Ragged Recap

I’m having a hard time writing a recap of the rest of my tour, now that I’m home. I go from the high of feeling like I’ve accomplished something to exhaustion, to checking my stats on Amazon (the thing I told myself I wouldn’t do: stalled at ten reviews…up and down from #360 in musician memoirs to #45, to #623 to #119) going “it’s over. It’s all over. Better write another book.”

It’s partly weird and partly wonderful to be back working a few shifts at the bookstore/bar. I’m washing pint glasses and it could be two or five years ago where I’d think “when I get that book out…will I ever get that book out?” And then a friend comes in and says “your show was something! We’re proud of you! You’ve really been out there doing it” and I want to stop time. I did manage to do what I set out to. I still wish I’d had a publisher, but I did it.

I’m working at the bar and I see a stranger browsing. He picks up my book from the shelf, reads the back, leafs through. I want to shout “It’s good! I wrote it!” at the same time I want to lie down on the floor next to the microwave and never get back up again. Instead I busy myself checking books into inventory. The guy’s girlfriend buys a copy of Jeff Tweedy’s memoir.

I know I’ve said before that when things are great, there’s really nothing to write about. Who wants to read the words “Fabulous!” “They adored me” “Dream come true”? My eyes just glaze over when I read about people having an amazing time (see, didn’t the word “amazing” cause you to immediately turn off a little?) Or maybe there are only a few ways to describe happiness. Whereas misadventures are entertaining. In retrospect.

So I haven’t written for a while because it’s been, in a word: amazing. Visiting with friends Marcel and Mary in Chico. Stopping in at KALX Berkeley to chat with Dave McBurnie, and playing a great place in Oakland, Starlite Social Club. I felt like I’d finally arrived. Stayed with my pals Kate and Scott at their Airbnb in SF and we stayed up way too late laughing.  I met Richard Thompson and got to hear him and Eliza Gilkyson play in Santa Cruz, one of my favorite places in the world.


Drove south down 101 to Super-rica Taqueria in Santa Barbara (thanks Erik Nelson for both the RT show and food recommendation). Fabulous house concert hosts Tobi and Clyde Kaplan in Los Angeles made me feel so welcome at South by South Hudson. Hung out with friends in L.A. and had a lovely time staying at Clyde and Tobi’s.  I was running cold and hot on the Liz Phair audiobook, but I really enjoyed getting to meet and hear her play at Largo. I showed her the picture of MY book next to HER book I’d taken in a San Francisco bookstore and told her I’d been on Matador too. Her eyes probably glazed over at that point because she’d just signed books for about two hundred people. I only wish I’d brought along my book, with a post-it on the page where I talk about her, but that kind of stuff never occurs to me and it would have no doubt been tossed on the pile with all the other gifts from adoring fans. 

So in Liz’s book she’s always flying first or business class and dealing with the nanny or manager or tour bus, so as I drive and drive you can imagine it fills me with jealousy even though when I told her how jealous I’d been back in the Matador days, she said she wasn’t having a good time then. We never know what kind of private hell people are in, even if they have the trappings that make life look so easy. And I actually have a blast driving myself, staying in decent places and hanging out with people and eating—I’ll say it—amazing food a lot of the time. Until I left a little late for that Los Angeles bookstore gig.  I was too comfortable, ensconced in my hosts’ lovely house and that’s the thing on the road, you have to keep on your toes. Relaxing means letting your guard down means taking your eye off the ball means—there’s always a price to pay.

It took almost an hour to drive a few miles, and the gas gauge was on empty for most of that journey. When I finally got to the shop, I flung my car into a too tight spot next to a disabled space. The gig went well  — I hadn’t realized we’d be outside, ah southern California. I did a talk with writer Pat Thomas, read and played and signed a lot of books which feels so good. Then I got a ticket on my car for…$363?! And I thought New York parking tickets were the top. Turns out the spot next to the disabled space was also a disabled space. Just pay and move on, pay and move on.

After a pretty drive back up the 101 and lunch with my old friend Paul at Madonna Inn, I started to drag. I was torn between wanting to make it to the Bay Area and not wanting to—with a carload of guitars etc there’s no easy way to have fun in a place where everyone tells you “under no circumstances leave even a half-eaten burrito on the seat of your car, you will be robbed.” It got dark—so dark—and I stopped in a cozy hotel with a fireplace AND a whirlpool bath but had an uneasy sleep. I realized why as I drove off early the next morning—I was just down wind of Gilroy, garlic capital of the world, and it really does smell like garlic, which I’ve come to realize I’m kind of allergic to. It’s worse than coffee to me, making my mind race and leaving me unsettled, every time.


So instead of fighting bumper to bumper traffic north to SF for a noon rendezvous to drop off the amp my pal Tom Heyman had loaned me, I settled into a coffee place in Cupertino and that was a trip, coders to the left and right of me. By the time I got in and out of the bay area I was dragging again. It really dawns on me after years of country living—big cities are a lot of work. I’ve been to most of these places before and if I was unencumbered I’m sure I’d have fun strolling around and discovering things but all I see now are issues with parking, keeping stuff safe and conserving my energy. So onward I drive…

The sun was going down (so early!) when Mount Shasta loomed. My eyes just don’t work in the pitch darkness, with this massive mountain looming and trucks bearing down around every curve, so this time it was a rustic motel up on the side of a hill. The town of Mt. Shasta is really cute, reminding me a little of where we live. It even had an awesome natural foods store. The girl behind the counter gave me back more change than I’d started with and I realized legal weed has all kinds of benefits. The idea of explaining to her what she’d done seemed more trouble than it was worth so I just went with it—see, I could easily live in California! I had to get up early and spend almost two hours on the phone trying to renew my health insurance (Nov 15th was the deadline and weeks/months ago I’d thought “yeah, yeah—I’ll do it on the road, it’ll be so much easier then”?!)

Hit Eugene just at lunch time and was pleased to find the Vietnamese sandwich place Eric and I had enjoyed last June when our tours had converged in California and I’d accompanied him up to Portland. It’s those little moments returning to unremarkable places that can make a traveler feel at home.

I’ve watched Portland develop and thrive over the years. Always from a distance, I’m like a fond great aunt, shaking my head in wonder, remembering when it was more the ragged sepia Cinderella than the technicolor one at the ball. I love Turn Turn Turn where I played: it’s a record store, venue, bar and has a real community feel. Got to hear Scott McCaughey and see lovely Mary Winzig and old friends from back east who moved out here and never looked back. During my set, exhaustion was creeping in and I had to shake myself and remember how much work and effort it took to get here. Come on girl, I thought—do it—now. That can be the hardest thing with touring when you’re doing all the work of booking, driving, tour managing yourself. In amidst all the details and energy expenditure, sometimes you have to kick your own ass…

I opted to hang out in Olympia for the next day, just needing to get some work done (thanks Dan Aloi for working with me to get this excerpt from Girl To City in Slate). I strolled around the cute downtown with vintage stores galore. Got some sleep and was impressed the next morning, a rainy Sunday, at whole families in all-weather gear blithely strolling in the rain.

At this point in a tour, I can’t tell if I’ve gained weight or lost weight—my clothes are baggy in odd places from so much driving, then being performed in, wedged into a suitcase and unfurled again. I ate an enormous apple fritter in a charming Olympia coffee shop (okay, I’ve probably gained weight) and managed to work some more before driving up to Seattle.

The bookstore, Third Place, was wonderful, part used/part new books, with a nice bar downstairs. Kristi Coulter, who I met at Spotty Dog when she came to read on her own book tour last year, conducted a Q&A and then I played and read for a nice crowd of people who’d braved a rainy Sunday evening—hey, it’s Seattle, they thrive on the stuff. I got to meet Claire Dederer, fabulous author, in person and saw old friends I rarely get to see because I have struggled the last several years to book a show in this town. It was worth it to write a book just so I could come play here! 

I drove back down to Olympia afterwards, picking up this standby Hillsdale snack pack of crackers, salami and cheese so I didn’t have to try and fall asleep completely starving and drank the last of a screw top bottle of wine I’d carried from California. Drove to the airport in Portland listening to a great Richard Thompson live recording. Portland airport was beautiful. I got back to Hartford Airport near midnight and realized I’d forgotten which parking lot I’d put the car in and had lost my ticket. I felt like the most annoying person in the world on the shuttle, all the Connecticut people seemed so together and I was bumping into them with my guitars and laptop, trying to charge my phone so I could look at a map of the parking lots and remember…then it occurred to me to ask which was the cheapest lot – and voila, with the help of my Subaru keys I located my car, which was good because I’d gotten so attached to my rental car I’d forgotten what color it was.

The GPS took me back the strangest route, it freaked me out a little when I realized I was driving next to a dam and thought wait, there’s no dam that I know of near I-90. It was little back roads and so very dark. Then the freezing rain started. I realized as I passed Bash Bish Falls where Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York states converge that I’d taken the scenic route home – at two a.m. I did make it eventually. Eric was waiting for me. I think we ate pasta.

More shows, at dear HiLo in our town of Catskill, the legendary Bop Shop in Rochester, and beautiful Cambridge Depot up north of Saratoga. I tried not to dwell on it being the end of the book tour, for the year anyway. How long can you tour for a book? I’ve only done albums, and they have a sort of natural lifespan…I love the reading excerpts and playing corresponding songs that I’ve been doing on this tour and feel like with work it’s something I could do for a long time. I hope to do some book shows in the UK at least in 2020, and here and there where I can.

A week ago we drove down to New York City to see Bob Dylan, and that show was a beautiful dream. An incandescent glow from the lighting, the band, the set list and Bob himself. Bob’s ass didn’t need kicking —he was on it. Putting across every word and note. The Bob I hear in my head was on stage in front of me at the Beacon Theatre. I wish I could relive every moment, especially When I Paint My Masterpiece, Simple Twist of Fate, Not Dark Yet and Lenny Bruce. And Pay In Blood. After two weeks of impeachment hearings, this song sounded extra prescient. Just like after the last time we saw Dylan, I rushed the next day to listen to Tempest, an album I missed completely when it came out in 2012.

I’m home now before we head to England for a bit . Thanksgiving was nice and quiet with my daughter visiting and a chance to do laundry, do some some cooking which I miss when I’m traveling. There’s a comfort in those household chores, the ones I resent so much until I’m away for a while.

I’m thankful for all the people who came out to see me, picked up a copy of the book or a disc. The clubs and homes and bookstores who had me play, and all my friends and loved ones for encouragement. I’ll finish now before I start to blubber with gratitude and cause the reader to snooze. I’d better go shovel some snow.

West coast memories – pic by Tobi Kaplan

Early 2020 gigs/events

  • Fri Jan 3 • Peace Dale, RI • Roots Hoot House Concert info/tickets
  • Fri Jan 10 • New Haven CT • Cafe Nine (really excited that author Joyce Maynard will do a Q & A with me before the reading/performance) tickets
  • Sat Jan 11 • Hudson NY • Volume Reading Series info
  • Fri Jan 17 – Sun Jan 19 • Destin FL • 30A Songwriters Festival tickets


6 thoughts on “Ragged Recap

  1. Donald Ciccone

    I was just thinking on my walk home from the community garden… i was regretting turning down the bands that have asked me to play with them. And then said to myself, “look at Amy. She does alright for herself.” Then i come home and read this and see that it’s not so easy. But worthwhile nonetheless. The Oakland show was…aw hell…amazing!! My better half loves Shasta. She used to look at houses there but now she knows every house for sale in Catskill.

    1. amyrigby

      Not so easy, but it is rewarding! Shasta is so picturesque and that mountain, wow. Tell Lori the house next to us is just up for sale…wish he hadn’t gone quite so far with the renovation, the price is double what it should be!

  2. Lawrence Shore

    Erik Nelson and I go way back. We were video warriors at Videowest in SF. Small world. So I imagine he threw out the tapis rouge for you and RT. 👍

      1. Steven Manning

        Amy, I’m exhausted just reading this but happy for you that the book and tour was such a success. The reading Ellen and I saw at the Spotty Dog was wonderful and it was a bonus to see you on your home turf and in your home book store.

        “Girl To City” is simply the best coming of age story of a musician I’ve ever read and its descriptions of the East Village and punk scene in the early 80s brought back strong memories of my own days living on 7th St. between A & B circa 1979-82.

        I also got a big kick out of the passages describing The Last Roundup’s recording session at Jack Clement’s studio, especially this: “Jim Rooney was the producer Jack and Andy had chosen. He had lots of experience with Bluegrass and folk musicians whose technical prowess was almost a given. He didn’t know what he was getting into.”

        Well, wouldn’t you know, Jim Rooney is Ellen’s uncle and a close friend. He’s still going strong at 82, living in Vermont, recording and producing John Prine, Iris Dement and others, and performing at The Station Inn once a month or so. (He’s also written his own autobiography, “In It For The Long Run”.) I had dinner with him in New York last night (on his way to Nashville to record Prine for a Nanci Griffith tribute record) and I read him this passage and before I could even finish he jumped in and remembered every aspect of the session. Remembered it pretty much the way you do! I gave him a copy of “Diary of Mod Housewife” so he could catch up on your career a bit. I mean, hey, along with John Prine, who’s a more influential songwriter of the last 30+ year than you?

        I wish you a well deserved rest in England and a great Xmas/New Year.


        1. amyrigby

          Steven, thank you so much! I loved reading this about Jim Rooney. I so appreciate you sharing my account of that session (and one of my albums!) with him. Happy holidays to you and Ellen, and hope to see you both in the new year.

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