I wrote the following for Rootwitch website (http://www.rootwitch.com/) but thought some of you might enjoy reading it. I also corrected a few mistakes. If you haven't visited that website, by all means "go!". It's great resource for Hedges' music and life.
While I was chatting with Mr Rootwitch, he suggested that I put my thinking cap on and write about Michael Hedges in his early days. This post is going to be rather long.....
First I did not keep any notes or diaries. I'm jotting these things down from my fading memory so some events may be misplaced or incorrect. Second let me
confess that I was a fan of bluegrass music back then, so it probably comes as no surprise that I was excited that Doc Watson was coming to town.
That probably was spring of 1982. I started my graduate school at Stanford University a year before, and never had a chance to see Doc before. Me and my friends complained that the concert was a double-bill show with a local guy named Michael Hedges that none of us (remember, we're talking bluegrass) had heard about.
The concert was at a movie theater in downtown Palo Alto, named the Varsity Theater. Let me digress and describe the theater. Even though downtown Palo Alto was a couple of miles away from Stanford campus, this movie theater catered to Stanford crowd, mostly graduate students. The theater was not a road-show place but offered "classic" movie standards. Each movie was on for a night or maybe up to three nights. The offerings included foreign, Si-Fi, off-the-wall, etc. "2001" was very popular. So were Rocky Horror Movie Show, etc. I hope you get the picture. The program listing was a regular wall-hanger at student offices, bulletin boards, etc, and we took break from work once in a while to see these movies.
The Varsity Theater was on the main drag, University Avenue. There was a roofless (remember, it's California so no rain) courtyard where decent dinner could be had. Then you enter the Stucco building. There's a small bar and the theater that housed about 1000. It was an old grandeur theater with nice ornaments on wall. There was a large stage, of course.
Back to the Doc Watson concert. The first set was this guy, Michael Hedges and we had no idea who he was. When he came onto the stage, about one third of the audience went wild. Honestly and sadly, I don't remember too much. I do remember there was one tune where he went wild and jumped up and down (I now think it was Silent Anticipation). I don't remember him singing, and I guess most of the tunes were from "Breakfast in the Field" (which had just come out).
The other two-thirds went wild when Doc Watson came out with a new sidekick named Jack Lawrence. But that's beside the story. Fast forward a couple of years......
I think it was 1984. My friend and I just watched a movie "Koyaniskanti" (sp?) and we were heading back to lab (about 11 PM) when we saw this guy playing guitar at the corner of the courtyard to dinner crowd. We stopped and listened and Michael said something about "submarines" and played a beautiful tune that sounded like submarines :-) He then closed the night singing a Doobie Brothers tune, "Listen to the Music". Wow, talking about impressed! Micheal said "I have another gig here next Thursday" so I made a reservation at the restaurant and invited a few friends and we sat and listened.
Again, I don't remember too much of that night. He did play a new title tune from his new album, "Aerial Boundaries". While he was playing the tune, I looked up and saw and heard his guitar sound bouncing off the high wall on the courtyard into the open sky. It was beautiful! He had a few albums for sale and I bought "Aerial Boundaries". He autographed it. We also chatted about tuning on a cover tune "Come Together". Except it was such a weird tuning that I could not remember what it was. He was counting off the frets to figure out the tuning. This concert convinced me that Michael Hedges got something going.
Shortly after that, he was "promoted" and started playing his gigs inside the theater (that means no movie and his name was on the calendar - I wish I'd kept one of these). I think that Michael performed almost one a month there for two years whenever he could manage his schedule. I went to see him whenever I could.
Mostly he performed solo but I do remember two concerts. One, he had his friend to share the night. This guy, a French guitarist Pierre Bensusan, was touring the US for the first time, and Michael managed to drag him to Palo Alto. They each did a set, and came back together at the end to play duets. Well, except, they couldn't find anything to play together. Michael finally asked "what about the Watermelon Man" and Pierre was just shaking his head. Eventually Bensusan said "Go ahead, Michael, play whatever you want and I'll follow", and follow he did!!!
There also was a Benefit Concert for Robbie Basho. Maybe around 1984, too. Three Windham Guitarists performed to raise money for an operation for Robbie. The night started at 8 PM with Will Ackerman. He was a wild man. He played two sets until about 9:30 PM. Then, Michael came on at 10 PM, and went on until about 11:30 PM. Finally Alex de Grassi took the stage and did two sets. By the time, all three came back for an encore, it was past 1 AM and many had left, and quite a few in the audience were asleep (sorry to say, but Alex's music was too mellow after Hedges'). Six hours of solo acoustic guitar music.....
In 1986 (I think), Michael decided to move to Mendocino, CA and we were all saddened to see him go. He gave a farewell concert and the show was packed.
His shows at the Varsity Theater were usually close to sold-out and he was a strong following going then. At one show, he apparently was not feeling well. He started "Layover" in a wrong tuning! And had to stop after a few measures. That same night, he broke a string and said "I always wanted to have this happen. When a string breaks, I will slowly reach back to my pocket and pull out a set of new strings, pretending everything is cool. And this is my day! Except I forgot to bring my strings". His manager, Hilearly, came running from the back and handed him a set of strings :-)
By the way, alternating with Michael on their live music program was a jazz duo, named Tuck and Patti who lived in Palo Alto, too. Silly me, I never went to see them, and I'm still kicking myself. I also kick myself that I did not take lessons from Michael.....
I do know that these shows were professionally video-taped and I wonder what happened to them.....
I saw Michael three more times while I was at Stanford (took me six years and nine months to get my degree :-). The Varsity Theater sold the ownership and closed in 1986 (?). Michael came back to bid farewell to the Theater.
The other two times (1985 and 86) were events called "Windham Hill on Green" at Stanford's Frost Amphitheater. It's a huge outside arena, and one Saturday afternoon, they had some Windham recording artists to perform.
In 1985, I think they had Will Ackerman, Hedges and Shadowfax. They played together a little. (See the photographs on my page)
The next year, the concert showcased Liz Story, Michael Hedges and Michael Manring, and Stein and Walder. After Liz Story played, they introduced a special guest (whom I had never heard of) and I was walking towards a Porta-Potty. I suddenly heard a Jimi Hendrix rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner"! I looked back and there was a guy on stage without a guitar.... He was singing that tune, and I was just amazed - Bobby McFerrin! He probably did one of the most amazing vocal displays that I ever saw.
Then Michael Hedges came on stage and invited Bobby McFerrin back, and sang "The Streame-lined Man" with Bobby singing the scat. Now a question for you guys (if you're still reading) - on some albums jackets of "Watching My Life Go By", Bobby McFerrin was credited and on some others, his name wasn't on. Anybody noticed that? Any one knows why? Michael also said "I'm taking vocal lessons from this guy"
By that time, Michael was well established and was the major attraction of the concert.
I moved soon after, and only got to see Michael a few times. In 1991, he came to Manchester, NH (one of the live album tracks was recorded there). After the
show, he sat down by the edge of the stage and mingled with fans. I went up and asked for the autograph, and he looked at me and said "I know you!" (which impressed my friends greatly). He thought a few seconds and asked for my name, and once I said "Chief", he beamed said "Noda, right! From the Varsity Theather!" I still cannot believe he remembered me. He even signed a poster "I Remember Thee". Oh, I miss him.
Anyway, I hope I did not take up your bandwidth and time too much. If not, I may convince my friend Dan to write about his experience who used to jam with Michael while he was at Peabody.....