“The Last Normal Day” A Tribute to my friend, Jeff Holt

Jeff Holt was one of my first and best friends in Pittsburgh, Penna. As both the owner of Hambone’s and my friend, he genuinely supported my music and art, providing me countless opportunities.

When I first started working the Tuesday Acoustic Open Stage as a cocktail waitress, I would stay after the bar closed to keep him company. We would get Primanti’s at the end of the night – you know, them sammies with french fries n’ coleslaw on ’em.

The “end of the night” was generally around sunrise. 

Jeff gave me a venue to host my very first solo album release. He actually put together a sign with my name on it – all lit up. In my experience, rare is the venue-owner so personally involved and hands-on with their community. 

Jeff Holt & I at the Kodachrome Heart album release show at Hambone’s on April 10, 2015

Jeff also gave me some of my first gigs in Pittsburgh. He recommended I join The Girlie Show, an all-female lineup founded by, booked by, and showcasing women and female-identifying artists. The Girlie Show became a Hambone’s mainstay thanks to the support of Jeff Holt and the tenacity of the women who perpetuated the show.

Before I knew anything about the local music scene, I remember leaning across the Hambone’s bar (where one could almost always find Jeff bartending) and asking how to score a gig as an open mic host. He responded that they were good on hosts, but he needed an opener for that weekend. I took that gig.

I look back on that ask and I’m both embarrassed and proud of myself for being so ballsy. I didn’t yet know that each week had a designated host who included the founders of said Acoustic Open Stage. Years later, when one of those hosts started a family and stepped down, Jeff asked me to take over as host on first Tuesdays. I was really honored to have been asked and accepted the slot. 

Some of my best memories were forged at that open mic. I met some of my best friends there. Tuesdays at Hambone’s were low-pressure, yet professional opportunities to get stage time and network. You could also just sit back and enjoy the show.

Before the pandemic shut down, we had one, last Acoustic Open Stage at Hambone’s on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. I often refer to it as “The Last Normal Day.”

Words cannot express the gratitude I feel for the gift of that day.

Jeremy Caywood hosted that evening, which was his usual slot, second Tuesday. Liz Tripoli was back in the kitchen and periodically popped out to say hello or personally deliver some tacos (the choice food of Tuesdays). Nick Graybeal was on the soundboard, a place where I felt safe putting my gear and hanging out since I began attending. 

On The Last Normal Day: Jeff, Nick, Jeremy, Liz, and I sat together, shared the entertainment, and chatted.

I got to sit and chat with some of my best friends in the whole world. 

It is a moment that simultaneously exists forever and will never be replicated. While I grieve the loss of my dear friend, I look back on that day as so utterly beautiful in its simplicity – a true gift from god.

Boys hard at work. Left to right: Jeff Holt, Nick Graybeal, Jeremy Caywood

Our love for Tuesdays at Hambone’s motivated me and a team of former employees and artists to continue the Tuesday tradition with the Virtual Open Mics on Zoom. 

Jeff Holt and Hambone’s were pillars in the Pittsburgh arts community. Both were growing to be hubs for the global arts community, hosting more and more touring acts from across the USA and globally. 

Hambone’s has been a home. More than one person refers to the Hambone’s dining room as their “living room.” I certainly felt that way. Jeff created that environment for us to feel so welcomed, safe, and at home. 

I will always hold dear the many, many things Jeff did for me: the good times and good food we shared, the opportunities he gave me as a professional, the friendship and support he gave to me when I struggled… 

I will do all that I can to carry on his spirit of community and inclusivity. And I will love my friends within the community he built evermore deeply in an attempt to make up for the loss of our keystone: Jeff Holt.

Thank you for everything, Jeff. You are forever loved.

“The Last Normal Day” Tuesday, March 10, 2020 Left to Right: Jeff Holt, Jeremy Caywood, Liss Victory, Nick Graybeal, Liz Tripoli

● You can read a heart-warming obituary by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette music writer, Scott Mervis, “Obituary: Hambone’s owner, Jeff Holt, created a home for musicians, comedians.”

● You can read Jeff’s official obituary here.

● You can read more about Jeff’s impact on the arts community on this Reddit thread.

● From the Pittsburgh City Paper: “‘He was a good dude.'”

● Here is a loving and thoughtful piece from a comedian and Hambone’s regular responding to the subsequent closure of Jeff’s venue, Isaac Crow: “A Toast To The Ham-Themed Bar.”

New York Tough

Without the daily briefings, life feels almost normal again. Maybe not normal… but quieter.

Ok, no, maybe not quieter either. Louder, in fact. I suspect the excess of fireworks were in celebration of Juneteenth, commemorating the emancipation of our African siblings and the end of slavery. During his final daily briefing, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an Executive Order making Juneteenth a federal holiday in New York State.

I sat on the upper level of the roof, above the Castle, with my dear friend Nick Graybeal a.k.a. Judah Sledgehammer. After hanging drywall in The Lit Room, our venue, we sat idly on yoga mats, watching the sun descend and the fireworks splay out, brighter and brighter against the darkening sky. We decided it a good idea to climb our building’s rusting, wobbling ladder to a higher vantage point for yoga and our neighborhood’s light show. 

“They go all night, and it’s pretty noisy, but it’s worth it to have a fireworks show whenever you want,” I said, legs crossed on the mat. We looked out over houses, and housing complexes, buildings, and empty lots. Street upon street upon street laden with cars. Over it all, or behind it all, fireworks dazzled and sparked and crashed and boomed.

Juneteenth 2020 was also the last day Cuomo issued his daily briefing on the coronavirus pandemic. I remember watching on the living room television with the Lit Room family – all of us together: Love Lucy Hall, Flo-Pilot, Judah Nick Graybeal, and myself. 

I cried.

I cried because I had never before been so inspired by leadership. I frequently refer to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and his team as “leadership,” because their work simply did not feel like “government” business as usual. It didn’t feel like “the man.”

I also frequently made a joke calling him Governor Daddy. Probably because his manner came across fatherly. And we have big Daddy energy here at the Lit Room.

Sure, Governor Cuomo offered us comfort and confidence. But he didn’t placate us. He told us the truth, so we were armed with the knowledge to make the appropriate decisions. We, defiant New Yorkers, who would unlikely listen without damn good reason. And even then… we are a defiant people.

Sure, he signed Executive Orders. But he didn’t make demands. Nor did he make threats. “Please,” he would say. This isn’t something government can do. It’s something the people need to do. He informed us of the consequences. “Tell me what New Yorkers do today, and I’ll tell you what those numbers look like tomorrow.” 

Governor Cuomo spoke often and freely about love. “The really tough guys, they know how to show love,” he would tell us. “I love New York, because New York loves you. New York loves all of you. Black, and white, and brown, and Asian, and short, and tall, and gay, and straight. New York loves everyone.” 

That part always gets me. Even writing it out brings tears to my eyes.

Because I felt loved! Because I felt like Governor Cuomo told me the truth. Because he shared little snippets of his life with us. After, with a grim face and furrowed brow, he would tell us the numbers of the day: how many New Yorkers were infected (that we know about), how many New Yorkers were hospitalized, how many New Yorkers died…  After he told us the truth, what we needed to know as soldiers in his army, fighting the virus, it felt like he would take a figurative deep breath. 

After sharing with us the collective pain of our state, of our country, of our world, in raw data, he would talk about his family. He told us about his mother, Matilda, the namesake of New York On Pause. He involved his daughters, Michaela, Mariah, and Cara, who sometimes accompanied him on the dais of the briefings, and even took on projects themselves. Mariah Kennedy-Cuomo oversaw the ‘Wear a Mask’ ad campaign contest. And Michaela Kennedy-Cuomo made bracelets from beads that read “New York Tough.” I suspect one could see the colorful accessory on the governor’s wrist during some of the final briefings.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made me laugh. 

Every Saturday, he posted a meme poking fun at his PowerPoint presentations and reminding us simply, “Today is Saturday.”

Even when I heard the sirens resounding through Brooklyn at the peak of the outbreak, all day and all night. The sirens never stopped. “Even if it’s a long night; and this is a long night,” he told us.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo met with us, told us the truth, reassured us, and made us laugh everyday. Every. Single. Day.

On my Brooklyn rooftop, on Juneteenth 2020, surrounded by fireworks, I lazily scrolled on my phone to come across a small recap of his final daily briefing earlier that day. I hit play, turned up the volume, and held my phone to the sky so it played against a backdrop of exploding sparkles.

We watched together, Judah and I, as a slideshow of photos played: We saw Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, and Commissioner of Health for New York State Howard Zucker. We saw the USS Comfort and Javits Center.

We saw true leadership. 

Governor Cuomo spoke the final lines of his final daily briefing:

“Love wins. Always.”

He left us with the image of Corning Tower in Albany, NY, with windows lit decoratively in the shape of a heart and the bridge he named for his father, former Governor of New York Mario Cuomo, all glowing awash in blue light. And a final end scene cued up saying #NewYorkTough in silence.

But then…

Two more sentences appeared onscreen, one at a time:

“And don’t forget.”

“Tomorrow is Saturday.”

Despite my tears already freely flowing, I cried out, and started to laugh simultaneously, feeling the sensations of loss and joy and tragedy and levity intermingle inside me. I jumped into Judah’s arms, laughing and crying and speaking in tones so exasperated and overwhelmed with emotion that I can’t remember the words.

I feel like part of the New York family. I feel loved. And I feel confident in the hands of a competent leader.

Dreams of Joy

Jonathan Davis photographed by Sébastien Paquet

THIS. This is the joy of which I dream. This is the face of my dreams for reality. This, what I imagine to be, pure elation of crowd energy and connection through music – ultimate connection with hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands…

Distant connection through the void and toward the ultimate connection, to the love-eternal that is music.

I remember seeing KoЯn in the amphitheater just this summer, 2019. Of all the times I’ve seen my favorite band, this one, I remember the happy moments. I remember Jonathan laughing, talking to us, the tens of thousands of us piled up to the fence in the back, and saying something like, “You made my fuckin’ dreams come true, y’all!” Or some other such in his easy So-Cal cadence.

That, I remember most, the few moments he took to talk to us, to thank us, to inspire hope in us. To remember the exact words would be to quote a moment that cannot be quantified into words (says the author).

Remembering much more than inexorable extacy or the intoxicating lights silhouetting the movements of rockstars and decorating the inside of my retinas.

Seeing Jonathan walk onstage with his bagpipes, greeted by a stage of mirrors, looking into them, then looking out towards us.

Looking into the mirrors, then out at us…

The Dichotomy of Doom & Hope

Liss Victory back tattoo

I never felt unsafe in my country until after 9/11. Just “coming of age” as a teenager, I was more consumed with angst than world politics, I assume. But that event really changed the whole world. And when I set about building the art for the master canvas of the human body that is my back, that feeling of doom and endless war inspired it.

The two towers in the foreground are meant to represent the Twin Towers. It’s subtle, as the scene also encompasses a feeling of post-apocalyptic helplessness. Over the years, I’ve felt consumed by many personal wars: suicide, depression, anxiety, abandonment, abuse, etc. Conversely, over the years, many of my friends and loved ones helped draw components of this overall piece (which remains unfinished and this photo is too old to show newer elements).

I drew the two characters at the bottom. The girl represents myself, and my feelings of inevitable demise. The riot cop… well, I never really identified who “he” is, but perhaps he is another reflection of myself. “He” (always thought of him as a man) is trying to save the girl, who is resigned to the destruction. Maybe he reflects my hope. That even with bombs falling, even with our “endless regime change wars,” we can still fight.

Perhaps I’ll title the final piece, “The Dichotomy of Doom & Hope.”

To quote a work of art I greatly admire, “I can’t say I’m very pleased with where my life is just now… but I can’t help but look forward to where it’s going.”

Join us for an auto-rickshaw ride!

Whoa! One of my favorite parts of India is the convenience and versatility of the auto-rickshaw (which I like to call tuk-tuks for some reason. Maybe it is Wes Anderson’s fault). I shot this video in Mumbai. At our home base in the neighborhood of Chembur, as well as our trip to Bandra, the rickshaws are ubiquitous like NYC yellow cabs. But their versatility is unparalleled! These little go karts are the conquerors of urban India’s roadways! As well as an authentic and adventures way to travel and view the city. I had heard the traffic is otherworldly, but you don’t know it till you live it! And crossing the streets? Well, there’s a technique to it. And it’s def not legal in the States. Haha! Take a ride with us! See if you can spot the cow!

Arrival: Bengaluru

Culture shock? Not really… After over a year of preparation, research, reading, and engagement with my குடும்பம்- kutumpum, this environment looks, smells, feels, and definitely sounds (honk-honk) more like the realization of a dream. In my first few days in urban India, it seems like everything I love about the city, condensed, with its very own flavor and array of specialties found nowhere else in the world.

In Bengaluru on the jula.

Gokulashtami!!!

Gokulashtami at the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago.

Also known as Janmashtami, Gokulashtami is an annual Hindu Festival that celebrates the birth of Krishna, the 8th avatar of Vishnu.

True Joys of Music

 

Our little friend Jax plays us tunes on my guitar.

 
I’ve been neglecting my blog for a couple years now. And I am remiss. 

So much has changed since my last post. And my current exhaustion on the road from Tennessee to Alabama prevents me from going too much further here and now. 
But, I want to make more of an effort to connect with yinz in a written format – potentially my favorite format. 
Photos also hold a special place in my heart. A couple of my friends from high school are parents to the little guy in the picture above. Few experiences rival the feeling of introducing a child to music making and seeing their face light up, while gaining an interest in playing music. I’m so happy to introduce young folks to the power and joy of music. 
I hope to deliver this message of hope to all people. 
~ Victory

My Old New Hometown

Yeah, things are finally looking up. Like falling down a cliff side. Getting beaten and battered. The initial sharp pain and evaluation of injuries. Then ur friends rush down the hill and start to lift you up and dust you off. Somebody runs off the get a first aid kit. Somebody else has a flask of whiskey. Your heart rate starts to decrease… Then they have you laughing.

“Now, how are we going to get back to the top of this cliff?” We ask each other, laughing, and looking up.


This has been one of the lowest points in my life. But I’m determined to crawl back up and out of this hole. And it’s only with the help of the people who love me and have taken me in that I’ve made it this far, that I can see sunlight somewhere up there.

One of my best friends, Dori – she’s God’s cheerleader. And my go-to for spiritual advice of the Christian persuasion. I’m #blessed to have such a close female friend who shares a similar cultural background to my own. She gave both Krish and I a comfortable bed and a warm, welcoming home whilst in Pittsburgh. Not to mention hours and hours of talk on morals, religion, philosophy, our “liberal/conservative feminist agenda” and soforth. I can’t write words to equate all Dori has done for me. I can tell her tho, “I love you and thank you.” 

“You don’t know the power of the Dark Side.”

 

Then Bryan and Ellie opened their home to me, with dinner, breakfast, Hulu, Netflix, religion, philosophy, shop talk – I mean, they got it all! And it was so kind of them to share it all with me. Just the time would be nice. And I love having the added perspective of both a man and woman with a Jewish backround. A bit of a juxtaposition from the Christian girl, but not really. Judaism, Christianity, & Islam have the same God – and that God says “love people and don’t kill people” and I respect those principles. I live by those principles. Plus, those are only a few of the beautiful moral messages delivered via these (and many other) religions. 

Amanda read her Oracle cards for me. And attempting to describe the experience lends it little justice. She is a faery. She and her deck have offered me insight into my life twice now, and I feel both times have provided me invaluable messages open to my interpretation. This time around, they seemed to tell me to keep my head up. And be the hero. Every time I’ve battled some hardship since the reading, big or small, I think, “Be the hero.”

Photo by Ken Kerr Photography

 

The Pittsburgh Art House as a whole hasn’t abandoned me. When Krish and I got locked out of our place to stay, they still offered a couple of starving artists a place to lay their heads for the evening. I’m forever grateful for that home. And a part of me will always be there.
I’m back in the DC area again and my life isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. But the future is looking brighter. And for the dark parts, I’m prepared to be the hero.

Much love to all yinz. Even those I’ve not mentioned. And thank you.

About last night… 

TransContinental Tour, East Houston, TX, USA

We woke up in a warehouse in East Houston. Stacked next to us, upended and with bicycles in the air, rested a line of rickshaws. We were curled together on a one-man cot in the midst of it all. Surrounded by gear and graffiti with an American flag hung from the ceiling.

Cars buzzed by in the street directly above our heads, just a couple of sheet metal doors between them and our sleeping bodies.

A roof! A roof! And even some walls. We don’t ask for much more. Yet, the spaces we’ve experienced while seeking shelter from friends, colleagues, and even complete strangers, has taken us through so many unexpected and amazing adventures!

Super Happy Fun Land, Houston, TX

Just an evening before our night in the warehouse, We woke in an industrial loft on Galveston Island. I remember my eyes first opening to the sounds of the street, four stories below, and the low-pitched horn of passing, perhaps docking, ships. A comforting “Good morning” from the shore.
Although, the metal-to-metal scream of the railroad tracks stretched through the major metropolis of Houston brought me comfort as well. And the activity in the street of a waking city. The noise. It’s all just noise. A symphony of human innovation.
We woke up on Jan. 20, in Houston, to Joe cooking us a breakfast of French toast, eggs, and bacon. He set out real maple syrup on the countertop of a kitchen fashioned into the corner of the warehouse.
“I’m just going to make the whole loaf,” he told me. “I don’t want to send anybody back on the road with an empty stomach. You can cut that bag of powdered sugar to sprinkle on top.”

I met Joe my first time through Galveston when I stopped in MOD Coffeehouse and he insisted I go to Fitzgerald’s for what turned out to be my favorite show of the whole, 4-month, cross-country trip.

He introduced us to Becky, who gave up her own bed and beautiful Artspace loft in Galveston so we could sleep comfortably in a real bed, make ourselves breakfast, and shower at our leisure.
Last night, though – an interview with the “legendary” KTRU, an evening of music, comedy, and friends at Super Happy Fun Land, and the warehouse we called home for one night in East Houston. The beauty of life can be hiding behind two sheet-metal doors.