I'm happy to report that last night, May 30, I finally played my first gig since COVID-19 shut down my Spring Tour. In a last minute scramble I ended up playing at my home court, Little Miami Brewing Company in Milford, OH, on a gorgeous day (and night) on the banks of the Little Miami River... and it felt great! Fantastic crowd, and we were told the brewery set a new record of beer sales (with a reduced capacity due to C19!)
I must admit I felt a little rusty, especially at first. My voice didn't feel as confident, and my hands felt a little stiff playing, and it took a bit of effort to get comfortable... but that's to be expected. My last gig was March 14 at Savannah River Brewing in Marietta, GA, and then instead of heading to Charlotte and Raleigh for the next run of shows, the fertilizer hit the ventilator with gigs canceling left and right, and I headed home for what turned out to be more than two months (and roughly 40 gigs canceled). Some of my favorite tour runs of the year were scrubbed or postponed... my annual run of shows in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast during April's festival and crawfish season was nixed... a run of shows in Virginia/DC... a 3 night run in Chicago... and our 2nd Annual Memorial Day Weekend Camping Caravan that I host, this year in Asheville, NC (with gigs at Archetype, UpCountry, and Sierra Nevada) was postponed. Financial impact aside, that is a LOT of HUGE fun that I didn't get to have this year... I mean really, you have no idea how much fun... some of my favorite parts of the year... gone.
During the time off I did buy some new equipment, and worked up some new songs that I'm looking forward to breaking out soon, and I actually played one or two last night... but yesterday's show was mostly about knocking off the cobwebs and getting back into the groove, so we played almost exclusively covers, some extended jams, etc. Oh, so I mention “we”... here's the story of yesterday's show(s)...
My son Brad fronts a fantastic band called Freak Mythology, and he and the lead guitarist (Ryan) play acoustic gigs as Freak Duology. Brad has come out on tour with me before (last year's New Orleans run, last summer's Beach Breweries tour, etc.), and Freak Mythology, myself, and a few other friends get together a few times a year to play a special event where we play an entire night of Grateful Dead music. This year both Brad and Ryan were going to join me on the New Orleans run. Anyway, Freak Duology were scheduled to yesterday at Little Miami, helping to kick off their recent reopening. Long story short, there is an afternoon and an evening slot on Saturdays, and due to a mix up only one of the slots was booked, so our friends at the brewery asked what I was up to, and Freak Duology was cool with playing both, so together we played both the afternoon AND evening slots.... playing more than 6 hours of music. They played, I played, we sat in with each other, and basically just had a loose 6 hours of mixing it up.... and it was pretty cool because after the first 3 hours we took an extended break, so we had an entirely different crowd for the evening sets.
Little Miami Brewing did a tremendous job of providing a safe environment. They had recently completed a big expansion that added much more outdoor space, and an addition on the back of the building and new rooftop area.... and the building has huge windows that open, so it all felt very wide open with lots of fresh air, and even though they were at a limited capacity the place still felt comfortably full, yet safe distanced. This was a big relief, as while we were all anxious to start gigging again, we also had apprehension about what to expect regarding crowd control, etc. It was also a gorgeous day and the river was running fast, so there were many kayaks and canoes stopping at the brewery and people getting sun on the huge patio, adding to the festive environment.
During the break I actually drank virtually no beer, and none on tap, so it was exciting to be drinking fresh pints off the tap again! I didn't notice anything new on the LMBC tap list, but over the 6 hours I did manage to revisit many of my favorites, including the cherry ale, Misty Mountain Hop, Grateful IPA, the black IPA, and my favorite, the Earth Cookie brown ale. I also don't usually have time to eat at the brewery, but we happily had time between the afternoon and evening shows, so I had a great (big) southwestern chicken salad, and the guys split the buffalo chicken pizza (LMBC is known for their brick oven pizza). It was a treat!
The good news is that this seems to have kicked off my touring schedule again, although I'm being careful to only play venues with similar safe setups, mostly outdoor shows, and luckily mostly right on the ocean. Next weekend I have a Cincinnati gig that I'm still not sure about (they hadn't reopened yet, and indicated they won't decide until a few days from now), and I'm actually back at Little Miami Brewing next Sunday. Then the rest of June I'm playing beach gigs in the Carolinas and Virginia, and in early July I play the beach resort towns of western Michigan... on July 3 we do the next evening of Grateful Dead music at Little Miami Brewing, and hopefully things will keep rolling into July. The tour schedule will be a constantly evolving thing this Summer, as different states are on different schedules, some venues are rescheduling, others are waiting a bit longer.... so I'm prepared to have a somewhat lighter schedule, with perhaps more last-minute bookings popping up around the country.
I was originally planning to do a West Coast tour this Fall, but I suspect things will get more restricted again as the Fall/Winter flu season arrives, so I'll either plan a very limited run (like long weekend in the Bay Area, etc.) or just wait to see what happens next year, if I'm still here… but that's a different topic for another day.