Thursday, December 9, 2010

Chili Cook-Offs and Other Excuses To Sing

Oh Boy ... another chunk of time gone by with no blog entry from me. It's not my fault I tells ya, these are busy times. I got through Thanksgiving alright. I accepted an invitation to dinner at my friend John Zipperer's home. Pretty much showed up empty-handed, and was fed very nicely. His wife Julie made the whole traditional meal, and aced every bit of it. John M. was there, and Art and Tara and Jimmy. Afterward we played music, and were joined by Marilyn Babcock. In a while she and I repaired to the wilds of Topanga Canyon where we ate a little more, and played and sang much more. The musicians commandeered a segment of the house with a very high ceiling, and a stair and balcony arrangement that filled with listeners. I'm blessed (and sometimes cursed) with a voice that projects, and I love a space with a lot of headroom. I can fill it, and did.

It was a good day. And I kept cynicism out of the picture as well as I ever do.

A couple days after that, we did a Backyard Invasion at the home of our friend Glen Duncan down in South Pasadena. Glen is a good egg ... likes what we do, and was happy to have us. He is also something of a wine expert, and was celebrating the completion of the wine cellar that graces the basement of his historic Craftsman home. It had rained the night before, but we had a window of cold clear sky. I hauled the stage, chairs, sound system, but Glen and his brother and sister-in-law did most of the cooking and beautifully. Luke Halpin joined us on fiddle, and Greg and Genevieve were there too. We made a good noise. Phil Ward opened brilliantly, setting a tone I had only to ride like a happy wave. We stayed late-ish moving the song-circle inside ahead of the arriving rain. A perfect day; everything coming easily that food and music can bring.

By day, since then, I've been finishing up the paint-job of my parents' place, pausing for a quick show at Kulak's last Thursday. Then, several days ago, I had to begin in earnest, the ramp-up to last night's event: the big chili showdown, pitting me against Julie Sandoval of The Coffee Gallery.

I have somewhat of a reputation as a bad-ass chili cook. I have to feed 50 to a hundred people on a very regular basis. Sometimes I'll do a beef stew, or a chicken soup, or a lentil stew, or even a pretty great sausage gumbo. If it can be made in one of my four huge pots, and feed a person full for about a buck per, I will cook it and haul it. Together with Alexia's cornbread, Marilyn's brownies, and a salad or two, we bring a feast. My chili has emerged as the most requested entree, and I've got it worked out pretty well.

Julie, ever the rascal, began to refer to her own chili as "better than Dave's", and before you knew it she was selling it in tubs from the fridge at the coffee house with labels that said just that: Better than Dave's. It was decided (probably in the fevered mind of Duane Thorin), that there would be a showdown, a throwdown, a chili cook-off wherein Julie and I would cross ladles, and settle the controversy. Never mind that neither of us cares a whit about winning such a contest or has the slightest ego-attachment to any perception of chili supremacy. Duane thought it would be fun, and Julie and I were too slow to dodge clear of his locomotive energies. There would be a cook-off, and a show, and it would happen on an un-booked Wednesday night in Bob Stane's Backstage. Last Night.

Wednesdays are a tough sell. Particularly if a good portion of your habitual audience lives in either the San Fernando Valley or the West Side of Los Angeles, as does mine. Traffic from say, Santa Monica, to Altadena on a weeknight, is just a straight deal-breaker. And this thing was to happen at 7pm. Good luck! So Julie and I did the best we could with promotion. Donna made flyers repleat with pictures of the angry gladiators. Email blasts were fired off. We bombarded one another's Facebook walls with pictures and trash-talk. Julie sent a photo of a can-opener captioned simply "Dave's secret weapon". I replied that the only can I'd open would be one of whup-ass. She sent a picture of a grocery-shelf stacked with tins of Denison's and Hormel. "Julie's Pantry" was my reponse. And back and forth. I guess we created a little interest. We had a good turn-out, and both big anonymously-labeled pots were empty at night's end.

Greg is in Europe doing a sound-installation on a Disney cruise-ship, and Genevieve was waylayed by a seasonal acting gig, so I was on my own. Luke's folks, Phil & Nancy did a fine set after Duane's insanely funny reading of his hit "Avocado" (sung to Desperado), and I went on. I did several songs solo, and then brought up John-Michael Kaye, my former and long-time lead guitarist and back-up singer. We hadn't been onstage together in years, and we only played a couple that he knew, but it was great fun, and apparently not so loose as to disappoint anybody.

Lotta laughs. Some great food, and real good music. A lot of faces I'd never seen before who I expect to see again. Who won the challenge? I won't say. But let me ask this. Is it likely that I'd even mention it if I'd gone down to ignominous defeat? If you go to Julie's Facebook page you might see the headstone I photo-shopped and posted before I went off to sleep last night.!/profile.php?id=1702820341

I took the day off today, and tagged along on another Duane-fired adventure. In the interest of brevity, I'll save that for my next post. In general, life is good. Money is tight as it is for so many of us, but not so tight as to cause more than average levels of stress. I've got a worn-out elbow and shoulder getting worse, but neither seems to object to guitar picking. I have good friends and a warm bed. My children are beyond anything I ever earned or deserved. The weather has turned brisk, and Christmas lights are twinkling here and there. I hope you all have reached a similar reckoning with all of this year's challenges as we climb it's last few steps.

Yours, Dave