Last week was a typical one for keyboardist/organist/accordionist Josh Kantor. He had gigs in Connecticut and New York with his band The Split Squad (featuring members of Blondie, the Plimsouls, and the Fleshtones), and he played organ at his friends’ wedding. A few days later, he turned down shows in Brooklyn with one of his other bands, The Baseball Project (members include Mike Mills, Steve Wynn, Linda Pitmon, and Peter Buck), because he had to go to work. For Kantor, work means playing the organ at Fenway Park for the Boston Red Sox. He hasn’t missed a home game in twelve years.
Kantor uses Twitter to chat with fans during Sox games, taking requests that run the gamut: “Take On Me,” “Here Comes My Baby,” “Dancing in the Moonlight,” (he apparently knows every song ever written), and fielding constructive criticism, such as this recent tweet: “Shove the Fenway organ up your ass.” Kantor’s reply? “Tough but fair.”
In between gigs and Twitter requests, Kantor works at the Harvard music library. Paste chatted with the industrious musician about eating at ballparks and on the road, and learned about how he has shared meals and stages with the likes of Conor Oberst, Yo La Tengo, Chuck Prophet, Susan Cowsill, Robyn Hitchock, and trick performing dogs from America’s Got Talent, among many others. We were duly impressed, but this did not stop Paste from asking the tough questions, like: Which park has the best hot dogs, Wrigley or Fenway? Short answer: Don’t ask a vegetarian.
Paste: What do you eat before (or during?) a game at Fenway?
Josh Kantor: Fenway has a cafeteria for staff and media, which is almost always the source of my pre-game meal. They offer ballpark fare (pizza, ice cream, etc.), a rotation of healthier entrees and sides, and a salad/sandwich bar. Since I eat there so frequently (about 13 times per month for six months), I try to opt for the healthy stuff as much as possible, especially as I get older. I’m usually coming from my day job at the library or from a gig or rehearsal, and I start playing for the ballpark when the gates open 90 minutes before the game starts, so mealtime is frequently just a quick bite and is rarely leisurely. The exception is Sundays, when the games almost always start in the early afternoon, and the cafeteria offers a nice variety of brunch-type options. Sundays are when I get to enjoy a more relaxed (and often more filling) meal, as well as good conversation with my friends and colleagues on the staff.
During the game, I’m seated in tight quarters, paying close attention to several work-related tasks, and keeping my fingers (and thereby the organ keys) clean. None of this is conducive to eating, so I just stick to water during the game…and maybe a cup of coffee, depending on how many consecutive nights of gigs and ballgames I’m up to at that point.
Paste: Do you eat differently before a club gig with Split Squad or the Baseball project than you do before a game? Are there any foods you avoid before playing?
JK: Because of the cafeteria set-up at Fenway, there’s a certain predictability with the food situation before a ballgame. Being on tour with a rock band, that concept doesn’t really exist…at least not in my case, where the venues are usually fairly small (and often dive-y). That lack of predictability can be both good and bad: some nights, the venue is attached to a nice restaurant that cooks something special for the band, and other nights, your best available option is a banana and a fistful of crackers in the van. Most nights, it’s somewhere in between those two ends of the dinner spectrum. You often have to be pretty flexible on tour about going with whatever is available (or with whatever you’re out-voted on by your band mates). Maintaining maximum alertness throughout a long stretch of baseball games or rock shows takes a little bit of effort; part of that effort includes trying to stay away from any foods just before the performance that will make me feel logy.
Paste: Tell me about a memorable post-gig or post-game meal.
JK: Most gigs and games end late enough in the evening that I’m rarely in the mood to eat at that point. But I’ll never forget the first-rate breakfast that bassist extraordinaire Kevin T. White (of Chuck Prophet’s Mission Express band) made for me after I crashed at his place the last time I played in San Francisco. Eggs with peppers. Toast with raisins. Fresh fruit. When a friend cooks for you while you’re on tour, it feels like you’re succeeding at life.
Paste: What restaurant in the world do you most look forward to visiting when you’re traveling or on tour?
JK: I play a lot in Harrisburg, PA; it’s a town that has been very good to a number of bands I’ve toured with in recent years. There’s a bistro there called Note that’s been really welcoming to my band mates and me. And when I’m driving from Boston to New York City (or vice-versa) for a gig, I like to stop on the way at Rein’s Deli in Vernon, CT, which I learned about from other Boston-based musicians who play in NYC a lot. I’m fond of the potato knishes and the mushroom barley soup.
Paste: Which park has the best hot dogs, Wrigley or Fenway?
JK: I haven’t had a hot dog in almost 25 years. I had a few at Wrigley when I was in high school in the Chicago area, and I had one at Fenway when I moved to Boston to start college, but I can’t remember which one I liked better.
Paste: What’s the best meal or piece of food you’ve had lately?
JK: I have a sweet tooth. Someone at SXSW last month handed me an ice-cream sandwich made with red velvet cookies, and I thought to myself, “I wish I could subsist entirely on these.”
Paste: Do you have any superstitious pre-show drink rituals?
JK: No individual ritual, except having water if I expect to be jumping around a lot (which is more practical than superstitious). Some bands that I play with have a short pre-show toast that we like to do as a group just before going on stage.
Paste: Do you cook or bake at home? Do you have a specialty?
JK: I can follow a recipe well enough for my dishes to turn out all right, but I lack the instincts and intuition of a skilled cook. My mom’s recipe for vegetarian chili is a hit when I make it for touring bands who crash at my place when they’re playing in Boston.
Paste: What’s your funniest on-the-road story?
JK: Here’s one that comes to mind as the most surreal. Last July, the Baseball Project performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the field at the Durham (NC) Bulls Athletic Park at the start of the annual Minor League home-run hitting contest. Before taking the field, we ate ballpark food in the Durham Bulls owner’s box (decorated to resemble an old-fashioned barbershop), and then we went to practice the song in a dressing room, where we were greeted by the other acts who would entertain the crowd that evening, including over a dozen mascot performers from all around the minor leagues who were changing into their costumes, The main ones I remember are Wool E. Bull from the Durham Bulls, Paws from the Pawtucket Red Sox, Parker from the Fresno Grizzlies (who hung around with us a lot: and Cosmo from the Las Vegas 51s (who is some kind of Area 51 space alien).
Also on the bill were the trick-performing dogs who were the 2012 America’s Got Talent winners. The whole thing felt like an old vaudeville show.
Freda Love Smith is a drummer and writer whose food memoir, Red Velvet Underground, is forthcoming on Agate. She blogs at lovesmiths.blogspot.com. Follow her on twitter: @fredalovesmith