I'm blessed to write that this summer was beyond opportunistic. What I've experienced in the past three months has opened my heart and mind in ways I never thought possible. Falling right back into my New York schedule after a nineteen day musical journey makes it all feel like a beautiful dream that I wish I never woke from.
One week prior to touring I volunteered for Girls Rock Rochester, a music camp for young women between the ages of eight and sixteen. Patience and virtue were among the lessons learned. I feel very privileged to have been considered to work among a group of selfless, caring, passionate and talented women. Having the opportunity to mentor, inspire, and provide guidance to Rochester's youth and the world's future entertainers was an invaluable experience which I'll forever be grateful for having. It made me aware again of my humble beginnings as an aspiring youth with bountiful dreams, how far I've come, and how far I've still yet to go. Throughout the week I passed along my knowledge gained through my experiences as a performer and songwriter, passing along tips about having a commanding stage presence, being respectful to their music peers, singing from the soul, and writing from the heart.
I realized in the moment as my vocal class and I pranced around the perimeter of a classroom with an unplugged microphone, singing and reaching out to a pretend audience; that although my heart has matured, it still remains in the same place. Not much has changed, as I still am a young woman with fears and a longing to become someone or something beyond my miniature stature, only now carrying the weight that time, priority and age has piled along. On my last day of instruction, my girls all left my classroom with a warm hug, sunglasses and hair flowers for their Saturday showcase which I was regrettably unable to make due to my tour's departure. The fortuitous nature of having a gift which positively serves multiple purposes is truly something that I am continually appreciative for.
My time with Girls Rock Rochester put me on a natural high. Initially, timing was a stressor, as various commitments had seemed to be taking place all at once in the midst of touring preparation. My first music video was launched, I was trying to squeeze in quality time with my sister whom I was helping move ten years of her life from Miami back to New York, I had a wedding that I was preparing material for, a full week of nightly performances, lesson planning preparation, and was running every last errand in trying to get all promotional materials ready for my nineteen day long adventure to the music mecca of the world. Now looking back, I see that it wasn't bad timing at all. I believe that fate aligned these weeks with the purpose of showing me that there is an underlying beauty in conquering new territory, and in challenging yourself in ways you would not have otherwise. Needless to say, the fond memories and natural high made my six hour departure to the nation's Capital, and first touring destination a pleasant ride.
With a car packed full of equipment, and literally all negative space occupied with necessary belongings, I departed Rochester in the early morning, and began making my way to the beautiful city of Washington D.C. Spitting distance from Dupont Circle, like a mobile Mannequin, I stood in the window of Black Fox Lounge, entertaining a full house of drinkers and diners. Looking around the room, I found myself entertaining my past; friends from childhood, young adulthood, and those present in my very beginnings as a budding musician. It was an omen for what was yet to be experienced in the eighteen days to follow, and was one of my best performances. To my friend's home, and resting place for the evening I drove the quieted city streets of the District in the wake of a new day. Passing the iridescent historical monuments, I couldn't help myself from gloating over the past evening's performance, and the anticipation of all that lay ahead in the upcoming days. This was really happening. I had spent months plotting, booking and daydreaming about this adventure, and now it all finally was coming to life.
I slept in until about ten the following morning, downing three cups of coffee and sharing breakfast with my friends Jeremy and Carla before leaving at noon to make my way to Virginia Beach for my second show later that evening in Chesapeake. Heavy Virginia traffic made it seem like a never ending ride from hell. Arriving two and a half hours later than my original ETA, I arrived at the hands of friends Fawn and Katie, whom instantly substituted happiness and relief for the nearly five hours of stress and aggravation.
Within moments our friendship fell back into place as if no absence between us ever existed. As always with true friends, the record never skips. Within two hours we made our way to Chesapeake, where a vacant stage awaited occupancy, and where I was able to gain a few extra fans. Later that evening, we headed to Rainbow Cactus Company for a drag show and to cap our evening with fun and drinks. We awoke the following morning to a clouded sky which visually threatened, but followed with little action. An easy morning, we relaxed until mid-afternoon entertaining ourselves with laughter, chatter, and youtube videos. Later we found ourselves trekking the Virginia Beach boardwalk, admiring the scenic view of the tourist haven, and soon after filled our tanks with the familiar cuisine of Carrabba's Italian Grill.
As we awaited the arrival of our dinner, I gazed around at the decor surrounding us, at Fawn and Katie, and then at myself through the reflection of my polished martini glass. Leaving Carrabba's is what catapulted my desire to pursue the very musical aspirations which had made this musical journey possible. Three out of six and a half years of my residency in Rochester, NY I hustled as a server, as head waitress, and server trainer at a Carrabba's Italian Grill. The time which I had worked at Carrabbas was a time which I was undergoing many transitions as a woman, and as a musician. The year before I was very unhappy, as I was having a hard time adjusting to my new environment, was post college, and extremely frustrated with the fact that I was unable to land a credible job despite having a degree. Graduates school was eating away at my bank account, I was working at a tanning salon and waiting at a sports bar with a catty staff and trashy clientele. I was having a hard time finding friends of my own whom which were trustworthy, I was away from my family, and I had no time to pour myself into the music which sanctioned my sanity. Along with a new job came many positive transitions. Happiness crept its way back into my life, as the friends I was making were those which bared a genuine demeanor, were fun to be around, and were supportive of one another's integral mission beyond the working atmosphere. Today, these are the people I still remain in contact with regardless of distance and the dispersed directions life has taken us. Those are the same people whom I am always happy to see, and grateful to still have as a part of my life. They are an extension of who I am, and are the people who infinitely will have my love, respect and support just as they have for me. The Virginia Beach Carrabba's was like viewing a mirrored image, where all the lettering is backwards but is still the same. My friends of four and a half years standing before me, to one another we are mirrored images, still remaining true to our core being and remain in similar places, but having had advanced and matured.
From Virginia Beach to Myrtle Beach I again made my way through the intensity of stop and go traffic, and random torrential bursts of rain. I arrived at the home of new friend and fellow Couchsurfing host Evan, who instantly welcomed me into his musical bachelor pad. Also a touring musician, piano player and vocalist, Evan and I spent the first hour and a half getting to know one another talking music and sharing our philosophies over hot tea. We parted ways as he had a performance to setup for, and I had a mission to hop around and perform at various open mics for the evening. My original plan to busk the beach was benched due to the inclement weather. Shopping center after shopping center, restaurant after restaurant, I drove forty minutes to my first destination, Wet Willies, to be greeted by a man named Johnny Ringo. A few people and a free hot dog buffet, I brought in my guitar to serenade a handful of originals to a small crowd of drinkers and musicians. Four songs, one hot dog, and one vodka and soda later I had headed off twenty minutes back in the opposite direction to Pine Lakes Tavern for a jam which sang an entirely different tune. A full stage of sophisticated musicians, I signed my name on the list, sat and listened to the house band in excitement, anticipating my turn. Soon I found myself in the company and lost in conversation with the house guitar player. A young college student he was, with matured chops, keen musical sensibility, who was driven and passionate with a kind soul. Rochester open jam co-host and best friend Beau Ryan along with friend Brian entered the establishment just in time to chime in on conversation and to join me on stage. Beau and Brian were on an non-music related journey of their own which our individual agenda's were arranged so that we could meet and spend a brief portion of one another's trip in each other's company. Together, accompanied by our new friend on guitar, and an in house drummer, we rocked out a few originals and some Jackson Five gaining the attention of the establishment's patrons. Afterwards, Beau, Brian, myself, and Zach headed to Broadway on the Beach to meet our Couchsurfing host Evan, and to catch the end of his performance at a Dueling Piano bar and tourist attraction, Crocodile Rocks. We followed Evan upon his exit back to his musical palace, chatted till our eye lids fell heavy, and headed to bed for a few hours before having to again wake and hit the road for our following destination.
A musical vagabond I became, skipping from city to city, with my hair tightly tied back, flower blowing, and with windows entirely rolled down. I made my way from Myrtle Beach to Georgia with one hand on the steering wheel, and arm rested on my driver's side window shield. The hot southern sun beating down on the concrete roadway, I cruised at seventy five to the beautiful city of Atlanta. Plummeting gas prices had me doing double takes, and for the first time in my life I felt eager to fill my tank. At around two thirty in the afternoon I arrived to the very lavish Omni Hotel where I splurged and reserved a room for Beau, Brian and I to split and spend our last evening together. The hotel was in the center of downtown, across from Olympic Park, and connected to CNN's headquarters. Most attractions were in walking distance, making it very convenient to sightsee and accomplish multiple tasks in the brief time that I was present. Within the very early moments of my arrival the Southern hospitality was ever most evident. I have to admit that the general well mannered, kind nature of people in the South was at first overwhelming. The difference between people in the North and people in the South is not that people aren't kind in the North, but that they are typically kind with apprehension, or kind because they expect something in return. In my experience in the South, kindness is a way of living. People take you in like family, are eager to assist and welcome you into their way of life. I settled into my room, showered quickly, and made my way to the south tower of the Omni building to explore the CNN Global Headquarters. I had visited when I was much younger with my mother, but like many of the destinations I was set out to conquer, having an adult perspective and seeing things with my own two eyes made just about every place I visited a new experience. I am an avid CNN viewer, so it was really interesting and exciting for me to again witness first hand where the filming takes place, the control rooms, and where some of my favorite anchor personalities broadcast from. Afterwards, I stepped outdoors and allowed my ears to lead me to Olympic Park, where I attended a free R&B concert for about an hour. Shortly after the Whitney Houston melody, I exited, and began meandering the city streets aimlessly, eventually stumbling upon the Underground Mall and shopping center. I made my way back to the hotel to meet Beau and Brian, where we began to arrange dinner plans, and headed in the direction of a local, affordably priced sports bar and restaurant. Over indulged with various conversation, food and drink, we aimlessly walked to burn off calories, and soon found ourselves at the foot of the city's new, illuminated, gigantic Ferris Wheel, otherwise known as the "Wheel of Excellence." Into our little vessel we welcomed ourselves aboard, and were raised above the city for a serene, aerial glimpse of Atlanta at night. The city lights reflecting in each of our cornea's, we sat back taking in a moment which was sure to end too quickly. Riding the Ferris Wheel made me think of the various cycles we transition between, and during times of confusion, how the experiences we allow ourselves to be subjected to eventually bring the answers full circle.
We made one last stop at a local bar before heading back to our room around midnight, where a full bottle of Iceberg Vodka awaited our consumption. What seemed like a celebratory act of ingeniousness, I deeply regretted the following morning as my insides curdled and poured into the hotel toilet. We extended our afternoon checkout by three hours to enjoy a morning by the pool. While the boys did work on their computer, I began composing the framework of one of my best songs written to date. Two hours later we all made our way back to the room to pack our belongings, checkout, and pack up our cars, before hitting the food court. I purchased french fries, which made me too sick to look at. In a to-go container I took them along with me, remaining untouched until the early evening.
At three o'clock we put our arms around one another and wished each other safety as we parted ways to our next destination. My drive to Birmingham, Alabama was equally the most breathtaking, and painful trip of my life. The radiant blue skies, the way the clouds hung above the windy roads, and distant Appalachians made it seem like I was driving in a painting. My admiration for the beauty around me was my only saving grace in distracting me from the throbbing head and urge to vomit. I arrived just a few miles east of my evening's show destination, happy to find out that I gained an hour in time along with the distance between Atlanta and Birmingham. I found a Holiday Inn along the way, and checked myself in for the evening. I was able to squeeze in a half hour of relaxation, before finally eating those french fries, showering and freshening up for seven o'clock show at City Vineyard. By the time I arrived to set up for my performance, I was feeling about ninety percent better and ready to rock. I had never been to Birmingham before and didn't really know what to expect. The bright green dress and pink flower were a dead giveaway that I was a visitor. Initially I was weary, as I wasn't quite sure how the people of Birmingham would perceive a Yankee like myself, from New York. The staff and patrons of City Vineyard were ever so warm, welcoming and hospitable. After my performance I was invited to share wine and conversation with my new southern friends. On my way back to the hotel I stopped off at a Waffle House to eat my first meal of the day. Every where you turn in the south there is a Waffle House. Curiosity had the best of me. I sat at the breakfast bar, and chatted with the staff whom I ordered with to bring me the most southern item on the menu. Naturally it was fried everything, and naturally all plans of eating relatively healthy on this trip were null and voided. I returned to my hotel room to wash up, and to rest my eyes for the evening.
I emerged from bed the following morning with just enough time to reap the benefits of my hotel stay by raiding the complimentary breakfast bar; grabbing coffee, juice and stealing two bagels to bring along with me on the day's ride to Memphis, TN. Being on the road, you take advantage of whatever opportunities there are to have free food. It's like being in college again, and attending all the unnecessary club meetings and town happy hours for the free pizza. Check-out time was at eleven. I also learned that you can buy yourself another half hour to forty five minutes as long as the maid hasn't come knocking. If you still aren't ready when the maid DOES coming knocking, you can still buy enough time for them to clean the next room before they come back to yours. Making the most out of my stay, I showered quickly, got dressed, packed my belongings, and began working on the song that I started writing the previous day poolside, in Atlanta.
By noon, my car was packed and I was on the road again, anxious to get to my next destination. These next two stops were the focal point of this trip. Tennessee, true to my prediction, was a mind blowing experience which taught me many valuable lessons.