A Few Days in the Life, Newport/Cincinnati Edition

June 16, 19:21; Southgate House, Newport KY

How did I wind up here?

I go where the gigs are. And since Bent Knee and Thank You Scientist — two of my current faves — aren’t coming to me on this tour, I was compelled to go to them. And so I find myself in Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati.

Special things may be in store for me in that city tomorrow. But first things first.

I’m tired. Ten hours on my feet for the parade yesterday really took its toll. Luckily, I got some sleep. The aches and pains will be dealt with. I got in the car and made the five-hour drive. I had to be here!

This is an interesting venue. It used to be a church. Now it has been divided, I’m told, into three separate concert venues. I’m not sure how many are run at any given time. It’s the kind of place I would’ve loved to play in with my band.

The fans are in good spirits, and willing to accommodate some guy taking pictures for no apparent reason.

I’m hoping this attitude is a precursor for the road trip. That makes things much more enjoyable.

June 18, 00:30; The Hotel

The show did not disappoint. Both Thank You Scientist and Bent Knee were in fine form, bringing the Southgate House crowd to its figurative knees. They were a sight to see, and a joyous sound to hear.

I was particularly taken by the six new songs Bent Knee has added to its repertoire. I assume they’re destined for the next album, which may surface in the near future. Jessica Kion (the bassist) told me they were advised to try and make some of the music a bit more … accessible. That is to say, a little less “Berklee.” Fewer tricky notes, and more conventional grooves. The band seems to have taken this advice to heart, in its own way. Yeah, there were some simpler grooves, but the melodies being played were still very Bent Knee. Not an easy get for the uninitiated, but a very worthwhile get all the same! This new album should be something quite special indeed.

Thank You Scientist is as dynamic a band as they come. Their playing is air-tight and precise, full of stomp-worthy grooves. Salvatore’s voice never ceases to amaze, even as I stood six feet away from him. The band seemed determined to make up for a rough gig in Indianapolis the day before. I would say that mission was accomplished. I left the venue as satisfied with a gig as I have been in quite some time.

And as it turns out, my evening wasn’t over.

I reached out via text to Bob Nyswonger before the show started to let him know I had made it to Newport, and that I would call him in the morning, as we arranged before I left town. Bob had been kind enough to offer his services as Cincinnati Tour Guide, which would entail taking me to a couple of record stores and then by the home of fellow Psychodots/Bears member Rob Fetters, who connected the two of us to begin with.

By the time my concert was wrapping up, Bob was encouraging me to come by Latitudes in Cincinnati, where he and his band The Bluebirds were playing their Sunday night gig. They would be playing until midnight, he told me, and his gig was only 20 minutes away from mine.

It was 10:30 in the evening. I’m exhausted from working the Stanley Cup parade on Saturday (10 hours on my feet), driving to Newport, then standing for another four hours here. My cell phone battery was lower than I prefer, and my gas tank gauge was hovering uncomfortably close to “E.” It’s raining, and I have absolutely no idea where I am. Did I really want to try to make another gig under these circumstances?

You bet! I’m on my way!

Nineteen minutes later, I found myself at Latitudes, and in the presence of the glory that is Bob.

The Bluebirds are a very cool rock and roll band, indeed. I hope to hear more from them again someday. Bob plays with relish, and out of sheer joy. It’s nice to see someone with so much experience — who could no doubt be bitter and cynical about it all — seem to have so much fun making music. The crowd was light (due to the rain and the fact that it was Father’s Day), but the Bluebirds made us feel like we were in an arena.

We got a chance to talk between sets. I guess Bob has taken a liking to me. I told him I was planning to spend just a few hours in Cincinnati before I head back home. He’s encouraging me to make a day of it. I’m giving it serious thought.

June 18, 23:45; Bob’s House

How did this happen?

I decided to take Bob up on his offer to make a day out of Cincinnati, as opposed to a couple of hours. I still figured I would either drive home late in the evening, or find some very affordable lodging along the way.

But Bob would have none of it, insisting that I crash at his place and drive home in the morning. And so, here I am.

How crazy is this? One day I’m admiring Bob and his musicianship via CD and DVD. The next thing I know, I’m in his home, talking music and watching baseball. And now I’m in his guest room. Go figure.

There were a few steps in between, of course. I made my way to Bob’s house after checking out of my (very pleasant and reasonably priced) hotel and finding a gas station. He and his wife Laura greeted me warmly, and again insisted I stay with them. My cynical and paranoid cop nature had to be checked, as I reminded myself that I was in the presence of two genuinely nice people. It’s not something I get to experience every day.

True to his word, Bob had me park my car so we could take his, and we were off on a whirlwind tour of his town.

Our first stop was a cool shop called Everybody’s Records. Sone would argue that nearly every record store looks the same. I would counter that it’s not about look, even if there was something familiar and comfortable about the place. It’s a question of vibe, and this shop has plenty.

One of the big differences I noticed was the glut of t-shirts hanging all over the place. It would be worth a second trip to Everybody’s just to do a little clothes shopping. The store’s layout reminded me of Grimey’s in Nashville, but a little more “lived in.”

I had no real shopping agenda, save for trying to find a local act or two. I was able to do that, and find a souvenir t-shirt for my daughter (maintaining our now two-year-old tradition).

From there, Bob introduced me to the institution that is Skyline Chili, which I seem to hear about every time the Cardinals play in Cincinnati. It’s different from the chili I’m used to, but it was still very good. Bob told me their service was rapid-fire, and he wasn’t kidding. I had an idea or two for a photo, but my food was there so quickly I didn’t actually take the pictures! Plus, I was really hungry.

Our stomachs satisfied, we were back in the car. Bob is a licensed realtor, and he continuously pointed out the significant sites of Cincinnati as we made our way around. I was struck by how eerily similar things looked to where I live. If not for Ohio’s significant hills, it would be tough to tell the difference.

In my record bag was a copy of The Bears debut album, which has a wonderful cover drawing by legendary Mad magazine artist Mort Drucker. I hoped Bob and Rob would be willing to sign it. I knew drummer Chris Arduser also lived in town, but I never mentioned his name since I didn’t feel it was Bob’s job to assemble the band for my benefit. Bob, however, had a different agenda.

And that’s how we wound up at Chris’s house.

He had a gig to prepare for, but Chris Arduser couldn’t have been kinder or more accommodating. We sat in his living room and chatted for several minutes about this and that. When the conversation went that way, I wound up sharing my favorite Prince song, “Endorphinemachine,” with the guys. Chris was amused. Or was it baffled? Either way, it was fun.

Chris was a little concerned that his dog, Max, kept barking at me when I first entered the house. But a couple of treats and a belly rub later (for the dog, not me), Max and I were best friends. Dogs know “dog people,” and I am definitely one.

From there, it was off to see the man who got this ball rolling. A few more sites and sounds, and I was in the presence of Rob Fetters. I’ve never known where my music writing life would take me, but I certainly never thought it would be to the kitchen of one of my favorite singer/songwriters.

The three of us chatted for a couple of hours or so. It was fun to watch the two band mates interact with the “fly on the wall” sitting across the kitchen table. This also helped continue the “humanization” of the artists I admire, as it was clear to me these two didn’t talk every day, like any other long-term friendship. You separate for a bit, and then you catch up. And then I got to answer a few questions about my job.

Rob was gracious enough to show me his studio, which was on his home’s second floor.

Rob played me some of the new songs he was working on for a couple of new projects. It’s great stuff! He also gave Bob and me a two-song dress rehearsal for a house concert he was preparing for. I’ve said many times that I like smaller gigs because I feel like I’m right next to the performer. Well this time, I literally was!

Rob’s setup was much like what “musician me” would love to have in his future “dream condo.” That May or may not happen. But I was amazing to see and hear what can be done in a relatively small space. I can’t thank Rob enough for his kindness and hospitality.

Speaking of which, I can’t neglect the Host with the Most, who continued our tour with visits to a rather fascinating cemetery called Spring Grove, and then Shake It Records, a really hip shop just brimming with vibe. In addition to having two floors (the lower level being completely full of vinyl), there was a great vintage pinball machine on the first floor. Alas, I was too busy taking in the sites to photograph any of it.

Bob and Rob are both huge admirers of Camper Van Beethoven, a band I knew by name, but hadn’t heard their music. So in addition to local artists, I took home one of their records, along with a couple of other recoveries from the Download Debacle of 2006.

My evening with Bob was a chill as it comes, starting with seeing a deer in his back yard. Bob said it happens all the time, but it was still a pretty cool moment.

We spent the evening enjoying Vietnamese food, baseball, and an unreleased documentary on the Bears from a decade ago. Apparently, I am now one of about 100 people who has seen it.

And of course, I got a look at Bob’s home set-up, where he has done quite a bit of recording, including a CD he gifted me. Never underestimate the kindness of Bob Nyswonger! “Thank you” will never be enough, but it’s the best I can come up with at the moment. And Bob knows I owe him a baseball game when he comes to town.

I believe I can say with confidence that I’ve made some new friends in Cincinnati. This was an unexpectedly pleasant road trip.


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