August 2014 Archives

Rubbing elbows and running sound


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So, I've been doing more and more sound gigs, primarily for Kiki from Kiki's House of Righteous Music and have enjoyed it a great deal. It's a good opportunity for me to have fun, forget about daily life, and keep my sound engineering skills honed.

Most of the shows are (quite honesty) smaller shows with non-mainstream acts. Everyone she invites to play at her place is very talented - don't get me wrong. In fact, most are truly incredible artists; they just aren't household name-type bands.

Well, last night, I ran sound for a double-header set, featuring The Baseball Project. I have to admit that I wasn't familiar with them until Sunday morning, when I decided to check them out online prior to heading over to Kiki's.

And then I freaked out a bit.

Three of the members are from the legendary musical group, REM. Yes - the REM. Shiny Happy People. Stand. End of the World. Everybody Hurts. Yes, those guys/legends. 85-million-records-sold-REM.

Per request, I arrived at 2:30pm to load-in the equipment. The band members were over at Miller Park, where they threw out the opening pitch, sang the National Anthem, and performed the 7th inning stretch.

So, it was just me, the tour manager, and some legendary equipment.

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John (tour manager) and I got things loaded-in, configured, and sound-checked by about 4:45pm. At around 5pm, the band arrived, custom-made Brewers jerseys and all. We chatted a bit, ran through a song, made a few minor adjustments, and called it good.

The first show was scheduled to start at 5:30pm, which didn't leave much time for dinner prior to the show. Kiki made us a Thai-chicken curry salad, a Greek salad with Arborio, and had some snacks (hummus, pitas, chips, salsa). The band's rider called for those dishes, and she nailed them (that's a bonus for working with Kiki - she always provides an awesome meal).

While we were nibbling on the food, I looked outside of Kiki's house, and there was a line of around 50-people standing on her sidewalk, waiting to get in. I've never seen that before. She said both shows sold out "in minutes" - I guess lots of people knew what a treat this was going to be.

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The first set ran from around 5:45 until 7pm or so. The band quickly signed autographs, took pictures, and chilled out for a few minutes before starting their second set at 8pm. Once again, the place was packed to capacity... There had to be 60-65 people at each show, which is *a lot* of people in a small basement.

The band was outstanding. So professional, so precise, so dynamic and "natural." But they were loud. Holy cats, were they loud. I guess when you're used to playing stadiums, you naturally crank up your volume a bit.


The second set ended at around 9:45pm, but the crowd was insane, and demanded an encore. The band obliged, came back on, and *really* cranked it up. The last few songs were painfully loud and I had a hard time keeping a decent balance in the mix, but I guess it sounded ok.

With the shows over, we took down the stage, loaded everything into the band's Mercedes Benz van, and then hung out at Kiki's for a few hours. The band just mingled about until the fans all left, at which point it was just the small group of us - maybe 8-10 people at the most. We sat around, chatting, sharing stories, and eating the rest of the dinner food. We might have also drank a few brews... ;-)

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What a great group of folks. The band was so gracious - they thanked me profusely for "the awesome sound" and for "being easy to work with." I told them they made it all so easy on me, that anybody could've done what I did. The tour manager said, "Believe me - we've been wrecked by bad sound guys in the past. You are a true pro. Awesome job, my man."

I was just floored. They gave me their latest album and all signed it. This is getting framed and hung on the wall, pronto.

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As cool as the entire evening was, perhaps the true highlight was when I got to play Mike Mills' bass guitar during the first sound check. What's so great about that, you ask?

Oh, nothing. Other than the fact that it's the bass he used to record 11 of their 15 albums. Oh, and it's scheduled to go into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame next year. Too crazy.

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Sometime around 1am, we decided to call it a night and head home, but not before Kiki snapped a quick picture of all of us. It's a bit dark and poorly lit, but you'll get the idea.

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What a night and experience.

Or should I say crank?

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Yep, that's right - I went bicycle camping last weekend.

When I started to purchase camping gear, it was always my intention to go either backpack or bicycle camping, which is why I spent extra on super lightweight, super efficient gear. I waited to bike camp until I had a fairly strong comfort level with my general camping skills, but the opportunity to go arose, and I decided to go for it.

To facilitate the bike camping, I bought a used bike trailer from a coworker. I modified it by removing the child seating components and installing a thin "floor" that I cut from 1/4" birch and secured to the trailer frame. This would provide a level and sturdy surface for the gear to sit on while in transit.

I loaded-up my stuff, attached the trailer, and off I went. My gear weighs a total of 17-pounds, which is great for: tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, lighting, cooking gear (including MSR stove, french press, and cookware), hammock and straps, and cleaning/first aid stuff. With 3-days worth of clothing, I came in at just over 20-lbs. Not bad! Too bad the trailer weighs 24-pounds empty... ;-)

Once on the trail, it should've been an easy 30-miles from my door to the New Glarus Woods State Campground. I say should've because we somehow missed our exit from the Badger State Trail and ended-up well south of Monticello. We circled back and decided to take a "short cut" that involved two serious hills.

I didn't really feel the weight of the trailer on my bike until those monster hills, but once the grade increased my legs definitely felt that extra 45-ish pounds of drag.

We arrived to our campsite at around 7:00pm, just in-time for the rains to start. We quickly set-up our tents and shuffled the gear into them so things would stay dry.

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Just as we finished unloading things, the clouds parted, and the weather looked as though it would remain nice. We debated whether we should ride into town for groceries or just be lazy and grab something at a restaurant. We decided to hit the local store, which was about 3 miles from the site.

A few things to note about the campground: it's on a massive hill, which means a serious climb/hike when returning to the site. Because it's on a hill, the individual camp plots are quite sloped; we couldn't find level space to set-up our tents, so that meant sleeping would be a bit uncomfy, as you usually slide down the slope as you sleep. The campground is also located about 50 yards from state highway 69, which is a very busy (and loud) road. And finally, there aren't any showers or modern toilets... fun. Not sure I'd recommend this site to those who may want to go camping.

We rode into town and snuck into the grocery store just as it was closing (the store closed at 8pm and we walked-in at 7:58). The staff were super friendly and helpful and didn't seem to mind that we were going to keep them there for a bit beyond normal closing time.

Beer, brats, bacon, and buns - we had the "B" food group covered. We also grabbed some other items (eggs, potatoes, snacks) and a 20-lb bag of ice. All of those items went into the trailer, and back to the site we went.

We got a nice campfire going in no-time, despite the site's best efforts to thwart us... their firewood was so damp that it actually steamed before it would burn. Chris did a great job of foraging for downed wood near our site; with some careful arrangement into a tee-pee, the tinder burned quickly and quite hot. We could then steam the wood on the cooking grate until it was dry enough to burn. We had a nice fire in no-time.

Dinner that night consisted of a few chicken brats with some hash browns. I don't think anything has ever tasted better... according to my Garmin, I burned around 1700 calories riding to New Glarus with the trailer in tow...

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We stayed-up fairly late, enjoying the fire and relaxing. I think I called it a night around 1:30am and actually slept pretty well until around 6:30am - that's when traffic on 69 really picked-up and the area got quite loud.

I got the fire re-started and made some breakfast. Some scrambled eggs, some bacon, and some hash browns, all cooked-up over the open flame.

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To the side, I fired-up my MSR Whisperlite stove so that I could boil water for coffee. That little stove is a monster; it had 1L of water boiling in under 2 minutes. I love that the stove will work with any source of liquid fuel; I typically use "white fuel" (camping fuel), but it'll burn kerosene, gasoline, or diesel as well. And the entire thing weighs about 13 ounces.

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With our bellies stuffed, we made our way over to the New Glarus Brewery, where we took a quick self-guided tour, and then had a few drinks out in their beer garden. It was a good way to pass some time before heading back to the camp site.

We made it back to the site just before more rains came. We passed the time by playing some dice games and just relaxing. Chris took a nap in his tent; I tried, but couldn't really sleep. So, I did some tidying-up in the tent, read the campground newsletter, and listened to music for a bit.

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That Big Agnes tent is awesome. It's roomy, yet packs down to just under 4-lbs, and is completely water proof. Nary a drip detected anywhere under the rainfly. I love it.

After a few hours, the skies cleared, and we decided to head into town for some pizza and to catch a band that was playing a local festival. The pizza was mediocre; the band was awesome.

When we arrived back to the site at around 1am, we discovered that some unwanted visitors had helped themselves to our stash of wafer cookies... we had suspended them off the ground, and the cookies were still in the factory-sealed packaging, so how (we're assuming it was racoons) got into them is beyond us. It was sad, because I hadn't had a Rippin' Good wafer cookie in probably 20+ years and was looking forward to it. Alas, these weren't meant to be enjoyed. Everything else was untouched. Apparently racoons like chocolate wafer cookies.

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Sunday morning came; we got up fairly early, packed the gear, cleaned-up the site, and grabbed a quick bite for breakfast. There was a great little restaurant called "Krisit's" that let us split a "classic" breakfast of 2-eggs, 3 bacon, toast, and some potato wedges. Splitting it was the perfect amount of food for a pre-30 mile ride.

With an egg and 1.5 slices of bacon in me, we hit the roads back to Madison. The ride back wasn't quite as easy; there's a gradual climb all the way from New Glarus to Madison, so we were essentially riding uphill for several hours.

Making matters worse, it decided to rain quite heavily just outside of Fitchburg, which meant I rode in a driving rain for about 45-minutes until I got home. The rain sort of felt good after not being able to shower for three days. :-)

I got home, unpacked everything, washed/cleaned the gear, and then took two showers. One to remove the layers of sunscreen, bug spray, campfire smoke, sweat, and general funk, and then one as an insurance policy that I was truly clean.

Despite the sloped and noisy campsite and the rain (all weather sources proudly predicted a "gorgeous weekend" - ugh), it was a great experience and a fun trip. I'm glad I did it, and am looking forward to more bicycle camping trips in the future.

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This page is an archive of entries from August 2014 listed from newest to oldest.

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