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Alfred Howard and K23 Orch Final Show 12/05 in S.D.


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Last Alfred Howard & the K23 Orchestra Show: 12/05 in San Diego

Alfred Howard & the K23 Orchestra by Larry Mills

Over the years we've had the good fortune to watch Alfred Howard & the K23 Orchestra develop into a damn fine band. In fact, I (your humble Editor Kayceman), knew Al from another life. We met at the record store Al worked at when I too lived in San Diego. He hadn't started the band and I hadn't started writing (well, I wasn't letting anyone see it yet), but we both knew music was the only answer. We might not have known the question, but we knew music was the answer. We bonded quick as he opened up his vast knowledge of sound and shared himself openly. He was charismatic then and it was clear he'd shine on a stage. He's a gifted, warm, special guy and I was saddened to hear that his band was coming to and end. But I suppose that's the way it goes. “Making it" isn't dependant on talent, and “getting by" isn't based on work ethic. This is a tough biz, and when it stops being fun, you better stop. When the thing you love the most - in this case music - starts to be a burden you have to change your relationship with it. And that's what Al's doing. Music won't be his job next year, it'll just be his love. I can't say I know where Al Howard is headed, but I know he's gonna touch and inspire people when he gets there. If you live in Sothern California, get out and get down with Al Howard & the K23 Orchestra one last time on Friday, December 5 at Winston's.

What follows is a note from Al to his fans and friends:

Hello there good folks. I've been trying to write this for quite some time, but it is a hard note to compose. Alfred Howard & the K23 Orchestra has one last show on December 5 at Winston's in San Diego. It has been a wonderful seven years and the list of people I'd like to thank is immense. I wrote a letter on a 36 hour Greyhound bus ride that was far too long, about 36 hours too long. I had a lot on my mind and it is all I can offer as to why it was time for me to call it. I'm sure everyone in the band has different highlights, memories, people to thank and reasons for exploring new paths, but here are mine. Oh yeah, we will be kicking it Tupac style with a posthumous release somewhere down the line, so we'll keep you a breath of that.

The Greyhound is docile again. Like a series of deep breaths after a fight, this was the one to settle it down. You never really sleep on the Greyhound, just for a few fleeting seconds, brief, needed and intense, but never enough to constitute a fair use of the word “sleeping." Never enough to catch up, bent by odd twister positions in failed search of comfort, pierced by the shriek of screaming children, shaken by sudden brakes in quick thickening clots of traffic, sleep is defended against at all angles.

Alfred Howard & the K23 Orchestra by Mike Sherry

The yellow sun begins to run through the motions, falling through a spectrum of color on its way into abyss. And the smokers' cough withdrawal. This strange serenity was not earlier the case. Not when I awoke from a “nap" and a young man a few rows back was having a grand mal seizure, his second of the day. The first broke his nose in Oklahoma City. Delay. This one had the bad chance to occur in the middle of Midwestern nowhere, cornfields in all directions, far as the eye could hope. With one lane of highway closed, the going was slow. A panic ensued, consuming the bus. All felt fear's grip for different reasons. Some fretted over making their connecting bus on a vehicle already two hours late, others showed their hearts and prayed in their way for this young man to be spared. For the most part the bus coalesced to preserve this man's life, the single mother of six, traveling from New York to San Diego with her brood, held him like her own, cradling him, caressing his head and chanting the soft soulful mantra “everything is gonna be alright, everything is gonna be alright." An old school, unemployed brother from Detroit, rose heroic and took charge, thickening the thin fishing line of puppet strings dangling above this young man's life. Everyone was alert, 911 had been dialed on a hundred cell phones, we all thought hard and positive. We all held hope in heart.

He stopped breathing. The massing beads of sweat on his forehead grew cold. His tongue hung limp and exposed from a still and heavy body. We pulled into a hospital, dropped him off and hoped for a miracle. The nurses boarded and wrapped him in an ominous white sheet and removed him from the bus, careening his frozen placidity off the metal edges of seats, navigating, with difficulty, the slim aisles of the Greyhound. I did see a miracle. I saw many shades and tints and backgrounds united by something, even if it was only for a mere moment before we returned to our headphones and silent corners, we were bound by catastrophe and uncertainty, bound by some current of humanity, some thread which has seems in all.

Onward. Towards the coast. I fell back into fleeting sleep. I woke up with all too much on my mind. It was eight years ago on a Greyhound bound to New Orleans that I first placed pen to paper and fervently found a new addiction to replace all others. And in those eight years I stumbled blindly into some pretty phenomenal opportunities and synchronicities. A band, my first, the K23 Orchestra, the vehicle for expression and vantage points, an opportunity to paint the postcard views with a personal soundtrack, to be a gardener in dive bars, cultivating sound blooming beneath the smoky dim red lights. For years this band defined me and reflected me, kept me up at nights in excitement, anticipating the next gigs and our next moves creatively. Hundreds of shows, thousands of miles of interaction, new friends, family, places that I never would have seen otherwise, everything I loved in life, wrapped up into one entity. Eight years ago, on a Greyhound bound to New Orleans I was excited, hopeful, engaged, thirsty and restless. But today, on this particular Greyhound, a different person is riding back home, hoarse, sick, jaded, sore, tired and achy. I felt like I had overdosed on miles, hung over on traveling, jaded by the same things that once fueled me. Home is my center, my solace, my fortress. I could hear the faint echo of Paul Simon singing “Home where my thought's escaping/ Home where my music's playing/ Home where my love lies waiting Silently for me."

Al Howard

Somewhere along the line I grew to greet travel with preemptive distain. Hours of hell on back, no rest in sight, it is time for a break and something new instead of another complaint. I never joined a band to get rich, a side effect that never threatened me, but was never really the end goal. I remember living through a recession when I was very young. I can't say that it wasn't tangible, my little allowance wasn't affected drastically, but I remember the worry etched on my mom's back. She's an artist and I recall her saying that “times are tough because art is a luxury, not a necessity" and though I disagree to a large extent, I understood what she meant. Ideally, art is a necessity at all time periods, art documents our struggles. Some stark and bleary bleak brilliance will ascend from these current currents and we'll look upon it in the future and reminisce these hard days and give thanks for current comforts. Or perhaps some beautiful and uplifting work of art pulls us out of the gray haze and into a brighter tomorrow, on an individual level or for the whole. Art will always exist regardless of finance because surroundings, circumstance, extremes and lack are art's fuel. As long as there is breath there is art.

But at 30, as a struggling artist, pouring out soul into an empty dive bar, waiting for the stools to learn to applaud, filling up a hundred dollar gas tank and getting paid peanuts, heartache and headache at the end of the night has become very tangible. There have been great shows in midst of slow nights, but those slow nights have taken their toll. These hard times are the large and leaden straw to break this camel's back.

So here I am on a Greyhound, bound to San Diego and uncertainty, I've been to both before. This is the hardest note to write, ending a long and fruitful chapter of my life. For its best parts the K23 Orchestra has been pure magic. I've fallen asleep in the van listening to Pink Floyd in a desert and woke up to Mastodon and snow capped mountains. Played gigs beneath shooting stars in Yosemite for a crowd hanging on every motion of sound we produced. Met my wife at quick glance afloat in the Pacific. Spoke nervous words with frail confidence that moved a few thousand in the High Sierras or MLK Breakfasts at the SD Convention Center. Michael Newton. Opened Earthdance then drove to San Diego to close another Earthdance. Had that Vaudeville set of ballsy madness in Quincy. Countless knock on wood all night drives with delirium working the pedal and caffeine manning the steering wheel. Yerba Mate. August snow in Washington beneath the hot sun at the Meltdown, straight shot to San Diego. Five tight fit to a room, playing human Tetris with sleeping arrangements watching “Ghostbusters 2" in hazy hotels. Sbrogs and John. The cacophonic funk with Brian Haas and Sean Martin at Winston's. J Gibson. Tasia Craft. Teddy Wigler. Playing music with heroes, holding our own. Dennis. Got to play with Bernie Worrell of P-Funk and Talking Heads because he dug our sound. Sedona drives. Barnett English. Painted desert. Jose Maldonado. Petrified forest. Redwoods. Josh cliff diving. Colorado theatres. Laura Rice. Sneaking into “X-Men 3" to pass the time Utah. National Parks pass. Our families, both those bound by blood and by love. Snowball fights. Frigid Flagstaff. Steve, Josh, Matt and Ian, great friends, great people to create alongside and great people in general. And a million other memories elusive now, but just as vivid at a different point of recollection. The pillow I can rest on comfortably and forever, knowing that at least for a time, I lived that dream to the fullest, as a dream, before it fell into something else. Hopefully we'll see you next year at the O2 Arena or the Hampton Coliseum.

Catch Alfred Howard & the K23 Orchestra's final show at Winston's in San Diego on Friday, December 5.

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