Thankful #15: The Juan Catorce Band

Today I am thankful for The Juan Catorce Band.

This is a project I started with my wife and our friend Shawn Vago just under a year ago. Actually, that’s not true. It really started in the summer of 2011, with the three of us as well as our friend Matt Wheeler.

I was asked to lead worship at Clipper Stadium that August, so I put together a temporary worship band, consisting of Jen on bass, Shawn on drums, Matt on acoustic guitar, and me on electric guitar. The speaker that night was Don Piper, and the event was sponsored by a group of Baptist churches. At least one of the churches in attendance was primarily Spanish-speaking, so they provided an interpreter.

Now, I love the Spanish language. I took five years of it and could listen to it all day. As a result. I enjoyed the interpreter almost as much as the main speaker. The highlight for me was when Piper referred to the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John and the interpreter said, “Juan Catorce.”

I leaned over to my wife and said, “If I ever start another band, it will be called The Juan Catorce Band.”

And I was right. A few months later Jen and Shawn and I started playing with a focus on worship music, although it eventually grew to encompass my original songs as well.

Shameless plug: we’re playing at the Community Room in Lancaster this Friday at 7PM if you want to hear us. 🙂

I am thankful for The Juan Catorce Band.

Hola, Juan Catorce

Juan Catorce Band at Columbia Music Night
Juan Catorce Band at Columbia Music Night

My latest musical project is called The Juan Catorce Band. We’ll be playing this Saturday, May 5, as part of Columbia Music Night at Vision Columbia (on 4th Street in Columbia). The show starts at 7:00 PM and JCB goes on around 8:00 PM. We’re super excited to be starting this new project and we’d love for you to come out and see us. We’re also actively seeking another musician to join us, so if you’re interested in something like, get in touch. (PS: Superficial Charm is still going, but has made some big changes. More on that later.)

I’ll Take The Physical Challenge

Last Friday night, I played a show with Matt Wheeler & Friends (yes, we’re looking for a better name). Matt is a good friend who leads a band called August to October. But he often plays solo shows, although they seldom turn out to be solo. It’s usually Matt on vocals and guitar, Shawn on drums, Mark on harmonica, and me on bass and guitar and the occasional backing vocal. By the way, you can grab some of Matt’s music by clicking here (I helped with the recording).

Anyway, Friday night, we played at a place called Live @ The Hub, a local artist showcase by the Definition Collective. Although my band, Superficial Charm, is playing there in March, I’d never been there. All I knew was that it was in Manheim and that it was on the third floor of the building that it’s in.

So I got the address and punched into the Maps app on my iPhone, and off I went. Jen wasn’t feeling well, so she and the kids didn’t accompany me. The weather was also pretty poor. The sky had dropped quite a bit of ice and snow on us in recent days. But I made the journey, and after figuring which building I was going to, and then figuring out where to park, I started grabbing gear from the back of the car.

Thankfully, Matt and Shawn were in the parking lot and waved me down. This was good, because I had no idea how to get into the building.

“Hey, guys!” I said. “What’s the quickest way to the stage?” I had my acoustic guitar, my wife’s bass, my POD, my gig bag, and my (admittedly small) PA system, so I wanted to get the loading in done as quickly as possible so we could soundcheck.

“Up over the roof then up the stairs,” Matt replied.

I thought he was joking.

I was wrong.

Matt and Shawn each helpfully grabbed some of my gear and we slipped and slid across the icy parking lot, finally arriving at a small wooden staircase. It looked like the kind of small wooden staircase that would lead up to someone’s deck or patio. The stairs were covered in snow, but up we went.

Up two flights.

Only to arrive on a rooftop.

“Cool!” I said to Matt. “Are we doing our rooftop show U2 style or Beatles style?”

The roof was even icier than the parking lot, which I suppose is to be expected, since no one drives on it.

We skated and skidded across the roof only to arrive at another staircase. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought as I tried not to plummet over the edge of the roof to certain injury.

Up the other stairs we went.

Through the door at the top of the stairs.

And directly onto the stage. Nice.

I got one more load of gear from the car and then we set up.

We didn’t have a huge crowd, but Erik, who was the host that evening, told us he received over a dozen texts from people saying something along the lines of, “hey, we started coming out, but the roads were pretty bad so we went home.”

I chuckled and said, “Are you kidding me? We crossed an icy rooftop to play here!”

After the show, we tore down and started lugging our gear out. Down the stairs. Across the icy roof of doom. Down two more flights. Across the parking lot. Matt and Shawn helped again, and then we went back up to get Shawn’s drums. Right about then, Matt got a text from his wife, asking him when he’d be home. We all knew that he was to get home immediately. So our friend Ryan, who is the pastor at Veritas Community, graciously offered to help us. I laughed and warned him about the treacherous path down to the vehicles. It didn’t bother him.

So he grabbed Shawn’s floor tom and djembe and exited, stage right. Within three seconds, he was back, eyes wide with surprise. “Holy cow! You guys weren’t kidding!”

As we loaded the last of the gear into Shawn’s car, I commented that this was the most physically challenging load in I’ve ever done. Shawn said it was way easier than going in the front way.

This is one of the reasons I play music. To have stories like this. How else could I ever say that I carried all my gear across a frozen rooftop on a cold, windy, icy night in January?

Best Albums Of 2010

Okay, so my “best of 2010” list is a bit late, but still…

The three best albums of 2010, at least as far as I’m concerned:

3) The Suburbs by Arcade Fire

I’m no hipster, but after reading so much of the buzz about Arcade Fire and their new album, The Suburbs, I took the plunge and grabbed a copy from Amazon MP3 when they had it on sale one day. It’s not my typical style by any stretch, as I tend toward upbeat alt/indie rock (Weezer, The Shins), acoustic/folk rock (Iron & Wine), and good worship music (Paul Baloche, Carlos Whittaker). I’d describe The Suburbs more like “baroque indie pop.” This was my first exposure to Arcade Fire, and I have to say, I was blown away (soon after buying this album, I bought their other two albums: Neon Bible and Funeral). From the weirdly compelling piano-driven opening of the first track, I was drawn into the music, and the whole album, and the overriding narrative in a way I simply didn’t expect. Maybe because I spent my childhood in the suburbs, I could relate to the way the characters in the songs strive both to escape from and retreat back to their suburban homes, and the way they lament the fluid, changing nature of the places where they grew up. I’ve also discovered that The Suburbs makes a great running soundtrack.

Standout tracks: “Ready To Start”, “Month Of May”, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”

2) Hurley by Weezer

I’m one of those people who can never get enough Weezer. I have all of their albums, and I plan to buy whatever else they put out. While I adore their earlier work, which was partially the soundtrack to my college existence, you won’t find me bashing Weezer and saying, “Their new stuff is okay, but it’s no blue album.” I like their newer stuff, too. It’s been a kick watching Rivers Cuomo transform from the angst-ridden, too-self-aware, ironic geek and loner he was at the start into the angst-ridden, too-self-aware, ironic husband and dad that he is now. But while his writing has changed, I think it’s changed for the better. I mean, we all grow up, so why can’t Rivers? Such is the foundation of the opening track, “Memories,” in which Rivers conjures up images of early Weezer and the fun of the alternative music scene back in the mid ’90s (“back when Audioslave was still Rage”). If you  get this album, and you should, get the deluxe version with extras, which includes some real gems, the best of which are Weezer’s cover of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” and “Represent,” which Weezer recorded for the World Cup. Plus you get the great image of Jorge Garcia’s face on the cover.

Standout tracks:  “Trainwrecks”, “Unspoken”, “Smart Girls”

1) Ragamuffin Soul by Carlos Whittaker

I’m a sucker for good worship music. And I’ll be honest: there isn’t much of it out there. Most of it is so vanilla and so uninspired that I can’t imagine taking the songs into my church and leading my congregation with them. As a worship leader, I’m always looking for the best worship music out there. That’s why I was so excited for Ragamuffin Soul by the worship leader, blogger, Twitterer, adoption advocate, and all around cool guy Carlos Whittaker. When he released his EP as a prelude to the album, I almost immediately had all three tracks from it in my worship rotation at church. When the full album came out, I didn’t hesitate; I pulled the trigger on that bad boy right away. This is an album of great songs, almost all of which are perfectly appropriate for corporate worship. The nice thing is that while they’re great for the band to play (two guitars, bass, drums), they translate well to the solo acoustic guy as well as the more diverse team that I sometimes have (congas, violin, trumpet, mandolin, etc.). This is flexible and fun music, but most importantly for a worship album, it’s Christ-centered and God-honoring. Plus, I have to mention that when I started doing the Couch to 5K program last spring, “Can’t Start This Fight” helped me through more than one tough mile.

Standout tracks: “No Words”, “We Will Dance”, “God Of Second Chances”

Reflections on 2010

I already wrote about what I plan to achieve in 2011, but how about a look back at 2010? I figure the best way to compare where I was a year ago with where I am now.

A year ago, I weighed 220 pounds. Today, I weigh 158.

A year ago, I could barely walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded. Today, I can run a half marathon.

A year ago, my size 36 pants were getting a bit tight, and I really should have been wearing 38s. Today, my 32s are getting kinda big around the waist.

A year ago, I had been working at Manheim Township School District for a few months, and I was still feeling my way around in many ways. Today, I have over a full year under my belt, and I’ve relaunched our website.

A year ago, Superficial Charm was just Jen and me since we had lost our drummer, Jeremy. Today, Superficial Charm is a three piece consisting of Jen, Jerry, and me, and we’re having a blast.

A year ago, I was leading worship for our Sunday service at Crossings Community Church, as well as Revolution, our Saturday night ministry. Today, it’s just the Sunday service. This still makes me somewhat sad, but I think things worked out the way they had to be.

By Any Other Name

Jars of Clay is one my favorite bands of all time. Lately I’ve enjoyed following them on Twitter, both the band and the individual members. The other day, the lead singer, Dan Haseltine, who tweets under the name scribblepotemus, posted a great series of status updates about “Christian” music and the labels we use.

  • Can we STOP applying the “secular” or “Christian” comparison to music? It is silly and should not exist.
  • There is NO mainstream and there is NO Christian in the motivation of artists simply telling the truth.
  • I don’t think most people who draw the secular/Christian line actually know what it is they are drawing. Or why…
  • Is all truth God’s truth or isn’t it? Is truth exclusive to Christian music?
  • The distinction “Christian” in music represents the audience?,the origin of the maker?, the lyric?, the moral position of the artist? …?
  • …the intent of the artist?, the use of biblical metaphor?, the utility of the listener?, the sound? Where it’s sold? Who commissioned it?
  • Or…what distinguishes truthful music outside the church as NOT Christian? The moral behavior of artist?, the lyric? The intent of artist?
  • ..who plays it?, where it is sold? Can it be glorifying without the artists knowledge or intent?
  • Have we ever been lied to by “Christian” labeled music? Is it still Christian?
  • Maybe what I am getting at is…is there ever a moment when it is okay to let labels trump the act of thoughtful engagement?
  • If the label, “Xian” is placed on an artist, Is a bias either to embrace or dismiss the artist more tangible? What if the artist disagrees?

In The Papers

Today my band, Superficial Charm played at a benefit concert for Bethany Christian Services, a great organization that helps a lot of kids find homes. As I’ve mentioned, my son Jonathan is adopted, so when they asked us to play, we jumped at the chance.

One of the reasons we were invited was a song I wrote, which Bethany’s local director, Mark Unger, heard when we played a gig with his band. I wrote the song “Find Me” for Jonathan, in an attempt to explore what his life must have been like before us.

Mark liked the song so much that he had Bethany’s PR guy contact us, and we ended doing an interview for the local paper to help plug today’s concert. They got a few details wrong (for example, my band is a three piece, not a duo) but we were happy to be able to share a bit.

I may write more on this later, but right now I’m typing on my iPhone and it’s getting kind if tiresome. 😉

The article is here: