Sundays at the Post Office
One evening, in the middle of one of our ordinary Tone Bent rehearsals, Robin asked Bill if he had ever noticed how the acoustics in Post Offices were always amazingly great?” She was wondering if this had something to do with the materials used in the P.O. boxes and so on. “Always?” Bill wanted to know? And it became immediately apparent that we were facing your basic proof-is-in-the-pudding kind of moment. Suddenly we were packing up our guitars and heading out the door to test the theory.
Our first visit was to our hometown post office in Forestville. Acoustics were fair there not remarkable, certainly – and one could easily say that the theory had been instantly rendered bogus. But now our curiosity was piqued… and so we continued on over to the Sebastopol P.O. to experience first-hand the stellar acoustical properties that Robin had noted. Indeed the sound here was rolling ‘round the room and coming back and expanding again – a lovely treat to the ear.
Concerned that perhaps this was not such a treat for the postal patrons who were coming in at 11:00 at night to retrieve mail, yet wishing to continue our quest, we opted for Sundays at the Post Office. Most Sundays these days Tone Bent plays in at least one new Post Office – noting the acoustics and ambience and encounters.
Bill came up with the idea of leaving a “Tonebent was here” card at each P.O. This eventually lead to the creation of a one-page “calling card” that we slide under the door when we’ve finished playing. You can see likeness of this, below. Some friends have asked ”if you’re going to be playing at our post office would you let us know ahead of time so we can come listen?” We’re pondering this one.
On September 11, 2011 we headed down to Petaluma to try out the beautiful Post Office there. We've heard from many people that this is a "must play" PO, so we brought along our little recording device and ran it while we played for an hour or so. We're including our first live clip here so you can here the big reverb sound for yourself. The song we're singing is a Nanci Griffith tune called "Wing and the Wheel." This particular song ended up feeling very right somehow for a tenth anniversary of 9-11, so we ended up playing it over and over, falling in love with the big beautiful accomodating sound in the "D" Street PO.
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Post Offices in alphabetical order:
(locations are in California unless otherwise noted)
Albuquerque, NM. Best song exchange. We met a woman who plays in a mariachi band in the area. When she first walked in, she listened for a minute, then ran out the door. We were just thinking "oh well..." when the door opened and she returned, this time with her teenaged son in tow. Turns out he is a musician as well and she wanted him to hear the music. We handed her a guitar and she played a lively and terrific song for us!
Bodega. Very small and reminiscent of the Duncans Mills PO. Great acoustics and nice feeling in there. Red exterior. No birds attacked.
Bodega Bay. What a setting! Mind you we arrived just before sunset, but seriously - you should all get your guitars and go out to this post office and play some Sunday just for the lovely view of Bodega Bay. Plus you can get a bite to eat afterward at the hot dog restaurant next door. Such a deal. Sadly, the acoustics were unremarkable . . . almost no reverb except for a small area just to the left of the main doors. However, what a greeting! We met a sweet-as-can-be postal patron who stayed and listened to us play, wanting to know our story and smiling all the while- a fun exchange. Rivals the Tomales PO in the best audience category!
Boulder City, Nevada. Best view of a raptor!
Boyes Hot Springs. Another winner as far as sound goes. A bit scruffy looking inside but this one is an oldie but goodie. They are celebrating their 100th anniversary.
Cayucos. Fantastic acoustics, first communication with a postal worker
(sorting mail in back behind PO boxes) and we quote, "right on!"
Deer Harbor, WA. Best view and all-around setting. Stained-glass windows, boats in the harbor…
Dillon Beach. Great inspiration for our song "Good to Be Alive."
Duncan's Mills. Most charming, third-best sound.
Eastsound, WA. A bit strange.
Eugene, OR. Best murals, highly recommended. Most likely PO to run into author Barry Lopez!
Forestville. First PO TONE BENT ever played. Hometown.
Freestone. Best surreal altered-state listeners with additional hard-to-describe complimentary comedy moments.
Geyserville. This is even newer than the Guerneville Post Office - big blue and white checker board floor design and stark white walls displaying a colorful collection of children's drawings that had been entered in a contest to come up with a new design for a postage stamp. Acoustics were best up against the glass doors, fairly unremarkable overall . . . but the feeling of this P.O. is very cheery and light.
Graton. Solid acoustics - supportive and fairly consistent throughout the L-shaped space. First-ever conversation with a postal patron asking where she should buy a guitar. Dear Barack - when you start funding public works projects, please give these guys some new flooring!
Guerneville. Longest corrider, great sound, especially for a new PO.
Harmony. Least believable as an actual post office. Great décor.
Healdsburg. Worst vibe, most soulless
Inverness. Thinnest walls, second-best sound (except for traffic noise)
Jenner. Smallest, barely room for both of us and two guitar cases. Updated fall of 2011 - we played the new P.O. in Jenner which is a bit more spacious and has one of the loveliest settings going…
Kenwood. Well, this is a WOWIE ZOWIE! Not kidding - hard to imagine better sound than this. Best in the corner area where the 2 small wings meet up. We returned with the group Take Jack and did some warming up in here before a gig, and a man walked in and offered himself up if we needed another tenor. Now, how often does that happen? Have a meal at Café Citti afterward, great raviolis.
King City. Best juxtaposition to a fantastic Mexican restaurant, Sinaloense on Broadway!
Livermore. We met a fellow musician here and agreed that next time we play the Livermore PO we'll give him a heads up and play some songs together. He ended up trading CDs and have been enjoying his beautiful singing.
Marshall. Best view
Monte Rio. First inaccessible PO on a Sunday.
Morro Bay. First performance for postal employees through a mail slot.
Oakmont. Third inaccessible PO on a Sunday. This one was inside a Wells Fargo Bank. Who knew?
Occidental. Most likely place to run into a choir member.
Olema Check out the tiled floor! How nifty is this? Acoustics are dampened by the long cord bulletin board runnning the length of the room.
Olga, WA. Tiny!
Paso Robles. Newest best sound by far, we played a really long set even tho' be were late heading home, as it was hard to stop.
Petaluma. (see top of page for info and recording)
Philo. New PO, closest PO to where TONE BENT got married!
Point Reyes Station Hard to tell about the sound, so many motorcycles zipping by it was more like a motorcycle Grand Prix. Robin says, "Bill played his best "Catman" solo ever! Sorry y'all missed it!!!
Rio Nido. Second inaccessible PO on a Sunday.
San Juan Batista. This is a newish PO without much of the wood that seems key to good acoustics. Not bad tho' near the glass doors. Most likely PO to meet some fabulous organic farmers.
Santa Rosa Coddingtown Mall Branch. Though the acoustics are fairly sweet, especially in the center indented area of boxes, this post office is a real middle-of-the-roader. There was a small bulletin board area with nothing save some lonely looking push-pins. No color anywhere - aging white-on-white. We'd recommend the employees of this PO drive out to Duncans Mills for some visual inspiration. Someone was back there working on something-or-other - third time this has been the case.
Santa Rosa, Main P.O. Most enthusiastic audience member, Mika the very small dog
Santa Rosa, Montgomery Village. Sounded like someone was motoring by in a Boston Whaler powered by a large Evinrude. Second lowest rating for lack of atmosphere (topped only by Healdsburg). The comedic moment presented itself immediately as we observed the "most impressive display of Plumber's arse" by a postal patron leaning over as he busily sorted through his pile of mail . . . we supposed.
Sebastopol. Fantastic sound. This is the PO that inspired the first TONE BENT conversation about Post Office acoustics, and the resulting Sundays at the Post Office project.
Sonoma. This PO is laid out like a giant "L." It seemed promising but in fact the sound in there is very flat, nothing remarkable.
Tomales. Best audience.
Tres Piños. Well, by golly the Tres Piños PO is a tiny one. We were visiting the San Juan Batista area for the weekend, listening to our friend J Parson sing his cowboy tunes at the annual rodeo/horseshow even, and some folks we met mentioned their local PO. So, we played a song for Carol and Bob. Acoustics were pretty flat, but the place had some fun factoids posted on the wall about the trade. You should check out J's music! JParson.com
Valley Ford. Coldest, most bovine-odorous.
Wedderburn, OR. PO is inside the store!
Eugene, OR wonderful murals!
the winning entry!!!
Dillon Beach view from PO
Our newest visual addition to Sundays at the Post Office is this calling card we will now be leaving following our visits:
Tres Piños, CA: and some fun factoids posted on the wall about the trade:
Deer Harbor, Orcas Island, WA view from inside
Deer Harbor, Orcas Island, WA
Olga, Orcas Island, WA
Paso Robles fabulous reverb!
San Juan Batista, CA
Boyes Hot Springs
Point Reyes Station
The following poem arrived on December 12, 2009 - written by Robin's dad, Stan Eschner.
We walked into a post office
brought out our guitars.
People mailing letters
thought it was bizarre.
Some looked up and some looked down
most just looked away.
But as we started playing
two sat down to stay.
WHAT’S GOIN ON, WHAT’S GOIN ON?
The music echoed off the walls
and drifted in the air.
A mailman stuck his head in
to ask why we were there.
We’re checking your acoustics
to see how you stack up.
Put away your change my friend
‘cause we don’t have a cup.
WHAT’S GOIN ON, WHAT’S GOIN ON?
We’re playing cause it’s fun to do
making all these stops.
With all these letter drop off sites
we don’t need no props.
And if you think we’re wasting time
you don’t get the drift.
By practicing at postal stops
we’ve worked up our riff.
WE’RE GOIN ON, WE’RE GOIN ON