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Counting Crows: The Circus is Coming to Town … and get there early!!!

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

I know, I know, I’m a hockey writer, not a music writer (although I wish I could do both). On Wednesday, we’ll return to our regularly-scheduled program with the release of the 2009-10 NHL schedule and a Minnesota Wild-specific blog.

But, for all you Counting Crows fans out there in Minnesota, surrounding areas and especially the nation, the Counting Crows were in town over the weekend and put together a tremendous show at the Basilica Block Party, mixing old stuff (Mr. Jones and Anna Begins) with new stuff (You Can’t Count on Me and Come Around), interweaving some of their hits into an awesome encore rendition of Rain King and closing with a cover of This Land is Your Land (amazing harmony).

There’s a Counting Crows’ song called Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby. A number of lyrics in there have spoken directly to me for years, especially, “If you’ve never stared off in the distance, then your life is a shame.” I learned Saturday night that if “you’ve never stared off in the distance” from on stage at a Counting Crows show, “then your life is a shame.”

I got to live a once-in-a-lifetime experience Saturday night, but more on that later.

The Minneapolis gig was essentially the last concert of the Counting Crows’ previous tour that included a long run through Europe. Not taking a break, the band is currently in Seattle rehearsing with Augustana and Michael Franti & Spearhead for the trio’s upcoming summer tour, which begins Thursday in Redmond, Wash. 

I talked to lead singer Adam Duritz extensively about this unique tour called “The Saturday Night Rebel Rockers Traveling Circus and Medicine Show.” If you’re a Counting Crows fanatic, it’s going to be unlike anything you’ve ever seen (click here for tour dates). 

I’ve gotten to know Adam the last three or four years because we have a mutual friend, Roxy Bernstein, one of the great play-by-play men out there. He used to do the Florida Marlins and now works Cal basketball games and NCAA football games for the nationally-syndicated Touchdown Radio with Gino Torretta.

Adam can’t be more excited about this tour. Starting with the raggedy, old carnival curtain being pulled up by the bands themselves every night, fans of the Counting Crows, Augustana and Michael Franti & Spearhead will see a 3-to-3 1/2-hour show every night with an intermission in between.

All three bands will be performing together, alone, with each other. They’ll be interchanging all night.

“People are going to be jumping on and off stage all night. We end all together and we encore all together,” Duritz said. “I wanted to put together a show that would probably introduce you to music — maybe a lot of people don’t know Augustana, maybe some of them don’t know Spearhead, although they’ve got a good jam band following — but I know all these bands are great and felt it would be great to put us all up there together and mixing it up.

“And then I give you a three-hour show instead of a 65-minute show.”

So, if you’re one of the fans who buy tickets to a Counting Crows concert and show up at 9 p.m. thinking you’re just skipping the opening acts, DON’T DO IT or you’ll miss half the show.

The Counting Crows and Augustana have toured together numerous times, and the idea of this show actually came about last summer when guitarist and band co-founder Dave Bryson and keyboardist Charlie Gillingham left for a few weeks because their wives were giving birth.

Augustana was the opening act, but Duritz didn’t want Counting Crows fans to feel like they were being ripped off by having less of a band. So he turned the weakness into a strength, and during those weeks performed with Augustana.

Duritz has been friends with Franti for a long time. They grew up in the Bay Area playing basketball together. In fact, Franti was a high school basketball star and played hoops at the University of San Francisco.

Recently, the three bands holed up for three days on the University of Northern Illinois campus to rehearse. During breaks, they’d run to the gym and play basketball.

“The first day, we’re all playing barefoot. It got so competitive, the next day, we all managed to go the Nike outlet for basketball shoes so we could run half court.”

Duritz, who’s gotten injured on stage many times (torn ACL’s and the like), broke one of his fingers on his left hand during those pickup games.

“We’re all good friends,” Duritz said. “It’s really hard to resist not being on stage all night long for these shows. I have to hold myself back because I’m having so much fun singing. One of our guitar players (Dave Immergluck) has managed to somehow get himself on for every single song in the show except for one.”

“We had to sit him down for a talk and say, ‘There’s no way you’re on stage for every song.’” Duritz said, laughing.

So what are Duritz’s expectations for this tour?

“I wanted to give the fans something different, special,” Duritz said. “I don’t usually do a lot of collaborations because I find them fake and boring, but these are real collaborations. We have no idea what we’re doing.”

“Sometimes [Augustana front man Dan Layus] and I are diving at each other with harmonies we’ve never done,” Duritz continued. “With me, crowds can’t sing along because I go all over the place. I have no concept of what the melodies are supposed to be. I’m just singing. So harmonies can be really difficult unless you’re a good singer and really listening.

“This is real music. It’s like jazz. It’s happening right there. It can be great or a train wreck. But if you’re going to watch a train wreck, this is what you want to see — people really making music. There’s nothing packaged about this. We’re working really hard and rehearsing and learning [each other's songs]. But there’s 18 people up there sometimes. So harmonies we put there can be outrageously glorious and at times horrifically [bad]. 

“The truth is we’ll get really good at things and they’ll all be incredible, but there will be times where we’ll try something new the next night and that might not be. Within a week, we could be playing a perfect, incredile show every night, or we could keep trying new stuff and risk the train wrecks.
 
“We’re trying to just give audiences what they deserve. There’s no money out there these days, so if you’re going to spend money to come to our concerts, I want to give you something really special. You may not think it’s what you wanted when you show up, but I think you’ll come away feeling like you got way more — if you’re there on time. Otherwise you might miss the first set, which is us probably. One of the first sets will be a shorter Counting Crows set.”

Adam’s had a ridiculously busy year. He’s producing a film with the Broken Lizard guys (Super Troopers, Beerfest), which includes Minneapolis’ Erik Stolhanske (buddies with Carolina Hurricanes center Matt Cullen), called Freeloaders, which is a “fictional” account of life at Duritz’s home in L.A. when he was gone on the road. It takes the idea that Duritz had no idea what was going on behind his back at the house. The fictional character rock star is about to get hitched and tells his friends he’s selling the house, and they do everything in their power to sabotage the selling of the home.

Duritz left for the set Jan. 3. Between the movie and touring, he’s been to his New York City home 19 days since the start of the year. “But I found out after running a 50-man crew for 15 years, I’m actually kind of good at being a movie producer,” he quipped. ”It’s the same kind of thing.”

It’s always a blast chatting it up with Adam because he’s a sports nut (absolutely religious about Cal football and basketball), and is buddies with NHLer Mathieu Schneider and the guys who made the documentary, Ice Kings, about the Mount St. Charles hockey dynasty in Rhode Island.

In fact, truth be told, this column I wrote Dec. 26, 2007, on the Mount featuring Keith Carney, Brian Lawton and Garth Snow, the idea originated from Adam introducing me to one of the filmmakers in Atlantic City a few years ago.

Adam hopes to be back in Minneapolis in September, but only because he’s a Cal football fanatic. The Golden Bears play at the Gophers’ new outdoor stadium, and Adam should be on the sidelines.

“This will be Cal’s year,” Duritz says. “They have a Heisman Trophy candidate running back (Jahvid Best), have 11 starters back, but they were playing 20 deep, so they literally have everyone back. Barring any slip-ups, like in Minnesota, this could be our year, man.”

(It should be noted that the last time he told me that was in 2006, and Cal lost its opener against Tennessee. I’m just saying). :)

Anyways, I know this blog was long and not hockey related, but I figured I’d help get the word out to Counting Crows fans nationwide to show up early and enjoy the upcoming tour.

And back to my original story at the top. During the Counting Crows’ song Hanginaround the other night, Adam’s nephews, sister, some other fans and myself and a friend got to go on stage during the song.

I pretty much looked like a fool as I hid in the background of guitarist Dan Vickrey. I got out there and turned into a statue. I was just awe-struck as I stared at the sea of fans, watched Adam sing from a few feet away (I’ve been a fan for 18 years) and watched Vickrey and Bryson, whom I’ve also gotten to know, play.

It was an amazing experience. But as you can tell by this YouTube clip 37 seconds in, Adam certainly noticed the one idiot on stage who wasn’t dancing: “Is that the best you can do Russo?”

The funniest thing is I was so in awe, I didn’t hear him say it. Friends of mine after the show said they heard it, but I never did until now.

I went back stage again after the show and Duritz yelled at me that when on stage, “Move your butt, Russo!”

Next time. Hopefully. :)

And Wednesday, back to our regularly-scheduled program of hockey, hockey and hockey.

Russo’s got ESP?

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

So, I know, I need to get a life.

On the Fourth of July, I am actually going through all the blogs since the end of the season and categorizing them by what names are in each blog so it’s more organized for you — the Wild fan and Star Tribune subscriber (because I am confident everybody that checks out this lovely free service also supports us by purchasing the paper).

Check the blog I wrote on May 4 on Stephane Veilleux. He hired agent Allan Walsh. In listing Allan’s clients, I got sidetracked like I often do and flashed back into history to when Walsh represented Marian Gaborik. In the blog, I joked how wouldn’t it be funny if years later, he replaced Gaborik in Minnesota for Martin Havlat.

Here’s the link

Friday morning check-in; July 12 development camp scrimmage open to public

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

Real quick hello.

I’ll be heading to the Martin Havlat presser at the arena this early afternoon. It’ll be more of an informal meet-and-greet in the locker room mostly for the TV cameras, radio mikes and newspaper photogs because the print media’s already gotten him and the electronic media hasn’t been able to.

Nothing new right now on Saku Koivu or Ruslan Fedotenko.

As mentioned in the earlier post, Koivu to Minny not looking good right now. Quite frankly, I don’t think there’s anything more the Wild can do to sweeten the pot. As I wrote on the blog, I think, June 30 or July 1, the Wild was going to make an offer and if the Koivus wanted to make it happen, they could.

But as Mikko expressed in my story July 1, there are significant concerns there between the two brothers about playing together, and I think that is very, very real. This is Mikko’s team now, and these are two proud guys. If Saku isn’t the same player a year or two into the contract and he’s being taken to task, I think there is very real concern there how that would weigh on both of them.

And like Mikko alluded, as much as it would be a dream for them to play together this is likely Saku’s last contract. He’s looking for the best deal and best fit for his family — he’s got two young children.

So as of now, it’s not looking good. Maybe it changes, but from what I hear, the Wild’s not optimistic.

If the Wild can’t sign Koivu, it’ll likely look at the trade market or go into camp with the same centers. And quite frankly, that is the absolute correct move.

In a cap system, you can’t make mistakes and it makes zero sense to go out and sign one of the remaining centers to a long-term deal if he can’t fit the No. 2 role. That’s what the Wild needs. Dominic Moore, Manny Malhotra, Todd Marchant, these guys are real good centers. But they’re No. 3′s. The Wild already has James Sheppard, Eric Belanger and Kyle Brodziak. Those guys can handle the No. 3 and 4 roles as well as any of the guys available.

And yes, Sheppard or P-M Bouchard or even Benoit Pouliot could very well wind up at the No. 2 spot. Fletcher will undoubtedly try to acquire a No. 2 center, but this might very well have to be the solution because there’s few other options. It is not easy to acquire centers in the NHL. Look at last summer, the Wild tried for centers and just like this year, it was an awful free-agent class. It missed out on the couple available, and let’s be honest, one was Brendan Morrison and the team lucked out he chose Anaheim.

Just like last year’s class, there were only two centers even worth going after — Koivu and Nik Antropov (and that pains me to say because as I mentioned the other day, I’m not a big Antropov guy).

To me, you only sign a Mike Comrie or Jason Williams later in the summer if you can get them as bargains or you can’t make a trade. Waiting sometimes is the right move.

Same thing for wingers. There is no use overspending on a winger now when maybe you can get somebody in a trade or there’s a better free-agent crop next summer.

The Wild cannot give out bad contracts, not when you have to ensure you’ll have the money to re-sign Mikko Koivu and Brent Burns — relatively — soon.

The Wild has targeted a few guys, but if it misses, it’ll wait. It did tender an offer to Ruslan Fedotenko, and he’s expected to make a decision today. A number of teams are interested.

Lastly, the Wild starts its development camp Tuesday. Below is the roster. On Sunday, July 12, if you want a hockey fix, the prospects will be scrimmaging at the X from 12:30-2:30 p.m. Gate 1 at the X opens at noon.

54 Cody Almond  6-2     200     Left    7/24/89 Calgary, Alberta        Kelowna WHL     70      33      33      66      105     EN/07
68 Eero Elo     6-3     189     Right   4/26/90 Rauma, Finland  Lukko Rauma     Fin. Jr.         3       0       0       0       0       EN/08
47 Alexander Fallstrom6-2       195     Right   9/15/90 Gothenburg, Sweden      Shattuck St. Mary’s     H.S.    52      40      47      87      52      EN/09
56 Kristopher Foucault6-1       202     Left    12/12/90        Calgary, Alberta        Kootenay/Calgary        WHL     26      9       8       17      16      EN/08
18 Colton Gillies       6-4     196     Left    2/12/89 Surrey, British Columbia        Minnesota       NHL     45      2       5       7       18      EN/07
49 Anthony Hamburg      6-1     185     Right   8/30/91 Houston, Texas  Dallas Stars AAA        H.S.    70      29      70      99      76      EN/09
60 Erik Haula   6-0     170     Left    3/23/91 Pori, Finland   Shattuck St. Mary’s     H.S.    53      26      58      84      46      EN/09
51 Chris Hickey 6-3     185     Right   9/2/88  St. Paul, Minnesota     Wisconsin       WCHA    8       1       0       1       4       EN/06  
23 Petr Kalus   6-1     201     Left    6/29/87 Ostrava, Czechoslovakia Balashikha       KHL     17      0       2       2       106     TRD/07
57 Matt Kassian 6-4     247     Left    10/28/86        Edmonton, Alberta       Houston AHL     56      1       2       3       130     EN/05
53 Brian Kaufman        6-4     205     Left    2/25/84 Shoreview, Minnesota    Miami University        CCHA    41      10      12      22      12      FA/09
63 Morten Madsen        6-2     191     Left    1/16/87 Rodovre, Denmark        Houston AHL     56      6       16      22      33      EN/05  
65 Carson McMillan      6-2     200     Right   9/10/88 Brandon, Manitoba       Calgary WHL     68      31      41      72      93      EN/07
72 Jarod Palmer 6-0     200     Right   2/10/86 Fridley, Minnesota      Miami University        CCHA    41      8       19      27      34      INVITEE
58 Jere Sallinen        6-0     183     Left    10/26/90        Espoo, Finland  Blues Espoo     Fin. Jr.        9       1       2       3       31      EN/09
 
# DEFENSEMEN     HT      WT      SHOOTS  BORN    BIRTHPLACE      2008-09 TEAM    LGE     GP      G       A       PTS     PIM     ACQ
61 Tyler Cuma   6-1     189     Left    1/19/90 Toronto, Ontario        Ottawa  OHL     21      1       8       9       27      EN/08
73 Justin Falk  6-5     213     Left    10/11/88        Snowflake, Manitoba     Houston AHL     65      0       3       3       44      EN/07
71 Harri Ilvonen        6-2     187     Left    11/3/88 Helsinki, Finland       LeKi Lempaala   Finland 21      4       3       7       8       EN/07
48 Nick Leddy   5-11½    185     Left    3/20/91 Edina, Minnesota        Eden Prairie    H.S.    31      12      33      45      26      EN/09   
52 Sean Lorenz  6-1     198     Right   3/10/90 Littleton, Colorado     Notre Dame      CCHA    39      0       3       3       18      EN/08
59 Kyle Medvec  6-6     205     Left    6/16/88 Westminster, Colorado   Vermont HE      36      2       10      12      40      EN/06
74 Maxim Noreau 5-11    192     Right   5/14/87 Montreal, Quebec        Houston AHL     77      14      25      39      49      FA/08
64 Marco Scandella      6-3     206     Left    2/23/90 Montreal, Quebec        Val d’Or        QMJHL   58      10      27      37      64      EN/08
62 J.P. Testwuide       6-0     210     Left    11/5/84 Vail, Colorado  Denver University       WCHA    36      3       10      13      110     INVITEE
 
# GOALTENDERS    HT      WT      CATCHES BORN    BIRTHPLACE      2008-09 TEAM    LGE     GPI     W-L-OT  SO      GAA     SV%     ACQ
50 Matthew Hackett      6-2     170     Left    3/7/90  London, Ontario Plymouth        OHL     55      34-15-3 2       3.04    .913    EN/09  
70 Darcy Kuemper        6-4     195     Left    5/5/90  Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Red Deer        WHL     55      21-25-8 3       2.96    .898    EN/09

Burns heading to Calgary; Havlat highlights

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Calm down, just for Canada’s Olympic camp Aug. 24-27.

He wasn’t traded or anything :)

The Wild’s Brent Burns is one of 16 Canadian defensemen who will be vying for a spot on Canada’s Olympic roster.

Here’s the release

Here’s the note I wrote the other day in Montreal after my interview with Steve Yzerman, Canada’s Executive Director.
Wild defenseman Brent Burns, 24, is still a possibility to play for Canada in the Olympics despite a ruined season last year because of a concussion, shoulder injury and playing forward.
At the 2008 World Championships, Burns was selected best defenseman.
“I know it was a trying year for him,” Yzerman said. “But it certainly hasn’t hurt him. I don’t think any less of him as a player. I’m hopeful he gets off to a very good start – his size, his speed, his offensive ability and his competitiveness make him a guy that’s very intriguing for us.”
Excited by Yzerman’s comments, Burns joked, “Makes me want to workout again.”

As for Marty Havlat, here’s a couple other goals from YouTube:

Youtube1

YouTube2

YouTube3

Compilation of goals

Yeah, if healthy, he’s good.

Think he fights Boogey for No. 24? Boogey should sell it for a quarter of Havlat’s signing bonus…
 

Walsh meeting with Veilleux today

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

Just about to pack up and leave Montreal. The draft here was a tremendous experience. The passionate hockey fans here were in glee with every who’s who in hockey being in town.

I can tell you, I talked with a lot of other team’s scouts out around town last night, and many were very positive about the Wild’s draft, the fact Chuck Fletcher accomplished what he said he’d accomplish with moving down and grabbing draft picks and the picks of Leddy and Hackett specifically.

Assistant GM Tommy Thompson raved about the move Fletcher made because he so wanted Hackett.

“[Goalie coach] Bob [Mason] was saying of Hackett, ‘You think we have any chance to get him?’ and I said, ‘Don’t get your hopes up,’” Thompson said. “That shows the benefit of the trade that Chuck Fletcher made. Without that pick, we don’t get Hackett. If he turns into an NHL goalie, look how important that is. It was nice to have some picks; that allowed us to take some risks later on.”

Real quick, the only bit of news right now is agent Allan Walsh is on his way to Minnesota to meet with new client Stephane Veilleux, a pending free agent. Remember, Veilleux acted as his own agent last summer but as I reported in April, he hired Walsh for this summer.

“I’ve had several conversations with Chuck Fletcher. Stephane’s first priority is exploring all options with Minnesota and we have expressed those feelings to Chuck,” Walsh said.

Free agency is Wednesday and Fletcher planned to take a lot of today and think about free agency and whether he plans to make offers to Veilleux, Marian Gaborik (he will here, I’m told), Martin Skoula, Kurtis Foster and Marc-Andre Bergeron.

There will be news Monday as the Wild must tender qualifying offers to its restricted free agents by 4 p.m. The Wild’s RFA’s are Josh Harding, Kyle Brodziak, Dan Fritsche, Peter Olvecky, Benoit Pouliot, Danny Irmen, Robbie Earl, Clayton Stoner, Riley Emmerson and Paul Albers.

As I mentioned yesterday, it certainly seems a possibility that Fritsche could be out in Minnesota.

OK, I’ll be back on later tonight to clean out the draft notebook. Assistant GM hiring and assistant coaches should be in a matter of days, too.

Gaborik buy house in Vancouver? Salcer has “no knowledge of that”

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

(updated with Fletcher quotes)

Good Tuesday evening. Coming to you live from clear, crisp Vermont, where I will spend the night before heading up to Montreal in the morning.

By the way, very exciting day today. Know what happened on this very day 27 years ago?

Mrs. Joanne Boogaard gave birth to a strapping young lad that would ultimately become one of the NHL’s most intimidating 6-foot-7 and three-quarters-tall enforcers.

I talked with agent Ron Salcer after I landed this afternoon, and he said while the door’s not closed on the Wild with pending free agent Marian Gaborik, July 1 is “very enticing” and it’ll be awfully tough to get Gaborik to relinquish the rare opportunity of getting to speak to 29 other teams.

But Salcer said he’s had one conversation with Wild GM Chuck Fletcher but wouldn’t discuss if an offer’s been made. As I wrote last week, I’m pretty sure the Wild plans to offer Gaborik a five-year deal in the $7 million range. He turned down a 10-year, $78.5 million deal last fall because he didn’t want to commit to 10 years in Minnesota when he wasn’t comfortable with the direction of the team on and off the ice. That’s from well-placed sources.

Everything’s changed since with Jacques Lemaire and Doug Risebrough gone, which actually does intrigue Gaborik. However, with free agency eight days away, if Gaborik decides to stay here, as I’ve said over and over again on here, I would be beyond shocked.

Plus, as you can see at this link, the Vancouver Province’s Jason Botchford is reporting that Gaborik’s bought a house in Vancouver. I’ve talked to Jason and he’s citing unidentified sources but feels like he’s very much confirmed this. I haven’t been able to confirm and Salcer said he has no knowledge.

IF true, IF there’s been contact made with Gaborik and he has some sort of inside information that he’s going to sign with Vancouver that he is comfortable enough to buy a home there, it should be a very interesting couple weeks. Teams are not permitted to contact pending free agents until 11 a.m. CDT July 1. That is tampering — plain and simple.

And if you remember, the Wild accused the Canucks of tampering last year with Pavol Demitra before he signed a two-year, $8 million deal with Vancouver.

It was confirmed that Demitra was in Vancouver looking for homes well in advance of free agency, and his former agent is now the Canucks’ GM, Mike Gillis. The league looked into the situation at the Draft and eventually dropped the Wild’s charge around the time Demitra signed there.

If a team is ever found guilty of tampering, it can be fined lots of mula and draft picks.

Gaborik couldn’t be reached for comment, so I wasn’t able to ask him about the Province’s report.

But Salcer did speak to me.

Asked if Gaborik bought a home in Vancouver, Salcer said, “I have no knowledge of that at all. I know nothing about that. Nothing.”

Asked if he’s had conversations with Gillis, Salcer said, “None.”

Chuck Fletcher wouldn’t comment on the Gaborik situation, other than to say he feels it important to keep everything close to the vest at this point.

“There’s nothing I can comment on with the whole Gaborik situation,” Fletcher said. “I’m just going to work through things and we’ll see how it plays out.”

However, he continues to have trade talks with several teams and is hoping to make a move or two in advance of or at the Draft itself. He continues to be entrenched in Dany Heatley talks, which besides the assets, would cost any team a $4 million signing bonus July 1 and then a $4 million salary during the season.

Ottawa GM Bryan Murray has made clear that if the Sens pay that signing bonus, he’s staying there this season. So something should happen at the Draft.

But Fletcher’s involved in a number of things. He’s still definitely dangling Josh Harding. By the way, Niklas Backstrom’s no-trade doesn’t kick in until July 1, but Fletcher says he’s not entertaining trading him: ”No. I haven’t. I mean, no. Nik’s our goalie. Nik’s our goalie for next year.”  

Fletcher’s keeping everything close to the vest.

“There’s always lots and lots of talk and things tend to happen at the Draft itself or a day or two before,” said Fletcher, who arrived in Montreal on Tuesday. “It’s certainly playing to form. You just don’t know. Everybody is talking to everybody, so you never know how serious things are.

“What I’m finding is you talk to a team one week and the next week things may have changed. So there’s things certainly I’m focused on and we’re having lots of conversations.”