Tags: 49 to 50, 49>50, adam baldwin, austin, firefly, jayne cobb, kerrville, lunar rover, marian-call, Music, NASA, robonaut, singer-songwriter, texas, tour
For an Alaska-dweller I spend lots of time in Texas. I have a lot of fans there, I have family there, and I must admit: I love Austin. I know I know, loving Austin is passé and uncool already, but know what? I don’t care. Avocados are 5/$1, they sell hot sugared pecans by the side of the road, and there’s live music and street fairs everywhere — well-attended too, people come out and support local. I just avoid SxSW and snooty “industry” types and eat a LOT and I’m good. So despite its reputation and its insecurity issues, I usually enjoy my time in Texas. (When they aren’t shooting me with airsoft guns between the eyes, like they did on my first tour there.)
Bryan Ray and I drove very late from Oklahoma after I did this shiny breakfast interview to head “home” where I’d stop for a full week. I recall getting out of the car at 1am and doing jumping jacks to stay awake at the gas station — which is a great way to attract some Texas homeboy attention. “You in need of assistance ma’am?” asked a would-be cowboy. I couldn’t think of a good way to say, “No, I just want to do jumping jacks,” so I’m pretty sure I hid behind a trash can until his hat went into the convenience store.
We pulled in exhausted and in the morning I woke up in familiar surroundings — for the first time since I left Fargo, ND, I recognized something! I knew where my coffee shops were at! I could navigate without a GPS! Almost. So visiting Austin is a dream.
I could also afford a couple of concert-free days to play Ingenious with Dad, drink lots of tea and eat lots of peaches, and actually hear other people sing. I drove out to Kerrville Folk Festival, a sort of beautiful remote hippie folkie lovefest in the Hill Country. I’ve always heard only wonderful things about Kerrville, and sure enough the performances we enjoyed were completely stellar. I ran into Randall Williams whose wise words in 2007 helped direct my career more than he could ever suspect. And I found Raina Rose, a favorite singer-songwriter of mine, hanging around the music shop playing guitar with friends and strangers. So I knew a grand total of two people.
Funny though — I didn’t quite fit in with the straight folk crowd. My songs don’t have repeating choruses that everyone can harmonize to around the campfire. And not having grown up with the culture myself, I didn’t know the music everyone else knew. I didn’t have a guide to show me around, and a couple people asked me if I was from New York. “Um, no, Alaska.” “Well you look like you’re from New York City.” I hid behind a trash can again until their hats went away, thinking, “But I was so careful to wear dirty Texas hill country clothes!” I wandered around the campsites and numerous hippie buses, and thought how strange it is that I lived on a hippie bus for half a year — full-time in fact, through the winter, hard-core hippie bus-living. Yet I totally failed to gel with this crowd. I was too metro, too fast, too uptight, too techie, and too New Yorkish. (Incidentally this is also my social obstacle in Alaska, where so many of the awesome people are chill and outdoorsy and carry djembes and guitars on their backs. Wonderful folks. Me no fit.)
Ah well, you can’t win them all. I returned to Austin, bought Hadestown at Waterloo Records, drank beer, played more Carcassonne, watched some Pixar movies, and felt more like me. And tried not to be too disappointed in my awkwardness around the nice folky hippies I would so like to befriend. #toouptight
The next morning (if memory serves), I got a phone call that expanded my working definition of ‘surreal.’
“Good morning, this is Paul of PaulandStorm. We do this thing called w00tstock and everyone has been recommending you.”
I hid behind a trash can but this is a less effective tack when you’re on the phone.
For the most part I tried to convince them that they had the wrong person, because my renown and fan reach were insignificant compared with the rest of the lineup. But I failed. “I really don’t have that many fans,” I told Paul.
“Well, you have the right ones,” he replied.
There’s no disagreeing with that. My fans are amazing. So I signed on for w00tstock 2.4: SDCC. Then I packed to leave Austin and head Into the West.
Well, mostly west. First I drove south. SOUTH TO SPACESHIPS!
A friend of mine from college is now awesome enough to be designing launch/abort/reentry suits for astronauts. She’s an adorable & sweet engineer who can do her job in killer heels. Geek girls FTW. She & her husband threw a house concert, populated almost entirely by NASA folks, and I could not have been more excited.
Some audiences are harder to play than others — it took me some time to learn that certain groups, such as engineers, astronauts and Saskatchewans, do not respond with quite as much laughter or applause or engagement or Zombified passion as, say, SDCC attendees. Thankfully the Midwest had prepared me for my engineer audience and I managed to navigate the stoicism. Afterwards I got to learn just a very little bit about what’s been happening with NASA’s funding and why — but don’t ask or argue with me, I’m not an expert. Just a curious party.
The next morning I got to go to Johnson with my host and hostess. Not for the tram tour, for the REAL tour. The photo blog describes my visit better — you can find the set here on my Flickr with captions. GUYS THEY HAVE SPACESHIPS THER EFRO REALS
In fact as I was touring robotics with my host, he asked if I wanted to get in the Lunar Rover. “You mean the spaceship?” I asked. “We usually call them rovers or modules…” he said. “NO!” I replied, maybe only in my head. “You are making spaceships. Don’t ever lose sight of how freaking incredible that is.”
What blew my mind the most was the age of their infrastructure and the incredibly tight budgets they have to work with. Still using the same everything from the sixties — buildings in need of renovations, ancient furniture, no chance to redesign older elements with newer synthetic materials…sometimes it was a little hard to stomach. NASA’s research has historically given humanity so many things for so little investment. I’ll spare you the political rant I want to write here — I’m sure you can imagine how it goes. Grr Argh.
My tour over, I left Houston with one mission: to warn you all that there is a Cylon device inside the Lunar Rover. I didn’t put it there. Not my job.
Dallas would be my last stop on the way out of Texas. There are a number of other worthy cities, but Dallas had two things I wanted to see: Kristina Morland and Jayne Cobb.
Kristina Morland made one of my desert island discs, Pidgin Music. It’s one of those CD’s I have bought seven copies of for everyone I know. I asked her to open for me at Poor David’s Pub — and as I remembered, she’s not much for live performance. But glory can she write and arrange, and hallelujah can she sing. I’ve worn out that disc.
I didn’t have as much time as I wanted in Dallas, so I coordinated a sort of happy hour with some fans ahead of the show. The minutes were too few, and like at all geekish fan gatherings, it started awkwardly, but I tell you what: I really love my fans. Given a half hour and the right topic they are so warm and funny, and yes it’s awkward, but as I learned at Kerrville — maybe awkward people are just my people. I don’t think I fit with the cool kids.
But the uncool kids had a great time that night. We rocked Poor David’s, which is a really fantastic TX venue — I hope they’ll let me back. My heroes play there, folks like Sarah Harmer and Kasey Chambers.
And a real honest-to-gods hero showed up, too. Jayne! The man they call Jayne!
Yes, this is his actual head and his actual plaque. Zippy wantsta go to the crappy town where he’s a hero.