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Letter from the Road

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musicmay14A GLIMPSE INTO THE DAILY LIFE OF TOURING MUSICIAN JOHN CRANFORD

I’M sitting in the last row of the Cranford Hollow tour wagon, a 12-passenger Ford van with a 17-foot trailer attached to it. We are somewhere east of Dublin, Ga., heading home to our favorite place on Earth. This tour started about two weeks ago on St. Patrick’s Day weekend with a slew of local shows — the Boardroom’s Fat Tuesday Party, the Wine and Food Festival, the Hilton Head St. Patrick’s Day throwdown in the Wild Wing Cafe parking lot and Monday in Savannah’s City Market, playing to a sea of thirsty green revelers. The Savannah show was so rowdy, Savannah-Chatham Police police got onstage at one point and threatened to shut it down, due to the 50-person mosh pit and excessive crowd surfing.

We left immediately after our Savannah show and headed to the panhandle of Florida for a week-long Spring Break run in the Panama City area. Then we moved westward. We camped out in St. Augustine, trying to lay down eight tracks in four days at Retrophonic Studios.

It’s a massive three-room facility filled with vintage gear and piloted by the king of North Florida punk, Jimmy Devito. On Friday, we packed up at Jimmy’s and headed northwest to Macon, Ga., for a two-night run at the Cherry Blossom Music Festival, capping off our two-week run with a show at the Historic Cox Capitol Theatre with Saint Francis and The Futurebirds.

Now it’s home time. Two hours out and I am already excited to smell the Calibogue when we head over the Cross Island bridge. To see some familiar faces, my girlfriend, my kitties and catch Joey Vicars Monday night at The Boardroom. Scott Gruber will be behind the bar and the Jameson will taste better than anywhere else I have been in the last few weeks.

These are the reasons I love Hilton Head and why I am so proud to announce to an eager crowd somewhere between here and Telluride, Colo., that we have one of the best and most prosperous music scenes in the Southeast. We consistently provide great music at great venues with great bartenders serving up something to quench your thirst when the humidity is thick, the temperature is up and the hour is getting later and later.

I am also proud to proclaim my love for our little island because I felt that I really accomplished something. I helped build something real and tangible that you can see and hear all over the South End. I took what I built and moved it to a specific project that first grew regionally and now is a nationally touring act. We haven’t won a Grammy or been on Letterman, but we played 250 shows last year from Hilton Head to Canton, Ohio; Austin, Texas; Fort Collins, Colo.; Biloxi, Miss.; and Kansas City, Mo. We work hard, play shows, make records and sell T-shirts. It ain’t rocket science, but it’s a hell of a lot of work.

I credit a lot of what I do to my mentors and friends that I have made in my five years on Hilton Head. Jesse Watkins told me tales and tips of touring from his days with the Mundahs over Miller High Lifes in a storage space in which we used to practice off of Palmetto Bay Road. Martin Lesch always had something interesting to say about his years touring with Angie Aparo and opening for Martin Sexton. Being on the national circuit all the sudden seemed tangible, something very possible. My friends had already done it.

So we hit the road and played some shows. We lost a drummer and got another one who has done some serious growing up in his six months with Cranford Hollow University. We made some records and we will make more. And the show will always go on.

But I am lonesome. I can’t tell you the last time I got to see Silicone Sister or hear one of the great musicians down at the Tiki Hut while sipping something cold and frothy.

I get my one big show a year, the annual Swampfire Showdown, which takes place every November at The Smokehouse. It’s our one night a year where all of us (the Hilton Head Musicians Mafia) are in one room and get to hear all of our friends play for one another.

I haven’t played a show with John Wilkins in far too long or gotten on stage and added some terribly out-of-tune backup vocals for the Simpson Brothers. But it’s alright. The show will go on and Hilton Head’s future looks really promising.

More records are being put out by local guys (Shane Marstellar’s drops May 3. Yes, that is a blatant plug). More and more musicians are playing bigger shows and gaining more momentum from a great local listening audience.

The O’Grady brothers are bringing more national acts into the Bamboo. Chris Spargur and his staff are hosting bands we are playing shows with from Atlanta and beyond. Everyone is working hard and together to fuel our amazing scene. And from the bottom of my heart, I truly appreciate it.

Thank you to the musicians, the bar owners, the local fans and friends and the long list of people who helped push our dream further while raising the bar, whether we are away or at home. You have helped not only create a plethora of talent that is able to showcase their talents on numerous platforms, you have also created an economy.

The bar owners are paying more money for talent, which in turn brings in more fans who are tipping the bar staff for their drinks and food. You are helping put money in everyone’s pocket. If you have the drive and talent as a musician on Hilton Head, it is totally possible to make music your No. 1 source of income. Many locals are tried and true examples of the profession. It’s a circle, and we are all lucky to be a part of it.