April 25th 2016
No Closed Books: New Music Arrivals & Personal Departures
The term ‘farewell’ sounds overdramatic to me. Like a term that’s out of place both in meaning and time. Reserved for people like the passengers on the Titanic to perhaps say to their loved ones before departing, yet sounding way too odd and out of place when used in modern times OR (God forbid) on one of my band’s concert posters. Yet there it is right there in plain English: The Luke Cunningham ‘Kentucky Picnic’ EP Release & Farewell Celebration. And despite all my protests and voiced reticence regarding the word’s usage, my manager still refused to give in. So here I am, feeling as if I should explain:
Though I’ve called Charleston SC my beloved home for well over 13 years, it’s true that in June I’ll be spending the majority of my time living in Nashville TN. The Holy City has been and will forever remain central to my heart, my life and my music; truth be told I’ve now called it ‘home’ for almost as long as I lived in the state where I was born (Kentucky). However, the recent course of my career and journey as a songwriter seems to have naturally gravitated closer and closer to the ‘songwriting/publishing’ side of the music business. Despite years of touring and playing live shows, it has slowly become apparent over time that the aspect of music I’m most comfortable in (the songwriting arena) has also proven to be the facet I feel I excel at and enjoy the most. So with that realization in hand—and while plotting how I might be best able to sustain a career in music and potentially provide for a family—the decision to focus more intensely on that side of the music business was admittedly a choice I was bound to eventually make. And now having done so, the next step—naturally—is for me to physically put myself where the bulk of today’s songwriting takes place: Nashville TN.
Will I still tour/play shows with the band? Most definitely! In fact, not much of that will change as I simply could never stop playing live shows completely—nor would I ever want to. I’ve got the best bandmates in the world who lend their endless talents, sweat and passion to the songs I write and who make the normally-arduous process of touring/traveling as fun as a string of nights away at summer camp. We’ve got a brand new EP to tour in support of, a batch of songs we’re chomping at the bit to play live for folks and an on-going list of new material we intend to record, release and eventually perform together as a band. As a ‘group,’ our full intention is to continue writing, touring and playing shows together just as we have—the only thing that will be different is the geography.
So perhaps now you see now why the term ‘farewell’ seemed so out of place to me. There’s no closed books here—just new chapters; that’s all.
And new chapters are worthy of celebration! That’s why on Saturday June 4th we’ve put together an unbelievable concert event and EP release show tailored specifically for you—our beloved fans, friends and family. In addition to the physical release of the new EP ‘Kentucky’ and a full-band performance you won’t want to miss, we’ve rounded up a group of our dearest/most talented friends, bands and songwriters (not to mention some of the top touring acts in the southeast) for a full day of music festival-style performances and family fun at the world-famous Pour House in Charleston, South Carolina!
Complete with food trucks, cold beer and two outdoor stages—the ‘Kentucky Picnic’ EP release festivities are family-friendly, dog friendly and kid-friendly—with FREE admission for all children 8yrs old and under. The full day of music kicks off at 2PM and closes with an early-evening full band performance by the Luke Cunningham Band at 7PM. Meaning everyone (and even families) can come eat, drink and be merry—all while knowing we’ll have you back home and tucked in bed by 10PM!
Certain to be one of Charleston’s ‘top music events of the summer,’ the day’s star-studded cast of bands & performers include: Luke Cunningham Band, Tyler Mechem of Crowfield, Mac Leaphart, Guilt Ridden Troubadour, Danielle Howle, Kenny George Band, Sideshow Americans, Honeysmoke, Matt Mackelcan, Mr Goodstache and many more talented artists you won’t want to miss! In addition, the Kentucky Picnic will also feature a reunion set by Part Time Heroes: the very first band I played in and toured with while attending college at Winthrop University back in the early 2000s. We’ve brought in all four original PTH members just for the show—making it the first time in well over 13 years we’ve performed together onstage!
The band and I can’t wait to share the Kentucky EP and all these new songs LIVE with y’all at The Pour House. We’re also excited about all the other fantastic acts we’ve assembled for your musical enjoyment and fun-filled day spent with us at the Luke Cunningham ‘Kentucky Picnic’ EP Release & Farewell Celebration Show on Saturday, June 4th!
See you all June 4th!
Much Love and Many Thanks,
October 29th 2015 Behind the ‘Kentucky’ EP Hey everyone! First off, thanks so much for the kind posts, emails, messages, texts and calls about the new EP ‘Kentucky.’ The response thus far has been overwhelming and I can’t tell everyone how much I appreciate you sharing it with others via word of mouth, social media etc. As an independent artists/songwriter, there’s few things more important OR valuable than good people helping you spread the music as far and wide as possible. So thank you sincerely. A few years back, I was doing some songwriting with Micah Nichols and the talented Neil B Young in Summerville SC. Initially, we were compiling a catalog of songs as a joint music publishing endeavor and trying to get a handful of them on tape. One of the songs I played for them that day was a song called ‘Bad Habits.’ Right from git-go, the three of us began deconstructing the tune, rewriting parts and carving out what would become the final arrangement for the tune. Something about it was not only fun as hell–but also really efficient and effortless. It seemed that with three people in the mix, there’s naturally a majority and minority at all times–so decisions were made rather easily. Yet the main focus–from the writing process on–was always devoted to the story itself and never compromised. Neil and Micah are literally some of the best people at what they do (I’m still not sure how I conned them into working with me) and being able to have full trust in your collaborators was something I’d rarely been privy to before. After we recorded ‘Bad Habits’ the three of us were thrilled with what we’d created and wanted to do something more. What unfolded thereafter was the three of us combing through my lyric book, pulling out pieces of songs, tidbits and any ideas we thought might have potential to be turned into something bigger. Coincidentally, nearly every song we gravitated towards either centered around my upbringing in rural West KY OR was inspired by family, friends–and even foes–I had known when I was young. It wasn’t intentional by any means, but looking back I guess it’s natural thing to happen. I sometimes tell people that I feel like I was raised in a country song. More accurately I guess— I grew up among them. Raised side-by-side with the protagonists, privy to each character’s backstory, present for the plot twists and conflict, I could often be found standing stage left, just off camera when the scenes would end. Growing up in a small town kind of feels like that. Everyone knows each other—and as a result, at one time or another everyone gets handed a supporting role in a movie that isn’t their own. The sad part is that I never even knew a movie was being made. After all, who takes stock of their surroundings as a teenager? I didn’t. As the smart ass kid in the Nirvana t-shirt, I was too busy counting the days until high school graduation, craving stories and life experiences in far off places despite the fact that equally-dramatic, awe-inspiring and humorous tales were unfolding right around me where I was. Simple people were overcoming complex obstacles, those with little found ways to give a lot and there was an ever-present ‘no bullshit’ quality to where I grew up. Truthfully, I probably didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have at the time. But these days when I physically go back and–as a songwriter–when I cognitively think back to my upbringing, I am flooded with not only genuinely-compelling memories but also overwhelming appreciation for the place where I come from and the people who helped raise me. These are their songs. If they feel a little bit country–then that’s to be expected. If they don’t, then that’s understandable too; After all, I did own a Smashmouth CD in high school for God’s sake. I hope everyone enjoys the EP. We worked hard on it; and what you’re hearing when you listen to it is a handful of guys who wanted to tell you a few stories. Who wanted to prove that–in this present era of ‘modern country’ music–you don’t have to sacrifice substance for style. Nor do you have to adjust your creative sails to catch the horse-shit-smelling winds that are propelling today’s country music radio stations. Because trends come and go, and in the end it’s ‘the song’–not the ‘window dressing’–that keeps the record spinning. Thanks to Neil and Micah, thanks to my absurdly talented band (Christian, Ben and Micah) for the long hours and heart you put into this thing and thanks to all the guest musicians and friends who contributed. And last but not least, thank you to YOU the listener–for buying the EP, coming to shows and giving us reason and motivation to labor over these songs for months on end. We hope we didn’t disappoint you. Much love and many thanks, Luke Cunningham October 25th 2013 Story of The Song (#5 of 6) ‘What?’ (Acoustic Demo) I forget about this song from time to time since we so rarely play it live, but now and then I love playing it at small acoustic shows. It hasn’t been recorded on an album or in a real studio yet, though i’d love to get around to it some day hopefully. The version here is a rough acoustic home demo–but it shouldnt hurt your ears too badly. The story of the song ‘What?’ goes as follows: One of my best and oldest friends called me one day from a hotel in a city which I will not name. This struck me as odd since he lived in that city and the he gave me the reason. He and his long time girlfriend had split after years together; they lived together, had a dog–the works. So, since only one of them could stay at the house–he opted to go live in a hotel for a few weeks downtown. Thanks to a friend he got a decent rate but after a few days I could tell he was bored and stir crazy. You can only go sit at the hotel bar so many times before you lose your mind. And after a week there I could tell the whole situation was weighing on him–the breakup, the displacement; all of it. One of the things about this friend of mine is that I know him well. We’re a lot alike. We both use humor as a defense mechanism and often mask our worries with dark jokes poking fun at ourselves–it’s sometimes how we cope with stuff we’re not sure if we really wanna talk about. I genuinely felt terrible for him and wished badly I could have been there to at least keep him company, and I tried offering some words of encouragement/support which he took as best as he possibly would before launching into a joke of some sort about how he might get a job as a bellhop at the hotel or something. I knew he was hurting. The jokes were just a diversion. It takes one to know one I suppose. So when we finally hung up the phone, I started jotting down lines on a piece of scrap paper. A few minutes later it began to take form and the song was rounded out eventually a few weeks/months later when Micah and I worked on it in a New York City hotel room prior to a show at The Bitter End. The end result was ‘What?’–a song about a dear friends hard times—written because if he and I couldn’t talk about his problems, perhaps one day we could at least look back and sing about them. Enjoy. Luke October 24th 2013 Story of The Song (#4 of 6) ‘Amsterdam’ (Acoustic Version) Happy Thursday everyone! We’ve been in rehearsals the last two days prepping for Saturday night’s big hometown show at Charleston Pour House and HOT DAMN we can’t wait to take the stage and share an exciting evening of music with each and every one of yall! Today’s FREE MP3 download is an acoustic version of a tune called ‘Amsterdam.’ We did give this away about 6 months ago to ticket buyers for our Charleston Music Hall show but we wanted to now make it available for everyone and anyone who would like to download it. The tune has a folk type feeling to it in my opinion and that has as much to do with the production talents of Neil B Young and the musicianship of our dear Micah Nichols. When we tracked this acoustically, it had the potential to include drums and sweeping string arrangements etc—but we agreed the song itself should take precedent and not an emphasis on polished production. So after thinking back to old John Prine songs on vinyl (of which my father had quite a few), we left the production pretty bare and Neil went to work letting the grit of the tune speak. We’ve played it with the full band a handful of times and I sincerely love it because it is a stylistic departure from a lot of our other tunes. For the back story on the writing of the song, it was almost a personal writer’s block exercise that thankfully spun out of control and into a tune. I wrote about the experience at length–as well as Amsterdam’s conception process–in an essay published a few months ago by South Carolina Music Guide. To read it online, just click the provided link here: http://scmusicguide.com/the-twisted-love-affair-of-songwriting/ Enjoy guys and thanks for listening. Luke October 23rd 2013 Story of The Song (#3 of 6) ‘One More Wedding (Home Demo-2013)’ Perhaps today something a little bit cheery is in order–given the past few slower/ballad-type tunes posted. It’s a pretty rough home demo recording I did awhile back, so be gentle. A few months ago my little brother got engages the same week another friend of mine did. I had three wedding invitations in the mail on the same day. Obviously, I am ecstatic for all of them, but seeing three different wedding invitations in my hand at the mailbox made me think of this song idea. The gist is this: most guys absolutely hate going to weddings unless they’re a close friend. So, as the story would go (i thought in my head): There’s this guy who hates going to weddings but his girlfriend always makes him go. So in order to make his girlfriend never ask him again, he comes up with a plan to just get fall down drunk at the next wedding they go to. He does so yet the plan backfires when he gets so drunk that he doesn’t remember the previous evening–subsequently finding out that at some point in his drunken stupor HE proposed to his girlfriend. So ironically I guess, his plan to not have to go to any more weddings has in the end caused him to have to go to one more—his own. Cheers yall Luke Enjoy. October 22nd 2013 Story of The Song (#2 of 6) ‘Between A Rock & A Heartache’ (Live at 105.5FM Charleston Sound Sessions) I’ve missed a lot of birthdays over the years. Best friends have gotten married and I wasn’t there. Music and travel are two synonomous terms and I’ve let my fair share of people down. The frustration—if you let it get the best of you—can often be compounded by seeing friends and loved ones buy homes, have beautiful kids and enjoy what’s really important in life. Meanwhile you’re just hopping back in the van. As such, there’s a time when every songwriter or musician looks in the mirror and says “How long can I do this?” or “Why am I doing this?” That moment came for me one lonely night in California years ago. I had spent the day driving around LA trying to pawn a Peavey Amp (which no one would buy and now sits in my niece’s bedroom) to pay a few bills. Returning home empty handed I bought a chilidog and a coffee at the 711 in Silver Lake CA next to the Space Land music venue. I lived a block away and had learned through hard times that—for $1.78—you could purchase a coffee there to stave off your appetite YET still afford to enjoy the nutritional dividends of a hot dog that had been rotating on the same disgusting grill since 7AM that day. I had no cable TV; just a pair of rabbit ears that—due to my proximity to LA’s ‘China Town’ district picked up Asian game shows at 2AM with a baffling clarity unmatched by even today’s most pristine HD televisions. I’m not sure if you’ve ever watched a real Chinese game show—but if you have, you know that the aim is not to figure out who you should root for. It’s to figure out what the hell is going on in the first place. The lady being interviewed was jumping up and down like she’d just won the lottery; then a fury pink rabbit came out and took her somewhere backstage as the live audience went wild. We never saw her again and the game ended (apparently) ten minutes later when the show went off the air with zero warning—cut into and unabashedly interrupted by a 40 minute infomercial on Japanese massage chairs. So with no Asian game show to even amuse myself with—and having had one of my worst days in LA—I did what all of us saps do when we feel sorry for ourselves. I picked up my damn guitar in the corner. I talked to myself and only myself, as the flickering light from the TV projected my shadow on a nearby wall. I made hand/shadow puppets for a minute. Then I began thinking. A lot. I thought about people 3,000 miles away. I wondered about how the hell I’d ever wound up here? I thought about leaving; I thought about going to law school. I thought about anything that wasn’t the stark reality I was swimming in. In short, I wanted to cash it all in. If I quit then and there—and headed back East—I could have probably convinced myself I’d be happier. But I wouldn’t have been, and I knew that. Music, songs—that’s all I’ve lived for since I was 19 yrs old. It’s not a habit. It’s my life. But we know to well how sometimes life puts you in situations where you’re literally ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t.’ And in these moments of decision—between only you and yourself—the weight of what you decide seems heavier because no one else is there to agree or disagree with that decision. I stayed in California. At least for awhile. And I still write and play music, and I love it today more than I ever have. But one night my path was close to leading somewhere else—where I don’t know. I’m glad I chose this one.The following is a song I wrote that night; the conversation between just me, myself and I—and a few Asian game show contestants far away. I hope you like it. Luke SIDE NOTE: This live version was recorded for The Bridge 105.5FM’s Charleston Sound Sessions in front of a live audience of our closest friends and supporters. It features the talents of Ben Scott, Christian Wood, Micah Nichols as well as guest cello player Lonnie Root and Whitt Algar on piano. Prior to this recording, the song had never been performed live with the band and lay dormant deep in one of my lyric books. I personally owe Mr. Micah Nichols and my manager Joel Frank for coaxing it out of a dark corner. I’ve tried—and failed many times—to rerecord this song at my home studio yet for reasons that defy explanation, nothing has come close to feeling like the song did on this particular day when we all performed it live in the same room together at Charleston Sound for 105.5FM. Enjoy.
BETWEEN A ROCK & A HEARTACHE Music and lyrics by Luke Cunningham (c) CrackerWatch Music LLC
Verse: Who’s taking the fall if I’m pushing the blame? I strangled all of my hope with a six-string faith Who’s calling the shots if the gods are away? I want their gilded frowns to finally smile on me Sometimes it feels good wanting something so bad Fate came calling but she never called back I believe in things sometimes that don’t believe in me
CHORUS: There’s a thin line between the whispers and the wars we wage Where the lesser of two evils can haunt you just the same There’s a thin line that we cross sometimes When we’re stuck between a rock and heartache
VERSE 2: Who’s the voice of reason if I’m biting my tongue? I’m like a widow’s words the day the letter comes The bitter victim is the irony The false prophet and the corner store thieves He said “I believe in you sometimes, you should believe in me.”
CHORUS: There’s a thin line between the whispers and the wars we wage Where the lesser of two evils can haunt you just the same There’s a thin line that I crossed one time And now I’m stuck between a rock and heartache
October 21st 2013 Story of The Song (#1 of 6) ‘For The Best’ (Live Acoustic at The Palm 92.1FM in Columbia SC) I can be somewhat weird about listening back to live/on-air radio performances the band has done over the years. Most times—if there’s a delayed broadcast or someone sends me a file of the on-air segment, I consciously avoid listening to it. I think it’s because I know that if it sounds horrible, there’s nothing I can change or do about it after-the-fact AND that hearing it (if it’s bad) will only cause me to spend the rest of my day/evening unhappy about the way I sang or played the tune. And truth be told—I was prepared for this version of ‘For The Best’ to be downright unbearable. In fact, as the rest of the band listened to it on the radio in Columbia later the day of, I chose to go in another room and lay down. It had been one hell of a day—one of those that felt like it had lasted a week; and we hadn’t even played the night’s show yet. Pretty much everything that COULD go wrong HAD gone wrong. On the morning of the show/radio performance, we were packing up to leave Charleston when we got a phone call that our own Micah Nichols’s wife was unfortunately involved in a three car automobile accident. Thankfully, she was unhurt yet the dilemma delayed the band–and this on-air performance–by nearly two hours. In fact, we were almost forced to have to cancel. This was a painful prospect not only because of how excited we were to do the event, BUT also because of the individuals involved. Mike Allen (DJ for The Palm 92.1FM in Columbia) is primarily the main reason ‘Songs About CA’ and/or ‘For The Best’ ever made it to radio. A truly great soul, devout music lover and ever-generous fellow, Mike has done as much for me/the band as anyone ever has. So the thought of letting him down and not being able to make the event weighed heavily on me. Not to mention, the kind folks at The Jam Room Studios had yet to meet us in-person; so their first impression of the boys and me would be us canceling on them. So I crossed my fingers that the latter wouldn’t happen. And I’m grateful that it didn’t. Due to the grace and patience of Mike Allen at The Palm and the great folks at Jam Room studios, the band eventually made it to Columbia SC and was able to squeeze in three songs with a limited sound check—three of which were tracked for 92.1FM’s broadcast. The following is an acoustic version of ‘For The Best’ from the album ‘Heart Pressure’ recorded in one take as a last minute addition to the program. It features me on vocals and acoustic guitar, Micah Nichols on lead guitar & bassist Christian Wood on backing vocals. After being emailed the track from the studio weeks ago, I’m well aware that it’s far from perfect but for my own personal reasons I’m somewhat proud of it. Had you been in the van that day and been through what we had—not to mention given the limited time at our disposal for checking levels/sounds—I think you too may even be slightly surprised. For me though it was just one of those occasional reminders of just how amazing the other guys in this band are and how fortunate I am to know them, travel with them, make music with them and share a kinship with them. With odds and time nowhere near on our side they all stepped up individually and professionally that day; hectically unloading gear out of the van, quickly plugging guitars into the nearest amp each of us could find and then just letting the tape roll. Everyone did what had to be done—and now we all get to have a FREE download that we didn’t have before. Guess it all worked out in the end. Enjoy! Luke Enjoy this FREE download and be sure to visit the band online at: www.lukecunninghammusic.com as well as on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lukecunninghamsongs 2013 NEW ALBUM Studio Journal #1 When it comes to making records, I don’t believe anything until I see it. And by that I mean that I don’t hint at release dates, give estimates on time frames OR announce the potential track listing for a new album until things are pretty much in the bag. After all—as I’ve learned—these babies of ours sometimes take much longer than 9 months to birth. And as an independent artist with no label backing us, there’s often logistics and finances we have to work with/around sometimes just in order to get our music heard. So—in short—we’ve had to become masters of patience.
Making an album is expensive—period. So much so that it’s very common for independent bands to not even recoup the money spent on recording. In fact, some independent acts see ‘albums’ as more of a promotional tool; rationalizing non-recoupment of recording costs as a necessary evil in order to reach new fans/listeners and increase attendance at live shows. I’m still not sure which side of the argument I sit on. But in the case of this upcoming album, I’m thankful that a collective decision—reached long before we began—put ‘the songs’ and their release as the #1 priority of this project; The ‘costs’—we all agreed—would have to take a back seat. We’ll find ways around them. And so we have. The result thus far has been an inspiring endeavor—a ‘guerilla’ type of approach to the recording process. By putting in a little more sweat here and there, being resourceful and taking on more individual responsibilities we set out to make the best record any of us have ever been a part of. Additionally, we agreed we would aim to do it on a shoestring budget BUT without compromising ANY of the sonic elements, quality or standards we would have insisted upon had we been given a million dollars by a label to record the album.
After narrowing down the track list months ago, we began by writing and recording our scratch (demo) tracks to a metronome (or click track) to get an idea of tempos and structure. This was done at our individual home studios and normally at either my place, Neil B Young’s or Micah Nichols’s house. (These two have been my cowriting and coproduction partners for the entire project and will be throughout; the combination of their talents and the chemistry of all three of us in the same room has been powerful and I couldn’t be happier with what we’re collectively achieving.) Once the songs we in place recorded acoustically on a scratch track, we knew we’d have to get the essential drum sounds the songs called for—as well as the quality they deserved. This was one part of the process we couldn’t skimp on nor achieve at any of our individual home studios. Good sounding drums are imperative on an album—even if you have to pay a decent buck or two for them. So we called on Jeff and the folks at Charleston Sound Recording Studio who wound up treating us, the project and all the musicians involved absurdly well. Thanks in-part to the unreal room sounds there at Charleston Sound, Neil B Young’s mastery of audio engineering and our amazing drummer Ben Scott, we were off to a rip-roaring start and finished all the drums in just three sessions. I could brag all day about drummer Ben Scott—but I’ll save you volumes of praise by just saying that Ben has an inherent ability to execute whatever drum parts you’re thinking of in your head—regardless of how horribly you convey those ideas to him. At times Micah, Neil and I would be in the control room doing air drums and beat boxing drum parts through the studio microphone to him. We looked—and sounded—like complete idiots. Yet each time, Ben would watch/listen with extreme focus (not really sure how he didn’t die laughing), readjust his headphones and casually reply ”Okay, lets try that idea. Start me at the beginning.” The guy’s willingness to do whatever serves the song best knows no bounds—so much so that one day of our recording session found him sitting Indian style on the floor of the tracking room, bear hugging a sparkly 1970s marching band bass drum like a long-lost relative, and beating it with a mallet on-command for hours. Now that’s dedication people. I think Ben actually went home that day with glitter all over him that had rubbed off of the aforementioned sparkly bass drum. Best of luck explaining that one to the wife Benny boy.
During our time tracking drums we were also blessed to have a guest appearance/performance by former Needtobreathe drummer Joe Stillwell on two of the album’s songs. Joe’s flavor and style of playing added so much to the tunes he contributed to and I think that one would be hard pressed to find more talent behind the kit on one record than the collective skills of Mr. Ben Scott and Joe Stillwell. In just 2-3 days the backbone of the record had been formed. And with all the drums tracked, it was official—the album had begun. 2/2/2013-Charleston Music Hall-Charleston SC Our rehearsals are long ones. Always. In part because we all have such busy schedules that getting the four of us in the same room at the same time in the same city (Ethan lives in Charlotte NC) normally takes some planning. Thankfully, when we do it, we hit the ground running and everyone is locked in. That’s one great thing about the group of guys I play with—there’s a diligence that I’ve rarely seen in my years of playing music. I could literally schedule a 7am rehearsal time and these fools wouldn’t bat an eye; it’s damn beautiful. So after Friday’s 8-hour practice at the rehearsal studio, we shot over to the Music Hall to load our gear into the venue. While there, we chatted with the fellas from Explorer’s Club who were expecting 18-guest musicians to join them onstage the following night. The feat was a big one—and the result was an awesome sounding band the following night—but I stressed myself out just thinking about how we’d manage that many people with limited preparation. Kudos to the EC boys, because they definitely did it and did it well. There’s admittedly not much musically in common between Slow Runner, Explorer’s Club and my band. The styles are very different, have different fan bases and even the instrumentation/lineups vary in myriad ways. And honestly, I think this is what attracted me most to the idea of the Holy City Pop show; it was such a different concert with such different bands—yet it had one core element in common: These were all three Charleston bands—and a fine representation of both the dichotomy of Charleston’s music scene and the kinship that exists among musicians here. Explorer’s Club just might be the closest thing to a 1960s band that exists today. And—as I said to EC member Dave Ellis one time—even though some people may or may not ‘get it’, this band is comprised of stellar musicians who are not only devoted to the perfection of their sound—they’ve secured their place as one of the few bands I’ve heard these days who have that ‘sound’ at all. It’s a really cool thing to see and I was excited as hell to play with them. As for Slow Runner—I’m not sure what I could say about this act that would really do the band justice. I’ve known lead singer Michael Flynn for years—and used to play shows with him when I was in my old band Part Time Heroes. Michael has always written songs that were so good that they literally pissed me off; I mean this endearingly. One of the healthiest things—I feel—in music is when you hear something that challenges you to be better at what you do. And Michael’s tunes—and Slow Runner’s—have always done that for me. When you add Jack Berg (drums), Jonny Gray (former Jump Little Children bassist) and the talents of Josh Kaler to that mix, there’s a style and sound that combines earnest songwriting with staggering musicianship. The fact that they’re such good people is an added bonus. On the day of big shows, I always have grand illusions that I’ll spend the entire day relaxing—yet it seems like every time a task, challenge or speed bump presents itself no matter what the occasion is. On this day of show, we were dealing with sound check times/issues. Due to no one particular issue, each band’s sound check time was delayed and since we were checking last—as the first band on the bill normally does—we had little over an hour to load gear on-stage, check the entire band, run through tunes with our three guest musicians and make sure everything in the monitors and out front was in working order. Normally, this wouldn’t be as big of a problem but our stage time was 7PM and we were wrapping up at 6:00PM. Meanwhile no one in the band had showered or eaten dinner so that too had to be factored into the overall equation. But you roll with the punches, right? After all, when you get three bands on a bill, multiple personalities, scheduling issues and this many musicians in one place not everything will go accordingly all the time. Thankfully, these bands and this crew of individuals have thick skin and have been through things like this before. Not only were the guys in my band great in acclimating but the other bands—Explorer’s Club especially—were flexible and helped us sort out any main issues. So after some petty bickering, followed by a great deal of hugging, we all went our separate ways from sound check and my guys raced up to King Street to grab some food in the short few minutes before show time. When curtain time came, I was a bit nervous—I won’t lie. The Music Hall is big and it’s a big gamble to play venues of its size. Yet I can say wholeheartedly that we—along with the other bands and Charles/fine folks at The Music Hall—had given our all in promoting the evening’s show. So, I just took faith in that. The faith was justified when we took the stage and I saw the number of people already in attendance. I can’t tell you how grateful we were to kick off the show to an audience of fans, friends and family who—though they could have spent their Saturday night anywhere—chose to spend it with us and be there in attendance. The set list for our hour show was as follows: FAITH IN ME JANUARY AIR FOR THE BEST PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS GIVE THIS UP AMSTERDAM (new) BAD HABITS STORY OF OUR LIVES MOONSHINE CRAZY SONGS ABOUT CALIFORNIA ATLANTIC CITY (cover) Among some of the highlights—for me personally—was: AMSTERDAM: I’m always in love with the last song we write/record; then I lose interest. It’s weird but I think many songwriters are like that. Amsterdam is a song that has been sitting around for a while and we finally recorded an acoustic version and gave it away for FREE to those who bought tickets to the Music Hall show. The show was also the first time we’ve ever played the song full band and we had a blast putting together the arrangement. The song itself is VERY different than our other stuff—yet different is fun sometimes since it offers a change of pace. Amsterdam’s Dylan/John Prine feel and cadence was a new direction for us to take a song and we all got a kick out of it. MOONSHINE: We’re actually tracking this song in the studio now and I cannot wait until it’s out. We’re making some changes to it after test driving it for a few shows, yet something about when Ben starts in on the kick and snare intro makes me want to slug down a mason jar and start a bonfire on-stage. ATLANTIC CITY: As a songwriter I’ve always loved Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Atlantic City.’ Unlike most songwriters however, I love the version recorded by The Band the most (even though that’s kind of sacrilegious). It’s a tune that many in our circle dig too and hence why it was so fun, appropriate and flat out energizing to have my friends Tyler Mechem of Crowfield, Lonnie Root (cello) and Sarah Cole on-stage to play it with us. I’m not sure whether I felt more blessed to be around such talented people or more blessed to be able to count them as dear friends who voluntarily came to join us that evening for the mere fun of it all. Thanks to those special folks. SONGS ABOUT CALIFORNIA: Sometimes there’s moments that you know are moments you’ll remember. And sometimes they’re so short that you want to squeeze every last ounce of inspiration and enjoyment out of them. It’s happened a handful of times in the years since I’ve been playing music, yet one of them was that night at The Music Hall. Near the end of ‘Songs About CA’ there’s a line that says “Every song might as well be your name” followed by the last verse that begins “And if the heartache slips in.” On the album and when we perform it live we always play the song with two counts of six beats in-between the end of that one line and the beginning of the last verse. Always. Yet as we came to that spot and I finished the line “Every song might as well be your name” our guest musician/cello player Lonnie Root dragged out a droning/epic sad note on his cello that—once he had concluded the note and I had stopped singing—hung in the rafters of the music hall reverberating. The amazing acoustics of the place had given way to the note and as I heard it hanging in the air it was such a damn beautiful thing that I chose to let the note ring out before starting the next line. I wanted to hear it; feel it. Because right then and there—that note in the rafters that sounded so amazingly sad—doesn’t happen just anywhere. It was timing, chance acoustics and a divine mix of fate—and I had decided I was going to enjoy the hell out of those three or four seconds even if it meant missing/delaying the cue or starting point of the next line. So while I soaked it in and as the note rang out and the room became still, I began the final verse a few seconds late—yet Micah and the rest of the guys totally fit right back in never missing a step. It was pure bliss. Those few seconds could have been foregone lost—but now they’re forever mine. I’m glad I took them and it’s one of my favorite memories of our show that night. Thank you to all of our good friends and fans who joined us for such a special evening. We’re simply blessed and lucky to count you as supporters and true music fans. Thank you to Slow Runner, Explorer’s Club and especially Charles and the unbelievable folks at The Music Hall. Their sweat, hard work and devotion to Holy City Pop show was unparalleled and we’re grateful to work with them and play such a fine venue and event. All my best and much love to all of you! See ya soon. Luke 12/2/2012-Nashville, TN When I flew into Nashville on December 1st I had been away from home for over a month. And I suppose that—given my time away and the constant travel during that month—my show at The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville was somewhat of a picture-perfect way to wrap up my music-related travels before heading back to Charleston. The Bluebird Café—as many know—has for years been considered the ‘holy grail’ for songwriters and a place where legends have been born. Within its four walls, some of the best songs of our generation have been heard for the first time and also revisited when the icons singing them return to play there years after their fame has been cemented. To play there you normally either have to try out OR be invited by the folks who book The Bluebird—making it one of the tougher venues to get into as a songwriter. But because of their very diligence and strict criteria, music lovers visiting The Bluebird are all but guaranteed they’ll hear quality artists and original material whenever walk through its doors. I was afforded the honor of being personally invited by The Bluebird Cafe to perform there. Yet despite that invitation and having played numerous shows in Nashville before, I admit I was literally clueless as to how things worked at the venue and with their show format. I was unsure of whether I’d be able to do a basic line check on my guitar prior to playing. Unsure of whether I should bring CDs to sell, unsure of what order I’d be playing in AND even relatively unaware of what time I would actually go on stage. The details that my manager Joel was able to get were fuzzy at best; so I kind of figured it out as I went. So, I followed someone else’s lead and chatted up one of the other songwriters who was performing; standing behind him in line through the ‘check in’ process and other normal performer procedures, I observed and mimicked whatever he did. Thankfully, I picked a good guy to trail and after a few minutes of talking to the night’s organizer/promoter, I took a seat by the bar and watched the first two performers of the evening as I waited for my #3 time slot. Typing this now (December 13th) two weeks after The Bluebird show, I still struggle whenever people ask me what it’s like to perform there. The reason is because I worry that nothing I say will accurately convey how it actually felt. Moreover, I fret that any attempt to describe the experience—both musically and personally—will fall far short of being meaningful and cheapen the experience. But in an effort to simplify what isn’t simple, let me just say this about the evening: It was an amazingly gratifying and truly unique experience that I’ll always remember. Yet for me personally (and I truly mean this regardless of how sappy it sounds) the evening was more about the other people in that room than it was about me. I’ve been writing music/performing since I was I was 19yrs old. I’m blessed to say that my ‘dream job’ is what I do every day and it’s how I make a living. This hasn’t always been the case however, and there were many long years of struggle, crushing hard times, exhaustive travel, time away from home, missed holidays, broken relationships, career-threatening circumstances and desperate moments that—as I look back now—serve as distinctly-pivotal chapters of a much longer personal and musical journey. The faith people choose to have OR not to have in you during times like those is no different for an artist/songwriter than it is anyone else. Some people stick with you, some fade away and a few even spend the majority of their breath trying to talk you out of the one thing you believe in the most. I’ve had my fair share of each. Yet surrounding me at The Bluebird that evening was a cross section of special people who for years have been unshakable bastions and flag-waving supporters of me/my music. They had all chosen to be there for the same reason, yet their ages, backgrounds and connections to me were as varying as the distances they had traveled just to be there. There were friends from Charleston. There was the family from Charlotte who selflessly cooks meals for my band/me and welcomes us into their home anytime we tour through North Carolina. There were pals from Nashville TN and numerous childhood friends from Kentucky. There were long-time supporters from Atlanta who had made the 3hr trek to be there and there were even a handful of ladies from my hometown who had babysat me when I was young and watched me grow up alongside their own children. And regrettably, there were even those who—due to the ‘standing-room-only’ crowd inside—were sadly unable to get into the venue. A group of them amazingly still stuck around outside for my set and watched the show from The Bluebird’s front window. Only when I took the stage was I able to see my most special and unyielding supporter of all time sitting in the very back of the room. Resting on a stool at the bar, glowing with her trademark smile sat my own mother—Paula Cunningham. Knowing all the hard times when she kept silent yet supportive and the numerous occasions where she never told me to ‘just give it up’ or ‘get a real job’ gave made the evening that much more significant to me. So, you see—when I say that for me personally the evening was more about others in that room, I am speaking of these individuals; these believers, supporters and fantastic longtime family/friends/fans. The Bluebird Café—due both to its rich legacy in country music and newfound fame/central role in the hit TV show Nashville—is considered world-famous and a renowned songwriter venue. And as such, seeing a show there or being there in person is an experience unlike any other. So while performing there was truly an honor and one of the highlights of my career, the only thing better was knowing that I had somehow played a small role in bringing all of these incredible friends and supporters together in Nashville so that they could share The Bluebird experience collectively and with one another. My being there—and us all being there together—selfishly felt like a way I could silently express my unspoken gratitude; a way of me saying ‘thank you’ to each and everyone of them for their unbelievable support over the years. And perhaps a way of assuring them that their faith has not been in vain. The Bluebird was a special evening. Thank you to all who were a part of it. See you soon, Luke 11/22/2012- Los Angeles, CA After telling friends and family I had been selected to be part of an ASCAP workshop in Los Angeles for the month of November, questions tended to trickle my way in the following order:
1) Is that like band camp?
2) What the hell is ASCAP?
3) Are you getting paid?
4) So what do you do all day?
And the one asked mostly by women and/or US Weekly subscribers. .
5) Do you think you’ll see anyone famous?
First, let me be up front and say that–despite having to answer these multiple questions–I’m most grateful/ thankful for anyone who simply cares enough to ask them at all. Someone (friend, fan or friend) taking an interest in what you do/what you do with your career is a special thing and one that no one should ever take for granted. So—in short—thanks to those of you who cared enough to inquire.
A few of these are reasonable questions, so let’s see if-for the sake of time and your attention span—I might be able to knock them out one at a time. 1) Is that like band camp? It’s exactly like band camp, yet we’re REALLY out in the wilderness so if I break a guitar string a camp counselor must hike into town and purchase a replacement from Grumpy Sanders at the Ye Ole Mercantile Store. I’m obviously joking. In short (and you can find more online) the Lester Sill Songwriter workshop is an invite-only songwriter workshop held each year at the ASCAP offices in Hollywood California. Hundreds apply, have their songs heard, are screened and at the end, just 14 songwriters from across the country are invited to spend the month in LA. These songwriters–who have all now become close friends and collaborators–are FANTASTIC creative individuals from top to bottom. The styles vary, but there’s not one person in this group that I have not been overly impressed by. The average workshop/evening normally finds the 14 of us sitting down with someone who is literally at the top of the industry in regards to what they do. One night it could be a hit songwriter, a record label exec, a top music columnist, a music PR firm president etc. For example, last Monday it was Jon Platt–head of creative for Warner/Chappell music publishing–who was one of my favorites. Jon is Jay-Z’s publisher and heads what is likely the largest and most distinguished music publishing company in existence. I was in awe of how massive of a presence Jon has in the music biz, yet his tactics and beliefs are simply ‘old school’ and he sticks to them with heart. Telling us “I don’t care about hype or what you wear, a good song and a good songwriter will always find a home” it was a nice reminder that there are still people in the industry ranks who value substance over style. Anyways, over the course of a few hours someone like Jon talks to us, we ask a ton of questions, get opinions, he hears our music and we literally have 1 v 1 access to these individuals who are integral in the creation of today’s music and music industry. Just the advice, feedback and one-on-one time alone have been worth the plane ticket. The ASCAP organizers–Brendan Okernt and Etan Rosenbloom–went all out preparing this workshop and I simply cannot praise their efforts enough. Another example of a guest is the talented Dan Wilson (songwriter) who visited with us on one of our last nights. I could go on about Dan, but just Wikipedia him instead. The guy is a beast of a songwriter but a sweetheart of a guy. He wrote ‘Someone Like You’ for Adele, was in the band Semisonic (remember the tune ‘Closing Time’?) and has cowritten tunes with everyone from Derks Bentley to Mike Doughty. Dan is kind of a deep thinking guy and it was interesting talking to him because—despite being a deep person/thinker—his methodology on songwriting and remedies to bad songwriting were broken down to very simple solutions that almost seem obvious. Yet in songwriting, sometimes the ‘obvious’ can elude us the easiest. I for one will go round and round for hours working on a song, a bridge or melody before I realize that the first idea I began humming in my head was the one I should go with. The evening with Dan—and chance to spend quality time with one of today’s top songwriters—was one of my favorite parts of my month in LA. What the hell is ASCAP? If you’re not a musician and you’re asking this question, cool. If you are a musician and you’re asking this question, then I STRONGLY urge you to do some legwork and research performance rights organizations as you’re literally missing out on a group, force and advocate who’s mere existence and purpose is to assist, promote and protect the interests of today’s songwriter/musician. In short, ASCAP is a performance rights organization. (Wikipedia for more info). If you’re a songwriter or collaborator it’s best that you register with one of the three PROs in the United States. They are ASCAP (my choice) ,BMI, and SESAC. Performance rights organizations do so much that I won’t be able to expound upon the specifics in full detail, but a few are:
– They chase down your money when you’re song is played in a movie, spins on radio or you sell a tune to a recording artist.
-They provide and organize showcases and workshops that ASCAP members can apply for (like the Lester Sills Workshop) that will get them in front of industry personnel, fans and potentially further their careers.
-They sometimes share music contacts and advice on ways to improve your touring, songwriting, brand marketing, recordings or the quality of your live performance as well as provide you with invaluable networking opportunities.
-They’re able–by affiliation–to get touring musicians and songwriters discounts on everything from car rentals, recording software and industry trade magazines to medical insurance and estate planning at a discounted price. So in short, you’re afforded the opportunity to attain benefits through a PRO like ASCAP that you’d normally only have access to through an employer.
On a side note, one thing that I’ve unfortunately been reminded during my time here with ASCAP is JUST how many musicians/songwriters I know back home who have never bothered exploring what a PRO like ASCAP has to offer them. It’s even more shocking because every bit of it is FREE.
So for any musicians/friends back home who are interested, I’m happy to talk with you about how it works and offer advice on selecting a PRO should you ever wish to learn more. BUT start with doing a little leg work yourself. In this day and age–with internet and all the resources at your fingertips–you’re doing yourself and your career a disservice if you don’t take the time to research and find out what these entities have to offer you personally, professionally, financially and musically. Sorry for the soapbox rant. Moving on . .. Are you getting paid? No. I’m not getting paid. But ASCAP feeds me and the workshop—once you’re selected–is free. So, I am spending an entire month without touring or playing shows (which is how I make a living). And though it was a big decision to do so, my logic is and always has been this: There are opportunities you simply have to take sometimes when they come your way. In truth, I’ve had to save money and set aside certain things in order to spend a month out here, but the opportunity, creative outcome, networking potential and honor of being a part of this workshop cannot really be assigned a price tag. But that’s music in general–you take chances. Most times when you take those chances you also know that something MAY happen or MAY NOT happen as a result. Thankfully, I can say full heartedly already that this was a risk worth taking and that the benefits have been astounding for me both professionally, personally and creatively So what do you do all day? Yoga. Non-stop. No, not really. As part of the workshop we’re assigned both a writing partner and a mentor. My writing partner is Jules Larson, who is a fantastic woman with talent beyond belief. (Check her stuff out online!) She’s had a few songs placed in the series Dirty Little Liars, Grey’s Anatomy and in a few movies as well. Jules is an LA native but I’m pretty damn sure was switched at birth with a baby from the south. Our writing sessions are ½ songwriting, ¼ comedy hour and we spend the other ¼ of the time trying to find somewhere to feed our faces. Our assignment is to write and demo a song before the workshop wraps at month’s end. Meanwhile, we get feedback and direction on the song we’re writing from our mentor who Jules and I were paired with. Fortunately for us, were paired with a pro/accomplished songwriter named Priscilla Renae. (If you don’t know her, you can YouTube or Google her) She’s the real deal, a cool chick, and is literally killing it in the pop world right now. Just a few of her recent hits have been Selena Gomez’s ‘Who Says’ and Rhianna’s ‘California King Bed.’ She’s also had success writing for Chris Brown and various other #1 artists. When I’m not writing with Jules, I’ve been cowriting with other songwriters in the workshop during the day. I’ve also been writing a commercial jingle with an LA artist friend of mine that’s being pitched for a possible national ad campaign (cross your fingers). And when I’m not doing those things, I spend a lot of time writing my own stuff and finishing demos for two EPs I’m aiming to release next year. One is a straight up country/pop record and the other is more Americana sounding. We’ve already got drums and bass for half the country record, so I’m itching to get back to it when I return to Charleston. Do you think you’ll see anyone famous? Oh, the most asked question. And though it has nothing to do with music, I still think it’s funny when people ask—so I’ll address it anyways.
Anyone who lives/has lived in LA (like I did for 3 yrs) will tell you the answer to this question is almost always YES. You practically see ‘famous’ people daily, but it’s never in the capacity in which you think you’ll see them. Despite culturally mythology, Hollywood is relatively small, geographically speaking. And when you’re involved in any facet of the entertainment industry, it gets even smaller in a social aspect. So in short, “It’s a small world and even smaller town.” Hence, the ‘famous’ people you speak of are normally seen in not so grand places. Like behind you in line at Trader Joe’s wearing sweat pants (Jack Johnson) or in the airport (Dad from American Pie movies and Keiffer Sutherland) or running your way when you’re out exercising/jogging (Jim from The Office and bad guy from Die Hard 1). Or sometimes you might LITERALLY run into them (Collin Ferrell who I almost hit with my car in the parking lot of Ralph’s on Hollywood/Western because I wasn’t paying attention). The point is Yes, you see them more often than you’d ever think. But you can’t treat them like they’re famous. Instead, you simply act like they’re the store janitor and–surprise, surprise–you just might get a normal conversation out of them. Is anyone still reading this? Jeez. This thing should have had a Table of Contents. Thanks for the messages, FB posts, emails and well wishes sent to me out here on the West Coast guys! Looking forward to seeing everyone soon. Much love, Luke 10/20/2012- Atlanta GA Night two of the Charlie Mars/Luke Cunningham show found me in Atlanta GA. It had been a while since I had played Atlanta, yet I have a ton of great friends and old fans who still thankfully come out whenever I’m able to make it to town. As a touring songwriter, I’m forever blessed to have folks like this in my corner. I left Greenville the night prior at 2AM and arrived at my friends place around 5AM. Im not the most stealth guy in the world, nor agile, nor flexible. In other words there is little chance of a career in international espionage on my horizon. These attributes basically mean that I’m bad at sneaking into places—like my friend’s home/the home of my God son at 5AM. This tends to lead to rookie mistakes and woken up home owners in the middle of the night. So, in the event you are arriving late and staying with friends do not:
- 1) Do not lock your car, then try to open the back door—setting your blaring car alarm off in the drive way at 5AM for the whole neighborhood to hear.
- 2) Do not wear boots inside any house if you dont know the terrain. I thought they had carpet, but it was hardwood. Silly me. The result was a sound similar to what one would hear if the Budweiser Clydesdale horses had been set loose in their kitchen.
- 3) Do not attempt to operate microwaves you are unfamiliar with. Even if you’re hungry, microwaves today are the IEDs of modern late-night arrivals. You try heating up some soup and the next thing you know, there’s incessant beeping and an operator somewhere phones the home at 3am to see if you need assistance warming your meal. Bypass microwaves at all costs. This is one occasion where–despite any dietary restrictions–ice cream is the safest bet.
- 4) Don’t get distracted by refrigerator photos or decorations as it will inevitably lead you to make an ass of yourself.Example: My God son has a sister who is in middle school and looks like a Nickelodeon model or something. For whatever reason, Im overly protective of my niece and my friend’s daughters in a way that is odd when one considers I grew up in a house full of five boys. I dont know exactly what prompts it, but it’s there. So when I found a pic on the refrigerator of my friend’s daughter and saw that some middles school boy had his arm draped around her, I might have over-reacted a tad. I basically found a pen and paper, went upstairs outside the parents bedroom door and placed the photo on the floor in front of their door so they’d see it first thing in the morning. Laying beside the pic of the two was my handwritten note that read “Who is this little shit with his arm around Emma? I dont like him already. We’ll chat about this in the morning.”
could this girl perhaps have picked another time to have this conversation with me? Luckily, the alcohol delayed her response time a tad–providing her and I with some humorous banter back and forth. In the end she got her song dedicated to her. An appropriate number I must say given the person/circumstance.
Luke 8/23/2012- Dewey Beach DE “Dewey Beach is crazy.” I heard this no less than eight times from eight different people prior to leaving for this string of shows with Donavon Frankenreiter. Normally when someone tells you something is ‘crazy,’ you always subsequently find out it’s just the person who is crazy. Examples: Friend: “Dude, Daytona Beach was crazy.” Reality: No, you were crazy for deciding to take acid prior to attending a biker rally held at a spring break bar that’s known for serving their margaritas in industrial-sized trash bins. OR . . Friend: “Dude, Cancun was crazy!” Reality: Actually, you’re crazy for paying $1,000 to go somewhere in Mexico that has less Mexican culture than Gatlinburg TN yet equally the same amount of Chili’s restaurants. My point is that—more often than not—things, places and events aren’t as ‘crazy’ as people make them out to be. Having said that, I will confirm that Dewey Beach DE is a sleeping dragon that—when awakened—is straight freakin’ loco! Dewey Beach’s scenery reminds me of what would have happened if Myrtle Beach had been colonized by cool ivy league graduates instead of displaced Jersey Shore night club owners. It’s surprisingly clean, people seem to be always having a good time and there’s a bar every eight feet on the main drag. Not to mention I saw no signs mentioning the sale of hermit crabs or salt water taffy; a nice change of pace for us southern beach bums. We pulled into The Bottle & Cork (hailed ‘the world’s greatest rock club; see pic) as Donavon’s guys were wrapping up their sound check. One thing that has been a pleasure on this run is sitting through sound checks and shows and simply enjoying being around/getting to watch such great musicians perform night after night. Donavon’s guys—and Donavon too—are a group of guys who each know their instruments and craft in detail and without question. Their tone is great, they gel together and we’ve picked up a lot by talking shop with them about sound, gear, setup and other nerdy sh@t that no one who’s not a musician would ever care about. Sound check was rather painless as the techs already had most of the room sounded out, set up and ready to go from Donavon’s sound check. We only had an hour until show time, so we headed back to the hotel. Before we left however, we grabbed a bottle of bourbon from the backstage area to take back to the hotel for a drink or two. When I told Micah to bring the bottle with us, he appropriately asked, “This is ours, right?” I informed him that Yes, in our contract our manager had stipulated that there be a bottle of Kentucky bourbon in the backstage room. And since I had not seen Donavon’s guys having any the night prior, I as literally 99% sure it was ours. “Okay. I just wanted to make sure,” Micah said. “Because I’d feel like a jerk if we accidentally took something that was theirs.” He grabbed the bottle and one of our guitars and we exited the back stage area, said hello to Donavon’s guys who were hanging by their bus and walked across the street to the hotel. FLASH FORWARD 24 HOURS: In Wimington the next night—Sean, who is Donavon’s drummer—tells me that I’m welcome to have some of their bourbon if my throat is hurting me. It then hits me that (a) the bourbon was in fact NOT ours and (b) that the night prior, Micah had literally taken it out of the back stage area and was carrying it while talking to /walking by Donavon’s guys. I proceed to apologize to Sean, who—being as laid back as all those guys are—thinks it’s funny as hell. Soooo . . then Sean and I proceed to orchestrate a prank a few minutes later in the back stage area where Sean mentions out loud to a few guys that “Yeah, last night in Dewey Beach someone stole Donavon’s bourbon and he’s pissed. Evidently they think it was a sound tech and I think they’re gonna fire him.” I look over at Micah’s face and it was priceless for about three seconds; then his intuition kicked in and he realized the whole thing was a setup. I credit Sean and Tim—their merch guy—for what was an Oscar-worthy performance. BACK TO DEWEY BEACH: With Dewey Beach being the party spot it is and given the fact that we were an acoustic duo opening for a full band, Micah and I acknowledged that—if there was one place where people might boo us right of the stage—it would probably be tonight. But when we took the stage not only did the exact opposite happen, but we were also given nothing but sincere attention and respect from those in attendance. We felt like we were back home. So if I could thank these people for proving my negative fears wrong, it would go like this: -Thank you Donavon fans who were there during our set. We are well aware that 95% of you came to see Donavon and his band and that you likely have never heard of us. But your clapping, being genuinely kind to us—the ‘opening act’—probably meant more to us than you could realize. -Thank you girls/guys who—when we took the stage—didn’t sigh, but instead moved closer/right up to the front of the stage and listened to our songs and set with eager enthusiasm.
-Thank you strangers who had never head of us, but shouted out in support of the songs that they were digging. (Especially the girls who voiced their approval for our new song ‘Crazy.’ This tour/run was the first time for us performing that song, so you made us feel good about it.) -Thanks to the guys and girls who took the time to come by our CD stand, to get posters autographed and to simply chat with us. The entire point of touring is to meet new people, hopefully make a few new fans and attempt to emotionally reach people—whether through the music, personal conversation or both. And we can gratefully say that we met some stellar people in Dewey Beach! The one odd thing about Dewey Beach is that the bars close at like 1AM. And admittedly after the long travels, everyone in both groups was itching to have a beer after the show. So, when Donavon wrapped up at 11:30PM, the break down/load out of all the gear and equipment—which normally takes hours—was attacked by the entire gang and executed in record speed. The looming promise of a cold beer was evidently quite the motivator for everyone and even Micah, Ethan and I were hauling huge amps out the backstage door two at a time in order to pitch in. Somehow, we still didn’t REALLY make it to the bar in time. Yet as we peered in from outside the glass at closing time the owner/manager of the pub next door—who I’m pretty sure was three sheets to the wind—yelled the famous adage at her coworker “It’s cool; they’re with the band.” before unlocking the door and allowing both crews in. And in case you’re wondering, Yes, that first cold pint was everything we had longed for. Thank you Dewey Beach. See you soon! Luke 8/22/2012-NAGS HEAD NC Everything is funny when you’re exhausted; especially things that aren’t funny at all. Including: the names of towns you’re passing through, the lyrics to a song on the radio and finding a kung fu movie starring Fred Durst (of Limp Bizkit) in a DVD bargain bin at a Rocky Mount NC truck stop at 5am. (Okay, I admit the last one WAS kind of funny) We departed Charleston at 1AM for Nags Head NC for a second show w Donovan Frankenreiter and company. Along with Micah and me was our good friend, talented musician and damn-amazing guitar tech Ethan Ricks. Ethan has been a champ, offering to help us out with this string of shows at the last second when our former tech Brandon got called out on the road to work for Needtobreathe. Having Ethan along was crucial—not only for the great work, driving and assistance—but also for having some stellar company and laughs to pass the time. We pulled into our hotel in Nags Head around 8AM and weren’t quite sure if the hotel would let us check in 6 hours earlier than we were supposed to. Since we hadn’t slept since the night before, had played a show at The Windjammer in Charleston the night prior and driven straight to Nags Head NC, we were crossing our fingers that the desk clerk would take pity on us. After all, it was 8AM and we had to be at the local radio station in 3 hours—leaving us a small window of time to catch up on some sleep. The events that unfolded inside were akin to that of a Wes Anderson movie. (Some names have been changed to protect those involved) First off—I’ll admit that the hotel was most likely the pride of Nags Head at one point in time, but years of wear, tear, spring breakers and probably a few hurricanes had taken its toll on the building and its façade. In a way it reminded me of the type of Libyan safe house where Muammar Gaddafi might have spent his final days before eventually being executed by his own people. The desk clerk’s name was Tinker. She was in her mid-50s and despite being a local, she looked and acted as if she had gotten less sleep than we had. On top of that, as fate would have it, the old man in front of us was requesting some inane and absurd favor from Tinker that seemed to agitate her. From what I could gather, the old man wanted to know if the cleaning lady could bypass their room whenever his dog was inside it and check back periodically so that—in the event that he and his dog were out together—the cleaning lady could then tidy up the room then. I was almost certain that Tinker would slap this old man. If she didn’t, it would be even worse. Because it would mean she was saving that animosity for the next guys in line—us. I had visions of Micah, Ethan and me sleeping in the lobby all afternoon with our guitars under our heads and fanny-pack strapped tourist stepping over our languid bodies. Thankfully, Micah can be a hard guy not to like. And though his hair had become disheveled during the night’s drive, he still managed to muster up some jokes that made Tinker chuckle. This was a good start. Being nice is always ‘Plan A.’ When Tinker informed us that we weren’t supposed to check in that early, we pulled out plan B from the playbook just to be safe. ‘Plan B’ is also known as “ blame it on your manager.” We told Tinker that our manager had said he confirmed the early check-in and that we knew nothing more; after all, we had driven all night. Tinker obliged and let us into a ‘smoking room.’ None of us are smokers but at this point we would have slept in a gutted refrigerator with a pack of electric porcupines. We thanked her repeatedly and told her to listen to the radio at 11am, as we’d be doing an on-air performance. Her response wasn’t as surprising as it was classic: “I would, but the damn Indians who own this place have the radio set to some convoluted station that I aint got no control over.” By the time our heads hit the pillows, Tinker had already called the room twice to see if everything was satisfactory. We weren’t sure whether (a) she was lonely (b) she was overly dedicated to customer service or (c) whether Micah had just made a really damn-fine impression on her. It didn’t matter. We had made it, and we crashed HARD. We woke up around lunchtime to head to The Sound 99.1FM to do an on-air acoustic performance and made it to the station with a few minutes to spare. I wont go on a tangent with this point, but I will just remind everyone out there how rare it is that stations will let independent artists like me come in and promote a show, album and/or play on-air. Most channels are strictly controlled by Clear Channel or some other affiliate, so whenever an outlet is kind enough to have me in, I’m eternally grateful. As such, I ask that you too support those stations for actually giving a damn about independent artists. The lack of sleep had taken its toll on my voice and this was one of the first times that’s ever happened to me. I remember my buddy Tyler (Crowfield) telling me once that he was literally too exhausted to hit certain notes and I thought he was being hyperbolic. But I’ll be damned—it does happen. I thought we played well—especially for little sleep, no sound check and not being able to see one another—but I definitely felt the fatigue whenever I’d go for higher notes. Yet I’m proud that we fought through it. John and the guys at 99.1FM were absurdly kind—and even came out to the show that night. As the opening act on a tour, we’re aware that we’re kind of ‘small potatoes’ so I hope that John and the station knows how grateful we are for their support and kindness. Check the station out online and keep supporting what they do www.991thesound.com When we arrived at sound check at Kelly’s, Donovan’s bus was parked on the backside of the parking lot near the doors. They had arrived around the same time we had that morning, yet most of their band had slept en route and gotten up to go surfing earlier in the day. We laughed as we pulled up because—in a way—the appearance of the bus gave you a little insight into the personalities within. There hanging from every mirror of this $250,000 bus were soaking wet board shorts drying out in the North Carolina sun. There was no attempt to be cool or pretentious, these were just a handful of guys who were enjoying what they do, having fun along the way and giving little or no regard to how they appeared to others. It’s a rare and endearing thing in the music world and perhaps the main reason we would get along so fantastically with Donovan and crew over the next few nights. The show at Kelly’s was awesome. And the staff, owner and venue itself were unreal. What a gem this place is—and of all places to be, it’s nestled in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. As we kicked off our set, we were unsure how the reaction would be. After all, we were performing as an acoustic duo opening for a full band—so it could really go either way. Yet the reaction was as shocking as it was humbling. The attendees were not only respectful but also kind enough to let me ramble on about the stories behind the songs themselves. All apprehension was set aside when over the course of nine songs the venue literally felt more like a listening room than a full band concert venue. For those of you who were there, thank you for turning our expectations upside down and for simply being a part of the music. We talked about the crowd/experience all the way to Delaware the next day. This has been a lengthy tour journal entry, so for anyone who wanted to know JUST about the show at Kelly’s you can most likely stop reading here. But for those who are at a desk job, bored, or for some reason genuinely interested in what goes through my head sometimes, you can keep reading. I close this road journal by conveying a moment to you from the second night of the tour. The overwhelming sentiment involved with this moment is simple: “I am thankful.” As I meandered around the parking lot before we went on stage, I thought back to the last time I toured through the Outer Banks of NC. It was in my old band during my first year out of college and our small booking agency had scheduled 16 acoustic gigs in the Outer Banks for me/my guitar player at the time. Initially, the idea had been for us and two other bands to share a beach house to cut down on costs while each playing two weeks worth of shows. By the time the tour came around, the two other bands had backed out and funding for the tour had also fallen through. The booking agency—a small outfit ran by two girls who were more music fans than industry aficionados—were bummed about having to cancel the shows. After all, it was their first gigs with some of these venues and wasn’t the best way to develop a long-lasting professional relationship. So in an effort to make as much ‘right’ as I could, I agreed to do the tour by myself. I packed up an entire sound system, a guitar and a duffle bag in my car and headed for the Outer Banks. For 16 nights, I slept in my Honda Accord on the beach because I couldn’t afford a hotel room (they were $100 a night and I was only making that same amount each gig). After gigs at night, I would sneak into the backyards of beach houses and take showers using their outdoor faucets. Remarkably, I learned how to bathe, shampoo and condition in under 45 seconds flat. The heat was so harsh that I was up by 8AM each morning. Unable to stay on the beach for the entire day without getting burned, I befriended two girls at a coffee shop who would kindly let me read at a table in their air conditioned cafe for hours on end. My other escape was a movie theater in Avon NC. Paying $5 to enjoy a few hours in their air-conditioned establishment, I went there often during those 16 days. They only had two theaters however—and the result was me seeing the movie I-Robot five times and Will Ferrell’s Anchorman eight times. If this sounds horrible, maybe you’re right. But ignorance is bliss and at the time I just assumed those were the pains you go through in order to one day be a full time musician/songwriter. Part of me thinks I was right, because—truth be told—tours like those have served to make me even more thankful for the nights now where I’m able to at least rest my head on hotel room pillow. It’s the same way that—after playing so many back highway BBQ joints, seedy bars and mom ‘n pop venues throughout the southeast—I’m unabashedly appreciative whenever I get to share a stage/tour with an artist like Donovan and his band. I’m aware that a lot of it is due to hard work on my part, but I’m equally certain that it wouldn’t happen if it weren’t for people like YOU—the ones reading this road journal. Whether you’ve bought my album, came to a show, ‘liked’ my band page on Facebook or simply spread some of our music to people you know—you are playing a bigger role in my story than even you probably realize. So just know that as an independent artist, a struggling songwriter and as a person I am forever grateful for your support. All my love and thanks. -Luke NEXT STOP: Dewey Beach, Delaware!