Last night, we played The Talking Stick in Venice, CA. The guy working the food counter (Nick) was also handling the sound and damn if it wasn’t pretty much the best sound we’ve had there! I brought my own mic – a Sennheiser 835S – it’s what Ernest Troost suggested I get. I love it.The show opened with four songs by newcomer Rebecca Leigh. She plays, she sings, she writes and she’s wonderful at everything. It doesn’t hurt that she’s young and lovely. Her songs are honest and personal. She’s very comfortable and natural on stage and was the perfect opener for us. She brought in a little crowd, too, and most of them stayed for the whole show. She’s currently making her first EP.

We went on next. This is our band now: The Reinforcements – Lorie Doswell and Gene Lippmann. John Cartwright on bass, John O’Kennedy on mandolin, dobro and Weisenborn, and Doug Knoll on drums. We did an hour. There were about 45 people there, I’d say. Other than the occasional obnoxious sound of coffee machines, the room was pin-drop quiet. I looked around the room and realized that most of the crowd either had never heard us, or hadn’t heard us in about a year. What a great feeling that was! I got to sing a few old songs, like “Night Blooming Jasmine” and “Goodbye Aloha”, but I mainly did new material. The stuff I’m recording now for my new CD. We started with “I Can Be Bad.” That always puts us in the right groove. Bobby Kimmel’s “One Way Road” felt great. My tribute to Merle Haggard, “Table Nine,” seemed to be well-received. And my new song, “I Just See You,” which is a positive look at aging, really seemed to hit a nerve.

But the stand-out of the evening was Shaun Cromwell. I do a lot of shows with Shaun and he’s always amazing, but last night he was absolutely riveting. Over the years I’ve heard people complain that they can’t understand what he’s saying (diction), but last night, with the sound quality, and hundreds of shows under his belt (he’s been winning contests and playing all over the country,) you could pretty much understand his every word. His songs are brilliant, poetic, dazzling. “Working Title,” “The Gristmill” (aka “The Lord’s Confounding Ways ,”) “Three Deaths,” “The Rise and the Fall of it All,” etc. Shaun Cromwell is a genius and I’ll be saying that ‘til the day I die. He’s in a class by himself and most certainly by any standard, “the real deal.” I’ll let you know when we’re doing another show together. I like to open for him, then relax and watch him. One time at Kulak’s we did a show with Shaun and a guy from the audience came up to me afterward, pointed at Shaun and said, “When that guy started playing, something happened to my heart.” Get in line, brother.