Thursday, August 28, 2014

Murder indictments and people you know

MANY OF US know Curtis Lovelace. For those of you not from sleepy old Quincy, Illinois, Curtis was indicted for the murder of his wife yesterday. She died in 2006. Click here for The Whig story.

You can't make this up.

Sadness. That's the main emotion. I know the family a little bit and I can't begin to imagine what it's like for his four kids, his new wife, his new step-son. I played at Curtis' wedding last December, with his son. I gave his son guitar lessons this year. I saw Curtis all the time when he was an Assistant State's Attorney and I covered crime for The Whig. I liked him and he was always fair and good to me.

When something like this happens, rumor and speculation fill the air. As always, I caution everybody that there is a lot more to this story. There are two sides, every time. The truth? Well, that's the elusive thing, isn't it?

Incoherent babbling on a media website just makes it worse. So I'm done with those sites.

Patience is in short supply right now. I pray for Curtis' family, and pray this whole thing comes to light and gets figured out.

That's all you can, and should, do.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Everybody can take lessons

I JUST READ an interesting article in Guitar World's online publication about self-taught players vs. people who take lessons. There is a myth that if you teach yourself, you don't have to take lessons.

I taught myself to play. If I remember right, I started fooling around and copying bass notes. Then I saw chords in a book or magazine and figured them out. But I developed bad habits and it's only recently that I've improved as a player. And there's still so much to learn - I'm horrible at lead guitar, so I'm learning some basic scales and techniques. My strumming is really heavy-handed, so I'm working on better brushing of the strings.

And I'm trying to find time to "goof around" - that means, just play.

It doesn't matter if you are a struggling beginner or an experienced player. You can always get better. And lessons can help.

Don't let the guy behind you goof you up, Liz! (Photo by Mike Sorenson)
Yesterday I gave one last guitar lesson to the talented Liz Bentley of Quincy. Her schedule is crazy and she needs more time for her studies.

She was already a good player when we started lessons more than a year ago. Now she's better, and that's because of her.

Geesh. We had fun! Maybe it was learning some songs, figuring out a goofy new chord, working on a specific strum pattern. Liz, 16, was a challenging student to teach because she's such a good player.

Liz plays all the time. She has gigs every weekend. She sings and plays piano and other instruments. She is a country music fan but she doesn't limit herself to a specific genre.

Liz has decided to take extra classes this semester at Quincy High School, and she will graduate in December. Then she's going to college. Then ... well. She has goals, dreams and plans.

I will miss having guitar lessons with Liz. I hope I helped her just a little bit. And I hope it was worth it for her to take lessons.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

True Blood and God

THE HBO SERIES "True Blood" has finally ended. Sheryl and I got sucked into it last year and faithfully watched it to the end.

True Blood was ridiculous, gory, needlessly vulgar, sublime, way over the top and just plain stupid at times. But like a lot of cable shows, it tackled tough subjects like race and religion with different spins, and it did make you think.

In the final episode, Sookie Stackhouse visits Rev. Daniels to get some advice. She has been asked to kill her friend and lover, Vampire Bill, to end both their suffering. Click here for the link.

This is an amazing scene. Finally, a pastor who is portrayed as human! And his advice at the end concerning God and free will strikes a chord.

I'm glad True Blood is over, but I will miss certain parts of the series and some of the characters.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Paid To Play

HERE'S AN ONLINE article about venues and what they need to know about paying bands and entertainment. Click here. Almost every bar and venue owner in town should be required to read it. There are a few who get it, and I appreciate them.

It's tough for a new person to find paying gigs in Quincy. Very tough. My only advice is to stay true to your music and keep plugging away.

Some of us are lucky. I get paid to play music. Not a lot, but it's still worth it and it's so much fun - I had a good time with my Pepper Spray brothers Saturday night in Paloma.

I will also play for free for the right event, but not for exposure.

Music is a labor of love, though guitar strings don't grow on trees. And, you get what you pay for. Just stuff to think about when hiring the entertainment.

Friday, August 22, 2014

New music

SHERYL JUST ORDERED a bunch of new music for the store iPod and for general listening. When you get the CDs, you also get the downloads from iTunes. I'm really looking forward to listening to Eric Johnson's Europe Live CD, Keb Mo, Eric Clapton, Wynton Marsalis, Willie Nelson and Mumford & Sons.

Contemplating life with Uncle Peter
We are road-tripping soon for one last great weekend on Lake Michigan with close family. Some of our great and musical Canadian cousins will join us too. It should be a great Labor Day weekend.

Sometimes it's only about
the journey, especially when you are with the ones you love and when they want you around.

Music, as always, makes it better!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

In the name of humanity, men - do the dishes!

THERE ARE A lot of pressing issues in this world - racial unrest, international terrorism, government corruption and ceaseless back-to-school photos on Facebook.

But let's talk about something REALLY important. Namely, doing the dishes.

If you are a man, you probably read the first paragraph and nodded in agreement, then recoiled in horror after reading the second. Men of this world, chill. I am here to help you. This isn't very hard to do, and you might score points with the ones you love.

This morning Sheryl took our dogs to the vet. That left me alone in the store. Hey! I can turn up this raucous tube amp and play this awesome new Ibanez guitar and practice my scales, and scare even the Outside People! Sweet!

Uh, no.

"The dishes need to be done," Sheryl said. "And something smells really bad in the fridge."

Every day in the back room of our store, I walk past the sink full of dirty coffee cups and food containers. Every day I think, "Hey, I should wash these." And every day, the Inner Man in me says, "Nah. They will wash themselves. You should learn a Foo Fighters song to teach your guitar students instead."

Dishes don't do themselves. As much as we want them too, they simply sit and wallow in dirty water or a neglected sink. And why should your long-suffering wife eventually give up and have to do them? We both drink coffee and dirty the dishes.

So I sucked it up and washed the dishes this morning, after I removed something green and growing from a container in the fridge. I sold two guitar pick packs and counseled a guy about drum lessons before I got done, and it didn't take that long.

See? You can multi-task, men!

The dishes are done, my wife is happy, and our fridge smells better.

What's that? You want me to dust?

Well. I gotta draw the line somewhere ....

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Staying grounded in customer service

I AM THE luckiest man on earth. I sit around playing guitar all day and my wife handles much of Second String Music's business. I have to pinch myself sometimes.

Sheryl keeps me grounded. Yesterday I got angry after an expensive piece of music equipment was returned. A large Quincy company bought it the week before, and I spent a lot of time with the two employees. I was under the impression they didn't have much time and needed to make a decision quickly, they got approval via text message and then purchased the item. They did warn us it may be returned.

Sure enough, it came back on Monday, unopened. That part I can handle - the item wasn't used, and it wasn't what they really needed.

Then one of the employees said, "Well, we are bringing it back because I didn't know we'd gone with another brand."

After they left, I went on a short rant. I guess I was just ticked off that I'd spent a lot of time and effort, and I thought they were happy, but instead they went with something else because of a lack of communication. Or something like that.

That's when Sheryl put me in my place. "This is a business. This stuff happens. That's why we have a great return policy. You can't do anything about it. Relax, we sell these all the time!"

As usual, she's right. It's all part of running a small business. I am fortunate Sheryl provides context and clarity.

I'm gonna go back to strumming my guitar, vacuuming and planning my 50th birthday party.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What the new director should know about The District

SAD TO SEE Travis Brown leave as executive director of The District. He'll be missed. Sheryl and I have enjoyed working with Travis since we became downtown business owners, then building owners, in the past two years. Click here to read the message about his departure.

Blues in The District
Travis was good at many things, and music was his passion and goal. He didn't tinker with the massively successful Blues In The District and continued to grow it, with the help of a great committee. He helped get local acts involved in the annual street dance, the Midsummer Arts Faire and the Concerts On The Plaza, and I hope those events continue.

Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was seeing the downtown building occupancy rate go up, and stay up. We have more people living downtown and not nearly as many empty buildings.

Travis moves across the street from us at Second String Music to work for Rokusek Design, and I'm glad he'll still be downtown.

Now it's up to The District board members to find a new director. I hope they have a good pool and some quality candidates. If you are interested in the job, here's a couple of observations from a downtown guy and small business owner.

- You have to be a good listener. There are a lot of different people downtown, and most of them are decent, but there are some ... interesting personalities. Hear what they have to say.

- Organize your time. It involves a lot of nights and weekends, and you live, eat and breathe your job. It defines you.

- Lead, don't follow. You will get all kinds of advice, and you'll deal with every kind of personality and agenda. Do what you need to do for downtown Quincy, not for one business or one point of view.  Make a decision and stick with it, and live with it.

- Think outside the box! There are all kinds of fun ways to grow downtown.

Best of luck to the board in finding the new director, and to Travis, congrats on your new adventure!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Rain doesn't stop the (inside) Street Dance

THE CHEESEBURGERS HAD a blast at Saturday night's street dance, hosted by The District. I love it when an event comes together despite daunting and unavoidable circumstances.

We were supposed to play outside in Jail Alley, just down the street from Second String Music, with the Well Hungarians. It rained all night Friday and Saturday morning, event organizer Travis Brown decided to move the party inside to The Phoenix, a block up Maine Street.

I didn't like this at first. There was nothing on the radar after about 2 p.m. But lo and behold, it started pouring at 6 and didn't stop for several hours. That's right - Travis Brown looked like a genius. Move over, TV weather guys. The owner of The Phoenix, Steve, let us use his place and he did booming bidness, so it was all good.

Mike Kipley of The Whig took some tremendous photos of us and one of them appeared on the front page Sunday. WGEM also came by. What's deceiving about the TV story is that they showed up right when we started, 6:30. By 8 the place started filling up and it was packed by the time the Well Hungarians played.

Speaking of the Well Hungarians, they were super cool to work with and let us use their drums. They couldn't have been nicer guys and they are a great country cover band, really tight harmonies and musicians.

Thanks to everybody who came out despite the rain, and to Travis, who always treats us right.

Now we take a few weeks off and gear up for a busy September and October. We play at the Germanfest in the street in front of the old Dick Brothers Brewery, another fun outdoor event. Hopefully the weather is good like it was last year, because we had a blast and we'll have even more fun this time.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Grandmother Willow and broken guitar strings

WE HAD A lot of fun last night for the KHQA Mountain Dew Days of Summer event in Washington Park. Avenue Beat and Madd Hoss Jackson performed before a really good crowd, and the evening was capped by watching a movie in the park.

I love the Avenue Beat girls. I mean, other than the fact they are 16, write their own songs, sing like angels, play their own instruments and have great parents, what else do they have going for them?

For some reason they like it when I play with them. They have nicknamed me "Grandmother Willow," apparently from a Disney movie. Maybe it's because I have a lot of wrinkles, too. Sheryl says it's probably because when I don't shave, my face is like tree bark.

Nice guitar, Grandmother Willow. (Photo courtesy Mike Sorenson, Bad Wolf Media)
Last night I jumped up on the Washington Park Gazebo to play a few songs. During "Fat Bottom Girls" (yup, another reason to love them), I broke not one, but two, guitar strings.

I am not much of a guitar player but I am good at breaking strings. The main thing was that the girls didn't get flustered. In fact, they laughed at my expense. And they finished the song with vocals, sans guitar.

It's all part of the learning process. They get better and better every time they play. I'm like a proud grandmother, or something.

Of course when we got done, a gal requested she get her picture taken with them, and I had to scold them to stop wrapping up cords and putting away guitars to get down there and HANG WITH THE PEOPLE. Live and learn, right?

By the way, Mike Sorenson of Bad Wolf Media took some tremendous photos. And yes, that's me, playing Savana's beautiful black Takamine guitar.

My four-string guitar is behind us on the stage.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Movie in the park? Yes, please!

TONIGHT IN WASHINGTON Park, KHQA is having an event called the Mountain Dew Days of Summer. The fabulous Avenue Beat plays at 6:30, followed by Madd Hoss Jackson at 7:30.

At dusk, the movie "The Blind Side" will be shown. All of this stuff is free and it's a great way to showcase the park, local music and to celebrate summer.

Cheers to KHQA for showing an interest in our downtown and continuing to support local music.

See you here downtown tonight!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Forgetting the names, remembering a bank robber

THIS IS AN interesting story, especially because it's about a convicted felon and bank robber.

The Herald-Whig did a feature about a Mendon man who had a heart condition and had it fixed. The man's life is so much better now. Well, that's good. Click here for the story.

Here's my issue with it - the man robbed an area bank a few years ago. It was a bizarre and You Can't Make It Up story. He got a seven-year sentence but served a fraction of the time - after all, he was old and sick. He also pleaded guilty to theft, something to do with his former insurance business.

I'll never forget seeing the man out and about just a short time after he was sentenced to prison. And not long ago, he actually came into the store peddling an energy plan or something like that.

So. At what point do you say, "You know, the guy has reformed, leave him alone. Besides, this story about his heart condition has nothing to do with his past."

Good points. I'm human and screw up all the time, though I've never been sent to prison for anything - yet.

And I'm sure the Whig reporter, a name I don't recognize, had no idea about his past.

I just tend to think about the poor bank tellers and all the hard work the local authorities had to do to get this guy and put him away.

But really, I can't cast stones.

I still wake up with nightmares from the time I wrote a column about a guy who had died. He was a trucker, and his family honored him by putting his casket on a car trailer and driving it to the cemetery.

His daughter called me and I thought it was a nice little tribute and good column, until, with horror, I realized a few days later that I'd written about him before. It took some prodding, but I remembered his sentencing for molesting a young family member.

I hung my head for months.

I think part of it was that I saw so many awful things and deplorable people. More than a decade of covering crime and courts forced me to build walls and learn to block things out.

Of course, some names and events I won't forget.

Like the bank robber who has a fixed heart and is feeling a lot better.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Outside People update - they are gone

A FEW WEEKS ago I wrote about the Outside People. They had been gathering in Washington Park and apparently causing some issues.

The Outside People are gone. The park is much quieter. Life is better.

After getting complaints from some of the downtown businesses, the Quincy Park District became more visible in the park. I saw the director and several other administrators wandering around the park almost every day for a week. A ranger has been in the park every day, picking up trash and puttering around.

The Outside People wore out their welcome. There were several disturbances, and they were warned at least three times they could not act this way. I believe the disturbances were vocal in nature.

Finally, they were warned that they would be ticketed if they were observed causing problems.

They left more than a week ago, and they haven't been back.

I love Washington Park. Everybody should enjoy it. But you can't live in it, and you can't disturb other people's peace.

So. Thank you, Quincy Park District, for listening and taking action. And to the Outside People - I am sorry you couldn't stay in the park.

You wore out your welcome, and that's that.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Sad night in St. Louis

I AM SADDENED and shocked about what happened in Ferguson, or north St. Louis, last night.

All we know is a black and unarmed teen was shot and killed by a police officer. Then it all broke down and there was widespread looting and lawlessness.

The media coverage has ranged from chaotic to balanced. CNN seems to have the best grasp on what's happening, as do local outlets.

If covering crime and courts for 12 years taught me anything, it's that there is always more to the story, there's always two sides, and it takes time to figure things out.

A young man was shot to death, and that's the real tragedy of all this, but another thing I detest is the national bandwagon effect.

Stay home, Al Sharpton. Stay home, Trayvon Martin attorney. Let the good people of Ferguson get this figured out. And yes, there are good people there.

A sad night. Now let cooler heads prevail, along with peace and a coming together for a torn community.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Let's Play!

FELLOW PEPPER SPRAYER Tim Smith and I are playing in Washington Park today from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. or so. The rain has moved out and though it's a bit soggy, we are good to go.

I do love gigs where I have to cross the street to play.

The Butcher Block just showed up, so come on over and hang out with us! It's cool and breezy in the park.

The weather did create a bit of havoc yesterday, click here for my Whig blog. I'm gonna give big Tim some love here - his band, Vertigo, was supposed to play last night at the Knights of Columbus Barbecue. When it got called off due to the steady day-long rain, Tim came down to Open Mic Night at One Restaurant and played a couple of songs.

He loves to play music. That's why I love to play music with him!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

More KHQA love, and another insane weekend

RAJAH MAPLES DID a great job on her KHQA story about our building. It airs Monday, Aug. 11, at 6 p.m. Here is the YouTube clip.

The local media has been very kind to us and we appreciate the interest in our beautiful Fifth and Maine building, home of Second String Music.  We have a donation jar on the counter for the "Elevator Restoration Fund". Any ideas on how to raise the money for this huge project are appreciated.

Having yet to recover from last weekend, we get ready for another wild ride. Tonight I'm hosting open mic at One Restaurant, Tim Smith and I are playing Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Washington Park as part of Blues In The District Friday, and the sidewalk opens early Friday afternoon for Blues In the District.

Then comes Saturday's Cheeseburger show at the Party Cove on Mark Twain Lake near Monroe City. We are taking the Eleven party bus, and captain Dale Steinkamp has promised us a wild time before we even get to the gig! Call the store if you want to join us on the bus. $7 donation for the ride but well worth it to party with The Cheeseburgers on the way to the gig.

To top it off, Sheryl and I are going to try our best to see our buddy Rockin' Jake at the Club Tavern on Sunday night .... if we are still conscious.

So come out and support your local musicians and have a great weekend.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Here comes the dogs, and the days

IT'S A SURE sign summer is slipping away from us - the annual Knights of Columbus Barbecue takes place this weekend on South 36th Street.

Because it's tradition and there's beer and food, and carnival rides, and live music, the BBQ is always a hit. I've played there the last two years and it can be a lot of fun.

Thursday nights have grown more popular in recent years. Pepper Sprayers Justin Sievert, Adam Yates and Tim Smith play in the band Vertigo, and they have a show at the BBQ Thursday night.

School starts in less than two weeks - way too early. So enjoy the last dog days of summer. We have dog days every day at Second String Music, and it's all good!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Holding On To The 40s

IN MY YOUNGER years, a long long LONG time ago, I could shrug off a day of fun and a night of revelry without problem.

Ahhh. The Younger Years. Hold on to them and don't blink.

Anyway, getting old reared its ugly head Saturday night at my Uncle Peter's place, when I fell asleep in mid-strum playing guitar. Two hours of sleep after a Cheeseburger show and spending an afternoon in the sun with lemonade is to blame.

Sunday night it was the same thing. After hanging out at Spirit Knob Winery and having a wonderful time with Sheryl, we invited our friends Nick and Lori over with their grandson Cole to grill and cap a great weekend. By 9:30, my ugly mug was disappearing behind a giant yawn. They are great company and we had a lot of fun, but I was dead to the world by 10.

"You, my friend," said my wise Uncle Peter, "are getting older."

Right. I get that. So why don't I take better care of myself and maybe sneak a nap in, or drink one less beverage, or splash cold water on my face?

I'm not that smart, I guess.

Bring it on, old age. I turn 50 in less than three months.

As Frank Haxel likes to put it, "We'll sleep when we are dead."

Monday, August 4, 2014

Hurricane Weekend recovery

Sunset over Lake Michigan, photo taken by Tim Smith from my uncle's porch.

I CALL IT the "Rock and Roll Bus." Every time we play, it takes longer and longer to recover.

Throw in a trip to Lake Michigan and hanging with the Avenue Beat girls? Well.

That's like being run over by 11 buses. It's a Hurricane Weekend. And we only have a few days to recover.

It started Friday night with a righteous gig at Spirit Knob Winery with The Cheeseburgers. What a beautiful setting - the sun behind us disappearing, and the wine working wonders. A ton of people showed up and once they started dancing, well ...

More Fun Than You Should Be Allowed To Have.

So much beach and sun ... so little time!
After two hours of sleep, I jumped on Tim Smith's plane with Frank Haxel and Adam Yates, and we flew up to my uncle Peter's place near Holland, Mich. My old buddy David Wilkins picked us up at Tulip City Airport and off we went. It's just a little slice of heaven, a big house on the wooded sand dune with a spacious beach down below. Sugar cane sand, lapping water, two coolers full of ice and lemonade, good company, 85 degrees and sunny .... gosh. I guess it was OK. GUH.

The best part about being on the beach is the fact time doesn't exist. There is no deadline, no reason to do anything. Except get another beer, play volleyball, jump in the water or just sit there in a daze.

But by Saturday night, my dead self arose and I hit the wall. It's too bad. We got the guitars out and had a lot of fun, until I fell asleep mid-strum.

It's nothing sleeping on the beach didn't cure.

Speaking of sleeping on the beach, that's what Frank did. He never made it into the tent. Tim did the same thing for a while, too. We woke them up and they didn't want to leave.

But leave we did, after more gracious hospitality from my uncle Peter and aunt Helen. It takes a little more than two hours to fly from Quincy to Holland, as opposed to seven and a half by car. And I wept bittery when I noticed we were avoiding heavy traffic on I-80/94. Looks beautiful from the air, all those cars and trucks inching along.

We got home just in time to make it back out to Spirit Knob and hang out with the Avenue Beat gals. The were in the south stage out of the sun, and again, it was just gorgeous in the shade, sipping wine and appreciating three 16 year old girls who can sing, play and have too much fun. Big thanks to Adam, who did sound, and Frank, who helped tear down but didn't find my glasses in time.

Right. My glasses. They are still up there somewhere, in the blue case, hopefully saved by somebody. Today is national Hug A Dumb Ass day. The line is pretty big in front of me. Have patience.

So it's Monday morning and the rock and roll bus is still leaving marks, but we are getting better. And guess what? We are helping out with Avenue Beat Wednesday night at One Restaurant, I'm hosting One's Open Mic Night Thursday, Blues In The District Is Friday and the Cheeseburgers head to Monroe City Saturday night to play at the Party Cove. Oh, and there's a rock and roll bus heading to Monroe City for real, too.

Where do all these buses come from, anyway?

Here's a YouTube clip of Adam and I playing with Avenue Beat and trying to stay out of the way.

Have a great week!