Unexpected Discoveries, a Staycation, and ANOTHER Musical!

Saddle up... one more time!

Grab your favorite beverage and blanket, and settle into a comfy chair as we visit an oddly cool museum, stumble upon a rich man's banana stand, take a staycation, and drum for another musical!

Come along for 2018's final installment of TourAlongWithTodd!

Mon Dieu!

Let’s begin, shall we?

Aunt Mary and Uncle Frank have welcomed us to their cabin on Flathead Lake's Finley Point in NW Montana for years. On US 93, as you near the lakeside community of Polson, signs appear promoting the Miracle of America Museum.

The what? The Miracle of America Museum?

We’d driven past MoAM many times but had never taken the plunge. This year we changed that...

Are you ready for MoAM?...  I know I AM!

Nothing says "hello" more than a Native American placard, as demonstrated at MoAM's entrance. Though political correctness isn't always on display at the museum, it's still an amazing place to visit. Cost of entry? A cool $6.00. Now that's something to send smoke signals about!

       MoAM's displays cover just about everything...

  • An actual Corsair A-7D Vietnam era attack bomber? Boom! It's there!
  • Maybe a collection of spark plugs? Zap! They're there!
  • A display devoted to the downside of drinking and driving? Smashing!
  • Multiple displays promoting capitalism and the American way? Cha-ching!
  • And then there's gun rights... Yes indeed, MoAM's all over that too!

    It turns out
    Hitler's ban on guns, contrary to what the poster above suggests, didn't apply to all Germans... just Jewish Germans.


Ha! Ha! Nothing's more fun than joking about North Korea and the prospects of an actual nuclear war. That's hilarious! Don't ya think?

This would be a terrible way to die. It would be an even more terrible way to curl your hair! Hang in there, Annie!

Models of flying saucers and aliens? Why not! Note that the saucer on the right has a Montana license plate, proof that aliens are here and it's a huge cover up! Are ALL Montanans aliens? Can you prove they're not? Backing up my theory, MoAM also has an Area 51 display complete with an undeniably authentic replica of an alien on a dissection table!

No museum representing the miracle of anything would be complete without freakishly disturbing mannequin doll-like things! According to legend, these gross marionettes come to life at night... and play creepy games with the Area 51 aliens.

There's no end to the oddities of America's past at MoAM.

Atlas Obscura describes MoAM as the "Smithsonian of the West." In a way? I think they're right. The sheer volume, depth, and breadth of topics and items is breathtaking... It's an incredible adventure you won't regret.

Next time you're on US 93 near Polson, build in at least two hours and pay the six bucks. Come on! It's the Miracle of America Museum!


There's Money in the Banana Stand!

Late August is a perfect time to visit Seattle, especially if (a) your son lives there and (b) there's a Metric and Smashing Pumpkins rock concert to attend. Before the big show, we had time for a city center walkabout.

It's fun wandering into things, like the campus of similar-looking office towers we found. At their center was a slug-like geodesic dome structure. How cool!

Upon entering the slug, I asked the official-looking nice young man, "Where are we?" He replied, "Welcome to Amazon's SpheresSpheres is a place where Amazon employees can meet in a warm, welcoming environment to blah, blah, blah..."

My eye had caught something much more exciting happening outside. There were people, dressed in yellow t-shirts, giving something awaysomething clearly deliciousto hundreds of eager eaters.

We had stumbled upon National Banana Split Day! We are truly blessed to live in a country where a different food is celebrated every day of the year! And what luck was ours because National Banana Split Day is, hands down, the best-of-the-best food days!

I told the nice young man he could keep his spheres; we were going outside to get our free banana splits!

Amazon's Community Banana Standin the center of the ever-growing Amazon corporate campuswas established in 2015 and gives away 1.7 million bananas annually as a way to promote eating a healthy food packaged in its own biodegradable container. 1.7 million... now that's a bunch of bananas. Actually, did you know a bunch of bananas is called a hand and each banana is known as a finger? It's true!

Anyway, this banana stand has GOT to be costing Amazon a fortune!

Let's do the math, shall we?

What's the cost of a banana?

  • Both Amazon and Office Depot, yes... Office Depot, will deliver bananas to your doorstep, but they're not cheap... about $1.00 per banana.
  • At milkandeggs.com, you can order Dole organic bananas priced individually at $0.36.
  • But at Fred Meyer, you can order them online for store pickup for just $0.30 each.

Going with Freddy's pricing, Amazon's annual banana expense is $510,000.

That sounds like a lot of hard earned corporate cash, but in 2017 the net worth of Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos, increased $107,000,000 per day, or about $74,000 per minute. So, Jeff paid for the year's banana expense in just under seven minutes.  

Since the Community Banana Stand's opening in 2015, Bezos' wealth shot from $50 billion to $140 Billion. Coincidence? I don't know about you, but I'm opening a banana stand! Remember, there's always money in the banana stand!

Pony up for the "Free For All" at the Amazon Banana Stand! Rain or shine (or rain because, after all, this is Seattle) the banana stand is always serving up delicious freshly cut fingers!

Here, Amazon's army of Banistas served us banana splits that were delish! It's all smiles at the banana stand... until somebody slips on a peel and puts an eye out!

What is it with food, cell phones, and Instagram? Why has it suddenly become so important to share your food with the entire world? Come on! It's a banana split... in a paper cup... with a plastic spoon! Not exactly a super sexy food photo, now is it?

Here's a SUPER SEXY FOOD PHOTO of my banana split with chocolate and strawberry sauces topped with Oreo crumbles! Note the smooth contours of the paper cup and plastic spoon. I need to get this posted on Instagram right away!

For further fun reading about bananas, take a side trip to learn how many bananas it takes to kill someone. Good times! You're welcome!


Yellowstone?... How About a Staycation!

Loyal readers may recall last spring's jaunt to Yellowstone National Park with Isabelle, our Swedish exchange student, that just happened to coincide with a blizzard that closed all roads and turned our trip into an extended motel-bound adventure.

We promised our current exchange student, Julia, from Finland, with a snow-free visit to Yellowstone the first week of October. The fall's weather had been perfect, until... the first week of October. The Yellowstone forecast was for cold rain and even colder snow. The Boise forecast wasn't much better. What to do...

Hey! How about a staycation!

Though Julia had been with us for two months, this would be our chance to show her around the Boise area in a way we hadn't beforewith our "staycation hats" on.

What's a staycation hat?

Well, a staycation hata prerequisite for a successful staycationblocks the wearer's brain's abnormal spending pattern (ASP) receptors. In essence, the staycation hat tells the brain, "It's OK... be calm... you're home AND you're on vacation! You only live once. Go ahead. Spend the money... spend the money... spend the money...

You'd never guess by looking at this picture that the first day of our staycation was spent touring Boise in the rain. The second day's blue skies were perfect for a day trip to Redfish Lake. Pictured here: The Payette River canyon along Highway 17.

When it comes to successfully taking selfies, we leave it to the kids! Julia executed this dockside selfie at Redfish Lake with ease. Lilly, the Wonder Dog, continues to struggle with the concept of posing for pictures of any type. Though she's cute, Lilly's brain is very small.

Julia and Lilly, the Wonder Dog, in the aspen grove on the Marshall Lake trail. Note Lilly sporting her best doggy vest. Yep! She's a dog that wears clothes!

Day three of the staycation took us to the World Center for Birds of Prey, just south of Boise. Hourly tours present examples of the Center's worldwide efforts to protect birds of prey. Pictured here, the guide holds an owl to demonstrate how they move. Did you know an owl's head can rotate up to 270 degrees? It's true! What a hoot!

Do you know what's missing in this picture?

Lilly, the Wonder Dog!

Hey! Here's a good one: How many people are in this photo?

With talons that can be as large as a bear's claws and legs almost as thick as a man’s wrist, it's no wonder sloths and small deer are on a Harpy eagle's dinner menu. The harpy is named after a mythological creature that had the face of a woman and the body of a bird. The face of a woman?

Ummm... I don't see it.

But if I squint my eyes really, really hard...

                                 Image credit goes to the Mythical Creatures site.

Ah! OK, NOW I see it!

We were impressed with the Center and decided to become members. You should too... or simply donate by the end of the year. They've got a lot of good things going on, like working to save bird habitat. By saving bird habitat, you also help curb climate change. Hmmm... as it turns out, there are ways to make change happen!


Any good staycation includes authentic local food. And nothing says "Idaho" like the Irish cuisine offered at Sully's Pub & Grill in Star, Idaho, just west of Boise. Sully's delivers a touch of Ireland with its food, beer, and whiskey. We like Sully's, though they'd do well to play some Irish music and use a few of their many TV monitors for Irish sports like Gaelic football, hurling, and camogie. And to taste their best Irish fare, arrive after 5:00 when the Shepherd's Meatball Pie, Guiness Meatloaf, and Bangers and Mash are served.

What do Natalie and I not do almost ever, anywhere? Attend sporting events! Throwing caution to the wind (and with the offer of free tickets), we went to an Idaho Steelhead's hockey game! What a funny sport...

Here's one example of the funny side of hockey. From time to time, two players from opposite teams would remove their gloves and start hugging each other quite vigorously. All play stopped and the crowd cheered with great enthusiasm! This exchange of sporting love climaxed when the two players fell to the ice in their embrace. They were soon joined by the men wearing striped shirts. The crowd booed when the striped-shirt men started to participate. I'm with the crowd on this one... that's not natural.

How to conclude a staycation? How about a hike in the Boise foothills on a trail that starts from your neighborhood! Pictured here, Julia and Natalie (and Lilly, the Wonder Dog) move along Spring Creek trail.


And How About One More Musical! Why Not?

Boise State University's production of The Great American Trailer Park Musical was a blast to play! At its heart, it's a love story, but it pokes fun at many aspects of redneck-living stereotypes. It was a super fun show with a talented cast and crew. What a great way to top off a summer, and fall, of drumming!

My view from the stage of The Great American Trailer Park Musical. Being on stage meant the bandin costumebecame a true part of the performance. It's a fun way to play a show.

The Great American Trailer Park Musical Band! Feeling right at home at the Armadillo Acres Trailer Park in Starke, Florida, from left to right, are Shayla Lewis (bass), Moi (drums), Thomas Paul (guitar) and Chad Spears (keyboards). 

We rocked the costumes. Right?


And with that, 2018's TourAlongs are complete! It's been a good year and I wouldn't change a thing.

No... wait! 

I'd take Jeff Bezos' one-day earnings... and I'd gladly pay for the bananas!

Yes, that's the thing I'd change.


What's on tap for 2019? We've got ideas, so be ready! It won't be long before it's time to saddle up again for more TourAlongs!

Until then... Happy Holidays! Ciao!

Editors note: Though wildly over used, none of the 79 exclamation points in this blog post were harmed during its composition!!!


Like the TourAlongWithTodd blog and want to keep up to date? Here are three easy options!
  • Email me at toddchavez4@gmail.com and I’ll add you to my distribution list or…
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And the Beat Goes On!

There’s No Rest for the Wicked

The Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! of Mamma Mia!’s closing night’s performance was still reverberating out at the theater when the Beehive musicians assembled for their run of band-only rehearsals, followed in rapid succession by tech week and the show's opening weekend.

And with that, the pace of this summer’s TourAlongAtHomeTour was kicked into overdrive.

Performing 28 nights in the pit for Mamma Mia! during the Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s (ISF) repertory season meant we played a couple of nights here, a couple of nights there, but never more than three nights in a row. Performing for Beehive-The 60s Musical, the September show, is different. We perform every night of the week with the exception of Mondays, when theaters are “dark.” This condensed schedule makes touring at home much more like touring on the road because road touring implies a certain routine: Wake up, eat, drive, set up, eat, perform, tear down, sleep, rinse and repeat, day after day. The performing part lasts 30 minutes if you’re the opening act, or 90 minutes if you’re the main act. The routine can become numbing, so it’s a really good idea to like the performing part of it!

A Musical in Sync with Our Times

ISF’s production of Beehive features a cast of six crazy-talented actor-singers delivering a celebration of the women who made our music—women like Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, and Janis Joplin and many more. Underlying this musical revue is the rise of the women’s movement in the 60s and 70s. And, though created in 1985, Beehive's message is right in sync with our times—more than three decades later—when women are at the forefront of change once again. And that’s good!

The cast of Beehive laying it down! From left to right: Christiana Perrault, Hannah-Jo Weisberg, Adrianna Cleveland, Camille Robinson, Annalise Griswold, and Shelby Griswold. Photo courtesy of ISF, DKM Photography.

The show clips along at a furious pace, pausing occasionally for dialog to set the next scene—and to let the actors catch their breath. I’ve been told that the choreography and costumes are something to see too, but from my view behind the drum kit—in the pit under the stage—I can only imagine the experience the audience soaks in. Just once, when Janice Joplin takes the stage near the end of the show, do I get a glimpse of actor Shelby Griswold performing Me and Bobbie McGee. I also get to see the audience’s reaction. Janice/Shelby crushes it!

Music Director Charlie Ray warming up for the show! Charlie and I share the same birthday! Well OK, the same day, but not in the same century. If only I had had the same degree of competence and direction at his age! Get this: Charlie's still a student at Baldwin Wallace University. Clearly, BW has something good going on!

Did I Mention a Drum Kit? I Did!

Loyal readers may recall that I played an electronic drum kit for Mamma Mia! and that I mentioned it was a wee bit challenging to play. Put it like this: Imagine riding a bike with deflated tires. You get where you need to go, but it’s not as much fun getting there. So it was a relief to be back behind a set of acoustic drums with their wide range of sounds and dynamics back in my toolbox—along with nine microphones strategically placed to bring the kit’s sound to the audience.

As a side note, I haven’t asked the rest of the Beehive band how much they like the volume of my rock drumming in an enclosed space. I think if I did ask them, I would pose it as a survey question… like this!

How much do you like the volume of Todd’s rock drumming?

A. I like it! The volume is just right!
B. He can play as loud as he wants. I can’t get enough of it! He’s awesome!

Well, I don’t really need to ask the question. The answer is clearly B.

Home Sweet Home! A real drum kit with drums and cymbals! Everything needed to make A LOT of sound! The dishcloth taped to the head of the snare drum dampens the drum's sound. Did I mention IT'S LOUD in the pit? I could play softly...  but soft rock-n-roll? That's crazy talk!

Rinse and Repeat

Every musical’s band is tailored for the show. For Beehive, five musicians and a drummer produce a powerful ensemble sound. Playing nightly accomplishes something really important—we get tight, fast, and it’s sooooo satisfying. And that brings me back to the routine of touring…

The rinse and repeat of playing Beehive goes something like this: Wake up, have coffee, work my day job editing documents, pack dinner, and drive to the Y at 5:00 to work out. Arrive at theater no later than 7:00 to warm up. Start the show promptly at 7:30 and end at 9:05 (95 minutes, including intermission). Drive home, have a beer while watching an episode of Better Call Saul, sleep, rinse and repeat. And don’t forget to eat your vegetables! Getting sick on tour is a poor choice. Feel a flu coming on? I’m sorry to hear that! See you at 7:00 for the show, and bring a bucket!

Did you notice I mentioned the length of the show with confident precision? Here’s a little-known theater factoid for you: The length of a show is set by the director during the rehearsal process. Once a show opens, the director is no longer present. The production is now under the full control of the stage manager, who records each performance’s length. If a show begins to vary by more than a minute, long or short, it’s a sign that something’s off and needs to be brought back in line. This is one way the stage manager ensures the integrity of the show remains consistent with the director’s vision and direction.

The Beehive band dressed for success in rock-n-roll black! From left to right: Charlie Ray, music director and keyboards; Matt Short, saxophone; Shayla Lewis, bass guitar; moi, a drummer who plays loudly; Esteban Anastasio, electric guitar; and Joe Johnson, trumpet AND tambourine!

The Beehive band's favorite pastime at intermission? Working through decks of Trivial Pursuit cards. We absolutely suck at the Lord of the Rings deck. Gandalf or Aragorn are NOT always the answer!

All Good Things Come to an End

So there you have it. A week from today Beehive—and this summer’s TourAlong—will be in the bag. Between Mamma Mia! and Beehive—from late June to the end of September, including rehearsals and performances—I’ve been “on the road” 62 nights.

Inevitably, while playing the last tune of the final performance, a melancholy knocks on my door announcing that something so fun, and so challenging, is ending; every show gets under my skin.

Once you’ve caught the touring bug, it never goes away. It’s an itch that needs a good scratch now and then. Thanks so much to the Idaho Shakespeare Festival for taking care of my itch this summer!

Coming up? Unexpected 2018 summer travel experiences and Jellystone National Park in fall!

Until next time… Make Your Own Kind of Music! Ciao!


Like the TourAlongWithTodd blog and want to keep up to date? Here are three easy options!
  • Email me at toddchavez4@gmail.com and I’ll add you to my distribution list or…
  • Enter your email address in the Follow by Email box on the right at the top of this page and follow the simple verification process. This method delivers the blog directly to your inbox.
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Living High Down in the Pit. Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!

The Premiere!

“Good evening everyone! I’m Mark Hofflund, managing director of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. On behalf of….”

Here, under the stage, I and seven other musicians—the pit crew—listen over headphones to the premiere night’s curtain speech. Near the end of Mark’s comments, the red light bulb near Music Director Matt Webb illuminates. The moment the show's stage manager, in a booth above and at the back of the theater, extinguishes the light, Matt presses a button triggering the click track’s “One, two, three!”

And with that, we begin playing the overture. Over the next two hours and twenty minutes, the pit crew delivers a relentless cavalcade of ABBA songs weaving the musical Mamma Mia together.

There’s a process getting to that first performance, that first “One, two, three!” 

So come along! In the spirit of summer, I invite you to grab a cool beverage and head into the pit for a behind-the-scenes look at performing live music theater in the great outdoors… and being part of the pit crew!

The Past!

Musicals haven’t always been a signature of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival (ISF). Over its 42-year history, ISF has evolved into a nationally recognized professional theater, and though its name implies all things “Bard,” the company typically stages two of its five plays each season from Shakespeare’s collection, or “canon.” There’s a good reason for this: Not all of the canon’s 37 plays attract large audiences—even when staged with a modern twist of costume or stage design. To keep things moving forward, ISF adds other dramas, comedies and—since 2000—musicals to each season’s lineup.

This season marks my 11th and 12th productions, playing percussion for ISF this year with the blockbuster Mamma Mia and the jukebox musical, Beehive. All told, I’ll rack up more than 60 nights between late June and the end of September at the outdoor venue.

I’m on tour, but on this tour, I end each night at home. It’s like touring magic!

The Prep!

Getting set for the tour is a big part of the process. First, there’s practice time to get up close and personal with the drum score. Then comes the three “pit crew only” rehearsals. It’s a good idea to know my part well going into these sessions or embarrassment and panic will follow. Finally, there’s tech week, when the cast and the pit crew assemble at the theater to button up the show. Tuesday through Thursday prior to opening, these stop-n-go six-hour sessions allow the director and her team to fine tune staging, choreography, and lighting, as well as costumes and set changes. Down in the pit, this is our chance to make last minute notes and adjustments. This whirlwind of activity culminates in Thursday’s one and only full technical run-through of the show! It all happens very quickly in preparation for opening weekend.

First band rehearsal at the downtown Idaho Shakespeare Festival offices. This is when I find out if I practiced enough; if it's going to be fun or a train wreck. It turned out to be fun.

Matt's view from the pit opening. From this vantage point, Matt not only plays one of four keyboards, he also conducts and provides cues to both the band and the actors. I think he'd play another instrument or two if he had more arms.

Tech week rehearsal with David and Esteban ready to shred all over ABBA's greatest hits. Tech rehearsals are six-hour marathons lasting until midnight at the outdoor venue.

The Pit!

Pit living is a world all of its own. The pit crew is indeed “in the pit”— under the stage sharing space with mice, mosquitoes and other small buzzing, biting, and stinging creatures, along with the occasional frog and feral cat. At the peak of summer, the air in the pit can be stiflingly hot, stale, and muggy at the top of the show; after a thunderstorm, swampy. We have to be prepared to wage battle with creatures and heat, all the while performing music in a way that the audience forgets we’re there at all; we’re the wallpaper holding the house up.

Watch your head! Home Sweet Home down in the pit with instruments, a variety of electronic amps and controllers, and many, many cords serpentined across the cement floor for that "lived in" look.

For Mamma Mia, the pit is an even stranger world. To recreate the sound of ABBA, the pit crew is made up of eight musicians. Matt directs and plays keyboards, and three additional keyboard parts are tackled by Stephanie, Svetlana, and Jeremy. Rounding out the sound are David and Esteban on guitars, Shayla on bass, and me on drums. But what makes this pit experience different is that everything is electronic—keyboards, guitars, bass, and drums. There are no monitor speakers in the pit; we all have headphones and control our own sound mixes. When we're playing, it's oddly quiet in the pit... Just me thwaping away on the plastic drums and cymbals while everyone else's playing is essentially silent.

In keeping with the ABBA style, click tracks (metronomes) play in our headphones to keep each tune at a precise tempo. Making the sound even bigger than life, the click tracks occasionally contain prerecorded—or “flown in”—percussion and background vocals. Rounding out the sound are two backstage vocal booths in which up to eight actors sing on songs, adding a true live chorus.

The Mamma Mia Pit Crew! From left to right, Stephanie Zickau - Keyboards, Svetlana Maddox - Keyboards, Esteban Anastasio - Guitar, Moi - Drums, Matt Webb, Music Director and Keyboards, Jeremy Stewart - Keyboards, Shayla Lewis - Bass Guitar, and David Hibbard - Guitar.

The pit crew adorns traditional rock-n-roll black so as to not distract audience members who have an eye shot into the pit.

For me, drumming from the downbeat to the final note, it’s a physical and mental workout. My body's contorted with my head twisted to the left to read the drum score while my limbs face forward and work to get the best sound from the electronic drum kit. All the while, the incessant click, click, click of the click tracks and the quick segues from song to song keep coming like a freight train, a satanic jazzercise session in a muggy dark basement. At times, it’s an out-of-body experience as my right foot, my bass drum foot, plays “four on the floor,” the classic and constant “Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!” beat driving ABBA’s songs. The concentration is high and intense.

Matt's got his finger on the click track button, ready to fire off another round of clicks in our headphones. The kit of electronic vDrums was... well... let's say interesting because they require more work to play than an acoustic kit.

Hey! Here's a factoid: The drumming for ABBA was not done by a machine. Nope! Swedish session drummer Ola Brunkert played on all of ABBA's albums!

Beyond the pit, there’s more activity going on backstage. Stage hands are assisting with quick costume changes and set changes and the actors are shifting from one side of the stage to the other. It's alive with activity… all taking place quietly and out of sight from the audience.

We’re on the downside of the 28 Mamma Mia performances. No sooner will it close than the process begins again for September’s show, Beehive. This time I’ll be playing real drums with no click tracks. Just fast-paced rock-n-roll celebrating the women who made our music!

Touring at home couldn’t be better…

Stay tuned! There’s more TourAlongWithTodd coming your way this summer!

Until next time...

Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Ciao!