The pilot episode of Popp Over America has been completed! I am now seeking producers, sponsors, gigs, and places to sleep. If you can help out on any way please let me know.
The pilot episode of Popp Over America has been completed! I am now seeking producers, sponsors, gigs, and places to sleep. If you can help out on any way please let me know.
Day 1 – July 8th, 2015
The crew trickled into my apartment starting with the cinematographer Ulad of UT Cinema Film Production at 7:30am. He wasted no time, getting shots of my crusty place and my Honda VFR800. A short while after, Paul the audio guy arrived and he mic’ed up with a wireless pack. We jumped in headfirst and started filming. I had a script I was loosely following, but I felt I was acting too much instead of just being myself. I decided to try and talk naturally instead of adhering to the script. Everything seemed to be going smoothly with the exception of my superintendent hassling me about filming on the premises. I guess he didn’t like I was discussing how my basement apartment had roaches and rats residing alongside of me.
I began to load up and more trouble ensued. The tumbler from my top case popped out as I tried to lock it on my bike. It took me 30 minutes to get it so that it would lock. When it did lock, I could not get the key out! I decided to press on, and the crew gave me a piece of gaff tape to keep the key from spinning out of the lock on the highway.
I was finally loaded up and the VFR burbled to life. I took a pretty standard route over the George Washington Bridge and it was cool to see Ulad next to me training his Sony NX5 on my bike. The weather was nice as we headed for Morristown Memorial, the hospital where I was born. We got there and decided to shoot from across the street with the hospital in the background. The shoot went smoothly and we loaded up and took off for East Hanover my hometown.
We drove straight to Luigi’s Restaurant to get a meal in before hitting locations in East Hanover. The food was great and we were energized again. We drove to Lurker Park, the place of my first make out session and I talked about my Little League baseball days. A collection of memories flooded back to me. We also visited my grammar and middle schools. The real magic began when we were shooting in front of my old house on Wildwood Avenue. A car drove by and the occupant smiled and waved as she pulled into the driveway. I ran up the slight incline and a woman got out of the car. I excitedly said, “I’m Joe Popp, I used to live here. Do you mind if we shoot around the outside of the house?” She smiled and said, “I know who you are. Your name is still written in my basement.” I was shocked to hear this. “Really?!? Do you mind if we come inside and shoot?” “Not at all!” she replied.
I walked through my childhood house like a ghost. I visited my old bedroom and recalled playing “hot lava” with my brothers and sisters. I went into the adjoining music room and remembered plunking on the many instruments my dad had acquired in various horse trades. Banjos, guitars, a ukulele, an autoharp, even and old zither were at my creative disposal. I was transported back in time, flashing back to experimenting with these instruments. This room was the nexus of my musical career. I was moved.
We ventured into the basement and I was again blindsided by a rush of feelings. On the wall remained in chalk and black marker my writing from 40 years ago, my name -“Joe Popp.” I was amazed that it was still there. I toured the rest of the basement and saw old tic-tac-toe games and drawings of cars untouched by time. I was taken aback to say the least.
The crew followed me into the backyard and remnants of the track we etched into the grass on top of the hill with a mini-bike and a go cart remained. This is where I first experienced a motorized two-wheeled vehicle. My brother John gave me a ride on his gold Briggs & Stratton powered mini-bike. I stood and reflected on my youth. Yes, there were tough times, but my parents tried their damnedest to give us a good life. My father even put in a pool and he and my brothers help pour the concrete sidewalk that surrounded it. He also installed large railroad ties with thick pikes that remain today. Little did my father know he taught me how to be D.I.Y. and ethic I still strongly believe to this day. Entering the old house was a gift I could not believe I was serendipitously given.
We left the house and ventured to the sight on my first accident where I was hit by a car on my bicycle . I have had many wrecks since this first and I am lucky to say I have never broken a bone. We next traveled toward the church I attended when I was young. This is where I first heard the electric guitar. The church seemed frozen in time, unchanged from what I remembered. The footage we captured in East Hanover was incredible, but we needed to get onto the next location.
As we veered onto the highway towards High Point State Park, the skies opened up. A hard driving storm pummeled my bike and guitar, but I had my rain suit on and I am experienced at driving in the bad weather. I also learned it’s better to drive on than to stop as the rain will just linger. The crew in the chase vehicle was worried and even pulled over one time to check on me. I shouted, “I’m fine! Drive on!”
We approached High Point and the rain stopped and the sun appeared again. More crazy luck, as if the gods above knew I only had 4 days with the crew and we needed to get footage. This is a place my mother brought us as kids. I went past a barrier and drove right up to the monument. Ulad was excited to use his drone and we filmed some breathtaking shots high above the obelisk. The park is a beautiful resource and the highest elevation in New Jersey.
Next, we travelled to my old friend Steve Weir’s house. He was putting the crew up for the night since our budget was so tight. When I arrived the first thing I did was check my guitar to see if any water penetrated my Hoffee Carbon Fiber case. I pulled out my guitar and the bottom pad and low and behold – bone dry. I was in the rain for a good 35 minutes and the dryness is a testament to this case. Hoffee sponsored me for this tour and this case is simply unparalleled. Incredible.
Steve cooked us a delicious spread of food and his wife Sylvia came up with a “Jersey Dog” recipe that fused two New Jersey staples – hot dogs and pork roll (made into a chili)! After dinner, Steve showed me how to set up a tent as I was going to be camping along my tour of the 48 states. This education was followed by a concert I played for the entire gang. Steve’s family, the crew, and my friends Kel and KP, all sat as I played several songs. I was tired, but playing for these great people gave me a shot of adrenaline.
I called Jenny on Facetime from my iPad and the entire party surprised her by being onscreen. She laughed and I am sure felt the love I was feeling by being surrounded by these great people. We all said goodnight and she hung up with a smile. Her battle with MS prevents her from traveling with me on the motorcycle. She knows I have wanderlust and she supports my habit of touring even though I am gone from her for many nights. My music also requires rehearsal and hours of creative time. I feel selfish, as if I have two mistresses that require me to divide my time with her. But she accepts these other activities as they are what makes me who I am. She has a huge heart and she loves me – mistresses and all.
I stayed up until 11:30, blabbing my fool head off, excited from a fortuitous day of shooting. The juice finally wore off and I fell into the couch with Kel sacked out next to me on the floor. I had trouble going to sleep thinking about how lucky I am. I have great friends, a talented crew, and my girl Jenny back in Brooklyn supporting me as I ride. The sandman finally got the better of me and I nodded off to sleep with the biggest smile of smiles.
Day 2 – July 9th, 2015
We had a lot of ground to cover and got an early start. Steve cooked one of his ridiculously huge breakfasts and we all tanked up. We gave our goodbyes and headed onward to Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park. My bike was performing beautifully and there was a very light mist. I risked not wearing my rain suit and I lucked out as the wetness subsided. We arrived to meet Ernie Hernandez, a park ranger I had introduced myself to when scouting locations. He is the most gregarious man you could ever meet. I interviewed him and he responded with knowledgeable answers. I ended up writing him a little impromptu song and he smiled as I played.
Ulad filmed more with the drone and Ernie gave me access to the walking bridge over the falls that is currently closed to the public. More gifts. People going the extra mile because they realize I am trying to make something and they support me whole heartedly even though they are new acquaintances. We got incredible footage of the Falls and moved over to nearby Hinchliffe Stadium. The stadium is in a sad state, but there are plans to revitalize the facility. I came here as a boy to see a stunt car show called “Hell Drivers,” a memory I’ll never forget.
We were also able to get access into the stadium after a few hints from a certain park ranger. I sat in the same stands I sat over 40 years ago. Emotions flooded my brain once again. The concept of time is such a difficult thing to grasp. I recall sitting in this very spot as almost if yesterday. Time seems to accelerate as we age. Years fly by like the flipping of calendar pages. I am happy I am capturing today on camera – a bookmark of a great day to look back on after more years slip past.
We finished up at the stadium and visited one of my childhood haunts – Libby’s Lunch. I consider this place the gold standard when discussing a particular style of hot dog, the Texas Weiner. The dog is deep fried and the chili sauce is more liquid than standard chili but the flavor is amazing. Served “All-the-way,” meaning chili, minced onions, and spicy mustard, these dogs conjure great memories. My parents would bring stacks of these to backyard parties at my grandfather’s house nearby on the Paterson/Clifton border. I interviewed the proprietors, Heidi, Voula and George, the Psarros family. They were kind and funny. I wrote them a song too and had them dance around in front of the restaurant as I played. I may not be famous, but I am touching people with my music in a personal and meaningful way as I tour the country.
I had a show to play in New Brunswick and we need to get on the road. My bandmate Shaugn O’Donnell was playing this concert with me and would be meeting us at the hotel in New Brunswick. The VFR800 was driving wonderfully and I didn’t notice any ill effects of the guitar being mounted on the bike. I now realized I can do this. I could tour the country with this bike and this guitar. I felt good.
We made good time to the Hyatt in New Brunswick. It was a decent chunk of change but the crew deserved a comfortable place. We all got a well deserved break and had a few beers in the hotel bar after resting up. The original gig at the Court Tavern got cancelled but a promoter who goes by the moniker Brittney on Fire hooked us up with a show at 9pm at the Scarlet Pub. Just when you think the music industry can’t stoop any lower, somebody like Brittney saves the day and gives a show to a band that lost a gig. My faith in humanity has been restored.
We had a fun show. The other bands were very supportive and my old friend and genius sax player Doug Dehays even showed up. I broke two strings during the short set, but it was my own fault as I had not changed them since well before the trip. One of my sponsors D’Addario sent me 3 cases of strings, so I felt stupid for not changing them. Besides the broken strings we had a riot. I love to play with Shaugn because he is such a talented musician. When I make a mistake he will make a musical inside joke by mimicking what I played wrong, a goof that only he and I understand. Ulad kept three cameras rolling and Paul captured the audio by using signal splits. We should have some great footage.
The crew packed up and headed back to the hotel. I hung out with Shaugn for a bit a the pub and saw The Rooftop perform. They were young and energetic and laid their hearts out there on that stage. I thought back to the first time I performed onstage when I was 12. Really? 38 years ago?
I went back to the hotel with Shaugn and his family. We decided to eat in the hotel bar as they were still serving food. I have become close to his fiancée Heather and his two grown kids Mike and Megan because we have know each other for 13 years. His son plays and is in the band Sofus, and his daughter is an excellent creative writer. We joked and laughed so hard as we recalled funny moments of the show. The food was delicious and the beer continued to flow as we wore well into the night.
I finally called quits. I laughed to myself as I slept thinking of how I am touring on a motorcycle at 50 years of age. Sometimes dreams take a while to complete, but I’m evidence that it’s never too late to realize them . I snored off to sleep.
Day 3 – July 10th, 2015
We got another early start as our first stop was Slater’s Deli in Leonardo, voted the best pork roll sandwich by Asbury Park Press. We lost some time because of my GPS spinning us around in circles, but I finally got to meet owner Ralph Marotta and he was hilarious. He has a huge personality and loves what he does. He made me their specialty sandwich and it truly deserves all of the accolades. I wrote Ralph a song too and the patrons laughed and smiled. More souls lifted with my guitar.
We drove on to Asbury Park to visit the Silver Ball Pinball Museum. Pinball, and arcade games in general, were a big part of my youth. I often blame my love of games as the primary reason why I am not a better guitar player. The museum is incredible. They have machines dating back to the 1930’s that are all in working order. I had a good time playing and talking about several of the machines I played when I was young.
On the way out we stopped by The Stone Pony. I really wanted to play this venue as it is such a storied place. When I originally contacted them, the booking agent said he may have a slot for me, but when I pressed for a date, they wanted me to pay in order to film inside the venue. I was disappointed as I wanted to join the ranks of other famous New Jersey sons who played there such as Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny, and Jon Bon Jovi. Maybe someday…
Atlantic City was the next destination. We got there with little effort. The hotel was a far cry from the Hyatt, but as I said before the budget was tight. We captured excellent footage of the the casinos and the boardwalk. We snuck a few shots while I was gambling, and the crew even caught me goofing around on the dance floor of the Mountain Bar in the Bally’s Wild West. The mechanical bull I hoped to ride was no longer there which was a let down. I was ready to channel my inner Urban Cowboy.
The crew retired early but I stayed out an had a few beers. I started gambling with $100 and worked my way up steadily to $175. I was going to quit, but of course the drug of winning that stings so many people captured me too. Within minutes I watched my winnings dwindle down to $.93. I am not a gambler, but I can see how the lure of winning a pile of money quickly can be a dangerous thing. I stepped away from the casino and headed for the hotel.
Day 4 – July 11th, 2015
I slept well but rose early to eat a light breakfast and gas up. The ride to New Jersey Motorsports Park for the Vintage Motorcycle Show in Millville was only about 45 minutes away, but I had a 10am performance. This is early for a show, but I am taking any gigs I can get. We had a few delays after arriving at the track. We got to the stage and I asked the person in charge, “Where is the sound system?” She replied, “Oh, you were supposed to bring one.” This was a true Spinal Tap moment and all I could do was laugh. I cannot blame the race track as they are a motorsports facility and not a concert venue. We went ahead and shot anyway with the vintage bikes speeding loudly past as I played a few songs. The audience was comprised of the next band and our crew.
I entered my bike in the vintage motorcycle show for the sole purpose of showing off my guitar case mount. The line of bike brought back so many memories of bikes I had, and bikes I dreamed of having. Talking to the owners was a treat. These are passionate people that love their motorcycles. I fell in love with my VFR800 a little more after seeing her sitting there with the guitar case and all of the luggage, readied for the journey of a lifetime. This machine is going to take me and my guitar around the country. We will be partners for a long time. I enjoyed the idea of that bond.
We had photographer credentials which allowed us to get right next to the track as the vintage bikes raced by the stands. NJMP was very cool to let me do this shoot. They knew I was doing a pilot on a tight budget and we were not National Geographic, but they gave me access anyway. Such a nice gesture.
I let the crew go about halfway through the day I said goodbye to Ulad, Paul, Maegan and X. Four salt-of-the-earth folks that believe in me and followed me like dizzy tornados for four straight days with very few breaks. I was choked up as they pulled away. I wondered if any of this effort was going to amount to anything, but then I realized it already had. My joy comes from making things and I make a lot of them – amplifiers, effects pedals, albums, plays, and now a TV show. Will the networks be interested in a 50-year-old guy driving around on an used Honda eating fatty foods, talking to his girlfriend with MS, playing guitar in small bars, and philosophizing about his youth? It didn’t matter. Sure, I would love for a network to pick up the show and I could live the dream of traveling around the country as a job. But as I’ve said in earlier posts – either way I am going. My dreams are not limited by monetary compensation.
I found a cheap hotel in Millville, had dinner at a Buffalo Wild Wings and called it a night. I talked to Jenny for a short while and told her I was happy. After I hung up, I stared at the ceiling while in bed. I was proud of myself. I was proud of my crew. I thought about all of the generous folks who sent money through Kickstarter. I thought about my sponsors and how they blindly gave to an old guy with a dream. I am a lucky dude.
Day 5 – July 12th, 2015
I slept in a bit at the hotel and then headed to Wildwood, a place where my family vacationed when I was a boy. I arrived well before I could check in, so I left my guitar and luggage at the front desk and hit the boardwalk. As with many of the other destinations, various sights triggered buried memories. I wore a wired mic and did some shooting on my own since I had no crew. I ate lunch at the Doo Wop Diner and for the first time I actually had a salad instead of some sort of processed meat. I checked into the Starlux hotel and relaxed for a while. I took a short nap and hit the boardwalk once again for more shots.
I decided to ride over to Sunset Beach near Cape May which was only a few miles away. I got stuck at a draw bridge for two cycles as ships passed under but finally arrived. I came for a dazzling sunset, but before that there was a flag lowering ceremony. Every night during the summer a different fallen soldier’s flag is lowered and presented to the family of the deceased. I could not help being deeply moved by a young weeping Boy Scout handing the triangle folded flag the elderly wife of the soldier.
I watched the sunset but it was not the beautiful orange sphere sinking into the ocean that I had imagined. The beauty of the ceremony I just saw more than eclipsed the hazy sky that went gradually dark.
I rode home in the dark which I rarely do, but the night was cool. I felt safe as there was little traffic. I parked the bike right outside my window and drifted off to sleep.
Day 6 – July 13th, 2015
After a sparse continental breakfast, I ventured to the miniature version of the Vietnam Memorial Wall right near the boardwalk. I stared in awe at the amount of soldiers that lost their lives during that conflict. The wall seemed out of place being located so closely to the amusements on the boardwalk. I stood alone at the monument for a few minutes and wished for a world of peace.
I headed back to the hotel, loaded up, and checked out. I got on the road and the direct trip from Wildwood to my apartment on Central Park West seemed like a blur. Corbin Seats generously sponsored me with a free saddle for the VFR and the usual pain I felt in my lower back and leg was non-existent. I owe Corbin for not having to go to the chiropractor!
Back where I started 6 days ago, I was again stunned by the passage of time. A second ago I was planing and raising money and now the shoot had come to an end. No matter what the outcome, I will never forget these few days in the Summer of 2015 when I brought a dream to fruition. Man. Bike. Guitar.
There is a lot of amazing footage and audio to review. My work is cut out for me and the editor Eric Bell. We are meeting on Thursday the 23rd and I will keep you posted on progress. I’ll will maybe even have a few video teasers.
Tomorrow at 8:30am the crew will be arriving at my apartment in NYC to begin shooting the pilot episode of Popp Over America. Over the next 4 days they will follow me around my birth state of New Jersey and we will capture the sights, sounds, foods, and staples that make New Jersey a special place.
This project began last October when I was discussing combining motorcycling and music with my dear friend and renaissance man Tylor Durand. I decided to include raising awareness for MS, a disease my girlfriend Jenny battles, after talking to Aaron Heinrich from Asphalt and Dirt. I have worked hard to get to this place as have my crew, friends, and sponsors that have donated time, goods, and money because they believe in me.
On this eve of the most epic project I’ve ever tried to tackle, I am posting up some preliminary mixes of the Popp Over America album. My uber-pal and CCNY Music Department Chair Shaugn O’Donnell is featured on the album as the lead acoustic guitarist. We still have a lot of work to do regarding the recordings, but I wanted to present what we have so far as a way of saying thank you to all of you amazing supporters.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
I finally got the bike after over a month! Such a great feeling to be a motorcycle owner again. A big thanks to Roger Mercer over at r.A.t. Cycles in Lindenhurst, NY who got the new clutch installed and new Michelin Pilot Road 4 tires mounted. The video includes a little jam I wrote and recorded last night.
Notes to self:
– Reduce the use of these words: awesome, amazing, pretty, and awesome.
– Double check focus of selfie or third party shots.
– Get a portable tripod and a camera rig for the Canon 70D.
– More RAM ball mounts on bike to vary GoPro shots.
– Be more conversational.
Here’s my first attempt at a speed-edited 5 minute video blog. I have a lot of things to work out, but my goal is to be able to shoot a self-interview and edit footage from the day in under an hour. This took two hours because of my clunkiness with Final Cut Pro X but I’ll get some workflow tricks set up to make the process quicker. I’m still learning my Canon 70D but slowing getting used to all it can do. Music is from my old band dogs on ice. Please send any production comments!
*Warning* The ending of this video contains a gross reference to a ’70s’ porn star.
Notes to self:
– Shoot more conservatively – 2 hours of train tracks is too much.
– I need to get a color correction preset created. I look pinkish-red!
– I ducked the music while speaking but should kick it up at the end.
– Uploads directly from Final Cut Pro X are low resolution.
– I will need to build a library of instrumental music.
As winter finally lets go of her iron grip on Gotham, the time for planning my pilot episode is now. I have been attending weekly production meetings with Maegan, the production supervisor and X the assistant producer. These two women pound on me hammer and tongs to get commitments on things like times and places. They both want this production to be as good as it can be so the devil must be dealt with in the details. My original idea for Popp Over America was to just drive around and wing it, but these two pros understand a whole hell of a lot more about production schedules than I do. I am honored that they are giving their time to the project.
The dates for shooting the pilot have been set: July 8th – July 11th. I have a list of places and events to visit and the four days will be loaded with adventure. The pilot will be based in New Jersey where I was born. Here is a list of destinations:
– My apartment – NYC
– The George Washington Bridge
– The Palisades Parkway
– Hiemer and Company Stained Glass Studio, Clifton
– East Hanover, New Jersey
– High Point State Park, Montague
– Milford, PA
– Paterson Great Falls, Paterson
– Hinchliffe Stadium, Paterson
– Libby’s Lunch, Paterson
– Scarlett Pub, New Brunswick – Performance at 9PM Sharp!
– Slater’s Deli – Leonardo
– Silverball Pinball Museum, Asbury Park
– Asbury Park Boardwalk
– Atlantic City
– The AHRMA Vintage Motorcycle Festival, NJMP, Millville
– Cape May
I realize I’m leaving out a bunch of great locations, but all of these map points have a personal connection to me. Feel free send any ideas or destinations. Tune in early September to see how I connect the dots with a used motorcycle, a guitar, and strips of pavement. In the meantime, I’ll be posting a lot of fun preparation videos and pictures, along with micro-trip travel logs to keep things interesting. Another big thanks to everyone who helped fund the show and getting us past out Kickstarter goal.
I emailed the booking agent at the world-renowned Stone Pony and asked him about landing a gig there and perhaps filming the show for the pilot episode of Popp Over America. We didn’t nail down a date, but he assures me he can get me a slot in mid-July. I was stunned. This place is the haven of Rock and Roll royalty.
This storied club has hosted not only the likes of New Jersey’s favorite sons such as Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, but also Stevie Ray Vaughn, Elvis Costello, The Ramones, Cheap Trick, Blondie, and The Stray Cats.
The club was shuttered for a few years in 1998, but reopened two years later. Christie Todd Whitman, a former federal cabinet member and governor of New Jersey, rededicated the Pony when it reopened in May 2000. “A visit to The Stone Pony has been considered a pilgrimage to rock ‘n’ roll fans around the world,” Whitman said as she officially reopened the club. “It is a place that is important — not just to us, but to the world.”
I was born in New Jersey, and even though I moved when I was very young, the state is my homeland. I feel a sense of belonging the minute I am anywhere within her borders. My words fall short when I say playing this venue will be a privilege, because after my show I will join the list of my heroes that have graced the stage at the famous Stone Pony.