Trip to California to see the Dirty Knobs
February 20, 2002
Well, I don't even know how to start this. Life gives great rewards to those who are willing to throw caution to the wind and take a chance once in a while. Dreams come true this way but some dreams look nothing like the picture that's conjured by one's imagination. God puts grace in funny places. The definition of grace is when someone does something without even realizing it that heals an immediate need in another person's life or situation. For my life, this is the main function of the music made by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. That was the reason for my trip. I wanted to meet Mike Campbell. I wanted to hear this band that contains 2 current Heartbreakers and 1 former Heartbreaker. I was also looking forward to hearing this guy Jason that everyone talks about.
After waking up Friday and realizing that this was the day, I threw my stuff and myself into the car with Ben and drove him to school. I gave him many embarrassing hugs and sent him on his way. I always wish he were with me to see things that I see. I'd be making this trip with my friend Donna whom I met on the internet. I stopped at a coffee shop and had some breakfast, a coffee and a bagel, then set off to drop my car at my brother's so he could drop me off at the airport. The airport security was very tight. I wasn't afraid to fly; though maybe I should be, in light of the recent 9/11 tragedy. My arrival in Santa Barbara came more quickly than I had anticipated. The flight was uneventful which is exactly how I like them. Donna came and picked me up. It was surprisingly cold outside! We talked for a short time then lights out. Both of us were excited and not quite sure exactly how things would go. I slept badly. Donna slept well.
Saturday was one day I will never forget! I completely enjoyed it from the minute it started to the minute I closed my eyes and went to sleep that night. Donna and I went to Santa Barbara Park and went down the waking path, which ran parallel to the ocean. We enjoyed the scenery, walking and chatting about nothing in particular. Donna is a very calm, peaceful person. I spend my life trying to be peaceful and finding that I have more energy than I can contain. We stopped at a spot where some surfers were, well, there weren't any waves so they were just floating. They might have just been floaters and not surfers at all. Anyway, Donna spotted something in the water. A minute or so later, we both saw them. We weren't sure but we thought they were dolphins. A few moments later, our suspicions were confirmed when two teenage girls came running towards the rail, squealing, "Dolphins!!!! Let's swim with the dolphins!!!" We looked towards the direction they were running and out the dolphins came. The girls pointed them out to us and we saw a mother and a baby. What a wonderful way to start the day! We went on walking and found some beach treasure and saw a rock rolling dog. Then it was time to start our night.
We went back to the motel, called Linda, got cleaned up and off we went. Donna drove to a town that boasted the best split pea soup in the world. We were meeting Linda, the woman who made all of our arrangements for seeing the Dirty Knobs. We pulled into the pea soup place and Linda was only seconds behind us. We parked and got out to introduce ourselves. Linda was such a positive and welcoming person! I enjoyed meeting her quite a lot! We all piled into Linda's car, Donna taking shotgun and me in the back. I listened to them chatting and watched the scenery go by and before we knew it, we were in San Luis Obispo. We wanted to find the SLO Brew house and then go find a parking spot but the gremlins kept hiding the Garden St sign every time we drove by so it took a while to find the brew house which was located on that street. We found it. San Luis Obispo is an active little city with shops galore. The majority of the local population is made up of college students and this makes for an extremely busy metropolis. In other words, there were no parking spots. Finally we found one. We piled out of the car and I mentioned I was cold. Linda loaned me her coat. She is great!! We walked around and shopped and talked until it was time for sound check. We went to SLO Brewhouse and the only people there at that time were Chinner, Possum and someone named Dave. Chinner wasn't quite what I expected but he was nice despite his efforts to seem like a grouch. He told us that the band would be arriving at around 6:00 and that we could help him and his crew if we wanted. Instead of helping we went with Linda. She wanted to move her car to a closer spot. We walked around some more and then Linda bought us dinner. Did I mention that I really appreciated Linda's hospitality? Jeez, she did so much!!! Anyway, just as we were finishing our dinner bass notes could be heard through the floor and we knew that they had arrived. Linda saw a familiar face and they said hello to one another. Her name was Jenny and she turned out to be a photographer for The Dirty Knobs. We decided it was time to check things out. We all made our way down the stairs and peeked through the sides of the door window, which was covered by a poster. We must have looked like a bunch of children looking into a toy store at Christmas time.
It was my turn to look inside and as I peered into the bar room towards the darkened back door, the one, the only Mike Campbell strolled in. From that point forward, the challenge for me was to keep my head and not freak out! Linda and Donna were both cool as cucumbers. Linda was a veteran at going to see this band and Donna looked like this was part of her usual routine. Calm cool collected. Not me, my palms began to sweat, my heart was pounding and I was shaking like a leaf!! I was so afraid that the band wouldn't like me or that I'd say something really stupid! A girl came out and was talking with Linda. Her name was Alex. She sells T-shirts for the band. While they talked and Linda introduced us, Ron Blair (OH MY GOSH!!), the original bass player for the Heartbreakers, came walking out. I just wanted to run away. I didn't know what to do! He invited us in and Linda and Donna went. I followed. Alex turned out to be really friendly and I was glad she was there. We went into the bar room and stood talking with Alex, Ron and Jenny. I was literally freaking out inside. Reality seemed impossible at that moment. Next thing I know, Mike Campbell came strolling over and he was opening a bag of guitar pics as he walked. He handed some to Donna and some to me. He said, "Here, you can give these to any guitar players you know." Donna said, "Thanks." I said (something stupid, of course) I'm keeping mine." As a side note, I kept one of mine and gave the other 2 to the other 2 Mike Campbell fans I know from work. Anyway, I don't think I can adequately relay how important that moment was to me. My life would read like some horrible Lifetime movie and Mike Campbell, along with Tom Petty and the other Heartbreakers have provided a platform for me to bounce from in any crisis. I listen to their music and gain strength and courage, which enables me to move on. It's grace.
Ron stayed around a while and Mike went off and did some stuff. They all crowded onto a couch and had their picture taken. They played a few songs and then decided to go get their dinner. They were standing by the door and Donna suggested that I ask Steve Ferrone for some drumsticks. I tried to ask but I think I said it too quietly because he didn't answer me. I looked at Donna and she urged me to ask again. I couldn't do it so I asked her to. I actually said it in a telling tone but meant it in an asking tone. Donna asked for me and he said yes but after the show. That first part of the night was really difficult for me. I was so uncomfortable, nervous and scared.
Linda volunteered to watch the band's equipment and hold a spot for Alex to sell her T-shirts. Donna and I walked around San Luis Obispo so I could unwind a bit. It was good that I got that time. We stopped at the car and picked up Ryans's guitar, the video camera and some things that Linda had to give to Mike. One more walk and then we stayed at the Brew House and waited for the first band. Amy showed up while we were waiting. I've talked with Amy several times in the past few years and it was really great to meet her face to face. Seems like all the Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker fans I've met are such awesome people!
The Blue Room was the opening band and I really liked them a lot. Their music was well written and played and they were pretty nice fellas to boot. They played all originals with sort of a classic rock feel to them. The 2nd band was too loud and too heavy for my taste. Musically they were great and I loved the singer's voice. The type of music they played was way out of the realm of my personal taste. Then the 3rd band was…..The Dirty Knobs. WooooHoooo!!!!
The Dirty Knobs came on and my heart was just stuck in my throat. I stood there in front of Mike while he made his guitar talk to the room. After about the 2nd or 3rd song, Donna wanted to take some pictures so we switched places. Oh well, at least I got 2 songs. Because of that, I have several beautiful pictures of Mike completely in the moment while playing his songs. It was easy to dance and have a great time with them playing up there. All the songs were light hearted and fun. I still had a great vantagepoint to watch the show from. I was somewhat stunned from time to time when I'd realize that I was where I was, watching Mike, Ron, Steve and Jason. I stood and watched the notes go by as they were being played and was awestruck and happy. Mike Campbell makes playing the guitar look as easy as breathing and as enjoyable as eating good food. He is simply phenomenal. Someone mentioned that Jason feels like the odd man out because he's not connected to the Heartbreakers as the others are. All I can say about that is WHAT EVER!!! He's phenomenal too! He has a totally different style from Mike and the 2 of them compliment each other so wonderfully. The Dirty Knobs would be missing an essential part of their band without him and the fact is; they aren't the Heartbreakers, period. If it weren't for the Heartbreakers, however, I would never have heard of him and I'd be missing out. I'll be watching like a hawk for anything Jason might do. Bass playing is not something I know too much about. I only know that without it the sound is hollow and empty. Ron played his bass with finesse and skill. He sang backing vocals and sang lead in one of the songs. His stage presence is captivating and caught my attention much of the time. He's so into the song and I can't begin to imagine what he could be thinking as he plays and sings. My guess, though, is that he's thinking about the song. Steve Ferrone was comical and always kept that steady beat. He's quite a good drummer and just so playful and fun to watch.
After the show, we all stood around talking with the band and Alex and Jenny. If anyone ever told me the story of meeting this band I'd be wondering if they were telling the truth but this really happened. I stood in a bar room talking with the Heartbreakers and Jason a little though he was kind of busy doing other things. Meeting Mike Campbell was a dream realized. He was true blue. He was soft-spoken and somewhat humble. He was kind and generous with his time. Most importantly, however, he was just a guy who plays guitar. Plays guitar like a dolphin dances on the water but nonetheless just a guy. He's not some God to be worshipped. He's not some authority figure who commands respect. He's this really cool guy who I liked and thought more of because of the way he carries himself and the way he treated us. I'm really glad to have met him. It was completely my pleasure to meet Steve Ferrone. He reminds me of a guy I know here. He's funny and quick-witted and really tall. He seems like he is someone you'd never tire of having around. Ron Blair, He was someone I'd like to count as a friend. I liked him a lot and meeting him was my favorite part of my trip. In my memory I'll probably always return to the time I spent talking with Ron and be glad that I met him. Nothing all that spectacular happened and I don't mean that I have some heavy crush on him. I just felt completely at ease around him and I really enjoyed talking with him.
Well, So now the only one I haven't met is Tom. I'm not ready for that anyway.
I loved you guys. Thank you so much for everything. I was blessed because I met all of you.
During the ride back to the hotel after leaving Linda at Pea Soup Heaven, Donna and I were both pretty quiet. I don't know about Donna but I wasn't talking much because I just wanted to be quiet and reflect on all that happened. I was singing along with the songs on the radio and enjoying the ride. We did some chatting but not much. As we were riding along a tremendous arching glow streaked across the sky. It was the biggest, most beautiful shooting star I ever saw. I asked Donna, "Did you see that?" Donna said she did and we agreed that that was the perfect way to end the day.
M.C. signing a guitar at the show