Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Guide to local live streams

WITH THIS SOCIAL distancing thing pretty much stopping live music, Facebook and other social media platforms have stepped into the void. It's not the same as playing in front of actual people, but it's still a lot of fun and there are huge advantages.

For one, you can't mask or unmask talent. You can either play and sing, and people will like it, or not. I don't like watching myself on a video screen and I hate the sound of my own voice, but I've tried to watch the HartLyss live streams from the past two weeks. Geesh. That girl can sing! The guitar player needs to hide behind a pole or something.

So here's a guide to the local artists playing shows just for you. I am probably missing somebody, but it's not on purpose, so let me know if you are doing the live stream thing and I'll put you on this list.

JARED HOLBROOK: The front man for Jared & The Gentlemen, arguably Quincy's best live cover band, started this whole live stream thing a few weeks ago. At first when I saw it I thought he was going to do a pipe tobacco commercial, with the whole fireplace in the background thing, but Jared is simply an amazing singer and musician. Most of us realized we could do this because he did it. You never know what he is going to play and he doesn't stick to the traditional script. He. Is. Awesome.

GEORGE CATE: George, er, Rick, er, whatever name he's going by these days, is a powerhouse rock and roll guy. He's in a duo with his wife, Misty, called Secondhand Bliss. George is also getting a band called Maskera up and running. George lived the life with Predawn Hour and other bands - great songwriter and guitarist. He's also a paramedic for Adams County and one of the nicest and most genuine guys you will ever meet.

KAYLA OBERT: If anybody has improved faster and become a better singer and player in the last few years than Kayla, I dare you to prove it. She wears her love of Celine Dion and country music on her sleeve, but I forgive her for that. She is also coming out with an original collection of songs recorded at 505 Maine Recording Studio. Kayla is a gifted songwriter, singer and player - her arrangements are way cool. I got to play acoustic guitar on a few of her songs and I can 't wait for the songs to come out, hopefully soon.

JACKIE & LEVI: Jacqueline Kaufman came to me a few years ago and said she needed help with her guitar playing. She just needed experience and confidence. She also plays the uke and mandolin and has the voice of an angel. Jackie and Levi Tucker started playing together a year or so ago and they are the perfect match. Also, I miss Seven Days Fuller, her former band.

TIM SMITH: Also known as Big Country, Tim is as real as it gets. He has flourished despite hanging with a motley collection of guys called Pepper Spray. Tim is a country guy but he can play and sing just about anything, even original music with the 1/5 & Maine project. He also knows the first verse of every song ever written. A licensed pilot, Tim once flew three Pepper Spray members through a thunderstorm at 8,000 feet, and he also coined the phrase "This whole playing music and drinking beer is kinda fun!"

SETH WADE: A Hannibal guy, Seth focuses on original music and has some really interesting cover song versions. Really good guitar player with a unique voice.

ERIC MCKAY: As accomplished a guitar player as anybody around here, he fronts his own band and plays a lot of different and fun songs. It's true he looks like Grizzly Adams with that big old beard, but it makes him stand out.

LIZ BENTLEY: Nobody plays more or works harder than Liz. She is going to school in Tennessee now and frequently plays in the Nashville area. She's also writing more of her own songs and they are really good. A few years ago she booked three shows on a weekend and lost her voice, so Paul Wood and I helped her out and it was an absolute blast. Liz rocks!

AVENUE BEAT: Sam, Sami and Savana live in Nashville now. Yes, they once opened for HartLyss and had Pepper Spray as their band at their last ever Quincy show. Now they are getting massive national radio and digital streaming love for "Delight" and other amazing originals, and they are opening for Rascal Flatts this summer. It should be the other way around.

HARTLYSS: Let's face it - the best way to go about this whole playing music thing is to find a girl singer (Cori Powell) and stay the %$^#$#% out of her way (that's me). We've had a blast the past two Sunday nights and we are doing it again. My family especially has fallen for Cori and had no idea what a vocal powerhouse she is. She's been invited to a Hart Sibling Summit and to do a Michigan tour of the greater Not New Zeeland/Grand Rapids/Holland area. See you again Sunday night!

Make sure to check out venmo links for all the artists. We are doing what we love and supporting local musicians right now, even if it's from a distance to social distance.

NOTE: A couple of others to check out are Tim Hart, Mike Coultas and Kevin Kendall. I'm sure there are more.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Custom Dog Portraits by JVK

LAST WEEK WHEN Second String Music was still open, Jeff VanKanegan stopped by and noticed the guitars on the wall with pictures of our  dogs. Jeff is a graphic artist and a retired Quincy Notre Dame teacher. I played many a memorable Cheeseburger gig with him - he's a founding member and amazing bass player. He's still out there doing his art and playing music.

We started talking and we asked Jeff if he would consider doing a portrait of Sheryl's beloved border collie, Lucy, who passed away 6 years ago and was the love of her life. Jeff said sure. Sheryl sent him a couple of her favorite Lucy photos and Jeff went to work. Yesterday I picked it up and it's incredible.

This is so much more than just a painting or a portrait or a rendering - it's a piece of us, and it has enormous meaning.

Jeff does Custom Dog Portraits and his prices are reasonable. People say, "Why would you pay for a painting?" Well, why do you pay just as much a month for cable or your phone? Art is just as essential. It's expressed in many forms and you can't put a price on it.

These are tough times for a lot of people, but if you have the ability to support a local artist and you want a memory to last a lifetime and beyond, text him at (217) 779-4001. I guarantee you will love it. We have a perfect and heartfelt painting of Lucy to prove it!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

No lesson blues

NORMALLY AT THIS time on a Tuesday morning, I'm in the midst of five lessons in a row. When I get done I walk around in a daze for a bit to recover. It's intense and fatiguing, and I love every second of it.

We are not doing lessons right now, obviously. The store is closed for at least three weeks, and we can't have people in the store and in a back room. It's not just the students, it's often the family members with them. Flattening the curve is flattening the curve - no lessons in the store for at least three weeks.

There are conflicting thoughts here. Do I just not do lessons, or do I look for alternative lesson delivery? Sheryl and I rely on lessons to pay our mortgage and bills. Guitar strings don't grow on trees and I have expenses related to music equipment - no paying gigs for a while hurts too, though the Venmo thing Sunday night with Cori was a bonus and much appreciated.

So I have no guitar lesson income for three weeks. We will be fine and the real key is when we get back to normal, whatever normal is or will be. For the time being, we just need to watch our pennies.

My daughter is a professor of music at Western Illinois, and she's resumed her teaching online. Emily sent me a message the other day encouraging me to try the video lessons thing, as have several other people. I appreciate the advice. But it's not as easy as it seems.

When we contacted people to say we were not having lessons, only a few hinted at the online thing. Many of my students are older, and not all of them are Internet savvy. Neither am I, though I'm sure Sheryl could get it set up with only a few eye rolls and answering a thousand of my dumb questions.

For the younger students, there is apparently a lot of "distance learning," which is code for online classrooms. It's a great idea and I applaud the parents who have the stamina and fortitude. There's a joke circulating where a mom is seen removing her "Student of the Month" sticker off her back car window after a week of attempting to home school via the computer - it can't be easy.

So maybe even more screen time isn't such a good idea.

Who knows? A few days into this quarantine thing and I'm already starting to go crazy. Sheryl survived yesterday by binge-watching a real life soap opera called Below Deck. I wrote a short story, practiced a few songs, failed at trying to start a fire with water-logged wood, and watched an equally horrendous Arnold movie called Last Stand. It was so bad, it was good.

But I didn't give any guitar lessons, and it's a strange and empty feeling. I miss my students. I miss the store. Give it another week, and I might be ready to consider the whole online teaching thing.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Live Stream and tons of fun

CORI AND I had a blast last night doing the first-ever HartLyss Facebook live stream. Thank-you Sheryl for operating the camera and passing on the various notes and requests. We had a huge response, much bigger than I thought. Sheryl also put together a Venmo account for us, and I was stunned at the generous donations. We had so much fun that we are going to do it again next Sunday night.

Playing live is partially how I make a living. The next three weeks, and very likely beyond that, will put a major crimp in the live music scene in general. It sucks. There's nothing we can do but suck it up, and get creative. Thanks to Aspen Gengenbacher for the idea of the live stream. She rocks! A lot of local artists are jumping on the Facebook live stream thing and I encourage everybody to support them as we flatten the curve by staying in.

It was a little strange at first, Sheryl learned how to live stream and Hartlyss learned how to look good for the camera. But then we started seeing all the comments from our friends and family and it got really fun. This was the first time my brother (Phoenix) and two sisters (Denver and Raleigh, N.C.) have seen HartLyss play, and we also had some of my crazy cousins in Michigan and Toronto watching and presumably hooting along with us. All of Cori's crazy friends showed us how much they love their friend and also wished her a happy birthday. It was a unique experience.

I think we did three or four songs we've never done before, which is typical HartLyss style. It makes me want to practice a little more and get better. But ... we do what we do, and we have a blast, and it all seems to work out.

Sheryl and I are at the store this morning to receive a couple of large shipments. It will be a long three weeks. But ... we'll get through it. Live, streaming, hooting, hollering!

Friday, March 20, 2020

No vacation. Bleep you, COVID 19

SHERYL AND I have long looked forward to a dream vacation in Belize. We were supposed to leave one week from today. It was going to be the first time we've ever gone on vacation to a new destination, one that didn't involve family. We love our family. But this was going to be really nice. We saved our pennies and planned how to keep the store open. We even got the awesome Brianne Campbell to watch the dogs.
Kelly Wilson just got back from Belize. We are jealous.

Last night we learned the State Department has warned to not travel outside of the country. Our flights will be canceled, and getting back was going to be a challenge regardless. So we've been forced to call it off.

Thank you, Reggie Freel at Travel House in Quincy for working with us and taking care of the cancellation details. We have trip insurance, so we'll only be out a few hundred bucks. We are dejected, but in the grand and global scheme of things, well .... we will be OK. This isn't some sort of conspiracy or hoax. People are dying and it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

That being said, we are still doing business at the store and I'm still taking precautions while doing lessons. We haven't had more than two or three people in here at once. Traffic-wise we've seen a slowdown but we've still sold lots of gear this week. We are worried about total shutdown of non-essential retail but will do that if necessary.

We will reschedule the vacation. In the meantime, Sheryl just bought a refrigerator we need. I might buy a guitar and turn it up to 11. Or drink a beer. Or learn some songs for our HartLyss livestream Sunday night.

Those warm and sandy beaches will have to wait, and we will hunker down with everybody else and get through this.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Sunday Funday livestream

IT'S OFFICIAL. CORI and I (HartLyss) are doing a livestream show Sunday night, 7 p.m. Central time. Sheryl set up a Venmo if people want to leave a tip. Let's have some fun!

We'll take requests. We'll even try a few songs we don't know. What's the worst thing that could happen? We've never botched a song before. Ever. Except on days ending in Y.

You will have to be on Facebook and like our HartLyss page. We are doing it at Fifth and Maine, but unfortunately, we will not be able to have people over due to the 10-person rule. We are happy and healthy and plan to stay that way.

Second String Music is open and we are doing OK. We've had a few students decide to stop taking lessons, and we totally get it. Personally, I think things are going to get a lot worse before they get better, but if I'm wrong, it's a good thing.

Wash your hands, be safe and keep rocking.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Streaming Concerts

HARTLYSS IS THINKING about having a livestream show this weekend. Everything is shut down, and other local artists are doing it. Why not? Sheryl set something up called Venmo, which means people can send in tips if they are so inclined. It's a great idea so we'll see if we can put something together.

A livestream show done on Facebook doesn't come remotely close to an actual live show. You can't replace the energy and the vibe. But it's still a good idea since the world is ending and we still want to play.

We have shows scheduled April 11 at Bricks in Hannibal and April 25 at the Tap Room in Quincy. Who knows if they will actually take place? I have a feeling the COVID-19 pandemic will last a lot longer than the end of this month, but we'll keep our fingers crossed and hope we can get back to a semblance of normal.

If you think this a liberal hoax and you don't think we should be inconvenienced and all the shut downs are unnecessary, fine. I'm not going to argue with you, especially since you know you might be wrong. But don't be like the older woman who came into the store Monday, didn't step one foot past the door, and asked if we had CD players. She then went on a rant about how it was all dumb and we didn't have to do it and nobody believes anything the World Health Organization says, blah blah blah. I stopped talking to her but she wouldn't be quiet - "I've had to cancel all the church activities and only 3 percent of the population will get this so why should we all suffer."

Finally Sheryl said, "Well, if you die from the virus consider it God's will." Two seconds later, Miss Inconvenienced was out the door. God wins again. That Baptist upbringing comes in handy sometimes.

Then there was the guitar student who had two free lessons. He missed his lesson last week and called two days later, saying he had to go out of town. Then he showed up for his lesson yesterday and said he wanted to cancel because of the virus thing. Wait. You are telling us this in person? You don't want to get infected and are "scared" of what's happening, yet you showed up IN PERSON and risked getting infected from us anyway? Please call and cancel if you feel this way.

Sigh ....

I've had several students decide to take the next few weeks off, and we not only understand but support the decision. We will credit them for the lessons and hopefully get back on schedule when this is over. But the majority of my lessons are still coming in. We are taking precautions, like staying back 6 feet, washing hands before and after lessons, and keeping the lesson room clean. Yes, I am actually cleaning it.

So we will make it through the COVID-19 pandemic. I may take weeks or months but in the end we will survive. We are here and we are safe and healthy, and what won't kill us will make us stronger. Literally.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Open for bidness ... take it to 11!

SECOND STRING MUSIC is open for business as usual. We feel the pain of our local bar and restaurant owners, who have to shut down for a couple of weeks. Sheryl and I don't go out to eat that often, but we do a fair amount of takeout and we will try to support our local restaurant economy. We may even cook a meal or two at home.

That being said, we will encourage people to wash their hands before trying out our instruments. And ... get a free toilet paper roll with any guitar purchase! If you are not comfortable with coming into the store, simply call us (217 223-8008) and we'll deliver to the curb. You can also email us (second.stringmusic@yahoo.com) or contact us on Facebook Messenger (https://www.facebook.com/SecondStringMusic/). We are also offering delivery in Quincy for a tiny fee of $2.

For our guitar students, we are open for lessons. We've several students decide to take the next two weeks off and we support that. We will credit for the lessons and we'll resume when they think it's okay to continue. Use your best judgment, if you are one of the classifications that are at risk of this virus we want you happy and healthy in the end.

We are taking precautions and as a low traffic business we hope to stay open for the duration. Rock out at home and lose yourself in the music, you may as well turn it up one louder. We want to keep you all rocking. It's a great time to find the movie Spinal Tap and see what fun the music industry can be.

We'll get through this tough time and be better for it. Stay strong and keep rocking!

Thursday, March 12, 2020

We're playing Saturday

THE CHEESEBURGERS HAVE a big show Saturday night at Red Light Bar & Restaurant in downtown Quincy. It's St. Patrick's weekend. We are guaranteed to have a crowd and a lot of fun. It's our first show of 2020 and features the return of legendary bass player Don Van Dyke to the Cheese. We are ready.

Meanwhile, the world seems to be shutting down because of the COVID-19 virus. Some think we are overreacting by canceling games and seasons. Read some of the unfiltered reports coming from outside the country, and from some of our own medical experts. It's true that the flu kills many people every year, but this particular strain is dangerous and puts people with immune system issues at severe risk. It is 10 times more deadly than the flu, so just be careful out there.

The other issue is that people are dumb. The best way to "flatten the curve" is to wash your hands and listen to your body. If you aren't feeling well, don't go out. Repeat ... DON'T GO OUT. It's pretty simple. Use common sense. If you self-quarantine because you are sick, we understand.

Then again, The Cheeseburgers once cured Adams County of scurvy by tossing out vitamin C pills to the crowd at an outdoor gig. We've been known to make normally chair-bound people get on their feet and start dancing uncontrollably. This might be because of our magic music powers, or beer. We'll let you decide.

If you want to have some fun Saturday and you are feeling good, come on out to Red Light and party with us. We will even give you free advice on how to feel better the next morning.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Got the Tak back

LAST WEEK I sent my beloved Takamine Pro Series acoustic guitar to Don Rust for some surgery and TLC. I play this guitar so much and so hard that the metal frets get deep indentations. Don files them down and it plays like butter again. He's the only luthier in the area and the only person I'd trust to work on my high-end guitar.

LOVE LOVE LOVE! Photo Courtesy Bad Wolf Media
This is the second time he's fixed the Takamine frets. It's the normal wear and tear of a guitar that is played hard and played often. Next time, probably within a year or so, I'll have to actually replace the first five or six frets, not a cheap proposition. But it will be worth every penny.

Many people cringe when the guitar they play gets a scratch or dent. We are all for taking care of your instrument, but a guitar is like a car - if you want to keep it pristine, keep it in the garage and don't drive it.

Cori and I played in Hannibal Saturday and I didn't have Tak with me, and it felt really strange. I've never played an acoustic show, and I mean ever, without Tak. The backup Alvarez and Jon Kammerer guitars are fine. But they aren't Tak. And I really missed it.

Geesh. I'm talking about it like it's my brother or something. And actually, it is. Rarely do you find a musical instrument that becomes a part of you. It's hard to explain, but this guitar has a connection and it goes far beyond the sweet sound and playability.

So Tak is back and I'm happy, and hopefully it will be along for many more musical adventures. Also, Second String Music sells Takamines. Just so you know.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Got my (band) name changed back

CORI AND I had a blast as usual at Brick's in Hannibal last Saturday night. It was a great place to play, and we love the owner Lisa and our so-called Hannibal girls who often pop up at our gigs. It was only our second show this year and I felt really rusty at the beginning, but we warmed up after awhile and it was great fun.

Cori's last name used to be Lyssy. That's how we came up with the name for our little duo, HartLyss. But Cori has a new last name (her maiden name), Powell. We can't really call ourselves HartPow. Or can we?

"We can do whatever we want," Cori said Saturday. "I'm going to slowly change it to HartLess. Nobody will ever know."

I don't know about that. Also, we've added drummer Lincoln Smith to the mix when space permits. He's quiet, polite and keeps perfect time. In other words, he's the complete opposite of me and Cori. That's probably why it works so well.

What do we call ourselves now? My suggestion of "Tall Guy & The Blue Hair" fell on deaf ears. So did "Cheap And Easy," but only because we couldn't figure out who was cheap. Some of the other suggestions violate FCC regulations.

For now, we are HartLyss, morphing to HartLess. We are totally open to suggestions. Just keep 'em clean and appropriate. Or not!



Thursday, March 5, 2020

Random Music

 WE'VE HAD A great month or so at Second String Music. Our beautiful Alvarez and Takamine acoustics are finding new homes, as are some of the Mexican and American Fenders. Sheryl and I appreciate our local musicians buying local.

We are starting to see the benefits of being the only music store left in Quincy, and in the surrounding area. We get a lot of traffic from Keokuk and Hannibal. People mention how nice it is to have a local music store, even if they have to drive 30 to 40 miles. Last Saturday we sold a guitar to a man who drove more than two hours to shop with us. Turns out he has a friend from Quincy who recommended us, so he and the family loaded up and made a day of it in town.

It's the random nature of small retail that makes it interesting. Spring is almost here, tax returns are coming in and guitars are calling you to buy them in Quincy.

We try to plan for where the customer wants us to go and Sheryl puts much effort into purchasing the right gear. It is as much a guessing game as anything else that drives the actual customer to buy. We wish it was a science but it is more like a series of interesting non-linear experiences. We just do what we can.

We had a young man come in yesterday with an Alvarez acoustic he purchased from us 10 months ago. There was an issue with string buzz on one fret. After we checked it out, he asked if he could trade it in for another new Alvarez, and we were happy to work with him. He walked out with the new Alvarez and was thrilled, and it's a great example of the benefits of shopping local. We will fix up his trade and it will go to another player that will enjoy it.

Small retail is an adventure. We appreciate all our customers coming along on the ride with us!

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The Spite Tree

THE MORE DON wanted the tree gone, the more Jim refused. It caused a lot of tension in the hood and the tree stood the test of time, but it's finally coming down.

When we moved into our Calftown house 11 years ago, our next-door neighbor was Don, and the man living next to him was Jim. Both men lived in their houses for decades. Jim's parents bought the house and he inherited it. The two men were friends but they often feuded and had the whole rivalry thing going. In their later years, they'd sit on Don's back porch sipping a beverage and laughing about all the stupid stuff they used to do.

One day Jim decided to plant a pine tree next to his garage, located off the alley behind his house. He carefully plotted out the exact spot for the tree, and it was right next to Don's property line. The tree grew and then started dropping needles and cones, clogging the gutters of Don's garage roof. It was a messy and frankly ugly tree, and Don hated it.

A pretty pine,
Not Jim's pine tree
Jim loved it. He used it to shelter his pet cemetery. He'd bury the family animals under the tree, take their tags and set them in stone, and mark their graves. This drove Don nuts and they often barked back and forth at each other about the ugly tree, the pet graves and whether it was actually on Don's property.

The years went by and the tree grew. Jim got cancer and passed away. Don, who lived in his house for 60 years, died several years ago. We think Don might be rolling over in his grave knowing who lives in his house now, but that's another story for another time.

Jim's house has changed hands several times. Right now there are several young men living in it and taking good care of it. This morning one of them was on a ladder chopping off branches of the pine tree, so Sheryl went over to talk with him. Turns out they are taking the tree down to make more parking space back there. Sheryl told him the story of the spite tree and they laughed.

By the time we get home tonight, the tree will probably be down, and another piece of Calftown neighborhood lore goes with it.

We really miss those guys.