STILL GOT IT!
September 20, 2014

I don’t drink much, so a couple post-show glasses of wine is definitely too much for me to drive on. I slept on the couch at AJ’s, alarm set for 6:00 (and 6:04 and 6:08, just in case) so that I would have time to drive the couple miles back to where I had been staying all week, pack my stuff, toss the sheets in the washing machine, write a note, lock up and head to the airport in time for my 9 am flight. It was a great plan, except for that my phone didn’t charge overnight and was dead when I woke up, rested and ready to roll, at a quarter past 7. I stretched, yawned and surveyed my surroundings calmly for a second before realizing it was entirely too light out and that I felt much too refreshed to have woken up on schedule. I glanced at my watch and the jolt of adrenaline that was simultaneously emitted from my scalp and my toes and met somewhere around my small intestine was stronger than the headiest coffee that Andrew Pressman could have fed me last week.

I sprinted to the car and managed to navigate my way home (get this) WITHOUT THE GPS (I know it doesn’t sound very impressive, but considering I really didn’t know where I was when I woke up, I was pretty proud of myself). I raced in the house and, very quickly, did everything I had planned to get ready to go (except wash off last nights make up. I’m still rocking that). 

I made it to the rental car return at 8:15, cursing myself for always choosing the cheapest and therefore farthest option. I waited for the shuttle impatiently, and when it came I made sure to get on after everyone else had boarded so I could get off first.

The sky caps at Southwest took very good care of me (Dan Navarro is right, those guys are awesome), the security line was surprisingly short (especially for LAX!) and, when I arrived at the gate at 8:40, ten minutes after boarding was supposed to start, the previous flight was disembarking. I am writing this from the plane. I don’t feel the greatest, but my guitar is safely in the overhead and I’m going to call this one a win.

Thanks for following along!
xoxo
~becca

PS: This is why I pretty much avoid all the boozes when I’m out on the road working these days… except last night, obviously. I blame AJ.

PPS: Oh and did I mention the part where I modestly changed clothes in the rental car parking lot? Cuz I totally did that.

TOUR EXPOSURE
September 17, 2014

So earlier this year I played a house concert for a lovely, long-married, happily retired couple living in their beautiful dream home. One of the coolest things about the spacious, modern house is that they built it themselves, brick by brick, just the two of them. One feature this house does not boast is a door between the master bathroom and master bedroom. Or a lock on the bedroom door, which I did not notice as the lady of the house was giving me the tour and showing me to the shower. After brushing my teeth and washing my face, nervously eying my surroundings and contemplating my situation, I dropped my towel and began my leap into the stall. Sure enough, the moment my terrycloth cover hit the ground, the gentleman of the house came strolling around the corner, whistling and pushing a vacuum cleaner. I honestly don’t think he saw me until I yelped, at which point he froze with a deer-in-headlights panic on his face. By this point I was all the way in the shower, he was shouting apologies, I was shouting back that everything was fine… It’s in moments like this (or when I’m dressed to the nines, hiding in a janitors closet clutching my guitar waiting to surprise a newly married couple with a live performance for their first dance…) that I think to myself “Man. My job is WEIRD.”

MY LAST WEEK WITH JOHNNYEJuly 14, 2014
I had never spent much time in a hospital until last week, when I had the honor of being with my aunt Johnnye during the last six days of her life. Growing up, I spent at least one week every summer with my family at the duplex on Wrightsville Beach that Johnnye shared with her husband Gene and her mother, my Grandma Margaret. Since becoming a touring songwriter, I’ve managed to find gigs in the area to add a few extra visits per year. I would usually sleep over in Grandma’s guest room, and Johnnye would come over to visit throughout the day (especially if I was playing music - she could hear it through the walls and would come poke her head in the back door with a big smile on her face. “Well, I thought I heard something…” she would say, as she shuffled in wearing her house coat and slippers). 
We would watch the bay from the rocking chairs on the porch, do crossword puzzles and go out to dinner. I often joked that visiting with them made me feel like I was practicing for retirement. One time when I was just starting to play music professionally, they asked me at dinner if I had all the tools I needed to begin my career. I told them that I felt pretty well set, although I was saving up to buy a good live microphone. They asked a few more questions and conversation soon turned to other topics (I remember that this took place the night before my first ever on-air radio interview, and I was quite nervous). At the end of the week, they gave me a check for $300 from their joint account. The memo line read “microphone.” The next day I bought a Beta 87a and I still use it at *every show. 
While visiting with family at a lake in North Carolina last week, we got a call from Johnnye’s caretaker that she had been admitted to the hospital with a cough. Because of her age and medical history, they decided to transfer her to Duke where she had been treated for lung cancer last year. On Thursday, the day before July 4th, my dad and I drove over to Raleigh to visit her. When we walked in she was sitting in the reclining chair near the window with a small oxygen sniffer under her nose. She was in a great mood, excited to see us, just as wide eyed and bright as ever. She marveled at the commotion of the ambulance ride from Wilmington to Raleigh, balked about the taste of grape juice with potassium in it and happily ate a chocolate bar. She never complained about any pain. I told her about my recent trips to Japan and Europe and she asked questions about the rest of the family and my life in Austin. We chatted about when I would be back to perform in the area, and about the possibility of her visiting her sister in Arizona later in the year. We talked for over three hours. When we left it was not because she was tired, but because we had to drive over an hour back to the lake and needed to get home for dinner. Dad and I left having no idea that it would be our last normal visit with her.
Within a few days her condition had worsened drastically. By the time we got back to visit again on Saturday she was on full oxygen support and mostly unconscious. I kept my guitar in her room and would occasionally sing songs she liked, or play softly in the background. Once my aunt Ella arrived, she would join me singing. We put together a medley of 50’s and 60’s doo-wop songs all using the same chord progression (eventually we were stringing together 11 or 12 at a time). On Monday, the day that they moved Johnnye in palliative care, Ella asked if I knew Unchained Melody. I hadn’t sung it before but, as luck would have it, the chords worked with the progression we were using so we started singing. When it got to the high part (the falsetto “I neeeeeeed your looooooove!”) Johnnye, who had been unconscious all day, suddenly lifted her head and her eyes popped open wide. I smiled at her and said, “Well, that got your attention, didn’t it?” 
She laughed a little and said, “Yeah, I guess it did.” She then told me that she had been resting and listening to us sing and really enjoyed it. After that she fell asleep and I never heard her speak again.
Throughout the week I got to know my family members in a different light. We sat with Johnnye around the clock, sometimes all together and sometimes in shifts. We had late night conversations about existentialism, the nature of sight, the meaning of life, the process of death. Early in the week the hospital staff had been certain that Johnnye was in her final hours, but throughout the week her vital signs stabilized and the nurses swore off making predictions. One of them said “Johnnye has humbled me.”
My family sent me to Oklahoma on Friday, determined that Johnnye would have wanted me to keep my commitment to play the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. My dad helped me wash my clothes at a laundromat near the hospital and dropped me off at the airport early in the morning. It felt strange to be back in the world of the living, and unnatural to be in the middle of a bustling music festival at which I was performing and giving interviews and surrounded by peers with whom I usually love to visit and play music. I awoke on Saturday to a message from my dad that Johnnye had passed away in her sleep overnight. I had two shows to play in the next three hours, and did my best to keep from crying while keeping her in my heart throughout.
I feel like I understand something now that I didn’t last week. I had heard of hospice, and knew of friends who had seen their loved ones through at the end of their lives, but I had never understood the depth and gravity of navigating that situation. I never knew what it was like to spend night after night on a reclining chair next to a hospital bed, to develop a relationship with a nursing staff, to nervously count the seconds after a gasping breath wondering if there would be another. It felt intimate and somehow sacred to be present for someone during this transitional time. I’m grateful that I was able to spend this time with Johnnye, her care givers, and our family members. I’m grateful for the gifts she gave us that week. Her mind, which had been fuzzied over the past few years by dementia and more recently by the passing of her husband, pulled back into sharper focus. She told stories we hadn’t heard before and shared memories that we hadn’t heard her access recently. 
My favorite conversation came on the last day that we spoke. I was sitting by her bed holding her hand while she mused about how suddenly her medical condition had declined. She got a far-off look in her eye and said, “And you know, it’s been so long since I’ve climbed a tree.” Having been known to pull the car over while on tour to climb a particularly inviting tree, I smiled and told her that I also love to do that.  She sighed with a smile and said, “It feels so wonderful, when you get up in a good tree…”
Life is a gift.
Let’s enjoy it together. Let’s remember to call our loved ones and tell them what they mean to us and for heaven’s sakes, let’s remember to climb trees!
With love and light and joy and gratitude,~becca

*quick thanks to all the venues who have shipped this mic back to me when I’ve accidentally left it behind…

MY LAST WEEK WITH JOHNNYE
July 14, 2014

I had never spent much time in a hospital until last week, when I had the honor of being with my aunt Johnnye during the last six days of her life. Growing up, I spent at least one week every summer with my family at the duplex on Wrightsville Beach that Johnnye shared with her husband Gene and her mother, my Grandma Margaret. Since becoming a touring songwriter, I’ve managed to find gigs in the area to add a few extra visits per year. I would usually sleep over in Grandma’s guest room, and Johnnye would come over to visit throughout the day (especially if I was playing music - she could hear it through the walls and would come poke her head in the back door with a big smile on her face. “Well, I thought I heard something…” she would say, as she shuffled in wearing her house coat and slippers). 

We would watch the bay from the rocking chairs on the porch, do crossword puzzles and go out to dinner. I often joked that visiting with them made me feel like I was practicing for retirement. One time when I was just starting to play music professionally, they asked me at dinner if I had all the tools I needed to begin my career. I told them that I felt pretty well set, although I was saving up to buy a good live microphone. They asked a few more questions and conversation soon turned to other topics (I remember that this took place the night before my first ever on-air radio interview, and I was quite nervous). At the end of the week, they gave me a check for $300 from their joint account. The memo line read “microphone.” The next day I bought a Beta 87a and I still use it at *every show. 

While visiting with family at a lake in North Carolina last week, we got a call from Johnnye’s caretaker that she had been admitted to the hospital with a cough. Because of her age and medical history, they decided to transfer her to Duke where she had been treated for lung cancer last year. On Thursday, the day before July 4th, my dad and I drove over to Raleigh to visit her. When we walked in she was sitting in the reclining chair near the window with a small oxygen sniffer under her nose. She was in a great mood, excited to see us, just as wide eyed and bright as ever. She marveled at the commotion of the ambulance ride from Wilmington to Raleigh, balked about the taste of grape juice with potassium in it and happily ate a chocolate bar. She never complained about any pain. I told her about my recent trips to Japan and Europe and she asked questions about the rest of the family and my life in Austin. We chatted about when I would be back to perform in the area, and about the possibility of her visiting her sister in Arizona later in the year. We talked for over three hours. When we left it was not because she was tired, but because we had to drive over an hour back to the lake and needed to get home for dinner. Dad and I left having no idea that it would be our last normal visit with her.

Within a few days her condition had worsened drastically. By the time we got back to visit again on Saturday she was on full oxygen support and mostly unconscious. I kept my guitar in her room and would occasionally sing songs she liked, or play softly in the background. Once my aunt Ella arrived, she would join me singing. We put together a medley of 50’s and 60’s doo-wop songs all using the same chord progression (eventually we were stringing together 11 or 12 at a time). On Monday, the day that they moved Johnnye in palliative care, Ella asked if I knew Unchained Melody. I hadn’t sung it before but, as luck would have it, the chords worked with the progression we were using so we started singing. When it got to the high part (the falsetto “I neeeeeeed your looooooove!”) Johnnye, who had been unconscious all day, suddenly lifted her head and her eyes popped open wide. I smiled at her and said, “Well, that got your attention, didn’t it?” 

She laughed a little and said, “Yeah, I guess it did.” She then told me that she had been resting and listening to us sing and really enjoyed it. After that she fell asleep and I never heard her speak again.

Throughout the week I got to know my family members in a different light. We sat with Johnnye around the clock, sometimes all together and sometimes in shifts. We had late night conversations about existentialism, the nature of sight, the meaning of life, the process of death. Early in the week the hospital staff had been certain that Johnnye was in her final hours, but throughout the week her vital signs stabilized and the nurses swore off making predictions. One of them said “Johnnye has humbled me.”

My family sent me to Oklahoma on Friday, determined that Johnnye would have wanted me to keep my commitment to play the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. My dad helped me wash my clothes at a laundromat near the hospital and dropped me off at the airport early in the morning. It felt strange to be back in the world of the living, and unnatural to be in the middle of a bustling music festival at which I was performing and giving interviews and surrounded by peers with whom I usually love to visit and play music. I awoke on Saturday to a message from my dad that Johnnye had passed away in her sleep overnight. I had two shows to play in the next three hours, and did my best to keep from crying while keeping her in my heart throughout.

I feel like I understand something now that I didn’t last week. I had heard of hospice, and knew of friends who had seen their loved ones through at the end of their lives, but I had never understood the depth and gravity of navigating that situation. I never knew what it was like to spend night after night on a reclining chair next to a hospital bed, to develop a relationship with a nursing staff, to nervously count the seconds after a gasping breath wondering if there would be another. It felt intimate and somehow sacred to be present for someone during this transitional time. I’m grateful that I was able to spend this time with Johnnye, her care givers, and our family members. I’m grateful for the gifts she gave us that week. Her mind, which had been fuzzied over the past few years by dementia and more recently by the passing of her husband, pulled back into sharper focus. She told stories we hadn’t heard before and shared memories that we hadn’t heard her access recently. 

My favorite conversation came on the last day that we spoke. I was sitting by her bed holding her hand while she mused about how suddenly her medical condition had declined. She got a far-off look in her eye and said, “And you know, it’s been so long since I’ve climbed a tree.” Having been known to pull the car over while on tour to climb a particularly inviting tree, I smiled and told her that I also love to do that.  She sighed with a smile and said, “It feels so wonderful, when you get up in a good tree…”

Life is a gift.

Let’s enjoy it together. Let’s remember to call our loved ones and tell them what they mean to us and for heaven’s sakes, let’s remember to climb trees!

With love and light and joy and gratitude,
~becca

*quick thanks to all the venues who have shipped this mic back to me when I’ve accidentally left it behind…

JAPAN-O-RAMA (Part Three)
March 2014 (post-date)

After hauling approximately 700 pounds of luggage from the apartment in Mitaka to the train station, we traveled to Kamakura where we checked into our hotel all by ourselves! No help with translation or anything. It was exciting. 

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I had to take a picture of my dad’s guitar in Japan, just felt important to me…

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Here’s a quick story about dinner in Kamakura. I wrote this the night it happened and never posted it anywhere:

We stumbled in by accident, looking for a restaurant we had read about online. The sign outside was all in Japanese, so we poked our heads in to ask if they served dinner. At first they said no, drinks only. There were cats on the bar and we petted them while we chatted with the older couple in charge about where we live. A short, older woman in a tiger striped blouse asked us several questions about what kind of food we like. Tofu? Fresh vegetables? Miso soup? I said yes, and maybe fish too.  I had trouble understanding her so I just said yes a lot. I thought she was going to recommend somewhere else for us to try, but after a few more rounds of questions, she said “Ok. You sit anywhere you like.”

She and her husband brought us tea, hot towels for our hands and plate after plate after plate of food. Tofu with curry. Tofu with wasabi. Pickled radishes. Eggplant. Salmon (it took her several minutes with a decades-old translation dictionary to come up with the name). A never ending bowl of rice with delicious toppings. Miso soup with crab legs in it. A giant pork meatball. Penne pasta (“Japanese style”). There was beer and a little sake involved too.

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Once it was clear that we were belly full and happy, she took her apron off and sat near us at the bar, looking up various words in her English dictionary. I asked if she had ever been to America. Once, she said. Her husband is a magician and he performed at The Magic Castle in LA. It seemed that she could take or leave LA but she loved The Magic Castle.

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Before the night was over, the lights were dimmed and her husband performed magic for us. We sang a few songs for them. I gave them a copy of my CD and she gave Lindsey and I both necklaces with wooden pendants carved by a friend of hers in Kamakura. Around this point I realized that my face was sore from smiling so much. 

We could have stayed forever but didn’t want to wear out our welcome so we excused ourselves and stepped out out into the night, like children stepping out of Narnia. Through the wardrobe we went back into the real world, unsure of how much time had passed and how or if we would ever return to the wondrous place from whence we just came.

(that’s the end of my story about dinner.) 
Back to the rest of the trip:

On the last day Keith and Mino took me to the bamboo temple in Kamakura. We had to choose between this and the giant Buddha because, well, a girl’s gotta leave something for next time. I’m so glad we went there, it was amazing. A 1200 year old grove of bamboo trees. Or maybe it was planted in 1200 ad. Or maybe there are 1200 of them and they were really, really old. At any rate, it’s a thick grove of ancient, enormous, beautiful bamboo trees.

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With this little teahouse in the middle:

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Confession: I’ve always thought green tea tastes a little like grass. Like, the grass in your yard. Sometimes I will drink it, when I’m in the mood to challenge myself to be a healthier, more evolved human (I’m pretty sure that this kind of thinking is what fuels the worldwide market for green tea). I always thought that maybe I just needed a more authentic green tea experience so that I could truly appreciate it. Turns out that authentic green tea is much, much worse (for me). The word pungent comes to mind. Also salty. Gave me an appreciation for our weak sauce American green tea, though. 

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My very favorite green tea experience ever was the traditional service we got in the teahouse in the middle of the bamboo temples. The tea was ground down by hand and served in a small bowl, covered in mossy green froth with a dime-sized hard sugar candy next to the bowl (because these grannies know that business tastes foul).

This crosswalk has a bucket with little neon flags for children to hold when they’re crossing. So they don’t get hit by cars. #thatmakessense, right??

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When that mission was over we headed back to the hotel to prepare for the last show of the trip. Lindsey was coming down with a cold and hadn’t joined us at the temple, so we scooped her up and walked over to the venue, where I ran into this shady character:

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It was really fun to see a familiar face and also great to see Matt play his show, which I have seen so many times, to a Japanese audience. 

Throughout the trip, people would ask how I liked Japan and I usually said that it had completely blown my mind, although I really had no idea what I was expecting. As I was about to leave, I thought about how surprised I was when I arrived by the extremity of the language barrier. Back in the US people said silly things like ‘Oh, you’ll be fine - tons of people there speak English,’ and I found it to be quite the opposite. This was a really widespread misconception, too. I think it is rooted in the fact that tourists from Japan -or anywhere, really- who travel to America are likely to speak at least a little English and, for most Americans, those are the only Japanese people they have encountered. People who live in Japan and don’t have intentions of traveling abroad or any interest in anglo culture tend to not speak English.

Anyhow, all at once, packing up to go and double-checking my flights information for the next day, I realized I was quite comfortable in Japan. In spite of the language and cultural barriers that maybe could have posed a problem… None of it seemed to matter. The people I met were very sweet and respectful. I felt safe.  There was a lot of smiling and pointing and laughing, and even though it took awhile to get around, we could usually get to where we needed to go. 

At one point while I was there someone back home referred to it as “The trip of a lifetime,” and I almost burst into tears, devastated to think I might not ever go back (I was in a pretty heightened emotional state throughout most of the trip). 

The point is, I really loved it. I’m grateful to have had the experience, and I’m especially grateful that I was able to travel there to make music. I hope I get to go back sometime, but either way I will always cherish the experience I had.

And now it’s time for thanks. THANK YOU to Spike, Heather, Michelle, Richard and everyone on base for making this trip happen! Thanks to Keith and Mino for your amazing hospitality and to Lindsey for being a wonderful travel partner.  Thanks to Keiji and Matt the E for the opportunity to play in Kamakura. Lastly, thanks to you for following along in my journey. I hope to get a chance to sing for you in person very soon!

With love and joy,
~becca

JAPAN-O-RAMA (Part Two)
March 2014 (post-date)

Traveling to Kyoto with my adorable companion, Lindsey Pavao:

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Once we got to Kyoto, we realized that Keiji was right. It’s really not a one day trip. So we found a hostel to stay in and the wonderful proprietor came and found us at the bus station because he could tell over the phone that we were basically helpless. He got to the corner where we were waiting and said “Where are your bags?” No bags, we told him. “Where are your umbrellas?” No umbrellas. We huddled under his umbrella and made our way towards the hostel. When it started to rain hard we sprinted, laughing hysterically, to a drug store where we bought clear plastic umbrellas for 99 cents.

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The next day we rented bikes from the hostel and rode around Kyoto on a supermarket sweep-style mad dash of temples and shrines. 

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The golden temple. Obligatory super-touristy zone. But so pretty.

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My favorite site we visited was called Sanjusangendo, aka the temple of 1000 Buddhas. The no photos policy means I don’t have any pictures of it to show you, but it also made it the most peaceful place we went. It was a long, dark hall with 1000 golden statues of the Buddha, each about six feet tall, arranged on risers. Each carving was almost exactly the same, but not quite identical. They were all wearing long, floor length robes. They each had dozens of pairs of hands, rising up beside, behind, above them. The hands were in motion, often holding objects (instruments, tools, dishes…). In the center of each chest was a larger pair of hands, clasped in prayer, pointing upwards to a tranquil face. The eyes were closed, the mouths were at peace, not smiling, not frowning, just pleasantly resting. 

The message it sent me was clear: life is busy, and there is much to do, much to think about, much going on around and within us at all times but we have the power to find peace within ourselves. 

Walking down the long hall of Buddhas, my eyes moved from serene face to serene face floating in a sea of serpentine arms wielding tools of distraction and activity…all I could think was ‘Man, if they needed a reminder that they can find peace in the midst of every day chaos back then, no wonder we all feel so crazy now!’

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A screw popped off the front of Lindsey’s bike at literally the same moment we cycled past a bicycle repair shop. This lovely gentleman was incredibly helpful and we were back on the road three minutes and ninety nine yen later. 

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At the end of the week in Tokyo, had to take our trash to the management office. They take trash day very seriously. Very. Seriously.

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My favorite souvenir stop was this used kimono shop in Mitaka. Scored some real treasures.

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We did not pack light.

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#neveragain

Bonus points if you can spot the clear plastic umbrellas we picked up in Kyoto! I really wanted to bring them home, but ultimately had to ditch them before we got to the airport. Ah well.

To be continued-er…
xoxo
~becca

JAPAN-O-RAMA! (Part One)
March 2014 (post-date)

I spent some time with my good friend John Elliott this week, and although he asked about my trip to Japan we didn’t get a chance to talk about it much. So last night on a plane, I wrote him an email with some pictures and the stories behind them. I realized after I wrote the email that I hadn’t really given anyone an update that thorough, so I decided to borrow and expand upon parts of it and send it out to bloglandia. So here we go, my final update about my trip to Japan this spring:

I did already write quite a bit about my first few days on Yokota Air Base, so I don’t need to go into too much detail there. It was a busy couple of days and we had a great time. I was also impressed by the overall atmosphere of the base - the Americans I met there seemed generally upbeat, not too stressed by the armed forces aspect of the job, interested in Japanese culture while also being excited to talk bout life back home. It was mellow. 

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By the time we left base I really didn’t want to leave our host Spike behind. If I could have brought him home I would. Seriously the sweetest dude ever.

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Japanese money is really crazy looking. Super pretty. 1 yen equals 1 cent, and they have coins that go all the way up to 500 yen, meaning it’s totally possible to have $30 worth of change on you at any given time. People carry a lot of cash there. 

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We stayed for 6 days outside of Tokyo with my friend Keith and his lovely girlfriend Mino. They took us out to dinner one night to one of her favorite “traditional japanese” restaurants. This is what the plate looked like (I know food pictures are lame, but come on…)

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I saw this comic book at a coffee house. The premise is that Buddha and Jesus are hipster dudes living incognito together in the suburbs of Tokyo. Apparently it’s pretty popular.

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Every single sidewalk has a raised yellow ridge of bumpy discs going down the middle. Why? For blind people to follow. So civilized. #thatmakessense

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Five or so days in, we found ourselves on our own for the first time. We made our way to the local coffeeshop and, with much pantomiming and pointing, ordered two cups of coffee. Things got even more interesting when the server poised his pen on his pad to take our food order. I took a deep breath and looked at the menu. There were three headings in English: “Morning,” “Afternoon,” and “Evening,” and everything else was in Japanese. Figuring that I was pretty hungry and wanted a fairly large breakfast, I pointed at the second to last item under the “Morning” heading and hoped for the best. He smiled, relieved not to have to go through another round of charades, and looked over at Lindsey. She shrugged and pointed to another item under the same heading.

A few minutes later we were delighted to discover that we had ordered a ham sandwich and a raspberry lemon chiffon cake. We referred to this practice as the Food Lottery (and we almost always won!)

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In the morning, the subways to Tokyo are incredibly crowded. There are people in uniforms called “pushers.” Their job is to stand on the platform and push as many people into the subway cars as possible. Once inside, everyone is silent. As a kid I once heard a dramatic news report about rampant gropings on subways cars, but that was very far from my experience. It actually felt the opposite; if anything, people seemed embarrassed by how close together they had to be. Everyone stared down at their hands, cell phones, feet, down down down… The car was packed beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, but it was pin drop silent. People just stared down. Some looked at their phones, but there wasn’t really room…they seemed to just go inward. Mino says it reminds her of robots, like everyone powers down for the ride and then they turn into people again when they get off the train. It was wild.

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Oh and the mask thing is totally normal. It startled me at first, because it reminded me of the footage I had seen of the bird flue epidemic a few years ago, but it turns out that in Japanese culture it’s customary to wear a mask if one feels even slightly ill. To keep other people healthy. #thatmakessense

The deli case at the train station. It went on forever, full of incredible food…

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I heart bento boxes. Hard.

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Another game we played with some frequency was called “Crowd Mentality.” If we were out looking for adventure and unsure of where to go next, we would just follow some large group of people to check out wherever they were going. Probably the most successful round of this that we played was in downtown Tokyo in the Harajuku district. We followed the crowd down some stairs into a a giant underground photobooth arcade, where hundreds of teenage girls were piling into row after row of photobooths to get their pictures taken and printed on stickers. The music was loud and the giggling was louder; I am convinced there was enough energy in that room to power a small city. I have never been anywhere like that.

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And then just around the corner was a beautiful, peaceful shrine.

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To be continued…
xoxo
~becca

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IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO LOSE AT ART
(May 24, 2014)

Music competitions are crazy. It’s hard enough to write a song that passes your own gut test, that you think maybe wouldn’t be too embarrassing to sing in front of other people, but for your deeply personal interpretation of said creation to be directly compared against those of others and then to have any number of performers declared “winners” (implying obviously that the rest are the opposite of that) is clearly against the spirit of what creating music is about.

That being said, I also understand that these events exist for a reason. If a television show announced, “We have scoured the countryside for a collection of the most promising new artists we have ever heard and we hope you will tune in to hear them!” or a festival said, “Join us this afternoon for a showcase of our 16 favorite unknown singer songwriters, we think you’ll enjoy them!” it is easy to imagine that audience participation would be low. Add a cash prize, however, and the opportunity to see desperate artists fighting for glory and, bam! Audience. I don’t think it’s about bloodthirst - I think adding an element of judgement gives the audience an avenue by which to participate. Sitting at home or in their festival seat, listeners invest themselves emotionally by focusing in, weighing the options, throwing their support to the artists who move them most.

As an artist, the opportunity to perform for an attentive audience of listeners is almost impossible to resist. The risk of “losing” publicly is often outweighed by the prospect of winning the prize, the validation, the moment.

It is my opinion that it is impossible to lose at art. As someone who has lost far more of these things than I have won, I know that it’s possible to lose a competition, and it’s possible to win a competition, but in art the whole concept of competition is just bait, the peanut butter you wrap around your dog’s medicine to make the day go smoother. The actual point is sharing the music and connecting with others who need it as badly as you do.

All that being said, good luck to my friends on the ranch today. Good luck to all of my friends working to make art happen - the creators and the listeners. We are all making this together.

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YOKOTA!
(May 6, 2014)

So it turns out I needn’t have worried about waking up in time for the beginning of our military schedule at oh seven hundred hours, because my body awoke naturally at 2:50 am, and refused to go back to sleep. Attempts to meditate, stretch and relax in bed gave way to catching up on emails and reading nonsense on the internet. Around 4:30 am I got up and walked into the living room of my little apartment, got out my guitar and immediately broke a string. Suddenly I was wide awake, tearing my bag apart searching for a spare set of strings. All at once I felt far from home, far from the familiar, far from a music store where I might find someone who spoke the same language as me. 

Luckily I found a partial set which included the string I needed. I changed strings, practiced a little, showered, got dressed and made it down to the lobby in plenty of time to meet up with Spike and Lindsey. We hopped in the van and drove over to the radio station for an interview on 810 AFM Tokyo, a station that broadcasts all over base and out into Tokyo proper.

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We were greeted at the station like rock stars. Kellen, the young DJ who was spinning really cool music when we got there, laughed as a young man in uniform entered the room and formally, if not a little awkwardly, informed him that there were donuts and coffee in the hallway if anyone wanted some. Kellen’s eyes twinkled. “You know,” he said “They never bring me donuts. They’re trying to play it cool, but no one ever brings me donuts.”

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We played and talked for about an hour. It was the first time Lindsey and I had ever sang in the same room, and it was also the first time I had heard her tell the story of her career/life prior to appearing on The Voice. It fascinated me – she was a 22 year old college student tending bar in Sacremento who had never really sang in public before. As she was closing down the bar one night, her boss heard her singing and told her that she was going to be famous someday and should audition for The Voice. Since the auditions were in nearby San Francisco the following week, she decided it couldn’t hurt to go and she drove herself to the open call auditions. She made an enormous impression upon many people during her run on the show, including me, and ended up in the Top 8. If you haven’t heard her sing before, now would be a good time to check out this video. Or this one. Or this one. She’s great.

After finishing up at the radio show Spike drove us to “The E Club” on base where we were treated to breakfast (everything on base is very American-style, so I had something along the lines of scrambled eggs, veggies and bacon, my favorite). After that we had a few hours of downtime at the club. I think I actually exercised. It was miraculous.

Spike and our new driver for the day were back for us mid-afternoon to drive us to a meet and greet at the Youth Center, where we spoke for an hour or so in front of a group of 40-ish kids aged 6-12. To break the ice, I started by asking the kids if they had any advice about Japan. Turns out they did. “Eat lots of ice cream!” Said one. “Make sure it’s not milk ice cream.” Said another. “When you get a house, make sure they don’t put you in an apartment. Get a house with a garden. They’re better, that’s what we have. Well,” side glance, “Some of us have them.” Wishing to veer the conversation away from on-base housing and the potential accompanying class issues, I asked more about what flavors of ice cream we were talking about. 

“Green tea!” 
“Mochi!” 
“Make sure you don’t get the milk ice cream! It’s a trick!” 
“I like the milk ice cream…” chimed in another… 

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We spent the next half hour singing songs for the kids and convinced a few of them to sing for us (one got up on stage and break danced. Broke danced? Not sure what the past tense of that is…). It was a fun hour, super heartwarming and full of surprises, as surprise afternoon musical visits to classrooms tend to be. Spike informed us that we were behind schedule, and after signing fliers for and taking tons of selfies with most of the kids, we walked down the hall with kids swirling around us til we got outside. They stood on the lawn waving goodbye as we pulled out and drove to soundcheck.

Our performance was in a large community center with a beautiful stage and seating for several hundred. There were two audio engineers, one of whom spoke great English. They both had big smiles and communication didn’t seem to be a problem at all.

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While I was setting up my guitar, I had a little trouble with my signal at first and, as I was trouble shooting, off-handedly asked if anyone had a 9 volt battery. No one did, but it wasn’t a big deal because we got the guitar up and running pretty quickly. About 40 minutes later Spike appeared and I realized that he had been absent for most of soundcheck. He handed me a plastic bag from the convenience store, where he had just gone to buy me two new 9 volt batteries. I was very touched. I went ahead and put the fresh batteries in my gear because, well, it never hurts.

After soundcheck Spike took us to dinner at Chili’s, which he had been tellins us about for our whole visit. Gotta say, it was pretty surreal being all the way in Japan and pulling up for dinner at a Chili’s. Spike was so excited that he took a picture of his food and made us split an enormous giant bananas fosters dessert.

The show itself was really fun. To tell the truth, sometimes shows that are months and months in the planning and require a lot of logistical consideration and coordination can be a bit muted and blurry. Even if they go smoothly, I often find that I don’t remember many of the details of actually performing when the night is over. This show, however, was very fun in spite of the logistics that went into relocating me and Lindsey to the other side of the globe for it. I could see people I had met over my two days on base sprinkled throughout the audience, wearing civilian clothes, sitting with their families. The front row was full of kids who alternately stared, took photos and danced a little. If I had any doubt about whether the audience enjoyed the show as much as I enjoyed performing it (and, let’s be honest – I’m plagued with bouts of self doubt as much as the next temperamental artist, so I did) they vanished when I came out of the dressing room and around the corner of the lobby to find a line about 80 people long waiting for autographs, CDs and photos.

We stayed until we had spoken with every person. We signed a lot of copies of the flier for the show, taking care to get the correct spelling of each kid’s unique name (Mckenzie! Auryra! Zoeh! etc…). At long last I met Chelsea, the young woman who inspired the entire tour with a tweet eight months prior. To my surprise, she was quite young and looked like she’d fit in better in Williamsburg, Brooklyn than an Air Base. She had funky glasses and pretty red hair and a posse of friends surrounding her. We reminisced about our initial correspondence and I learned the most amazing fact of all – when she suggested we come perform on base and asked if we would like the contact information for the person in charge, she had no idea who that was. After we said that yes, that we would love that information, she simply walked to the contracts building and started asking questions until she found someone who would admit to writing contracts for performers to come on base. She passed that information on to me and after many, many months of correspondence with a number of people on base it all miraculously worked out. Go Chelsea!

The next morning Lindsey and I both woke up extra early, partly due to jet lag and partly because we wanted to make sure we were extra prepared for the Creativity and Expression workshop we were leading at 10 am. This was something I had suggested when I originally pitched the idea of having Lindsey and I come perform – I was inspired by all of the videos I have seen on Youtube of military personnel sitting in barracks playing music. It was clear that there is a lot of creativity in the armed forces, and I would love to help the folks living on base have a few more tools with which to express themselves.

The audience was a mix of service men and women, spouses, children and some staff from the base. We had a great time discussing writing and performance techniques. As the workshop unfolded it occurred to me that the topic could be broadened beyond music, so we talked about songwriting techniques and how to apply them to a variety of writing (blogs, short stories, essays). Stage performance techniques were broadened to include public speaking and other forms of performance. To my and Lindsey’s relief, the workshop was a great success. We had a wonderful time visiting with the last of the participants one on one in the lobby afterwards. 

At the end of the workshop we were each presented with a silver coin from the commander of the base – apparently the commander has his own silver coins minted which he can give out at his discretion. It had his name and some other details about his position and Yokota etched in silver on a bright blue background. It was about the size of a silver dollar but thicker, heavier. I studied it in my palm and asked what they are for. “Well,” one guy said, “If someone walks into a bar and says ‘Coin check!’ everyone has to get out their coin and if you don’t have yours on your then you have to buy everyone a round of drinks.”


“Or…” Another guy said, “If someone gives you a coin, next time you see each other if they ask and you don’t have the coin on you have to buy them a drink.” I asked if the coins had any purpose that didn’t involve drinking games. Blank stares. 

We bid our final goodbyes to everyone at the community center and joined Spike for one last meal together at a burrito bar sort of similar to Chipotle. Coincidentally, we ran into the commander there, dressed in khaki shorts and a fleece vest. We thanked him for the coins. As the highest ranking officer on the base, he kind of gets treated like Elvis everywhere he goes and we could tell from everyone’s reactions that our escorts were excited that we were getting a one-on-one audience with him. We chatted about our sight seeing plans and his recent hike on Mt. Fuji.  

Conversation shifted to the topic of Japanese culture. He told me he has loved living on Yokota, exploring the country and getting to know people there. He said what struck him most was the concept of “harmony,” which he described as ‘this belief that everyone is better off if they have everything they need, so it’s in your best interest, and society’s, to take good care of those around you.’ He looked over my shoulder and said “Spike here could tell you a lot about that.” My mind wandered to the episode with the battery the night before and as if we was reading my mind the commander said, “You learn that you have to be careful what you ask people for, because once you make a request often they will bend over backwards to get whatever it is for you, no matter how important it is to you.” Harmony. Huh. I tucked this away in a back corner of my mind to consider later.

We chatted for a few more minutes and then he strolled on to continue with his Saturday.  Lindsey and I went back to the hotel to pack and met Spike out front. We all took photos together, and I got a little emotional as I realized how much I was going to miss Spike. We turned over our credentials, piled in the van one last time and drove off base into the rest of Japan.

LET’S HAVE A HOUSE CONCERT!

You might be wondering, “What’s a house concert?”
We hope this helps!

The quick & dirty:

A house concert is a concert hosted in a private space (a house, apartment or community room are all common venues) as opposed to being held in a normal public venue (a bar or coffeehouse). Beyond that broad distinction, there are no hard rules for what constitutes a house concert. It can be whatever we make it. What is consistent is that these events are fun, memorable and a growing national trend. American Airlines and CNN have both done stories about it. Aren’t you curious to learn more?

Watch the short video that people use to promote these great events to their friends: You’re Invited to a House Concert

I’d love to play for you and your friends, so please contact me if you are interested. We can compare calendars and decide when I can be in your area.

How much does it cost? Almost nothing! Read the free guide to find out how! Concerts In Your Home – House Concert Guide (PDF)

Where?

Depending on the available space (and comfort level of the host), house concerts vary quite a bit in size and scope, from a dozen people in a small living room, 30 people in a Yoga studio, 50 people in a basement, or 250 people in a large backyard. 40 people in a medium-to-large living room is about average.

You do want to make sure there is adequate seating for your guests – whether that means gathering all the chairs from around your house, renting or buying folding chairs, or asking guests to bring lawn chairs, cushions and blankets.

What do you do?

Often, house concerts are BYOB and involve a pot-luck dinner or hors d’oeuvres. There is usually 30-60 minutes between when doors open and when the music starts. This allows for quick catching up with friends, noshing, and pouring of wine!

When there is a critical mass in attendance, or when “start time” rolls around, the concert commences.

The Concert

The music is sometimes completely acoustic: unplugged and unamplified. Depending on the space, once you start getting bigger than about 25 or 30 people, you need to think about having a small PA system to help supplement the natural acoustics. This is especially true for duos or groups, as certain instruments (for example, the Dobro is a naturally very loud instrument) can easily overpower vocals or another guitar. Also, some guests may have a hard time discerning lyrics in quieter songs without amplification. You’d be amazed how much sound can be absorbed in a comfy living room – or how an echo-y room without sound support can really muddle the words!

I usually play two 45-minute sets with a short potty and cookie break in the middle. But shorter or longer sets are easily accommodated, as well. And I’m happy to play whichever of my songs you’d like to hear most (provided I still remembers how to play them).

The Experience

Here’s what’s wonderful and unique about house concerts — there’s no vast separation to divide the artist and the audience. We’re all sitting in a room together – sharing, listening, connecting. There are a bunch of songs that only work in this sort of setting, as well as a bunch of stories and song explanations we are only comfortable sharing in this intimate sort of setting.

In general, there’s something very real and tangible and human about the whole set up that can be very moving and touching, inspiring and invigorating. And that goes for us as performers as much as for any listener. Probably more so.

Getting People to Show Up

Enthusiastic word of mouth is by far the most affective way to get folks to come to a house concert you are hosting. Share CDs with your friends — talk it up big, and urge folks to visit the website to check out some more tunes. I have plenty of promotional materials available in the Press section of my site, and also some sample text I can send you to make sure we come up with an enticing invitation to send or e-mail to your friends and family and co-workers. If you’re excited about the house concert, spread that excitement among your friends. They’ll be intrigued, at least.

It’s our job to win them over once they’re there — it’s your job to make them curious enough to give the house concert experience a try.

One note: it’s important to make sure, in the promotional process, that your guests understand that this will be a house concert, not a house party that has some music going on in the background.

RSVPs

It’s usually a good idea to have an RSVP system in place to get some idea of how many folks to expect – especially if there’s a second tier of people you’d like to invite. Some folks use Evite.com or other invitation sites to keep track of their guest list. That seems to be a pretty good system.

Also, unless you’re uncomfortable with it, we will post the house concert date on our website schedule (we do not publish private street addresses unless given permission) and ask that people interested in attending contact the host via e-mail (or your preferred method of contact) for more specific details and to RSVP. This way, you maintain control over who you are opening your home to and how many people you’re inviting in.

$$$ Money Money Money $$$

Typically, the host collects a suggested donation from the guests, either at the door (upon entry), or during the break. Many house concerts require payment in advance – either at a previous concert or via paypal or a check in the mail. This helps when many people reserve a seat but don’t attend. The host and/or artist can’t be expected to fill those seats at the last moment – but they often would have been able to “sell the seats” if they weren’t already reserved. The suggested amount ranges from between $10 to $25 per person, with $15 or $20 being pretty typical. Once we pick a date, we can talk about what will work best for your community. Also - We will never begrudge any guests who are unable, or choose not to, contribute.

We know that at times, it can feel weird to have to be explicit with money with your guests. We’ve found it’s best to just be as up-front and clear as possible from the start – and everyone seems to receive it just fine.

For instance, state it from the beginning (in invitations, etc) that there’s an expectation that money will be involved in a more formal way than “passing the hat to help pay for gas.” Having the money basket at the door is a good idea, and it actually seems to make things less awkward. I’ve performed at several concerts were young adults were put in charge of collecting donations – this seems to ease some tension, and from what I’ve seen, they have fun doing it.

We don’t always ask house concert hosts for a guaranteed minimum, but we sometimes do – depending on travel or risk involved. In any case, it’s a really good idea to discuss with us if you think the attendance will be fewer than 15 people, as that may help us to decide what other gigs we may or may not need to accept on that leg of a tour.

WHEN YOU RECEIVE A CONTRACT from the agent, please don’t be intimidated! We have one standard contract that goes to all venues and/or hosts, whether it is a festival or a living room. Don’t be afraid to call or e-mail back, saying, “I’m happy to provide this part of the hospitality but not this other… or I don’t think I can provide these particular items on the technical rider…” etc. The contract is just a starting point for negotiation and to let you know what our normal expectations are. But we’re often flexible on many points!

Thanks!

Thank you for considering hosting a house concert. Whether you’re still interested (or not) or able to host one, we highly recommend that you keep your eyes open for house concerts of your favorite artists. Go attend some of them! We think you’ll enjoy the experience.

A big thanks to Danny Schmidt and Betty Soo, whose guidelines we borrowed from before making them our own.

AND THEN THERE WAS THIS TIME I WENT TO JAPAN…April 6, 2014
About 8 months ago, a young woman named Lindsey Pavao sent out a message on Twitter.  I can’t remember the exact wording, but the general gist was that she was booking her first tour through Texas and wanted some suggestions about venues to check out. We had never met, but I liked her music and sent out a few of my standard Austin suggestions. Fast-forward a little more than half a year and we spent 10 days making music and traveling in Japan together.

How did that happen, you may wonder?
Well, the internet is a vast network of wires and tubes. Some say Al Gore invented it. Some say it was the CIA. I say whoever the culprit was, I’m grateful to them because it brought Lindsey and I together by way of a lovely woman in Tokyo named Chelsea. See, while Lindsey and I were tweeting about venue ideas for her upcoming tour, Chelsea was inspired to chime in. 
“You two are my favorite singers from ‘The Voice’!” she said. “You should go on tour together!!!!!”
On a whim, I clicked on Chelsea’s profile, just to get any information I could quickly glean with which to personalize my reply. To my surprise, I saw that this blond-haired, blue eyed girl lived in Japan so I responded “That would be awesome! We should bring the tour to Tokyo! Lol ha ha ha” etc etc. 
Even more surprising was Chelsea’s response: “That would be amazing! We love it when American artists come perform on base! Would you like the contact information for the person in charge?” 
Yes, Chelsea. Yes I would.
A few days later, Chelsea made good on her word and sent us the email contact for the person in charge of booking entertainers on base. I immediately sent an email offering my and Lindsey’s services. The contact on the other end of the line was interested and asked for more details. We corresponded for months until all of the details were set and despite temporary hurdles such as personnel changes and government shutdowns, we eventually contracted one show and workshop for the residents of Yokota Air Base outside of Tokyo, Japan. 
For months leading up to the show, it seemed like a dream. I didn’t want to jinx it by assuming it would come true. I kept referring to it as ‘the two weeks in March where I’m either going to Japan or getting to take some time off.’ Gradually, though, the details fell into place. Contracts were signed. Deposits paid. Tickets bought. 
I left Austin at 6 am on Wednesday, March 19th and landed in Tokyo at 4:15 pm on Thursday, March 20th. Lindsey’s flight landed an hour before mine, so she had already met with our guide Spike and been interviewed by Japanese TV. #WelcomeToJapan.
Spike was our main contact on base at Yokota. He made it his personal mission to balance the chaos of our artistic brains with order, ease and a very detailed schedule that started every day at oh seven hundred hours. He lead us, bewildered, through the airport, first to fetch my bags and then to the post office where I picked up the iPhone I had rented for the duration of our stay (one of several great travel suggestions I received from my friend Keith before I left the US). Next we headed to the train station office to have our JR passes validated (the suggestion to purchase a 7-day rail pass came from Matt the Electrician, who has toured in Japan no less than 7 times in the past 9 years). 
The first major difference I noticed between the US and Japan is that at the Tokyo airport, the luggage carts are free. It seemed incredibly civilized. After pushing our luggage out to the curb of the parking garage, I noticed that the cars are driven from the right side of the vehicle, in the left lane of the road. Somehow I didn’t know that Japan was one of the countries that drove on the left side of the road. It occurred to me that maybe I didn’t know all that much about Japan.
It was a little before 6 pm when Lindsey, Spike and I climbed into the giant, silver, 14-passenger van that would transport us to base. I was surprised to learn that the drive would take 3-4 hours. I don’t know why this surprised me, I had just assumed it would be closer. Spike asked if we were hungry and I realized I was, or at least I would be before the end of a 4 hour drive. He made plans for us to stop at a shopping mall along the way where we could find a meal in the food court. 
We entered the mall through a Sports Authority with an enormous ad for shoes featuring Justin Bieber (to be clear: it was the ad and not the shoes featuring the Biebs). Spike led us through the food court to a machine that converted dollars into yen. At the time of our trip, 98 yen were equivalent to 1 American dollar, basically meaning that every American cent equaled 1 yen. Even though I knew somewhere in my brain that a yen equaled a penny, it was still pretty exciting to have a bunch of 1000 yen bills ($10). It was also strange to hold a 500 yen coin knowing that it was worth about $5. Money is weird.

We ate sushi at a restaurant in the mall that was better than 99% of the sushi I have ever had in my life. During the meal, Spike and and our driver Hamo (who, it turns out, is a professional snowboarder!) told us a little bit about Japanese customs. For example: one should never hand money directly to someone – it’s considered rude. Also: there is no tipping. Everyone is paid a full wage for their work and to leave them extra money can be insulting. If you want to give someone a gratuity for a job extremely well done, you must put it in an envelope to signify that it is a gift. 
When the bill came, the server dropped off a tray with the check on it, and Lindsey and I excitedly counted out yen coins for the exact amount we owed. Spike looked at our wobbling towers of coins and told us to put them away, that he would cover the bill. I wondered if we had done something wrong – is building wobbly towers of yen considered rude? When we tried to protest and pay for our own dinner he laughed and said that he was in the mood for coffee. If we wanted, we could buy him Starbucks on the way to the van. And that is how, on my first night in Japan, I found myself in a Starbucks. 
Back in the van, I was very impressed by Lindsey’s ability to drink half a cup of coffee and fall dead asleep while holding it in her hand. I, too, was exhausted by the long flight, but I’m so caffeine sensitive that if I had drank any coffee I would not have been able to fall asleep. And even if I had, I would definitely have spilled it on myself. Not Ms. Pavao, however.
As the van wove in and out of nighttime Tokyo traffic, Spike pointed out downtown landmarks, colorful boats in the harbor, significant buildings and magnificent bridges. We murmured appreciatively, until I realized mine was the only voice murmuring. And then the van grew warmer, the sky grew darker, and there was only the hum of the road and velvety darkness between my ears. 
I must have slept for at least two, maybe three hours when we arrived at the bright front gate of Yokota Air Base. Armed guards pointed us over to the office where we trudged inside, rubbing our sleepy eyes, and produced our passports and travel orders signed by the commander of the base. Someone from higher up Spike’s chain of command was on hand to vouch for us and provide us with temporary passes to allow us onto the grounds. We shoved all the paperwork back into our purses and tumbled back into the van, which slowly rolled towards the inn on base where we were staying. Spike helped us each to our rooms, efficiencies with living rooms, bathrooms, bedrooms and small kitchens. My head hit the pillow at midnight on Thursday, Tokyo time. 10 am in Austin.

AND THEN THERE WAS THIS TIME I WENT TO JAPAN…
April 6, 2014

About 8 months ago, a young woman named Lindsey Pavao sent out a message on Twitter.  I can’t remember the exact wording, but the general gist was that she was booking her first tour through Texas and wanted some suggestions about venues to check out. We had never met, but I liked her music and sent out a few of my standard Austin suggestions. Fast-forward a little more than half a year and we spent 10 days making music and traveling in Japan together.


How did that happen, you may wonder?

Well, the internet is a vast network of wires and tubes. Some say Al Gore invented it. Some say it was the CIA. I say whoever the culprit was, I’m grateful to them because it brought Lindsey and I together by way of a lovely woman in Tokyo named Chelsea. See, while Lindsey and I were tweeting about venue ideas for her upcoming tour, Chelsea was inspired to chime in. 

“You two are my favorite singers from ‘The Voice’!” she said. “You should go on tour together!!!!!”

On a whim, I clicked on Chelsea’s profile, just to get any information I could quickly glean with which to personalize my reply. To my surprise, I saw that this blond-haired, blue eyed girl lived in Japan so I responded “That would be awesome! We should bring the tour to Tokyo! Lol ha ha ha” etc etc. 

Even more surprising was Chelsea’s response: “That would be amazing! We love it when American artists come perform on base! Would you like the contact information for the person in charge?” 

Yes, Chelsea. Yes I would.

A few days later, Chelsea made good on her word and sent us the email contact for the person in charge of booking entertainers on base. I immediately sent an email offering my and Lindsey’s services. The contact on the other end of the line was interested and asked for more details. We corresponded for months until all of the details were set and despite temporary hurdles such as personnel changes and government shutdowns, we eventually contracted one show and workshop for the residents of Yokota Air Base outside of Tokyo, Japan. 

For months leading up to the show, it seemed like a dream. I didn’t want to jinx it by assuming it would come true. I kept referring to it as ‘the two weeks in March where I’m either going to Japan or getting to take some time off.’ Gradually, though, the details fell into place. Contracts were signed. Deposits paid. Tickets bought. 

I left Austin at 6 am on Wednesday, March 19th and landed in Tokyo at 4:15 pm on Thursday, March 20th. Lindsey’s flight landed an hour before mine, so she had already met with our guide Spike and been interviewed by Japanese TV. #WelcomeToJapan.

Spike was our main contact on base at Yokota. He made it his personal mission to balance the chaos of our artistic brains with order, ease and a very detailed schedule that started every day at oh seven hundred hours. He lead us, bewildered, through the airport, first to fetch my bags and then to the post office where I picked up the iPhone I had rented for the duration of our stay (one of several great travel suggestions I received from my friend Keith before I left the US). Next we headed to the train station office to have our JR passes validated (the suggestion to purchase a 7-day rail pass came from Matt the Electrician, who has toured in Japan no less than 7 times in the past 9 years). 

The first major difference I noticed between the US and Japan is that at the Tokyo airport, the luggage carts are free. It seemed incredibly civilized. After pushing our luggage out to the curb of the parking garage, I noticed that the cars are driven from the right side of the vehicle, in the left lane of the road. Somehow I didn’t know that Japan was one of the countries that drove on the left side of the road. It occurred to me that maybe I didn’t know all that much about Japan.

It was a little before 6 pm when Lindsey, Spike and I climbed into the giant, silver, 14-passenger van that would transport us to base. I was surprised to learn that the drive would take 3-4 hours. I don’t know why this surprised me, I had just assumed it would be closer. Spike asked if we were hungry and I realized I was, or at least I would be before the end of a 4 hour drive. He made plans for us to stop at a shopping mall along the way where we could find a meal in the food court. 

We entered the mall through a Sports Authority with an enormous ad for shoes featuring Justin Bieber (to be clear: it was the ad and not the shoes featuring the Biebs). Spike led us through the food court to a machine that converted dollars into yen. At the time of our trip, 98 yen were equivalent to 1 American dollar, basically meaning that every American cent equaled 1 yen. Even though I knew somewhere in my brain that a yen equaled a penny, it was still pretty exciting to have a bunch of 1000 yen bills ($10). It was also strange to hold a 500 yen coin knowing that it was worth about $5. Money is weird.

We ate sushi at a restaurant in the mall that was better than 99% of the sushi I have ever had in my life. During the meal, Spike and and our driver Hamo (who, it turns out, is a professional snowboarder!) told us a little bit about Japanese customs. For example: one should never hand money directly to someone – it’s considered rude. Also: there is no tipping. Everyone is paid a full wage for their work and to leave them extra money can be insulting. If you want to give someone a gratuity for a job extremely well done, you must put it in an envelope to signify that it is a gift. 

When the bill came, the server dropped off a tray with the check on it, and Lindsey and I excitedly counted out yen coins for the exact amount we owed. Spike looked at our wobbling towers of coins and told us to put them away, that he would cover the bill. I wondered if we had done something wrong – is building wobbly towers of yen considered rude? When we tried to protest and pay for our own dinner he laughed and said that he was in the mood for coffee. If we wanted, we could buy him Starbucks on the way to the van. And that is how, on my first night in Japan, I found myself in a Starbucks. 

Back in the van, I was very impressed by Lindsey’s ability to drink half a cup of coffee and fall dead asleep while holding it in her hand. I, too, was exhausted by the long flight, but I’m so caffeine sensitive that if I had drank any coffee I would not have been able to fall asleep. And even if I had, I would definitely have spilled it on myself. Not Ms. Pavao, however.

As the van wove in and out of nighttime Tokyo traffic, Spike pointed out downtown landmarks, colorful boats in the harbor, significant buildings and magnificent bridges. We murmured appreciatively, until I realized mine was the only voice murmuring. And then the van grew warmer, the sky grew darker, and there was only the hum of the road and velvety darkness between my ears. 

I must have slept for at least two, maybe three hours when we arrived at the bright front gate of Yokota Air Base. Armed guards pointed us over to the office where we trudged inside, rubbing our sleepy eyes, and produced our passports and travel orders signed by the commander of the base. Someone from higher up Spike’s chain of command was on hand to vouch for us and provide us with temporary passes to allow us onto the grounds. We shoved all the paperwork back into our purses and tumbled back into the van, which slowly rolled towards the inn on base where we were staying. Spike helped us each to our rooms, efficiencies with living rooms, bathrooms, bedrooms and small kitchens. My head hit the pillow at midnight on Thursday, Tokyo time. 10 am in Austin.