Trying to land a record deal of a different sort

Musician hopes to make `Guinness' book for fastest U.S. tour

August 22, 2002|By Alexa James | Alexa James,SUN STAFF

Folk-rocker Lis Harvey was one day into the road trip of a lifetime, all 50 states in 61 days, and her station wagon had already had enough.

A tire was flat, the struts were shot and the air conditioner died.

Hey, if it was going to be easy, it wouldn't be a world record.

These days, Harvey, 24, is rolling toward her Maryland stop - where she'll really appreciate the air conditioning - behind the wheel of a borrowed car. It's a token of true friendship (Harvey warned her buddy the trip could cover 20,000 miles). And there's no time to waste. The clock is ticking.

Oh, and if she gets a speeding ticket, the entire mission self-destructs.

"Yesterday was my last day off for 23 days," Harvey said Tuesday from New York, her seventh state. "There's no turning back now."

She's a week into her bid for a place in the Guinness World Records. And except for two necessary flights, to Hawaii and Alaska, she is driving the entire route. If she succeeds, she will become the fastest touring female musician on Earth. No woman currently holds the record.

The only artist loco enough to attempt a state-a-day pace was bad-to the-bone George Thorogood, who played 50 states in 50 days about 20 years ago. But Thorogood and the Destroyers sometimes doubled up on gigs, hitting two states on the same day. Harvey will perform only once a day, even though venues in Delaware and New Jersey snuggle alluringly close to Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Saturday night, "The 50 State Tour" stops in Annapolis at the Middleton Tavern, 2 Market St., where the singer-songwriter opens for the Kevin Kline Band. Maryland will be Harvey's 11th state.

The tour has been on the drawing board for more than a year. "It started out as a hoot," she said. "I don't know if you were one of those fourth-graders who loved the Guinness book of world records." Fascinated by the woman with the longest fingernails and the world's fattest man, Harvey started brainstorming.

"I'm not going to make it for the longest hair, and I probably don't have the calf muscle strength to jump on a pogo stick," she said. Instead, the 5-foot-2 guitar player from Madison, Wis., released a live album, Topography, and instigated a promotional tour.

"I had this really strong set of songs that I didn't have time to go into a studio and record," said Harvey. She compiled 13 tracks from shows at the University of Alaska, Madison and Portsmouth, N.H. Topography, produced with the help of her first guitar teacher and mentor, Duncan Watts, is her sophomore album and a debut from her own Erlendahle Records.

But the tour and the album are about more than headlines and records. Harvey's journey is one of self-exploration. She is the travel agent, the secretary and driver for most of the journey. Her boyfriend of more than four years doubled as tour manager for the first few days, but now he's back in Madison working as a physical chemist.

In New York, Harvey is holed up with Elanit Kayne, a friend she met at a summer art program for high school students at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. They eventually attended college together at Carnegie Mellon, where Harvey majored in creative writing.

Kayne is amazed by Harvey's endurance. "I meditate; I take my time," Kayne said. "She's like vroom, vroooooom! She's beyond human. She's like this fierce little ball of energy. Maybe she becomes one with the car."

Other stops on the tour include the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Santa Fe and the Salt Lake City Cup of Joe. She'll also drop by the Barking Spider in Cleveland, Ohio, and Sweet Melissa's in Laramie, Wyo. Harvey plays her 25th state, Michigan, on Sept. 9, her 25th birthday. Even though house concerts and back yards are popular in today's folk scene, Guinness insists on a venue with a minimum capacity of 100 that legally features music acts.

As if the travel and performance schedules aren't enough, running for a world record includes a strict set of guidelines.

"There's a lot of stuff to remember to collect for Guinness," Harvey said, "like signatures and ticket stubs and people's statements, pictures, clippings from papers. I can't even get a speeding ticket."

Harvey is also recording an online journal at www.lisharvey. com and phoning daily updates to XM Satellite Radio. She's just realized that she needs to find out where she can legally chat on her cell phone. It's illegal in New York to talk and drive.

Harvey's also trying to avoid fast food.

"You're driving along. You pass Taco Bell. You remember how good the seven-layer burrito is, and you try not to stop. And you promise yourself, next time," she said. "Food on the road is a constant battle."

Before the trip, she stocked up on Slim Fast. For Harvey, it's not about weight loss, but finding a cheaper, healthier alternative to her Achilles heel - milkshakes.

Harvey said the most difficult part of the road trip has been curbing post-show socializing.

"Alcohol is, unfortunately, pretty much out," she said. "I've had a lot of people ... ask me, can I have dinner with them or meet them for drinks, but I can't go out for drinks. ... Not only does it dry out your instrument vocally, but it robs you of [a good night's rest]." "Having to say no is my least favorite thing to do."

The payoff for Harvey's self-control and stamina?

"Just playing," she said. "Performing is the best part. It's the cream on the top of the milk."

50 State Tour

What: Folk singer-songwriter Lis Harvey with the Kevin Kline Band

Where: The Middleton Tavern, 2 Market St., Annapolis

When: 10 p.m. Saturday night

Admission: Free

Call: 410-263-3323

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