At the beginning of March, just as the first signs of the COVID-19 pandemic were starting to appear in the Northeast, Rick and I did a short run of shows in Connecticut, Western Massachusetts, and the Hudson Valley. We ended the tour at Tubby’s in Kingston, NY, which turned out not only to be the last show of the tour, but our last show for the foreseeable future. Amherst College had completely shut down its campus within days of our concert there, and New York City’s infection rate started exploding shortly after we returned home. There’s a bittersweetness to these recordings in this context. People have lost their lives, their livelihoods–which is certainly true of many musicians and “gig workers” we know–and we’re often cut off from the ones we love. No one really knows how long it’ll be before live shows will be able to happen again. And while I’m heartened by all the ways that people are finding to stay connected and keep music alive online, listening to this recording really brings home all of the reasons that playing music with people that I love, in a room full of people who are vibing off that energy and projecting it back at us, is so important to me.
It was one of those gigs that had just the right balance of energy, atmosphere and that little bit of chaos required to allow everything to fall into place. It was our first time at Tubby’s, an unassuming little bar we’d been hearing nothing but good things about, one of those places where you can tell the owners are probably nice people because everyone that works there is a nice person too. It’s a warm, worn in spot that reminded me a lot of Troost, the tiny Greenpoint cafe where the band cut its teeth in its early days, only wider. With Kingston being so close to the city, and some of our friends and frequent collaborators now living in nearby Poughkeepsie, Rick and I had put out the call to see how many members of our “little big band” we could get to come join us for the show. A few couldn’t make it because of schedules or impractical distances (we missed you Barry, Talice and Andrew!), but we were able to assemble the septet with Sue, Jim, Karen, Cheryl, Steve, Rick and I that you hear here. Two percussionists, two guitarists, electric bass, saxophone and viola. We hadn’t rehearsed, but everybody knew the tunes and I like to think our lack of preparation lent a spontaneous, if occasionally ragged, charm to the proceedings. The gift of getting on the bandstand with lovely players like these.
With the majority of the tunes clocking in well past the 10 or even 20 minute mark, we were there to stretch out. The audience had a beautiful energy and as a friend of the band likes to say, the music “played itself”. Tapping out bell patterns during the verso section of WZN#3, while Karen and Cheryl took blistering viola and sax solos, with Sue’s relentless bass pulse and Steve’s modal flourishes driving hard over the dense thicket of polyrhythms Rick and Jim were creating beneath, are among my many fond memories of the night. It’s hard not knowing when this might possibly happen again, but it’s nice to have recordings like this tide us over until then.
So thank you to Cory and everyone at Tubby’s, Zoots for doing sound, Jen Powers and Matthew Rolin for playing a beautiful, meditative set between our’s, David Grimaldi for loaning Sue the bass, Dave Salzberg for giving Cheryl a ride to Catskill after the show, Jake Lyons for recording the show, and of course the band and extended 75 Dollar Bill family. Hope we can all do it again before too long.