Music Under the Stars

Evening Light on Green River near Tent BottomHey Everyone,

Long time no blog! I’ve been traveling a lot this past month. My first adventure was a weeklong canoe trip down fifty miles of the Green River in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. Six friends, my sweetheart Christine, and I braved 100+ degree heat, quicksand, swarms of kamikaze mosquitoes, and severe cold beer depravation to explore this incredibly quiet, mysterious, and majestic place. I brought my beach guitar with me (a 1978 Alvarez), protected by its flight case, my sleeping bag, and a homemade dry bag. It was bulky, but singing Tom Waits’ “San Diego Serenade” under desert starlight for my friends made it more than worth the effort.

I just got back last night from my second trip, which was a four-day stay in a campground near Lake Tahoe, California. Days were spent climbing the granite cliffs at Lover’s Leap, one of my all-time favorite climbing crags, and during the mornings and evenings I visited with family members who live in California and drove to Tahoe to meet me. Mom brought the guitar I have stashed at my parent’s place, so I got to play around the campfire again. One of the highlights was singing “Yellow Submarine” and Rob and Scott on Surrealistic Pillar“I Wanna Hold Your Hand” for my four-year-old nephew Zachery, who has become a huge Beatles fan in the past year.

I love singing around the campfire, but I often feel like I’m not that good at it. It’s partly because I’m used to playing in a warm, well-lit room, while sitting in a proper chair. You’re bound to be sloppy when you’re sitting on the ground or in a camp chair, it’s too dark to see your fretboard clearly, and your fingers are stiff from the cold and from climbing all day. Another challenge is that I usually sing with music in front of me, so I’m rarely forced to memorize lyrics. I swear I’ve sung “American Pie” over a dozen times at campfires, and have succeeded in mixing up my marching bands and candlesticks and singing jesters and devil’s friends every time. Yet for all my dissatisfaction, people always tell me how much they love the music–they don’t care that much that we’re doing “American Pie Abridged”.

And there are moments of pure beauty, like singing “Country Roads” my first night at Lake Tahoe. It was after 10pm (quiet hours), so instead of strumming it like I usually do, I fingerpicked the song and we all half-sung, half-whispered the words we all knew so well. I sung a quiet, falsetto harmony over the chorus. The fire, the stars, the guitar, and the singing all came together, and I went to bed filled with peace and joy.

Comments 8

  1. Cool 😀
    It’s good to have a ‘beach guitar’. I took a decent Ibanez acoustic on a camping trip once and it’s never been the same since. It got a hard time travelling in a van during a hot summer. I still love it though.

  2. I would love to be able to play my guitar for friends while camping. But I’m a beginner and am afraid to play in public right now, plus I don’t know what songs I would play (your blog has given me lots of good ideas though!).

  3. Good to have you back Rob, we’ve missed your writings!!

    Glad you had an amazing time. Bit of camping in the rugged is great fun [I’m from Australia so know a little :- )]. Nothing beats a bit of campfire music and I agree it’s another [more relaxed] style but just as enjoyable. Love your work.

  4. Your trip sounds wonderful. Glad you’re back.
    I once turned down a hayride Christmas carole gig for the reasons you mentioned about campfire songs. Plus I’m allergic to hay. I too like to work with a music stand but I prefer to stand when I perform.
    I have a Baby Taylor for traveling. Fits in the overhead. If I’m flying to a gig, I have a custom ATA case for my good Taylor. Still makes me crazy with worry.

  5. I gotta get a Baby Taylor. My buddy has one, and it’s got a good campfire tone–funky and boxy, like a steel-string ukelele. It works great for singing songs about doggies gettin’ tired and moons sinkin’ low.

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