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On the road with Liza Wakeman

Published Sep. 29, 2005

(ran TP edition)

The Tampa violinist shares her thoughts as she begins a 25-date eastern seaboard tour.

Reader, do you have a passion for what you do?

Do you love it enough to sleep on a stranger's floor in a strange city far from your home?

Do you love it enough to eat bean burritos for weeks at a time?

Many touring musicians love what they do enough to endure that and much more, often without any expectation of sleeping accommodations, monetary reward or good food.

Truth be told, very few musicians get the backing to tour comfortably. For many artists, touring is a matter of doing your own booking, often playing to small numbers whom you must eventually ask: "Does anyone have somewhere we can stay tonight?"

One such artist is local solo violinist Liza Wakeman. A musician since the age of 6, Wakeman's music _ traditional classical with sprinkles of psychedelia and avant-garde weirdness _ is moving and virtuosic, but you will never hear one of her compositions on the radio sandwiched between Jennifer Lopez and the Offspring.

However, she is talented enough to have garnered some attention. Her former band, Alva, has a record on the Avant label, and some of her projects have been noted in Rolling Stone.

A few months ago, Atomic Age Cafe promoter/bartender Richard McSherry began setting up shows for Liza's first ever solo tour: sending out tapes and press clippings, racking up long-distance bills, fretting. McSherry ended up arranging a schedule with locations as diverse as punk rock dives, museums and parks.

Sometimes she'll awake in nice hotels; other times on couches and floors of fans.

In her own words, from a laptop computer in an old brown van transversing the East Coast of America, this is the first installment in the diary of Liza Wakeman's 25-date independent tour.


SIGNS AND SYMBOLS: Pretour dreams and anxieties

I dreamed I was on a plane with a bunch of friends. It was a very small plane. The plane was going to take us to New York and from there, Europe.

But wait! I don't have any money to get a ticket! I'm going to be stuck in New York. I frantically start asking people if I can borrow the money. I call everyone I know, but to no avail. That's pretty much all I remember of the dream.

I'm thinking about asking my widowed, blind 88-year-old grandmother for another $100. I hate doing it, but my parents have helped me probably more than they can, and I don't know what to do.

I thought I was almost done, but now I have to get more tapes, send more packages out to the press and send posters and contracts to the clubs. Not to mention that I still have to pay the rent and the bills while I'm gone.

I know I should have worked more in these last months, but it takes hours and hours to put all these packages together.

Did I mention I owe Rich McSherry $115?

Last night's dream: I'm at summer music camp having a great time swimming and playing the violin and kissing boys and such. Walking back from the pool, I get seriously lost. I have a map but for some reason it is not making sense and I think I'm going in circles. Finally, I run into a bunch of workers and I ask them for their assistance. They tell me they will only show me the way if I'll do some work for them, but I can only do work for them if I can pass a test. The test is, I have to look as far to the left as I can for as long as I can. I make it about four seconds before I drop to the ground.

MANY QUESTIONS HAVE NO ANSWER: Aug. 2, Common Grounds, Gainesville

I played my first show last night to about 15 people. They seemed to really like it. Everyone was dead silent while I was playing (the way I like it).

We got to Gainesville at 5 a.m. and had an interview on the radio at 9 a.m. It was on the local classical station. The guy doing it was super nice and easy to talk to. Didn't ask stupid questions that have no answer.

Had a little fender bender yesterday. I kind of promised I wouldn't say much about that.

Last night we played cards and laughed and got trashed. Fun! Plus I got my own bed, which won't happen all that often in the next month.

I'm so excited about this tour. It has been so stressful getting prepared for it, it's nice to actually be doing it.

THE WAFFLE HOUSE BACK-UP BAND: Aug. 3, Jack Rabbits, Jacksonville

Once again, not many people at the show but the people at Jack Rabbits were totally into it.

Anyway, we left the gig for an all-night drive to Atlanta. I drove for about an hour and a half, had to stop for gas and of course they didn't have a bathroom so I stopped at the Waffle House. At this point we have agreed that no more Waffle House or Taco Bell will be eaten on this tour.

This guy in there started talking to us and asking questions so I told him we were on tour. And his friend walks in: "If you need a guitar player to back you up man, this is the man!"

If you ever need a guitar player, just stop at the Waffle House at exit 2 in Georgia.

GEORGE CLINTON, THE MAD TEA PARTY AND THE BEST SHOWER IN THE WORLD: Aug. 4, Woodruff Park and Nomenclature Museum, Atlanta

Got to Atlanta and had to find Woodruff Park. Have you ever driven in Atlanta? It's a nightmare!

A lot of bums hang out in the park. A lot of them. They really liked me. I stayed in the van until it was time to play.

The park went fine. People mainly walked by, but most stopped for a moment and watched. Very interesting experience.

I met this girl Ana who is a violinist in bands. It was so cool talking violin with someone. She said I've totally encouraged her to try and do more of what she wants to do, which makes me very happy.

Nomenclature Museum, what an extremely bizarre place.

The building itself is a house amazingly decorated with super cushy furniture, lots of big couches, not one inch of wall without colorful paint or a painting on it.

The best part is the dining room, with a super long table and candelabra.

We find out they're having a private dinner party and we're invited: drag queens, all the girls dressed to the hilt, dancers, painters, writers, fashion designers, you name it.

And there was me and Rich in jeans.

At first I felt like I had boogers hanging out of my nose, but all the people I sat next to, including a dancer from France and a journalist with blue eye shadow and glitter under her eyes, were super friendly.

Oh my god, this was a feast! Time for the menu:

Appetizer: Asian pear, gorgonzola and endive salad with hazelnut vinaigrette.

Entree: pan-seared duck breast with rice vermicelli noodles, shiitake mushrooms, scallions and plum glaze.

Dessert: green tea ice cream with osenbe cookies.

I got ready for the show at Nomenclature Museum in a very nice paid-for hotel room with the best shower in the world.

People liked the show but everyone was kind of drunk, so it was a little loud. Still, it was a good show. I was really into playing.

I went back to the room, and Rich McSherry went out. All I really know about his night is that he met George Clinton. He got in at 7 in the morning.

At least we have tomorrow to rest.

Further installments of Liza Wakeman's journey will appear in Time Out.