Dorian Gray

After nearly a week in Florida one thing is confirmed: I’m a northerner. You can’t deny the beauty of the tropics. Sunshine, palm trees, pesky green iguanas, fresh fruit. Those are wonderful things, minus the scourge of the iguanas. But those pluses don’t subtract the overbearing sludge in the air on an August afternoon. Or even at midnight. It’s hot. And thick. For me a perfect evening is sitting by a campfire with a slight chill in the air, two fingers of bourbon in a glass surrounded by friends solving the troubles of the world. Sweating within 5 seconds of leaving a building is not my bag. I’ve been told by numerous folk that Florida weather is perfect 9 months of the year. I don’t doubt them. But our tour through the south was in August, so I have no direct evidence to support that opinion. It’s just hot.

Our week in Florida had some cool highs. Playing at the Funky Biscuit in Boca was an amazing experience. I seldom have a chance to sit behind a real Hammond. I love my Hammond clone, its relative light weight and its full sound. But the waterfall keys on the real deal are a joy to play. The Hammond at the Biscuit has been played by international heavyweights like Gregg Allman and Jon Cleary. The house player is Tom Regis, and he can hold his own with any of the greats. He’s a killer player and a very nice dude. That instrument has more mojo than any you’ll ever have the honor to come in contact with. 

The next night we drove an hour north to Jupiter and played to a packed private party filled with musicians. We met some wonderful characters and made some fast friends. The club provided a condo right on the water with the fastest internet connection of the tour. That timing was key as I needed to download our video files from the Buddy Guy show. Hotel wi-fi can be fickle. AirBnB condos have a higher return.

After many days of driving and playing we finally had a day off and we decided to head back south to spend a day in Miami. Jose is a fabulous band leader who understands how important rnr is to road warriors. He splurged for a great hotel right on the ocean, and we started our Miami visit with lunch at one of the most famous Cuban restaurants in the US called Versailles. I rarely get “combo” plates, but I couldn’t decide which dish to try so combo it was. I love the Cuban culture. The food, the music, the smiles. If it weren’t 4 million degrees in the swimming pool at 4am Miami would be a great place to live. I’ve been all over the world and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a city with so much color. It’s a muralists paradise. We spent a few hours with world-renowned percussionist Rafael Solano. Rafael has known our drummer Rod for decades, and he was kind enough to give us the real tour of this beautiful city. He took us to see the Wynnwood Walls where I discovered an artist named Kobra who I should haven known about for years. His murals and paintings are mesmerizing. He uses spray paint and airbrushes to paint gigantic splashes of color on entire buildings. Look him up. I’m inspired to work some of his style into my own visual work. I love seeing new things.

After a crazy night on the town, we headed north to begin our retreat from hurricane Dorian. For those reading this piece years in the future, let me remind you about Dorian. This beast sat on top of the Bahamas as a category 5 storm for over 48 hours. That poor chain of islands was destroyed by this monster. And the monster was headed our way. Despite the regularity of hurricanes in southern Florida, this one had everyone on edge. Gas stations and grocery stores were decimated all week. So we got in our van and drove due west across Alligator Alley and begin our climb up the gulf coast.

The first stop was in Fort Myers at the Barrel Room. Steve and Denise are wonderful hosts. They fattened us up for next stop in Sarasota at the Blue Rooster. That room is fantastic. The space cavernous, but they’ve done a wonderful job dampening the standing waves with uneven boards in the walls and few 90 degree angles. I also finally figured out the best way to run my in-ear monitors and therefore I did my part in keeping the stage volume low. Too low for the other guys even. 

Our next stop was all the way up into the back woods near Tallahassee. The club is currently called the Bradfordville Blues Club. For years it was known as CC Dave’s (or something like that). This club is like no other. It was a real juke joint on the chitlin circuit for nearly a hundred years. From the outside the venue looks like an abandoned strip club in the woods in an 80s horror film. The huge trees around the club are covered in hanging moss, there are sugarcane rows all around, and you park in a grassy field next to a historical marker that explains the valuable spot in history that the BBC holds. Inside the club has concrete floors, a saggy plywood bar and an old carpeted stage. The place smells of beer and history. Close your eyes and you can see a hundred young, sweaty laborers dancing in their muddy boots. The women hike up their long skirts to feel the music, with a row of tired old men sit in the corner watching the show. The band is loud and the singer has such a raspy voice you can barely understand a word. Open your eyes and you see that history is alive today. We did our best to channel that soulful energy into our set. It’s easy to do there. You don’t get closer to a real blues joint than the BBC. I’m looking forward to returning someday … in winter.

But alas we needed to outrun the monster hurricane so we left Florida a few days early and headed to Durham, North Carolina. We’ve spent the past few days here now … and it’s been a wonderful rest. Tonight we play at the Blue Note opening again for Nikki Hill. Tomorrow morning I’ll be back in my kitchen helping my kids and wife get out the door for school. And then I think I’ll take a long nap in my own bed.

Bronson Hoover
Miama

We had an incredible day off in Miami … or as our buddy Rafael calls it … Miam’a. Here are some shots from our adventures.

Bronson Hoover
Photos from Florida

Here are a few pics from our time in Florida. These photos are from The Funky Biscuit in Boca, and our time in Sarasota and Ft. Myers.

Bronson Hoover
Rooting for the farmers

The United States is enormous. It goes on forever. And ever. I’ve driven across our vast landscape before. A few years ago my family drove from DC to California and back. We spent 6 weeks in our trusty mini-van with the kids in the back. This country is spectacular. The diversity of scenery, the mountains, the plains, the Great Lakes, east, west. It’s massive.

For this blues  journey we’re on a road mission. From DC north to Wisconsin, then down to the gulf coast in a van filled with gear, dress shirts, merchandise, and few comforts from home. The boys teased me for bringing my pillow on the first day. Today Jose bought himself a neck pillow. Any little comfort you can add while sitting in a beast of a van speeding down Eisenhower’s highways is appreciated. Riding in a van with three talented artists is like compressing years of music lessons into a few weeks. We’ve been taking turns playing DJ. We’ve all traveled down different musical paths to get to our current collaboration. We’re listening to Stevie Wonder at the moment. Last hour we focused on Mandrill. We’ve gone down the Cuban rabbit hole, talked about salsa, discovered old soul tunes and sang along with the classic crooners. I’ve shared my love of Groove Collective, roots/rock reggae, and a few quirky pop groups like Cake and Beck. It’s fun spending time with like minded musicians. As much as I’ve loved jazz since my dad introduced me to Monk as a child, I’m inspired by all forms of music and I love it when new paths are opened up for me.

When I’m not behind the wheel I’m mesmerized by the changing scenery. We’re driving through Florida at the moment, so the fauna has changed and the air is thick. Today the clouds are white and puffy, occasionally shading us from the hot sun. It’s hot. Africa hot. Last week we were in cool Madison, Wisconsin. I’ll confess that’s more my speed. I don’t like melting.

The inspiration for today’s musing comes from our drive from Omaha to Kansas City a few days ago. When we were in Fremont, Nebraska, someone told me that their town was completely surrounded by water earlier this year. He said folks who were driving from Omaha to Fremont were not able to return home. Global warming’s a bitch. It was hard to comprehend Fremont’s struggles with flooding, but then we were on the highway leaving Omaha. For nearly 2 hours speeding down the pencil straight highway we were surrounded by water. Fields upon fields were covered in water. They looked like rice paddies. Occasionally we’d see remnants of rows of corn or soybean, but as far as the eye could see there was flooding.

I come from a family of farmers. I’ve lived most of my life as a suburbanite, but my heart is rooted with the land of my grandparents in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. When I see this kind of crop damage, I can’t help but think of my family sitting around the kitchen table trying to figure out how to make it through another natural challenge. I don’t know how these farmers will survive this struggle. Compounded by unprecedented tariffs, they’re sure to be struggling for decades to come because of the current situation. For all our sakes, I’m rooting for the family farmers.

Jose is driving at the moment and we’re cranking Johnny “Guitar” Watson. We just kissed a strong thunderstorm to the west. To the east there are blue skies, and to the west it looks like Voldemort is returning. We’ll be in Boca soon and even though we only slept four hours last night in Atlanta, we’re all excited to play at the Funky Biscuit tonight. I’ve been told the Hammond at the club is sweet, and I rarely get to play on the real thing. We’ll be in Florida for the rest of this week. And then we start the long drive north with a stop at home before we head to Maine. Talk about a climate swing! This trip has been a blast.

Bronson Hoover
Puddin'

Last night we played in a small town in Nebraska called Fremont. We had just spent 3 nights hanging out in a college town, with all the comforts and familiarity of home. Driving into Fremont was a very different vibe. Driving north into this town of 25,000 people you cross over a train bridge surrounded by a metropolis of grain silos. Everyone’s behind the wheel of a pick-up truck. There’s a slight haze in the air from the residual grain. Entering Fremont from this vantage feels raw, natural, and weathered. This is America.


The old downtown section has a number of cute little stores. A few stores that sell hiking gear and mountain bikes. A few corner bars. It’s a quaint small town where everyone knows your name. We stopped for lunch at Mel’s Diner. They didn’t have grits on the menu, and despite the efforts of a funny 300 pound, overall-wearing, lumberjack bearded man, none of the waitresses would cop to the name Flo. Our resident Tico didn’t get the constant “kiss my grits” references. But I got a kick out of it. The place smelled like fried chicken and they had more pies than a country fair. Despite a few long stares when “folks who ain’t from round here” walked through the doors, everyone was very nice. The overall-wearing dude became my buddy. He needs to pursue a life as a stand-up comedian. People are funny wherever you go.


The club is the aptly named Corner Bar in the old downtown section of Fremont. A few years ago they bought the spot next door to their corner and opened up a courtyard for music. The stage is essentially a concrete box. The enemy of clean sound. Our sound guy was wonderful, and he did the best he could considering we were playing inside a boomy square of concrete. But it was loud. When the volume is that loud, you can’t actually hear anything. All of the parts get squashed together and become a wall of sound. This might be fun for some of the young folks, but it’s a killer for a musician who’s trying to craft a sound. The tables were in a more open area, and the weather was amazing. The seating area is surrounded by 12 foot high concrete walls, but the sound is allowed to escape straight up to the open blue sky.


Someone painted and spray painted amazing artwork on all of the concrete. Take a look at a few of the photos in another post. Visually it’s stunning. One of the sections was a large, beautiful butterfly adorned with a halo. Our sound guy Blaine told us the butterfly represents the daughter of Tammy, the owner of the club. Apparently she was killed in a car accident a little over a year ago. She was pregnant at the time of the tragic accident. Next to the butterfly is a caricature of a man who we learned was Tammy’s husband. He built this bar and he also died in a car accident a decade ago. He died the week before they opened this courtyard. His image is also adorned with a halo. I didn’t have the opportunity to meet Tammy, but she is clearly a strong, passionate woman. She’s created an amazing oasis of music in a gritty world.


The highlight of the evening though had to be Puddin’. Before we played our first note, Puddin’ came into our space yelling “happy birthday!” Puddin’s an older gentleman. He’s missing many of his front teeth. He looks like he’d be comfortable working in the mill, hunting possum, or at a Dead show. You don’t meet characters like this in suburban DC. He said “happy birthday” and “somabitch” repeatedly, with the passion and contextual nuance of Timmy on South Park. He could have carried on an entire conversation using only those two phrases, and you wouldn’t miss a beat. He was awesome. Towards the end of the evening one of the locals wanted to make sure I heard Puddin’s story. Over a decade ago, he was in a motorcycle accident and nearly died. He was in a coma for a long time. When he came back to us, he started saying “happy birthday.” Every day is Puddin’s birthday. It’s inspirational. Rarely do you meet someone who can strip it all down to the core. Every day we wake up is our birthday. Every day is Puddin’s birthday. We’re better for having met him. That somabitch will be with us for the rest of our journey.


Bronson Hoover
Images from the road.
Bronson Hoover
Life on the road

I love to travel. I love to explore. Old buildings, cool bars, train stations, cozy coffee shops and new vibes really get me going. This tour with the Jose Ramirez Band has scratched an itch I’ve had for a couple of years. It’s been a wonderful adventure. Everyone in the band is chill and easy to travel with. It’s been especially sweet to get to know my brother-from-another-mother Rod Gross. Rod kills it on the drums, but we knew that before the tour. The part I didn’t plan on was having a road partner who shares the same passions. He’s actually been a guide for me … this being my first time on the road with a band for more than a few days. Rod has a passion for the journey as well. So it’s been nice to have a partner to explore new towns.

We’ve spent the past few days in Lincoln, Nebraska. I confess, I had a pre-conceived notion of Lincoln. The city looks so small as you’re pulling in. But there’s much more than meets the eye. Lincoln’s folks have all been very friendly. The nightlife scene is actually really sweet. Last night we found a cool little bar that could have been in Manhattan or Chicago. The University of Nebraska is in Lincoln, so there’s a strong young vibe, and the venues to match.

Our gig last night was short. We opened for Nikki Hill - a blues/rocker from North Carolina. We went on at 6pm! When we were done playing the sun was still up. That’s a rare experience when you’re traveling the country playing blues clubs. The folks at the Zoo Bar were the sweetest. I hung out with a table of old-school hippie types who brought in a bag of fresh grown tomatoes. Rod and I went home with a handful. The one guy is a chef and I’m looking forward to a return to Lincoln to taste his cooking. If he cooks as well as buddy grows tomatoes, it’s gonna good!

Tomorrow we leave this nice spot for our next adventure in Nebraska. Then we’re off to St. Louis for a few days. Then the road-hoggin’ kicks in because we’re driving all the way to the Florida gulf coast for 5 gigs up and down the state. Yesterday was a scorcher in Lincoln … but that’s good prep for the heat we’re expecting in Florida.

Bronson Hoover
Hello Cleveland!

Our first day on the road has been a blast. The drive to Cleveland was an experience. We left my house in Maryland at midnight and pulled into Cleveland after 7am. The drive was pretty easy, despite the rain and the loosy-goosey shocks. Our first stop on this month was at Wilbert’s in Cleveland. Wilbert’s is across the street from the Cleveland Indian’s baseball stadium, and it was game night. So the streets were packed with baseball fans. But we converted a few of them into blues fans … cause we were all pretty on point. So far, so good!

Rod took his turn driving during the worst of the rain.

Rod took his turn driving during the worst of the rain.

Rod tunes up the house kit.

Rod tunes up the house kit.

Albert Castiiglia’s band crushed it!

Albert Castiiglia’s band crushed it!

All packed up and ready to go ...

We hit the road tomorrow evening for a month of music and friendship. Packing for a month is tricky. Especially when you have to think about what to wear both during the day, and at the gig in the evening. How many shoes do you bring? Will you bring less shoes than Charles the bass player? Do you really need that extra XLR cable?

Thankfully, we’re not leaving the comforts of major cities in the United States. So we’ll never be too far from a music store or a Kohl’s. But you never know. I might need that second pair of nail clippers.

I’m pretty excited about this adventure. I sure hope I can get some sleep tonight. It will be the last night in my comfy bed with my amazing wife for a month, so I better get some rest.

I’ll try my best to post photos and updates here. But I’ll most likely be active on Facebook. If you’d like to follow along on this journey across America, visit my Facebook page. Whenever possible, we’ll post to Facebook live on Jose’s Facebook page.

Here it comes ...

So my run of playing is upon us. I took roughly a decade off from being in front of an audience. About a year before my first child was born I began to change my focus and drive from music to fatherhood. Being a father is the most rewarding gift a man can receive, and I wanted to give it my all. As they grow older, however, they need me less, and it’s time to start the process of letting them go. Just writing that sentence is tough, but to quote the nearly re-released Lion King, “it’s the circle of life.” So back into music I go.

I haven’t been on a stage with a large crowd for a very long time. There’s a wonderful rush when the people listening are returning as much love as we hope to give. This Saturday’s ArtScape show will bring that all back for me. It’s gonna be a blast.

We’re on at 6:00 on the main stage. The song list is so freakin’ fun. Every tune is a feel good hit of funk, soul and a little reggae. Don’t miss it!

Bronson Hoover
Mary Prankster

I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Mary Prankster was the coolest chick in the world back when I was playing music full time. Her band was killer. Her tunes were well-crafted, hysterical and so fun. In the summer of 2018 I found myself in the studio with Mary and the Bellevederes. She asked the Belles to come in and lay down a soulful track. The session was powerful and I felt a real kinship with Mary. So much so that she asked me to return to lay down a few more tracks on her upcoming album.

Playing at the Birchmere is something I didn’t think was in the cards for me. As an audience member I’ve seen Doc Watson, Phoebe Snow, Ralph Stanley, Raul Midon, and the Soggy Mountain Boys; among others. It’s a legendary venue that doesn’t book local or regional acts generally. In the few weeks before our show you can catch Paula Poundstone, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, John Hiatt, Chris Botti, and the Seldom Scene there. Yea - the club has that caliber of talent every night. What a treat to play on the same stage as these greats!

I can’t wait to hear Mary’s new album. She’s been busy mixing for months. I think you’re gonna love it.

Bronson Hoover
ArtScape 2019

In keeping with the “Summer of Bronson” vibe, I’m playing with a great funk band called Rev. Smackmaster and the Congregation of Funk at ArtScape in Baltimore on the main stage at 6pm on July 20th. We’re opening for the James Brown Dance Party which is a highly successful funk band that tours all over. For more info about the band: http://www.smackmasterfunk.com/. For more info about ArtScape: http://www.artscape.org/performing-arts/performance-arts-detail/27

July 20th is going to be such a cool day. My old friend Scotty P is on the main stage at 1:30. And the funky Fred Thomas is playing with the James Brown Dance Party. It’ll be a fun day in the sun.

Bronson Hoover
Jose Ramirez Band

I’m so happy to announce that I’ll be on the road with the Jose Ramirez Band for a month beginning in mid-August. Jose is an up-and-coming blues guitarist from Costa Rica. He’s put together a heavy-hitting band of seasoned road warriors and is letting me catch a ride. Check back for more info. I’ll try to post pics as the tour progresses. For more info: https://www.joseramirezblues.com/

Bronson Hoover