Tacoma Narrows Bridge gets us across a bit of Puget Sound on our way to Gig Harbor.

I don’t believe any musical ability came to me when I was formed. My vocal pitch is flat, I only mastered Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the French Horn in the 5th grade, I played guitar for years and years, but barely advanced beyond what I was taught as a child. I finally traded my guitar – a beautiful instrument, lovingly made in Canada – to a collector friend. The one musical thing I *am* good at, is listening to music!

The way to get more music into my life is to make friends with musicians. Luckily for me there is a lot of overlap.

In August I was excited to make the trip up north once again to gather with other expert listeners at Roy and Lucy’s house in Gig Harbor. I left later in the day because I was waiting for Tara to arrive from Corvallis. Tara had to work that morning, then make the 2 1/2 hour drive to my house. Then I drove us the 2 1/2 remaining hours. While I waited, I made my jalapeno poppers. For the first time, I remembered to wear gloves!! You CAN teach an old dog new tricks. Now my skin wouldn’t burn for the next three days.

To make poppers, carefully clean all the seeds and pulp from inside the jalapeno before stuffing it with creamed cheese and baking it.

To keep the poppers warm, I plugged the crock pot in and heated it up. When Tara arrived, I pulled the poppers out of the oven and packed them into the ceramic pot, and brought the whole pot with us. This worked great!

People relax in the yard while the stage is prepared for the next performance.

A view through the trees to protect the identities of the innocent! 😉

Walking into the house I saw Lucy right away, and she greeted me with a generous smile and hug and convinced me that she really was as happy to see us both as she said she was. Roy came in from outside right at that moment and did the same thing. “You’ve come to the party so often that now you’re a regular!” he said to me, and I beamed with pleasure. I am so honored to be invited, but even more honored when they show me that the invite is not merely out of politeness, but because they want me to come. Roy even included a link to my blog review of last year’s party in his Facebook event invite this year.

Lucy and Roy McAlister call the gathering McAlapalooza! It’s an annual music party and barbecue. Roy McAlister is a luthier, and through this work and also by teaching and mentoring, Roy knows many musicians. He has invited them to his annual gatherings. The couple also invites their neighbors and friends – and if you are a neighbor or friend and want to take the stage, you’ll find total support. Roy has in mind the bigger names he wants to highlight at the end of the evening, but prior to that we in the audience are treated with an honest-to-goodness music festival, all in the McAlister back yard.

I found this short video by Joseph McAlister that highlights his shop that I always want to show in my blog posts, but can never capture it just right. Turn up your volume and listen to how Roy talks about his art. He explains that each guitar is crafted with the musician and their purpose in mind. Meaning, he creates a guitar specifically for what the musician wants to do with it. I’ve actually witnessed musician reactions to handling a McAlister guitar for the first time, and can tell you that in this video, Roy is not exaggerating about the response he gets.

Roy also finds joy in using gorgeous materials, like you see here.

My friends Andre and Diana were there again. Andre and I have known each other for years. He had just sprung a surprise on me the day before: our mutual friend, Marcus Eaton, would be there too! That is why Tara made such an effort to come. I haven’t seen Andre for a long time, not since he invited me to see the Milk Carton Kids and The Barr Brothers in November. Tara and I haven’t seen Marcus since December. It’s hard to pin those boys down when they both live so far away and lead full lives. We did some catching up and it felt good.

We arrived the same time as Jerry and Terry Holder, a duo and couple with great music but even greater personalities. These two are funny and fun, and always reach out to Tara and me when we show up, asking for the latest news and offering to let us crash at their house if we don’t want to make the long drive home.

Annual favourite Rick Ruskin, who has been playing for audiences since the 1960s and the talent to prove it. Look him up on YouTube.

Tara and I arrived late and missed the earliest performers, but got there in time for Rick Ruskin, a crowd-pleaser. We were then treated to artists we did not know: Butch Boles followed by Steve Hurley and Mary Kay Henley.

Butch Boles talks with us before a song.

Roy McAlister helps Butch set up.

Steve Hurley croons.

Jerry Holder and Terry Holder are more annual favourites that win me over every time.

Terry plays her new McAlister ukulele.

Behind the audience, a bunch of guitars rest together and swap stories about what they’re good at and where their owner took them last.

Andre was brave enough to leave his own McAlister guitar with me for a few minutes. It’ll probably be the only time in my life I touch one of those.

Then Andre needed his guitar back so that he could play for us.

Andre’s lead guitar backs up Diana’s great voice.

Tara and I were thrilled to get a chance to catch up with our favourite musician, Marcus Eaton. Apparently there was a memo about wearing black.

Marcus finally took the stage after dark.

Eaton is so good that the members of the Alec Shaw Band, warming up in the shop in the back, actually poked their heads out to listen.

Marcus Eaton played stuff we know and love, and was kind enough to drop some new songs on us (Mark I’m so sorry I didn’t get a playlist for you!!). The ones we’ve heard, we sang along with. The ones we hadn’t heard froze us in place, like usual. Marcus is my favourite musician for a reason. I know of no one who plays with such innovation and precision while seeming not to put any effort at all into it. If you are one of the few people who has not heard me rave about this guy, please please please hit that link or YouTube, and listen to a couple of songs so you know what I’m talking about. (and check out those photos – yes, that’s him on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon & Crosby, and that’s him playing beside Tim Reynolds) His guitar playing is beyond brilliant and his lyrics are connected and genuine. I can’t wait to the hear the new album when it’s ready. Marcus has been playing a lot in Italy, and the influences keep showing up in his music. It’s been a good year for Marcus, and also for his brother, A.J. Eaton. The documentary David Crosby: Remember My Name (2019) is produced by Cameron Crowe, directed by A.J. Eaton, and scored by Marcus Eaton and Bill Laurance. It did very well at Sundance and has done well since it’s release.

Typically at McAlapalooza we see individual artists or duos, singer-songwriter folks. Roy invited an actual band this year! The Alec Shaw Band with Zan Fiskum. Good call. They were GREAT!  Alex Shaw has a great voice and together the band has a polished, confident sound that matched the mood of the night and all the music we had previously heard. I got a kick out of seeing a trombone on stage – there’s a new one for the McAlister back yard.

Zan Fiskum on the left, with the Alec Shaw Band. Sorry for the blurry photos. I didn’t have a tripod and neither my camera nor my iPhone could really deal with the dark.

More Zan Fiskum and Alec Shaw Band. Love that trombone!

Tara and I went all the way back to Rainier that night. T had work the next day and wanted a head start and a good night’s sleep before heading back to Corvallis.