|JOHANNA VISITS THE PONES
A CD rolled from an envelope, that's how it all started... I wrote an enthusiastic review about "Dwell" and an interesting interview with The Pones followed. Now I'm even on a KLM-plane to Washington DC to visit these fine people, who became my friends! We land in the middle of a heavy rainshower and the captain has some trouble to stop the plane on the flooded runway, for a moment he must have thought he was captain of a submarine! The new security measures include having your fingerprints taken with some electronic device and looking into a webcam for a digital picture, followed by the usual questions. I always love it to be picked up at the airport and George Riser, the singer-songwriter of The Pones, is so kind to drive three hours in heavy traffic to do just that! Kind of funny, trying to find each other when you've only seen a couple of pictures on the Internet... With a little help of Travellers Aid that works out and we're on our way South. By the time we stop at Subway for a sandwich, I'm feeling right at home in The States again! George lives in a great old farmhouse on the Broken Sun Road (that name!), something right out of a movie! I'm being introduced to a few of the animals: two dogs, sweet old Candy and playful pup Rebel, and two
cats of which one likes to "kiss" people on the nose. Right after the elections the subject is inevitable, my friends are crushed by the results, don't want to watch TV anymore and the newspaper with Mr. B.'s face is folded inside out. End of a long day.
No trouble with jetlag luckily, who doesn't like to wake up hearing the whistle of a freighttrain in the distance and seeing the sun peek over the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains? After breakfast George gives me a ride into Charlottesville, where he works at the university, Special Collections library. They're busy with the finishing touches on a brandnew building and I get to see some interesting pieces for the exhibitions, signatures that go with the Declaration of Independence and a Cheyenne tobaccobag from the 1700's. The archives are stored in high-tech systems, the bookcases move automatically towards each other and we make up the end of a thriller where the bad guy will get squashed inbetween... Tonight it's time for music! Talented local guitarplayer Eli Cook and his Red House Blues Band are playing at Scottsville's Dew Drop Inn. Eli is a goodlooking blond guy, barely 20, who plays the blues standards and some Jimi Hendrickx in his own way. The songs last ten minutes, of which he sings only two, followed by amazing solos where he shows off how fast he can play and also how well he can handle the slide. When he gives the contents of the tipjar to his
mother, who puts the money safely in her purse, we decide to leave. George plays a tape for me in the car, which contains songs of The Secret Mammals, his former punkrock band from the 80's. He played leadguitar and wrote some of the songs. It's the sound of that time of course but it sounds
real good and makes me think of True West. The last countrified track might be picked up by The Pones again, it would fit in their repertoire. Back home George shows me a scorched Fender Telecaster, his guitar from that time which was in a bad housefire. His LP-collection, the drumkit and a kitten didn't survive it...
Having such a nice farm -George calls himself a "pretend-farmer"- means that he has to do quite a bit of work on the grounds. This morning he and his 12 year-old son John are busy pulling treestumps out and cutting them into pieces with the chainsaw. Wood for the stove! I take a look in the garden with the pond (goldfish!) and still some vegetables, the beautiful black horses are also worth checking out. The dogs pay only attention to the carcass of a deer, further away. It's hunting season and we hear plenty of gunfire. When we sit down in the grass to enjoy nature, George jokes: "I should run onstage with a deerbone in my mouth, that would set me aside from other singers!" Speaking of... there's a gig to be played tonight. We leave at three to say hello to George's brother John, who played in The Secret Mammals ("There are mammals they have not told you of...") with him. Then we continue to mandolinplayer Ed's house, where the rehearsal will take place. I get to see the paintings Ed is working on, he makes beautiful combinations of unusual colors, that green he used on the leaves of the waterlily is just gorgeous! As Brian lives too far away, Debbie plays the violin now, she is a professional musician and a music teacher. The new bassplayer Woody joined only three weeks ago, after Al Sim left to start his own project The Pixelles, Wes played bass but he broke his arm very badly... To make it easier for Woody, the band plays a run-through of the whole setlist, which means an extra livingroom-concert for me to enjoy!
After a good dinner we go to Tokyo Rose, a sushi restaurant in Charlottesville with a club in the big basement. Nice place to play, kind of dark, it has various corners and some red lights, there are about 30 people in the audience, waiting for something good! Speaking about anticipation...
I've been looking forward to attending a concert by The Pones for a long time. Still a music lover never knows, sometimes a CD is great and at the show to promote it, there's just something missing... But definitely not so tonight!! The performance of The Pones has that certain, hard to describe "something" that goes straight to your heart, just like the CD does! "Let's start off with a round of applause!", then they really begin with the titletrack "Dwell". Pretty blond Debbie looks good on stage, playing her violin and bassist Woody does a quite amazing job. Then there's Ed on mandolin and of course the main man with the astonishing warm voice: singer-songwriter George who plays a vintage acoustic guitar and steals the show with his stage-presence, sense of humor and his expressive face. My favorite song "If You Don't Look Back" is played and "Rolling": "It has a moral and a story, death and love". The audience is quietly and attentively listening, sound and mix are just perfect. Yes, there is already a handful of new songs available, being recorded for the next CD: "Hold That Body", the intriguing "Faulkner's Ghost", "Alone" ("This will be outlawed during the next administration") and "Well". There is great interaction between mandolin and violin, the overall sound is energetic, driven and catchy. Two covers pass by, Hank Williams' "Lost Highway" and "Odds And Ends" from Bob Dylan's "Basement Tapes", a rather unusual one. "Mexico Is Better Than Suicide" got a new arrangement, the violin comes in right at the beginning. An hour has passed by like a breath of wind, when the band closes off with the new, bi-langual powerhouse-song "Me Gusta". Was this concert worth all the travelling? That's definitely a "yes"!!
George, Woody and I stay on for the show of the second band, local singer-songwriter Robin Wynn and her Friends. Robin has a nice sensual voice, she should stick with the melodic songs but if she insists on rocking, the drums shouldn't be this loud! Her version of Tracy Bonham's "Mother, Mother" sounds good, but by that time more than half of the audience is gone already. Way past our bedtime, let's pick up the money of the sold CD's and go home.
Is it really November? This is such a gorgeous sunny day... I go out for a walk and on my way back I stop by at the house of Al and Jill Sim, a little further on the road. We confirm a plan to get together tonight, it's so nice to meet all the people I've been in contact with via E-mail and phone, in person. We're going to have breakfast with a whole bunch of people, not only George's family but also his brother John's family and their musician-friend Dave. While we're already in the car to go to the restaurant, George walks back into the house to pick up a CD with live-songs of Bob Dylan. This is great: "I try to get to Heaven before they close the door..." In the afternoon it's recording time! Rod, the producer of The Hackensaw Boys, has bought the big old countrystore not far from Ed's house. He really likes the album The Pones made and offered them to use the new studio he's setting up. This is a wonderful place with a big yard, where the sign of the store and an old rocking horse still lean against a pile of wood. Jesse Andrews, the photographer of the attention grabbing picture on the CD-cover, arrives to take some photographs of the band (with Ed's dog) on the frontporch, after a few lines I'm used to his thick accent. While Debbie serves chips with a delicious dipsauce, Rod sets up the microphones, he is attaching a plastic fork to diffuse the p's and s's, The Beatles did that with pencils! When Woody's car pulls in, the band starts playing and recording several versions of the new songs. Rod is very nice and supportive towards the band, he even notices that George's guitar would sound better with another pick! It's getting dark and the big building becomes quite cold, but real good material is stored in the computer. Back at the house I talk some more with Jesse, he shows a big carton box with all his beautiful photographs and has a story ready to tell with each one. George hands me a big flashlight, so I can find my way in the dark to the house of Al and Jill. We have dinner and an interesting conversation about music (of course) and politics and much more, I also get the chance to say hello to their two wonderful children. Al and Jill have a three song-demo ready as The Pixelles, Jill sings, Al writes the songs, produces and plays every instrument. Different from what Al did with The Pones (that was such a great job!), but very, very nice... When I walk back dog Candy (she IS sweet!) waits for me at the gate, so I just have to follow her. George and Jesse are still talking, Jesse has recorded a gig of Tim Peet's bluegrassband and I also receive a tape.
The days definitely pass by too quickly! Today photographer Jesse leaves after breakfast, so we still have another chance to talk and we listen to Todd Snider's latest CD, he recorded some very smart songs that we all enjoy. Back at the university I check my E-mails and find a message from Joseph Parsons, he thinks I should also visit him now I'm on the Eastcoast. Good idea, Joseph! I call him and we make a plan, then I walk over to the trainstation to make reservations. Lunch at one of the small restaurants on University Avenue is also interesting today! George, who knows how much I luv Elvis Presley, advises me to order the sandwich Elvis always liked the best, with peanutbutter, banana and honey. Once he even flew with his entourage from Graceland to Denver to get some... Yes, I understand why he liked it, I guess he must be smiling at us now! On the way home, we start to
wonder what to have for dinner tonight and I offer to buy take-out food, just before we reach the last exit! Well, I didn't know that... Waiting at the Chinese restaurant I watch TV for a while but George goes back to the car, he just doesn't want to take the chance Mr. B.'s face will show up!
It's freezing a bit tonight, so George puts wood in the iron stove and the livingroom feels very cozy real soon. He strums his guitar and we listen to songs from "Unchained", I particularly like the older work of Johnny Cash but this sounds great too, maybe I should reconsider my opinion about Rick
There's a film of ice on the water and some white traces of frost in the grass. The herd of cows that George and his neighbor own is in a meadow closer to Broken Sun Road now, so I get to see the bull and black "Madcow", she's a wild one. The big day, when the new building of the library will be opened officially, comes close and George is very busy, the exhibit has to be ready tomorrow morning when the important guests arrive. The sponsors of Special Collections are walking around already for an inspection. We grab a quick lunch in the restaurant where the students eat and when he has to work late, I figure he feels more comfortable if I go home with Mary and John. I don't want him to worry I'll be bored hanging around...Well, there's so much to see and do at the university that I wouldn't get bored in weeks, I guess. Mary cooks a delicious pasta dinner and when George gets home he has to search the house, trying to locate the only suit and tie he owns to weartomorrow. Yes, he finds them!
We leave extra early today, I'm packing my bag for the trip to Philadelphia and George has to go to the airport by limousine (!) to meet the keynote speaker for the event, who flies in by private jet. He needs to know the number of the plane and the speaker's secretary keeps calling him back to give the correct one, he finally has three different numbers... Before he knows it, he will end up with three different gentlemen in his limo! The building is closed to the general public for security reasons as the governor and a senator are also between the guests, everything is filmed by a TV-crew. At the trainstation I conclude that the train to Philadelphia is going to be VERY late, the man behind the counter is so kind to let me use his cell-phone to call Joseph, he also says I should give him the trainnumber. That turns out to be helpful indeed, Joseph can follow the progress The Cardinal makes via the Internet! They tell me this is only the second time in his running that the train is this late (so I'm having bad luck...) and joke: "Let's close for the day and wait for The Crescent!"
That's the train passing by tomorrowmorning! Well, I arrive in Philadelphia, more than three hours late and I can definitely say I'm very happy to find Joseph waiting for me! He asks if I'm tired, not really, so he drives around downtown to show me various buildings, bridges, funky neighborhoods and we stop to enjoy the view at the top of some stairs overlooking part of the city. It's past 2 am by now... Philadelphia has something that makes a person think of Paris and New York at the same time, it's very nice. After a stop at a 24-hours supermarket we go to Joseph's recently acquired house in the suburbs. It's built in 1940, I like the architecture from that time and I can understand how good it is to live here!
This is a quiet neighborhood of Philadelphia, so I have a short but good night of sleep. During breakfast Joseph Parsons and I continue our conversation. We have so much news to tell each other, that we excitedly keep interrupting and end up with probably twenty unfinished stories between us! But I do love that one about the photo-shoot for the calendar... Joseph has a gig to play in New York state and he goes to Australia (!) on Monday for a tour with Carus and The True Believers plus a vacation. He has a quite gruelling flightschedule with five changes that will take him thirty-five hours in total! I ask about his plans regarding CD's, 4-Way Street disbanded sadly enough but there are still plans for a new Hardpan-album and of course there's Joseph's own album, which will be released as soon as some last business details are worked out. Great, I'm looking forward to listen to it and to see him on tour again in the Spring! He is interested to hear about my friends in Virginia and we play most of their songs, he says that he likes the music -good for the early morning- and George's voice. He hands me a copy of the 4-Way Street EP to give to him, that's very nice! As Joseph has lots of work to do, he drops me off downtown and I enjoy a walk and some shopping before my train leaves for Charlottesville. That's the Crescent, a huge fully-booked train, riding all the way to New Orleans. But it's only a few minutes late, so George doesn't have to wait long at the station tonight. Philadelphia was absolutely fun, but I'm also glad to be back!
Today it's RAINING. George plays the 4-Way Street EP immediately during breakfast and he likes it, the harmonies and the feeling of Philadelphia soul in particular, then we listen again to a few songs on a Russ Tolman-album that I brought earlier. It pours down all day long! Funny, everybody is carrying an umbrella here... Driving on these roads in the middle of the forests has its dangers, as deer and other animals usually cross without looking. I try to get used to the "roadkill" I see, often
raccoons but also once a deer that was apparently run over by a truck. A big fat rabbit gets safely to the other side, after taking the exit to Covesville George shows me two deer in a field, mesmerized by our headlights, I tell them to be careful! This is a night to stay home, close to the woodstove. We eat delicious Indian food -I never had that before- and George makes popcorn before we start watching the video "O Brother Where Art Thou". No, I never saw it, although it started this bluegrass craze we're all benefitting from! George, who was born in Mississippi, looks if he can spot his cousin. He provided the vintage cars and must be visible driving one, but we can't really figure it out. The movie is just great, with all these funny moments ("Play it in the neighborhood of B, boys!") and references to the Odyssey plus old-time music. Woody calls and confirms the Pones-rehearsal for tomorrownight, Ed and Debbie E-mailed already, so there's still more music to look forward to!
No more rain today, but George has to work at the Circulation Desk. That task is shared by all the colleagues, every week a couple of hours and one Saturday a month. I decide to go with him to the university, last chance to do some stuff on the computer. As he has only half an hour lunchbreak now, I get us wraps from the restaurant in the other building. On the way home we see a car that has just slid of the road and wonder if it's necessary to stop and offer help. Another driver has stopped already, it doesn't look too serious and they probably have cellphones, so we drive on. Rehearsal-time for The Pones! But dinner first... and after a football-game on the radio, CD's of Johnny Cash and Russ Tolman are being played. This is like having an early Thanksgiving-dinner, we're with a big group of people. Bassplayer Woody brings his wife and two kids, it's also nice to meet Ed's wife Francie. I heard about her that she had a small part in the famous movie "Easy Rider"! It's funny, Mary and Francie and I look a little bit like each other: we're tall with long hair and Francie was, just like me, inspired by Emmylou Harris to be proud of our appearing grey hairs. George smiles at us: "I like tall people!" Then he, Ed, Debbie and Woody start playing the songs, right there in the livingroom. Woody learned fifteen of them in an amazing short time, so the three gigs could be played after Wes broke his arm. Now they go through a couple more off the album, "Cypress Stump" and waltzy "Desiree", then they start on some new work. "Alone" is so catchy, the fans in Europe will dig this one. George wrote a beautiful song about his daughter Moira, who's in college, they try a slow version and then several faster ones. He starts playing a pretty ballad that nobody has heard yet, "Sidewalk Cafe", after a while Ed and Debbie improvise along and Woody finds a bassline, so it builds up and sounds breathtaking... Before everybody takes off, I want them to autograph my concertposter of last Saturday, for the nice memory! Francie stays a while longer, we drink coffee with peachpie and icecream, George rummages behind us with the CD's. "This is good", he says without further comment and I hear a rare live-track by Bob Dylan, "Visions Of Johanna". That's a sweet gesture.
Another cold but beautiful Novemberday. A big dog is sleeping on the backporch, that turns out to be Tubby, who roams around and is scared of the gunfire, so during huntingseason he might stay here in a safe place for a few weeks. George goes out on the grounds again and cuts up the leftovers of an oaktree, he comes back with a full truckload for the woodstove. After lunch we -George, his son John, dog Rebel and I- leave for a ride in the country. We end up high in the Blue Ridge Mountains, driving on paths instead of roads, with rocks and dripping ice on one side and a wild little river with waterfalls on the other side. George is a very good driver, I probably wouldn't trust anybody else here! We stop for a while and climb down to the water, it's so clear... One year-old Rebel is being a good dog, she doesn't jump in or run off too far! Even in the middle of nowhere the few houses we see have mailboxes, I hope the postman who comes out here is a nature-loving person. We return on a regular highway and enjoy views of the Shenandoah Valley, then it's time to drop off Rebel and go into town. We meet Mary at the best pizzaplace of Charlottesville and after a walk through the outdoor mall with interesting shops and vendors, it's time for the movie "Ray"! Yes, about Ray Charles and it's a good one too. I didn't know he could be kind of mean, I feel so sorry for the girlfriend who had his baby... The guys at Atlantic, Ahmet and Jerry, are just great and I love the moment where Ray starts improvising and the girlsingers pick up shakers and look at each other: now what are we going to do? Going to see this movie was another perfect plan of George! The woodstove keeps the house nice and warm, the cats Socks and Black (sister and brother) try to decide in which lap they want to fall asleep. "Tomorrow this time you'll be way over the ocean", says George.
I'm going to miss that coffee with cinnamontoast in the morning! And I'm going to miss these wonderful people and the sweet animals and the beautiful music and... There's white frost on the fields again, luckily it's not raining, that would be too depressing! George drops me off at the Charlottesville Greyhoundstation before going to work, there's a direct bus to Dulles Airport. Goodbyes, everybody hates goodbyes. Let's make a plan for The Pones to visit Europe!!
Story written by Johanna J. Bodde, November 17th 2004
(previously published on Real Roots Cafe, The Netherlands)