22 Weeks, 22 Cities

This week marks the end of a very, very long stretch of one-week stops. Twenty-two to be exact, making the last day off – free of travel and work, way back in January when we were in Boston. I went on vacation that week, so my Mexico trip was the last time I had any time off. That was six months ago!

Traveling to a new city every week has had its ups and downs. On the one hand, we were able to explore a variety of cities that we may not ever had had the chance to visit, if not for this tour schedule. We were also able to play at some amazing theaters around the country, and meet some really nice people along the way. We were able to experience a true touring gypsy life – which some accustomed to better than others, but I think  in the end, we all feel pretty proud of ourselves, regardless, from having made it through.

On the downside, packing every Sunday got to be a drag – both packing up the show, and packing up our own suitcases. The travel between the shorter jumps was fairly easy – the overnight bus rides were fun and convenient. But in the last few weeks, when the stops have been further apart, all the air travel has been a drag. The schedule has also been unfortunate in that you can never stock up on groceries (well, too many groceries), because you can never finish them all on a one week stop. That is one thing to really look forward to on the longer stops – a stocked fridge – that you might actually finish!

Tallulah has been a sainted kitty throughout all the moves. She only had one spiteful episode (peeing on my suitcase in Nashville), but other than hiding under the bed every travel day – she has been the best-behaved, most adaptive and loving little puss on the planet. She is a rock star.

So to recap – here are some of the highlights of Spam Tour’s “Trail of Tears”:

PROVIDENCE: We said goodbye to Michael and Jeff, our original King and Patsy. The girls sent them off right with a hilarious game show-edition shot night. We also enjoyed the diner truck which parked late night behind our hotel.

Jeff and Michael's final shot night

Jeff and Michael's final shot night

HERSHEY: Brad Bradley made his debut as Patsy, with Chris Gurr assuming the role of the King. We had a blast at Chocolate World, and were welcomed with open Italian arms at Fenicci’s.

Waiting to see the 3D movie at Chocolate World

Waiting to see the 3D movie at Chocolate World

NASHVILLE: We visited the Opry, hung at the honky-tonk’s on Broadway, and celebrated Patrick’s birthday. Julie Barnes made her debut as the Lady of the Lake, as both Esther and Lyn were out. Cara Cooper joined us to take over Sabra’s track.
Julie's debut as the Lady of the Lake

Julie's debut as the Lady of the Lake

JACKSONVILLE: Hometown of Patrick and Keith Reese. Was lovely seeing Keith’s smiling face around the show again. Adam Souza assumed the maestro’s baton as Ben began his leave of absence.

Also, Gary Beach joined us, and began rehearsals to take over the role of the King.

Adam as Ben at sound check

Adam as Ben at sound check

FORT MYERS: Where we were re-introduced to “Crawdaddy”, a strange crawfish-loving keyboard player who had first played with us back in Naples. Most of this week was spent doing taxes with Trudy!

Crawdaddy!

Crawdaddy!

MIAMI: Gary made his debut as the King, we had an awesome anniversary party for the show at the Raleigh Hotel on Miami Beach. It was a generally happy week spent on the beach – oh, and quite a few people got tattoos. Sadly, we said goodbye to Jeff Klein, our associate company manager, and welcomed his replacement, David.
Original Spam Tour members at the 2-year anniversary party

Original Spam Tour members at the 2-year anniversary party

WEST PALM BEACH: We had a big photo call at work, and spent much of the week around the gorgeous shopping center near the theater. Ryan and I stayed at a very cute pool house, as did other members of the company.
Gary and Esther - one of my shots from the photo call

Gary and Esther - one of my shots from the photo call

CLEARWATER: One word – O’Boobigans! We sent Lee Appleton, our drummer, off in style with a party at an Irish bar/Hooters called O’Boobigans. Crawdaddy returned, and great controversy began when one of his lobster puppets mysteriously disappeared…
Lee, Ryan, Lobster Puppet, Keith and Crawdaddy

Lee, Ryan, Lobster Puppet, Keith and Crawdaddy

ORLANDO: We said a tearful goodbye to Julie Barnes, whose going-away party was at a fun tiki bar downtown. Some people ventured to Disney – I enjoyed our Extended Stay Deluxe and stayed in most of the week, with the exception of a walk around the cute shopping area of Winter Park. This was Vera’s last week before her leave. On our final Sunday in Orlando, some clean-shaven faces showed up to work to kick off the Beard Contest!
Julie at her going-away party

Julie at her going-away party

BIRMINGHAM: Probably one of the least favorite stops on the tour. Sort of a depressed, run-down city. There was the trolley that took you to Five Points where you could get pancakes at the Original Pancake House, otherwise you were stuck with Subway. I think everyone ODed on Subway that week. Bree Branker made her debut, and David Havasi began rehearsals. We also had a visit from Casey, our choreographer. Probably the highlight of the week, was the man-o-vator at the theater…
Patrick on the man-o-vator

Patrick on the man-o-vator

GREENVILLE: A surprisingly cute town! We all ate our faces off at the myriad restaurants on Main Street, a vast contrast from Birmingham the week before. There was lots of hiking and park-going, and Brian O’Brien’s farewell pub crawl was truly awesome. We also had the best stage management office we’ve ever had – walls lined with windows overlooking the river. Lovely.
Brian makes a new friend on the pub crawl

Brian makes a new friend on the pub crawl

RALEIGH: It was Jonathan Brody’s final week – we had a cajun dinner hosted by Piper to send him off. Not too much doing in Raleigh – some shopping at the mall across from the Candlewood, and some photo-taking of all the old, old houses. There was also an evening of Cornhole at a local bar, which was quite fun. David Havasi made his debut in Brian’s old track. There was a big blow-up among the chorus boys over some ridiculousness that sort of clouded this week.
Taking pictures at an old cemetery in Raleigh

Taking pictures at an old cemetery in Raleigh

DAYTON: Probably second only to Birmingham in general ass-iness. The theater was big and new and nice, and if you ventured over to the Oregon District, there was an area of cuteness, with cool shops and restaurants, but downtown was rather barren. We spent most nights at a bar called J-Alan’s, which Ken dubbed “The Hootennanny”. Terry and Patrick both did open mic performances there. Rick Costa made his debut this week in Jonathan’s old track. Oh, and who could forget Tony’s masterful win in the Beard Contest!
Patrick at open mic night at the "Hootenanny"

Patrick at open mic night at the Hootenanny

MILWAUKEE: Pubs, pubs, and more pubs. That’s how I remember Milwaukee. The art museum building was stunning to see. We said farewell to Piper with another pub crawl, this one in a party bus. Piper and Julie leaving were big blows – it was hard to lose those two girls – I miss them! Milwaukee was also the debut of “Duckie” – Tera-Lee performing a male ensemble track.

Cuz and Piper at her going-away

Cuz and Piper at her going-away

APPLETON: Ryan’s home local! I had fun visiting his house that week. We also hosted a super cool shot night – the ice luge! Even Gary Beach did a shot! I also discovered a great yarn store in Appleton – Iris Fine Yarns. Sarah Lin Johnson took over Piper’s swing track.
Gary taking a shot from the ice luge

Gary taking a shot from the ice luge

MADISON: My love, Madison! One of my top three favorite stops on the tour. That city rocks. We did a lot of bike riding, a lot of eating and drinking (at the Black Dog and Essen Haus), and I did even more yarn shopping. And p.s., the Capitol Farmer’s Market ROCKED! We also had a visit from Jeff Dumas, and Darryl’s family hosted a party for us at their house!
Gurr, Suzanne, Matt and Paula hanging out at Darryl's

Gurr, Suzanne, Matt and Paula hanging out at Darryl's

GRAND RAPIDS: Kind of a letdown after Madison, but it had pockets of cute. I got my hair done at a nice salon. We visited the art museum, and did a little bit of bike riding. But the highlight of the week was having Elaine around to cover Mitchell’s vacation. Yay! And also Bret arriving to cover Ken’s vacation! Scary weather driving to Minneapolis.
Getting drunk with Elaine when I should have been packing

Getting drunk with Elaine when I should have been packing

MINNEAPOLIS: The crazy weather of being in Tornado Alley continued, with thunderstorms peppering the week. We visited the sculpture garden and played mini golf with Ryan’s friend, Brent. In work-related news, Patrick split his head open causing a frenzy of last-minute replacements on the Saturday. I visited the Mall of America, Brit’s Pub (a couple of times), did quite a bit of bike-riding, and had a lovely Monday night meal with Bret.

Brent and Ryan playing mini-golf

Brent and Ryan playing mini-golf

OKLAHOMA CITY: Hmmm…sort of along the lines of Dayton. Not horrible, but not much going on. Crazy windy but hot weather. The Memorial was quite a sight to see, and made the week worth it. We also stayed at a nice hotel downtown called The Colcord, and enjoyed drinks a couple of times at a cool brewpub called Tapwerks. 
OKC Memorial

OKC Memorial

ALBUQUERQUE: Ken was back from vacation, and it was Jovon’s turn for a week off. I was in bliss all week with my buddies Michael and Tanya and Bret all back in my life. I had a great visit to Santa Fe with Tanya, and Albuquerque’s highlights included the breakfast burritos at Frontier, Satellite Coffee and the weather! Gorgeous! Hot and dry. Sadly we said goodbye to our A2, Tony.
With my Ta

With my Ta

With my Bretty

With my Bretty

SAN ANTONIO: Hot and sweaty is how I will remember San Antonio. The Riverwalk was fun – highlights included meals at the Iron Cactus and Boudros. Mi Tierra at the Marketplace was also good, although if I never see menudo again it will be too soon. I had my birthday here, and was treated to a yummy chocolate mousse cake from Ken! I also treated myself to some new camera equipment! Oh, and then there was the Alamo. Eh. Patrick bailed on us this week to go and do “Gossip Girl” for eight weeks, so we scrambled a bit (another couple of gender-bending performances by Tera-Lee), but we had it figured out by….
Tera-Lee doing some gender-bending in Rio

Tera-Lee doing some gender-bending in Rio

FORT WORTH: Where Brian O’Brien re-joined us to help fill in the gap left by Patrick. Kevin Burrows was also around this week to help cover some of other boys’ vacations. Everyone was antsy getting ready for Canada. There was a quick trip to the Stockyards, but otherwise it was all about getting phones, and credit cards and money in order. Vancouver here we come!
Packing up trunks for Canada

Packing up trunks for Canada

22 eventful weeks! I look forward to the next 22, only I am happy to report that we will be spending some quality time in the next few cities with longer sit-downs, just enough time to recoup before another slew of one-weekers begin this winter. 

Bring it on!

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Nashville – Music City

Nashville is a cool city. I should have known it would be, seeing that Memphis was so memorable. I think I actually liked Nashville even more than Memphis – there is just so much to do and so much great music to see and hear.

We arrived from Hershey close to noon on Monday and checked into the lovely (I’m being sarcastic) Extended Stay on West End Ave. Actually, I have no problems with Extended Stays, but they are definitely no frills, so if you are used to being pampered at hotels, the Extended Stay is probably not for you. I spent the afternoon doing some shopping at two local malls (one was a kick ass outlet mall that was much like Sawgrass Mills in Fort Lauderdale). 

Esther and Jenn in the limo bus

Esther and Jenn in the limo bus

Tuesday was load-in. The theater in Nashville seemed enormous after tiny Hershey and the crew there was very good. My prop guy, Murff, was one of the funniest locals I have met yet on the road (and a good prop guy as well) – and opening night was a breeze. The presenters threw us an opening night party at a bar nearby – it was sort of uneventful, except that we were shuttled over there in limo buses, which were decked out with suede seats, flat screen TVs and LED lights, and were the best part of the night!

On Wednesday, Ryan and I went over to the Ryman Auditorium for a tour of the house and backstage. The Ryman housed the Grand Ole Opry during its heyday, from 1945 to 1974. The auditorium was built as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892, and the original wooden pews still provide the seating in the auditorium today. We toured the backstage dressing rooms and heard lots of stories of the Opry stars from our charming southern tour guide. Then we watched a short movie about the history of the Ryman, and did a self-guided tour of the front of house section of the auditorium. We took pictures onstage and it was cool to think of all the great country artists who had stood on that stage in the past. If you’ve seen the Johnny Cash movie “Walk the Line”, there are lots of references to he and June Carter Cash playing the Ryman – it is, in fact, where they met.

On Wednesday night we ventured out to Broadway, which houses all the renowned honky tonks. We heard some great country music and had fun drinking and dancing with some of the cast and crew.

On Thursday, Ryan and I had a Valentine’s breakfast at the Pancake Pantry, a local breakfast place that was sooo good. Ryan had some killer Tennessee ham and I had pancakes and eggs.

We then headed over to the Country Music Hall of Fame, where we  learned all about the evolution of country music and saw lots of memorabilia including instruments played by Johnny Cash, Bill Monroe and June Carter, and costumes galore. We also took a side trip over to RCA’s Studio B, where many of the best country musicians have recorded, including Dolly Parton and Elvis. Unfortunately my camera died soon after arriving at the museum, so I don’t have any photos to share.

On Friday night a large group of the cast and crew headed back down to Broadway for Patrick’s birthday (he’s our Lancelot). The bar which had been the designated party spot ended up being really crowded, so after a little while, a group of us left and went next door to Robert’s Western World, a bar/boot shop, and listened to a great country band, with a mean fiddle player. 

The weekend was our regular four-show weekend, except to spice it up a little, Julie Barnes, who is one of our female ensemble members, made her debut as the Lady of the Lake on Sunday night. Esther was out on a personal day, and then Lyn, who is the standby, was home sick with a cold. Julie is the second cover, and would ordinarily not have a chance to play the role as Lyn is the first cover – it just so happened that the stars aligned and she was allowed the opportunity, and this comes five weeks before she leaves the tour! It was really exciting for her, and everyone else as well, and she did a really fantastic job. Mitchell, our hair supervisor, took some great shots with my camera. This one is my favorite:

We loaded the show out immediately following the performance and headed to Jacksonville, Florida the next morning. It has been a fairly uneventful week so far, filled with rehearsal and more rehearsal, as we get our new King Arthur, Gary Beach, ready to don the crown in a week and half’s time. But more about that in another post …

Tilted Duster

I finally finished the Tilted Duster by Norah Gaughn this week. I have admired this pattern since I first bought the Fall 2007 Interweave Knits in St. Paul last August. I purchased the yarn (Berroco Peruvia in Avocado) in Denver in September, cast on for the project in December in East Lansing, and finished this week in Nashville. Whew!

The pattern is actually very straightforward and shouldn’t have taken me as long as it did, but I got sidetracked reading a book and the project was physically too large for me to take to the beach in Mexico, so progress halted a bit. I was sort of nervous about all the seaming – the sweater is knit in pieces and sewn together, but in the end it was not as bad as I anticipated, and I think I did a pretty good job for someone who isn’t all that experienced in sewing or seaming. The longest portion to knit was obviously the skirt, which got a little monotonous, but once I got halfway through, I picked up speed and finished in no time.

The yarn is beautiful. Very soft and warm. I love the color – but it was hard to choose as Peruvia comes in so many beautiful colors. The variegation in the greens makes for a really amazing finished product.

The pattern called for size 10 needles but after swatching, I opted to use 9’s to get correct gauge.

The trickiest part of the sweater was positioning the buttons. There are two buttons that you see on the right side of the right collar, but also two hidden underneath on the wrong side of the left collar. It took a bit of trial and error to get them in the right place.

From reading about the Tilted Duster online and others’ experiences making it, it seems that one of the biggest challenges is getting the two fronts to lie correctly and meet between the bust. Mine don’t meet perfectly, but I think they are fairly close. The trick for me was in the blocking – I think in order to get the right shape for this sweater, it should be blocked as it would be worn, rather than opened and laid flat (although it would probably dry faster this way). I think getting the fronts to meet would be hard to achieve otherwise. After blocking, I used an iron over a towel to steam out the creases on the sides of the skirt.

Unfortunately we move on to Florida next week so I’m not sure how much wear this sweater will get in the immediate future, but I have already worn it once this week, and I love it, so hopefully it will be a very useful cold weather piece.