Playing For Tips 

Over the holidays, my ramblings took me to Arlington, Virginia. A mere week after dealing with negative 14-degree temperatures, I found myself walking along the Potomac River basking in the sunshine and pleasant spring-like conditions. I always enjoy visiting the greater metropolitan area around Washington D.C., and while I didn’t make it to the nation's capital or take in any significant monuments this time, I still took in a great meal and had a lovely afternoon stroll along the riverfront. 

There were a couple of musicians performing on a shop-lined street, closed to vehicles and open only for pedestrian traffic. Street performers always bring me joy and I had a smile on my face as I listened to these artists. I had very little exposure to street performers growing up in a small village in southwest Ohio, and I guess I was brought up thinking street performers were one step above “panhandlers”. My good old midwestern upbringing had me programmed to believe “these folks need to get a job”. It never occurred to me that they were working. 

That concept didn’t sink in until I was on a business trip to Vancouver, Canada. That is when I began to understand and appreciate “busking”. There was a preponderance of street performers all across the city and on Victoria Island too, and these folks were amazing artists. Jugglers, mimes, magicians, and all sorts of musicians. I was simply astounded. Many had appropriately sized PA systems and very tasteful displays for related merchandise, and after talking to a few performers, I found that the cities and local municipalities regulated and even scheduled “buskers” at certain locations.    

Back in Ohio, I knew many communities had ordinances prohibiting this sort of thing, so this was a real eye opening experience. I started performing when I was a teenager and had certainly played on many a door stoop and in several parks, but I had never played for tips.  As a youngster, I had a few friends who had, and almost everyone of them had been shut down and harassed by either a store owner or the local authorities, so being in a large metropolitan area and finding that the community embraced street performing was somewhat of a revelation. 

Then there is the whole concept of playing for tips. I don’t really know why, but I always thought that my fees for a gig were between me and the venue, and taking, or heaven forbid soliciting tips would basically imply that I wasn’t getting paid what I was worth, thus insulting the management and reducing me to a panhandler. Now I did play a few places that as part of the clubs' performance ritual, the establishment “passed the hat” and added that till to my take for the evening, but other than that, I never put out a tip jar, until… 

About the time I started writing songs (again), I happened to be reading a lot about Buddhist philosophies. I came across several essays about humility and the importance of not only expressing but also receiving gratitude. At that time I had a bit of an epiphany and realized that tips were not solely about income but they provided an opportunity for people to express their gratitude for the gift of music I was sharing. Now I put out 

Since my trip to Vancouver, I have enjoyed street musicians in several countries and major cities across the United States and I still have vivid memories of several of these remarkable artists; an incredible vocal group of pre-teens in Dublin, a mind-blowing guitarist in London, a fellow playing in Seattle on an upright bass made out of an automobile gas tank and exhaust pipe, and a host of others. Each one of them left me with something much more valuable that the tip I dropped in their case. 

And here is one final story on busking, back in 2007 Joshua Bell cracked open his violin case at the L’Enfant Plaza and set out to play a little music at the subway station. He happens to be one of the world's foremost concert violinists. He played for about an hour, was recognized by a few folks, and made $52 in tips. 

I guess fifty-two bucks for an hour isn’t too bad. 

See you on the trail. 

   

Brought On By A Sip Of Coffee  

This morning I made a very strong cup of coffee and my first sip reminded me of deer hunting with my father. It was something we started doing together when I was 13. He and my uncle Marvin allowed me and my cousin, Keith, to join them on what was their third Ohio deer hunting season. They had borrowed a truck with a huge camper shell for the four of us to use and so it began.  


There were many memories created on that first trip, and their recollection brings a smile to my face. I hate to say it, but I am the only member of that party that is still alive. Without getting into a deep narrative about that first year, I can summarize by saying my uncle and father were completely shocked at how much two teenage boys can eat. Back then it was a big deal to even see a deer in Ohio. Some things have definitely changed. I am sure some of you will be happy to read no deer were harmed in the making of this memory.  


For the next fifty years, at daybreak on the Monday following Thanksgiving, I was sitting in the woods somewhere in Ohio. For the majority of those mornings, my father was sitting somewhere nearby. The early years were spent near the border of Pike and Jackson Counties in south central Ohio. Pop had some acquaintances with property down there and over the years we had secured permission to hunt on several hundred acres. Initially, it was just the four of us. That group waxed and waned over the years to include other relatives, and the accommodations shifted from tent camping to trailers, then back to tents again. I can assure you that tent camping in late November is an adventure unto its own, but add the notion of heading out into the woods an hour before dawn and you have the making of some very special memories.  


For the first ten years or so, Dad always cooked, and he always made a pretty strong cup of coffee. For whatever reason, I had a pretty heavy hand this morning and that first taste brought back a flood of memories that were so powerful, I set aside my plans for a bit to take a moment to capture this little reflection. 


In the mid 80’s I took a position as the Director of the Geauga Park District and my family and I moved to northeast Ohio. For several years the only deer hunting dad and I did was an occasional late-season muzzle-loader outing. One year, I had the opportunity to drive back down south and I came strolling into the old deer camp completely unannounced and joined up with two of my uncles, several cousins, and my pop. Dad was in his early 70s and the camping conditions were pretty rough. I knew the year before he had taken a fall and whacked his head on a tree, and I thought it might be a good idea to go check the situation out.  


The terrain in south-central Ohio is fairly rugged, and the idea of my 70-year-old dad walking around without a partner concerned me. With the best of gear, winter tent camping is tough and this was not a group with a penchant for state-of-the-art outdoor equipment. The overnight accommodations were minimal at best. There was more than a little after-hour drinking and I knew dad didn’t care for that so figured I would try to convince Pop to come up and hunt with me and my son Phil in the relative luxury of the Conneaut Creek Club. There was a primitive but very functional cabin, nice trails, and much less challenging terrain. Ultimately, I convinced him to come north and for the next 15 years or so, barring any health issues, pop would come up a join us for a few days.  


For several years there we had quite the “army” of deer hunters, my son, son-in-law, nephew, Dad, several friends, and on a couple of occasions, two of my non-hunting brothers. We shared some great meals, had more than a few adventures, and shared innumerable laughs. We created some really special memories. One year, D’Arcy Egan from the Cleveland Plain Dealer joined us and wrote an article about the “traditional Madewell Deer Camp”. Dad was so proud of that article, that he asked me to get a copy framed to hang on the dining room wall.         
Dad lived a long life, and his passing was the about as perfect conclusion to life as anyone could ask for. I think the last year he hunted with us he was 89. People age and pass on, or move away, and priorities and obligations change. My son Phil now lives in Bozeman, and many of the regulars who joined us have also moved away. It is just not the same.

2020 was the first time in fifty years, I was not in the woods on the opening day of the Ohio deer gun season.  

Some of the fellows at the club have asked me to organize and conduct the 2022 deer camp, and I will, but nearly all of the faces have changed. But perhaps I can help them build some memories and pass on a bit of the special camaraderie that we shared in our “deer camp” for so many years.   


This was a good cup of coffee. 

FARM 2022 

Recently my time “afield” hasn’t involved much pedestrian activity at all. Driving, however, now that is another story. I’ve spent time in five states in the course of the last six days!

In addition to a few local gigs, I had a host of performances in SW Ohio and ran up to Chicago for a music conference for the mid-west region of Folk Alliance. The official acronym is FARM, i.e. Folk Alliance Region Midwest. This was my second FARM and I attended the South East Region (SERFA) conference In May this year. It is hard to get out of the normal routine and it takes an investment of time and money to do something different. But I have found that it is invigorating to hear so much amazing music and make so many new acquaintances. 

There are several Folk Alliance regions across the country and each has its own gathering or conference. Also, there is the national conference. Basically, these regional conferences have a similar structure but I am told they each have their own vibe. There are small classroom workshops or educational sessions during the day, general sessions for all in attendance, curated showcases, and late-night private showcases. Attendees include performers, venue hosts, folk DJs, promoters, and booking agents. Each region has a conference committee that puts the event together and I know from my past life in the park world, this is a great deal of work. 

The daily workshops provide educational sessions and insight into the business of music that mostly involve career advancement as diverse as promotion, scheduling, and building a tour to home recording techniques. There are a series of primary presentations either as individuals and panels and a keynote presentation as well. There are always thought-provoking, informative, and inspirational.  

The curated showcases are selected from a pool of applicants or selected by the DJs in attendance. And I can assure you the performers in the curated showcases are without exception, incredible. 

After the formal sessions wind down, there are “private showcases”. These a performance opportunities generally hosted by festival planners or listening room venues, who entertain performance requests and make their showcase rosters up from these requests. The private showcases might be a 20-30 minute slot or a shared, song in the round format. There may be 10 private showcases going on at the same time and they may go from 10:00 in the evening until 2:00 in the morning! Doing some quick math you realize, you realize there is a “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin’ On”!

In addition to these activities, anytime a few hundred musicians together with instruments in hand, there is a lot of impromptu jamming and song circles popping up all over the place. 
If the music wasn't enough to take in, imagine halls lined with tables covered with promotional materials from all the attendees and you have the makings of a sensory overload!

Of course, most of the musicians are hoping to make connections for future or return gigs and there are ample networking opportunities!

It is a very cool experience and I have met some really wonderful folks at each and every one of these events! And if you are so inclined, I will post links to many of these acts below.
 
So here are a couple of sidebar stories:

One of the featured curated showcases this year was a young fellow from Ohio named Ben Gage, who writes a great song and plays harmonica like he was born with one in his mouth. I had heard of Ben but never heard him, I mean, after all, he lives down in Akron. Well, Ben and I kinda hit it off, and come to find out, his folks live in Ashtabula County!

And then there was this other young lady, Megan Bee. I had seen her name and heard a tune or tune but didn’t realize that she was from Athens, Ohio. Megan is delightful and seeing how Athens is sort of a tight community, I asked her if she knew my cousin, Kelly Madewell. As it turns out, Kelly is on Megan's last album. Small world? You know it is!
One more little story and then I’ll move on.
I met this guy, RB Stone who was hanging out with Ben. I immediately sensed that RB had played a few gigs and traveled a few miles. This was RB’s first FARM event. He came on a whim, at the last minute, on the advice of “Smitty”, who books music at the Pump House in Michigan. So RB and I secured a corner cluster of furniture in one of the hotel atriums and over the course of the next two days, played music for about 6 hours! RB is a good guitar player, plays great harp, and simply rips up a cigar box slide guitar! So one night, or should I say, some ridiculously early hour in the morning, I googled him and found that he toured with Billy Jo0 Shaver, has recorded 12 albums, and had a number one blues album in 2019. So there! RB has a place in Nashville and recently bought a house in Findlay to be close to his parents.

By the way, RB is looking for listening gigs in Ohio. 

Sometimes you have to work to step out of the box, but when you do, there can be some pretty nice rewards, like some new tunes and a whole lot of energy for the battery!
   
This was almost as good as a long hike!

Here are a few links with more to follow

https://meganbeemusic.com/home

https://www.rbstone.com/

https://www.bengagemusic.com/about

https://www.dougharschmusic.com/

https://www.johnstano.com/

https://www.psychosongs.com/

https://joyzimmermanmusic.com/

 

Late Summer Rain 

 

Late Summer Rain 

The Beginning of Introspection 

When I was a youngster I thought that August was an awful month, hot, dry, dusty, and humid. Maybe this is because I spent several summers involved in two-a-day football practices and doing farm work, but when I got a summer job taking kids on overnight canoe trips my perspective on August changed. 

I realized that as August progressed, the evenings were cooling down, campfires felt a little more inviting, and there was a bit of a chill in the morning air. I eventually embraced the eighth month as my favorite month of the summer. 

I still feel this way. 

By the time August rolls around, I have settled into the rhythm of the summer, and nothing is too frantic. I have excepted the weeds that didn’t get pulled or the door that didn't get painted. I have generally hit my stride with local performances and I am feeling comfortable with whatever unfolds, and busy enough to not worry about future bookings. 

And then it all changes and I start getting very introspective, thinking about the year to date and what might lay ahead.

Many of my friends are triggered by dates or holidays. My dear old friend Burt Carlisle used to say summer was over after the Fourth of July, but then again, Burt was always a bit dramatic and prone to extrapolation!

I do know many folks who equate the end of the summer with Labor Day, the county fair, or kids going back to school. 

Not me. 

While those events are all pinnacles on the landscape of the summer, it is the first cool, rainy day of September that triggers the end of summer in my psyche. And this rain has a very profound effect on me. I have recognized for years that the fall and winter are very creative times for me. I may catch ideas throughout the spring and summer for songs or stories, but they most commonly manifest themselves in the fall and winter into the beginning of new songs. I suppose I am looking for insight and understanding of the events of the past and at the same time searching for hope and optimism for things to come. I am really not sure, I just recognize we are entering into a very thoughtful time for me.

Right now I am sitting on a number of completed tunes and mulling around which ones will be on my next record. I have grouped several together and shared them with a few colleagues and friends, and while I have gotten some very positive feedback, the selection process is not done. In the meantime, ideas for new songs are coming, and this is no surprise. It has been a very eventful year with so many emotional highs and lows. I have so much to process and writing helps me find the space and grace to deal with both the joys and challenges of life.    

With this September rain, I find myself thinking that this is going to be a remarkably busy fall and probably just as busy through the winter.

I would like to make another record, which will involve making final song selections, editing arranging, and recording the tunes, plus doing all of the associated coordination, production, and distribution processes associated with that. And I will be engaging some old and new friends to help with this effort. 

Most folks know I have a couple of ongoing musical side projects, the Inter-State All Stars, the Toledo-based JT & Thunder Hill, and the Dayton-based Steve Madewell Band, and throw into the pot, a possible late winter mini-tour with Steve Lundquist and Ms. Caroline Quine. All of which will include rehearsing, a couple of special shows, and planning for some travel performances.

In that mix, I will be lining up local and traveling solo performances for next year, and of course, there are all the things that need to be taken care of here at the Creek House… with an underlying and compelling notion to capture and write more tunes.

It may be time to get some help!

But that being said, we are entering a magical time of year and I am hoping to find the time to enjoy each and every day of it. 

All the best,

Steve

 

Ascending 

Ascending 

We all have moments when we might wonder about our life. Where we are in our lifetime, where we are going, how we interact with people, and what is important to us. I often think about such things while I am walking and I try to use those moments to find motivation and optimism, gratitude and appreciation for the life that I have. 

One of the longest walks I have taken in a long time wasn't all that great of a distance, but it was still an extremely difficult hike and required a very long drive to get there. 

It was only about fifty yards from where I had parked my car to a cluster of pine trees that provided a lovely shaded spot to look over a creek valley in South Dakota. I was just south of the Rose Bud Reservation, at a place that was special to my brother Jeff. He had left this world the week before, and I had told him before he died that I would visit his friend Charlie and stop by this very place. 

Jeff was a remarkable individual. He was an immensely talented musician, a gifted recording engineer, and a very compassionate person. He had touched the lives of tens of thousands of people, not only through his music but through his humanitarian actions and just being a good friend to so many people. 

He was an extremely popular musician in Southwestern Ohio and had performed in a host of bands ranging from heavy metal and blues, to power pop, to his last and longest endeavor, an acoustic duo called Higgins Madewell. He and his musical partner Erin Higgins performed what they called “hippie-country” music. They had performed a few times in GOL at the Old Fire House Winery, and Jeff had played with me on numerous occasions at several wineries, clubs, and special events in Northeast Ohio. Of course, I had performed with him many times in and around our hometown, West Milton in SW Ohio. 

Now and again, you hear a story about someone just picking up an instrument and playing it, and I can assure you that is exactly what Jeff did with a guitar. I was home from college and playing music with my older brother Bob, when we took a break, Jeff asked if he could see my guitar. He literally picked it up and started playing it. I had never seen anything like that before, and the next day, I bought him a cheap electric guitar. He was 12 or 13. 

Much to the chagrin of my parents, in a year or so he was playing with a country rock band at local VFWs. 

By the time he was driving, he had developed into a formidable guitarist, and I recognized he was much better than I would ever be. He started exploring and developing the chops to play other musical genres and started to earnestly study great guitarists like Mark Knopfler, Eddie Van Halen, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. It was a treat to watch Jeff play a popular, technical guitar piece. I would often realize that I not only played it wrong but it was beyond my ability to play the song correctly! 

We had a lot of fun playing music together, and I will treasure those recollections. 

With his ability to listen and hear nuances in music, it was only natural that he would get involved in recording. He developed an impressive commercial-grade studio and for over two decades provided monthly sound beds for syndicated radio stations across the nation. These were often humorist, brief sound clips, but sometimes would be short songs. There was more than one time I heard one of his tracks playing while standing in line at a convenience store. He also did numerous, and sometimes award-winning jingles for a host of businesses in southern Ohio. 

Jeff always felt he was blessed with his talent, creativity, family, and friends and was appreciative of how people always seemed to be willing to help him whenever he needed something. He was deeply troubled by the inequities of the world and wanted to do something for people truly in need, so he launched a clothing, toy, and food drive for the natives living on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. For over two decades he marshaled friends and family in his community to collect and send goods to the Lakota Sioux. For the first two years it was a couple of vans full of goods, but for every year after it was a full semi-trailer load. 

In the process of doing “Christmas For Rosebud", he met some wonderful people including Charlie Moe. Jeff had stayed in one of Charlie’s cabins several times when he was able to actually make the trip with the truck, or on one of the occasions, he was able to visit during the summer. 

While he was in the hospital he had told me that the valley in front of Charlie’s cabin was a place he visualized to find peace and comfort, and I told him I would go there for him. 

Jeff was a master at looking at the half-full glass and never seeing it as half empty. One of his doctors joked that he didn’t have a medical history, he had a medical novel. But his medical challenges never prevented him from doing great things. 

He had contracted a non-Hodgkins lymphoma when he was 19 years old and due to some unclear complications, lost over 95% of his vision. He saw the world through a couple of random “pin holes” in what otherwise was a black field of vision. And his medical challenges didn’t stop there. He had a bout with histoplasmosis that nearly killed him, and two or three reoccurrences of cancer and these were associated with their chemotherapy regimes which included a bone marrow transplant. He also had a heart valve replacement, and ultimately a bypass surgery which he was unable to recover from. This bypass was an attempt to mitigate heart damage from the radiation therapy he had when he was 19. 

How he navigated his performance schedule, how he mastered the incredibly complicated software and equipment associated with recording, and how he motivated a community for twenty-plus years to send semi-trucks full of goods to the Rosebud Reservation could be motivational for all of us. 

Years ago I realized that everything between birth and death is a lifetime, but the impacts of a lifetime are subject to how the days of our lives are spent. Although he was so severely challenged at an early age, Jeff inspired me and so many others to embrace the moment and try to make each day count. 

I was numb as I made that short walk to the spot where he felt comfort and peace. I stopped to take in the view, say a few words out loud and share another moment with my brother. 

And I suppose the reason I am sharing this story is hopefully to encourage myself and any reader to remember that what we all do is not just about how we spend the days of our lives, but how our actions each day touch the lives of others. 

Thank you for the motivation and wisdom Jeff 

See you on the trail.

New Resolutions! 

On occasion, someone will ask my advice or insight on a topic they perceive I have successfully addressed in the past. Such was the case when a young fellow recently asked for my thoughts on how he might advance his career.

It is easy to take such inquiries lightly and rattle a few things off that quickly come to mind, and I have certainly done this in the past. On more than one occasion, after a few days, it occurred to me I had done the question, and the questioner, a disservice.  

If I had anything close to an epiphany in 2021, it was a realization that going forward in life, I want to work toward making things count. To appreciate and enjoy each moment, but whenever possible, be willing to put the effort into finding the best situations, and to enjoy them. In short, to try and avoid taking simple things for granted but putting the extra effort into making simple things special. 


In light of the pandemic, I have been really blessed. Like many people I have endured losing several acquaintances and a few good friends, some to Covid, some from other causes. And these losses will leave a hole in the fabric of my life and my network of friends. However, in many regards, for the most part, things have been, shall I dare say it, “mostly good”.  


I performed about as much as I wanted to in 2021, albeit mostly as a solo, but I had a pretty full dance card. And I am immensely grateful to the wineries and clubs, communities, organizations, and festival organizers that invited me to perform. I even had the opportunity to play some wonderful shows with folks I haven’t played music with in decades. Reconnecting with old friends and making music with some incredible musicians was much more than I would have ever hoped for at the beginning of 2021.  


I was also able to get my third record released and several written projects published. That being said, with the unrest and anxiety most of us have endured during the past two years, toward the end of the summer I found myself thinking more and more about making “things count”.  


We all get older, and as we age, we like to aspire to get wiser and smarter, more skillful and more competent, but inevitably, we also begin to feel the effects of time. Suddenly time becomes a commodity. There is a beautiful song by Chris Smithers called “Leave the Light On” where he shares his thoughts on enjoying the moment of each day and the process of aging. 


Maybe it’s time to leave the light on for me?  


I am always a bit flattered when someone asks for my advice or guidance and such was the case with this situation. I wanted to take the time to get my thoughts together for this young man. We picked a time and scheduled a long, unhurried call.  


In the better part of an hour, we covered a lot of ground and I found myself going back to a technique I had picked up and modified from a book by Jeri Goldstein that was written to help musicians manage their careers as a business. I call the process, Planning Backwards, and I have used this in many situations, both in my park career and in my musical endeavors. It can work for an individual, a group, or an agency, and it has a really simple premise. Where do you want to go? 

 
Without going into all of the details, the process involves asking a series of questions that start with: What are your dreams? And then, where do you want to be in twenty years? And if you can identify those objectives, then you should be able to deduce “If I know where I want to be in twenty years, where do I need to be in ten years?” Then applying the same approach for ten years back to five years, a set of five-year goals can be created. And by the time you resolve those questions, it is possible to develop a two and a half year set of objectives, which in the business world might be called a strategic plan, directing you how to take action this year and then next.  


Going through this process will help develop and set a collection of objectives or resolutions into a larger context. And this gives them more merit and importance.  
I think lack of context is why New Years Resolutions often fail. Everyone wants to correct something, but how does this effort fit into a bigger ongoing goal? And that is the beauty of this process of planning backward. You pick a destination and then you map the course. 


As I was talking through this technique with my friend, I was thinking of my 2021 epiphany to “make things count” and it occurred to me, I need to put this into a larger context, and think through what this means, and then develop some steps to make this happen.  
All journeys start with the first step. So here is to making 2022 a great year, one step at a time. 
See you on the Trail
Steve

SMB Just Another Night In The Books! 

SMB, Another Night In The Books: 

August 15th, I was privileged to perform at the Trolley Stop in Dayton, Ohio, with some dear friends who just happen to be excellent musicians. 

This event was sort of a spin-off from the June 27th performance. 

I got the idea to do the show in June, knowing that Fred Rice would be driving from Oklahoma to Ohio to see his family. Over the years when Fred would be in the Buckeye State, we would try to get together and play some tunes. Instead of playing in a living room, I believed we could set up in a small venue and open this up to a broader circle of friends and family.  

As this idea was developing and I was collecting ideas on how to announce this event, my friend Vance suggested staying away from using “reunion” in any promotions. And Vance was on to something.  

While both of these performances were with old friends, playing old familiar songs, in a comfortable and familiar venue, this was not about trying to re-create the past.  

Instead, both of these performances were about preparing for the future. I was hoping we could revisiting the good times we have all shared, reconnecting with the spirit of what we have enjoyed, and reaffirm these feelings as still valid and present.  

We have all gone through some very trying times in the past few years. For some reason, we have chosen to focus on negativity and engage in divisive rhetoric.  

It does not have to be that way. 

We can still gather and share some positive energy, without tribalism and animosity. 

And maybe the simple act of getting together can contribute to encouraging a foundation for hope and optimism for the future.  

That being said, getting together and playing music in public with people you haven’t seen in over 30 years was simply nuts! Don’t get me wrong, it was a blast, but it was nuts!  

We were not playing from charts or lyric sheets, and we had no rehearsals. There was a reason all of the songs we were playing we old, they were from a song list from one of the last shows we played together. I did find 9 cassette tapes and after converting them to files, distributed them to “the band” so we could listen to ourselves from decades ago. 

Of course, it helps that Bill Baldock, Michael Clutter, and Vance Wissinger are all superlative musicians, and Astrid Socrates is always comfortable and compelling on stage. And even though she hasn't performed in years, I knew she would be great.  

But holy smokes, what a trip! I know I will never do anything quite like this again. 

But, we did it and seemed to make quite a few people happy in the process, and I am sure we will perform again.  

To quote Billdock, “It’s just been a long time between gigs!"

Endless connections... 

 

 

On Sunday, August 15th, 2021 I will be playing music with a collection of people that are very dear to me.  They are remarkable in so many similar yet uniquely different ways.  

I suppose playing music can be a mechanical thing. And maybe that happens too often for some players. It is a sad thing when this is the case. I know I have fallen into a pit where I turned my emotions off and was simply there putting in my time. Maybe it was a smokey bar or some joint where ten TVs were on at once, including one behind the stage. No one cared or could care about what the band was playing.  

These are crushing moments for a musician and they squarely fit into the broad catch-all category of “paying your dues.”  

And there are so many other issues or events that share that category, a flat tire on the way to a show, a double booking or contract dispute, the incidental drunk, or the loud talker with an exceptionally shrill voice. It is a formidable list that goes on and on leaving one to wonder or question “What am I doing this for?”  

The converse to these trying times is the other musical moments that are so uplifting and wonderful they nearly can’t be described.  

There is a magical feeling of the music leaving your body, and a part of your spirit being part of the sound emanating out into space. It is a journey that is full of exuberance and emotion, with an unknown destination. 
  
It is easy for a young person to take these special moments for granted and not realize that they may be as ephemeral as spring wildflowers. There is no guarantee that they won’t vanish and never return. But as a person ages, they often develop a greater sense and appreciation of life and the treasures that enrich it. 

The joy that comes from making music can certainly enrich life for the performer and the listener, and to share such an experience with another person is such a special gift. 

To go on an emotional trip with a group of people creates a profoundly deep connection.   

I went through a brief period of life with a group of people when these profound musical experiences were nearly routine. I have never enjoyed a time quite like this since. 

 

Vance 
My hometown, long-time friend, Vance Wissinger, and I have been periodically playing music together since 1970. We started with an “epic” high school band called Wissinger’s Palace Magical Band, which covered everything from Chicago to Grand Funk, Joe Cocker to CSN. Then onto a few college bands and beyond. Acoustic bands, power trio’s, horn bands, blues, and country-rock bands plus our eclectic duo performances. We have played together, gone on to individual projects, and then picked up a little further down the road. All the while we have been accumulating a huge collection of experiences and memories. As Vance used to say, years ago what once was all about drugs sex, and rock and roll, evolved to good food, good friends, and good music.   

Vance is not only a great bass player but also an incredible musician. He has played with so many other talented players and bands like The Pulse and John Kogge and the Lonesome Strangers. It is always a special treat to play with Vance and we had some great moments at the Trolley Stop.   

 

Astrid 
I was the second musical act to regularly play at the Trolley, a group called Cotton was first and Dow and Astrid were third. Cotton was a lovely sounding acoustic trio with excellent harmonies and a very approachable selection of songs. I was a bit more diverse with a few howling blues, obscure folk songs, and modified rock tunes. Cotton played Sunday afternoons and I initially played on Saturday nights and then both Friday and Saturday.  

Dow and Astrid started playing at the Trolley Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays and they lit the place up. They came in with an entourage of friends and musicians that Dow affectionately called the “Toe-Jammers”. Dow was a remarkable entertainer with a host of catchy, funny tunes and props to go with them. Astrid was at his immediate right, keeping time with an appropriate conga beat, singing perfect harmonies, or giving Dow a break and taking center stage. Astrid always had a comfortable presence and would occasionally grab a guitar and offer attention-grabbing renditions of some very engaging songs. Everyone loved to hear Astrids’ unique contribution to the night.  
   
The Trolley was a happening place, and it was a happening time in my life. I had opportunities to play at other clubs with other people. Vance and I started playing weekends with an old high school acquaintance Roy (Hawse) Calhoun, and we created a lifetime of musician stories playing three nights a week for seven months at the Trophy Club in Vandalia before the first Roy Calhoun Band fell apart.  

When Vance and I joined up with Roy, Dow and Astrid moved to Wednesday through Saturday at the Trolley. 

Bill  
I continued playing at the Trolley, doing gigs on Sunday, Monday, and occasionally Tuesday evenings. It was on a relatively slow weekday night that a friend introduced me to Bill Balldock. He told me Bill was looking for opportunities to sit in with someone so he could develop his fiddle chops.  

I was always open to playing with new people and in the first measure, I could tell that while he might be a little uncertain with his fiddle playing, Bill was a fine musician. So Bill started showing up and playing with me.  

Bill had a different approach to performing, he was meticulous with his gear and was one of the first acoustic players that I worked with who was committed to getting a true acoustic sound. I several years before I realized that he was a much better guitar player than I would ever be!

Since that night when we first met, Bill has had enjoyed a rich career, performing and touring with a host of musicians. He has been living in and around Nashville where in addition to playing music, has continued to work on stringed instruments and has his own shop! He currently performs with the highly regarded Americana band, Buffalo Wabs.   

 

Michael 
I seem to recall meeting Michael Clutter through a mutual friend, Paul North. Paul invited me to go to a picking party at the farmhouse Mike was living at the time. Mike and I immediately hit it off and we knew a bunch of the same songs. We played together at a couple of casual parties and somehow found ourselves performing together. Mike has continued to play across SW Ohio and in the Ohio River Valley.  

The Band 
I’m a little fuzzy on how Mike, Bill, and Vance started playing together, but we were playing a pick-up gig in Yellow Springs and our drummer never showed up. (I found out later he had been in an altercation with a police officer and been “detained”.) Astrid was there that night and she happened to have her congas in the car, so I asked her if she wanted to play.  

And that was the first performance of what would become the “Steve Madewell Band”.  

What happened that night was very comfortable and we sounded solid enough that it was no problem to get more gigs. However, after playing together for a few months we sounded solid enough that we collectively felt an obligation to take some time off and focus on dialing in arrangements and harmonies.  

In the winter of 1986, we took three months off from playing out and simply rehearsed.  

Between playing with the Roy Calhoun Band, and my acoustic shows, I was making some serious cash in the early 1980s' but when the first Calhoun band split up, I was scrambling for income. Fortunately was able to get a job with the Greene County Recreation and Parks Department. While the job didn't pay much, a housing option was included and we moved into a brick cottage at the Narrows Reserve in Beaver Creek. 

I had been working for the Greene County Park system and living at the Narrows for several years when we took our rehearsal break and it just so happened that an old farmhouse was being converted into a visitor center. My boss allowed us to rehearse there before the building was open to the public. 

When we came out of this focused rehearsal period we were like a new band. Our instrumentation was better, our harmonies were on and we had become dear friends.  

Our first performance after this break was at the Trolley Stop.  

There was a full house that night, which was not unusual, but the room got quiet when we started to play which was remarkable. I had played hundreds of times at the Trolley Stop and never experienced anything quite like that.  

After that first performance, I had no trouble getting us booked and we played at several clubs that spring. I was able to record a number of those shows.   

In preparing for this upcoming performance, I pulled those tapes out of storage and after 30 plus years 2 of the nine cassettes were not listenable. Of the remaining 7 four had some tape degradation or were marginal mixes, but three played pretty well and I was astounded with how we sounded.  
   
Leaving Dayton 

I have always cared about the environment and when I got the job with Greene County I was provided with an opportunity to nurture and grow that concern. I felt an obligation to do whatever I could do to change people’s attitudes and appreciation for nature. What started as a commitment to environmental education ultimately developed into a passion for buying and preserving open space and I was determined to leverage whatever skills I had, as best I could, for this cause. 

 This commitment propelled me on a career that I could have never imagined. While the band was poised to take off, so was my career in the conservation field. I was offered a job as the Deputy Director of the Geauga Park District in NE Ohio and this was a pretty big deal. That park system had just passed a new levy and had a great revenue stream. It was already one of the ten largest parks systems in the state and was in a growth mode. It was a huge opportunity for me, my family, and also the cause that I was committed to.  

It was something I was excited to do and something I had to do, but it was still a crushing reality. The process of sharing this news with Mike, Bill, Vance, and Astrid was mind-numbing and heart-rending. 

 

Our last Regular gig was at Roy Calhoun’s Saloon in Troy, and Mick Montgomery hosted a Bon Voyage show for us at Canal Street. While we had intentions of trying to remain in contact and continue to perform. Vance and Astrid came up to NE Ohio for a few shows with me, and I when down to play at with everyone a community concert with everyone. Of course, this was pre-internet and the distance proved to be too great of a barrier to overcome.  

Besides my family, these were the friends who came and helped us pack for the move. Bill even rode up to Geauga County and helped us unload.  

Bill joined a band that toured the Mid-East and ultimately moved to Nashville. Michael began performing with the Michale Colter Band, Vance played with John Kogge and developed his professional sound company and Astrid performed as a solo artist for a while. 

I was blessed with a remarkable career and have been involved with dozens of projects that many people in the conservation field would consider once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I have served as the Director of three of Ohio's largest park systems and contributed to the preservation of thousands of acres of open space and over thirty miles of river frontage. I’ve interacted with influential businessmen and powerful politicians and even so, in review the old recordings of this band I found myself wondering if I made the right decision.  

So humbled to play once again with these folks! 

Old Friends New Beginnings 

Old Friends New Beginnings  


Sunday I had the pleasure of playing music in a place I have not performed in for at least 30 years. A place where I had played perhaps 200 times, maybe more. And, I was with working with some incredibly talented people.   

Which included first and foremost my long-time friend and remarkable bass guitarist, Vance Wissinger. The first time we played together, I was in 8th grade and Vance was a sophomore in high school. And we have been making music ever since. We played in a great high school band Wissinger Palace and several college bands. We both attended Miami University in Oxford where we played music together with some very fine people and some wonderful players.   

Fred Rice and Vance were in a band called “Waterfall” along with Pete Garst, Bob Hollister, and Gary Wetzel and after the band dissipated, Fred, Vance, and I formed another Oxford group called “Imagine That” featuring Caroline Quine and Dave Young.  

I left Oxford and Imagine That in 1978 and started performing solo at the Brewery in Troy. My first performance at the Trolly Stop in Dayton was late ‘78 or early ‘79. Ultimately, Vance joined me for many gigs and we played there for the next five years or so as a duo or with other guests. Vance and I played there several times before I moved to northeast Ohio with the “Steve Madewell Band” which included Astrid Socrates, Bill Baldock, and Michael Clutter.   
    
I moved up to NE Ohio in the mid-80s’ and for several years Vance drove up to play with Al Bonnis and me, or Chris Otto and I, but that is a long drive for a weekend gig, and Vance’s needed to stay home to help his folks as they aged.   

Over this forty-year-plus period, whenever Fred was back around we would try and get together to play. In addition to Ohio, Fred lived in Arizona, Hawaii, and Oklahoma, where he currently lives. These get-togethers were always special.  

Fred has always sought out new people to play music with and often found some remarkable players in the process. That is how I came to be introduced to Terry Pender back at Miami. Terry, Fred, and I jammed around a few times and I remember being astounded by their talent back then.  

Fred and Terry were always talking about another stellar young player by the name of Brian Buckley and I finally got a chance to me him when I was visiting Oxford for a party.  
   
The first and only time that Fred, Terry, Brian, and I played together, we did two songs, Old and In The Way, and the Hobo Song. This was at a pickup jam in Oxford in the late spring of 78 or 79.   

And that was the last time that the four of us, Fred Terry Brian and I were in the same room, that is, until Sunday afternoon.   

The last time Fred was in Ohio was in 2019 and we had met at his mothers' house south of Columbus. I drove down from NE Ohio, Vance drove over from West Milton and Brian came up from Cincinnati and that was the first time I had seen Brian since that jam in Oxford.   

We had a great time playing in “mom’s” basement and decided that we would have to do it again. And then we found ourselves in a global pandemic.   

With the travel advisories associated with the pandemic, Fred had not seen his Ohio relatives and quite a while and it was a foregone conclusion when he came to see them, we would get together and play. I thought it would be cool to meet up and play in a public space, after all, we have been performing music over all these years, why not share that with people, friends, family, and whomever?   

I ran that idea past Fred, Brian, and Vance and they thought would be a lot of fun. So I had the green light to come up with a plan. As Fred began planning this year's trip from his home in Oklahoma to Ohio, I started casting about to find a venue where we could play.   

As I was looking for venues I was also trying to find a few dates that could fit into our collective schedules. Brian is often playing out in the greater Cincinnati area, Vance is a busy professional sound engineer, and I have a fairly regular gigging schedule too. Once we found a few dates, the pressure was on to secure a place to play.   

I was looking for venues around Columbus or Dayton and through nothing but coincidence, the Trolly Stop floated to the surface.   

The owners of the Trolly had found some old pictures of musicians in the basement and didn’t know who was in the photographs. They turned to Jill Witherspoon who managed the club years ago and she immediately recognized most of the performers which included Vance and me. She turned to me to see if I knew any of the others.   

These photos were taken in the early 80s’ when the Trolly Stop was having music 7 nights a week. In the late 70’s “Cotton” was playing on Sunday night, I started playing on Saturday nights and then expanded to Friday and Saturday. Within a year, Dow and Astrid began playing Monday through Thursday and the Trolly was “a buzz”.    

And ultimately, the discovery of those photos led to the conversation about the Trolly Stop becoming the host venue for the “Old Friends, New Beginnings” show and Jill shared the notion to the owners, Robin and Chris.   

I didn’t want our performance to compete with or displace any other musical acts and I didn’t want it to be a late-night gig. As it turned out, the owners thought a Sunday 2:30-5:30 afternoon show would be great.   

Brian, Fred, Vance, and I were all excited about the idea of playing together in a setting that was open to the public, and we started sharing ideas for a possible song list. On one of my trips to Dayton this spring, Brian, Vance, and I were able to get together and run through a few tunes.   

Once the general details had been worked out with the club, I shared a post on Instagram and Facebook. On a whim, Brian emailed it to Terry Pender with a “too bad you can’t make it” note. As it turned out, Terry who lives in New York was in the process of planning a trip to Ohio and was able to shuffle his schedule to make this date.   

And that was how it came to pass that Terry and I saw each other for the first time in decades.   
   
On Sunday, June 27th at 2:30 we started playing to a nearly full house, Brian, Fred, Terry, Vance, and I. And we played none stop for an hour and fifteen minutes, took a twenty-minute intermission, and played for another hour.    
   
We all had friends from high school, friends from college, work friends, social friends, family, and people who just showed up. I heard many comments on the timeless connection that seemed readily apparent between the five of us as we played. When we returned from our intermission we were joined by Gary Wetzel who had driven up from Alabama just for this show!  

It is hard to verbalize the feelings that come with an experience like this, but it did reaffirm several things. First of all, music can create an incredible and seemingly timeless bond between players. Secondly, an audience responds to the emotion of the performers, and the performers in turn are fueled by this response and this is nearly intoxicating. Yesterday was a very emotional performance! And when that emotion is joyful, the entire experience is a wonderfully uplifting event.  

Yesterday was a joyful day for a lot of people and validated why I have continued to perform music. Despite work schedules, contract issues, equipment glitches, bad venues, off nights, and tough crowds when it comes together like it all did this week, all the hard times are forgotten.  
It feels good to make people happy. 

It is good to be happy.

Growing Up 

Pedestrian Ramblings 4/4 
Growing Up 
The collective “we” tend to start asking youngsters at a very early age “What do you want to be when you grow up“? As innocent as that question is there is an implication that we need to aspire to become someone beyond where we are or do something of consequence and lasting value. 

I suppose this question continues to haunt some free-spirited folks throughout their life. 

My friend Mark Freeman and I have taken a few walks and talks around Chapin Forest recently and I starting thinking about the essence of our conversations when I saw these giant chairs outside of the ski center. We were talking about what we want to be when we grow up! 

Mark happens to be one of my favorite Ohio songwriters and we have been comparing notes about writing songs, playing, performing, and recording music. 

Just like so many other things in our lifetime, there have been many changes in the business of making music. From the glitz and glamour of the global and national recording industry, right down to the open mic nights on the local level, new technology has impacted how we play, perform, record, and listen to music. And this will continue to evolve. Mark and I have been talking about how to set a course to follow and how to navigate to where we would like to take our music. 

Neither of us is spring chickens and often find ourselves in a quandary about certain elements of the music business. In our conversations, we consistently avoid the question: “Why are we writing songs and playing music?” I could just imagine some adult from my past overhearing our conversations and saying: “You two just need to grow up!” 

Neither of us has delusions of becoming rich playing and singing our songs, or even paying our bills with the dough we are raking in! That being said getting paid to play is certainly an important affirmation for years of practice and the effort we have invested to refine our craft and performance skills. 

Between the two of us, Mark and I know many musicians. There are very few who make a living playing music. Those that do, work very hard and often have multiple projects and music-related income streams. That number dwindles dramatically when filtered by those writing and performing original music. 

There is a significant challenge in creating songs that are both musically appealing strong and lyrically strong enough to engage and entertain people. This is not a small task. 

Oh of course with an original tune there is the tiny possibility of someone picking up a song for a prominent musician to record, but those are pretty slim odds. And there is the potential for income from digital streaming. After all, if a song gets played 229 times on Spotify the artist gets one dollar, so if your song gets streamed 200,000 you get about 850 bucks! Just sayin’... 

With the advances in technology, it is possible to make an acceptable recording in a home studio, so recording has gotten much more accessible and affordable! But there are still significant start-up costs associated with good microphones, a powerful computer, and associated editing and recording software. And the learning curve for the software and recording techniques requires a substantial amount of time. 

At the end of the day it still costs about four dollars a unit to “commercially” burn and package a small batch of CDs, and with the explosion of internet streaming, no one is sure if there is a viable market for CDs. Some agents say "CD are like business cards, you have to have them." That is a pretty expensive business card! 

When you start doing the math, you want to stop doing the math! 

So why do we work so hard at these things that don’t fit into a financially productive model? 
Is there more to it? 

Maybe we just don’t want to grow up, and is there a reward for not “growing up”? 

Yes, there is. It comes down to the balance of pursuing and eventually sharing a personal expression, connecting with and enriching the lives of other people, and the recognition that this has value. 

On a personal level, there is an indescribable, magical feeling that occurs with the process of finding and arranging the words, that turn an idea into a story, that can somehow be embedded in a melody. When this comes together it's a wonderful experience. And when someone tells you how much a song means to them or how they felt when they first heard it, there is a humbling realization that this is something that is bigger than an individual experience and has to be shared! 

Often we are condition to measure success in financial returns, but what a stark world it would be if that matrix was our only driver! How many elements of our lives are enriched by doing things that have limited or negative financial returns? How much joy do these efforts produce for ourselves and others? 

This phenomenon isn’t limited to musicians but to all artisans and crafters who work hard at what they do. We make things for the joy of self-expression and we share or give these things to enrich the lives of others. 

So maybe, I just don't want to grow up, and I hope you don't either. 

Should you want to check mark out: 

https://mfreemanmusic.com/ 

See you out ramblin' around

Photos from the Trolley Stop 2021