11 a.m.: John and I are off to Easton, Maryland, for the first stop on a two-gig mini-tour. Tomorrow is Morrisville, New Jersey. No band, no crew, no manager—just us. We love doing these acoustic shows within driving distance of our home in New York City. It almost feels like we’re on a date, except for the bickering over the set list. We do these trips two or three times a month during the school year so we’re not away from our 12-year-old son, Jake, for long.
On our duo excursions, John does all the heavy lifting: the driving (I offer, but he’s skittish when I’m behind the wheel. Truthfully, so am I), the lugging of gear (I’m a wimp), the running of interference (I attract a few psychos—nothing out of the ordinary). Next week we head to Oklahoma and Texas with the band and crew, and that will be a whole other kind of fun.
3:30 p.m.: We arrive at the hotel. There’s always a moment of anxiety when I check in somewhere. Decades spent on the road with lots of unforeseen hotel disasters—usually related to dirty carpets, outdated bathrooms and suspect bed linens—have left me with hotel-related posttraumatic stress syndrome.
The greatest thing about the Internet is I can pre-screen hotels that promoters book for us. If anything appears suspicious, I insist we be moved. I’m a big fan of bedbugregistry.com; I’ve dodged some bullets plugging hotels into that site.
But despite all my research, occasionally I find myself stuck in a room with a moose head or a dark, horrifying speck on the handle of the toilet, and I have a full-blown meltdown. John used to get annoyed, but he’s grown more tolerant over the years. I long for the day when a Four Seasons is the only option in any given city. Today? It’s a nice inn: older, elegant. The carpet is a little stained, but I can live with it because of the crisp white bed linens.
5 p.m.: We’re at the Avalon Theatre to do the sound check. I like sound checks. I enjoy the feel of an empty theater. There’s an exquisite combination of loneliness and anticipation when looking out at the empty seats. I like getting to know the stage, tuning the sound, meeting the stagehands, feeling the camaraderie. But sometimes it can be a frustrating and miserable process—if the monitor mixer isn’t experienced and I get hit with feedback, or if the sound check goes on too long. Only once in 32 years have I yelled at a mixer, for several ear-piercing feedbacks and general ineptness. The band and crew stood frozen in shock. I apologized later.
Today was great: a solicitous staff and a competent sound guy. Sound check is also teatime. It’s in my tour rider that the greenroom have a teakettle. There’s nothing worse than hot water from a carafe that’s been used for coffee. An old friend, who lives here and is also a chef, drops off chicken and dumplings! This is turning out to be a really pleasant gig. We head back to the hotel to get ready and do my vocal exercises. I’m a bit worried about my voice—I just recovered from a vocal polyp, and my voice can still get hoarse and be a little unpredictable. But I’m going with it.
10 p.m.: A great show. The audience was fantastic. John was on fire, sounding like an entire band with his one guitar. And my voice worked fine, more than fine: It had contours and a lot of emotional life. Some of my Twitter followers were waiting after and gave me little gifts. This happens at a lot of shows. It’s lovely.
11 a.m.: We’re on our way to Morrisville. We have the luxury of not being in a hurry, so we go about ten and a half miles out of our way to visit St. Michaels, a waterfront town on the Chesapeake Bay. A day when I can look at the water is a good day for me, and John knows it. We find a tiny village with a few boats docked in the harbor. There’s not a soul around. It’s a bit eerie. “Dick Cheney probably lives here,” John says. I suggest we take one more shot at seeing some quaint waterside town. Soon we arrive in Chestertown, just about the most perfect little town I’ve ever seen in America. There’s an old main street with a pristine town green and a massive oak tree, charming shops and cozy cafés with old ladies sitting at tables in the windows. We drive along the water’s edge, where an imposing old mansion overlooks the Chesapeake and boats bob gently just feet from its front door. A tanned, well-groomed middle-aged man stands on the portico and waves at me as we pass. I wave back.
“This is too perfect,” I say. “If I were Stephen King, this is where I would make a horror movie.”
“Yeah,” John muses. “Vampire zombies in America.”
We drive past Washington College, with its gorgeous collection of 18th- and 19th-century buildings that remind me a bit of Harvard, and across the majestic Delaware Memorial Bridge, perhaps my favorite bridge in the entire country, back to New Jersey.
4:30 p.m.: We pull up to the Mayo Performing Arts Center an hour before sound check. Recently renovated, the center is a beautiful, acoustically perfect 1,300-seat venue. Catering hasn’t arrived yet, and I am desperate for a cup of tea. After scouring the backstage area for half an hour, I finally come across a tea-and-coffee setup. Sound check can begin.
8:30 p.m.: We’re about to go on, and I’m stricken with a sudden flash of nerves. This doesn’t usually happen, but I have some superstitions, one being that if I have a seamless sound check, something will certainly go wrong during the show. It was my best sound check ever.
11 p.m.: I don’t think I was very good tonight. My voice gave me a little trouble, but worse, I was running the tapes in my head, noticing every minute error. I’m disappointed. Last night was full of freedom and beauty. Ah, well. As my friend John Stewart, who toured for nearly 50 years, used to say to me, “So you had a bad gig. What are you going to do? Realign the planets?”
9 a.m.: After a week home, I flew to Memphis this morning and am now driving with my manager, Danny, to Jonesboro, Arkansas, for an 11 a.m. press conference to announce the planned restoration of my dad’s boyhood home in Dyess Colony, a New Deal–era homestead community that provided 500 families with clapboard houses and 20 to 40 acres to farm. Now there are less than 40 houses left, my father’s being one of them.
Owned by Arkansas State University, it’s in desperate condition, at the point of collapse. After the press conference, I head over to the house with Uncle Tom (my dad’s brother) and an entourage of university officials, journalists, documentarians and the town’s mayor. I’m invited in, but it’s in such disarray that I can’t bring myself to walk through the door. My last visit, when I was 13, was very different. There were more trees, and the house was tidy.
It’s unsettling to see it like this, and I resist my uncle’s urges to go inside. Instead, I step off the rickety front porch wiping away tears, all of which is captured by the documentarians and journalists. The team of preservationists assures me that the house will be impeccably restored, down to the fresh white paint on the walls that greeted my dad when his family took possession in 1935. I make my way to the little bus, and Danny and I return to Memphis exhausted yet exhilarated.
We check into the iconic Peabody Hotel, where I’ve stayed many times. A few of the famous Peabody ducks are floating in the huge center fountain. There’s a party in the two rooms nearest mine. I call security twice, but by the time they shut down the ill-mannered boors, I’m wide-awake and pissed off.
8 a.m.: I arrive at the Memphis airport to learn my flight to Texas is delayed by four hours. John, the band and the crew are meeting me at Dallas/Fort Worth airport for the 90-minute drive to Durant, Oklahoma, where we have a show at the Choctaw Casino. Now I’ll have to catch up to them in Durant, and at this rate, I’ll barely make sound check. I’m not happy.
After hours at the gate, my flight is canceled. I barely manage to get on a flight to Love Field, as DFW is now booked, and a driver from the casino picks me up in a Suburban. My bag doesn’t arrive, but they assure me it will be at DFW tomorrow.
4 p.m.: John and the road manager, Tom, are calling and texting to get my whereabouts. When they hear I have no clothes, Tom confers with the promoter about where I might pick up a blouse or something. There is nothing near the casino. I ignore everyone’s suggestions and look up Neiman Marcus on Google Maps and find one nearby. We show up at a fancy little mall—there is no Neiman Marcus, but I see Chanel, Jimmy Choo, Carolina Herrera. Hurray! In five minutes, I’ve bought a pair of Jimmy Choo black high-heeled booties to replace my flats. (My band is so tall that if I wear flats onstage I look like a dwarf.)
I toss them in the Suburban and sprint to Chanel for makeup. The two salesladies go into overdrive, and just as they have all my products assembled, the power goes out in the entire mall. They lock the front door and write by hand everything I’m buying and call it in to American Express, an excruciatingly long process. I’m getting jumpy. My driver anticipates Friday afternoon traffic. We have to go, but I still have nothing to wear but the jeans and blue Comme des Garçons blouse I have on—nice, but not stagewear. I try the door to a chic little boutique with a potentially stage-worthy outfit in the window, but it’s locked. Everything is. I jump back in the car, and we promptly get lost. It’s after 5 p.m., and once we get on the right highway, the GPS says we will arrive at 7:12. The show is at 8.
7:15 p.m.: We pull up in front of the casino. It’s a vast complex designed like a Mayan temple. No neon, thank God. The casino is the only thing rising above eye level across the enormous flat prairie. Kelly, the guitar tech, meets me at the entrance holding a tote filled with her clothes. “Maybe there’s something you can use,” she says. I quickly buy a pair of $10 rhinestone earrings on the way to the room, which is modern and clean. I’ve played at casinos where the rooms are much worse, with hot tubs in the middle of the room, black carpets and shower curtains—almost a deal-breaker in my pantheon of anxiety-provoking hotel indiscretions. This one’s pretty darn nice.
8 p.m.: Within minutes of getting to the theater, I walk onstage. There’s no time to do my little rituals and breathing exercises. Onstage, the sound is shrill and muddy at the same time, but I plow through. I’m having fun with the band, and I sound pretty good. A tornado rolled through this part of the state recently, so I thank the audience for coming to see us.
After the show, I meet one of my numerous second or fourth or seventh cousins, who seem to appear at every third show. I am invariably polite and kind and seldom disabuse them of the notion of our shared heritage (and I’ve met some crazy cousins).
12 p.m.: We’re starting our two-hour drive back to Texas, where we will play the Main Street Forth Worth Arts Festival tonight. We stop at the airport to pick up my bag.
4 p.m.: We check into another nice hotel. John and I have a suite with white linens and a marble shower with a glass door. I breathe a sigh of relief. My old friend Liz, who lives in Austin, has made the drive to Fort Worth, and I meet her and two other friends in the fancy steak restaurant of the hotel for a quick dinner. I make sure not to drink much water because I know the only place to pee at the festival site will be in a Porta-Potty. I don’t do Porta-Potties. Ever.
8 p.m.: I head onstage to a crowd of about 6,000 under a luminescent full moon. The audience is enthusiastic and respectful—the best combination. The sound is horrifically loud, with huge speakers flanking the front of the stage; there was no sound check because bands have been rotating on and off all day. By the end, my voice is hoarse from trying to sing over the intense volume. My friends are sitting in the wings, and I wanted the performance to be good for them. It wasn’t optimum.
I meet a woman after the show who actually is a sixth cousin on my father’s mother’s side. She gives me a beautiful stained-glass Celtic knot in shades of blue and green.
9 a.m.: I’m extremely annoyed. John and the band are on an American Airlines flight from DFW to New York’s LaGuardia Airport, while I’m on a Delta flight to John F. Kennedy airport. I kvetch as I get out of the van and say goodbye.
11 a.m.: Arrive in Concord, New Hampshire, the quintessential New England town, with impressively grand 19th-century homes scattered on a verdant hill, a gold-domed capitol building, a lovely main street and perfect church spires. The hotel is older—nice big rooms, white linens, large shower with glass doors. All is well.
The venue is an old hall with good acoustics. The dressing rooms are a series of cubicles painted Queasy Green, Pepto Pink and Jaundice Yellow, so it’s hard to get a read on how my makeup actually looks. But there’s decent tea and hot water in a dedicated carafe, so it all evens out.
1 p.m.: We’re off to Maine, but on our way out of town we stop on South Main Street at Pitchfork Records, an independent record store—one of a dying breed. John Stewart is playing on the in-store sound system. This pleases me deeply. He was a dear friend and a songwriting mentor. I buy a Morphine record, and the owner, Michael Cohen, who was at the show last night, is as sweet as can be. I couldn’t be happier.