I am sitting in the passenger seat rolling down I94 just into Minnesota listening to the Carolina Chocolate Drops. What did we do before IPods? Oh yeah, I had a Walkman 4. Long live cassettes. It’s fun to see banjo player Danny Barnes releasing his albums on used cassettes. They are analog after all, and sound pretty good when they aren’t all garbled sounding…
I still remember borrowing my friend Conrad’s Midnight Oil cassette (10987654321) and leaving it on the dash of my 1970 VW van for the summer. It got a little melted but I think after all these years he has found it in his heart to forgive me. What a concert that band put on outdoors in Vancouver in the early 90’s on their Blue Sky Mining tour. I loved that band!
Now it’s time for Gordon Lightfoot. We’ve been skirting the Canadian border for a lot of this tour and I haven’t been listening to enough Canadian music. We were so close to Toronto and Montreal- both amazing cities to spend time. I’ve been living in Montana for a while but of course Canada will always be home. The Vancouver area specifically. And no, I don’t miss Tim Horton’s. I miss the people and the familiarity. But America is a pretty great place to be too.
So the trip from Idaho to Michigan was relatively uneventful. All 34 hours of it…We hadn’t been to The Ark in Ann Arbor for five or six years. It’s a pretty cool place to pay. So much history. Taking a look at all the performers who have played there is kind of a who’s who of the folk scene. We played a long set of tunes and it was nice to say hi to everyone afterward. In fact, I even had Michigan relatives come to the show!
One of the kids there was telling me about a 36 page illustrated book of original stories based on Thomas The Tank Engine. My 2-year-old Travis loves Thomas so I’m going to see about getting a copy for story time.
We’ve been driving through some incredible rainstorms lately, like right now near Minneapolis. It’s a great way to keep the van clean. (the outside at least…)
We had booked a hotel online so we headed there after meeting a few friends after the show. The area of the hotel where we were staying was cordoned off by yellow caution tape. Never a good sign. Was it a murder? Bedbugs? Raccoon infestation? The mind wanders…
But really it’s probably better not to know what went on in a hotel room the night or the weeks before. In the morning painters had arrived to continue their work so it was kind of a false alarm.
The last couple of years I’ve gotten used to being awakened by little kids through the night and usually pretty early in the morning so I’ve been enjoying a few extra z’s out here on the road with a wild and crazy rock & roll band. But it still feels good to get up in the morning before everyone else and find a treadmill, go for a walk, or read the paper with a nice cup of coffee. Obviously we aren’t getting rich out here, but it is kind of like being on a paid vacation, albeit a budget vacation. I miss the family of course but the boys seem to get a kick out of the fact that “Daddy is going over the mountains to play his guitar to earn money so he can buy us fig newtons sometimes” And I like getting the chance to see the American landscape, meet new people and play a guitar almost every night.
I just asked the guys in the van to describe the tour in one word stream of consciousness style right now and this is what happened:
Full tilt, Worthwhile
Baseball, Epic, Lotsofmilesandsmiles
Revealing? You tell me!
You can have fun guessing who said what if you want…or not.
We had a day off after the Ann Arbor show so we drove to Cleveland and went to the ball game versus Kansas City. It’s kind of an enjoyable way to spend an evening. Way more fun than watching Storage Wars re-runs at the hotel. OK, maybe that was a bad example…We love our reality TV!
I bought some peanuts and a couple of the guys enjoyed a few $11 dollar beers. Life is good in the music business apparently.
The next day I went for lunch with my friends Heather and Steve and met their beautiful baby daughter. It’s funny how the years drift by and before you know it people have been friends for 10 years or more.
We headed down to the Beachland Ballroom to set up for the show around 6. We’ve played at the actual ballroom as an opener in the past but we generally play the tavern that is attached to the Ballroom and holds a hundred people or so. That block is a real vortex for music lovers with the Ballroom and a bunch of record stores and cool vintage shops. I read that Polka King Frankie Yankovic grew up there in the Colwood area of Cleveland. I had a nice talk with a woman in a coffee shop who told me about the changing face of the neighbourhood. Apparently houses are still relatively inexpensive as the crime is still pretty high but that is slowly changing. And there are incentives and grants to get people back into the area to fix up some of the gorgeous turn of the century homes that need a little, or a lot of TLC.
The show itself? Fun. 18 years in and about three thousand shows later for me and it’s still fun. For me, the band and sometimes even the audience too! It’s not a huge place but it was full and there were road trippers and just like every night, there was someone there who first saw the band in Idaho.
One thing about the Clumsy Lovers is we can set up and unload our stuff quicker than any band I have ever seen except for the Red Elvis’s.
We did a few days in Texas with them a long time ago. They seemed to show up right at showtime and be unpacked and playing in about 10 minutes.
But we would come a close second.
Everything tucks away and fits nicely in our van. We traded a touring rig with a trailer that was fast becoming expensive and unreliable for a streamlined, fuel-efficient minimalist system. That factor, staying at friends places and stuffing into one or sometimes 2 hotel rooms, and sweet gigs continuing to roll in have put things back on an even keel again. But it’s still a work in progress after all these years with daily dilemmas out here on the road: “AC seems to have stopped working in the van. Better get that fixed. Better give that man $813 dollars…” First world problems to be sure but the money needs to come from somewhere. And a blown PA speaker and a flat tire in Brooklyn to add to the list…but it’s all manageable.
I’ve been listening to financial advice guy Dave Ramsey in the van recently. I agree with most of what he has to say, but I doubt that he would endorse a 44-year-old father of 3 being in a traveling band that exists pretty far beneath the radar. But that’s ok. I know a lot of artists and musicians that could make more money doing other things but for a number of reasons, they choose not to. There are the success stories in the arts, but they really are few and far between. But if you keep your expectations realistic things seem to fall into place. But maybe we should all dare to dream a little bit more?
So we headed to New York State the next day- a big and beautiful state! And back to the wonderful world of tolls…We’ve played in and around NY a lot over the years but I don’t think we’ve ever made it to the Adirondacks. So pretty. And so close to Montreal! I saw a sign that said it was only 120 miles away.
We were here to play Jimmy and Whitney’s wedding. In another roundabout small world kind of way we had played Jimmy’s brothers wedding in Santa Barbara a few years ago so they asked us if we were available and we marked it on the ol’ calendar. We were going to fly in as it is one heck of a drive but we decided to build the current tour around it.
Play shows on the way there, then play shows on the way back. A tried, tested and true way of doing things…
And what a beautiful place for a wedding! Wow! Very Great Gatsbyish! We played for 2 and a half hours straight through after the speeches and the people cut a rug and had a blast! Everyone was very gracious and the bride and groom were tickled pink and that’s all any band could ask for.
The next day we got up really early and drove into the city for a Yankees game. We bought tickets and starting climbing the stairs and kept climbing and climbing all the way to the last row! But the view was awesome and it was shady with a gentle breeze on a 90 plus day. NY lost to the Royals if anyone is keeping track.
We headed back to our hotel in Brooklyn and we all scattered in various directions. A couple of us went to the Rockwood Music Hall. That was fun. The next day Jeff and I walked around Williamsburg and I later met up with an old friend from Canada to watch game 6 of the Stanley Cup. (Chicago beat Boston to win it) Took the subway back to the hotel. NY is a pretty exciting place to be. Quite different from small town Montana. Both have their charm that’s for sure.
After New York we played shows in Indiana and Wisconsin and we eventually ended up in Billings for the inaugural Billings Grassroots Fest.
Overall, it was a really fun tour with lots of miles covered and hundreds of thousands of notes played!
So since those shows in June, July and August have happened and I am sitting here in Denver getting ready to play the last show of the summer.
Bozeman, Whitefish, Missoula, Red Lodge, Helena, Livingstone, Boise, Spokane, Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Salt Lake City, Kansas City, Wichita, Lincoln and Vail and other forgotten places were all stops along the way too.
The Summer of 2013? Two thumbs up!