By Derek Miles
“I was broke, on food stamps, and unemployed. I was the farthest rock bottom you could get” said Pete Pidgeon, during a recent sit-down interview with The Marquee. “I understood that the priority had to be the way of life. If you don’t know your business inside and out, they’re gonna eat you alive, and you have no shot at all.”
Pidgeon was commenting on the hard-nosed operation of the music business, particularly in New York and the east coast. He was explaining that the knowledge and experience gained from his tenure in the music scenes of Boston and New York are now considered invaluable, when he looks back on his Grammy recognized musical career. While it made him become a more business savvy musician in a cutthroat numbers game that is the east coast music business, not long ago Pidgeon was forced to make a change in favor of quality of life, and as he approaches the release of his latest album All The Little Things, it appears that the shift was a perfectly-timed and choreographed move from a soul who has made changing a way of life.
Long before the change became imperative though, Pete Pidgeon and Arcoda were born out of an underground experimental scene centered at the Rhinecliff Hotel in the Hudson Valley, half-way between New York City and Albany, N.Y. Located in the middle of nowhere, out in the woods by the train tracks, the venue, according to Pidgeon, was a small, dingy room with a single lightbulb to light the space. The unlikely locale was the happening spot in an area where nearly no other venues catered to the eighteen and up crowd — an epicenter of the jam scene for the surrounding college towns. Bands like Schleigho, Miracle Orchestra (a former band of The Motet’s Garrett Sayers), Uncle Sammy, and other groups that were culled from students of the Berklee College of Music and The New England Conservatory of Music would play the now defunct venue.
It was in that incubator for creative bands that Arcoda was born. When Arcoda played the Rhinecliff Hotel in March of 1998, the music fit the times — it was a free, ever-evolving project; chameleonic in some ways. Besides Pidgeon, the members have always rotated, stopping to add their color to the canvas before heading off in other directions. For Pidgeon and his cohorts, rolling with the flow has been an integral part of the underlying vision since their creation. “When we were at the Rhinecliff John Scofield’s album A Go Go had just come out and was hot at the time” he said. Jazz fusion, rock, and funk were the predominant styles of music and Pete Pidgeon and Arcoda were very much a jamband, so adaptation was a full-on way of life. The music may have changed slightly depending on the venue or the members who were available for a particular gig, but the vision of the big picture was always the same.
Though he was being vetted in that jam world, Pidgeon’s roots came from a less heady background. “I grew up in a songwriting context” Pidgeon said. Paul Simon, Bonnie Raitt, and Randy Newman were just a few of the influences that he mentioned.
In 2000, Pidgeon saw Levon Helm (The Band being another heavy influence) play at the State University of New York at New Paltz. Pidgeon met Helm after the show and asked him if he would play on his record. After two years of persistence, follow-up phone calls, emails, and only meeting Helm on one brief occasion, the recording session was finally scheduled and tracks were put to tape for Pidgeon’s first album, 2003’s At First Sight.
While the time at the Rhinecliff had taught Pidgeon to be adaptable, it was at this recording session with Helm that Pidgeon realized the depth of the catalog he had built, and how much adaptation would fuel his career.
“I have a whole jazz record, I have a whole progressive rock record, a jamband record, an Americana record, an indie acoustic record, an instrumental guitar record, — not recorded but written — so depending on the direction I need to go for the gig, I can pull from all those bags” Pidgeon explained.
At First Site featured three songs with Helm on drums and mandolin, but for his upcoming release All The Little Things, which could be completed as early as this fall, Pidgeon will be pulling, all of these years later, another song from the Helm session that has yet to be released — Helm’s drumming on Arcoda’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll be Staying Here With You.” In addition to the posthumous appearance by Helm, the new album features an enormous list of guest musicians.
All of this from a musician who essentially started over just last year. In 2014, Pidgeon put the east coast behind him, packed up and moved west, and since landing in Denver he’s found that there are other reasons that he hadn’t even imagined that has made the move more than worthwhile. While he recognizes the pressure to brand his music for talent buyers and marketability, he’s found a freedom in the Denver music scene, as well as a level of humanity that was non-existent back east. “It’s harder to book if you’re not a definitive type of music, but I think Denver is unlike any other city I know. It’s possible to be a diverse band because you can market yourself to the show and venue. I don’t feel the pressure as I did in other cities,” Pidgeon said, adding that the amicable, approachable nature of talent buyers and promoters here is vastly different. “I can talk to them like humans. I moved out here for the people, but music is always the motivator.”
And motivation is what he had the second he hit the streets of Denver. From day one he ingrained himself in the scene, and hustled to get shows, appeared on the “Songs of Their Own Series” leading up to the GD50 Grateful Dead reunion shows, and got his new band members up to speed. “I didn’t sleep, I didn’t eat, no social life, no dating, nothing. And then I totally smashed my head into the wall, cause I was just going a hundred miles per hour for so long, with no breaks,” he said. “I think I accomplished three years of work in about a six month period” Pidgeon said. But the crazed schedule has paid off. Pete Pidgeon and Arcoda will release All The Little Things this coming spring.
Go If You Dig:
- Jackie Greene
- Jeff Buckley
- The Band