Monday, November 14, 2011

So... I was on Chris Robinson's tour bus last Sunday...

I was out in the front yard raking leaves when I got a message from my old buddy George Sluppick. George is a drummer whose list of cool bands he's played for is a mile long and now he's playing for the Chris Robinson Brotherhood (Chris Robinson, the lead singer in the band The Black Crowes).

His message was simple: "I'm in town, come on out." For those of you who don't know me, I used to play music for a living as well. It was 10 years of touring, recording and local gigs. I did ok for myself; lots of festivals, 4 albums, a couple of awards, some small magazine articles, a few trips to Europe. I've settled nicely into my life here in Charlotte, though. I haven't missed playing music that much. Bought a house. Have a day job. My commute to work is about 15 minutes on a surface street--no traffic. I get to come home and have dinner with my wife most evenings. I took up beekeeping.

I'm still working on a couple of music projects that are cooking on the back burner, but there was something about George coming to Charlotte that brought things back out to the front.

I left the house around 7pm and headed over to NoDa (North Davidson, for those Californians who don't know Charlotte) to the Neighborhood Theater. I called George's cell phone and when he picked up he instructed me to head around back to the tour bus. As I turned the corner and saw the big bus, the door opened and out jumped George.

I hadn't actually seen George in about 3 or 4 years when my old partner Nathan James and I were in Memphis, TN playing some gigs. We stayed at George's house. He treated us to some BBQ Nachos (his creation, and I won't give away the secret recipe). I remember that trip fondly which is another blog post for another time. It's amazing the ways you can catch up with someone you haven't seen in awhile. I used to see George all the time when he lived in San Diego. We played gigs together. Then I caught up with him in Memphis and now here we were in Charlotte.

George was wearing a cowboy hat and his hair had gotten long and was streaming down to his shoulders. He had on a western shirt covered with a blazer and on his face were his signature horned rim glasses. He gave me a big bear hug.

Ben Hernandez and George Sluppick

I stepped up into the bus and George offered me a beer and introduced me to the bass player, "Muddy". Chris was in the back of the bus watching TV, so George and I sat in front and started to catch up on 3 years of lost time. He asked me what I was up to and if I was playing any music. I asked him how the tour was going. Chris came out shouting something about a football game.

After a few minutes George and I decided to head across the street to Smelly Cat Coffee to get a couple of cups. We sat outside and watched the people lining up for the show out in front of the theatre. George noticed these knitted hats that a lady was selling outside the coffee shop. He said something like, "Man, look at those hats...I gotta get me one." Our conversation was simple. It felt good sitting back with an old friend and talking about how we've both ended up where we had. We reminisced about Los Angeles, San Diego, Memphis....Music. We talked about strength of family. Burying the hatchet with people and forgiveness. Friends. It was the first time in a long time that I felt truly comfortable being in Charlotte and in the same moment, lonely.

We finished our coffee and George approached the lady who was selling the hats. Her "husband" came up too and we noticed both wearing her creations. She said, "I knit all the hats myself and I don't use any kind of pattern. Just what comes out of my mind." George looked at all the hats and then at her husband and said, "Man, you got a good one here (referring to the woman). You better hold on to her. She'll keep you warm at night."

We walked back across the street to the venue so George could start getting warmed up with the band. I checked in at the door (George had put me on the guest list) and entered the theatre.

There's George in the back w/ his cowboy hat.

It was great watching George play again. He and I had played together many times when we lived in San Diego and I missed that sound. The band was good. I enjoyed the songs. But I had to smile when I saw George playing. He does this thing where he jumps off his drum stool when he wants to really punctuate part of the song. Just like old times. George is one of the funkiest drummers I know. He's George. He can be funny, stubborn, moody, philosophical, kind, generous and it all comes out in his playing. George, that night, was a link to my past life that had followed me to Charlotte. There are some things about that life that I was glad to leave behind and George was a reminder of the things that still hang on and haunt. And it feels right knowing that they are still there.

The band took a break and George brought me backstage. We talked about the first set and what I thought. We took a picture for the record books. I told him I couldn't stay for the last set because I had to get up early for work. Having a day job can still be an adjustment for me.

He gave me a parting bear-hug and a hand shake and we looked at each other in a way that said, "Been missing my old friends lately. Glad to hear your doing well. I'll be seeing you again soon."

I walked back to my car. The streets of NoDa had quieted some and I felt a melancholy feeling that my brother and I talk about sometime when you're walking through a city. It was a feeling of being caught between two places and the present and the past. Being caught in the middle of comfort and loneliness and inspiration. I went home and started writing a new song. Thanks George.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bees At Night

Beekeeping is the kind of hobby where you never quite feel like you're the one in control.

Here are a few photos of the bees when the sun has gone down and they don't think I'm watching. The photos don't really do it justice. It's pretty amazing seeing them either all bunched up in a chain or shifting back and forth on the face of the hive doing some grooming and cleaning.

The heat and humidity is the reason they're doing all this stuff. There is not as much for them to do when the sun goes down (no foraging) and the inside of the hive gets a little too warm with thousands of them in there. So some of them sit out on the porch while a few others stand in the entrance fanning their wings to draw cool air in. Crazy!!!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Trail Runners Beware!!!: Dogs at Francis Beatty Park

So I just wanted to go for a nice trail run out at Francis Beatty Park this morning. The first half of the run was just fine until I came around a bend and stopped about 20 yds. short of two guys with dogs. Two of the dogs weren't on leashes. I asked if he was going to get them on leashes and he said, "They're fine." And then at that moment the dogs cut through the trees and came up to my legs growling. I slowed down to a walk and tried to give the dogs room because I don't really like dogs coming up to my legs snarling. I told the guy he better put them on leashes. The owner of the dogs, a great big guy came around the curve trying to call the dogs back. The dogs don't hear too well I guess because they won't really let me pass and continue growling. He calls again. Nothing. So I let the big guy know that I have pepper spray and would be more than happy to use it on them to help get them under control.

The man freaks out. On me. He's still trying to call the dogs off though and I think he's watched too many mafia movies. He says, "What the f**k, man. Why you gotta be such an a$$hole?"

"I'm the a$$hole?" I said. "You're the one with dogs off the leash about to bite me."

"You know what? Just get movin', you f**king a$$hole! What is it, a**hole day?!" he said.

So of course I said, "Well, it must be if you're out here!" I finally got past them and ran a few yards up the trail to where his buddy was waiting with his dog. A rotweiler. The man held the black dog's collar and waited patiently. The rot sat there like a little kitten. Well, I guess now I know where the other dogs got their aggressiveness. As I ran up the trail I could hear him mocking me in a high pitched voice. I love it.

What is it with me and running in Charlotte? When I've tried running on the roads I've almost been hit by cars (one guy kind of chased me down in his car {see earlier FB post}). I tried running out at McAlpine greenway, but now they're gonna pave it. I got into trail running to get away from all that only to get chased by dogs and roughed up by NY walkers.

I don't tolerate people who don't have control over their dogs. I've been bitten before. I don't like it. If you want to have your dog out on the trails keep a leash on them or get out there earlier. Or go to a dog park for goodness sake.

By the way. The two dogs are white-ish with a couple of brown spots and look a little like smaller huskies. And this isn't the first time they've come at me or others I know.

(the only dogs I do like are my parents' dog, Dexter's dogs and of course Molly Jones.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Bees were, well....busy today.

The weather's been warming up and today the bees were pretty active. Almost too active. I had noticed that the feeder was empty and when I replaced it full they just started going crazy. I just finished the box and frames for one more brood section so the bees have more room. I've heard that if they feel like they're running out of room they can swarm and I didn't want that to happen. So, when I saw so much activity outside of the hive this afternoon I assumed the worst only because I still have no idea what I'm doing and what to expect from these insects. Here's a little video. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


So I've been thinking about it for a couple of years and now I've finally done it. I brought home a hive full of bees today.
I got in touch with a man out in Indian Trail and drove out to his house this afternoon. He and his wife have about a 6 acre spread of woods, meadows with goats, a big pond and I don't know how many bee hives.

I after loading a few full frames into my hive box and one bee sting on the back of my neck (I wasn't wearing a veil.) I drove back into Charlotte and starting getting the colony into it's spot.

These are pretty amazing creatures. As soon as I opened up the little hatch on the front a few streamed out. They hovered around the entrance for a few minutes and within 20 minutes were already buzzing around the front and backyard foraging for nectar. I spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning and organizing my shed and checking on the entrance of the hive from time to time. And when the sun finally started going down and my backyard was getting dark, I could see the last few scout bees coming in for the final landing of the day. A little while later the hive was quiet. I guess I'll find out in the next couple of days if they all want to stay awhile.