survival challenge as a musical experience: Bill was starting to hyperventilate and my hands were so wet that my fingers kept slipping off the frets; by the end, all of us were as wet as if we had stood in the shower with our clothes on. We could only wish that the promoter would experience the same conditions - odds are that at least a stage fan and real towels would be provided by the next show.
Thursday brought us to Musica in Akron, Ohio. Akron is close to Cleveland, where the band has played several times, notably at the venerable Beachland Ballroom. Although this show was handled by the same promoter as in Columbus and the venue was similar in size, there seemed to have been problems with advertising and/or other event conflicts; either way, the turnout was very light. As in Newport, though, a smaller show feels more personal, and the enthusiastic response energized the band accordingly. Even though it was probably a loss for the promoter, for the band and audience it was a definite win.
Friday was at the familiar Magic Stick in Detroit. Aside from the 30-stair climb to load in and a sudden, intense rain/wind/hailstorm that knocked out power to a wide swath of the Detroit suburbs, it was a good show. The Magic Stick is a sizable room with a big stage, which both affect the way a performance feels - a bigger stage allows for more movement and a big room lets the sound develop more fully. It also helps to have the audience right up against the stage so you can actually see people and feel the energy they send back to you. Factors like these help bring out the best in a band, and all things considered, it was a good night.
Saturday was a long day. That night's show was in Toronto, and due to customs regulations it's difficult to bring merchandise - t-shirts, CDs etc. - across the border. As a result, instead of taking the three-hour direct route through Canada, we had to go the other way around Lake Erie via Cleveland in order to drop off the merch at the Buffalo hotel. A border crossing is always an adventure, and while the Canada/US border is "friendly," it can be more difficult for a band to enter Canada than Europe or Asia. This time, however, we got across OK and drove the last 90 miles from the border to Toronto. The city has a very active nightlife and our venue, the Horseshoe Tavern, was located on Queen Street, the epicenter. The Blasters have not played Toronto in decades, so there was plenty of pent-up demand; the show was nearly sold out and the crowd was all in from the first note. We were feeling pretty ragged after the 9-hour haul from Detroit, but as good crowds almost invariably do, this one once again revived our flagging spirits.
We spent the first part of Sunday, another sorely needed day off, driving back across the border to Buffalo via Niagara Falls. Even from the highway, the falls are spectacular and the air seems to sparkle with the energy of unleashed power. The weather simultaneously turned from the muggy heat of summer to the crisp air of fall, making our crossing back to the good old US feel that much sweeter.
Buffalo has taken its share of knocks over the years, with its economy going into decline as its long-time mainstay industries of heavy manufacturing and grain shipping moved elsewhere, but the size of the city's past wealth is still evident from the architecture. The ornately detailed stonework of monumental structures like City Hall and other downtown buildings, even if a bit worn around the edges, conveys both substance and style. There are also signs of a newly-emerging economy, and the variety of neighborhoods and broad streets lined with solid brick and stone houses provide a personality lacking in more modern cities. It seems like just the sort of place where someone can live both comfortably and inexpensively while working in the virtual economy, although