Kansas City Serb Fest

I arrived in KC to drum once more for Majstory. We were playing a big Serbian festival (“Serb fest”), where groups from Joliet, Omaha, and Kansas City all gathered together and celebrated, Serbian style.

People ate and choirs from all three cities sang.

The Omaha choir representin'.

We were set up in the corner.

You can see our stuff over there next to the choir.

Then, we were ready to start. People were still eating so we began with the ballads and such, but it wasn’t long before we busted out some kolos (like the Serbian equivalent of a jig or reel).

Getting our Serb on.

We played for hours, and there was much dancing. Then after an adventurous night with crazy drunk people people visiting our hotel, we were ready to play again in the morning.

Mario, Iliya, Joe, and Zach are MAJSTORY

Highlights from this gig:

  • A bed!
  • Good times playing Serbian music.
  • A guy thought I was Serbian! I was sitting at a table finishing my beverage and a guy leaned over and said, “Blah blah blah blah. Blah?” At least, he may as well have said that because I only know a few words of Serbian, and he didn’t use either of the words I know. So I replied with a cheerful “Dobro nam doshli!” which means something like “hello” or more literally “good life to you.” I let him look confused for a second before apologizing and explaining that I’m not actually Serbian and had no idea what he said.
  • A crazy drunk dude that kept calling everyone ‘crazy’ and ‘nuts’, then laughing at the sound of his own voice. I think he laughed at the sound of his laughing too. It was a textbook example of the “feedback loop.”
  • Some delicious Serbian food, unfortunately not including roast lamb this time but still pretty good.
  • I learned how to ask “Where is the bathroom?” in Serbian. This adds to my prior Serbian knowledge of “ice” and “What’s going on?” The cool thing is I can now synthesize addition sentences; now I can say things like “What?” and “Where is Iliya?” and even “What is ice?”

NEXT: I finally get a much-needed break back in Omaha, but fail to get any rest during it.

St. Louis, MO

St. Louis! Home of one of my alma maters! (I have several alma maters. It’s one of those confusing family situations. I also have a dura mater and a pia mater, but those are just in my head.) This particular mater is of course Washington University, a very excellent school and the place where I studied architecture for a couple years before I decided that, in the words of the 림정히 song, music is my life.

I still have a good number of friends from WU in St. Louis, despite not having lived there for about 8 years. The first of those friends that I was able to meet up with was May Yeh!

It's May!  And she's ON FIRE!

May is a super fun girl who manages somehow to be both hilarious and genuine, plus she has her own holiday. I was always jealous that I didn’t have a Zach Day. She’s also gotten married since last I saw her (8 years ago) to a happening fellow named Steve. They also have a cat, which they like to dress up like an owl. I already think owls are one of the funniest animals alive, but seeng a cat dressed up like one may have been even funnier.

May and Steve putting the owl suit on the cat. It's an owlcat!  The best mouser around. What I want to know is, who manufactures this costume and where can I send them fanmail? Well, SOMEONE is looking a little OWLY!

“Hahahaha!” laughs the mob of nearby teenagers, in an unusual fit of appropriate behavior.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I actually met May at my alma mater and her presenta mater (currenta mater?), WU. There she showed me around the old place and I was in awe of all the changes that have happened to the school since I attended. Some things are exactly the same, for example some of the dorms looks exactly the same and I felt 19 again. But other things were completely different and I felt 40.

For example, WU has added a TRAIN STATION to their campus!

Tell me this is not a train station.

Among other things. The library now looks like a Starbucks. There are now a billion places to eat on campus (as opposed to a mere 500 million when I was there), including places to get steak and haute cuisine. Amazing.

I spent a lovely evening eating a huge gyro with May and Steve, followed by playing with the owlcat. The next morning, I was off to rendezvous with Tim Dorsch, another happening peep I knew back in the day. We met disgustingly early for some bagels and good times catching up.

Zach and Tim, old friends, reunited at last.

After a nap to catch up on the sleep I missed from meeting Tim, I was off to another happening peep’s place. This happening peep was a happening peep by the name of Carrie Jones.

“How many times are you going to use the phrase ‘happening peep’ in this post?!” complains Attractive Girl. “Seriously.”

Do you seriously want me to answer that question, because I can totally –

“Never mind,” says Attractive Girl, “I’m going to go eat some 갈비살 while you finish this up.”

Dang, I love 갈비살. I’m going to have to finish up fast so I can join you.

Attractive Girl: (aside) “Exactly!” (she winks)

(exit Attractive Girl, stage left)

So, Carrie Jones. She is a singer and pianist, in addition to being a happening peep. Here she is pianating:

That's "playing piano" for those of you who don't know how to verbize.

And here she is singificating:


Carrie had some great ideas for parts on several of the tunes I threw at her, in addition to having great times since she was hanging out with me. Haha!

Then we went to Fitz’s, one of those St. Louis eateries that I had on my list of things I wanted to do. They bottle their own root beer and cream soda, and I used to always buy Fitz’s beverages using my meal plan when I was at WU. So we went there, and met up with Dave Costenaro!

“Him again?!” asks a nearby scary clown.

AAAHHH!! Geez, you scared me.

Clown: (smiles creepily)

*shudder* Yes, him again. Dave now holds the record for Person I Have Met In The Most Cities Who I Was Not Also Dating. It is a prestigious title, and I hope someone makes him a trophy. Someone besides me, because it would have more meaning that way. Perhaps a nonprofit organization? Anyone?

After that, Dave and I were off to a happening–

“DON’T SAY IT!” says Attractive Girl, peeking around the corner with her mouth full of delicious rib meat.

Whoa, hold on there AG. I was going to say “happening party.”

“Oh. OK then.” She disappears back around the corner.

This party was so happening. It was a house party, and the house was brimming with hap… cool persons! Highlights of the party:

  • I had a great conversation with a girl named Pam in a shower with a built-in TV!
  • I saw a praying mantis catch and eat a moth!
  • I got shoved and stepped on by a shirtless dude trying to catch a cup!
  • I met a girl named Amity with great karaoke skills and became her agent! We are going to meet in LA, where I will help her get a job working on the Ellen show.
  • A crazy curly-haired girl in a sundress named Erica Rangel shared a spot in front of the refrigerator with me for a good 10 minutes!
  • I met scads of happening peeps!

Next morning, May cooked me up some delicious banana pancakes!

Home cooking, a happening peep, and a cross-dressing rabbit.

There is a long and awesome story behind that painting which I won’t share with you since I am in a hurry to get some 갈비살.

Then I was off to the home of two more happening peeps, Caleb and Irene Chou! I had known both of them from my WU days. (In fact, I claim some of the credit for their meeting… but they probably would have met even without my intervention… whatever.) Caleb and I had been involved in musical pursuits together, so I was happy to catch up with him and get some of his guitar playing on the project.

Caleb, Irene, and the not-so-little little one.

Then I was off to Kansas City to drum with Serbians!

Attractive Girl: “Mmmm, that was some good 갈비살. Would you believe I ate it all?”

Dang it.

NEXT: Those Amazing Serbians.

Little Rock, AR

Little Rock! In keeping with what is apparently a US tradition of misleading placenames, Little Rock is actually a Large City. I understand that in 1722 a French explorer landed near a some rock formation on the Arkansas River and named it la Petite Roche. For those of you who no habla Francais, that means “the little rock.”

Seriously great name, Jean-Baptiste Benard de la Harpe. Keep up that exploring, but maybe let other people name stuff, OK?

Anyway, I had the mad hookups in Little Rock due entirely to my good friend Ramón Chaparro. Unfortunately I was unable to fully utilize those hookups due to the aforementioned delays in Memphis. I arrived in Little Rock at about 10:00pm, too late to get any recording done.

But not too late to have a pleasant evening with Ramón’s parents. They were my hosts for the evening and set me up in comfort and style.

“What was that you said earlier about the circle being complete?” asks the nearby ugly passerby, who is as of yet unnamed (you guys need to get on that, readers).

Funny you would ask that, ugly passerby, because long ago, Ramón was making an epic roadtrip from Little Rock to Portland (where he now resides and where you will see him later) and he stayed with my family in Omaha. Now, here I was staying with his parents. The circle is complete.

“Are you the master now?”

Not really. That would be He-Man.

“Oh, right. And She-Ra.”

Yes, thank you for covering my non-PC blunder.

“So did you record anyone?” asks Attractive Girl, getting us back on topic.

Yes! Not many people were available during the day on a weekday for some reason, but I did record with one fellow who got off work early enough that we could meet up before I had to leave. That fellow was one Kevin McCormack, a drummer and percussion wizard.

One of the coolest mic stands I've yet invented.

Kevin’s super power is tabla drumming, which he has picked up in recent years. I thought I knew what that was, but I was mistaken. This is tabla drumming, as opposed to what I thought, which I won’t say so as not to reveal my weaknesses to my enemies. It has a really broad sound, with sharp metallic highs and organic lows, and was an awesome sound to get on the project.

Another way in which Kevin is like Superman is that he can move so fast that he becomes blurry.

Kevin making awesome drum sounds so hard!

Kevin told me he was intrigued by tabla drumming because it is reputedly one of the hardest drums to play. Kevin has been studying under a tabla teacher, and from my perspective, that teacher has done a great job. If you see him, please congratulate him on behalf of this project.

NEXT: Meet me in St. Louis, Louis.

Memphis, TN


I was merrily driving my way up to Memphis from Gulfport, which, mind you, is a bit of a drive. Because it was a nice warm day, I made a stop to get gas, throw away some trash, and vacuum out my car. Then I was back on the road.


Me: “Ehh? What’s going on with the air conditioning?”
Me, later: “Ehh? What’s that noise?”


I didn’t even notice the “Check Engine” dummy light was on until I heard a noise coming from the engine, since the light is right behind the steering wheel and I can’t even normally see it when I’m driving. To make matters worse, I didn’t hear the noise until it was fairly loud, since I was blasting some sweet tunes on my carputer.


As soon as I noticed that, I slowed waaaay down and putt-putted to the nearest gas station, where I turned off the engine and coasted into a parking spot. Sure enough, there was a bunch of steam coming from the engine compartment. Closer examination revealed that it was coming from the bottom, by the water pump.

A super helpful and friendly guy who works at the truck shop at that gas station took a look at it for me and concluded that I had a blown seal in the water pump. He filled it up with water and told me to drive easy to wherever I was going, where I could get it fixed.

Where I was going was Memphis. I was still about 50 miles away, but I took along a jug of water as backup and made a few stops to make sure the coolant levels were OK.

I didn’t have a host lined up in Memphis, so when I finally got there at maybe 10:00 or so, I found a place with wifi, where I did email and tour stuff into the wee hours. One of the people I emailed was a dude named Mitch Costa, a guitarist in Memphis who had contacted me about possibly recording that night. I apologized and gave him the lowdown, that I would be spending the night in my car and then spending the next day fixing my car.

Then I was off to find an out-of-the way street where I could sleep. But while I was trying to find such, I got a call! By this time it was a little after 5:00am, so I was pretty surprised that someone would be up and calling me.

It was Mitch. He had gotten my email and told me to come on over and have some coffee with him.

So I went over to his place, which happened to be very close to where I was wandering, and met him. He is a great guy full of great stories, not to mention he is walking evidence that rockers do not all age badly.

Mitch ended up redeeming my time in Memphis. He let me crash on his couch for a bit, then he helped me drop the Lovemobile off at a shop, and then he recorded with me.

Mitch playing some sick lead sounds.

Mitch has a great ear. He doesn’t know a lot of theory, but he knows what notes sound good in different situations, which is more important than knowing theory. Not only that, but he dialed in some great sounds from his rig.

Mitch uses (and sells) Mills Acoustics cabs, and oh my goodness, they sounded amazing. If I were in the market for a guitar or bass cab, I would spring for one of these. He also records some of his own stuff, using a similar setup to myself:

Look, we both use Sonar!

You can check some of his recordings on his myspace.

He was really stoked about my project and gave me lots of musical contacts in various cities. He even called one of his Memphis buddies, a vocalist, to come over and record some stuff with me. It was great.

Then, the shop called. They were going to be finished soon (installing a new water pump, radiator, thermostat, hoses, gasket… not quite as cheap as I’d hoped). We barely had time to go out for some incredible Memphis BBQ — Corky’s! I had some of the best ribs I’ve ever had in my life. Thanks a lot Mitch!

Then I got my car and I was on the road, too late to record anything that night at the next stop, but still on schedule.

NEXT: The circle is complete in Little Rock.

Gulfport, MS

I was hoping to spend the next day somewhere in mid-Mississippi, since it would be on the way north. But the only person who contacted me was a fellow from Gulfport, which I guessed from the name is on the gulf coast.

But then I remembered places like Rhode Island (not an island) and Martha’s Vineyard (not Martha’s, also not a vineyard) and checked a map to make sure. But down south, people call things like they see them, and Gulfport is a port on the gulf. Nice.

I had my choice of two highways going back towards Gulfport: 1) the same major interstate I took going to New Orleans from Mobile, or 2) a different highway which runs right along the coast. So guess which one I took.

Along the gulf coast towards Gulfport.

“Were you disappointed that your only contact was so far south?” asks AG perceptively.

I was, originally. Then I met the dude who had contacted me, a happening peep by the name of Brooks Hubberts, and a whole slew of other fantastic people, including my host Maggie, who had not contacted me. She’s a CS member but had instead passed along my info to Brooks since he is a musician. But I ended up staying at her place anyway. Yeah, details, details. Let’s get to the music.

Brooks knew some people over at a brand new recording studio (as yet unnamed) so we headed over there to record, where I discovered that Brooks is a fantastically talented multi-instrumentalist. He has a very unassuming air about him so I honestly didn’t expect him to be as awesome as he was.

We started with some lins.

Playing the fiddlin.  Or viodle... whichever.

That’s a mandolin laying upside-down next to him, which was the first instrument we recorded. Brooks was all over some jazzy gypsy-style stuff I asked him to do for this one song, and then we moved on to violin. He put down some country fiddlin’ on another tune.

Then he mentioned there was a cello around.

You may not be aware of my love affair with cellos. In fact, it is a problem. I could easily be led astray by any cellist. A girl that plays cello is one concerto away from winning my heart. I might even go so far as to say I swoon. (But I won’t. I would, though, if swooning were even a little bit manly.) So, of course, I insisted that we record some cello.

Brooks recording some pizzicato cello parts.

Brooks is probably less familiar with the cello than he is with any of the other instruments we recorded — he’s not the smoothest cellist around. Not to say he’s bad, because it sounded great. His cello playing is just not as polished, certainly not in the way that a classically trained cellist’s would be. But I found that it had a delightful raw sound that was equally emotional, albeit in a different way.

Brooks amazed me with his consummate musicianship, and he was willing to buckle down and get stuff done until the wee hours of the morning. Thanks a lot Brooks!

Another day, another city, another terrific musician, another great host. I left the next day with no disappointment about Mississippi whatsoever.

NEXT: Troubles are afoot! (And I nearly am too.)

New Orleans, LA

The next day saw me scenically driving.

Light filtering through the clouds like delicious gourmet coffee through a filter.

To what city was I scenically driving? Why, New Orleans.

Coming in to the city. Dirty but still dignified.

New Orleans! A historic city in the development of American music. Also a prominent target for hurricanes. I arrived as they were recovering from Gustav, but things seemed to be pretty well in hand. Some people were still without power, but they had an astronomical number of electrical teams from all over the country working on it, so they would not be powerless for much longer. Most of the neighborhoods had been cleaned up pretty well, and the only evidence I saw of a recent disaster was the broken trees, and piles of tree parts lining the sidewalks.

Most of the neighborhoods I drove through looked like this.

New Orleans is also the home of Michael Raeder, a zydeco/cajun musician and enthusiast.

Mike with his zydeco accordion.

Mike plays a wide variety of instruments and has been playing with various cajun bands and musicians since he moved to New Orleans, picking up many of the genre-typical instruments along the way. First we put down some of the accordion (pictured above), then we moved on to some percussion, such as rub board, which is very loud.

Rubbing the board.  I wonder if that's where it gets its name. Seriously, someone make an animation out of these.  Please?

He also put down some triangle, which has some other name in the zydeco/cajun circuit, where most everything is still in old French. And after that, some electric guitar. It was a busy evening, and Mike’s family was very helpful in being quiet, like little mice. Except for one very loud incident.

Rubboarding is a much safer hobby for young people than snowboarding.

They also graciously treated me to dinner and offered me a place to stay. Furthermore, and I swear this was the real conversation:

Mike, out of the blue: Do you like Mojitos?
Me: … (in shock)
Mike: If not, that’s fine, but we grow our own mint so we could make some up if you like.
Mike’s wife: He makes a great Mojito.
Me: …

I had not told them anything about my hunt for an American-made Mojito that compares to the ones made by Lovo’s in Korea. But here was Mike, picking mint and making me one.

Mike the Mojito-making maestro.

Let’s go in for a closer look.

The majestic Mojito, a refreshing summery drink.

After refreshing ourselves properly, we were back to record a bit more before his children were off to bed. After that, we listened to music. Mike played me all kinds of zydeco and cajun music, showed me books on the subject, and talked about it at great length. It was very educational for me and a great look into one of America’s old but persistent musical subcultures. These styles are in some danger of dying out, but as long as people like Mike draw breath, they will live on. Every music style needs its champions — way to go, Mike.

I was listening back to some of the stuff we recorded, and I feel like some of the spirit behind that music was captured on this project. Exciting.

NEXT: Multi-instrumental mathematicians in Mississippi.