Red Accordion Diaries, May 8, 2008

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Red Accordion Diaries



Elvis. Oh. My. God.

Brigid Kaelin

Current mood: indescribable
Text message, from Mom, received 4:37pm: Omg

First, let me point out that my Mom wrote "Omg" in a text message.

I was still grinning madly in my car when I read the message, stopped at a red-light on Broadway, on my way to the Palace Theatre, for a soundcheck with ... ELVIS COSTELLO.

You know how you have a wireless internet connection in your house? And you get to name it? Well, mine is named Elvis. And the password is Costello. For years, that's been the code. If you know where I live, swing by and use my wireless internet. I figure if my neighbors are cool enough to guess the password — most people guess "Graceland" — then they are cool enough to use my internet.

Anyway, the point of that is that I am a HUGE Elvis Costello fan, and I have been for quite some time.

I don't know where to begin in this blog. I should explain how this all came about, but right now I want to recap the nights' events before I forget.

So I'll start with the voicemail.

"Brigid, This is, uh, Elvis Costello. I'm down at the radio station here, and I've been given your number. You wanna give me a call? — . That's — . Bye now."

I'm not sure what came over me, but an overwhelming sense of confidence. I immediately returned the call, and he answered on the first ring.


"Hi there, it's Brigid, your accordion player."

"Brigid, darling, how are you?"

"Fantastic, thank you, you?"

There was some brief chit-chat, and he asked if I could be at soundcheck at 4:30. No problem. I hung up the phone.

Then I screamed. I screamed, and I squealed. I jumped up and down like I was in a Molly Ringwald movie and the popular boy just asked me out. I continued to scream. I went outside to see if there was a neighbor or someone I could tell.

■ ■ ■


Laura Shine mentions on the air that I will be playing with Elvis Costello at the Palace that night, which fuels the "Omg" text message from my mom. And about 10 phone calls from random musicians who want to play with me at the Palace, who don't understand that I'm not opening for him ... that I am going to be an Imposter! Well, an imposter Imposter.

I'm canceling my afternoon's lessons and calling Peter Searcy to get him to bring me my electric accordion, which I had left in his studio.

This town is so small. Word spreads quickly. My phone is ringing like mad. It will die shortly thereafter from responding to text messages. (Sorry I didn't respond)

■ ■ ■

So I am whisked into the Palace by several production managers. The Imposters are on-stage already, but Mr. Costello is not there yet. The guitar tech, Bobby, is tuning up Elvis's twelve beautiful guitars, including a 1956 Les Paul and a brand new Taylor 12-string. So beautiful. Jeff, the soundman, asks me if my accordion is electric (yes), and he breathes a sigh of relief.

I mill around a bit backstage at the Palace, which is the most beautiful theatre I've ever been in. It's built to look like an Italian villa, with the ceiling charmed to look like the night sky (just like the dining hall at Hogwarts). I introduce myself to the Imposters, who are super-nice, although Steve Nieve doesn't seem as thrilled about my presence as the rest. I don't care. Steve Nieve is my hero. I learned to play rock 'n' roll keyboards by listening to him and Chuck Leavell. I am meeting Steve Nieve!!!

Then I hear a beautiful voice asking, "Is she here yet?" Just as he asks this, Elvis Costello turns his head and looks right at me. I smile widely (actually, I don't think I had stopped smiling since his voicemail) and shake his hand.

"So good to meet you," I say.

"Thank you so much for coming down here," he says. Really, now. Imagine this. Elvis Costello is thanking ME for coming down to soundcheck. As my mom might text: Wtf???

I am re-introduced to the band, and then step aside while the boys soundcheck. Then it is my turn. What song am I playing? I'm not sure, but I don't care. This is why I learned all of my scales in piano lessons years ago.

Elvis looks at me and says: "B-flat."

And he launches into a three-quarter-time version of Lou Reed's "Femme Fatale." He even looks over and whispers in my ear, "It's just 1-4 in the solo part." I am in heaven.

I think at first he thought it would be fun to have a local musician play, but during soundcheck, he figured out that I really am a professional musician — not just a girl in pigtails with a gimmick.

My favorite thing in the world is playing in other people's bands. I love performing my own stuff, but if you've ever seen me play in Peter Searcy's band, you've seen that same goofy ol' grin I have on my face when we are making music.

Good music with good people. That's all I want.

■ ■ ■


So Patrick, the production manager, graciously invited me to dine with everyone downstairs for a catered meal. I didn't much feel like eating, but how could I refuse?

I headed downstairs where the Imposters were lingering around the buffet line. They joked about the hazing rituals for new Imposters. Pete was first to the food, but I followed right after and helped myself to a plate of green beans and potatoes that I barely touched. There were several tables, but I sat with the boys in the band. Elvis was not around, and I figured he would eat in his own dressing room.

He came in and sat down right next to me, with a typed and printed setlist, and immediately started talking about what songs should be cut/added. It was a totally normal thing to happen before a show. Peter Searcy and I do this every night on the road. Honestly, this didn't feel any different, except that I had never played any of the songs before. Talking to Elvis or Steve was completely normal, and I wasn't the slightest bit nervous. Every few minutes, I had to remind myself that I was eating dinner next to Elvis Costello and sitting at the same table as the Imposters.

We got to talking about bands I play in, and my new record, and other accordion players he knew in Nashville. We talked about a polka player we both knew, and I mentioned that I had played a party several months back with this polka player and Cowboy Jack Clement. Elvis exclaimed, "Cowboy Jack?! Have you seen his movie? Do you know him?"

"Yes, I do. I've got his number; should we call him?"

We didn't call, but I told the story how I had played musical saw with Cowboy Jack Clement.

And that's when Elvis Costello said to me, Brigid Kaelin (oh my freakin' god!!), "You play the musical saw? Do you have it with you?"

So he grabbed a guitar, and we rushed to a rehearsal room to jam on the musical saw. We talked more, and Elvis realized that I am indeed a professional musician, not just some chick with a CD, and said I should probably play on more than one song. I, of course, agreed!

Then Steve Nieve, the king of the theremin, was interested in the acoustic theremin, AKA the musical saw, so I gave him a brief lesson.

Steve Nieve plays the musical saw.

I think Steve was opening a bit more. I hadn't yet told him that he was my hero. Some things you have to keep to yourself. For a while.

Anyway, we decided to play "Mr. Feathers" during the encore on the saw, and Jeff the amazing soundman set up microphones and we soundchecked the saw.

(By the way, I am still freaking out. Right now. As I type this. I haven't come down. I just ran into my friend Judd at Heine Brothers and passed some of my crazy energy on to him. eek! eek! I played with Elvis Costello last night!)

■ ■ ■

The show.

Elvis Costello and the Imposters took the stage at 8:04. No opener.

I went out in the audience to listen, but I immediately went backstage. Why? Because, although it sounded better out front, I didn't have a close-up of Steve Nieve's fingers. I stood by Bobby the amazing guitar tech all night and watched Steve work his genius.

I sang along backstage to "Veronica" and "Red Shoes," and clapped enthusiastically like a big nerd. No one backstage is supposed to clap, ha. But I didn't care.

Then, he says something like: "So I was down at the radio station today, WFPK (well he said WFPX at first, but Su in the front row corrected him, so all's well), and they told me about this local girl who plays a demon piano accordion." And I could hear the screams from the side of the stage. (Thank you !!!!!!!) "So we thought we'd bring her out to play a little. Please welcome Brigid Kaelin."

I strutted out with my accordion and my red shoes. The angels definitely wanted to wear my red shoes because I tell you, heaven can't possibly be any better than where I was at that very moment. Standing ovations before I started, Elvis grinning ear-to-ear, and me ready to rock.

So we played "Femme Fatale," and the whole crowd screamed during my solos, and he did this a cappella part at the end where we all went off-mic and just sung that part of the song "she's a femme fatale, she's a femme fatale" and I kept looking down and seeing people I knew and wondering how they got such great seats then looking to my left and seeing elvis costello wink at me and thinking holy hell, I am on stage!!!


But still, I wasn't nervous. I'm more nervous right now, blogging about it. Last night on stage, it was pure music. I was playing great music with phenomenal people. To the most appreciative audience I've ever encountered. In the most beautiful city. In the most beautiful theatre.

As I floated off the stage, I heard Elvis say, "We're gonna bring her back later to play something else."

He rocked the show away, and I came back during the second encore... with my MUSICAL SAW chair in place.

Positioning yourself in a skirt, seated, with your legs spread enough to hold a saw, is a feat in itself. But then Elvis started the creepy little tune off his new record. It reminded me a lot of "God's Comic," which is a personal favorite of mine. "Mr. Feathers" was awesome.

Those of you who took pictures — please email them to me at — Please!!!

After "Mr. Feathers," Elvis whispered in my ear, "Now let's play some rock 'n' roll," in that dreamy accent. I picked up the accordion and he started into "Pump it Up."

I mouthed to the fabulous bass player from across the stage, "What key?"

"B." (Thanks, Davey!)

And did we ever pump it up.

The crowd was jumping, the band was rocking, and I was right next to Steve Nieve again, who was playing brilliant little riffs.

Being far more comfortable talking with my hero on-stage than I was in the dressing room, I decided to have a little fun with Mr. Nieve. He was playing a little riff. And I repeated it right back to him on my accordion. He did another one, and I repeated it back. This time he noticed. He looked at me cock-eyed, like he was almost about to smile. He played something more complicated. I gave it right back. Then we had a little game of call-and-response between the organ and the accordion. I rocked a bit. Elvis came over and stood right next to me as I ripped into a solo. He also introduced the band during the rock-out portion of the song. Davey on bass. Pete on drums. Steve ..boards. And Brigid on musical saw and accordion. I got a freakin' BAND introduction!!! I was an Imposter for a night! An Imposter.

And at the end of the song, as I was unplugging, Steve Nieve turned to me and said, "Do you need me to carry that off-stage for you?" He grabbed my accordion from me, and scurried off-stage.

Oh My God, Steve Nieve just carried my accordion off stage.

I think I love him.

That's when I decided to tell him, "Steve, you are my hero. I didn't want to tell you that earlier. But seriously, playing with you has been the coolest part of all of this.

Hugs all around backstage, and they rushed back for two more rockers. I ran out into the crowd to jump and scream and sing, "Peace, Love, and Understanding," at the top of my lungs.

 ! ! ! ! ! !

Thank you, Elvis Costello, for being adventurous and for being a real musician. And thank you, Steve, Davey, and Pete, for allowing me into your magical world for an evening.

Oh yeah, those angels DEFINITELY wanna wear my red shoes. Imposter, I guess, but an Imposter nonetheless.

Tags: Brigid KaelinThe Louisville PalaceLouisvilleThe ImpostersSteve NieveLou ReedFemme FatalePete ThomasCowboy Jack ClementMr. FeathersVeronica(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red ShoesPump It UpDavey Faragher(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?


The Red Accordion Diaries, May 8, 2008

Brigid Kaelin recounts her appearance with Elvis Costello & The Imposters, Wednesday, May 7, 2008, Louisville Palace , Louisville, Kentucky.


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