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.