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Jambands, Family Reunions, and the 4th Of July
By Mick Polich - 07/15/2008 - 10:16 AM EDT

Family reunions can be joyous, or teeth-grinding to some - seems our little trips back to northwest Iowa for the 4th of July Andrews family reunions are always the former. Beer, food, activities, laughs, reflection…..

I don’t know  - yeah, because I’ll be 50 soon, and why, WHY, the need for a clear  mental path heading into the second decade, well, it’s just me, and as always, you can stop reading the column right now because, again, this piece is less about music, and more about music being an interwoven thread in lives surrounded by so much.

Seems I’m writing less about ‘how-to’ – how to ‘make it’ in music, or the semantics of gigging, writing songs, making a living, musically. There’s always time for ‘how-to’, but never enough time for ‘how-it-‘tis’ – we’ll get back to the ‘how to’s’ in short order. Sure, there are things, mostly on the creative side, that I still hunger for in making art and music – the money earning side seems to be tougher. Moving around the country, getting older in a ‘youth driven’ industry, starting again making friends, musical and otherwise – I lie awake some nights thinking how to keep doing this, and earn an income while being a parent and a spouse. The hound dog has a few more tricks up his sleeve – look, ma, no hands. 

Well, I’ll get back to the hand -wringing in a moment. First, some debts to settle: my brother –in-law, “DJ” Dan Hurley gave me a one minute ration of shite and Irish guilt on the 4th of July during a concert by my buddy Erick Hovey’s excellent blues band (actually, Erick sitting in with Tom Gary’s excellent blues band) at the King’s Pointe Resort and Lodge during our Storm Lake reunion. “How come I never get mentioned in your column?”, followed by my in-laws retorting like vocal machine guns, ”Yeah, why not us?”, “Come on, dude!!”. Oh goodness, lordy, lord – at that point, I had a feeling like I killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille! What could I do? O.k., well, first the shout-outs and props to the in-laws: many blessings and thanks to Wayne, Bernie (the MAIN reason we get together – we celebrate your life together each July!), Barb, Jerry, Ben, Joe, and their families, Jane, Gus, Erica, Eric, and the boys, Sara, Mark, and their happy, little brood (hey, Galvin – git that frown off yer forehead, turnip!!), Trish, Joe, Lizzie, Josh (keep researching those altered guitar chords, son!), Tina, Angelo, Stephanie, and Desi, The Wonder Dog Of The Southwest, Uncle Bob and Aunt Sanny, my lovely wife Mary Beth and son Andrew ( hey pal, you’ve got a RECORD LABEL named after you!), the Goddess Of Retro-Hip Fashion, Amy ‘Kat” Hurley, and the reason for the next paragraph, “Big Dan” Hurley (“What’s going on, Big Dan?”). Skol and l’chaim!!

Whew – o.k., where was I? Oh yes – jambands! Here ya go, Danny boy!

An Open-Letter To A Brother (In-Law): Dan, I embrace the open-minded nature of Jamband Nation – where else could you go and see Emmy Lou Harris, John Scofield, Widespread Panic, and Metallica under one circus tent? It’s a rare treat for such ‘catholic’ air and surroundings (now, if we could get politics and ideologies to embrace the jamband ethic, what world it would be – then again, er, perhaps NOT!!! Dubya layin’ down policies, groovin’ to Umphree’s McGee? That could be stretch….). Here’s my thoughts on what I dig (and don’t dig) about jam-ism:

  1. Like the open – minded nature of the scene.
  2. Fave bands – Phish ( “New Year’s Eve,1995” is a killer, multi - disc set), Zappa Plays Zappa ( damn right Dweezil and Co. should be on the bill – sorry to say, but their collective musicianship blows the doors off of many a group – print it and post it!), Medeski, Martin, Wood, and Scofield ( not just jazzers slumming, but a real, breathing, jam unit), Jimmy Herring with Widespread ( the Southern ”Coltrane Of Jam Guitar” just kills me every time –thanks for those live discs, Dan!), Herbie Hancock with the Headhunters ( Herbie gives us hope for funk after fifty – what is he, in his sixties now? Mo’ fo’ keyboardist and composer – give the “Headhunters” disc and the follow-up “Thrust” a dedicated spin…), the Dead (well, of course), Derek Trucks, Sue Tedeschi, Allman Brothers (again, of course), Galactic, Flaming Lips, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (every time I spin their new disc, I think it’s 1966 all over again for soul and funk – Holy Hey-Zeus Marimba!),old-schoolers Los Lobos and Little Feat.
  3. Don’t dig the flood of sub-par musicianship and song writing – it borders on extended wanking with a capital ‘W’. I ain’t namin’ names – you all can dig thru the current scene and draw your own conclusions.
  4. Same culture that my wife complained about when she followed the Dead many a moon back hits the newer scene: slackers bumming off of EVERYONE, second-class citizenship for some, for chrissakes, TAKE A BATH, PEOPLE, etc.
  5. Then again, the positive aspects: the need and follow-through for real change in society, new innovations thru new ideas, fresh thinking, the continuation of a pretty open music tradition, etc.
  6. Like the fact that a lot of bands pull out cool cover tunes during thru sets, and play ENTIRE album sides (you kids remember ALBUM SIDES???).
  7. I could think of more, but it could turn into a Senate roll call……….O.k., yes, time to move on, bay –bees!

Dan, we’ll talk more over a cold one at the next wedding/reunion/gathering, but is this a good start? Hope so – let me know!

First off, you haven’t lived until you feel the breeze, or wind, off the lake in Storm Lake. Yes, yes, I know, it’s clichéd (insert ‘favorite vacation and/or living area’ here), but really, it signifies so much about the town and the area. I’ve been traveling to Storm lake to live, breath, and soak in the rarified air of a small Iowa town that’s changed in scope and culture, but not purpose: it’s still the City Beautiful (at least to me, and several members of the collective posse…). I could go to a lot of Iowa towns around the state -  my karma and life just happened to hit in  Storm Lake, so here ‘tis!

Each July 4th, for the past 30 years, Storm Lake, IA. opens it’s doors to approximately 20,000 more people for the parade on the main drag, and street festival, which includes non-stop music, an artist gallery, and a chance to sample great Iowa food staples such as turkey fillets and pork burgers. I’ve been attending myself for most of 18 years, along with my wife, son, and sometimes our dogs. It’s also family reunion time for the Andrews clan – my wife’s side – and it’s nothing short of a big party. There’s about a 10 -  day slice in time that we carve out for the entire sha - bang.

The music bit during this time period can consist of family jam sessions, such as last year (although this happened over Labor Day) – Mary and I hauled a partial p.a., two guitars (a Tele and my Saga Blue Ridge acoustic), mikes, music stands, and music books for three shows up in Storm Lake – one for my in-laws’ 60th wedding anniversary party, two for the in – the –driveway party (GREAT rendition of “Ring Of Fire”, Angelo!), then a song at the 60th anniversary Mass at St. Mary’s (Mary on vocals, me on guitar). These shows started to solidify an outlook that great gigs can happen anywhere, any time. My gig mix nowadays is between paid and non-paid gigs anyway – the purpose is the same: deliver the goods, and get some enjoyment when you can out of playing music. I had the mindset for too long –“well, we’re not in a bar playing, I mean, what fun could happen here?” You’re playing for an AUDIENCE – sometimes, an even BETTER audience than a bar crowd. Ridiculous thinking on my part, but this is me, and my life as it happens playing music and creating…..

So, bring on mo’ gigs –wherever, and whenever!

Well, we didn’t haul up the gear (except the Martin Backpacker acoustic – oooh, it’s such a little thang…), but I did find out that I had a gig playing at the St. Mary’s Alumni Mass with the choir. Don Demers – bassist for the choir, and bassist for the Tom Gary Blues Band – asked me to sit in. Cool, yes I will, indeedy, ‘cept…. I don’t have an AXE! What to do, what to do, chillen?? Well, as they say in my faith, the Holy Spirit (which is kinda like God’s western marketing manager – thanks George Carlin, R.I.P., for that one!) intervenes – my nephew Angelo brought his spankin’-new Breedlove acoustic/electric. Wunnerful! Now, alls I needs are some picks, a strap, and a cable, and aaaaaaaaaway we go!

Doug Adams, owner of the Guitar Den in Storm Lake, had to attend a funeral Saturday, so his shop was closed (I made up for that on Monday by stopping in with my father-in-law, buying some Jazz 3 picks, and the new Dan Electro “Cool Cat” Vibe pedal – yes, toys are SO fun!!). Wal-Mart – can ya believe it? – stocks guitar straps, picks, ghee-tars, etc. So, up north of town I head to the Wal-Mart, get said stuff, and now proceed to pick up the guitar, and practice a bit before Mass.

Again, I know many of you are thinking,” O.k., this guy is airing out any mid-life crisis maladies in his columns this year – do we need to know, and WHY does this pertain to ME?” No, you don’t NEED to know – I’m telling, you’re reading, it’s all good – but in my life, rather than the record deal, music business law, and gigs (which all related to myself in some fashion, abeit on a small, small scale…), in my life, I’m heading into a new frontier where things need to get figured out in order to work with where I’m at. Pretty simple, yet the journey is like any one else’s –you can read any one of these wonderful columnists in the Muses Muse (I do on a regular basis), and find a more topical, relevant article to suit what you’ve been needing. For this first year, probably two years of article – life, I’m playing catch-up on what I’ve done, what I’m doing, and perhaps how it can help you. Same as the other pro folks assembled here!

Anyway, we get to choir rehearsal – basement of St. Mary’s School –meet n’ greet (I was one of two people there by proxy – not a direct result of St. Mary’s), and run through the tunes. The weird thing is, nowadays, I’m getting more comfortable with what’s in the  canon of songs  for Mass as I was playing “Hurts So Good”, “Purple Haze”, or “Love Me Two Times” ( hmmm, could we slip some of THOSE songs in after communion? JUST KIDDING, FATHER!!!). St. Mary’s is wonderful, old - school church – the acoustics, in a natural state, carry quite well (amplified, we did have some dead spots – I knew I was loud as a banshee in the main church area, but no monitors by the band and choir, so I had to use the Force, Luke…). This is the kind of parish, as I mentioned in my Green Bay article, where no matter what the economy is doing, people support the parish. Something to be said about that, yes sir…..

As we played – Don on bass, Dolores Cullen on piano, and myself on guitar – the choir sounded strong, and there was a certain delicacy to the songs – subtle, yet forceful, stable as Iowa corn in August. After Mass, the choir, and group, received so many wonderful compliments that I wanted to move there and join full-time! I don’t know, but it was fulfilling, and as I stood out in my in-laws driveway after supper, sipping on a ESB Ale, it hit me again – this is why I play, and beyond the quest for making a living, or small burst of fame and recognition, I play for myself and others. When I was playing on the street corner back in Westerville, Ohio in 1995, I didn’t quite have the awareness – having just moved away for another series of journeys from my music store job of 13 years, my old buddies and our gig network – I begun the re-invention process that carries me through to today. Yep, told you about this before, and had to touch on it again. To be in church, with my wife, son, and in-laws, playing before whatever spirits were present –well, that was a highlight.

Getting to play some music and see some great, northwest Iowa blues bands was another highlight. Playing guitar against local boy Don Demers bass playing was a great time – Don was an Albert City, IA. boy who went to Nashville for about a decade, and played with some pretty big names in the studios and stage. Don’s solid upright and electric bass skills have intrigued me for the past years upon his return to the Storm Lake area (nice SWR bass rig, Mr. Demers!). Don also played with old friend Erick Hovey  - a blues-soaked guitarist and vocalist who happens to be a damn good farmer in Badger, IA., for his day gig. Erick is probably one of the nicest guys I’ve met in the music business, and one of the most talented – when I say “distinct’ and “original”, I can back it up. Armed with a 1965 Fender Stratocaster thru a chain of cool little amps (like a kid on Christmas, Erick was showing me his array of Fender Champ re-issue, Music Man small combo, and Sears Silvertone “suitcase” amps – the ones where the amp was built into the guitar case –nutty, whacked, and cool…), Erick was wielding some mighty meaty tones and notes out that rig. Erick made a glorious solo CD back in the mid-1990’s, ”Where You Been?”, backed by some of the Corn State’s finest. I just got onto his website, and there’s a second CD, “Prairie Dance Music”, released in 2000, that looks damn inviting, also. Very, very much the topping on the ice cream for Mary and I to hang with Erick and Tom Gary’s band on the 4th.

Fun in the sun all week – blessed with great weather, we hit the water park at the lodge we’re most of us where staying. My sister-in-law, Trish (who will be forever nicknamed “Scud Missile”, after challenging all down the four-story speed slides – and WINNING, until Angelo, ”The Big Zielinski”, and “Super Dan” Hurley took over the reigns as water/ dragstrip champs…), helped my son, Andrew, face his fears and go down those big slides this year. I think I did every slide once – and only once, that stuff makes me dizzy (yes, Mary Beth, MORE than normal!).

We are blessed with musicians, and music appreciators, in the Andrews clan. Josh, Lizzie’s new husband plays, Angelo, Ben Rathke (sista-in-law Barb’s son) is an excellent musician when he’s not being a father and a senior designer at Fender Musical Instruments (sorry, Ben, had to name - drop!) – I think most all my sister-in-laws play piano and sing, including my lovely bride. And I heard tell that my mother-in-law plays a pretty mean harp (we’ll have to get you in on some Bob Dylan and Muddy Waters songs next year, Bernie!). So, we’re surrounded by it – this is cool.

Yeah, this is a ‘celebration’ article – of family, friends, and the collective whole of a summer ritual. But it is a summer ritual that has kind of crept up on me in its significance, and has permeated my life, along with visiting my other relatives and heading back to Des Moines, to where it’s a needy injection of who I am and what I need to keep in mind about how I live. The backbone of America truly lives here – I firmly believe that. California has flash, New York has international flavor and a gumbo of culture – we all need those cities and what they represent, especially in the new, post 9-11 world. The ‘breadbasket’ doesn’t get noticed until there’s a flood, or a series of farm foreclosures – then, it affects everyone’s pocketbooks, then, people realize, ”Oh, there’s where corn, soybeans, cattle, and milk comes from”. International business will dictate more moves to buy up land in South America, more food imports from China and Mexico, and more genetically engineered food from Monsanto – fascinating, maddening, and scary (especially the Monsanto bit). These days, the hog and crop reports on WOI-FM when we're back in range,are a bit dismal….

But, there’s hope – there’s ALWAYS hope, and hope is a muscle that gets flexed everyday for folks working paycheck to paycheck, keeping utilities on and gas in the car, food on the table. And, for sounding sappy to some in the hipper – than – thou contingent, this is what July 4th represents in America – you press on, and rejoice in the liberties that we have in this country, with the right to question what needs addressing. This is nothing new – the economic downturn, the savings and loan crisis, two, possibly three wars to fight – it’s a well-trodden path in history; it’s just that it’s our turn (again) . But if you want to see resolve, if you want to see vision, stick-to-it-ness, and soldiering on, everyone is more than welcome to come on up for a stay around the 4th of July in Storm Lake (which is not doing too bad for itself as a city at this point). Hey, we’ll buy you a turkey fillet and an Old Milwaukee!

Many thanks to my father in-law, Wayne Andrews, and my mother in-law, Bernie Andrews, for putting up with such silliness and shenanigans over the years as we invaded their space, ate “Bernie’s World Famous Ham and Potato Salad” (you could franchise around those two items ALONE, Bernie!), drank beer and pop, played “Mexican Dominoes” into the wee hours, and laughed ourselves silly at our brave attempts at outlandish humor. Wouldn’t have traded it for anything, nope…..

Postscript: Just a note – Mike Frisbee, one of the voices and writers of counter-culture radio and underground papers in Des Moines back in the heydays of the late 1960’s into the 1980’s, passed away from emphysema on July 11th. He was 60. I remember listening to Mike on the original KFMG-FM and KBLE back in the day, as discussed in a previous article. You could not miss Mike’s voice on-air – smoky, distinct, a template for the quintessential FM radio voice for the time period – he was a staple, and a source of reason, for the emerging counter-culture that we had. There are some nice blog tributes at the “Mississippifarian” web site. Mike, I’m sure your old buddy Ron Sorenson is sending you off with some Kinks tunes on the new KFMG -FM back home –well-deserved, and more, my friend.    

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