Tour Diary: Where Is Home?

(June 12, 2012) RICHMOND, VA — The title of today’s tour diary is the also the title of the new album by Janel & Anthony. That’s them up above, playing a fabulous show at Ghostprint Gallery in Richmond. More about them in a bit.

Today was a day of work. I spent the first several hours booking interviews, readings and places to stay for the next few weeks. I’ll be in Nashville, Knoxville, Asheville, Durham, Raleigh, Atlanta, Auburn (AL) and elsewhere. I also sent out a press release for my Nashville reading that has already led to both a Q&A and a radio appearance. Oh, and I did laundry.

Speaking of laundry, my Twitter pal John Edwin Mason, with whom I’ll be staying in Charlottesville this week, posted a link to this article about packing for travel. One of the tips is to not bring jeans, but to instead go with cotton or khaki pants. It’s a great point. For tonight’s poetry reading I wanted to wear pants, but I couldn’t even consider putting on hot, heavy jeans. And it’s not even really hot yet here in the South. So at the first opportunity, the jeans are going to go.

Anyway, after work and laundry I needed a break and some food. I’ve become so used to living in urban centers (something I’ve done almost without exception since 1993) that I keep forgetting it’s not really possible in a lot of Richmond to find food nearby. I left the place where I was staying and walked to a nearby Greek restaurant that had some yummy-looking vegan options. I got there one minute after they closed for a two-hour window between lunch and dinner. It was raining pretty hard, but I had an umbrella, so I decided to explore to see if I could find something else. Unfortunately, I found a place:

I should have known something was wrong when I walked into Su Casa and saw the life-sized carboard mariachi figure with a hole in the head to put your own face through. The place was empty except for one elderly customer, but it was 3 p.m., which is a weird time for lunch. I ordered the veggie burrito, being careful to ask them to skip the cheese and sour cream. I wrote more tour postcards while I waited.

The burrito came a little while later, covered in a 3- to 4-inch mound of iceberg lettuce. (Why is iceberg lettuce legal?) I dug down to find the actual burrito, which of course had cheese. So back it went, to be replaced a few minutes later with another mound of lettuce but no cheese. It was, in a word, awful. I immediately felt ill after I finished and continued to feel that way for the next couple hours. The only redeeming factor of the whole dining experience was listening to the server try to explain flan (about which she knew nothing) to the elderly gentleman who had never heard of it.

I headed back to where I was staying, did a bit more work and got my stuff together for my poetry reading. Scott, my host, drove me to Chop Suey books. Until about 5 minutes before the reading started, this is what the room looked like:

All was not lost, though. Seven or eight people came out, including Janel and Anthony, whom I’d interviewed in DC and who were performing in Richmond later that evening. What a wonderful thing for them to do. (Thank you both!) I also finally met Reggie Pace, who’s been on my show and who plays in both NO BS! Brass and Bon Iver. In fact, he’d just come back into town after playing at Bonnaroo.

I had a great time at the reading. I read the two new poems I’d written since arriving in Richmond, followed by the 30-minute set I’d used in West Virginia. I even sold books afterward, primarily using my new phone-based credit card reader from Square, which worked like a charm. If you travel and sell things, you need one of these gizmos. It’s free and it means the difference between selling something and not selling something. I almost never carry cash and often have difficulty buying CDs at shows because the artists can’t take credit cards. Now there’s no reason not to take them.

Following the reading I walked across town to Ghostprint Gallery to hear Janel & Anthony play. There were two opening acts, a noise artist named Scant who’d recently relocated from Richmond to DC:

…and then Boris Bobby, a group led by Jimmy Ghaphery. They played a piece based on the 1972 championship chess match between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer (hence the name). I couldn’t follow everything that was going on, but at least part of the piece involved the players using printouts of the chess board from various stages of that match:

I’ve started to take shots of the audiences in the places I go. I find those photos to be as interesting as the shots I take of the bands.

You can click on any of the thumbnails above to see the larger versions. Here’s my favorite audience shot from tonight:

After a short break, it was time for Janel & Anthony

They were fabulous. They played the majority of their new record, Where Is Home (Cuneiform, 2012). Janel plays cello and Anthony plays guitar, but that doesn’t come close to describing the experience of the album or the live show. They use loops and effects to create a gorgeous weave of sound that combines everything from traditional Indian music to country to jazz to noise. And you Maggot Brain fans? They’ve got you covered on that score, too.

Their album really resonates with me, not least because I’m also asking the question posed by its title. Add into the mix the fact that they’re two wonderful, kind people and that’s about all I need. They finished with a new tune that featured Janel singing. It was stunning. They’re on tour now, heading to Chapel Hill, DC (their home turf), Brooklyn and elsewhere. Go hear them.

A few things had come up for the person with whom I was staying, so I exited the gallery after the show around 10:30 with an hour walk ahead of me. I don’t mind walking at all, but that seemed a bit much for that time of night, so I thought I’d hail a cab. Then I remembered I was in Richmond, where that’s a laughable notion. So I hoofed it to a bar and waited for Scott Burton from Glows In The Dark to come rescue me. Just in time, too, because it started to pour again. I got my stuff from the place where I had been staying and went to Scott B’s house, which is where I’m bunking for the next two nights. Tomorrow I’m interviewing the guy who started the jazz program at Virginia Commonwealth University, and also the aforementioned Scott Burton.

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