Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Chicago and the Train Ride East

So I am back from the East Coast, and survived my first Public Transportation Mini-Tour! It was a hell of a time, and while there are many more posts and pictures coming, I'll start this one off in Chicago.

I had taken the Van Galder bus from Madison and arrived at Union Station in downtown Chicago around 7:30 in the evening on Monday, December 1st. I hailed a cab and took it out to the East Village, where my Flame Shark friends live. Mike, Justin, and Rusty all live together, along with Rusty's girlfriend Erin. Luckily, I arrived at their home during a rehearsal and was able to hear some brand new Flame Shark tunes in the making! We got to jamming a little bit, and worked on a few of my new tunes as well, before heading out to the bar for a few drinks. The picture below shows a well-dressed Mike "Goldenwings" Meske, prepared for the slushy streets and some whiskey cokes.

I woke up on Tuesday with a pretty much free day in Chicago ahead of me, as my train didn't leave until 7pm that night. Justin Jahnke, who is Flame Shark's lead singer, has collaborated with me frequently, most recently joining me as a duo for a music conference in Omaha back in September. Rusty and Mike were working, so the two of us worked on some songs, and hopefully I can coerce Justin onto my next album as well (he plays guitar and sings on a couple of the songs on Our Love Was Made For Canada).

After deciding to take a walk around the neighborhood, Erin recommended that I check out Alcala's, a western store just a few blocks away. If you ever find yourself in Chicago with a need for western wear, you have got to head over to Alcala's. You will find yourself among rows and rows of cowboy boots, leather belts, wide-rimmed hats, and western shirts (with both cool and tacky options). The only time I've seen a bigger collection of western wear was at a store in Amarillo, TX, where my brother bought a $200 pair of boots. Now I thought that my brother had spent too much on a pair of cowboy boots (at least more than I was willing to spend), but I was amazed at how much you could spend at Alcala's. There were many pairs that cost more than $1000! Who in their right mind spends that much on cowboy boots? There were some especially ugly boots made from alligator skin.

After a trip to an excellent Polish restaurant (one of my new favorite ethnic foods) with Justin, Erin, and Rusty. My belly full with pierogies and kielbasa, I said my goodbyes to my gracious friends and hosts, and hopped on the subway, headed back to Union Station.

(Pictured below: the wonderful "Shit Fountain" found in Flame Shark's neighborhood, I was getting REALLY hungry on the way to the Polish restaurant)

My train left Chicago just a bit after 7pm, and I was on my way east. This train (the Capital Limited) would take me as far as Pittsburgh, where I had a 2-hour layover before catching the Pennsylvanian to Philadelphia. Unfortunately, I knew that I was set to arrive in Pittsburgh at 5:30 in the am, so I'd have to be wide awake at that point, and I knew it wasn't going to be a great night for sleeping. If you've ridden the train before, or more specifically, the coach class on Amtrak, you'll know how hard it is to get a good night's sleep. Its just like airplane seating, the admittedly a bit more comfortable than that with wider seats and more legroom, but you are most likely sitting right next to someone you don't know, just like on an airplane. Lets just say the guy next to me liked his elbow room, but since I knew he was getting off at Toledo (around midnight) I figured that I would just wait for him to leave so I could take both seats before attempting to sleep.

I decided to head to the sightseeing lounge to drink a beer or two and enjoy the wonderful nighttime sights of Indiana and Ohio. As I drank my delicious Miller Lite I could not help but overhear the political discussion that was raging a few tables away from me. Now I was not trying to eavesdrop, but these folks were being incredibly loud, and the things they were saying were quite disturbing. Here is an excerpt from what I remember of the conversation:

"anonymous man from Arkansas: I think that we should've just nuked Iraq
and flattened it to the ground, then we would be done with them and wouldn't
have any more problems

a little later on...

anonymous man from Arkansas: I'm not a racist or
anything, but I never thought that we would see a black man elected president in this country. I think that he'll probably be assassinated.

anonymous crazy woman: Well if he is assassinated and then rises again, we'll know he really is the anti-christ!"

Amazingly, in the entire 5 or 6 person group engaged in the "political" discussion, not a single word of protest was said after that sort of bat-shit crazy talk! Even from the token "democrat", who did a horrible job of defending his positions. I mean seriously, that is absolutely crazy talk, even for the far right. If somebody went on Sean Hannity's show and said stuff that crazy, he would dismiss them and call them crazy, thats how crazy it is. Nuking Iraq? Obama as the anti-christ? Wow, at that moment I realized I was riding that train with some of the least intelligent people in the world. It saddened me, and I considered rebutting, but realized that my efforts would be entirely lost on this brain-dead crowd.

A little later on I heard another man talking loudly about protesting a church in Oregon that was allowing gay marriages. The man talked nonstop about the Bible, sinning, gay people perverting marriage, and other lovely topics. He talked so loudly, and was so offensive, that I had to bite my tongue not to get into it with him as well. I realized again that I would get nowhere, would probably get into a longer talk/yell than I would like to, and would miss my chance to go back to my seat and get some rest. As we hit Toledo and I returned to my luxurious two seats, I pondered the interactions in the sightseeing lounge, and realized that even in the post-Obama-election-winning-world, America can still be a very disturbing place.

We arrived in Pittsburgh, and after waiting a couple of hours, got back on another train to Philadelphia. A smaller and more commuter-style train, it took about 7-8 hours to cross the state of Pennsylvania and arrive in Philly. The picture below was taken somewhere in central Pennsylvania from the train.

My good buddy Kyle Swartzwelder was waiting to pick me up at 30th St. Station, and we headed north to East Stroudsburg, PA to play our first gig at the state college there. It was the best paying gig of the tour (college shows always are), and made the whole trip financially possible, but it was an awful show. It was finals week at ESU, and there was absolutely nobody there to listen to us. We packed up our guitars and headed back south to Wilmington, DE, where Kyle lives.

That covers the first three days of the tour (Mon., December 1 - Wed., December 3) and I'll fill you in on the rest in a couple or so more entries. Next time: John heads to New York City, hot damn!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

West Virginia in October

These pictures were all taken during a stop in Thomas, WV on the Fall Tour. I had plenty of free time, and there was much hiking to be done. The waterfalls were a 3-mile hike down a dirt road from Thomas, and the valley pictures were at a nearby state park. My new West Virginia friend Laura was kind enough to take me out to the state park to snap some photos, and she is pictured in the last photo. I can't say enough about this beautiful state, and it even inspired me to write two new songs in one night while I was there. Ahhhhh, West Virginia!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Songwhiner's Diner

I wanted to take a moment to let you all know about a new blog my friend and musical cohort Jeremiah Nelson hast started up, the Songwhiner's Diner. Every Monday he will be previewing a brand new song and talking about the writing process. It just so happens that he started off the blog with a guest post done by yours truly (which can originally be found just south of this very post) about a brand new song of mine written just a week ago entitled "Disclaimer". The advantage of reading about it over on Jeremiah's blog is that on Monday night we got together and recorded a solo acoustic version of the song, which is posted on his blog. You can't get any fresher than that! And keep up with his blog, becase fresh music will be appearing on it weekly, usually by Mr. Nelson himself.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 21, 2008

An Adventure in Public Transportation

Let me preface this post by filling you all in on my history of public transportation use. I have basically lived in three different locations in my twenty-four years: my parents' house in Dane, WI (in the country, just north of Madison), Oshkosh, WI (while I was going to school), and "inner city" Madison, WI. Now for those of you who aren't from Wisconsin and have no idea what these locations might be like as far as public transportation goes:

Dane - well, its out in the country among the cows and the corn, so take a guess at how many busses run out there?

Oshkosh - yea, there is a bus system, but the town was really small enough (70,000 people) to walk and bike around quite easily, and my life there was pretty centered around the University anyways

Madison - bigger city (around 210,000 people), but a pretty inadequate bus system (in my humble opinion), and again, easier to bike around. example? I work part time at a music store on the south side of Madison, and to take a bus home to the near east side after ending a shift at 8pm, would've meant not getting home until 9:30pm because of bus transfers and waiting, and thats ONLY if I were magically able to get out of work at 8pm sharp and catch the 8pm bus in front of the store. Since that would never work out, I'd have to wait for the 9pm bus and wouldn't get home until 10:30pm. 10:30 PM AFTER GETTING OUT OF WORK AT 8PM! Isn't that crazy?

But I digress, that was all just set-up to tell you about the Great Public Transportation Adventure I will embark on in a couple of weeks. I felt the need to explain all of that because the next part probably wont seem like much of anything to you well-versed, big city folks, but its not something I'm used to. I have, however, used the subway before in cities like New York, Montreal, and especially when I was in Rome for three weeks, so I'm not completely foreign to it.

At the beginning of December I'll be playing four nights of shows on the east coast, and I wanted to share my travel itinerary with you:

Monday, Dec. 1st - taking a Van Galder bus from Madison to downtown Chicago. The train taking me east doesn't leave until the next, but I'm coming down a day early to visit my Flame Shark buddies who recently moved there. After arriving by bus I'll be taking the El to get to their house.

Tuesday, Dec. 2nd - I'll be taking the El back to downtown Chicago and to the train station, where I will board a train to Pittsburgh. I will ride said train for a loooooong time, and sometime very early in the am will switch trains to one headed to Philadelphia

Wednesday, Dec. 3rd - I will arrive in Philadelphia in the afternoon, and (here's where I depart from public transit) my songwriter buddy Kyle Swartzwelder (from Wilmington, DE) will pick me up at the train station. We'll drive up to East Stroudsburg, PA where we're both playing at East Stroudsburg University that night.

Thursday, Dec. 4th - I'm headed to New York this night, and Kyle has to head to his own show elsewhere, so he'll drive me back to the Philadelphia train station where I'll catch a train from Philly to New York, arriving in the afternoon. I'll have some time to walk around Manhattan, and then will hop on the subway to take me to Avenue A, where I'm playing at the Sidewalk Cafe around 8pm. Then I have to hop two more subway lines to take me to Brooklyn, as I'm also playing a later gig at Goodbye Blue Monday. Also, I'll be meeting up with former Madisonion and member of the Kisser's Kari Bethke. Kari played on my second cd, and I've connived her into playing some sweet violin tunes with me at the Sidewalk.

Friday, Dec. 5th - I'll be taking the subway from wherever I ended up the night before back to Penn Station, and then taking a train from New York back to Philadelphia. Kyle will again pick me up at the station and we'll drive to Mount Holly, NJ, where we are playing at the Bridgetown Pub.

Saturday, Dec. 6th - no public transportation on this day, we'll drive to Newtown Square, PA (a suburb of Philly) and play at the Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse. This is the last gig of the mini-tour.

Sunday, Dec. 7th - Kyle will take me back to Philadelphia one last time so that I can catch a train back to Chicago (transferring in Pittsburgh, of course)

Monday, Dec. 8th - I'll arrive in the morning in Chicago, and catch a Van Galder bus back to Madison


So maybe you're reading this and saying to yourself, "what's the big deal?" Well, imagine that you've lived your whole life in a land of beer and cheese, completely devoid of subways and El's, then it might seem a little more overwhelming. I'm looking forward to it though, it will be great practice, as I will be moving to a bigger city in August, most likely Chicago, though I have been considering Philadelphia as well.

Yep, Madison, I will be sad to see you go, but we've got some months yet to continue our affair, and I'll probably be back some day. As long as the railways don't eat me alive in December, its on to the big city and NEW, everyday adventures in public transportation for me!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Songwriting with John - "Disclaimer"

So I wrote a new song today, and I thought that I would try and take you through the process with me.

Just to set the scene, I was called early this morning to substitute teach (I do this occasionally for extra dough) at Waunakee High School, where I went to school as a teen. I was to teach orchestra that day, but the teacher just wanted me to put in videos and hold study hall, so it was a really easy day. I had a whole hour with no classes, so I sat in the absent teacher's office with my guitar and began to write a song.

I started with the simple chord progression of G - Am - C - G and played it over and over again until some words began to come out. Lately it is the music that has been coming to me first, and then I decide on a topic and begin to wrap my words around the chords. The song was to be, I decided, a song about jealous, and this is the first overprotective verse that I put down:

"You better tell me where you've gone
and when you will be back.
There's better men out there than me,
and I can't help those facts."

Feeling off to a good start, I laid down a second verse that seemed to have little to do lyrically with the first verse, but I really liked the sound of it:

"Some talk to God, some talk to Jesus,
well I talk to myself.
Sometimes the best laid plans are broken
by everybody else."

Hmm, what does that have to do with the first verse? I'm not entirely sure, but to be honest thats what happens sometimes, you just put something down because you love the way the words work together or how it sounds, and you say f%#k it, it doesn't need to make sense to anyone but me!

Now I had come to my first chorus, and I realized that I was going to take the song in a different direction, away from the jealousy theme, something that might fall better in line with that second verse. A rewrite of the first verse was going to be necessary, but that could wait for now. Here is the chorus I came up with:

"You could say hello,
but you don't need to,
that's the type of thing you can't predict.
I could clean up,
but I don't want to,
domestication never seemed to fit."

(Alternately, I'm also quite fond of "domestication always seemed a bitch" for that last line.)

AHA! I have my theme! The roving, uncompromising, relationship-killing life of a folksinger. The song is called "Disclaimer", and you can think of it as a warning, an honest telling of what those unfortunate women are in for that fall in love with traveling musicians. SEE the glamorous lifestyle YOU COULD BE LEADING TOMORROW, oh lucky, single ladies:

"I could play guitar for hours,
and you could hang alone.
I could go out with my friends
and you could stay at home."

So I went back and changed the first verse to:

"Tell me how far gone are we,
cuz I keep losing track.
There's better men out there than me,
and I can't help those facts."

Make more sense?

There is another verse and chorus as well, but I'll save those to play for you when you (hopefully) come out to a show. I want to leave you with the last line of the song though *SPOILER ALERT*, as I think its my favorite of the song:

"These songs have got me like they're cigarettes."

I hope you've enjoyed this first edition of Songwriting with John!

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Welcome to Pittsburgh, home of Andrew Carnegie and Andy Warhol, the Steel Industry and the setting of Showtime's "Queer As Folk". I had never been to Pittsburgh before, but a Tuesday night open mic showcase brought me to the Steel City on a beautiful fall day. I arrived in town early in the afternoon, so I put on my walking shoes and hiked all over downtown. Pittsburgh is a very walkable city, as the hills around it confine the downtown to a very small area.

Walking across one of the city's many suspension bridges to get to the North Shore. The North Shore features an Andy Warhol museum, Heinz Park (where the Steelers play), and PNC Park (where the Pirates play).

A view of downtown Pittsburgh from the North Shore. The river you see is the Allegheny, and on the other side of downtown is the Monongahela. The two rivers meet at a point (giving the city a triangular shape) and form the Ohio River.
LinkPittsburgh has its own "Bridge of Sighs", or at least thats what it reminded me of. Like Venice's famous bridge connected the Doge's Palace to the prison over a canal, Pittsburgh's bridge connects the courthouse to the jail (over a street). Hopefully this bridge isn't as depressing , though, because the one in Venice is called the "Bridge of Sighs" as it was most likely the last time you would see the light of day before living out the rest of your life in a dark, dingy prison cell. I wonder if Pittsburgh has their own Casanova as well?

My favorite thing about Pittsburgh? The neighborhoods, especially here in Little Italy, where I played at a Polish pub, the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern. A Polish restaurant in Little Italy you might ask? I didn't ask any questions, I just devoured their amazing pierogies, potato pancakes, and kielbasa. It was great preparation for my upcoming trip to Poland, and the owners actually sent with me a little Polish flag like you see above, and a sticker for "Pittsburgh's ONLY Polish Party House", which I am supposed to put in the bathroom of a restaurant when I arrive in Warsaw. If you find yourself in Pittsburgh, I HIGHLY recommend the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern for all of your dietary needs!

Monday, November 10, 2008

More Pictures from the October Tour

John Craigie: friend and fellow folksinger (from San Francisco). This picture was taken at the show we played together at Uncommon Ground in Chicago. We had also played a show two nights before in Columbia, MO. John is a fantastic storyteller, and I highly recommend that you check him out here!

Some good friends of mine play in a great band named Flame Shark, and they recently moved from Madison to Chicago. After coming out to the gig, they took me out on the town and we drank copious amounts of beer in Wrigleyville. The next morning I went up to their rooftop to check out the amazing skyline view!

Just outside of Toledo, Ohio I decided to go for a walk at a state park and stumbled upon a resort hotel on Lake Erie where Obama was prepping for the final debate. It didn't take long for a decent sized crowd to gather, hoping to shake hands with our the man himself. Unfortunately, with plenty of secret service in tow, his caravan of cars pulled up alongside the hotel and Obama was inside before anyone even saw him. A nice bit of excitement for the day, though!

A real drive-thru liquor store in Toledo, hot damn!

Johnny Cash's tour bus parked outside the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Note to touring musicians: you get into the HOF for free if you give them a copy of your cd. For the rest of you, its $16... but its totally worth it, what a great museum!

Monday, November 3, 2008

First Pictures from the Road

A beautiful fall day and an empty beach in Hudson, WI

Hudson is right across the St. Croix River from Minnesota, so I stopped on my way from Eau Claire to Minneapolis.

An interesting walkway in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, NE. A wonderful surprise, and a beautiful museum.

The museum is a treat to the eyes inside and out, and I'm just talking about the building. Oh yea, and the art inside is fantastic as well! I highly recommend a stop in Omaha the next time you are speeding through Nebraska on your way further west.

Friday, October 24, 2008

HUGE in Canada

regarding "Our Love Was Made For Canada"...
"... a fantastic mellow trip into the depths of his talent."

Check out the write-up on slowcoustic.com, a great blog from the frozen Canadian North: Calgary, Albrrrrrrrrta. There is an interview, as well as some free tracks spanning all three albums for you to peruse, enjoy!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Introduction: Touring, Traveling, and Conor Oberst

Welcome to the first edition of my blog, and let me introduce myself for those of you who have no idea who I am or why you should care about my posts.

My name is John Statz, and I am a folksinger/songwriter from the great state of Wisconsin, specifically the city of Madison. I travel around the country in my 2005 Dodge Caravan and play original songs for nice folks that are willing to listen. Along the way, I visit a lot of states and towns that I haven't been to before, and I learn a lot about the U.S. of A. To date, I have played in 22 of the 50 states on tours, and am trying to grow that number with every trip. Any of you who have read my postings over at my myspace page (http://www.myspace.com/johnstatz) or on Madison's daily collaborative blog, Dane101.com, will know that I have frequently written tour journals, either on the road or after returning. I also like to post pictures from the road, many times of my adventures during the day when I have freetime, and not just of glamorous rock star poses on huge stages. I will be continuing that same tradition on this blog, and building on it as well.

I also intend to write and offer insight about locations that I travel to for pleasure, and without my trusty axe. In the past few years I've taken trips to Italy, Colorado, Niagara Falls, Montreal and Quebec, New Brunswick, and Wyoming (Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, etc.). Looking ahead, in January I will be flying to Warsaw, Poland, and spending a month backpacking my way through eastern Europe to Rome, from where I fly back home. I am really looking forward to that trip, and have been doing lots of research on the logistics of it, so I may be doing some posts on my findings leading up to the trip. In all of my travels, music and non-music related, I'll probably start by getting you up to speed with some posts looking back at previous tours and trips.

Lastly, you may wonder at the name of the blog, "There Is Nothing That The Road Will Not Heal...", it comes from the lyrics of a new Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes fame) song entitled "Moab". Here is an excerpt:

"There's nothing that the road cannot heal
there's nothing that the road cannot heal
washed beneath the blacktop,
gone beneath my wheels
there's nothing that the road cannot heal"

I purchased the album while on my most recent midwestern tour, which I have just this last weekend returned from. Upon listening to the lyrics over and over again, whether driving through the plains of southern Minnesota, the hills of Missouri, or the mountains of West Virginia, this song has become the mantra for my crazy life on the road, and, I think, a fitting title for this blog.

My life philosophy: If there is anything worth spending hard-earned money on, it is seeing the world. I am fortunate that my career allows me to see the world, but if I were not a folk musician I'd be a travel writer (like Rick Steves!), or something else equally hard to succeed at, as long as it involved travel.

Enough rambling for now, I hope that will suffice for the introduction, and I hope you will follow me around in my wanderings for a while!

Take care out there,