Back From California 2013

I’m sitting here in #4, my office, just back from three nice weeks in San Diego, California. It really was a super time. Our two weeks of workshops at the Dana Inn on Mission Bay were not bad…..if you don’t mind perfect! Yes, indeed, a really great time at the Dana was had by all. We chose the Dana because we’ve all enjoyed the hospitality and pleasant surroundings of this destination in past trips to San Diego. I’ve stayed there with my folks some years ago and the Kaukonens as well as Hot Tuna have enjoyed their time at this wonderful spot on the edge of Mission Bay. Our past experiences were exceeded during our two weeks of workshops and our hopes were surpassed as well……A fine job by the Dana staff and a couple weeks of great workshops as well.

Big respect and BIG thanks to my old friend, David Drummond, who is pictured here with the Cap and I. We met many years ago. We both shared a common love for good music with a particular emphasis on Hot Tuna and the good ole Grateful Dead. David is the sales manager at the Dana and he took super good care of us. The entire staff at the Dana took super good care of us as well and we were all impressed with how cheerfully they did it. I can’t say enough nice things about the Dana and it’s people…….maximum respect!

The Cap and I flew out to San Diego on the Saturday before our sessions were to start up, January 12th. Weather is so weird these days and this day was not going to be an exception. The temperature was 67 degrees when we left the Columbus Airport and we arrived later that night into a cool San Diego, sporting a temperature in the low 40′s. That’s odd for this time of year for both locations. Indeed, the next morning Jorma and I went out for breakfast and we had frost on the windshield and that is a first for me in all my excursions to sunny Southern California. We had two great breakfasts in Ocean Beach at a little spot called the Village Kitchen. Jorma’s got a picture of the spot and his rave review on his blog, Cracks In The Finish.

By the time we started the workshops up the temperature was starting to rise up as well. It kept getting nicer as our days moved on at the Dana. By the end of our two week stint we were hitting the low 70′s and it was nice. Now even when the temperature was cool, the sun was shining and Jah knows that sun makes you feel good even when the temps aren’t particularly hot. The Dana is a sprawling hotel/resort and it sits quite beautifully on the edge of Mission Bay. It was so quiet and peaceful it is hard to believe you are right there in the big city of San Diego. The Dana is minutes from Sea World and about 10 minutes from downtown and Old Town. It really was a perfect location.

Yes, the spirit of Fur Peace was fully present when we kicked in with the first session. Jorma, along with his teaching assistant, David Wolff, had an enthusiastic class and the teachers were pretty enthused as well. David is Jorma’s partner and founder of the great on-line lessons website, Break Down Way. This class was designed for the student beginning his adventure into fingerstyle guitar. Many in the class were good players with the flat pick, but were venturing into something new with fingerstyle guitar playing. Jorma and David brought them in and gave them the tools they will need as they progress in their playing. There were lots of things to learn and the class structure gave everyone an opportunity to take something from the experience.

The meeting room that the Dana provided also served as our dining room and we ate three nice meals there each day. The food was quite excellent and the service was fine too. Great food and great service are important factors for us when we decide on our “On the Road” destination. We know the instruction is going to be great, and we always hope for the other aspects of “On the Road” workshops, such as food and customer service to be great as well……and they were!

Our first week seemed to just fly bye. As mentioned, we had a great group of students and the fellowship was tops too. It seemed to me, just after the first day, like we were all old friends getting together for a vacation. Well, it was a vacation with some fine guitar instruction and breaking of the bread included. With the workshops running Monday through Friday morning, we used Thursday afternoon for our student performance. Since we had a smaller group for the first week we did the student performance as a round robin. What this means is that we sat in a big circle and we started at one point and moved around the circle in a clockwise manner. When it was your turn, you could either pass or play and that is how it went down. During the course of the afternoon we all got a chance to play several times. Let me tell you, there were some great songs going around the room and lots of fun moments. One of our students passed the first two rounds, but played for all of us on the third round. Everyone was glad he did and I could sense a real satisfied happiness from him as well. As is the case at the mother-ship in Ohio where the Fur Peace stands…… the student performance is one of the best parts of the whole weekend and the same holds true when we are on the road. We had a great afternoon of playing and the support and kindness between everyone present……well, it just makes me so happy. I got to play three songs and that was a treat for me. I chose “The Weight” by The Band for my last number and Jorma obliged my asking him to play lead guitar and he tore it up most nicely. I was also joined by the entire group for the chorus and we even worked out the three ….and, and, and…….all taking our parts……before a resounding ….”You put the load right on me”…..it was just classic and it served as a great way to end a super afternoon of music.

After another fine meal and tasty desert we all were treated to a totally acoustic and I do mean unplugged performance by our flagship Captain…..Jorma. He was in fine style and there is something very cool about just hearing the man and his guitar. Jorma closed the night with a beautiful version of his “Embryonic Journey” and it seemed as fitting as when they used that same song for the closing episode of the TV show “Friends”. Our first workshop of 2013 and year number 16 for the Fur Peace Ranch drew to a close on Friday morning. We all said our goodbyes and there was lots of happiness in the air…….I’m taking it as a very good sign of a good year ahead for all of us!!!

The weekend off was nice. On Saturday I took a trip out to the desert with my sister, Marylou, her husband, John and my Dad and his friend Nancy. ML and JR…..that’s my sister and bro-in-law, like to go out to Anza-Borego for camping and they really wanted to show it to us and boy, am I glad they did. What a spectacular place! I really love the desert landscape. My Mom, God rest and bless her soul, use to say the desert was like penance and why would anyone want to live there…..but I have always found a real beauty in the desert and that desert solitude feeling. It was a great day and we all enjoyed a really nice authentic Mexican lunch. Great views, great eating and peerless fellowship…….like the Captain says…….does it get any better then this. Vanessa and Izzy came in for the weekend and the start of the next’s week’s class. We all got together for a very fun time and night of music on that Saturday celebrating our good friend Marc Schechter’s 15th anniversary at his law firm, Butterfield and Schechter…….these guys know how to do it uprighteously!

On Sunday Vanessa joined Dad, Nancy and me at the Self Realization Fellowship temple in Encinitas for service. It was very nice and thoughtful. My Dad who had planned to go to the Catholic Church in my sister’s neighborhood, but decided to go with V and me really dug it. He enjoyed it so much he was ready to clap at the end of the service. The main subject of the service and sermon was the power of positive thinking and that is always something good to think about or remind yourself about. The good brother said he always use to tell people “When a negative thought comes into your mind, just erase it. These days we say delete it”. Later in the day we met at a great restaurant in Old Town, Casa Guadalajara…..we had a long table with about 15 seats and once again our whole dining experience was just blessed and wonderful.

Come Monday…….it’ll be alright…..you bet it will…..we have another group of students joining us at the Dana. Barry Mitterhoff is here to teach a mandolin class and Jorma is joined this week by Marjorie Thompson and David Wolff as his teaching assistants. This is another great session and once again some fine players have come in to improve their already fine skills. Jorma had a class of 15 and on the first night they did a class assessment and overview of how the week’s classes would unfold. I had stayed on in the back of the room to sus things out and what instantly came to mind was that everyone of Jorma’s students could really play……and play quite well. There were some repeat offenders, some that we had met at past On the Road expeditions, and we also had some first timers. All in all it was a perfect mix.

Barry Mitterhoff’s class took place in the Bay Side Conference Room and it was the closest classroom we have ever had to the water……Mission Bay beckoned just yards away from the room’s picture windows. Barry also had a nice class and all of his students were repeat offenders. They hunkered down in that classroom for some serious learning and from what I’ve heard they got it too!

Thinking ahead to the afternoon student performance on Thursday……one of Barry’s students and I talked about reprising “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” with the Mitterhoff Mandoliners. We had done this when I opened the 2012 Concert Season at the Fur Peace Station last year. Well, come Thursday afternoon we had us a dandy of a student performance……one great song after another. There was so much talent coming off that stage……well, we could put some of these TV talent shows to shame………..but, we won’t. When I got my chance I jumped up with the Mandoliners and we had the added vocal talent of David Drummond and we really nailed down a kicking version of that Dylan classic. It really was an incredible afternoon.

That night we had our instructor performance and yes, it was, a really big show. For this week’s performance we brought in some sound reinforcement…..thanks to Fred and Marc…..so, we were wired for sound. David Wolff took to the stage first thing and did two Jorma classics before ending his brief set with the Dead’s …Ripple. We were all singing along. Big Kudos to David for playing I am the Light of This World and Embryonic Journey so fine……second only to the one that was sitting there and totally digging his performance.

Marjorie Thompson…….boy, it was great to see her… followed with a brief, yet powerful set of her own material. We had lots of people in the audience this night…..aside from our students….we had family and Dana guests…..and everyone really loved her set. Little Ms. Dynamite …..that’s what she is.

Next up……our main act of the evening…..Jorma and Barry… making their first concert appearance in the new year. The men played a fine set and every bit as good as their playing was their stage antics. They just kept cracking me up as well as others, I could tell by all the laughing in the room. Jorma had put his set-list on his I and I phone and kept pulling it out to show Barry what the plan was. Barry, was sporting a Woody Allenish banter with the Captain and it really worked. What also worked was the musicianship on display. Barry mentioned that it has been 11 years since he joined up with Jorma and Hot Tuna and my first thought is “no, it can’t be that long”, but indeed it is and when you hear the dynamics and interplay between these two, well you might think they had been playing together for a lifetime. A great set and a great treat for all of us in the Marina Room at the Dana that night. Somewhere during the show I looked over at David Drummond sitting next to me and said, “can you believe it David, Jorma and Barry playing the Dana?” He agreed, it was something like a dream……a surrealistic one on that.

We bid farewell to our fellow musicians and friends on Friday morning. Before long Jorma and Barry were ready to jump on board the tour bus that had shown up to start up a four week tour of Jorma and Hot Tuna dates. I was staying on for another week of vacation and my Dad pulled up just after the bus left to bring me on over to my sister’s. It was a super week on so many levels…..but one level that I’m really happy about is………..my new dog I adopted in San Diego. I have been interested in this breed…..a Tibetan Spaniel….for at least 10 years. I never was able to get one as they are rare. However, one night at my sister’s I was listening to the voices in my head when they said….”Google Tibetan Spaniels in California”…. and there he was a four year old Tibbie up for adoption. ….a half hour from my sister’s house. My sister and I went to see him the next day and I knew right away that I liked him. So, I put down a deposit and three days later I went back to pick him up and the next morning we were flying back to Ohio. We made it back fine and he has adopted my house and two other dogs as if we have been pals for a lifetime. Yes, life is good and I’m about as happy as can be. I sure hope the same for you.

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