Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Not all bad in 2020

MOST PEOPLE ARE bidding farewell to 2020 with angry emojis and lifted middle fingers. As our girls Avenue Beat love to sing, F-2020. It's been the most challenging year for us at Second String Music, both in the business and personally.

But, it hasn't been all bad ...

The pandemic closed us down for 11 weeks, and our good friend Frank Haxel died in early April. We couldn't even have a proper funeral and sendoff for Frank and we miss him a lot. The service itself was small but I will never forget the people who lined 18th Street, especially at 18th and Seminary Road. We'll have a proper bash for Frank when things get better, rest assured.

While we were shut down, Sheryl and I painted the entire downstairs of the house, put in the garden, rebuilt the back fence - remember the dirtball who crashed into it? Good times! - and I did a few zoom guitar lessons. Somehow we managed to open back up and get through the rest of the year. We had a great Christmas and we feel confident about 2021.

The Cheeseburgers haven't played since March. But Cori and I did a few outdoor shows and we had a blast doing Facebook live stream shows. No worries - we will be back!

Other local acts found ways to keep going. I love what Raised On Radio is doing tomorrow night for New Year's Eve, a live stream show to benefit Horizons Food Pantry. 

We've cleaned out our Fifth and Maine building and filled a massive dumpster with old furniture, construction debris and bird poop. Second String Music celebrates 10 years in February, and we probably will have to hold off on the bash, but it will be a glorious occasion when it does happen.

And my guitar lessons continue to rock. I have great students. In fact, we have a waiting list and I have a lot of students, a nice challenge to have. I keep learning and exploring new things on the guitar and I'm still average. But I'm getting better, too!

Be safe out there, Q-Town. Here's a better year in 2021. Count your blessings and we will see you around Fifth and Maine in a better time.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Christmas lottery story

 I AM NOT a fan of the lottery. Too often it takes advantage of people who should be spending their money on food and bills instead of false hope. The odds of winning are astronomically against you. I can see how you'd play it just for fun or to give as a gift. But the hope of all your problems going away if you win is not happening.

There are exceptions, of course. One of them happened on Christmas Eve at Second String Music. It was about 2 p.m., and a mom wandered into the store looking for a nice acoustic guitar for her young daughter. We had one left, a 3/4 size Fender. "Oh, she'll be so happy!" the mom said.

Turns out she had $5 in her pocket when she went to work in the morning. She stopped to buy a lottery ticket and won $100. So she bought more 5 more tickets, and kept winning. Soon she had $500 and decided to get her daughter the acoustic guitar she had been wanting for Christmas. She came to see us, kept her fortunate winnings local, and I guarantee there was one happy little girl in Quincy on Christmas morning strumming a new guitar.

At Christmas we see many people who just want to do something nice for their friends. I was getting ready to close at 4 Saturday when a woman strolled in needing a restring. She's a nurse on the COVID-19 floor at Blessing. Man, did she have some stories. I was more than happy to help her get strings and to fix up her guitar. It sounded good as new and I left the store at 4:30 thrilled to have helped.

This morning the post-Christmas shopping continues, especially with gift certificates. Sheryl is busy ordering to restock the store and we are grateful for surviving 2020. Our special for the rest of the week is a free Snark tuner with any purchase over $30. We are changing things up for 2021!

Monday, December 21, 2020

Live (stream) at Christmas ...

music so much. My hands literally shake from not playing live. We did a HartLyss livestream Saturday night and it was a blast. Thanks for hanging out with us and we are hopeful for better days ahead and playing for you again, live and in person.

We think it's best to wait until things get better. Christmas will be really hard for a lot of people because it's not safe to have a big gathering. Be careful, Q-Town. Wear a mask and pray we get through winter.

I am playing at a couple of Christmas services this week. The legendary Steve Barteau and his band The Non-Perishables are having a Salvation Army show Wednesday night. Steve is one of my pride and joy guitar students - he showed up a few years ago wanting to learn guitar because he was going on a mission trip to Honduras. "Do you know how to play?" I said. "No!" he said. "I have two months to learn a song. Let's go!" Now he's leading the band and they play all over the place, a lot of Washington Park and church gigs. Rock on, Steve!

On Thursday I'm hanging with Tom Dickerson and the Faith Prez folks for a Christmas Eve service. We've been doing livestream services on Sunday morning and it's fine, but it's also empty in the church and the feel is not the same. Thursday night we are live streaming again to the parking lot, so you can enjoy the service from your car. 

And ... we are rocking and rolling at Fifth and Maine. Four more days until Christmas! We still have some great guitars and ukuleles in stock and ready to put under the tree. Tons of stocking stuffers too!

Peace Love Joy and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Lead guitar and jamming

I AM NOT a lead guitar player. I never have been. I never will be. But I can try until my fingers can't bend and press down on the strings.

Great lead guitar players, and there aren't that many, make it look effortless. It's not. It takes years of practice and dedication, like anything else. If you think Eddie Van Halen picked up the guitar and started playing Eruption right away, well, it didn't happen. 

Great guitar players in general are wired differently from other human beings. Sure, you have to have technique and good equipment and training, but the great ones have something intrinsic in their playing. As soon as you hear Jimmy Page or Mark Knopfler or Pete Townshend or The Edge, you know it's them playing. You can just tell. That alone makes them great.

There is emotion in great guitar playing. Stevie Ray Vaughn poured his soul into his playing, as all great blues players do. Eric Johnson has been offering free guitar lessons via Facebook since the pandemic hit (he asks you donate to a local food bank in exchange for watching) and sure, he flies around the fretboard like a maniac. But more often he's bending notes and explaining technique that seems to come from inside, not just by ripping off notes.

Playing fast does not make a great lead guitar player. The thing I've been stressing in lessons lately is that less is more. It's a great metaphor for life, too. It's how and when you play the notes, not how fast.

During my Covid quarantine, I started listening to songs I haven't heard in years, and I jammed along for the first time in years. It's how I learned to play. We are taking a break from lessons during Christmas and I'm giving many of my students a list of great jam songs, with suggested ways to play lead guitar with the song.

Again, I'll never be very good at lead guitar, but it's sure fun trying to get better. Last summer when Adam Yates and I recorded our 1/5 and Maine CD at 505 Studios, I had to put some lead on a few of the songs. I missed the mark more than I made it sing, but the solos didn't turn out that badly.

Rock on and keep playing, with whatever you aspire to get better at and master.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Take COVID seriously

WE ARE IN the third week of shutdowns in our state due to Covid. On Nov. 20, restaurants were ordered to not have indoor dining, and other activities and businesses were also curtailed.

Our numbers in Quincy and Adams County are drastically improved, mostly because of the free mass testing. But we are lumped into a region with some rural counties where Covid continues to run rampant. My fear is that those rural residents simply couldn't care less and think it's all a big joke. I am here to tell you Covid is no joke and you don't want to get it. So who knows when we'll be in the clear? 

I can't remember the last time I went out to eat. Wait. I can. It was in June for our wedding anniversary. It was in an outdoor dining space, Tiramisu. It was amazing, as always. 

Right now, there is no way we are going out. Sheryl and I do our best to support our favorite restaurants by ordering food to go, but we are watching our pennies and our small business has been affected by the pandemic, too. 

I have mixed feelings about restaurants staying open and defying the order. On the one hand, they have a right to make a living and to try and get by. There are some places that still have indoor dining but are strict about masks and limiting capacity. Then there are others that have defied it from the start and couldn't care less. A crowded bar or restaurant is a breeding ground for Covid, and if you still think it's all hoax and is just like getting the flu, I've long since moved on and dismissed your ignorance and stupidity.

I always liked the greaseburgers from 8th and York. Never again, sadly. If you have blatant disregard for the health of our community, I won't support that. If you lead the charge against wearing masks and social distancing, I will remember your words and actions.

The pandemic has killed live music and it's killing me not to play, so don't say I'm on a high horse and have no idea how Covid is screwing everything up. It's taken a huge bite out of my gig income and our music store. Supporting small business means also supporting the health of everyone that shops or works in our community. If we don't have citizens, we don't have business. I can't believe we still have to tell this to people.

I'm also recovered from Covid. I lost two weeks of guitar lessons, and as a self employed person that hurts. Covid has affected everyone's life and it will continue to get worse if we can't come together and take it seriously. 

Meanwhile, Sheryl soldiers on and lives in mortal fear of getting the virus. That she didn't get Covid when I did is a minor miracle. Sheryl wants to stay alive, and has no intention of proving how serious Covid is by getting the virus. She would certainly be in that 1% that die, can you imagine?

We all want normal but the longer it takes for this community to take this virus seriously, the longer it will take to get there. With the promising vaccine news, here's to hoping by spring we'll be able to rock and roll again.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

First time for flu shot

JUST GOT BACK from my annual physical at Quincy Medical Group with Dr. Rick Noble. I trust my doctor. Rick has been a huge help in my life and I value his advice and care.

I got a flu shot for the first time in my 56 years. I normally get a mild case of the flu once or twice a year and it's no big deal. But last February I really had a nasty case and eventually got a steroid shot. I started feeling better immediately. But I'd rather not go that route again.

So, I got the shot. Some claim it doesn't work and just makes you feel worse. Sheryl felt that way for years but decided that this year she would get the flu and the pneumonia shot to help boost her immune system. With COVID even her minor stubbornness has been changed.

We also talked about antibodies. Since I'm recovered from Covid, save for minor fatigue issues, I'm being tested for antibodies. They are formed by the body to fight off the virus and stay in your system for a time. The latest CDC research indicates they are seeing people with Covid antibodies up to eight months later. 

The most interesting thing to me is Dr. Noble saying they are learning things all the time and stuff changes all the time with Covid awareness. And yes, most people who get it will be fine. But we are still hearing about supposedly healthy people getting the virus and having serious issues. Right at Blessing Hospital, a man I know was just put on a ventilator and is fighting for his life, because of Covid.

I'm still wearing a mask, washing my hands, staying socially distancing. My guitar students are now 12 feet away and lessons are given in the big back room at the store. We are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel with vaccines being approved, but we can't let our guards down. We still encounter people coming into the store without masks who "thought all that nonsense was over with." And, as previously mentioned, we have no patience for that ignorance. 

I had some blood drawn and I'm waiting to hear what my anti-body count is. If it's strong, I will consider donating blood and plasma, because it's desperately needed. Even in the year of a pandemic donating your antibodies is a good thing you can do for your community health

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Not Normal Christmas

SADLY THE DISTRICT DID not have a big tree-lighting gathering in Washington Park this year. The past few years the park has been packed as the lights are officially turned on.

Instead, The District decided to do a vehicle parade Saturday night, and it was a huge success. Lots of cars circled Washington Park and then headed to the Quincy Fire Department for a toy giveaway and a greeting from Santa. This is the new normal during a pandemic and shows the spirit of our downtown - Covid be damned, we were lighting the park!

The line of vehicles last Saturday around SSM.

Sheryl and I are not huge on Christmas decorations. Our 503 Maine space is really decked out because the Adams County Democrats are renting the space until April, and they really got into the spirit of Christmas with the window decorations.

We decided to put out our tree in a window facing Maine Street. The lights on the wall have been up since last year so that was easy. Throw in the Singing Santa and you have our Christmas spirit.

So a big thank you to Bruce Guthrie and The District staff and volunteers who got the park ready. If you haven't seen the lights in Washington Park, head downtown at night. It's really quite spectacular. It gives us hope that things are turning around and we might get back to normal in 2021. Maybe. 

Also, we had a great Small Business Saturday and we appreciate everybody stopping by for a safe and easy Christmas shopping experience. We are here during regular business hours (10 a.m. to 6 p.m. M-F, 10-4 Saturdays) and as always, shop local!