Thursday, September 28, 2006

where's george?

As if I don't have enough slightly nerdy hobbies and interests already (remind me to tell you about letterboxing sometime if I haven't yet), a new favorite appeared out of nowhere last week after I taught my usual Wednesday mandolin lesson. The $5 bill that was included as part of my payment bore a message stamped in red: "Track this bill @" Curious as to what this meant - and not being one to say "no" when money talks - I logged on.

It turns out that the website allows you to enter the serial number of any U.S. currency and track its progress as it is spent across the country. Theoretically, anyway - tracking depends on those same bills being entered when others come into possession of them. Hence the stamp on the bill - I guess it worked since it caught my attention.

So I entered my $5 bill to see where it had come from. Most bills that receive "hits" do so within a couple of months, on average. My bill had only been entered into the system only once, almost two years ago, by some guy in Tennessee. Since last week, I've been entering lots of bills - especially $1's. Since I don't have a stamp, I've actually been writing the message "track this bill -" in red ink on each (yes, THIS is the point where the whole thing becomes exceptionally dorky). No hits yet, but maybe something will turn up.

I'm fascinated by the idea that we, as inhabitants of our community, the country, and the world - or really just by the sheer fact of our human-ness - are all joined together. I love being given little reminders of this interconnectedness: all of us, whether we're rich, poor, black, white, straight, gay, Republican, Democrat, genius, or idiot...we all use common pieces of paper - currency - as a crucial means of interaction. It can be virtually anonymous: you probably won't know the gas station attendant to whom you hand over five bucks to buy a Coke and a bag of chips on your next road trip. Or, it can be incredibly intimate: you give your best friend $100 that she desperately needs without any expectation that she pay you back.

Sometimes we're connected by common friends and acquaintances, sometimes by the work that we do or the activities we enjoy. But in a divisive world in which it has become increasingly difficult to find common ground, peaceful ground, with other segments of society, it's nice to know that we ARE connected to the guy in Tennessee or the banker in New York or the garbage man in Baltimore or the farmer in Idaho...even if the connecting thread is something as small and simple as the fact that each of us has held, for a short time, the same dollar bill.

Friday, September 22, 2006

the gig, part deux

Really, I couldn't have asked for last night to go any better. Though things got started a little later than planned (after 10:30 by the time I took the stage), I thought the show flowed smoothly without any major train wrecks. OK, one flubbed chord in "Apres Moi"...but other than that, I was very happy with the way things turned out. I especially appreciated the enthusiastic and rowdy support of all the friends who showed up - you know who you are!

There were three real highlights for me:

1. Using one of those old-school (or old-school-looking) microphones...especially starting the set with the Jeff Buckley version of "Be Your Husband." The mic was almost identical to the one Buckley is holding on the cover of Grace.

2. Playing a new original - "Camouflaged Again" - for the first time in public, as well as the new revised (and hopefully final?) version of "Eyes on Fire".

3. Having Tully and his drummer sit in on "Rider" to finish out the set.

Fun night - makes me miss the days of doing this full-time. Here's the complete set list if anyone is interested.

Set List - 9.21.06
Be Your Husband
Naked As We Came
Winding Wheel
Camouflaged Again
Eyes On Fire
Apres Moi

P.S. - I decided it was time for a new look for the blog. Any thoughts??

Thursday, September 21, 2006

no freebird...and that's a promise

Tonight I'm playing a solo acoustic set at a club in Richmond for the first time in over a year. Tully's band from Virginia Beach (called The Influence) is headlining at Cary Street Cafe this evening, and they were kind enough to offer me the opening slot. I have to admit, I was flattered that Tully asked, but I was seized immediately by a vague sense of discomfort that swelled nearer to panic as I realized...I have no idea what to play. Most of the solo shows I've played recently have been private parties where people want to hear lots of covers. By contrast, I tend to think of club shows as opportunities to showcase original music - it almost seems expected, as if one would only resort to playing covers if he can't hack it with enough originals. It's a setting where someone might actually be listening to you rather than just allowing you to invade their subconscious from somewhere in the background as they pour another beer and tear into more burgers and ribs. As tonight's set is only 45 minutes, I think I can pull of 5 originals and about 5 tasteful covers. No cheesy stuff. No "fillers." Keep your fingers crossed and hold up your lighters (or cell phones) for the encore...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

ready, set...

Tomorrow is Opening Sunday, the first day of the 2006-2007 program year at the church. That means I will undoubtedly sleep badly tonight and have a long day tomorrow...but it will be fun. A service with West Gallery Choir in the morning, a ropes course teambuilding event with the 6th-9th graders during the day, and the parish picnic in the afternoon (where Oak Lane, our bluegrass band, will be playing). A 12 hour day, but it marks definitively the start of my autumn.

And tomorrow also marks 6 months exactly until my 30th birthday...

Monday, September 04, 2006

where to start?

Nancy was just over hanging out at the house chiding me (rightly so) for not having written anything despite the fact that I've been back in the country for over a week. So. Do I start with yet another apology for not having posted in two weeks? Or do I jump straight to pictures? Maybe accounts of the madness and mayhem (not really) that were Alaska and England? Or is it just far too late for a synopsis of any kind at this point?

I'll shoot for the brief overview - with a picture or two for good measure - in the hopes that I can get relatively caught up to the present.

With the help of Erin and Randy (my boss), I ventured into the middle of Alaska with 12 kids during the last week in July. Our goal was to help the Diocese of Alaska continue building a retreat and conference center in Manley Hot Springs, about 150 miles from Fairbanks. In short, it was the best of the youth mission trips that I've been a part of since I started working at St. James's. It was a fantastic group. The kids didn't work terribly hard...but they got along so well as a group that it didn't really matter. My article for St. James's September newsletter (on page 11) has a few more details about the sequence of events.

The next adventure of the summer was the choir trip to England. St. James's Parish Choir was in residence at Canterbury Cathedral for a week singing evensong services each evening. The previous weekend, we sang the Saturday and Sunday services at Westminster Abbey in London. These are arguably the two most well-known churches in Anglican Christendom: Canterbury is considered the heart of the Anglican Communion because it is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Westminster Abbey has been the site of the coronations of English monarchs for seven or eight centuries. Several of us attended the Friday evensong service at Westminster Abbey the day that we arrived in London in order to mentally prepare ourselves for our own singing experience the following afternoon. Walking past Big Ben and the houses of parliament to face the Abbey was a little daunting. In our nerdy, choirboy hearts, there was a sense that this was it. This was "the big time" as far as Anglican church gigs go. Remember that scene in Hoosiers where the team makes it to the state championships and, when they walk awestruck into the arena, Gene Hackman's character has them measure the height of the basket and the length of the foul line just to reassure them? It was kind of like that.

More specifics about the trips will surface as autumn progresses and the level of daily excitement in my life slows to a trickle due to work demands. In the meantime, two other pieces of not-so-uplifting news:

1. Nickel Creek is apparently planning to end their run as a band in order to pursue separate paths. I look forward to seeing what comes of this new arrangement musically, but I can't help feeling as if good friends of mine are breaking off a long relationship. It will be sad to see them go.

2. In even sadder news, it's hard to believe that Steve Irwin (aka, The Crocodile Hunter) has met his untimely demise. The guy wrestled enormous gators and crocs for years. He picked up deadly snakes like they were walking sticks. He swam (albeit often by accident) in piranha-infested waters. And he did it all with the energy and excitement of a ten-year-old. That he died in a chance encounter with a buried stingray while doing a shoot for a children's show instead of filming "The Ocean's Deadliest" is a crushing irony. I probably haven't watched his show in five years, but I miss him already.