Gary, Indiana is the polar opposite of Carmel, Indiana. Last night was our second gig. We left Carmel around noon. I got in a swim after running a mile on the treadmill. I don’t recommend doing that barefoot. Blisters.

The trip to our hotel was uneventful, until we got to town. I tried to sleep under my overcoat. When I woke, we were stopped at the entrance to an underpass with 12 feet of clearance. The bus is 18 feet high. After waiting for a security escort car, we began a 30 minute wind along the gritty, lonely railways of East Chicago, passing a rusted building skeleton and a cemetary building for Illinois cement workers. Finally we arrived via overpass to our hotel, the Majestic Casino. It’s attached to a boat that floats on Lake Michigan, where gambling is legal. You can’t tell it’s a boat, but apparently, it is, or at least by some legal definition.

Sara, our winsome Columbia Artist Management rep, wasn’t happy with the accomodations, and she insisted on moving me to a room with a view of the lake and no strange smell. To be honest, I couldn’t smell anything, as I lost my sense of smell in a car accident. But I liked the view.

Then we took the same crazy abandoned route, even waiting 30 minutes for a train to pass, away from the hotel. Apparently they offload food and supply trucks, which also can’t enter the facility via the railroad underpass.

It took a good while to get to Gary. We approached the town of brick buildings, real old ones, not new ones pretending to be old as in Carmel. Some were in ruins. An empty lot had been fenced by stacks of white-washed tires. We passed a lonely record store: Tap Out Records. I don’t know what it is, perhaps because it reminds me of home, but I find industrial ruin overgrown with nature devastatingly beautiful. We pulled up to the high school where we would be performing. A Puerto Rican food truck was parked in front, which made our guest pianist, multi-Grammy winner Marlow Rosado, incredibly happy. He went on and on about it.

Inside the high school, walk-through metal detectors stood guard. The auditorium was vast. They had Kentucky Fried Chicken waiting for us, but unfortunately the soundman was overwhelmed, unstaffed and locked out of the supply cabinet.

This didn’t really phase me, and when I mentioned it to our bandleader Steffen this morning, he said it didn’t phase him either. I mean, as a local band we face this all the time. The only thing that did bother me was when Lucas, our road manager, threatened under his breath to cancel the show. But he remained calm, basically became the second sound man, and helped the situation progress toward possibility. Meanwhile, I searched the building for an extension cord and an XLR cable and set up my own mic and in-ears. I was ready! A high school trumpet player, Alex, shadowed me for a bit, while his peers followed the percussionists around. I played piano and jammed with Braulio and Mark van Vageningen (bass).

We started an hour late to a sold-out, eager crowd. Braulio whispered to me before we went out, “Te apuesto que esa gente va a estar bien viva con nosotros, vas a ver.” (“I bet you these people are really going to like us, you’ll see.”). He was right. It was an enthusiastic audience, the kind that talks back and cheers after solos. There were people from the Chicago salsa congress, and it was quite a diverse group: Black, Puerto Rican, Mexican, White, etc. Children were dancing in the aisles.

Even though the sound was disastrous (“Fix the sound,” someone yelled from the audience, to cheers), and the entire percussion section was playing blind while the vocal monitor mix was sent back to the horn section and the horn mix was playing in the vocal monitor, I could hear myself thanks to the in-ears. Willie Torres and I did our second reprise of El Cantante as a duo. The ladies like it when I sing my pregon, “Hay quienes cantan con pantalones, yo traigo mi swing, escucha mis pregones.” The Tito Puente set was a hit. My bolero went well, and I sold the shit out of it. Acted it, really. Then Testosterone Fest began. Christian and Marlow began dueling on piano. It was pretty crazy, including some dismantling of the instrument and removal of clothing. Good thing I am used to being around testosterone.

Basically we passed with flying colors, going from perhaps the finest venue on the tour (though Lucas says there are some other performing arts centers that are fab on the route too), to the least-prepared. The people were lovely, and during the post-show meet-and-greet I took a million pictures and signed CDs, which were flying off the table. Several people apologized for their city, unsolicited of course, and said that there was a time when it was beautiful and bustling, back when Chicago manufacturing was big. They also expressed dismay we were at the Majestic: “There are better casinos than that!”

I slept OK, despite the sound of a foghorn and constant train whistles. This morning I squeezed in a mile run around the parking lot, with a view of Lake Michigan and a train full of scrap metal going by. Some guys were setting up cones in the parking lot for some sort of car agility training. I ran over the overpass and got a look at the strange gravel route we’d taken along the rails to get to the casino.

Now we’re driving to Nebraska, where we’ll pass the night before continuing on to Colorado. Lucas said he would have liked to schedule our show at the theater he manages in Kansas City. But we are all having a blast and loving each others’ company so far. The tour managers say we’re loads of fun — apparently more fun than a Croatian orchestra or Chinese acrobats. Lucas added that it wasn’t only because we speak English, either.


We just left the Whole Foods in Des Moines, Iowa. After a healthy lunch, the guys were lying on a lawn in the parking lot in the sun. I showed them what to do on a grassy hill: Roll down it. Then we did a bunch of push ups and sit ups. Growing up with brothers has prepared me well!