Good Time In The Golden State

Dis mornin I woke up and was thinking about what a full and action packed time these last few weeks have been. Yes, it was just three weeks ago that I escaped the cold snowy Ohio winter for a reprieve in the golden state. The weather here has been just the best and the sun and warmth has been good for my soul, but there has been a good deal of other things pitching in as well. Of course MUSIC is and has been for a long time a big part of my life and these past weeks have been a nice dip or should I say soaking in the musical springs.

On the day we landed here in San Diego, Vanessa, my sister – Marylou and her husband – John, and I made a dash into downtown San Diego to catch the great Tommy Emmanuel in concert. I had been telling ML and John about Tommy for some time and it was so cool how well the timing worked. Well, Tommy was in prime form and they were just knocked out. For Vanessa and I the nice thing was getting to sit and enjoy a complete set of Tommy’s magical performance without being pulled away. It was just fantastic….his show covers it all in gold…The Merle Travis style……Chet Atkins….Les PaulDjango Reinhart and his own original gems. The music is accompanied by amazing stories and energy. Thanks a lot Tommy!

Over the next couple of days we hung around San Diego and did some chillaxin. My sister had everyone over for a pasta and meatball dinner on Friday night and everything was VA BENNE!!! My Italian Mom is and would be proud of her. My niece Brittany has a penchant for fine deserts and she made a cheesecake that was fantastic. Good eating tonight….Jorma put the icing on the cake with a beautiful Embryonic Journey that added a touch of surrealism to the evening. It is still sustaining in their living room. The next night Jorma did a rare private performance for some real nice folks in the San Diego area. Seeing Jorma perform solo is rare too these days and it made it all the more special….back to the roots. A big up to the hosts of this fine time…..your hospitality and good vibes really made for another great time.

Sunday comes and we’re convoying up the 15 heading to the Desert Hot Springs for our FPR on the road adventure. We pull into town a little early for check-in so we while away our time with a killer lunch at The South of the Border Mexican Restaurant. Fernando, the owner, is still here and the food exceeded our anticipation and boy did we have that. We’ve eaten there several times each of the last three years we’ve come this way and what can I say…..it’s so good it’s almost worth drivng here from Ohio. Suerte, Fernando…..keep it coming. The day ended with a nice soak in the mineral hot springs at the Resort….making sure the waters were perfect for our guests coming in on Monday for the workshops.

Come Monday….GE and I start the day with an early morning drive out to the Indian Canyons on the edge of Palm Springs. We hike into Palm Canyon which is a part of the Aqua Caliente Indian Reservation. The Cahuilla people have been stewards of this sacred land for centuries. We don’t see anyone except the tribal rangers until we start our walk back. The land is so peaceful and beautiful….we note the absolute silence other then the morning birds and ramblin stream…. and think what a perfect way to begin this day. We drive back to the spa and I spend some time in the hot springs and the big swimming pool. Later in the afternoon our people start to arrive and before long we’re orientating and having dinner. GE and JK decide to kick things off with a class that night.

The Captain and his class

The Captain and his class -photo: Joe Couri

Tuesday sets the pattern for what will be a very full week. The day consists of breakfast…workshop…lunch….workshop…..dinner …….workshop… and some time to also relax in the waters. We are being treated to some beautiful weather the whole time we are at the Resort. The temps are in the high 70s and low 80s and the clear sky affords us a nice view of the San Jacinto Mountains. Nights are clear with a bunch of stars in the sky and an occasional passing of a Correlian Star Cruiser…..class three.

We start our Wednesday very early as a group of us have made plans to catch Jah sun rise out on highway 74 at the vista point. Vanessa and Joe C. drive 10 of us out of the Resort at 5:20 am for our adventure.

Early morning flight crew

Early morning flight crew -photo: Joe Couri

A little light is starting to show as we make our way up the mountain ……. And then more and more light…….then the real star arrives to bath the sky in colors. The Salton Sea, some 40 miles away, reflects the colors back to the heavens. The day is off to a great start and it would only get better and better.
Sun Rise over the Sultan Sea

Sun Rise over the Sultan Sea -photo: Joe Couri

That night after dinner, GE and JK treat us all to a wonderful show in the Grand Ballroom. The show would prove a good starting point for the week plus of shows that GE and JK have scheduled for the west coast once the workshops are finished…..but let me not get ahead of myself here.
Jorma and GE Smith performance

Jorma and GE Smith performance -photo: Joe Couri


Thursday is another full day and we’re all looking forward to the really big show that night. My FPR associates and I always find great joy in the Student Performance that we usually do on Sundays at the Ranch….and it would be no different here at our workshops in the California desert. The Student Performance is just like an open stage except for….as JK notes…..we all like each other. That night we were treated to some great music and entertainment, as solo performers……newly formed duos…..GE’s
GE's class recital - Acoustic Guitarmaggadon

GE's class recital - Acoustic Guitarmaggadon -photo: Joe Couri

class (boy, oh, boy …can that Neil sing) and other singers and players of instruments took the stage.  Everyone brought something to the show….Marc got us going….Anne and Bob did my song…. I mean their song….my request…..and John D. never stopped …. following through to the delight of all…..respect my man! I got a chance to take the stage tree times. Joe C. and I did a nice version of The Weight, hitting the harmonies and sharing verses….when we got to the third AND, and the chorus……everybody was there. Next, I got a chance to play with my buddy Norm for a take on Dylan’s She Belongs To Me. GE joined us and played some nice and tasty leads. We were about ready to wrap things up, when I asked Vanessa if she wanted to do our song. Back at camp in Ohio we have closed many a Student Performance together with the Tim Hardin song Seems Like A Long Time. I first heard the song on a Brewer and Shipley record called Tarkio Road….it’s the same one with One Toke Over The Line on it and Rod Stewart also did a nice version of it on one of his early records….Well as we head for the stage here comes Izze right behind Vanessa and up onto the stage to share the microphone with her Mom.
Izze's open stage performance

Izze's open stage performance -photo: Joe Couri

Izze was the greatest….I’m not kidding…..hitting the harmony notes and starting and stopping at precisely the right moments. As I looked at Vanessa on my right and then turned to Jorma on my left….it was hard to decide who had the biggest
smile…..it was one of those golden moments. GE was there to accent the song with some delicately beautiful guitar work. So we call it a night and everyone in the room is feeling the love as we bring the performance to a close. THANKS TO EVERYONE….what a night. A group of us meet over in one of the hot pools for a late night soak and session….wait a minute……who’s that comin……it’s Captain Jorm jumping in.

We all have a nice breakfast and the teachers wrap up the week’s workshops with one more session before we all get ready to head out. We sure had a great time!!! We’re on the road just after 11:00 am as we are trying to beat it on down the line to Santa Monica before the traffic gets too crazy…..and we do. We check into a nice hotel right by the Santa Monica Pier and not too far from McCabes Guitar Shop, where Jorma and GE will be playing four soldout shows over the next two nights. Check out Jorma’s Diary for set-lists and a full report. What I will tell you is that I was so glad to be there to see the amazing music that poured forth from these two great guitarist and long time friends. GE has been coming to the Ranch since the very beginning and JK and him have had many an occasion to do some playing, but this was their first tour as a duo. Each show got better and better and during the course of those four shows ….not a song was repeated. The format was very organic….so don’t panic….with both players swapping songs and stories into the night. JK would add some nice lead work to GE’s song choice and GE would respond in kind. One of my friends wrote me after seeing them in Santa Cruz and said it was like seeing two friends jamming at their house and getting invited over to listen.

Sunday morning I say my farewell to the guys for now….it sure was fun…..they’re driving up to San Francisco and I’m heading over to Glendale to see an old friend. My friend lives just a couple of miles from the Gene Autry Museum and we head over there to have a visit. The museum is fantastic….they have an open stage going on with a large group of Cowboy singers and Cowgirls too… singing out. There is also a Western Artists Show going on and my favorite Western Artist, Howard Terpning has won first prize with the beautiful oil painting Sound of Bugles in the Distance. The original is on display and I’m in amazement with how life like his images are…..very cool. We go through all of the many displays of Gene Autry memorabilia and Cowboy culture of the old west. Later in the afternoon I make the drive across town to Long Beach for the 29th Annual Ragamuffin Reggae Festival. The lineup is top shelve and I have a very irie time listening to the mighty…Mighty Diamonds….Coco Tea….and a long time favorite…Gregory Isaacs. Gregory, the cool ruler, has been around for a long time and although he’s looking older and rougher then when I saw him on the beach in Negril in 85.…his performance is Super Irie and he’s hitting all the notes…..with sustain….oh, what a feeling……he stretches out on all his big numbers. I left the arena super stoked to drive back to the hotel.

Morning comes and I drive Izze and her Mom over to LAX and then I start my drive down to my sister’s place in San Diego. No one will be home until late in the afternoon so I decide to take my time and cut over to the Pacific Coast Highway around Oceanside. The drive is beautiful and I’m really diggin the sights. I make a long stop in Encinitas, again one of my favorites, for a nice long walk from Swami’s Beach all the way to Moonlight Beach and back. It was just one of those days…..Bless and Bless again.

After several days back in San Diego doing fun things with all family members…sunsets, beach walks, hiking, good eating and other things….I fly up to San Francisco for the weekend to visit some old pals. I’m there less then two days….but we find time for some good live music out on the town. On Saturday night we catch an exciting concert with Niko Vega and Soundtracks of our Lives. I wasn’t hip to either of these groups, but really glad my buddy was and that he had grabbed us some tickets….it was sold out. The music was primal rock and roll and I dug it.

Tomorrow I’m flying back to Ohio. It has been a great time here in California and as you can see…..I’ve caught some great music. This afternoon as I sat in my sister’s backyard the birds that have been singing sweetly throughout my visit, sang a beautiful farewell song…..and I thought…..it’s been great, now it’s time to get back to Meigs County, Ohio and get the Ranch ready for our opening weekend.

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