The Summer of 2013! Moscow to Michigan, over to New York and back to Billings then over to Kansas City ending up in Denver then home to Vancouver and other places.

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!

Missoula to Milwaukee

Six weeks on the road has begun! In the old days of the band, ten-week tours were the norm. But alas, things have changed and six weeks seems like a long time to be away from home.

Moscow, Idaho is where we kicked things off. John’s Alley has always been a great place to play, even after all these years. It wasn’t over the top crazy busy, but both Friday and Saturday brought out a lot of people. We had a practice Saturday with our new drummer Luke. He came out on tour early to catch a few shows and discuss drum stuff with Devin. So far it’s been a pretty seamless transition. It’s definitely a challenge to memorize all the various stops and starts and tempo changes so we hunkered down for a couple of days of practice in Missoula at our friend Steve’s house.

We’ve been trying to stay at friend’s places when hotels aren’t provided. Partly to save money but also to have more of a homey (not banjo player Jason) experience on the road.

Thursday evening we drove a couple of hours to Big Fork, Montana. It used to be a regular stop for us but we haven’t been there for 5 or more years. Jason was under the impression that it had burnt down but when we arrived it was still there. Ryan and Colin have done a great job renovating the place and we salute them for bringing live music back to the venue. We had a fun show- Luke’s first with the band, and we all stayed up afterwards socializing for a while before hitting the floor in the apartment upstairs.

The next morning came pretty early and we were off to Missoula for a radio interview on The Trail, 103.3. I connected with DJ Tracy via Facebook and she invited us to come down to be a guest on local lunch. Technically I’m a Missoula local! (at least for the next year or so)

Tracy has a really great presence on the air. Relaxed, soothing and knowledgeable. And they play great music. Sort of a mix between older stuff (REM, Nirvana…) and new stuff- The Decemberists, The Lumineers, Mumford and Sons…They also play local music too.

Missoula has a pretty vibrant music scene for such a small place. Some of the bands and songwriters I know and like: Tom Catmull, Larry Hirshberg, Britt Arneson, Josh Farmer, Stellarondo, Richie Reinhold, Amy Martin, Russ Nasset, Cash For Junkers, Aran Buzzas, Cold Hard Cash, Butter, Love Is A Dog From Nebraska and a bunch of others that I can’t think of right now.

So, back to the radio interview. We talked for ten minutes or so and Tracy spun a couple of our songs. It was pre-recorded so we were able to listen to it on our way back to my place in the van.

Friday night was our big show in my new hometown~ Missoula! I was actually pretty excited to be playing and I took it as an opportunity to reach out to my new friends in the community and invite them to the show. It was old -school promotion the way I used to do it with various bands I played with back in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Postering, handbills, and a lot of what they call “social networking” although others might call it “wasting time.” Molly Laich over at the Missoula Independent was nice enough to do a feature on the band too.

Every Friday for the past couple of years, the Top Hat has had a free family-friendly show. Normally it’s local bands that play a variety of styles. It’s super fun and we try to bring the boys down there when I am in town. At first it was a little weird for me to see toddlers saddled up at the bar sipping a juice but it starts to feel perfectly normal after a little while.

I wanted to start out our night at the Top Hat by playing a show for the kids. Partly so my little guys and girl would get a chance to see Dad play, and also so that my Missoula friends with families would get a chance to check out the Lovers without having to hire a babysitter. Tons of people showed up and it made me so happy to see mine and all the other little ones dancing in the Toddler Moshpit!” (As my friend Britt calls it)

I had asked Cash For Junkers to open up the later show and they did a bang-up job getting the night started. We hit the stage around 11 and played until the wee hours. Good times and many familiar happy Missoula faces.

The band all crashed out on my floor and we left for Helena the next day.

The event was a Halloween themed benefit for a place called Exploration Works. We rolled in about 4 and were loaded in and sound-checked in about 30 minutes. We’ve got doing our own sound down to a science and everyone plays a role in getting us set up quickly and efficiently. After all, the less time we waste at sound check allows for more time watching COPS at the hotel!

The costumes were amazing! It seems to me that one is either a “I love getting dressed up for Halloween!” kind of person or the “Putting a costume together for Halloween is a real pain!” type. My default costume has always beenThe Lumberjack. Tuck your pants into your socks and put a toque on. Simple. Festive. Canadianesque. No muss no fuss. So that’s what us boys wore and Robyn donned a cowboy hat and tied a stuffed horse around her waist.

The show was super fun and everyone danced and danced and danced. We kicked into The Monster Mash at some point and that was a highlight from my vantage point.  We played pretty late and hit the hotel for a little shut-eye.

The next day we headed up the highway to Billings to play at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company. Another benefit, this time for the Step foundation. We really love playing here.

When we first started playing Billings all those years ago the crowd was generally pretty sparse. Hasn’t been that way lately. (As he knocks on wood) Peopled showed up in droves! Well, cars actually to be more specific. OK, people showed up in droves in cars…

We’ve met so many talented and amazing people in Billings. This time we had an all female opening band called Maxie Ford featuring our friend’s daughter Katie. Excellent singing and instrumentation, and the icing on the cake was the tap dancer keeping time in the back. The crowd loved it! As I was watching them I was thinking that it sure would be nice if my little daughter Eve grows up to create something beautiful for the world.

Katie’s parents were nice enough to put us up at their place and the late night pickin’ and grinning commenced and went on into the wee hours.

A good start to the tour.

Currently driving through North Dakota on our way to Milwaukee.

 

 

 

Article in the Missoula Independent!

Life after kids

The Clumsy Lovers’ Trevor Rogers keeps rollin’ on

by 

Trevor Rogers, guitarist and singer for the Clumsy Lovers, is a displaced Canadian living in Missoula with his wife, two sons and infant daughter. For many touring bands, having three kids in as many years would be the end of the line, but Rogers isn’t letting family life slow him down. Beginning Oct. 19, he’ll set out on a six-week tour with fellow band members Jason Horney, Jeff Leonard, Devin Rice and Robyn Jesson. After a couple of shows in Idaho and Big Fork, the band will play the Top Hat in Missoula on Oct. 26, the band’s first show in town since Rogers moved his family here last year.

I first met Rogers last September on a crowded Saturday night at the Rhino. A mutual friend introduced us based on this thing we had in common: We were both artists from out of town, hoping to suck the marrow out of Missoula’s strange and eclectic scene. Funny how this town works—a year later I invited his entire family over for a vegetarian barbecue in my meat-eating roommate’s backyard.

Missoula Independent news

“We’ve toured in a lot of different vehicles over the years,” Rogers tells me, including a van with 400,000 miles. The band has been traveling together for nearly two decades, and they do all the driving themselves, so this latest stint is not their first rodeo. Rogers explains to me with elaborate hand gestures how the drums will be stacked into his family’s minivan (I forget to ask what the kids will be riding in while he’s on the road), how he’s taking just one guitar instead of two, and how they plan to “cannonball it” the 1,200 miles from their gig in Billings to the show in Milwaukee, Wis., two days later.

“What’s it mean to ‘cannonball it’?” I ask. I think I imagined a human slingshot, but no. It means the band will do the drive straight through, alternating pilots for all 19 hours of that flat, cow-sprinkled expanse through North Dakota and Minnesota.

This latest tour is in support of their ninth album, 2010’s Make Yourself Known. The Clumsy Lovers’ sound is a blend of rock and bluegrass, with some Celtic influence. The beat bounces and meanders and so, too, do its listeners. The music is designed for dancing, which means they have to get out on the road and play shows. Lots and lots of shows.

“We’ve played the Top Hat around a dozen times,” he says, “And maybe 25 times in Missoula overall.”

Those numbers represents a grueling tour schedule over nearly 20 years totaling more than 2,500 live gigs in 49 states and throughout Canada.

The Clumsy Lovers are a working band and have been for many years. These days, Rogers schedules tours around the family schedule. His sons are shy toddlers with tow-blond hair and a penchant for playing in the dirt. His three-month-old daughter looked around the backyard at everything with what I guessed was a knowing bemusement. When they first arrived, the two mini poodles I’ve been dog sitting charged the boys and made them cry, a natural reaction when you’re so low to the ground; imagine it: My little dogs arrived like snarling white lions.

The Clumsy Lovers started making records in Vancouver in 1993. Since then, they’ve gone through some personnel changes, but Rogers remains a constant. “The band is getting younger,” he tells me. Rogers left his day job to tour full time at 27, and now he’s a young-looking 44. Jesson, their latest fiddle player, is 24 and plays like a maniac. Rice, the 24-year-old drummer, joined the band straight out of music school, after a series of killer auditions on Skype. Such is the makings of a modern band.

We are busy talking about the group’s various adventures and I burn everyone’s veggie burgers. They looked like hockey pucks, but we decide they are edible. Inside, my roommate’s grilled meat goes cold on the counter next to him while he and Rogers talk about the election and war. It is deliciously old fashioned.

Many times throughout the night, we halt our conversation to take various things out of the kid’s mouths: a piece of dog food, lint, some BB gun pellets out of a box that looks to a two-year old like a milk carton. It might sound like I’m joking, but I mean it: The whole thing was very rock and roll.

Late Summer 2012

Started out the tour by playing high up above Spokane at the Arbor Crest Winery? Then over to play a benefit for the Montana Watershed Coordination Council in a 100-year-old barn in East Helena, Montana. How bout’ a club show at the Zebra in Bozeman, River Fest in Pocatello, Idaho then ending up on beautiful Lummi Island to play a super fun wedding in Washington State? Summertime, and the living is easy…

Road Diary~ Idaho/Montana

Well that was a fun run of shows!

Twelve in total. 3852 miles.

The list reads a lot like a Johnny Cash song: “I’ve been to Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota…” In our case it was mostly up and down the I90 in Idaho and Montana with a few other highways thrown in for good measure: “We went to Pocatello, West Yellowstone, Idaho Falls, Pray, Billings, Moscow, Schweitzer Mountain, Absarokee, Butte, Billings again, Whitefish, Helena.”

With a party in Missoula thrown in for good measure.

Summer touring is the best, although the heat can be a little daunting. It was a hundred degrees when we played in Billings! New fiddler Robyn was great, and the band was mostly in good spirits. Saw lots of old friends and met lots of new people too so that is always encouraging for the future.

I was a little stressed throughout the tour as we were due home on July 7th, the 7th being the due date of our third child. Labour started the day I got back and little Eve was born on July 9th! Such a cutie! Home now for a few weeks then we fire it up again July 28th at the Bainbridge Island Bluegrass Festival.

Moscow, Idaho

February 17th/18th

Moscow, Idaho

With all of us currently living in different places, it takes a little more planning to get everyone together. The old days of all of us hopping in the van, in the same town and heading out together to take on the brave new world are over. It’s a new paradigm in so many different ways both personally, professionally and within the music industry itself. A couple of us read the musings of a music blogger named Bob Lefsetz to garner his take on the situation. He thinks that technology has leveled the platform for aspiring musicians and the world is your oyster. But there are no guarantees that you will ever get out of the basement, or to the next level no matter how often you tweet, post videos or update your website. He maintains that if your music is good enough, people will eventually notice. I agree with Bob that the one major thing a musician can control is getting out there and playing live and connecting with people who appreciate your music. So, amidst all these shifts, that’s what I think this band can continue to do if we are smart about it. We will never be U2, but we are The Clumsy Lovers. And we’ve survived this long and met thousands of wonderful people along the way. Why stop now?

So, where was I…

I loaded up my little car in Missoula and set off for Moscow, Idaho last Friday. About 40 miles up the Interstate 90 I had to stop the car as 3 large deer were crossing. That went fine but they sprinted into the eastbound lane and one of them was mowed down by a van going in the opposite direction. I had never seen that before. Pretty disturbing actually. I’m generally a cautious driver but I was about 10 mph more cautious for the rest of the journey.

Met up with the gang to set up at John’s Alley and afterwards went for Chinese food on the main street. Such a quaint little town and the band has had so many good shows there going back to the early 90’s. After that nutritional goodness, we were ready to rock! And we did! People seemed to be enjoying themselves. We were a little rusty but all in all I though we played pretty well. The venue actually records every show which is cool for posterity, but I think one really needs to be there in the room to get the true flavour of the experience. I was tired by the time we finished around 1:45. I was up with the boys at 5 a.m. after a short sleep, drove quite a ways and played all night. Not complaining, just a reminder to myself that I’m not 21 anymore.

Slept in a bit on Saturday at the mighty Royal Inn. That place certainly has a lot of character and is conveniently located near the venue. Old friend Jill bought me lunch at a new bbq place she is managing, had a little Mexican food later with my friend Storm for dinner and stopped in to see Brett at Nectar to swap child stories. By then it was 9:30 and time to play again. Again, I thought the band played well and we did some experimenting with songs and solos. The band is at it’s best when we are spontaneous for sure. Loose in a good way. But there is a fine line between loose in a good way and borderline terrible. Saturday night we were loose in a good way. (Just don’t listen to the recording…)

Seattle/Spokane

Nothing like a little road trip to cure the winter blues. Actually, I’m quite happy these days for the most part, but if you aren’t I highly recommend a little road trip. A change of scenery is usually a good thing. I had 474 sunny miles there, and 474 sunny miles back to contemplate life while listening to AM 750 Country Classics. Loretta, Merle, Willie, George…I lost reception through the 4th of July pass and switched over to talk radio from Spokane to Seattle. Romney, Newt, Obamacare, Iran…and just like that I had arrived in the magical place known as Seattle.

We were hired by a longtime fan of the band to play her 40th birthday party at a club in Pioneer Square. We’ve never played Amyfest before. It was fun. A full house of family and friends in a quirky little bar. One of the highlights for me was when one of the staff walked in front of me with a deli tray to put in the fridge behind the stage. I’ll bet that hasn’t happened to Pear Jam lately…

Jason’s Greyhound was late once again so he missed the first set. It’s pretty apparent how dependant we are on the banjo for the majority of our material. Things still sound good, just different. After the show we stayed up the road at a friend’s place. We felt really safe once inside as they had two pit bulls. The next morning Annette and Chris made us breakfast and we were on our way to the Knitting Factory in Spokane.

We’ve been playing “The Knit” on and off for quite a while. It’s a fantastic club that features a full on light show, massive PA system and even a couple of guys to help us load our gear in. I think they were quite happy when they saw the minimalism of our set up. Everyone takes a handful and bob’s your uncle, the Clumsy Lovers have loaded in their gear.  We set up and sound checked and had time to chill out. I had a bit of a Spinal Tap moment going from floor to floor in the elevator trying to find the green room.

Our friend Matt, who once played with Ten Mile Tide opened up the show with his new band Folkinception. Groovy tunes. Good musicians. We played straight through from 9:30 to close to midnight. Sound was good. Audience was festive. Band played fairly well for the most part. It was a high-energy affair. 500 or so came to see us so that was nice to see. Spokane has always been a little hit and miss for us. After the show we got to reconnect briefly with some friends in the lobby then it was off to bed. I got up early and made my way back to Missoula with the contents of our storage locker in my car to store at my place.

Anybody out there looking for a vintage Clumsy Lover t-shirt from 1996 or so? A 2 song Christmas CD? A Barnburner poster? A gas receipt from November of 2003?