THE 2015 KILT TOUR
January 7th - Ram's Head, Annapolis,
Like I've stated before, I'm not too keen on first gigs of a tour when I've had time-off for more than a couple of weeks. The physical nature of my playing takes a bit of acclimating. My fingers, recalcitrant in their ways brought on due to the aforementioned downtime, slowly wake up as the gig progresses (usually around the last few songs). But I was not deterred because we were finally back at the Ram's Head, a venue I enjoy immensely and a locale I have had memorable shows at. Plus my fans always turn out at this venue because of its fine ambiance and audience - ramped up for the frenzied moments and reverent in the delicate ones. If I were to perform one of my few classical pieces that I still retain in my personal musical repertoire, it would be at the Ram's Head. My Stewart tartan (the orange and green one) christens this Kilt Tour, the first of a few kilt tours I plan on doing this year. With my newly acquired 'flashes' that adorn my knee socks for an added 'zest' to the ensemble, we hit the stage. My fingers are not all there but my attitude and ambition is winning the day for me. The audience tonight is of more than a respectable size for so soon after the holidays and New Year's. One would have expected most to go into a financial and agora-like hibernation what with all the activities that attend the preceding holiday season. Me and my group cut through the songs and strived for our strong tour-weathered equilibrium that we've cultivated after our 1+ year as a band. As predicted, I start to come alive in the last few songs of our set but it's our energy and attitude that has won the battle and we conclude on a high note. I meet with my fans that have stayed the course to the end of the night. Their continued interest and efforts to come to my shows warms me to no end. No matter what the conditions might be, they are still there. This year is starting off good.
January 8th - Jonathan's Landing, Magnolia,
"Could you roll up that extension cord like a guitar cord please? When you roll it like that it starts to get twisted up. Thanks.'" That's me giving Dustin some instruction on the long extension cords I bring along to help my van start up on these extremely cold nights of single-digit temps. Our night in Magnolia, is always a fun spot. Jonathan's Landing is an interesting place cuz' its owner and manager Craig has been having bands play in the back of the golf course clubhouse. Not my first time at a golf course but this one is a regular venue for nighttime events which is unique. We've always had fun here. With ample room for people to sit and an upstairs as well, the only part we have to slightly endure is the puffy, billowy rug we set up on. With the varying thickness and plushness it does present some minor adjustments for John and his drums but my stuff isn't too bad. They claim it soaks up a lot of sound and I'm not going to argue with the Boss man, I'm just happy to be here. The second night of the Kilt Tour is commencing and it's now my Ulster Kilt that I wear tonight. I wear this cuz' my younger sister Stephanie will be in attendance and we're actually related to this Kilt. My mother's side of the family (The Toms) had relatives in Ireland that came to the states from the Ulster province. I'm feeling so much better in the fingers-and-mind department and my rust is starting to break apart. We open with our three songs from "Lucky 13", our latest release and it's obvious to me that I'm going to be fine tonight. Plus I'm hearing myself really good and that only inspires me to stretch for things that I can only hear in my head. Not pre-set patterns that are ready in the slips to come out, but new patterns that come to me microseconds before and then I process it and let it fly. I can't explain the feeling that comes over me when it all works in this fashion. Overwhelming confidence and gratification flushes through me. Is this what Ambrosia tastes like? The night continues and I just keep attempting more maddening heights and complex rhythms and phrasing. This is how I get better; keep trying new things and pushing myself to dig deeper. I may not make a lot of money doing this, but boy am I grateful for the opportunity to play and ply my craft. The icing on the cake is that my fans and people coming in for the first time are making the effort to get out and see me attempt to create and work. I live for this!
January 9th - Martin's, Roanoke, Virginia
Roanoke, oh Roanoke, a city of cozy size but with an obvious sophistication. Over the years they've revitalized the downtown Market area and you can't miss the Virginia Museum of Transportation with its spaceship rocket and steam locomotive displayed outside and the town's newspaper building, the Roanoke Times, across the street in a modern looking building where you can see the massive presses that print the news that's fit to print. It reminds me of the micro-breweries you see where the brew kettles and fermentation tanks are on display. The visual combination of both places are made more dramatic when you come into town over the 2nd Street Bridge as if you're flying into the downtown area on a gentle descent. My thoughts now turn to Martin's, the gig we have tonight. It's a new venue for us here in Roanoke and the place has a nice appearance with modern hardwood floors, large windows and dark hues inside. The stage is small but ample enough for a power trio, tucked away in the back on the right side facing down the length of the bar situated on the same side. We do our usual routine when time affords; set-up, eat and return to the hotel to 'primp' ourselves for the stage. My Stewart of Atholl Kilt is up for this one. I'm afraid I have to correct myself here. It seems I erroneously wrote that the Stewart kilt made the debut appearance on this tour but it was in fact my Edinburgh kilt that I wore at Ram's Head. I picked the Edinburgh because it was the first one I bought many years ago from a shop of the same name, Edinburgh Castle, in Salt Lake City. I can assure you they are not cheap. For the record, mine are the full-on heavyweight, handmade-in-Scotland ones. Anyhoo, with the Stewart donning the stage tonight we are a tad late starting up. The crowd seems a bit light and insouciant, so we're going to see if we can turn some heads our way. We start up and I'm sure we're going to get the 'turn down' gesture from the sound guy or manager but none is forthcoming. I have to admit, I'm still a bit on the aggressive side when it comes to volume but nowhere near what I used to be a few years back with my 'Wall O' Sound' set-up of 4 amps that I lugged in and erected (no matter the size of the venue, be it vast or diminutive). I played as with a 'Monarch's voice'. I'm not hearing myself as well as last night but nothing new, I've played under worse conditions and this isn't so bad. The highlight of the night comes when we get into 'Screenwriter's Blues' (aka The L.A. song), and with the audience being mostly younger college kids, the dancers rhythms and motions are making me drive the groove harder with the guitar and vocal cadence. When we come to the last chorus where I build up the tag line with punctuated L.A. references and the guitar rhythm goes from lazy 1/4 notes to staccato 8th notes, the crowd started jumping up n' down with hands in the air and screaming, hips and heads bobbing and weaving, it was just so intoxicating, like a mini Rage Against the Machine crowd pulsing with us! Big Fun! Used to be back in the day I would never write out setlists cuz' I used to try and gauge the audience and tap into the mood and let that 'vibe' guide me on what to play. Now that my mind is addled by age, I've been following a script which does help avoid those momentary lapses I was starting to experience between songs (and getting longer I'm afraid). A setlist does have its advantages though, I can always call an 'audible' here and there if I feel a mood amongst the crowd becomes overwhelming, but for the most part I'm on the page. Still, to have those times where the audience is in a frenzy and everything is heightened and the energy just takes over are the moments I aspire towards. Thank you Roanoke, you've made me a happy man!
- Chris Duarte