Good for the environment but it gave a strange, spooky vibe to the place. As we came into shore I couldn’t help thinking about how recently the US had invaded this country. I think they began the invasion in the middle of the night. I imagine it was dark like this with ships all around then also. As a group the people in the band like to do things together. It’s a fun bunch and we all like each other. It is funny on days when there is shore time though because nobody is ever in charge, so we sort of operate on group think. We began walking towards nobody knew what. There were lots of very high-end places there for the yachters and cruise ship passengers. We ended up walking about a mile then turning around because everything was closed. As usual we had just enough time to get a drink at a bar before it was time to go back and catch the last tender back to the ship.
One very strange thing about working for a company like this is that the employees are literally spread all over the world. Some people have worked for the company for years and know other long-time employees but rarely get to see them. The Osterdam, another HAL ship was anchored about 1 or 2 miles away from us and we could see it. I believe my bandleader from the Eurodam from March 2009, who I became good friends with, is on the Osterdam now. Even though the ship was so close though I couldn’t pop over for a visit.
When we got back on board the Statendam I was invited, much to my surprise, to play basketball. I went up to the top deck to find a very intense and organized game of basketball under way. The games appear to be organized by department. This one was all Philippinos and was the bake shop against someone else. They had two referees, some jerseys, and they were VERY serious. Later we had the entertainment department vs. the security department. I played for a little while and I guess didn’t do as badly as I thought I would since I’ve never been much of a b-ball player and have literally not played basketball now in 15 or 20 years. I think Beth the party planner subbed in for me at about 1:30am and shortly after I wandered back to my cabin. I think the game finally got over at about 2:15am or something. Playing basketball at 1:30am at the entrance to the Panama Canal with Panama City as the backdrop… I guess that’s pretty memorable.
The Panama Canal itself is pretty spectacular to me because I love jungle and the jungle on both sides of the canal is VERY dense. Some of lake areas are breathtaking also, with small jungly outcroppings popping out of the water. The locks are quite impressive. I’ve been around locks my entire life but I’ve never seen anything like this. First of all they are of course huge. They get these mammoth container ships in there packed high with containers and they’ll have what seems to be just a few feet clearance on each side of the ship. There are multiple manned vehicles on tracks on both sides of the ship that guide the mooring lines and pull the ship precisely through the lock so that it doesn’t hit the sides. In some places the track for the vehicle looks like a roller coaster track because it is so steep.
Tomorrow we stop in Cartagena. Once again the musicians are facing this issue where we will be lucky if we get any time to actually get off in Columbia. We arrive at 11am and might not be able to get off until 12? It’s always hard to know. Then some of us need to be back by 2:30pm for a drill. Gotta keep everyone safe I guess. Still, it seems almost criminal or at least thoroughly surreal to be all the way down here in South America and only be able to get off the ship and set foot in South America for 1 hour... if that…
Hasta la Proxima!
Faster Than a Speeding Cruise Ship, Pt. 1
Here I am again. I am currently between Aruba and the Westbound entrance to the Panama Canal. I guess we are about 26 miles north of Cartagena, Columbia.
We stopped in Cartagena last week but have since gone all the way up to Ft. Lauderdale, picked up new passengers and crew (including a new band leader), and come back down for a day in Aruba.
When I was in Cartegena last week I was again very frustrated with the schedule they have us on. We weren’t able to get off the boat until about 11:30 or 12 noon and had to be back for a boat drill at 2pm. I went out with my cabin-mate Dean (from Mt. Vernon) and we joined forces with the boat’s acupuncturist and hairdresser and got a taxi into Cartagena for $10 each round trip. We said we wanted to go to a reasonably priced restaurant, but the place he took us was on the pricier side. We ended up spending most of our time at the restaurant then we had only about 15 minutes to see some of the old town from the taxi. Old town looked quite beautiful and like a place I’d love to hang out. There were also parades that we just got to see as we sped past. Very frustrating!
The town in general was preparing for a huge festival during which the Ms. Columbia competition would take place, so there were bleachers and stages set up at various places around town where the parade route was. I would very much like to see a festival in Cartagena. This city, like others on the Caribbean coasts all around the Caribbean, has a great deal of African influence. This is true in places you wouldn’t expect. For example, there are many people of African descent on the Venezuelan Caribbean coast and they have their own interesting culture, including wonderful music that mixes indigenous and European cultures with the African influence from the Caribbean. Cartagena has its own fascinating mix of cultures with the African influence and I’m anxious to experience it more. As it is I saw one little touristy group performing with some very African drums. This is another major downside to our schedule, from a musician’s perspective. We always sail away before evening when I might have a better chance of sampling some good local music. Some cruises do offer the opportunity to be in ports during the evening though.
The boat drill only took 15 minutes, so then I had about 1.5 hours to get off the boat. This time I just walked into the neighborhood right near the cruise terminal rather than trying to take another taxi to the old town. It is a working-class neighborhood I think. I went in search of soap and got to get a little more of a taste for Columbia. I tend to feel quite safe in many places. On the other hand, with Columbia’s reputation for kidnappings and violence I was trying to remind myself to stay alert.
I got back on and performed the sail away set (which we do leaving every port). Then we all ran and changed into our suits and went to the Pinnacle Grill, the ships 5-star, super fancy restaurant. All the HAL boats have these. We had a little going-away celebration for our bandleader Matt who was finishing his contract and getting off in Ft. Lauderdale. The food was very good and extremely rich!
I performed with the Neptunes the rest of the evening and people were very appreciative of my being there, as usual. We had a lot of people dancing all night as well.
In order to make it to Ft. Lauderdale on schedule we had to speed along like a motor boat, something like 17 or 18 mph. It is mind boggling that this huge ship can go that fast. Today heading towards the Canal I think we are going 19 mph!
I do think I am starting to adjust a little to ship life and there are many good things about Holland America Lines. They seem to have great policies regarding families and many employees will bring their spouse and even children to live on the ship with them. The line also does some fairly extensive training on environmental policies and seems to take quite seriously the protection of the marine environment.
Port days are very difficult because all of us have quite important things that we need to get done on our 2 days per month in the US, yet we are always scheduled to perform right in the middle of the day on those days. This schedule makes these days very challenging, and our stop in Ft. Lauderdale a few days ago was no exception. After much angst and stress I did get most of my errands done. I still need to find time at some point though to buy some comfortable shoes that will be acceptable to our managers as “passenger friendly.”
We got a great new band leader in Ft. Lauderdale. He is Canadian and has a good sense of humor and has the philosophy that there’s basically no point if the musicians aren’t having fun. I totally agree!
This entire boat experience has made me appreciate very much the positive attitude of the musicians I work with in my group in Seattle, and especially just the overall positive atmosphere in my band. The pool of musicians in my group in Seattle sincerely enjoy playing in Ian Dobson’s Pan Leggo and they miss playing with the group during the slow winter season. I am very lucky!
While we did get a new bandleader in Ft. Lauderdale, for some reason we didn’t get a new auxiliary keyboard player (the musician that plays all the string and horn parts on keyboard). So last night we tried an experiment and had me bring my steel drum up to the Crows Nest for the late night sets. I played some of the auxiliary keyboard parts on steel pan. Sometimes it sounds really cool! Reading on steel pan is not easy though, especially in keys with more than two flats or sharps. It will certainly be great practice for me!
In Ft. Lauderdale we were docked next to an ENORMOUS cruise whip called the Oasis of the Sea. It is apparently the largest cruise ship in the world and holds up to 6200 passengers and 2600 crew, or something amazing like that. By contrast our ship holds up to maybe 1100 passengers and has something like 600 crew.
Last night was the Persiad Meteor shower. I got up around 2:30am and went up to the roof to find a bunch of other musicians hanging out up there reclining in the lawn chairs looking up at the sky. We saw some great meteors! That was fun for sure.
I was selected as a crew chaperon for an official excursion yesterday in Aruba. It was my first organized excursion and my first swim in the since getting on the ship. We took a Catamaran to a point where we snorkeled. The water felt wonderful!! Some colorful fish, although I’m spoilt from having snorkeled so much in Hawaii. On the way back the crew was trying very hard to get everyone completely drunk. I started dancing with an older Cuban lady and then the party really got going and people started getting up and dancing. The crew were all Cuban as far as I could tell. It’s interesting how many Cubans there are in Aruba. They were all good dancers, of course.
We’ve been playing a lot the past few days. One of the shows we did was Viviana Guzman. She is an incredible flute player. Here is her web site: http://www.viviana.org/blog/
Until next time!
Okay, I think I’m starting to settle in now, not necessarily always in the best way, but settling in. We have been playing 5 sets per day almost every day. This is quite a lot especially when it involves moving my instrument all over different parts of the ship for different sets. The string quartet players are starting to have serious injuries from playing so much. I’m grateful that I’m not having any such problems so far. Playing a lot of conga can be very hard on the hands, especially for someone like me who isn’t primarily a conga player. I think the more I’m playing though the more I’m playing softer and just moving the microphone a little closer to the conga.
The new bandleader is open to trying different things, which is great and he’s been letting me take solos on tunes that aren’t necessarily Caribbean tunes. I’ve also been playing a lot of the auxiliary keyboard parts on pan. I think it sounds really cool and unique much of the time. I believe (and any pan player in Trinidad will also tell you) that steel pan is a gorgeous-sounding instrument that should be heard and viewed as another unique timbre in the arranger’s palette rather than as a novelty instrument. I’m confident that it will be viewed as such eventually. We don’t only play Turkish music with cymbals any more, or Chinese music with tom toms. Eventually hopefully people will stop believing that you have to play only Caribbean music on steel drum.
The excursion manager on the ship is from Trinidad. I found out this week that he is a true “pan man.” That basically means that he grew up playing pan in a very serious way and can play all the pans in the orchestra. Guys like him can stand in front of any pan regardless of how the notes are laid out and they seem be able to play them fluently. It is unreal and I am truly mystified as to how they manage it. The excursion manager got very involved with drumming and steel pan during middle school and never looked back. He began playing with “Phase 2,” one of the very top bands in Trinidad and one of the bands that I believe wins Panorama most frequently. He said that he didn’t go to college because he was so involved in the pan playing. He is a real Pan Jumbie! He started on cruise ships as a pan player and then gradually ended up in a non-musical role that undoubtedly pays better. The entire time that I’ve been on the ship he’s had his wife and incredibly cute little son cruising with him. He knows all the heavy pan players and arrangers in Trinidad like Boogsie and some that I know like Professor Ken Philmore (who played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra) and, of course, Ray Holman.
The shore excursion manager encouraged me to do a matinee show in the theater. Our new bandleader also said he thought that a matinee would be the best way to get on Holland America’s radar as a headliner. Even though life on the cruise ship frequently makes me a bit crazy the fit for me as an entertainer, as I’ve said before, is just too perfect. It will probably take a lot of work to make it happen, which is no easy task when I’m already playing 5 hours per day, but I really want to try to do a matinee and get it video taped.
Tomorrow back to Cabo San Lucas and then San Diego in a few days before we turn around and do it all over again! After Ft. Lauderdale though we’ll be doing a 10-day cruise more in the Eastern Caribbean and we’ll be in some new ports.
Hasta la proxima!
Holidays on the High Seas
Thanksgiving came and went and I barely noticed. I think we had a show that day with that included a very long rehearsal, plus we had a set outside by the pool. So we played at least 5 hours. I remembered it was thanksgiving one or two times during the day when someone mentioned it and then when I saw the turkey with stuffing offered in the dinning area. I didn’t have time to enjoy turkey though because I had to get down to the theater to perform. So I basically totally ignored Thanksgiving this year. It is such a strange little bubble that I am living in out here on this boat. My world has contracted to just this boat and a very limited area for a few hours per month in a number of far-flung ports. I imagine Christmas will be a bigger deal particularly since it is an international holiday and there are so many people from all over the world working on this ship.
We hit San Diego and are now on our way south again. Half the band left in San Diego (because their contracts were up). So we got four new musicians all at once. Two of them are only on for three weeks then we’ll again get two new band members. I am amazed how something as complex as a ship can operate with all these positions getting new people in them all the time. Just when you learn whom you are working with and start building the working relationship those people rotate out and new people come in. In any case all the musicians that came on are solid. The sax player and auxiliary keyboard player are especially great!! They totally tear it up! The sax player has apparently appeared in and contracted the musicians for a number of high-profile movies (such as I believe he mentioned Clint Eastwood’s “In the Line of Fire”). I guess he appears in the “society” orchestras in these movies that are playing for presidential balls and such. The new singer, Charlie, is older than Monica (the last singer) was and she has wonderful depth of experience. She is particularly great at turning each set into a special event, a show, even if she is very tired. Maintaining that feeling is not easy! She plugs other things that are going on on the ship, plugs our next set (wherever on the ship that may be), plugs the drinks and the waiters, etc. etc.
To track where the ship is at this moment simply go to:
Then scroll to the bottom and enter "statendam" (no quotes).
Then when the latitude/longitude position appears you can click on "statendam" and see a map of where we're at.
The views expressed on this website/weblog are mine alone
and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, Holland America Line.
As usual there is a lot of interpersonal harmony within the band. We are adjusting to each other musically though. For example Scott the new sax player doesn’t like to double melodies with me whereas Ben did. I think it is difficult for Scott because he has such a great ear and steel drums are never truly in tune because the overtone series is always different with each note. So it becomes work for him to stay in tune to the degree that he is accustomed (which is very in tune!) Charlie asks me to sing particular backup vocal lines on some songs. Since I have almost no experience singing backup though this is often a challenge for me. It is much easier on songs where I sing lead because she can nail the backup lines. Charlie is also calling most of the songs, many of which we haven’t played before, so we are exploring new repertoire. She doesn’t sing any of the Bob Marley songs and there are a number of Caribbean passengers on board who are of course partial to the Caribbean music, so I am going to try and learn to sing a few more Marley tunes.
Charlie in particular is clashing with our managers and I am very sympathetic to her complaints. She lost her voice the second day due to all the overuse and strain on various other factors. Hopefully this will all get resolved for the best.
We were in Vallarta yesterday and I felt sad… It feels like a second home at this point since I have spent so much time down there the past two years. Unfortunately we have so little time in each port that I wasn’t able to visit any of my many friends there. That part of Mexico feels so laid back and relaxed. It is almost the opposite of life on a ship where everything must be quite regimented and uptight. Oh for just a few days to hang out in a port like Vallarta and be off the ship. I’m sure I would come back to the ship with tons of added enthusiasm.
Huatulco Mexico tomorrow, then Chiapas, Guatemala, Panama Canal, Columbia and Fort Lauderdale again. Christmas decorations are beginning to appear around the boat as I type. Star Treck night tonight!!! I’m very excited. We’ll watch the new movie and the acupuncturist told the leader of the string quartet that if she could get the Scottish bass player from my band to dress up like Scottie and say a few lines that he would give her $100. I guess he’ll have to say something like “I cn’t hold’er much longa cap’n.” Will the Scotsman go for it? Everyone is looking forward to this!
Until next time!
It’s been a quiet week on the Statendam… for the most part… for me anyway.
On the way down south from Puerto Vallarta we were up in the Crows Nest (the highest lounge on the ship) performing and the moon was out big as can be and we began to notice that we were approaching a lovely city in the dusk light. I thought we were just passing it going down the coast but it kept getting bigger and bigger. I finally recognized it as Acapulco, which we weren’t scheduled to stop at. I believe we were pulling in to let a passenger off who had had a heart attack or something. A small motorboat pulled up to the side of the ship to pick up the patient. Anyway, it was strange that most everyone on the ship had such a magical, peaceful moment with this lovely view of Acapulco while a few people were most likely having a super awful evening.
I’ve been having trouble keeping my schedule straight. There are so many details with drills and In Port Manning (a rotating system where some crew are required to stay on board at each port) and on and on. Somehow I got turned around and thought that I had in port manning duty in Chiapas, Mexico. Half way through the day I realized I had IPM at the following day’s port, in Guatemala. So I rushed off the ship, took a bus for 35 minutes into Tapachula, walked around there for about 25 minutes, then took the bus back to the cruise ship. It is oh so therapeutic to get off the ship and have time to explore some of these places. It is also terribly frustrating that we have so little time off the ship. Anyway, I had a better idea of where to go in Tapachula. I really like Chiapas!!
I really really wanted to go to Antigua, Guatemala the next day but that was the day I actually had IPM. I even scored a spot on one of the passenger excursions… but I had to tell them I couldn’t go. I was quite disappointed. I studied Spanish in Guatemala when I was 20. It is quite frightening to realize that that was over 20 years ago now. I always thought Guatemala was the most beautiful country I had ever visited. It would be lovely to see how it has changed. It turned out though that a number of musicians weren’t getting off the ship because we were docked at a container port with nothing convenient around to explore. So I was able to give one of them my manning duties and jump off again at the last minute and take a shuttle over to the nearby cruise terminal. I wasn’t expecting anything special since, like all cruise terminals, it would likely have a lot of overpriced stuff and little to no local culture. However, I ended up making a musical connection. I began talking shop with the marimba band that was performing there.
Guatemala of course has an amazing culture of marimba music. People listen to marimba music constantly on the radio. The group I met was about 10 guys I believe. There were two incredibly ornate and beautiful marimbas with Mayan themed carvings all over. Then there was a drum set and an upright bass. I purchased their CD. I ended up jamming with them (playing drum set) on the song Girl from Ipanema. I even got video of us playing. That was a real gas!! These guys are amazing marimba players. When you have a musical practice that is alive and well in a culture you obviously tend to get a lot of people who are virtuosic practitioners. In the USA marimba is a fairly rare instrument and usually only studied in college or other academic settings. However, back at the turn of the century until the 1930s or so there were many marimba and xylophone virtuosos in the USA, partially because these instruments lent themselves to early radio performance because their sound cut through the static. In any case, it is fascinating for me to see this culture of marimba playing still very much alive and well in Guatemala. The sound is different (for example, they build a buzz sound into the marimbas, as they do with African marimbas) and the notes are arranged slightly differently, but the mastery and virtuosity are the same.
The members of the group that I met were I believe actually employees of the Guatemalan government. So they get a regular monthly paycheck and just go play where the government tells them to go. Sounds like a nice gig! One member had studied at the conservatory in Guatemala City and it was interesting to hear about that more “academic” side of the musical life in Guatemala. I told them about my desire to organize jam sessions between the cruise ship musicians and local musicians and they sounded interested. I gave one of them my card and implored him to actually email me as he said he would. I sure hope he does! I am starting to feel like it is nearly impossible to organize these jam sessions as I had envisioned, at least in Latin America. My musician contacts just don’t get back to me! What’s up with that?
So far on this cruise I don’t believe that any of the guest entertainers have used me in their shows. So I’ve ended up with some days of very light performing. That has been a okay with me!! A little time off is a very welcome relief. It gives me time to try and keep up with my bookings back home.
Just about the only port on this entire cruise where I was actually able to get off the ship for any significant length of time (as in several hours) was Cartagena, Columbia. I went on a passenger excursion. We had an incredible view from an old monastery on a high hill overlooking the entire area. It is quite breathtaking! The old city of Cartagena is quite lovely also. It reminded me of Old San Juan Puerto Rico a bit. It is a very well maintained Spanish colonial city. There are even fortified walls around the old city. Apparently it was strategically very important in colonial times so the Spanish went nuts building forts all around the area. There are also a number of beautiful buildings that were used by the Spanish Inquisition. Some of the rooms had inquisition torture devices in them for show. Pretty awful stuff really!
On the tour I was pleasantly surprised that we got a little show at the end of Cartagena’s Afro-Columbian music and dance heritage. I did take video of this. Some of the rhythms were quite intricate. The ensemble had a maraca player, someone playing a largish hand drum resembling a Djembe, someone playing a two-headed drum with sticks that they called a “bomba” or a “tambura,” and someone playing a very unusual flute instrument that was about as tall as the guy playing it, had no holes for fingering notes, and had a little mouthpiece that stuck out at a right angle from the main tube of the instrument. The music and dance definitely had similarities to Cuban music, but it also had it’s own distinct Columbian twist.
Last night the ship’s acupuncturist, the leader of the string quartet, and I put on a little show in the officers’ bar. Brian the acupuncturist played the song “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey on his Ukulele while Lindsey the violist sang. I jumped up on the choruses and played cowbell wildly and generally made a fool of myself, as I am known to do. It was good times and my cabin mate Dean managed to video tape it.
Less than a month to go on this contract. I have to say that I am actually looking forward to a few weeks of overcast, cold Pacific Northwest weather and, particularly, to getting off the ship. I am supposed to come back in March for several weeks, but I am not sure yet whether I want to do that or not.
As my Rusian/Ukrainian/dance band neighbors across the hall say…
Over the past week we have been on a 10-day Caribbean cruise hitting ports that we haven’t hit before. As a result things are feeling quite busy. Normally we are at sea just about every other day. Down in this part of the Caribbean there are many ports quite close together. I of course want to take the opportunity to get of the ship at some of these places, but it is very difficult with our schedule. Quite frequently at night when the ship is cruising we can look out the window and see abundant lights flickering from some Island city or another. This is opposed to Mexico and Central America where these concentrations of lights seem scarcer. On this cruise we’ve hit Philipsburg, St. Maarten, St. Lucia in the Castries (home of a high-profile jazz festival), Barbados, St. John’s, and St Thomas. We have yet to hit Half Moon Cay, Bahamas before returning to Ft. Lauderdale.
The standard of living in these Caribbean ports is quite high relative to other ports we have hit in Mexico and South and Central America. There have been quite a number of steel drum bands playing on the peers where we arrive. I imagine the steel drum culture exists in some of these places, but still probably nothing like Trinidad. Everything I saw was of course geared completely towards the tourists. Still, as our saxophone player on the boat was noting, I have an immediate cultural in when I arrive in one of these places and begin talking to the pan players. I got off the ship in St. John’s to find a steel drum band playing right there. My pan is really starting to go out of tune so I asked them straight away about pan builders on the Island of St. John’s (builders are the only ones who can tune these finicky instruments). Then I asked them if the pan builder was good, to which they replied yes. My asking that also apparently gave them the idea that I knew what I was doing. The leader of the group instantly had his cell phone out and was calling the local pan builder for me. He wasn’t home, but I got his name and number for next time I’m in St. John’s and need my pan tuned.
Despite our limited time on land in each port I’ve had a few musical encounters of sorts. In St. Lucia I ran into a guy who was raising money for a “blind and short sited band.” I conducted a little video interview with him where he explained what his band was all about. He gets blind and short-sited youth involved with music. The band sets up and performs on the street in various locations. They recently blew out an amplifier and were trying to buy a new one.
The crew acoustic night was also an excellent, multicultural musical experience. In fact, as I may have mentioned, just being on the ship with its truly international crew is the most interesting multi-cultural experience of all. In any case, we had an open mic night in the crew mess. Things were moving pretty slowly until I jumped up and started leading everyone in some simple, three chord songs that everyone knows. We did “Lion Sleeps Tonight” and I started improvising lyrics, as I often do. I then had people come up and improvise their own verses and invited them to put their complaints about ship life into song. That was pretty interesting! The best part of all though was when I discovered that the Philippino guy who was playing guitar knew Marley’s “Redemption Song.” I started singing it and instantly all the Philippino crew were singing along, but not just on the chorus. They knew every word and they were REALLY into the song. It is interesting to find those songs that are universal. Bob Marley tends to be quite universal. Santana is another good bet to bridge many cultures.
The views expressed on this website/weblog are mine alone
and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, Holland America Line.
A Caribbean Christmas
Things have been pretty busy here on the ship with the holidays and all. It is quite an experience to spend Americas biggest holiday of the year out on a ship. We performed for a Christmas show on Christmas Day and at 11pm we had a holiday music choir concert in the theater. I played steel drum along with the international choir. There was also a Philippino choir and an Indonesian choir made up of workers from these countries. The Indonesian choir was quite remarkable. They must have a very serious choir tradition in Indonesia. In any case their last song was something else. It wasn’t totally in tune or perfect, but it was absolutely beautiful. I believe the ships pastor then celebrated midnight mass in the theater.
We had some nice special dinners prepared for us on Christmas day. Everyone was dressed very nicely in formal wear. I attended with 3 lovely ladies, 2 from the band and one a guest of the bandleader on the ship. I also spent Christmas Eve dinner with Kevin Spirtas who is one of the guest entertainers (http://www.kevinspirtas.com/). He is quite a multi-faceted entertainer but most notably played Dr. Craig Wesley for 7 years on the eternally running soap opera “Days of Our Lives.” He looked very familiar and, as it turns out, I saw him perform at the Arts Northwest Booking Conference in Eugene in 2008.
There have been a number of exceptional ports lately. We hit Columbia going westbound this time and instead of Cartagena we went to the city of Santa Marta. As usual I had very limited time off the ship, but the place was really lovely. The town is right on the beach and it is mostly old colonial structures. I was quite disappointed that I hadn’t thought to bring my field recorder with me as the soundscape of the place was unique and beautiful. Lots of stone streets and buildings echoing with the sounds of vendors, church cantors, people talking, etc. etc.
We also stopped at the San Blas Islands in Panama. This was a really remarkable stop. Almost all the ports we normally stop at have a large tourist infrastructure built up right around the cruise terminal to accommodate the cruise ships. This effectively means that passengers are isolated from encountering much in the way of “real” local culture unless they make an effort to get beyond the cruise ship terminal. San Blas Islands were quite different. First of all, this was a tender port, which means that we are anchored and have to take the tender boats to get off the ship onto land. The tender boats took us to one of the amazing islands where the Kuna people live. The Kuna people are an indigenous people who are semi-autonomous from the Panamanian government. They actually fought and won a war with the Panama in I believe the 1930s, at which point they were granted this autonomy. Learn more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuna. In any case they live on a collection of small, jungly islands that barely stick out of the water. The islands are absolutely covered with thatched buildings. Once you get off the island you enter a maze of passageways between the buildings. The people still wear mostly traditional, exuberantly colorful outfits and govern themselves in a traditional way that one Kuna man was explaining to me. They subsist mostly on fishing and agriculture, which they practice on the mainland. I asked my Kuna friend why they live out on these islands if they have to go to the mainland every day to cultivate their crops. He basically said that they do this out of habit, but that they may have to move to the mainland soon because global warming will swallow their islands… So many ironies in this visit… I think this encounter was a real eye-opener for many of the people on the ship, but of course the problem was that the encounter included maybe 1000 cruise ship passengers wandering around this village. And, the biggest irony of all of course that we arrived on a cruise ship which is contributing substantially to global warming, yet the Kuna welcomed us and it is conceivable that some of the passengers may have gained a greater awareness of a beautiful community that will be profoundly affected if nothing is done about global warming.
One of the oddest sites, which I unfortunately did not get any pictures of, was the many Kuna canoes that came up next to the cruise ship. The Kuna still use hand made dugout canoes with paddles and sails for propulsion. So here was this huge modern cruise ship surrounded by dugout canoes with the Kuna in the canoes asking for money. Passengers would throw money from the upper decks (10 or more stories above the water) and the Kunas would jump in the water after the money, thus providing a bit of a show.
I am amazed at how this community has maintained so much of its indigenous culture. Obviously they have had contact with the outside world for many generations, yet they have somehow maintained so many of their traditions. On the other hand, the modern world does make itself evident. For example, I stopped to talk to some young boys. They were chowing down on candy and trying to put on the removable tattoos that had come in the candy wrapper. The videographer from the ship and I spent about 15 minutes trying to help them get their tattoos to work. I imagine the Kuna kids clamor for stuff from the outside… like candy and removable tattoos.
At this point I am counting down the days until I debark. Just 10 performing days left. I’ll quite miss all my friends on the ship, but it will be so nice to be off. It is so strange to think that I’ve been on this ship for nearly 3 months and haven’t been off of it for more than a few hours at a time, much less slept off of the ship.
The views expressed on this website/weblog are mine alone
and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, Holland America Line.
Happy Birthday… TIME
This is what the former guitar player on this ship wrote as his status on New Years Eve. Pretty funny I thought! He is on a different ship now. I think their ship is maybe one day ahead of us going north up the Mexican coast. Once you are with this company for awhile your coworkers become spread all over the oceans of the world… then every year or so you might end up on the same ship as them again, or getting on a ship for a new contract just as they are getting off at the end of their contract and seeing them for a few minutes (after having spent many hours a day with them for months when you first met). It is a very unusual corporate environment to say the least! Another way you might run into each other is if your ships happen to stop in the same port at the same time. Such will be the case hopefully on January 5th when we are in Mazatlan. The Osterdam will also be there. My former band leader from the Eurodam is on the Osterdam so we should get to visit! I’ll show her around this ship since she’ll be on here in March for a few weeks. The crew purser also usually arrange some sort of sporting event between the two ships, so this time it is a soccer game… Statendam vs. Osterdam.
We’re off the coast of Mexico at the moment with just a few more full days to go after today! We had a Lord of the Rings party on December 30th (watched the first episode with some of the other more nerdy crew) and someone had some Scotch and I don’t know anything about alcohol so I apparently drank a good bit more than is typical (isn’t this just strong wine?). I actually had a bit of a hangover, which is rare for me. I guess I got a head start on the New Years party. In fact we were performing the moment the clock struck midnight on New Years Eve so I didn’t even have any champagne. We had a disco ball in the theater for New Years, complete with balloons dropping from the ceiling at midnight and everything! Then we partied and danced until the wee hours (but just one pina colada for me!)
I’m looking forward to getting off the ship in a few days! It’ll be nice to have at least a little time to hang out with the family and friends back in Washington.
The views expressed on this website/weblog are mine alone
and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, Holland America Line.
NOTE: The following is an expanded version of the article by the same title that appeared in the Winter 2010 Arts Northwest Newsletter.
My summers are generally packed with performances while my winters are relatively slower. That’s why several years ago I decided to begin an experiment of performing abroad in my low season. Now in my second year of this experiment and sitting in my Cabin on Holland America’s MS Statendam, I’d like to offer some insights into what I’ve learned.
During the past few winters I’ve lived and performed in Mexico and on cruise ships in the Caribbean, Mexico, South and Central America. As with any business, there can be great markets abroad for our artistic “product” if we are willing to step out of your national comfort zone. However, these potential rewards also come with some downsides.
There are two ways to perform on a cruise ship. You can either be part of one of the resident groups on the ship or you can be a featured entertainer who comes on the ship for several days to a week at a time and does one or more featured shows in the ships show lounge. Earning potential for featured entertainers in the show lounge is significantly higher than resident musicians and some of the lounges/theaters on these ships are state of the art. The appeal for musicians and other entertainers of ship work is that you get a steady paycheck and you get to see some of the world. In addition, depending on what your fixed monthly bills are back home, you can save a good deal of your earnings on a ship, as they will provide you with room and board. Finally, as a guest entertainer you may have the opportunity to expand your fan base by getting in front of a captive international cruise ship audience made up of people who may not otherwise have had an interest in going out to see your show on land.
There are many downsides to cruise ship work as well. These are, among others, being away from home and, depending on the cruise line and your position on the ship, too many regulations, grueling performing schedules (for example, up to 5 sets a day and no days off for a 3 to 6 month contract), limited shore leave, shared cabins, etc.
As we often hear in the Arts Northwest Newsletter, we performing artists are well advised to apply sound business principles to our artistic endeavor if we hope for it to provide us with a living. When investing in businesses in the stock market investing abroad generally means greater risks but also greater potential rewards, particularly in developing countries. Should the same not hold true for investing our time and money into our performing business? Last winter I went to Mexico to see if this theory might hold true.
What I found was that some areas of Mexico are developing quickly, especially in the area of tourism. These areas can offer many playing opportunities and reasonable compensation when compared to the cost of living. If you want to you can live quite inexpensively in Mexico. In my case I definitely found that there is a demand for what I do in the winter in Mexico because that is the high tourist season for foreign tourists and I play music that people like to listen to on vacation. Obtaining a Mexican artist visa seems to be pretty easy, although it is apparently not to be necessary just for playing your average restaurant or casual gig (you do have to make arrangements with the musicians union in certain cities though). I found the lifestyle in Mexico can be a wonderful change from back home. As you might imagine, things can be pretty laid back in some parts of Mexico! This can be quite liberating… Of course the best reasons to live and perform abroad for many may be the musical and cultural enrichment that you experience. In my opinion there is nothing like immersing yourself in a foreign culture to gain a wonderful new perspective on the culture of your native land.
I have a number of friends from the US and other countries who make their living as Musicians in Mexico. They are not wealthy but they seem to get by okay. Despite all the hassles of doing business in Mexico, they seem to find it well worth it…
And speaking of hassles, there are many! It can also be endlessly frustrating when you are trying to get things done in the time frame you would be used to in your home country. Having to do business in a foreign language (if you’re not fluent in Spanish) is of course a huge challenge. The gigs I performed usually had no contract and presenters would occasionally try to cancel performances or change the compensation agreement at the very last minute. The legal and government system in Mexico is sort of barely functional, so I got the impression that people who run businesses there for a long time get used to the occasional “government official” coming by and demanding some sort of payment or another. Having your Mexican Lawyer or at least a trusted Mexican friend who understands the system (and having their cell phone number so you can call them at a moments notice) is very useful. Is the fee the “official” is demanding legitimate or not? An Austrian musician that I performed with there a lot also had a story of being shaken down by the police (as in stopped in the middle of the night, guns drawn, and they took all his money). Despite all this, people who have businesses in Mexico do learn to cope with all this eventually. Obtaining and repairing equipment in Mexico can be a huge problem depending on where you are living and performing. Where I was the musicians either learned to repair all of their equipment themselves or they just put up with a lot of broken gear.
I believe that performing abroad is worth a try, even if just so you have an interesting story to tell. I know I plan to keep at it at least for a few more winters to see if I can keep perfecting my approach. Ideally I hope that someday I can look back and say confidently that making the move to perform abroad was truly a good career decision and made solid business sense.
What an unexpectedly beautiful February in Washington State!! Wow!
As many of you know, I’ve been performing on a cruise ship this winter in the Caribbean, South America, the Panama Canal, Central America, and Mexico. I’ve been off the ship now for a little over 6 weeks while it is up in Vancouver providing lodging for security for the Olympics.
It was quite strange to be off at first! Suddenly there was so much space to be moved around in. As soon as I got off the ship in San Diego I went up to Los Angeles to meet with my fellow musician Jason Farnham. As I mentioned in the last newsletter, we made a fun little video where we hiked up near the Hollywood Hills sign and collected garbage along the way. At the top we had a jam session with the garbage!
When I got back to Seattle I had a great performance with my band at the International Community School in Kirkland, as well as some other fun solo events.
I was also very excited to bring my new workshop, “Recycalypso,” to Skagit Valley Community College. This is an entertaining and unique workshop that gives participants an opportunity to learn about the amazing history and culture of the steel drum and to use that example as inspiration to turn items that they think of as garbage into fabulous musical instruments. Here are some videos relating to this workshop:
Radio Interview with me on KSVR
Workshop Participants Create Original Music
At the moment I am starting to book up the summer and getting ready to head back out on the ship in 1.5 weeks. I’ll be back in time to spread Caribbean cheer around the Northwest for the summer though!
Enjoy the sunny, warm winter!
I am perfecting my show to perform on cruise lines and in performing arts centers. I’m not exactly sure what the name of it will be yet, but here’s the description.
It’s a Caribbean musical escape with an entertaining, educational narrative…
“How does a guy like you end up playing steel drums?” Singing, dancing, and performing on steel drums and other percussion, I recount my quirky musical journey from Seattle kid through the roots of rock and Caribbean music to full time steel drum musician. I use my extensive experience performing and studying music abroad to provide cultural context, adding personal anecdotes and visual media to create a lively tropical escape for the audience!
I think it’s going to be really a fun show! Boy does it take a lot of work to get something like this polished though. I’ll be using my time on the ship to get into the theater whenever possible and video tape the show.
5 or 6 days until I head to the ship!
Well, here I am back on the ship. It is very different this time though. It’s great to come back onto a ship where you have spent 3 months previously. It’s like getting to see your family again! However, I am working so hard this time that I’m actually not getting to hang out with them much at all. I’ve only been to the officers’ bar at night maybe 2 times. Keeping up with my bookings from the ship is a challenge indeed. On top of this, I’m trying to make my show happen. Hopefully it will! The band is great and we generally have a good time playing.
Tomorrow we’ll be back at the mouth of the good ol’ Panama Canal…
Square peg in a round hole
Oooof… I’ve been working so hard to try to get my show together and performed somehow on this ship. It turns out it is very difficult, even on an apparently large ship. It’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
It looks like I’ll be on the ship for another two weeks in April and I’m hopeful that I can get at least some version of my show taped before the end of this cruise and then a more polished video on the next cruise. I’ve got a great band from Mexico backing me up on this cruise though. They are lots of fun to work with!
That’s all for now from Curacao!
I completed a VERY busy cruise and did manage to get some version of my show videotaped on the ship, but not in the theater I had wanted. I will be going back on the Statendam on April 11th as a guest (weee) so I can try to take it easier. I am still going to try to run my show in the big theater on the April 11th cruise though, as I had hoped to do on the last cruise.
I’ve been in Fort Lauderdale near the cruise terminal ever since getting off the ship 5 days ago. I’ve been booking like crazy for the summer and trying to get organized so I can take a real vacation for the next 9 or 10 days and get away from my computer and cell phone for a while. It is so hard to leave a small business! Judging by how many calls I’ve been getting lately I’ll probably have at least 5 million emails waiting for me when I get back. Oh well, I hope I can actually restrain myself from looking at a computer and email. I think it’ll be very beneficial to give technology a little break.
So, day after tomorrow I’m headed back down to the Islands to do some exploring. It should be a real adventure! Not a moment too soon either. I’m just not terribly impressed by Fort Lauderdale. It seems like the ultimate strip mall city. To be fair though I haven’t really ventured much more than a few blocks from the cruise terminal
Back in Seattle, back in the Saddle!
It’s been interesting getting readjusted to life in the Seattle area. Living on the ship can be very stressful in some ways, but in other ways there is so much that is taken care of for you: cooking, cleaning, scheduling, commuting, shopping, on and on… Back on land I’m responsible for everything! For example, at many of the events where I perform when I’m on land I run sound myself, carry the equipment, lead the band… basically I do everything. On the ship for the most part I only need to concern myself with playing my instrument. There are advantages and disadvantages to both situations of course.
To make the readjustment that much harder, the house where I am staying was broken into and a lot was stolen, including a hard drive of mine with a lot of personal information on it. It’s ironic that I traveled to all of these developing countries over the winter and had nothing stolen and then arrived home only to have my house burgled. The good thing is though that I had almost all of that backed up, so I didn’t lose much of my recordings and videos. The ones from my travels are particularly valuable to me. So I’ll hopefully still have the chance to share these musical adventures with everyone in audio and/or video.
At the moment the summer season is ramping up. May has been relatively busy (compared to last year). We’ll see how the rest of the summer goes. I am making a major effort to find a studio space. I want to make a little oasis of creativity where I can have musician friends come over and we can develop innovative and fun new music featuring the steel drums and other percussion. Wish me luck!
Please, subscribe to get an access.