Wednesday, July 10, 2013

#heartland


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Started this July 4th, #freedom weekend in LaGuardia airport awaiting a flight to the Midwest that had been delayed from storms in the East. Instead of complaining, I breathed, then wisely spent the hour-and-a-half flight delay sitting at a bar in the bright terminal reading "Interviews with Martin Scorsese" while sipping on a couple of cool Bloody Mary's (that I had ordered from an iPad at the bar - kinda annoying.) I would (likely from the Bloody Mary's...) sleep for most of my flight to Philadelphia (where 237 years ago, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence.) As I sat, eating a Wendy's "Baconator" in the Philadelphia airport, I thought about those times and then looked up to the news screens above broadcasting scenes from Cairo, Egypt. The human "pursuit of happiness" races on.

This would be my first trip to the Midwest. I was here to visit one of my best friends, social justice activist, musician, and "man of the people," Jesse Villalobos, who (now living in Minneapolis, Minnesota) grew-up and went to school in Iowa. After Jesse picked me up at the Minneapolis International Airport, we drove for 3 hours through fields, more fields, and the occasional roadside outposts (e.g., MacDonald's, filling stations, and bbq joints.) We rambled and listened to music and Jesse's podcast; eventually, we stopped to grab some bbq, settled-up to the bar, and watched the annual Nathan's hotdog eating contest from Coney Island.

When we arrived in Des Moines, our first stop was to pick-up Jesse's friend, (and professional trumpet player) Carter Yasutake, at his hotel (Carter was in town for a couple days for the 80/35 music festival.) After we met Carter, we drove to visit Jesse's parents and then spent the evening at a local party (at Rich "Life is Good" Brown's) with Jesse's sister to watch fireworks over the open fields and humid sky of the American #heartland.

Later that night, we bar-hopped and spent a couple hours over more night caps at Jesse's friend, Jim Stamper's. Liberal portions of Wild Turkey and heavy conversations about politics, race, identity, etc. were had by all.

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The next morning, the Wild Turkey's and beer from the night before were lingering, much like the heat. We sipped coffee on Jim's back porch and listened to the silence of the countryside. We waved to Jim's father (getting ready to mow the lawn) who lives next door. I wish I could have talked to the man, but our brains were too beat-up for any clever conversation, we needed peace, and then nourishment. Jim suggested we go to a place called "Mullet's" for some food.

Mullet's is a pub with outdoor seating alongside one of Des Moines many bike trails. While sipping a Bloody Mary (a.k.a. "hair of the dog") and nibbling on a chicken quesadilla, we sat in the sun trying to gather our senses. Then, from along the bike path, David Byrne pulls-up on his bicycle and sat down on the deck under the shade. So cool! Jesse was the only one of us with enough energy to get up and speak with the music legend. He mentioned we were friends with Carter and Jason Disu (also part of Byrne's impressive horn section) and whether there would need to be a sound check for that night's show. Soon, Byrne was off on his bike again; subsequently, making men (half his age...) feel very unhealthy as they sat with their stupid hangovers.

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Later that day, we stopped off at Jesse's friend Denise's coffee-shop with Carter and Jason. We then visited with Jesse's "musical mentor," Jazz organist and music aficionado, Sam Salomone. Jason, Carter, and Sam played a little session in Sam's basement / jazz library / home studio. After a couple sets, we were off to take a quick dip in a pool and to drop Carter and Jason off at the festival to get ready for that evening's show.

Before the concert, Jesse, James, and I went to meet with Jesse's good friend, sports columnist for The Des Moines Register, Bryce Miller, at (Jesse's other friend's) Chef and Restauranteur, Anthony Lemmo's amazing Italian Restaurant where we had some delicious appetizers. The place is called Cafe di ScalaDefinitely go try out if you're ever in Des Moines. Good stuff.

After some laughs and food, Anthony drove us to the 80/35 festival, where we picked-up our backstage passes at will-call and stopped off to see Anthony's third establishment in Des Moines, Hot Shots, a "craft hotdoggery" spot in the downtown district, right near the music festival and the rest of the downtown bar scene. Before the show, we visited Carter and Jason backstage to wish them good luck on tonight's show and then went to sip on some beers in the VIP section beside the stage.

Eventually, David Byrne and St. Vincent put on an amazing show for the audience in Des Moines. Of course, Byrne would play some of his great hits from the Talking Heads days (e.g., "Wild Wild Life," "This Must be the Place," "On the Road to Nowhere," and -of course- "Burning Down the House.") However it didn't take fans unfamiliar with his new music long to hop and nod along to the heavy horns, guitar, and hauntingly epic vocals of Annie Clark (a.k.a., St. Vincent.) Again, David Byrne proves that his age is not slowing him down (of course keeping healthy riding his bike everywhere helps), but is instead refining his art, writing, and music for more projects.

After the concert, we went backstage (which, of course, at a music festival is on the other side of a chain-linked parameter) to stand outside the band's grumbling buses, where we congratulated our friends and St. Vincent on the great show. Suddenly, Byrne popped out of his bus, walked over to his bike and begin wheeling it away. We briefly thanked him for the performance and joked about his dance moves before Byrne peddled-off into the night on his bike.

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We spent the night taking it easy at Jim's place ("taking it easy" of course, being at least two drinks.) The next morning, we had breakfast with Jesse's parents before hitting the road again to drive two-and-a-half hours to Iowa City, where we would stay with Jesse's friends Diane and Jill.

Iowa City is a small college town, where the University of Iowa Hawkeyes play. This weekend, Iowa City would be hosting their annual Jazz Festival. The headliner for the night would be Dr. Lonnie Smith, but we were there to see the return (after a year-long health sabbatical) of Sam Salomone, who was playing the Jazz Festival with the Steve Grismore Trio. Salomone is a master Jazz organist and played two strong sets that afternoon in Iowa City, the Jazz world is thankful to see this master back behind the keys.

Later that night, Dr. Lonnie Smith blew Iowa City's collective musical mind with an amazingly psychedelic set. Then, we bar-hopped through the college town, where Jazz musicians from the festival were still playing sets in bars throughout the city. Music was everywhere, even the streets, Iowa City has public pianos for passers-by to jam on while drunk girls stumble, laugh, and dance.

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The next morning, we had a great breakfast and conversation with Diane and Jill. Then, it was on the road again, this would be the longest trek - four and a half hours to Minneapolis.

Once we arrived in Minneapolis, we napped and showered. That night, we would eat the best damn hamburgers over some whiskeys, and then took in one more show. Tonight, we would watch former Prince drummer, Michael Bland perform across the street from Jesse's building. At the bar, we met with Jesse's Minneapolis friends, Miguel and Verononica G. Ochoa.

The next day, we toured around the city of Minneapolis before Jesse dropped me off at the airport. Thanks for the hospitality Jesse, (and everyone else I had the pleasure of meeting this weekend in the Midwest.) Peace from the North East. #freedom #merica!

"They can tell you what to do
But they'll make a fool of you
And it's all right, baby, it's all right
We're on a road to nowhere" - David Byrne