My nephews, Jack and Chase are there to help blow out the candles on the cake. My Mom and Dad sing me a song in honor of the birthday. They are sweet. My face goes red and I sink into my sweater as my

Los Angeles, CA Dec 5, 2006
Hotel Cafe

We start the day early and hit the road at 8am. I suggest we stop off at Lux Coffee near downtown Phoenix for some good espresso and baked goods to start the long day's drive to LA. We run into Chris Bianco, owner and chef of Pizza and Panne Bianco, we hang out for a few minutes. He the most positive.

He hands us a CD, Old Crow Medicine Show produced by David Rawlings. Good solid acoustic tunes and hearty playing and singing. We saw them all at Telluride Bluegrass Festival a few years back, heard they were gonna record at the newly renovated Nashville studio, Woodland Sound Studios that David and Gillian Welch own. It just happens to be down the road from our own Paul Niehaus' place in East Nashville. Who knows, maybe we'll drop in sometime for a spin and session.

I-10 is wide open. Sun is out and the wind is down. Somewhere near Quartzsite, CA an old trucker nearly swerves into us and our lane. Fortunately Jelle Kuiper, our soundman and road dog behind the wheel pulls over to the shoulder saving us from collision. Good eye.

A few miles later I am on the phone with our travel agent, Tom Pisano, who's at home recuperating from surgery. He sounds like he is doing alright. I look out the window and see a body lying on the ground next to the highway. I can't believe it. Now I'm not sure if it was real or not, but just bizarre enough to flash before my eyes. I've never seen something like this with so many state troopers on the highway…I hope they help this soul sooner than later.

While in the car I read some papers a few fans gave me last night. The first is a shamanic astrology press release for an online radio show and the other is a synopsis to a film that a writer wants us to score. Both are interesting and somehow strangely connected.

I put in a new CD, Seekonk "Pinkwood." It instantly sounds good. Soft tones, mandolin, backwards guitar, vibraphone and hushed vocals ebb and flow. The track is called "Love". Good headphone music.

I wonder what everyone else is up to in the van. Jelle is still behind the wheel tapping his hand and listening to something ambient…ah yes Tarwater. Martin Wenk is riding shotgun and is asleep. Volker Zander is making notes in his journal. He would love to buy this old 60's race track outside of Phoenix. It has the most bizarre architecture.

Alyson West, tour manager , is fielding phone calls and emails, enjoying the conversation with Volker about European album releases. Jacob Valenzuela, is passed out after reading Konrad Z. Lorenz's "King Solomon's Ring" and eating jumbo sunflower seeds. John Convertino is stretched out on a bench reading Paul Auster's "The Book of Illusions". Paul Niehaus who is in the very back of the van is asleep I think after reading the newspaper and doing the crossword puzzle.

Next stop is Coachella, CA. Sure would be cool to place the music festival here sometime.

Palm trees in small clusters, General Patton Museum, a vineyard, a few casinos - one of them is named Fantasy Springs. There's a new David Lynch movie named "Inland Empire". Our travel agent hopes there is a lot of Laura Dern and coffee drinking in it. I'm sure it will be beautifully dry and twisted with lots of space and slow pans.

12 noon and 124 miles to Los Angeles.

We seem to dodge the massive chunk of traffic, mostly because we ride the high, lonesome carpool lanes. Gotta love ‘em.

Hotel Cafe is amazing. Tiny, intimate and inspiring. Feels like an old speakeasy from the '20s. We set up and start playing, trying out some material that might be soundtrack friendly for the evening's music supervisor party. The venue sounds amazing. Great ambience and room sound, probably due to the old wood floors and vinyl tiles. John, the house sound engineer, played drums with John Convertino's sister, Celeste, in a band called Down Girl.

We meet Steve Turner, co-producer for the famed HBO series "Deadwood" who is there with Meg and Rachel who are all editors on the series "The Wire." They are super down to Earth and we discuss the pros and cons of living in L.A. versus N.Y. I suggest they try coming out to Tucson for a weekend break. Check out the Hotel Congress or Arizona Inn.

The show is short and sweet. We play one song from each Touch and Go/Quarterstick Records release: "Frontera/Trigger," "Sonic Wind," "Sprawl," "Lucky Dime" and "Guero Canelo."

Jon Bissel is there and invites us over to his home for dinner next time in L.A. Longtime friend from Tucson, Jenny Oppenheimer-Seta drops by to show us photos of her and Dan Seta's beautiful baby girl, Liz Garo and Joanna Rees also drop by as well as a bunch of friendly folks all involved with music and film/TV. The night ends early and we head to dinner. Everyone gets some much needed rest.

Santa Barbara, CA Dec 7, 2006

The Orlando Hotel has wonderful accommodations and their in-house restaurant, La Terza, ain't too shabby either. We weave our way north on La Brea out of the city and pass the Hollywood Bowl just before taking the 101 North.

We've been discussing playing the Bowl next summer as part of KCRW's concert series. Hope we do. The Bowl is a fantastic venue. I once played there with my high school jazz band in 1984 at the Playboy Jazz Festival. We got to meet Dianne Reeves, Ray Charles' band, Hiram Bullock, Charlie Haden, David Sanborn, and the late, great Jaco Pastorius. It was an experience I will never forget; I think I still have a few photos from that day somewhere in a box at my parents' home.

In the van we all discuss plans for upcoming tours to Japan, Australia and possibly New Zealand. They all sound good. There was mention of maybe going to China, but the contact hasn't replied in a while.

More and more we are hearing of bands and friends of ours, like The Dirty Three and Francoiz Breut, going to China in connection with state cultural programs from their respective countries. I wonder if McDonald's would be the USA equivalent. There has to be another way.

In the news, there's report of more E Coli breakout. This time it's green onions at Taco Bell. Bummer.

Maybe we should rock some Booker T and the MG's tonight on the jukebox before the show.

Outside we drive past some of the countless number of California farms shimmering in the winter sun. Everything seems calculated and safe on the surface. We drive on.

On this afternoon I daydream outside the van window about some of the California writers who've made this same trek along the Pacific Route 1. Writers like Lawrence Clark Powell, John Steinbeck, John Fante, Henry Miller, and Edward Abbey.

I think about the last time I was in Santa Barbara earlier this year for a visit to the Mission and museums. I saw exhibits on the native Chumash Indians and how peaceful they were and how there is no more trace of the lives they led. I also was reminded of the line of missions that extend down the line of the Camino Real from central California through Arizona and down to Mexico.

We arrive into Santa Barbara early and walk around State Street for a while. The architecture here is stunning and the buildings rarely seem copied, instead they all stand out as individual work of art. The SoHo club is sold out tonight, our first show here, and the venue is extremely intimate with no space on stage to move around.

John and I consider going to a movie but head to Italian restaurant, Chase, and talk about his Dad who used to live here before he passed away. John's Dad played accordion and piano and was the house pianist at the Biltmore Hotel in Santa Barbara for several years. The night hangs with memories.

At 3:30 a.m., I'm woken up by loud banging and fighting in the hotel room next door. I get up and consider doing something but the guys are drunk. I go back to sleep.

San Francisco, CA Dec 8, 2006
The Fillmore

Today's drive feels too long. It starts to rain by the time we reach the Bay Area. The Fillmore staff and crew are some of the nicest people. Los Lobos's gear is all set up; they just flew back from Europe and are probably all jetlagged.

The Fillmore is lined with old concert posters from the 60's thru to the present. It is unbelievable the shows that have taken place there. My folks and family are coming to the show tonight. They have a great time and love the place. All the pot smoke reminds me of the time they took us to see Rush play in Long Beach on the Moving Pictures tour.

For these two shows we invite Salvador Duran to return as musical bridge and inspiration between the Calexico and Los Lobos camp. The crowd loves him and we all have a great show. Los Lobos do an impromptu second encore and invite Martin, Jacob and myself to join in on their song, Mas Y Mas. A great end to a beautiful night. But tomorrow is another concert in the annual Los Lobos year end concerts. It's an incredible honor and privilege to play with them.

San Francisco, CA Dec 9, 2006
The Fillmore

Another night at the Fillmore and the hotel is walking distance to the venue which is always a plus. My girlfriend and I have lunch with family and relatives near Union Square at E & O Trading Company to celebrate my birthday.

My nephews, Jack and Chase are there to help blow out the candles on the cake. My Mom and Dad sing me a song in honor of the birthday. They are sweet. My face goes red and I sink into my sweater as my sister snaps a flash photo.

Afterwards the ladies go out shopping and my Dad and I walk up the street to a Scottish store that sells clothing and whiskey. We check out some bottles, ask some questions and then head up the street to hop on a bus dodging the buckets of rain. Dad's been more into bourbon these days and myself the red wine. It's these moments of being with your family that sink in and make one appreciate the other.

We casually set up for sound check and go over some songs with Jacob and Salvador before eating dinner in-house. The Fillmore have their routine down and it is an extreme joy to be back and here and part of the tradition.

Tonight's set list is completely different than last night's and the show seems more relaxed and easy going. The crowd seems into it and I notice some of the Los Lobos band and crew enjoying the set.

Backstage I get the customary Dutch Birthday song sung to me and a birthday cake. We pop the champagne to celebrate and the next thing we see is Salvador jumping up onstage with Los Lobos to sing Volver.

The whole crowd and backstage are joining in on the chorus, swaying with drinks in hand, toasting to a beautiful year of touring and being on the road. Jacob joins Los Lobos again onstage for a burning trumpet solo and we are all smiling from ear to ear. Afterwards we all give our thanks and praise to Los Lobos and one another before slipping off into the rain.

At the hotel we meet up with some of the band and crew members from both camps for a night cap. Steve Berlin hands me a birthday cigarillo and we talk about doing some more shows and possibly recordings together. I look forward to seeing them all again and making more music in the New Year.

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