June 2012

It’s a dry heat. We’re going down. Down from Carter Ranch Festival and the edge of high altitude summer solstice coolness. We’ve downed too many chocolate espresso beans, and we’re riding an unyielding edge, Yukon winding down the mountain road. Before us lie a dried out San Joaquin Valley, high fire danger hills in the Grapevine, and a sullen heat in Los Angeles.

Which is why we’ve stalled till afternoon, leisurely breakfast at the delightful Sugar Pines restaurant in downtown Mariposa, hanging and ruminating with Rob’s super cool childhood pal Andy Bove. Holding back the inevitable. It’s time to hit the road. Our faithful Yukon has picked up BBC/NPR radio, and we’re getting the ruling elite’s bemused take on the Egyptian elections. We’re mildly dehydrated and gently hung over. It’s a good moment to contemplate the coming scarcity, the drying up of aquifers, the northern march of desertification, the Euro bankers with nothing, sitting at the global poker table with bluff and attitude, the U.S. treasury bills that will float into worthlessness, the collapse of culture and accumulated wisdom. Damn, these espresso morsels are tasty. Off to the left the Indian casino looks like a dark fortress from a Batman movie, nestled in the pines. Steve Miller coming soon.

Twenty four hours ago we were on this very road, mountains bound. It’s the summer of travel, busier than the last few years. In two days we leave for Ireland and UK, and we’ve been sweating logistics, money, outwitting the airlines with excess musical baggage. Jumping in the Yukon felt like an afterthought. But Carter Ranch wove its magical spell.

It was just yesterday. Rob, Paul L, and Victoria made the final turn onto Carter Road fashionably late, pulling into the dusty festival grounds at, we kid you not, 4:20. We had been delayed by research into our ongoing thesis, The Cultural Incompatibility of Rural America and Decent Espresso. The research was spontaneous, a result of choices made on the journey. The choice not to drink coffee before leaving Highland Park. The passing up of numerous Starbucks on the 5 and 99. The lack of will to seek out the dozens of Starbucks that no doubt populate Fresno, just out of sight of the freeway mass that rushes you through town. And now we’re jonesing. We are addicts.

Highway 41, north and east mountainward, golden dead grass and water indifferent ancient oaks. We casually discuss coffee options with the muted bravado of WWII bomber pilots contemplating a suicide mission over desperate 1944 Germany. In the back of our minds: will we have to settle for watery drip coffee at a clueless diner?

In Oakhurst we decide this is our last chance. Rob busts out the iPhone, which tells us there’s a Peet’s Coffee just around the bend. This is too good to be true. As it turns out. We’re in a phantom zone that exists only on the web. Peet’s is a chimera, shimmering heat waves in a cracked parking lot, existing only as a beeping blue dot on the Google map. We pull into a bookstore coffee house. Drip grind only. We blow this town, wind through the trees to Mariposa, driving right past the Triangle Road turnoff to the festival. But lo, in another country mile, out in the middle of woods and dry meadows, we spy a coffee roaster in intriguing old houses tucked below the highway. How much the sweeter are our insistent withdrawal symptoms, now that relief is at hand. And with the improbable promise of urban sophistication. Is our thesis about to be destroyed? We hope so.

Alas, the coffee roasting compound is a fraud, a rural huckster site sustained only by its remoteness. The roaster is a gruff imposing shaved head patriarch of indeterminate nationality, with what appear to be his daughters or daughter-like patriarchal followers attending the counter in the cool and dark roaster shop. They only sell beans. Ah. But they’ll brew us on the house cups. Ah! Paul L orders his with milk, which meets with an overamped scorn from the proprietor and a mysterious young acolyte who has wandered in. They reluctantly dig up some evaporated milk, promising that this brew is so rich and dark that milk is a mere insult.

The coffee arrives, in glass mugs. You can read a newspaper through the thin brown liquid. We exchange glances, take a sip, as the roastmeister expounds on his theory, his unique flash roast method vs. traditional roasting. He herds us into the inner sanctum, a white room with a complex array of big metal chambers and hoppers. He insists we watch the roasting process, which takes only five minutes. Rob bolts immediately; Paul L stays in the room, sipping what he swears is one of the worst cups of coffee ever. We sneak away, feeling like we’ve narrowly escaped a cult of multiple wives and brainwashed assistants. We feel pity for the next round of victims, pulling eagerly off the road as we race away.

Down the road, the winding road, we hit Mariposa, check into the very cool good vibe Riverrock Hotel, order what prove to be reasonably good and anticlimactic cappucinos. The sinister rural roaster coffee has kicked in, its bland flavorlessness disguising a wicked caffeine punch. We race back to Triangle Road and up dusty roads to the fest.

Friends, next year let your cares melt away at the Carter Ranch Music Festival. It really happens. The round amphitheater bowl meadow and ringing oaks, the genuine kindness and good taste of Adam Finney and family and the Carter family hosts, the tie dyed volunteers and crew, the locals camped out under canopies and digging the music, the dancers who rise when a two step or funky beat kicks in–this is global localism at its best. We dig some tunes, grab a quick vocal rehearsal with Marc Doten, who’s been camping out with girlfriend Michelle and the Atomic Sherpas band. Hawks and Sherpas in the evening, for what must be the third year in a row. None of us can remember exactly how many years we’ve been coming here. We always have that much fun.

We set up on the oak shaded stage, and launch the first show of the Ireland UK version of the Hawks: Rob and Paul L, Marc on bass, and Victoria on drums. It feels great, melodic and purposeful, and we build to a rocking finish and dancers descend from the hills and gather in front of the stage, kick up dust and sing along. It’s fun to watch the crowd rock to Victoria, whose lovely and diminutive elegance belies the fierce groove when it’s time to rock, and we do rock. We do Good N Foolish Times for an encore, hang out with the crowd at the side of the stage. A beautiful willowy local enchantress, Cheyenne, has made colorful and beautifully knit wool caps for the band, and a hand bag for Victoria. We don them and wear them for the rest of the night. Thank you, Cheyenne!

Job well done, it’s kick back and party time as the moon rises over the oaks and surrounding pines. We pass around a giant beer jug, small whiskey, Rob and Andy climb the oak over the stage as the Atomic Sherpas hit the stage. We’ve seen many Sherpas shows over the years, alway ferocious and powerful. But something has happened in the last year. There’s a new depth, added dynamic range, delights like a long and mesmerizing scat singing break from trombonist, virtuoso drumming and guitar, leader Vince’s assured blowing and bandleading, and Marc Doten’s demented keyboard icing on the cake. Every festival this year has produced a dazzling band, and this time we know them well.

In two days we leave aridity behind. Gray and green emerald Isle, land of Brendan Behan and his holy namesake, where they pour great kettles of boiling water into teapots stocked with black tea, where the holy wells and raths and cairns remind us of the vanity of it all, where bitter history rests, sweetened by surrender, the renunciation of empire, where the fiddle still has the final say. We’re excited. Virgin Atlantic, be kind to the American troubadors. We aim to please our ancestral grounds.

 

A LONG SHORT TIME

June 5, 2012 · 2 comments

Riding the Flow — Tacoma, Not Seattle — Bobo and the Real World Peace Clowns — Enchanted Marijuana Forest — L.A. Bound

The drive westward and north from Richland, WA to Seattle is forlorn and lovely. Two lane asphalt knifes through sage and subtly rolling hills, sculpted black and gray clouds providing muted moistness above. Wet vs. dry. Big lava ridges loom in the distance, and our path coincides ahead, bringing us to the majestic Columbia River, following lava shoulder on its journey from the north before taking a hard turn west.

Four lane I-90 west into Seattle is an ideal of 1960’s highway design, parallel ribbons dipping to the river and pulling away, through deciduous trees in the shadow of evergreened ridges, up and over still snow coated Snoqualmie Pass. We descend into greater Seattle.

We’re doing a brief nesting at the Days Inn by SeaTac airport, which we need not describe to you if you have journeyed. Back in the Yukon at dusk, north to the Triple Door in the densest of Seattlessence, a stone’s throw from the famous Pike Street Market and the original Starbucks. Triple Door is a refurbished 1920’s movie theater, tastefully reborn as a deluxe supper club with cool non-stratospheric acts like Sandra Bernhardt and Leon Russell, and newer bands we’ve never heard of (live in our own musical bubble) but who are clearly doing well. Black walls and shiny surfaces, kind of like the ill fated Knitting Factory Hollywood. We’re playing in the front room, the less than ideal site is redeemed by the graciousness of the supercool staff, and the excellent food and whiskey and generous band tab.

The acoustic trio is rocking, the audience, which includes two of Rob’s Minnesota high school classmates and friends and what must be our most dedicated fans–Howard and Doreen, who have driven out from Colorado to attend our show. A few months ago they drove from Colorado to Ventura to see a show, and turned around and drove straight back to Colorado. If occasionally our belief in ourselves and our music flags, as must happen to all who strive, such radically expressed affirmation can get us a long way down the road and through some dark moments. Y’all are crazy, H&D, and we love you for it.

The bartender is a cool guy, pours us farewell whiskeys and gives us a tour of the joint. We return through rain to the Days Inn night.

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It’s the third to final morning of our northward tour, and we’re faced south. We drive, 5, Paul L trying to locate espresso and breakfast on Rob’s iPhone, with a techno clueless charm. Rob resists several waves of urge to snatch the iPhone from Paul’s fumbling fingers, and PL eventually manages to find what look like promising prospects in Tacoma.

Tacoma lives in the shadow of Seattle, and seems very aware of this. Please note, wider world, that Tacoma does indeed have its own brand of hipster culture, with subtle shadings that surely must distinguish it from Seattle, Silverlake, and the bonsai bohemian groves that live lichen like in every global city. But we can’t tell you what those shadings are. We aren’t that invested. We do country rock.

iPhone guides us off the 5 and northward to the inner groove of Tacoma. We pass vintage vinyl, an Irish pub, and a coffee roaster in glass and deco stone austere building emanating all the proper memes. Paul L takes note of this in case our chosen iPhoneYelped diner lets us down in the coffee department. We haven’t had the full on ristretto obsessive Pacific Northwest Coffee Mecca Experience yet, and Paul L in particular is feeling cheated.

We have chosen, or rather the silky Siri who lives trapped in an iPhone has chosen, ShakaBrah, an old diner that’s been innardly eviscerated and hipsterized into Tacoma au courantism. A feedback laden two note guitar solo mp3 pierces the room. Posters of all that’s radical and new in Tacoma, not Seattle, line the wooden wall. The young waitress is quite likely stoned, which we applaud with a twinge of nostalgia. The food is filling and good. The espressos are weak and uninspired.

The day is saved by the above mentioned Bluebeard Coffee Roasters in deco stone and glass. Inside the memes are indeed pumping. Austerity, sorority, egalite, beards and alt magazines, concrete floor, glass. The most minimal espresso based menu we’ve ever seen. No frappucino mocha blast. Like a sushi chef who lives or dies with a cube of raw fish. They’ve challenged themselves, and us. And they deliver. Rich, robust. Pacific Northwest, be proud.

(Dear State of Washington: you’ve done a fabulous job of integrating inherently toxic modern industrial infrastructure into your pristine northerness, and hiding your mini-population explosion amidst the Douglas firs. Can we make one suggestion? Your road sign emblem is a silhouette of George Washington’s head. Our First President has an unfortunately shaped head to begin with, topped by the worst hairdo of any historical figure. When you stretch the head to encephalitic proportions to accommodate highway numbers, you present the driver with an omnipresent disturbing image. How about a Douglas fir instead?)

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Stuck in traffic in the beautiful Northwest? Yes, dear reader, it does happen. Though your friends who’ve moved to Portland will swear they can get across town during rush hour in minutes, L.A.-style traffic gnarls exist among the redwoods and the rains. We get stuck in two of them, one coming out of Seattle and another in the heart of Portland. We’re on our way to Cottage Grove, OR, the cute little town where Animal House was filmed. You can close your eyes and imagine the “Cut The Cake” death float coming down the street, John Belushi swinging from a banner dressed as pirate. It’s warm and humid as we pull into town with the windows down. A crepuscular light adds a welcoming glow. A man who looks like Santa Claus on his off day stands by the door of the old brick walled Axe And Fiddle, gazing into the sunset. This is Hippie Country, folks. In fact, we may be a Hippie County band. We’re feeling very regional these days. Inside the Axe, Seth the Soundman knows what he’s doing and eases us through a feedback-free soundcheck while the kind and familiar staff prepares the band meal. Some friends start arriving and we can tell this is going to be a good night. The Axe and Fiddle folks know how to put on a show. The lighting is sophisticated and pleasant and draws attention to the stage. Not a flat screen TV to be found in this enlightened mountain pub. It’s great to see Bryan and Sue, Howard and Doreen, Mike and friends, Lloyd and Melissa Zimmer, their daughter Randi and don’t forget Celia. And there’s some fans from our last time through as well as a pair of kind brother tapers in Wilco shirts who asked permission to record via email. All the memes are firing. Seth has even put the Handsome Family on the big system. The sets sound great.

We’re really locked in as a band right now, that’s the best part of being on the road and the hardest part to duplicate when you’re at home. This takes practice, folks. The crowd gets louder and dancier as the evening goes on. We gotta go folks. But they won’t let us. How far’s Humboldt? we ask. Half a mile! We finally wind things down with a lullaby version of our eponymous song. As we hang out by the stage door Santa reappears. He’s a retired clown, he says. Name of Bobo. He regales us with tales of Haight-Ashbury, big rock shows, the day Jerry died. Right on, man. But really, we gotta go. It’s 8 hours to Humboldt down narrow windy roads and we have a 3:30 pm downbeat. We need to drive a couple hours tonight. Bobo’s face turns serious. He looks like a different person for a moment. “Let’s enjoy all this, every moment,” says Bobo carefully. “Fukushima is melting down.”

Bryan and Sue’s grand estate just happens to be two hours down the 5, just beyond Grant’s Pass. It’s warming and comfortable. It’s free. And right on the way. We’re gutting it out at 1 a.m., RW at the wheel. The Gods are on our side and we get there safely, cheating death once again. Kind Morpheus descends swift and without comment. It feels good to be in our friends’ house surrounded by their loving vibe, away from the chakra scattering mojo of the roadside motel.

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The last gig of the tour awaits across the border to the south. Our drive from Brian and Sue’s outpost is wooded and winding westward, through fir and then redwoods as fog embraces the two lane highway 199 to the 101 as we reach the coast. We’re back in California, through the always amusing and superfluous border check at the Agricultural Inspection Station. Are they looking for terrorists or just fruits and vegetables? We pass unchallenged. It’s always a little ego deflating to not be wicked enough to be waved over.

The air grows ever moister as we descend towards the California coast, big old trees keeping us in shadow. Suddenly we’re cruising past the beach. A chilly, marshbound, redwood adjacent beach, but the beach nonetheless. We are closer to home. We power south the 101.

We’re on track for an on time arrival at the Humboldt Music And Arts Festival in the Garberville adjacent Benbow Recreation Area, when we are suddenly sidetracked in Arcata:

A beautiful dreadlocked tie dyed zen tattooed maiden in the parking lot outside the Walgreens, where we’re buying batteries for our recently deceased guitar tuners, asks us if we want to check out the Humboldt Marijuana Forest. We exchange intra-band glances, silently decide yes. Dread youth hops on her mountain bike and leads our Yukon on a quick wiry chase out of town, abruptly turning up a narrow lane canopied by big redwoods. We screech right, following, up and winding up, trailing dust through big trees. The dread youth on bicycle disappears around a bend.

Over a last rise we’ll never forget, the redwoods give way abruptly to giant stalks of marijuana plants, their broad branches snapping the sides of the Yukon. We park and get out in a clearing, absolutely dazzled by the sight of green and purple budded sativa and indica species, in great and chaotically dense varieties rising unbroken to the distant ringing ridgetops. Do we hear a haunted choir, or is that the wind vibrating through the stony buds? We’ve never seen buds like this: three or four feet long, a riot of silvered colors, and so sticky that your clothes are instantly caked in resin if you brush against them. Though we’ve yet to smoke anything, we feel a strange mood come over us as we wander through the thickets. We follow a stream upward and then get lost. We stumble into a small grass meadow loomed over by towering indica plants. We’re going to be late for the Humboldt fest, or perhaps this is the festival after all?

Suddenly, the lovely maiden appears, barefoot, carrying a hemp picnic basket. She spreads out a batiked tapestry on the clovered ground and prepares the feast. Big slices of tomato and onion on thick rustic bread, drizzled with olive oil and apple cider vinegar. There’s a bottle of wine and some chocolate chip cookies. The maiden lowers to crosslegged lotus by the basket and summons us to sit. We join her and get right to it. The food is delicious. No one speaks as the sun drifts below tree level, the light dappled and soft. Yes, we’ve certainly missed our festival show. And so be it. We’ve worked hard on this trip. Twelve shows in eleven days over 2800 miles. This is what we need to be doing. In short succession we doze off. First RW, then PL. PM and the maiden pass the time playing cribbage and talking about late 60s honky tonk music before they too fall into slumber under the stars, bathed in the thick pungent now bedewed odor of the magnificent weed. At dawn the maiden is gone. We gather ourselves slowly, then stumble downhill through the head high stalks. Whew, pure luck, we stumble out right where the Yukon is parked. Our clothes are now covered in inch thick dark cannabis resin. We carefully scrape it off and leave it in three bowling ball sized wads at the side of the lane, and drive back to the highway.

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As we get closer to Garberville in the pleasing heat of early afternoon, the gathering of tribes is making roadside appearances exponentially with each mile. Throngs of hypercolorful beaded tatted bearded semi-clothed elevated heads and headesses and children and elder hippie patrimatriarchs wait for shuttles or walk the half mile down the road to the Humboldt Summer Music And Arts Festival, on a 500 yard dustygrass treeshaded stretch along the Eel River. We rumble past in the Yukon. What a scene. If being is doing, these be hippies. These are outdoor people, gathered for the 30th annual local bacchanalia, the gentle madness of which belies its prim name. Two hippie maidens, one from the 60s, the other from a decade just begun, check us in. Back on the lane leading to our stage, the parking crew is stoned. Stoned beyond the ability to execute their basic duties, their authority. They stand slack jawed while we maneuver past. One of them giggles, an open and cockeyed stare affixed to his face. We weave through orange cones, seize parking territory close to our Solar Stage. Those of higher crew castes have it together. The sound crew gets us onstage in a hurry after a rocking set from a post modern world beat band with about 20 people onstage, a solid electric band at their core. The new hippie rock.

We start our set in a storm of monitor mix, which we get toned down after the first song. After a few songs we adjust our sound to the bigger scene unfolded on the grass. As we play Rob spots a bald eagle, a hawk, and a raven, racing in tight formation down the riverbed at festival’s edge. The crowd gathers from distant places and we do a rocking show. Our perspective gets a bit tweaked by being here, stepping back into the realm of the outdoor festival after a few days off. We’re known to some as a hippie band, but here amongst those living the hippie lifestyle, tanned with leathery bare feet and road instincts, we feel conventional. Jericho, Jut the Rainbow Slut, a crew of mimes, acrobats, and weight lifters known as he Real World Peace Clowns. We hawks have all vagabonded in our youths. Now our vagabonding is in short but deeply felt bursts. Our madness has a schedule. But our hearts are with our wandering brethren and sistren.

Albino Skunkfest, French Broad River Fest, Carter Ranch, Strawberry Fest, and the Humboldt fest are rich food for thought. Just as we’ve reined in our experimental nature a bit for New Kind Of Lonely, a retreat to simple song structure stripped down, we’re sharing the stage with young and new bands heading in the opposite direction: long jams, tight and complex instrumental arrangements, with crafted lyrics, melody, and conventional song structure an afterthought if at all. We’re feeling a little anachronistic, but also unique. Twelve years have cast some dies. Dies we will no doubt crack and emerge from with our next song and recording, but that’s for another day. For the moment we are pleased to meet you.

Some of our local boosters who introduced us to the festival people are artisans deep in the local growing and hemp craft scene. We hang out with them for a while, have a good talk with festival organizer Justin, a young man of unusual gravitas and calm, do an interview and talk with DJs from aptly acronymed KMUD and KHUM. We feast on fest food at a bench over the river bank as the sun hits the ridge and cool commences. The pagans of all description are glowing in golden light, infinite cormac mcdust motes diffusing the bounds of shadow and line.

It’s time to go. Farewells to all and more. Up to the highway and down and out. We drive southward into evening and night, Willits and Ukiah. It’s sinking in — end of tour. Last deadline, last getting psyched up, last load-in, last last song, all passed. Is today June 2 or 1? We debate, decide it’s June 2. Just ten days out, but we’ve passed the threshold of linear time, and time flows, filling all possibilities. A long short time. Thoughts and notions fill the black night ahead and unseen highway.

Willits.
Will it?

Haiku Ukiah
Haiku Ukiah haiku
Ukiah Haiku

PL: What’s that called when the Zen master smacks you on the forehead?
PM: Wakeup call.

We explore local radio options. We officially endorse Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me as the worst program ever on the air. Or as Anthony Lacques calls it, Wait Wait Let Me Grab My Revolver And Blow My Brains Out. Puzzle Meister Will Short comes in a close second.

Our idle free associative conversation leads us almost without effort into the making of the Hawks Original Joke #6:

A famous Irish Catholic playwright, known for his scathing anti-religious wit and scalding atheist tracts as much as for his spiritous barroom exploits, is stricken suddenly and lies upon his deathbed. In his last moments he summons a priest. All Dublin is afire with the news. “My son,” says the old priest in a voice quavering with emotion. “Your return to the Lord is made all the more precious by your long absence. Are you prepared to make a good act of contrition in preparation for Extreme Unction?” “Ah, no, father,” says the dying bard. “I just need you to fondle me balls one last time.”

We come up with an ad campaign slogan for snuff, which we offer as an open source idea with the hope of eventual financial remuneration:

“Tired? Depressed? Unemployed? Hit the snuff and Get off your duff!”

Rob is craving a Scottish beer. It’s mysterious what woos the human heart. In the meantime we tug on the Jamesons bottle as the 101 wends us Marinward. We stay the night at chez Waller, rise next day, play a few tunes in the living room, make eggs, make scarce. We’re L.A. bound, and moving fast.

YOUR LONG JOURNEY

June 1, 2012 · 5 comments

Monrovia — Topanga — Northward Again — Mother Teresa — Do Not Resuscitate — Victoria Upon Drum — Strawberry — Hail and Gypsies — Tea and Cookies — Main Stage Manias — Allison Krauss and Union Station — Revived at the Revival — Listening Ship — New Morning — An Afternoon of Shooting — Insulator Resonator

101, Marin County, north to rendezvous with the 5. Always the 5. An all American breakfast at the oustanding New Morning Cafe in Tiburon, followed by a golden triangle of bourbon, snuff, and that herb of ever changing legality; a quick pack, and we’re Yukoning it.

It’s day five of the I See Hawks In L.A. first tour of summer. Summer begins with the release of our lead singer from the rigors and responsibilities of university professorhood. The rest of us Hawks feel a contact lifting of spirits, a ghost of the schoolboy seasonal rhythms. No more teachers, no more books. Summer. And it’s only May.

Summer brings a new chapter of the Hawks saga in the person of Victoria Jacobs, Paul L’s wife. Victoria surfaces in brief moments from the Hawks earliest days: back cover photo of eponymous first CD; background vocals and tambourine on Humboldt; cover of Hallowed Ground and songwriter of “Open Door”; and occasional drums in the live show. And now she’s going to be our drummer on our Ireland/England tour in June. A thumping rock drummer whose bands have co-billed with The Red Hot Chili Peppers and toured with Iggy Pop, Victoria has learned the mysterious train beat that is the anchor of Hawks country rock, getting a crucial lesson from Shawn Nourse and nailing it in three weeks. A rather startling transformation. At rehearsal it grooved from the start.

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Our first gig with the Waller/Marshall/Lacques/Jacobs lineup is at the London Gastropub in the Noho of the San Gabriels, downtown Monrovia. It’s a good trial by fire. Difficult front door load-in through a gauntlet of iPhone people locked on the crucial (if basketball be crucial) Laker wide screen game and conversing at aggressive volume. Our 9 p.m. start time gets bumped by the inevitable slow agony of the Lakers defeat.* We have to set up the P.A., always a grim task, and we line up along one hard wall like prisoners about to be shot. We launch our first song over the roar of the crowd, who respond by upping the volume ante.

But we do rock. Snare and brushes, upright bass, two acoustic guitars. Victoria is a rock of rhythm. We’ve got our sound. Our diehard fans, bless ’em, huddle in front of the band and egg us on. Victory is snatched from the jaws of Lakerdoom.

*The turmoil in the deepest heart of Kobe Bryant will bring down (and raise up) the Lakers until he retires.

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Next day a sleep deprived band motors to Topanga Banjo and Fiddle Contest, in the hot hills that separate the San Fernando Valley from civilization and ocean breezes. It’s very hot. We run our second gauntlet in 12 hours, past parking guides determined to keep us away from our elite musician parking lot. We stand our ground. We’re waved in. The hills are yellowed out from a winter of little rain, dust dusts our shoes, and banjoes and fiddles battle it out on the wooden stage under the stern eye of the Judges in nearby tent, among them the most brilliant of them all, Brantley Kearns, taking copious conscientious notes. We hit the stage at 11:30 a.m., with powerhouse banjo/fiddler Cliff Wagner powering us into bluegrassland, a land we visit sporadically and humbly. The band powers through, gets a good response from the lawn chaired crowd. It’s time for a hot drive home and a nap.

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Three days later begins the tour, this tour of which we now blog, with a Wednesday late May drive up I-5 and 198 and 101 and 1 to Soquel in the sleepy hills of Santa Cruz. Paul L and Victoria leave a day early, hang with Paul’s mom, get the lowdown on the latest machinations of the local corrupt city hall, as Rob and Paul M power up the next day in the faithful Yukon. We meet at the Ugly Mug, an unfortunately named cafe that’s actually very cool, on a corner in laid back Soquel downtown. We have a groovy little semi-acoustic set. Semi-, because Paul L is still struggling/experimenting with his new Fishman piezo pickup in 1981 Takamine dreadnought with light gauge strings into L.R. Baggs pre-amp into Trace Elliot acoustic guitar amp. It just doesn’t sound like an acoustic guitar yet. But should it? We get a big psychedelacoustic sound, with Richie Lawrence adding sweet and sassy, er, muscular, accordion. The crowd is full or family and old friends. PL’s mom Teresa brings along a fine gentleman friend with a card pinned his sweater that reads Do Not Resuscitate — I’m Serious. He’s damn funny and we all admire his courage and spirit. It’s a good start to the trip. Our combo is ready for our next stop, the Big Stage at Strawberry Festival.

We pack up and sneak out of Soquel at 9 p.m., Paul L caravanning in the family CRV behind the Hawks Yukon as Victoria catches some shuteye in Santa Cruz. A darkened sleep battling dash over the Santa Cruz mountains, eastward across the San Andreas, eastwarder across the San Joaquin, through midnight in Manteca, up into the Sierras on black and winding roads under bright stars. The last hour is rough. We’re beat. We lumber into Camp Mather, home of the legendary Strawberry Music Festival, in the deep woods at 2 a.m. We’ve been thinking about this weekend for months. It’s a mark that (maybe, just possibly) you’ve arrived if you’re on that big stage at the Strawberry Festival. For months our fellow musicians and fans have been letting us know: “Strawberry–wow.”

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Our first weary-induced impression is murky. The skeletal 2 a.m. staff is uncertain of what to do with us. An ambulance whines past. There’s been a (singular, as it proves to be) altercation in a tent. Young hardened outdoor mountain people are doing cartwheels by lantern lamp outside their tent, comfy in t-shirts and tats in the chilly mountain air. Late night volunteers on golf carts escort us down narrow lanes among thousands of tents nestled into trees and darkness, winding, searching. We find cabin 119. We unload to the sound of distant banjo and fiddle. We survey the spartan room, pick beds, crash hard.

Five hours later Rob’s alarming smartphone alarm wakes us. Whoa. This feels challenging. We dress, unwashed and unawake. It’s very cold outside, somewhere in the 30s or low 40s. Our kind volunteer escort, Mary from San Francisco, trucks us and gear down winding trails, as we get into a little of the SF vs L.A. wordspar (we vainly try to dispel Mary’s firm vision of L.A. as packed with augmented breasts and faces), to the Amphitheater stage for our first show, a workshop with the theme Geographical Songwriting. Of course we’ve prepared nothing in advance for this general notion that Rob’s cooked up, so there’s the nervous energy of that, but we’re also confident in Rob’s finely honed art of guided conversation. It’ll be good.

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We unload at the stage, where an energetic gypsyesque rock band rocks a super enthused and winterized crowd under cruel and leaden skies. It’s 9 am. These are the Strawberry regulars, the people who live and breathe music, without whom there is no forest to catch the sound of the falling tree. They love the gypsy band. The scene feels like a gathering of old friends, though new this friendship be. Hmm. How do these players move their fingers over mandolins and guitars in the chilled morning air? How do we follow this?

We set up on the wood plank stage, flex frozen fingers, and hit it. We play our geographical songs, the audience whoops it up with us, we catch a little fire. And then, as we launch into Humboldt, a distant fire, the sun, drops in for a moment, and the meadow brightens, and a hail* falls upon us, white spheres brilliant in the light above us, bouncing off our guitars, and the guided madness of this place hits us. We’re playing in a hail shower. Now it’s snowing.

Strawberry Music Festival is a living legend. And it lives as legend, as a legend would live. Play in the snow, and dig it. These things happen up here, and they are the things you’ll remember in your dotage. The traditions, the infinite musical moments disappearing into the ether of forty years in the woods, the credo of cooperation, filter into your day as a Strawberry day passes. We’re entering a state of tree heightened awareness.

We hang at the stage with friends and, yea, some new fans, sign CDs, and get trucked back to cabin 119, where we try to snatch back some missing hours of sleep. Spurned Morpheus deigns to decline our invitation, and we slumber little.

*some locals call this unusually fluffy light hail “snow corn.”

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In the afternoon a thicker, heavier snow falls as we walk through the camp, get checked in at the Main Stage, a wide flat green meadow tucked into forest slopes, a modestly stunning sight. Lush and fertile. We walk to Wildflower Meadow and Eric and Christina Rice’s caravan yard, a full blown T-Party rocking the grassy campsite. The tailer/pop-up tent scene is elaborately decorated in fancy tea-party style. Except the tea pots are filled with quality tequilas. And there are some special molasses cookies, fine baked by a Mendocino grower that are dangerously delicious. Lubrications takes hold quickly. We play a no mic acoustic show as our KVMR friends and friends of friends and their companions piled into the yard, sampling sophisticated tequilas poured from Olde English teapots into teacups. The idea of cold has faded. Was it cold? We’re adjusting to a new, post-warm reality. The tequila helps. But our tribe, our fine friends in their elaborate hats, that’s where the real warmth emanates.

We wander from camp to camp, indulging and conversing as the day remains steadfastly chilly and gray. The campgrounds are densely packed with tents, cars, colorfully appointed compounds layered with the whimsy of 30 years. People have met their wives and husbands here, married here, and come every year with their children, who race madly down mud paths on bicycles, climb into the giant metate on a rock outcropping. There is not an ad or corporate sign to be seen, and your cell phone won’t help you here, my friend. We are in this together, as snow flurries and hail hails as the sun allegedly makes its path to the horizon.

The remaining 2/5 of our band, accordionist Richie and drummer Victoria, with Richie’s wife Katie, arrive in early evening followed by the Waller family. They get their artiste wristbands, we dine behind the big stage in alpenglow as Joan Osborne’s crack ensemble fills the valley. We head back to cabin 119, and shelter from the the cold. There are tempting jams going on in the camps and in a brightly lit public washroom, and everyone sounds great, jembes played with taste, double-stop fiddle champs, and some burning banjo. How do they do it? Top caliber bluegrass jams, these folks should have a spot on a Strawberry stage (but then all the Strawberry is a Stage, and we but players on it), cranking out tune after tune until three in the morning in just above freezing tents. These people are superhumans. It puts our own whimpering about the cold into perspective, and we’ve long since given that up.

The midnight trek in long johns down a dark path to distant communal bathhouse becomes no big deal. We’ve been outdoors all day, and are starting to breathe into it, as the Old Californios say. But enough is enough for Rob and the Two Pauls. We need sleep. Richie joins some sessions, but the rest of us Hawks are too sleep deprived. We crash pioneer family style in the cabin, Waller children and Hawks and Hawks wives on the spartan beds or just outside in a tent. It’s pretty fun, an extended family for the night.

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Saturday dawns, and we breakfast in the big hall, serenaded by local folk and bluegrass bands including the great Doug Blumer and his band Bohemian Highway. We’re instant brothers with these cats. Barbee sings and grooves along center stage with BH and she’s signs up to help us manage our poorly managed merchandise at the big stage. We’re deeply grateful. We get in a rehearsal in the cabin, guitars, bass, accordion, and snare drum, and the groove feels good. We’re ready for our big stage debut. We eat a nervous early dinner in the musicians’ tent behind the main stage. A sea of lawn chairs surrounds the island of stage, light, big speakers.

We’re about to haul our guitars onstage when a shiny big rig pulls up, backs in, unloads, pre-empting our sound check. It’s a not-to-be-named, focus-group-constructed, alt-country band straight outta Nashville, and their serious crew make sure we’re kept far from the stage as they wheel an alarming amount of gear up the ramp to stage. They follow us in the evening’s events and seem to have been placed here as a result of some Nashville corporate blood oath, (or maybe we’re just pissed about our pre-emption?) but they’re running late and have grabbed what would have been a leisurely sound check for the Hawks.

Time passes. Hmm, this isn’t just a load-in. Are they line checking? We lurk in our tent, hear the electric guitarist and the drummer noodling in jazz fusion style. The whole band eventually kicks in. Wow, they’re doing a full on sound check. Are they out to get us? Pre-performance paranoia is as typical as the Sierra snows but this is different. Is this some kind of battle? Are they our musical enemy, the furthest reaching tendrils of the Nashville Death Star with its faux populism and compressed bombast? Stay on target. It’s no good I can’t maneuver! Stay on target. We’re too close! Stay on target!

We get that brief and longed-for sound check, and we’re off, to a big crowd on the majestic meadow and all is quickly great. The sound crew here as everywhere in the fest are top notch and icy cool, dial in our sound. They knew just how much time they needed. We rock the place acoustic style, Victoria laying down her ultra solid beat on snare and ride cymbal, Richie digging in on solos, our vocals sounding big league in the big league signal path. We get an encore, and float off the stage as the sun goes down. Things couldn’t have gone better.

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It’s dark. It’s cold. The crowd is massed in darkness around the main stage. No corporate lighting here, just the glow of the hardiest elements of hippie nation. Allison Krauss and Union Station hit the stage in casual style. This band is good beyond belief. Each player is a virtuoso, and the ensemble is selfless, complex but uncluttered textures, rich. Are there really only five people on stage? They sound like an orchestra. Allison Krauss is subtle but forceful on fiddle, sings more angelically than ever, is funny and dark in stage banter, and generously shares spotlight time with all the players, who could and do front their own bands. Dan Timinski is a solid and driving old school guitar flatpicker in addition to being the voice of George Clooney, and they bust out Man Of Constant Sorrow with a glee that belies the thousands of times they’ve had to play the song. Timinski’s harmonies are spine chilling. This is the best harmony singing in the land, a land that includes Welch/Rawlings and the Chapin Sisters. Haunting, lovely, haunting. Jerry Douglas takes a solo turn and does things on dobro that are not decipherable. How does he do it? What is he doing?

The band come out for an encore with just a single condensor mic, like the old bluegrass radio days, and sound at least as good as the fussy miking and pickups version, do a long old timey set that includes Your Long Journey, a monumental song from the days of our direct link to death and the divine. The Union Station bus is down the road and out the gate before the crowd can catch their breath. Godspeed. We filter out with the crowd, down darkened wooded and campered lanes to good old Cabin 119. Even more kin are packed into the cabin tonight, as it’s just as cold and maybe colder than last night.

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It’s Sunday morning. Alleluia. Blue, blue skies greet us as we emerge cautiously from our warren. And it’s warm. We’re woodswise and acclimated to our mud caked jeans and dusty boots. We do a bit of cleaning, sweep the dust from the cabin, some packing, then walk down a lane to the lake for our Gospel morning show. The lake in soft green meadow is perfectly still and glassy, the trees in reflection as real as their counterparts above. We dig into the danish and coffee on tables behind the temporary stage, are handed Bloody Marys by a buddy who’s been writing us in on the Band Suggestion form for the last six years. We accept the perfectly spicy drinks without hesitation, tune up, play a few warmup songs in the meadow. First up before the big audience, an audience that rose at dawn to pick out choice lawn chair acreage, is Tim Snider, part of the new generation of virtual folkies, laying down loops through the laptop computer in his onstage anvil encased sound rig, chanting good vibe lyrics and launching into wicked electric fiddle solos. Tim invites Paul L on dobro and Richie on accordion for an extended jam on Bill Wither’s “Lean On Me,” and the crowd digs it.

The Hawks hit the stage acoustic miked, another great sound dialed up instantly, and we play our version of Sunday revival music. Zola, Rob’s daughter, has requested “River Run,” Evangeline has just requested “I See Hawks In L.A.,” and we close out with “If You Lead I Will Follow” and “Spirit of Death.” This is the Gospel According to Hawks, and we feel the vibrations sink into the earth and scatter to the skies. Have we made ecclesiastical peace between our doubting minds and our longing hearts? During “I See Hawks In L.A.” we do our customary acapella “do you watch clouds disappear?” and the crowd hollers in the pregnant pause. Serendipity under the first blue skies in four days.

Eric Rice, master electrician zen master and towering spirit of Strawberry, gives us a lift in golf cart to the main stage, where we grab our CDs; we hightail it back to cabin 119, pack, bid complex farewells to wives, children, and extended kin. We hit the trail and the road, Paul L and Victoria caravanning behind the Yukon Manteca/99 bound, Katies and Richie and kids staying behind. Down into meadows, down into dryness and chapparal, into the baked yellow grass flats and a dash westward. At a $4.19 Arco, Paul L climbs into the Yukon, Victoria heads south. The trio Hawks are Sebastopol bound, north, west, north, west, zigzagging Sacramento river delta roads, feeling mellow and more than a little ragged.

May we offer one more big thanks and bigger admiration for the Strawberry staff and their rich tradition and effortless appearing doing of things right and righteous? And add thanks to our KVMR extended family for clearing the way and guiding us to the gold and hills. And thanks to the overworked guardian angel who fixes our foibles and leads us to way more good and foolish times than we deserve.

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Sunday afternoon is mellow as we motor west, north, west, back roads zig zag from the 99, spot the foothills that rise quite abruptly at the western edge of the central valley and usher in a mysterious and genteel culture that we don’t quite understand but want to know better. Who are these farmers of these sprawling gentle fields with grazing cattle and wise oaks? Napa Sonoma is mysteriously unspoiled, with few incidents of eye averting disposable architecture. The hills draw us deeper, the vineyards glow in late afternoon light.

We follow complex directions down narrow lanes through wood frame house and storage shed estates to Studio E, just past the barn abutting the road, amidst chickens and cacti. Laurie Schaefer greets us, bassist/producer/E kingpin Jeff shows us around, top notch sound man Peter dials up a crystalline acoustic mics only sound, we are wined and gourmet dined in the cozy kitchen, some sisters and L.A. origin friends and cousins show up, and we have one of those intimate shows that keep us going in the uncertain and perilous world of the Music Download Era. The sound in the room is pure pleasure and we sail upon its calm seas, thank you, Peter, and the audience is with us on every word and phrase.

We bid another complex round of farewells, dash backtrack southward for the free and comfy lodgings of the senior Waller house in Marin. We crash hard once again. Now we’re truly beat.

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And now we are returned, or planted, Pulp Fiction style, at the origin of this diary. Morning in Marin, decent night’s sleep, New Morning Cafe breakfast, right? A few more details: the tobacco shop off the 101 is closed for Memorial Day, so no sampling of new snuff varieties. We fly up the 5 into Oregon. Near Grant’s Pass we divert into a mysterious transverse range unknown valley, through the town of Jacksonville, OR, home of a brief separatist rebellion against the federal government that was ended only by WWII and the need for violence against a more distant foe. A long and mellow oak and madrone fields drive down a two lane road of no traffic brings us to the five acre compound of Brian and Sue, long time friends of Paul M. These are intense and complex people. Sue has an English degree from UCSB but plunged recklessly 70s style into the world of homesteading, forestry, and deep knowledge of woodland flora and fauna. Brian is a self described radical hippie, singer/songwriter, wanderer, mechanical engineer, surfer, and avid gunsmith.

Brian and Sue are six solar panels and an artesian well away from being off the grid. Their house is set against wooded BLM land, insuring them from any bulldozer invasion for the forseeable future. They make us an elegant dinner and we jam into the night with Brian, trading off on dobros and guitars and old time tunes.

Next morning–two nights in a row of full sleep, and we’re feeling sane again–Sue conjures divine eggs and pancakes. Brian’s got a gleam in his eye. Are we ready for some shooting?

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The Hawks are ready for some shooting. All three have fired guns from a young age, Paul M is a card carrying NRA member, and Rob and Paul L share a lust for havoc and blowing things up that’s a classic dichotomy/accessory to their hippie ethos. Perhaps there’s no conflict here. We don’t mean no harm.

Brian leads us up the path into the woods, where targets of cardboard, metal disc hanging from tree, an iron tombstone in the dirt, and an array of logs balanced upright on tree stumps await at distances from 30 to 60 yards uphill in the narrow clearing. Two of us don noise muffling ear covers. Brian and Rob stuff .45 bullets into their ears. What shall we sample first? Like a sommelier of shootistry, Brian crafts a carefully constructed menu. We start with a 1955 Smith & Wesson big black .45 revolver, brutal in its unadornedness. This thing is heavy. Paul M goes first, hitting the black target with all six shots. We’re quite impressed. Rob hits three out of six, Paul L hits two out of six. We move on to the 1911 Colt .45 semi-automatic pistol with a pull back clip. This one’s even heavier, with a noticeable kick. You want to aim and shoot quick, or your arm will get tired and your hand will quiver.

This is all feeling very good. The Hawks all have good gun etiquette (finger off trigger, point barrel up and away when not shooting, never cross the barrel across a person in front of you, announce what you’re doing, ask questions) and we settle into a relaxed bullet-bonded bonhomie. Next comes a .9 millimeter British folding stock semi-automatic submachine gun. The Hawks are more at home here in rifled barrel territory, and take out targets with pretty damn good accuracy. Most satisfying are the logs balanced on tree stumps. Boom! Those suckers spin, stagger, and go flying. The orgy climaxes with a pristine but cranky 1920’s Thompson machine gun complete with circular drum magazine, yes, dear reader, the fabled Tommy gun. The Hawks and Brian consistently nail their targets. Rob goes on a particularly impressive rampage, rapidfire taking out stumps in quick succession, barrel smoke flying, metal targets clanging. When the dust settles, not an inanimate object remains standing.

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We depart the homestead satisfied, thank you Sue and Brian, wind our way to and up the 99 to the uneventful 5, hit Portland at the end of a Tuesday afternoon. We check into the clean and functional Red Lion Inn in the flight path of deafening incoming jets, drive hooker festooned Avenue 82, cross tracks that slingshot us into immaculate vintage homes with comforting old trees, the Portland of our dreams and aspirations.

The LaurelThirst pub is as comfortable as its surroundings venerable scarred brick within and without, damn good pub food (oh how you wish you could generate such gravitas, Umami Burger, you overhyped fraud), young and old elbow to elbow with a refreshing lack of age consciousness. A local tells us that Portland attracts the wistful introvert, but these folks are robust, notes of log, barge, and Masonic hall. An exhaustive beer selection. We play to a small but friendly Tuesday night crowd and plot ways to crack this fine nut called Portland once and for all. We’re still very much outsiders here.

Luckily, whiskey is your friend. In good times and bad.

I don’t need

Much whiskey

Just enough to put me to sleep

In the night

That’s not all right

When my thoughts run dark

And deep

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Where are we, dear reader? From whence now originates this narrative? We’re heading east from Portland on I-84 for an informal house concert in Richland, OR. We’ve had a fine breakfast at the Detour in a pocket of hippest Portlandia. But we’re eastward of all that’s green and urbane. The terrain becomes dry sage, lava flows mutter on distant ridge, the road follows the barge laden Columbia River past two huge gray eminences of hydroelectric dams, wind buffets the Yukon, the land is weary and engineered and long overworked. Rob reads the final paragraphs of Anna Karenina on his unusually smart phone as the miles unfold. What has he learned? Feeling trumps the unanimity of intellect. Morality comes from God. Love and vanity are so often tragically intertwined. Sometimes suicide is the honorable and moral choice. Rob reads us an iPhone article about Obama’s massive pot intake in his Hawaii days. This is the President now waging war on medical marijuana clinics with a vengeance, after promising in the ’08 campaign to leave them alone. Is our president a sociopath, or merely a craven phony trying to eliminate Ambien and Prozac’s organic herbal competitor? And who are the mysterious Camry drivers with fresh Obama 2012 stickers on their rears? Are only the Tea Partiers and the far left awake these days?

Such are our thoughts on lean and mean terroir. And the Yukon gently lets us know that its tank will soon be empty. There’s been a quite long stretch of no amenities or roadside attractions. A key part of the Hawks roadmodus is to flirt with running out of gas, and this time it just might happen. Ah, but no. Our guardian angel won’t give us the satisfaction. At lonely Boardman, OR (lonely as Kip Boardman? do we exaggerate?), a Shell gas station stands sentinel. And because this is Oregon, an espresso hut sits buffeted by the sage wind. A gentle rez maiden with brightly silvered nails rings us up amongst the fishing magazines and on the fringe vending machine temptations.

The Hawks have never been to eastern Washington. Richland is at the confluence of three rivers: Columbia, Yakima, Snake. Yet for all that water coming together the hills are treeless and parched. The climate is reminiscent of a cooler Palm Springs. The main industry of the area has been nuclear power, from plutonium for Fat Man to electric plants. Hanford Reactor B of Manhattan Project fame is nearby. Today the big jobs are in remediation, cleaning up the 60 year old mess. We arrive in town to meet up with PM’s friend and Strawberry Alarm Clock archivist Jeff Ziemer and to play a concert at his home. Jeff is surprisingly young (34) for being such an expert on late 60s psychedelic rock. We get checked in at the hotel and get a call from Jeff. It’s urgent that we come to his parents house to begin eating and drinking. Setting up the PA can wait. This is going to be a happening scene, man.

Sure enough, bottles of local Deschutes Brewery IPA and a golden moscato appear before we’ve shaken off the dust, and the barbeque is smoking. We meet Jeff’s vibrant parents, Paul and Cheryl, and their warmth is like a comforting blanket that says Hawks are welcome here. A waddling 80 lb. basset hound named Armani with sad, bloodshot eyes adds a touch of comedy and completes the picture of backyard bliss. Jeff’s dad Paul has an amazing power line insulator collection that we delight in. The Hawks themselves have collected insulators in the high desert and RW recently fashioned one into a lamp. There are several solid layers of common ground here. These are the kinds of surprises that make life on the road livable.

Weeks ago, Jeff had the ambitious notion to book us in Richland on our night off between Portland and Seattle. Turns out, booking a band in Richland, WA on Wednesday night is not as easy as one might think. After trying the local honky-tonks, community centers, ladies’ auxiliaries, and fraternal lodges, and getting lots of thanks but no thanks, he decided to take a bold step. He’d just throw a party for some friends in his backyard and have us play there. So crazy that it just might work!

So, after our feast, we head over to Jeff’s house, where we wrestle the rented PA into a kind of submission, and play two rocking acoustic sets as the evening glow turns into a darkness without chill. Between the sets, PM offers an acoustic version of “Incense And Peppermints” to bring the Strawberry Alarm Clock connection full circle. It goes OK, but it really comes together when PL and RW join in on the ending “sha-la-la”s. Jeff beams with satisfaction, and the gathered crowd revels in the moment. Just a band making friends. Richland has provided.