Journey into Dixieland: A Musician’s Pilgrimage

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I arrived in New Orleans on new years eve. This is my first visit and it’s literally a dream come true. I’ve always considered this place to be my own personal Mecca because music is one of my greatest passions and obsessions. So to visit or, make a “pilgrimage” to the birthplace of American music is a really big deal for me, not to mention, I especially love jazz and blues.

I’ve been here four days now and as expected, I’ve already had some “religious” experiences. The first real moment I had was when I went out Friday, (1 Jan). It was my first night really experiencing the city… The night that I arrived I pretty much just found a place to park and rested, however I did play my horn on Canal St. for about a half hour. Anyway, I was at the Balcony Music Club and the Big Easy Brawlers were playing when I walked in. They played a cover of “Stay With Me” and it really hit me. They were really feeling it, and so was I. The rest of the night was no different. They played until 1am or so. After that I found another spot called the 3090 which had a band similar to the Brawlers- funky, with a touch of R&B. Every song was great, too great for words really, especially their cover of “Crazy” by Gnarles Barkley. They played until 5am and I stayed for the whole thing. Again, the experience was spiritual, complete with goosebumps and a few tears of joy.

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Part of the band at 3090

On my third night in town I didn’t do much, but, walking back to my truck from Starbucks in the evening, I ran into Tanya and Dorise on Royal St. They’re local celebrities and extremely talented. I had actually read about them just a couple days before. So, in the usual fashion, (it seems to be turning into a pattern) I was floored by their performance when I first walked up to them. They’re a perfect marriage of chemistry and passion. I requested “Sleepwalk” by Johnny & Santo, and like with the other bands the night before, they brought a couple tears to my eyes.

 

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Tanya & Dorise

I’m planning on staying until Mardi Gras, and I know the days are just going to fly by. There’s so much to see and do and my experience has simply been amazing so far, and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. Aside from the music, I still have tons of art to check out, and a lot of food to try. According to my cousin Steve in Mississippi who’s been all around the world; New Orleans has the best food anywhere. I can see how it’s going to be hard to leave…

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Art on Royal St.

 

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Another from Royal St.

 

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And another

 

 

 

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WHY PEOPLE, NOT PLACES, ARE THE BEST THING ABOUT TRAVELING (PART 2)

From  Maine, I stopped in Boston to sleep, and then New York City (4th Nov. ’15, 7:30PM) was one of my first “real” stops.  I was only there for a few hours- enough time to walk my dog, get a slice of pie, and get a feel for the city. I didn’t meet anyone special in the short amount of time, but the few people I talked to were quite nice and we had a good conversation about my house truck.

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Megan, her nephews, and I, just before departure.

After New York I stopped in Oaklyn, New Jersey (5th Nov. ’15, 1:30AM).  I had friends to visit; Megan, who I met while she lived in Maine, and her brother Andy’s family, but, before I met with them, I ran into a couple driving a conversion van who also liked to travel.  I was parked at a Wal-Mart and they were drawn in by my house truck.  We talked, got along, and they invited me to their place for a bon fire the next night. I took the offer, and just like we would back home, we hung out, including their two kids & some of their friends, had some drinks, ordered pizza, and stayed up late listening to music and talking. The next day they all took me out for breakfast.  Later we played street soccer with the kids and some of the neighbor’s youngsters. When I got together with Megan and her family, we had a good time over some drinks and tunes, and I had my first “tomato pie” with them, which I loved. I’m forever thankful to all the people I spent time with in New Jersey.

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My friends in Maryland.

 

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Victoria, my 1st CS host, and Kwan, her Workaway guest from S. Korea.

From there I made it to Severn, Maryland (9th Nov. ’15, 8:00PM) where I had my first experience with couchsurfing.com.  All I can say is that if I have any other CS experiences that are even half as good as my first, I’ll consider myself lucky.  Victoria was everything a good host should be;  warm, welcoming, and fun to hang out with.  She had other guests from S. Korea that I had the pleasure to meet and get to know as well.  She also brought us all on an excursion to DC, which was a first for me.  We checked out the Art Gallery, Botanical Garden, and a handful of monuments including Lincoln.  We even got into a game of Cattan after getting home.  At first I thought I’d be staying a couple days, but I enjoyed the company so much that I ended up staying for a week.

 

IMG_20151117_162945 My next stop was Washington, DC (17th Nov. ’15, 4:00PM). When I arrived, the very first person I talked to was a military man named JB.  He was very talkative, and very friendly.  As usual, he was initially attracted to the truck. A few days earlier, I connected with a girl named Shatha, via couchsurfing.  Even though she wasn’t able to host, she offered to spend time with me while I was in DC.  Initially she saw my trip on CS and loved the whole idea. She ended up buying concert tickets for us, so the next night we went to see The Wood Brothers at the 9:30 Club.  Shatha is a wonderful, lovely woman, and we were immediately very comfortable together.  I went to shake her hand when we first met, but she insisted on a hug. After that, we had lunch, went for a walk by a lake, and spent the rest of the day together, ending off with some live music at a cafe. Long story short, we quickly became close and even had the chance to enjoy a brief but potent romance.

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At the Botanical Garden before the concert.

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Wood Brothers Concert

The next night I landed in Fairfax, Virginia (18th Nov. ’15, after midnight). The people I met there left the biggest impression on me so far.  Like my previous stop, I thought I’d stay for a few days, but it turned out to be just over a month.  I split my time between Fairfax and trips to DC to play trumpet and explore the attractions.  Once again, I met so many great people and became very close with many of them in a short time.  I got attached and felt right at home, but not home as in Maine, but as in, where I belong. The second week there I realized I could easily stay forever.  I already made a lot of friends, 3 of which I consider best friends, I fell in love, and there’s an artsy little café called Epicure that I even managed to become a regular at. It’s actually a spot Shatha took me to on the first day we got together.  I didn’t want to leave, and all my new friends felt the same.  The feeling and experience of connection was very strong for all of us.

 

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Playing on the mall in Charlottesville

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I made a jaunt to Charlottesvile, Virginia (20th Nov. ’15, 6:30PM) for the weekend to visit some friends with the intention of returning to Fairfax.  Naturally, I made friends everywhere.  When I was unpacking my truck the first night, I heard drums coming from a nearby house, so I investigated and ran into a group of guys warming up for an online show at concertwindow.com.  The next night I busked on the walking mall downtown, then went to a place called The Whiskey Jar where a nice jazz quartet was playing.  I met a handful of really cool people there.  One of them was the father of the sax player who was performing.  He even bought me a couple drinks.

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Sax player’s dad (Terry) 2nd from left.

 

IMG_20151205_011726IMG_20151204_215224I returned to Fairfax, but had quite an urge to stay in Charlottesville. For the rest of my time in “NOVA” as they call it (Northern Virginia), I met a really good guy named Franco at the Epicure open mic, who originally came from Ecuador because of dangerous things happening back home.  He initially came over to compliment me after I played “Pure Imagination” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on trumpet.  He thought and liked that I put a lot of passion into how I played.  We had strong chemistry as musicians and as people. I was also fortunate to meet one of his best friends named Erfan (pronounced like: “air-fawn”), who was an equally genuine guy.  When we all first met, we hung out on the rooftop of Erfan’s place with another mutual friend from Epicure named John (very musically gifted), drinking beer, playing guitar, singing, sharing stories, and talking about life.  IMG_20151209_234516During my stay, Franco, Erfan, and I, had a couple other good nights at Ishtar Café, a local hookah bar.  On my last night in town, Franco and I performed a song at Epicure (only practiced the same day).  Most of the people I met and resonated with, I met at the café, or, through people I met there.

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Franco (left) Erfan (right)

I would have stayed longer if I didn’t have plans to get to my Gramma’s house in Florida in time for Christmas; it’s not something I would postpone, so Dec. 17th. I headed south after dropping Franco off from the open mic. Drove until about 4AM, stopped to sleep, and was back on the road by 10am the next day. I made it to Vero Beach, FL Saturday, Dec. 19th by 3AM. I’ll be here with my Gramma and her “boyfriend” Geno.  My Uncle and two cousins will be joining us for Christmas as well.

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Looking back on the past month, and my trip so far, there’s no regrets. I’m grateful things have gone the way they have.  It would have been nice to spend time in the Carolinas & Georgia, but I can go back.  I’d do things the same way if I had the option to do it over.  I’m happy I spent more time with less people, versus less time with more people.  I got to know everyone, we formed bonds, and made good memories. It wouldn’t have been the same if I didn’t take my time.  On top of that, they’ve all helped me grow and learn about myself, and I believe the same is true for them. Money can’t buy that, and it’s not something you find every day.  So for me, when it comes to traveling, it’s not the places, it’s the people. Friendship is one of the best things we can ever be blessed with.

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Sandhill Cranes in the backyard

Why People, Not Places, Are The Best Thing About Traveling (Part 1)

Before my trip began, I never gave much thought as to the types of experiences I might have, what kind of people I’d meet, and what sorts of places I would see.  I left Maine hoping for the best in all of those areas, yet I had no particular ideas, expectations, or presumptions.  My mind was completely open and optimistic.  I’m now 48 days into my journey and I’m not even close to the halfway point (California), and, I realized a few weeks ago, that the best part of traveling has been the people, not the places.

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Seeing sights and scenery is great. I really love it more than many other things… Meeting people abroad, getting to know one another, and creating memories together is something totally different.  Regarding scenery and people, one is not better than the other, as I’ve mentioned, they’re simply different. You can’t compare them.  However, between the two, I personally enjoy people more, and I know throughout my entire trip that the people will always be my favorite part.  I can say it with plenty of confidence even though I still have yet to see what will likely be the most amazing sights on my whole trip, and probably my whole life up to this point, such as New Orleans, The Grand Canyon, or Yosemite.

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I just know that this trip has connected me with such outstanding people who have shown their best, and it’s been one right after the other.  For me, there’s nothing that can top that.  I suppose if you think about it, it’s easy to see how the same is probably true for anyone, whether traveling or not, and whether they think about it or not, that on our path in life, from beginning to end, there’s truly nothing better to encounter than good people.

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Neighborhood kids checking out the little house.

When you meet people that are genuine, kind, and resonate with who you are… let’s just call it what it is; it’s a spiritual moment, because two souls are coming together in a harmonious way.  There’s a rhythm that gets synchronized and a metaphysical spark.  Soon the exchanges extend beyond conversation and move to actions, and the rest is history.  Once a relationship begins, every minute from that point on will enrich each of your lives.  Even when the time comes for it to end, you still have the bond, feelings, and memories.  Ultimately they’re always with you wherever you go.  I just look at it as one of the many invisible things that adds to our individual and collective luster.

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Busker in Charlottesville