Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hey, isn't that cheating?

I'm obviously a western gal, not a southern one, and I'm admittedly woefully ignorant of what is happening in the entertainment world. So, forgive me, but I just gotta say a few things about today's musical trends.

We met a few wonderful families and entertainers at the showcase. Groups with very talented members of all ages, and in different music genres. When one group was getting ready to go on stage, I was chatting with another family band mom and wondered aloud where their instruments were. She said they just sing and used recorded music, sometimes with a piano though. She explained that they are a southern gospel group, not a band.


Wait. They have nicer clothes than we have, a great big, shiny bus, a full tour schedule, and they just sing to recorded music? Isn't that karaoke? (Ducking...)

Ok, I'm trying to be funny here, but I swear that was a puzzle to me at the time. To be fair, they were fantastic, and I would probably pay money to sit and hear them sing canned music. I really would! I've just been hanging out at places where people play instruments, not computers. Maybe I'm a music purist snob? I don't mean to be. I prefer to be simply clueless on what's cool these days. A good 60% or more of all of the acts booking down in the Rio Grand Valley had canned music. I told Michael not to worry about when the kids leave, because we can make it big down there if that's all that is needed! I can definitely sing good to a recording! All I am missing is the sparkly sequin outfit.

I admit, even in church and the choir, I can simply never stand the piped in music with the synthesized drums behind the choir, children or adult. I just sounds fake, like eating canned green beans, even with French's Onions and cream of mushroom soup, when you could wander the garden and enjoy them fresh.

Later that week we had a nice lunch conversation with some dear friends of ours, who happen to also be a family band... who play instruments. (Some are even the type you plug in or beat, so I'm not a bluegrass/acoustic purist and please note that I have great respect to anyone who can pull off an amazing a cappella piece of music!) They mused with us on the trend. There is a local gospel festival they have played where they are almost a novelty by bringing instruments. There are groups of singers, one after the next, all with computers programmed with their music sets. Nice harmonies, but I couldn't help but to think, "Really??? There are whole festivals of professional karaoke singers?" (I'm so digging myself into a hole with this post.)

I am not what one could consider a world class mandolin player. I picked it up just 3+ years ago and I've tried learning it in between running a family band, a household, and homeschooling children. Basically, I am learning on the fly because I simply cannot practice much, but the band needed a mandolin chop, so I learned it. I now know most of the main chords used in bluegrass, and I can accompany the band with no problem, and sing lead or harmony, smile, and even occasionally give a firm "mom" look to a stray child on stage, all while not missing a beat. Just give me 3-4 weeks notice if you expect a break, of course, since I still need to practice those, and have I mentioned I don't have much time to practice?

So, I figure, just about anyone should be able to learn 4 chords on a guitar and buy a capo. Bass is even easier. You may need a few lessons on piano and fiddle, but you can do a lot with just a guitar and assign the hard learning to the kids, right? The ones with the sponge brains and reflexes?

However, we are pretty dern good singers, and I bet the sound tracks needed to accompany all that pretty singing, with your little software package to make it play your selections and talk to your sound system, is less than the cost of a real instrument, doesn't need strings replaced, additional microphones for the acoustic instruments, and certainly doesn't need you to dump money into lessons or make room in a bus for storage. Maybe we should sing southern gospel? We will then get lots of festival invites, and sold out shows, but the kids have informed me they don't want the big, shiny bus. They like the dumpy looking Benny school bus.

Ok, you can throw tomatoes at me now, though I really was simply clueless about this trend (Yeah, I really don't get out much...)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

This. Is. AWESOME!

Tonight we sit on South Padre Island, boondocking at the beach, warm and cozy in the bus, with the Beverly Hillbillies on the TV, ice cream, with a fog outside like nothing this Colorado girl has ever experienced. It's the most amazing experience. We enjoyed a day at the beach, with a light breeze.

Around 5pm the breeze died down and a fog came up almost instantly. As it got dark it became almost eery outside. The twins went for a walk with the camera. This is the type of experience that the twins are most seeking in our travels, as they spend hours writing their fantasy and science fiction novels.

If you haven't had an opportunity to see it yet, we now have a "reality" show. Self-produced, of course. Here is our first episode:

Next, here is a recap of the week so far:

Thursday we left San Antonio after spending the day at Aamco. Literally. Just sat there all day. We had paid them to reassemble the transmission to the minivan, because we made arrangements for a salvage place down there to take it, and they paid more when the transmission was in. We told the shop what our timeline was, but they drug their feet and we simply had to get that title transferred and be on our way to Mission, so we told them we were going to park our bus outside the shop and wait.

And we did.

And so they fixed it. By that afternoon, we transferred the title and ran off to our destination, a little RV park outside of Edinburg, TX.

The next two days we played for an RV show in Mercedes. Great time!
Sean was in big gadget heaven. No worries though. None of them compared to our Benny. They're just big, shiny things with no unique character. Most probably don't even have a name.

Mary did her crafts, then she ran around passing out business cards to everyone. She caught the eye of a little boy, and after the last snow they bought a CD and he got her to sign it. As they were leaving we heard him exclaim in glee to his parents, "I got her autograph!" She got fan mail from another little boy this week, too. Something about that toothless grin...

These pretty ladies have shined on stage down here.

We told the people at the little RV park what we were up to, and the buzz got going, until we arranged a nice little program for them on Monday.

That brings us to day, on the beach. We have a showcase Thursday, and we hope to grab more shows for next year, then we'll head... not sure. It's true. We're flying by the seat of our pants right now. I always thought I preferred to have our details worked out to feel secure, but so far we seem to be managing to make playing opportunities as we go. If the money runs out and we have to settle someplace for a time, that's ok. Right now we are making memories to last a lifetime.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Week 1: Who invited Murphey?

Well, now... I haven't blogged since we hit the road and I simply do not know where to begin. I suppose we'll just hit the pictures and explain as we go.

We left the northern Colorado area around 11:30, after last minute trips to the bank and figuring out how to make the dolly work with the minivan. Grandma and Papa followed us all the way through Denver to see how everything looked with the hitch, dolly, and minivan. It was driving great, so they said goodbye, and we headed out towards TEXAS!It was chilly, but the sunset was amazing, as we passed through a bunch of wind turbines on the way.
Alas, the excitement was not to last. Pretty soon our luck ran out (that full half a day of luck), and left us with only bad for luck.

We planned to stop off at a place in Dumas to sleep for the night, but there was a new overpass that was not on the google map Michael used to plan the route, and we missed the turn. So, we found what looked to be a wide dirt parking lot in which to turn around. Only it wasn't exactly a parking lot. It was a mud pit. It was a sneaky mud pit with a hidden ditch that was iced over mud so it looked like the dirt surrounding it, too, and just on the same level, so you never saw it coming until you were in it.

Oh yeah. That was one stuck Benny Bus. It was COLD mud, too. Nothing to do but pray, then call our road side service, who hooked us up with a tow truck. The tow truck got stuck at least 4 times pulling us out, but three hours later, we were out, kids were sleeping in their bunks, and we learned a big lesson about mud, and about this trip. Basically, no matter how knee deep we get in it, God will arrange to pull us out. That tow truck was only a few blocks from where we were stuck, pulling someone else out of a mess, and he was there within 30 minutes, determined, despite his own trouble with the mud, to get us out. We had some fears that he'd give up and we'd have to pull in a larger truck the next morning from Amarillo. Nope. Got us out. Our plucky little bus did just great, too. That was an, eh-hem, operator error. ;)

The next night was our first Wal Mart parking lot night in Big Spring, TX! The kids were thrilled! (Don't ask why. They just think it's really cool to sleep at Wal Mart.)

After that we headed towards Medina Lake, outside of San Antonio, to the RV Park that is part of our membership. The silly GPS turned the bus down a dirt road, (really GPS? Dirt road? Aren't you supposed to ask permission before doing such dumb things), and you simply cannot turn a 38 foot bus towing a minivan around on a dirt road. Michael decided we had to at least remove the minivan from the dolly, so I could follow the bus and make it easier to handle the road. That was definitely a God thing there, because when I started following it I realized something was terribly wrong with the wheel of the dolly. In fact, we arrived to find it looking like this:

I do believe our guardian angel has been working overtime, because that could have ended very badly on the highway. But wait! It gets better!

First we'll take a moment for fun, however. No point bumming everyone out.

The night we arrived was New Year's Eve and it turns out the park was having a party at the activity center!
Remember Benny Bear, our bus mascot? Here he is dressed up for New Years!

The party was fun, and we found out something interesting. Our quirky, geeky young man is a, *gasp*, "chick magnet". I suspected it after a few other run-ins with teenage girls who tended to befriend him at every turn, but when three of them started cheering relentlessly while he played a very lousy game of pickle ball, Michael came in to get me to ask me if they were serious or mocking, because he couldn't read girl behavior. I went to check it out and spotted it immediately. No mocking. They were trying to impress him. I just shook my head and wondered what in the world we were going to do with that child. They hadn't even seen him play fiddle!
Being the ornery mother I am, I had to tease him later, asking him why those girls all like him when he twitches, laughs at himself, and obsesses over planets? He informed me that he wasn't doing any of that in front of them. Really??? So, you save that for us, huh? :-p

Mary made about 3 or 4 best friends, too, danced with a chicken to the chicken dance, and the twins sat on the couches with their laptops to catch up on the internet, avoiding eye contact with anyone who could ask them to dance, while other teenage girls flocked around them, happy for more female companionship.

The next day showed us what a true walking petting zoo this place is. Ducks and deer are everywhere asking for food, and you can buy deer corn at the local store... so we did.

Ok, back to Murphey's Law and how it has applied at every turn.

There was no time to figure out how to repair a dolly we could not even tow before our Wednesday showcase down in Mission, so we decided to change our plans and drive down early that morning in the minivan, then drive back. Bad idea. I had forgotten that this was the week of "everything that can go wrong will go wrong."

About 60 miles from Mission the transmission on the van started seriously slipping. We crawled our way there and arrived just in time to slip on our outfits, stand up and smile pretty, sing some songs, then Michael went and fretted about how to get us the 280 miles back to the dog and bus (dog was tied to the bus with someone looking in on him), and I booked gigs for 2013 and one even for 2014, 'cause the kids may like to eat next winter, transmission or not.

We decided there simply wasn't a choice, so we piled back into the van and drove it all 280 miles on low gears. Angels were pushing us because it made it, and it didn't take nearly as long as we feared. In fact, once or twice it actually shifted into a high enough gear to turn off the hazard blinkers.

It was a late arrival, but we made it home to our dear bus, dog, and not so dear cat.

Thus ends our tale of our first week. We should be a mess right about now, but if you want to know the truth? We're having a *really great time*!!! I have no idea why. Something must be wrong with our brains. Today, after feeding deer, Mary exclaimed, "This is the best day ever!". Sean, after playing mini golf and pool said, "This is like *paradise*." Really? We got stuck in paradise, huh? They're all sold by now, troubles and all.

So, what's the plan for the van and broken dolly? Honestly, we don't know yet. The transmission fix will cost about double what the van is worth, but we simply cannot afford another vehicle, so it may have to be done. Not sure who can fix the dolly, either. The spindle will need to be cut off and a new one welded on. I don't know who can even do something like that, especially when it can't be towed.

We're completely at the mercy of Providence, and I admit, it's not been a bad place to be so far, so we'll just go along for the ride. Maybe we'll find a few more things to go wrong and be the inspiration for a National Lampoon movie or something? Hey, there's an idea...

Update: Since writing this, the dolly was deemed unredeemable, and sold. The minivan's estimated doubled today when they found it more serious than expected, and it will go to the scrap heap tomorrow. We are officially a bus only family.