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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2006/05/14
by David Steinberg

You Can Take The Boy Out of The Tour…

This story begins with a broken camera and a working webcast.
Last October, as Mel and I were driving back from Comes a Time, we stopped at a scenic overlook on US 101 near Crescent City, CA. I sat in the car and read while she went down to the beach to set up the perfect shot. Twenty minutes later she came back, frustrated that her beloved Nikon SLR had finally died and she wouldn’t be able to get her picture. "Don’t worry," I said, "We will come back one day and you’ll get them."
Months pass and I forgot that I ever made such a promise. Jamcruise offered Jamaica. That temptress Alaska started whispering suggestions in my ear. A Yellowstone trip was planned. The idea of GRAB was presented letting me dream of West Coast shows that would never transpire. It was time to move on to new and exciting plans.
Spring came early to the Pacific Northwest this year. It’s been nice and sunny since the middle of February, a fact that helped to make up for a winter that set new rainfall records. We took advantage of the favorable meteorological conditions to go on a long walk on a fine Saturday… well it wasn’t supposed to be a long walk per se but we discovered some long cuts in Discovery Park.
Unfortunately the length of the walk destroyed the other plan for the evening. We’ve been hearing a lot about Tea Leaf Green lately, and we wanted to catch the webcast from CBGB. By the time we got home, we only had a chance to catch the end of the second set.
Well that’s what we thought. Much to the surprise of – well – pretty much anyone who was paying attention to the show, they announced a third set. The bonus wasn’t just the length of the music; the peaks that were hit were quite strong. The longer the set went on, the more we kept looking at this date on their tour schedule: Saturday May 6, Humboldt Brews – Arcata, CA.
Extreme northern California is just barely in the range where you can drive there over a weekend from Seattle. While there are obstacles in the way – south Sound traffic, the Siskiyou Mountains, the narrowness of US 199 – it’s still only a ten hour drive. I hemmed and hawed about this for a while, until I was reminded that we had to go. After all, I had promised a return to the redwoods.
If you’re going to be a jamband fan, you have to be willing to embrace your inner stupidity. It’s not enough to engage in bizarre behavior, you have to celebrate it. Every time I wondered why exactly I was doing this, I imagined a conversation where I was explaining my actions to a coworker ("Yeah, I’m driving to California to see a band this weekend. No, you wouldn’t have ever heard of them; they’re playing in a bar. Am I a big fan? Well I heard a webcast once and I liked it.") and it suddenly sounded much more appealing. I wasn’t going despite the stupidity of my actions, I was largely going because of it.
The drive to Arcata is roughly split in half. Seattle through Eugene is flat, straight and largely urban [1]. Once you get out of the Willamette Valley, the ride becomes beautiful. There’s a lot of power in the mountains in southern Oregon; a large part of Seattle’s appeal to me is that it’s so close to both there and Montana. Moreover, you never know what exactly you’ll see when you go around a curve.
The example on this trip happened on US 101. A promise is a promise; I agreed to stop at the scenic turnout and I did just that. This time I came along so we could hang out on the beach. We walked for a while and then saw something remarkable. A slow moving mountain stream met the ocean. If you walked to the far side of 101, you were in a tranquil meadow. Cross under the bridge and you at the beach. I suppose that it’s true that, "Even the weariest river in the end will find the sea."

The punchline to our afternoon by the river wasn’t learned until the next day. On the way back we noticed the name of the stream was Wilson Creek. You’d think that evil kings would look for bigger bodies of water to name themselves after.
While the drive was fun, there was a purpose to our trip. There was a set of music to be seen. Would it be worth the drive? That question would be answered in the affirmative even before Tea Leaf Green played a note. In this era of cynicism, it was great to see a group of people who seemed genuinely happy and excited to attend a concert. It was one of the most warm and accepting groups I have seen in a long time. You want to wear a paper plate over your face or dress in a gorilla suit? Fine! You can throw confetti timed to the peaks of the song? Go for it! No one even seemed to mind about the dozens of people who sat outside the bar and listened to music for free. I can’t really blame them; the music was so loud that it actually had better sound around the corner where my car was parked.
For those expecting a long review here, I’m afraid I’m going to have to let you down. Between the volume and not being very familiar with the material, I don’t have that much to say about the show. What I can say is that it was the best part of an already good day. Between Jamcruise and Wakarusa, I will be seeing them at least four more times in the next eight months and that seems like a good thing.
As much fun as the redwoods, the ocean, and the show were, the most important thing that happened on this trip occurred on the way home. While driving across Oregon, I was somehow reminded of a Bill James concept. While writing about his beloved Kansas City Royals, he pointed out that the difference between a good organization and a bad organization is that the former looks at a flawed player and tries to figure out what they can do with their strengths whereas a bad one focuses mainly on the weaknesses.
That also applies to music fans. Way too often do we focus on what a band does wrong. Tea Leaf Green definitely have some problems – the band sometimes seems at a loss in jams when they’re between peaks and for some unknowable reason, they’ve decided that it’s a good idea to occasionally let their bassist perform some rap song about his love of marijuana [2] – but that’s not what I left the weekend with. They might be flawed, but they’ve written some really nice songs and can build to a peak that gets me to jump up and down like a little kid. They provided a wonderful excuse to travel to a beautiful part of the country, meet some incredible people, and have a great time at a concert. Sometimes it can become easy to forget that that’s the point of this whole thing after all.
I might not be planning to go on Tea Leaf Green tour anytime soon, but that’s more than ok. After all, I’m just getting out of a sixteen year relationship with a band that ended kind of badly. Sure, I was looking for a rebound thing last year, but now I’m starting to enjoy concept of music singleness. I’m not looking for a major commitment right now; I just want a band or two to have fun with. Maybe this Tea Leaf Green thing will evolve into something more down the line, but for now, they’re definitely a fun way to spend a weekend night and a bit of cash. With any luck, doing that will be a somewhat regular part of my life. Give me the occasional "Incandescent Devil," "The Garden (Part III)," "Taught to Be Proud," and "Franz Hanzerbeak" and I’ll promise to try to see the appeal of "Planet of Green Love." Deal?
[1] Mel was reading that line over my shoulder as I typed it and wanted to point out that no one would call southern Washington state urban. And here I thought that La Center was in line to get the Marlins if they leave Miami.
[2] For the sake of accuracy, it should be pointed out that as cringe worthy as I find that song, it does seem to be popular with a lot of the fans. Alas, my tastes aren’t universal. I’d have fewer problems with my favorite series being cancelled if that were the case.
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at
He is the stats section editor
for The Phish Companion and is on the board of directors for the Netspace Foundation. You can read more of his thoughts at

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