The Way It Went Down…….

It was as innocuous of a way to start a phone conversation as was possible, but that simple word, my name, set my heart racing so fast that I took almost ten seconds to answer the most basic of greetings.
“Yeah man, what’s going on?” I finally sputtered, trying to act calm. I could not imagine a more unexpected phone call. On the other end of the line was Cruz Contreras, lead singer for the popular Knoxville band The Black Lillies.
A little over a week ago I had had what I was almost certain was the last phone conversation I would ever have with Cruz. He had randomly contacted me for a last minute, emergency sub gig with the Black Lillies at Merlefest, with potentially more dates to follow. I recognized the call as my big opportunity to fulfill my dream of working with a nationally touring band, but unfortunately, the festival fell on one of the busiest weekends of my short free lance musician career. There was simply no way for me to make the gig. With a heavy heart I declined, knowing full well that he would find another drummer willing and able to take the opportunity. I was so certain that I had missed my chance that I had almost deleted Cruz’s number from my phone and was shocked to suddenly find him calling me once again.
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
Huh?! As unexpected as the phone call was, this was downright strange.
“No,um, my last girlfriend and I broke up a little while ago.”
“Good,” he said, sounding relieved. “How would you like to go out on tour with the Lillies?”
What?! I was dumbfounded, but in the distance heard a familiar voice respond. “When and for how long?”
“Van leaves in two days. We’ll be gone for three months and may need you for anywhere between two weeks and the full tour. Chyna will call you later with more details. Thanks man!”
I must have said something in response, but after Cruz hung up I sat in disbelieving silence with the phone still up to my ear. Did that really just happen?! It had, which was confirmed a few minutes later when I received a call from Chyna. Jamie’s family was going through a difficult period, and he needed time off from the road to be with them. Would I be able to commit to the entire tour if needed? Would I be able to meet an hour and a half before departure at the rehearsal space to talk over some tunes? Trisha Gene would love to meet me before leaving for the tour, am I available sometime tomorrow?
I was still so shocked with the sudden dream come true that I automatically answered “yes” to everything she asked me, never venturing any questions of my own. I hung up the phone,however, and the emotions suddenly flooded in. Air punches. High kicks. Insane, exuberant caterwauls that thankfully my roommates were not around to hear. I settled down for a moment and called my parents. They were overjoyed. More air punches. More (slightly closer to ground) high kicks. A few deep gulps of air. More strange, triumphant noises………..Then fear. Incredible, paralyzing fear.
I only just got their second and third records a few weeks ago! I barely know any of the songs! I don’t even have their first record! I’ve never even met two of the band members! What about my own bands? What about my students? My employers that are counting on me for gigs? What will I tell them? Will they understand? Will they ever want to hire me/see me again when I get back? Two days?!?!?! That’s not enough time!!!!!!!!
In a panic, I called Cruz back, but despite the sudden wave of terror and questions I was experiencing, once he answered the only thing that came to mind was probably the least of my current concerns.
“Hey Cruz, I’ve never really done much touring before……. what should I pack?”
“Well, you know man, that’s a tough one. I’ve never really thought too much about it before, but you know, I guess if I had to give you one specific thing to pack I guess it would be, um…….. a bathing suit.”
“A bathing suit?!”
“Yeah………..sometimes we like to go swimming…….”

It may seem like my whole life path changed with one short phone call, but like many major life changes, there were several smaller events along the way slowly building up to the main catalyst. I was a sophomore in college when I first met Chyna Brackeen. About half a year previously I had joined a male/female folk duo based out of nearby Maryville, TN called Valley Young. I was very committed to my school studies, but was already spending many long hours in a garage forty five minutes from campus rehearsing, and frequently skipping class to travel to exotic locales like Johnson City, TN and Durham, NC to play small bars and coffee shops for handfuls of people, sleeping on floors or in the van along the way.
One day after a rehearsal the main songwriter and de facto bandleader, Andrew, sat us down for a meeting. “I have very exciting news! I have secured a showcase for us with Chyna Brackeen!” He exclaimed. I had never heard of Chyna Brackeen, but I liked how official a “showcase” sounded and was immediately excited about the prospect. Andrew assured us that impressing Chyna would be our ticket to better gigs and better publicity. He said the showcase would happen in several weeks at the legendary Brackin’s Blues Club in downtown Maryville.
We rehearsed as hard as we ever had in the ensuing weeks, and on the day of the showcase I arrived at the club confident and prepared. The venue was a modest affair, not unlike many venues we had already played, and maybe even dumpier. The spare, understated furnishings and the patrons that occupied them looked like neither had ever been without the other, and the ever present cigarette fog gave the whole room the appearance of some ancient alcoholic mausoleum, untouched or changed by time. We solemnly set up our equiptment, not saying a word, looks voicing all concerns. Will she show up? Will she like our band? All of a sudden, a bright red beacon appeared in the doorway. It was Chyna, her signature fire-colored hair parting the cigarrette smoke like a lighthouse in a coastal haze.
Andrew and Annabelle (the other band member) excitedly rushed over to greet her, but I was frozen to my drum throne. In my nervous, overdramatic mind I thought, this is the woman who will determine whether or not I make it as a musician. As Andrew and Annabelle took their places for the first song, I was so terrified I could barely pick up my drumsticks. Chyna took a seat at an old table directly in my line of site, and stared cooly up at the stage. This is it, I thought to myself. She can see right through me and knows I am a nervous hack, not cut out for music. I might as well leave and save myself the embarrassment. However, just as Andrew was about to count off the first tune, a curious event occurred. A hound dog, as old and withered as many of the customers, slunk from an unseen corner of the bar and plopped himself on the floor by a table directly in front of Chyna. With cloudy brown eyes he gazed up at the stage expectantly and even gave a short bark as if to indicate that he was ready to hear some music. The whole situation struck me as so funny that I immediately forgot my nerves and launched into the first song. Throughout the entire show anytime I would look up to see Chyna I would first spot the hound, unperturbed by smoke nor noise, watching the show as if he had shown up exclusively to see it. The gig finished without a hitch, and Chyna seemed pleased. “Good show. We will be in touch,” she told us before taking her leave.
Fast forward to several years later. Things between Chyna and Valley Young never quite panned out, and I was forced to (amicably) leave the band when the purposed gig/recording schedule threatened to flunk me out of school. I met Cruz several months after the showcase with Chyna, and our interactions were always as brief as they were bizarre. Every few months he would appear suddenly by my side late at night in the Preservation Pub; a rock and roll genie summoned for reasons beyond my understanding. He would ask how I was doing and I would do the same, and then he would move quickly to my future plans. “What do you see yourself doing in the next several years?” He would ask. “I don’t know man. Just trying to get through school right now,” I’d usually reply. “Stay in Knoxville for a while. I think there are things for you to do here,” He would answer cryptically, before disappearing back into the crowd.
This happened intermittently for many months, until early one morning when I spotted him at a local breakfast joint. He was there with a friend, and I was asked to join their table. The friend had to excuse himself shortly after and I was left to catch up with Cruz, who, due to the Lillies’ typically insane touring schedule, I had not seen in some time. He said that he was in town working on the band’s third record, and asked if I would be interested in getting together to hear some of the potential songs.
I showed up at his house the following day and sat down at his haphazardly thrown together drum set. Cruz began to play and sing tunes rapid fire, encouraging me to jump in whenever I felt comfortable. As soon as I would get any kind of idea of the shape of the song he would abruptly switch to the next, occasionally peppering in questions. “What did you think of the bridge? How was the tempo?” I was way out of my element and pretty sure I was looking and playing like a fool, but after about an hour he asked if I had any time to come back and do the same thing later in the week. I did, and several days later we repeated the same process with even more new songs. I was still in way over my head, but there was one song in particular that I felt at least okay with. It was a piano song, an instrument that I had no idea Cruz even played, and from the very beginning we instantly locked into a loose, poppin’ groove. Same went for the other keyboard number, a frantic funk workout; James Brown meets southern soul. I felt way more stylistically at home than in the more acoustic driven country songs, and Cruz seemed to feel it too. He asked if I wanted to come lay down some drum tracks in the studio the following day, and both excited and surprised, I instantly agreed.
I showed up at the studio and the two of us recorded the tunes, just drums and keys, with Cruz making structural and musical changes after each take. “Yeah man, this next time let’s try making the bridge 8 bars, and swing the outtro.” It was a whirlwind, but the songs, “Baby Doe” and an as of now unreleased “Funky Ray of Sunshine”, seemed to go well. Cruz was pleased, but with the Black Lillies never ending tour schedule, was soon back out on the road. I did not hear from him again until several months later; the phone call that would so abruptly change everything.

With the words “bring a bathing suit” echoing in my ears, my final two days in Knoxville were a whirlwind of gigs, finding subs, clothes shopping (a mammoth, excruciating undertaking for me), and goodbyes. With all the activity involved in preparing for my departure, it was the night before we left when I finally sat down to learn repertoire. I listened and charted through the night, 40+ songs including covers, and arrived at the rehearsal the next morning nervous and sleep deprived. The rehearsal was very brief due to a recording session (Daytrotter) later that day, and I soon found myself stuffed into a van with both almost and complete strangers. I barely said a word, both terrified and exhausted, and the band, suddenly saddled with a substitute bandmate, did not quite seem to know what to think.
It was several hours into the trip when Tom decided to extend an olive branch. Except that it was a banana. I tried my last banana as a junior in high school, and the time before that when I was still in single digits. To this day I consider it to be the vilest thing I have ever tasted.
“Hey man, do you want a banana?”
I sat in silence for an uncomfortable moment, not wanting to decline this evil, yellow fruit of perceived friendship.
“No thanks Tom….. I don’t….. eat bananas.”
At this time the whole band, eager to learn something about this newcomer, was listening in attentively.
“Wait……… you don’t eat bananas?!”
Instantly the entire van erupted into conversation, each joke or mock outrage funnier than the last. Whatever ice was there shattered into a million banana shaped pieces, and as we rolled down the road to the first gig, I couldn’t help but think that things would be alright.

I wish I could say that the first show was amazing, that I knocked it out of the park, but truthfully it was probably a disaster. As were, in my mind, many gigs after. I still find many flaws in my playing in each performance, but it is slowly getting better. I am grateful to my bandmates for supporting and encouraging me then, now, and hopefully always. Gratitude…… I was reminded of the story written above on our most recent van ride home. It was a real slog, Austin to Knoxville, 20 hours straight. About half way through the journey I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Trisha Gene. “Bowman! I just realized that at the end of this April you will have been in the band for a whole year!” She exclaimed, with an exuberance few but her could ever muster in the middle of such a long, boring ride. My head was instantly filled with thoughts of that first van ride almost a year ago and of the many van rides since. Incredible gigs played. Beautiful places visited. Life long friends made. Gratitude. Gratitude for my family for supporting and encouraging me to do what I love. Gratitude for my bandmates, Tom, Robert, Trisha Gene, Cruz, and Chyna, for taking a chance on me and allowing me to live my dream of playing music in a touring band. For the fans, for enabling us to travel across the country singing and rocking. For coming out to shows. Buying CDs. Spreading and sharing the music. Letting us into your homes. Feeding us. Supporting us. Loving us. It is absolutely incredible and I promise to never take it for granted.
I know all this is incredibly sappy, and not typically my style, but I just wanted to make it publicly known how much everything that has happened to me in the past (almost) year means to me. If it all ended tomorrow, I’d still appreciate it all the same. Thanks for reading, listening, dancing, and loving, family.

Your friend/brother/blogger/drummer,

****** It is important for me to say this. It applies to all my blogs, but especially this one, with so many stories that occurred in the distant past. I have a bad memory and a good imagination, and sometimes the later picks up where the former fails (usually without me even knowing); so please don’t be put out if certain details or facts in these accounts are off. I don’t mean any harm and the sentiments expressed are always true. I write stories, not histories. Blogs, not logs…… You get the idea.

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“Smokestack Lady” video just released!

We’re thrilled to announce the release of our new video for the song “Smokestack Lady” from our album RUNAWAY FREEWAY BLUES. This is what happens when you mix Smoky & The Bandit with Raising Arizona … hold onto your hats, because it’s a wild ride!

We should note that we in no way endorse any of the things happening in this video EXCEPT dancing and listening to good music.

Enjoy it!

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The hits keep on coming! More “Best of 2013″ lists …

Hot on the heels of the news that Runaway Freeway Blues was the number one album of the year on Nashville’s legendary WSM radio (home of the Grand Ole Opry) with over 1100 spins, and the #18 album of the year on the Americana Music Association’s Top 100, we got the news that we’ve been included on even more year-end lists.  Here are a few of them (click the names to view the articles and lists):

American Songwriter’s Top 50 Albums of 2013 

No Depression’s Top 50 Albums of the Year

FolkAlley’s Best of 2013

WNCW’s Top 100 of 2013 (we’re #5!)

The Alternate Root’s Top 101 Albums of 2013

The Music God’s Country/Americana Top Ten Albums of the Year

Speakers in Code’s 150 Best Songs of 2013 

SONGBiscuit’s Top 50 Albums of 2013 

NashvilleGab’s Top 25 Albums of 2013

GiantStep’s Best Alt-Country Albums of 2013

KDHX DJs Top Ten Albums of 2013

Jim Morrison’s Raves & Rants – Top Albums of 2013

BLANK Newspaper’s Top 32 Albums of the Year

Swedish Music Blog’s Top 100 Songs of the Year

The Daily Times: Essential 2013 Albums by East Tennessee Artists

DeliRadio’s Hardest Working Acts of 2013 based on tour dates (their number is actually a little low, we played more than that!)

MundoMusique/The Revue’s Top Songs of the Year

Best Live Shows of 2013 (#2, beating Bruce Springsteen and Wilco and Neil Young … and many more!)

Grass Clipping’s Top Songs of 2013

We’re blown away by the support and love.  Thank you all – this was an album our fans helped us make, and then requested from your local radio stations. This couldn’t have happened without you.  Let’s do even more in 2014!

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It was the kind of peculiar name that would only make such comically perfect sense when attached to this particular man. In fact, you could clearly imagine him, ham-sized fists hurtling through the air in joyful rage, bellowing out his namesake in both ownership and jest; as whomever those granite knuckles collided with would undoubtedly crash to the ground like a felled tree. His corn dog sized fingers, however, closed around my spindly, musician ones with surprising care, as if he had been cradling baby birds in them for weeks in preparation for our handshake. I, in turn, squeezed back with every fiber of my being, determined that he at least register the presence of my hand through the inch thick pad of callouses that covered his own.

“Name’s Timber,” he growled. His voice sounded like granite being crushed by velvet. “I’m Bowman,” I chimed back, easily an octave above him. He turned and took a long pull from a giant glass of clear liquid. From the quantity and ease with which he drank, it should have been water, but the smell identified it as straight vodka. “Well,” he said turning back towards me, “What d’ya do?” I thought about how I had spend most of the day lying down in the back seat of a van listening to Fiona Apple records and guiltily devouring a teenage love novel set in some sort of post-apocalyptic Chicago. I decided to keep things vague. “I play drums in a band.” He grunted, and I could tell from in the look in his eyes that in terms of legitimate careers  he ranked “playing drums in a band” somewhere between “dog groomer” and “maker of fine hand soaps”. Still, he seemed amused. “Well, what brings ya to this dump of a town?” I told him I was in a country-rock band from Tennessee, and we had played a gig earlier in the evening and were staying the night down the street. “Well, hell, I don’t mind a little country music and I don’t mind the state of Tennessee either. Yer alright, kid.” Realizing I had at least gained his tolerance, if not approval, I asked what his job was. “The rigs, kid,” he bellowed. “Just got off a six month stint. Headed back north. Only stopped in for the liquor.” At that, he drained his mammoth glass and signaled to the bartender for a refill.

In college a friend of mine lent me a book called “Don’t Tell Mum I Work On the Rigs: She Thinks I’m a Piano Player In a Whorehouse”. It’s the autobiography of Paul Carter, and tells the hilarious and often dangerous adventures of a man who has worked on oil rigs since he was 18. It was just one book several years ago, but I figured it at least gave me a starting point. “I’ve heard that can be pretty dangerous work….” I started. Timber’s massive frame shook violently, like a skyscraper in an earthquake. “HAR, HAR, HAR. Ya don’t know the damn half of it kid!” His convulsions slowed, and he took another long drink. “They prolly hire me more for my shootin’ than my skills. I swear we spend more time defendin’ the damn rig than drillin’ oil.” I looked at him incredulously. “Defending the rig? What do you mean?” He sighed a low rumble and took another drink. “Well, hell, kid ya don’t think we’re the only country on this planet after oil, do ya?! Last two tours I did were in Kuwait. Let me put it this way, the price for oil is more than just dollars and cents.”

I thought about all the gallons upon gallons of gasoline it had taken to get me from Knoxville to Livingston, and all the literal bullets guys like Timber may have dodged to get me there. “So why do you do it?” I asked, emboldened by my sudden guilt. He shrugged his mountainous shoulders, and for a minute the hard lines in his weathered face seemed to soften. “Twice the danger, twice the money. I got three kids. That’s who I’m goin’ ta see. They’re my whole damn world.” He paused for a second, then broke into a toothy grin. “Plus, I’m damn near invincible, not ta mention the best shot ya ever saw. I’d hit a grape off a cow’s ass at 100 yards, blindfolded. Now let’s drink some shots!”

I had already consumed enough drink to suit me for the night, but I did not want to disappoint my new friend, and his proclamation had enough gruff insistence to make it difficult to decline. The bartender placed two shots of tequila in front of us. Tequila…. I had drank exactly two shots of it (at my cousin’s engagement and my sister’s wedding) since my initial horrible encounter with the vile beverage. I tried quickly to think of ways to discretely dispose of the shot, but Timber, having already knocked back his own, was eying me with a look of suspicion and what appeared to be the beginnings of anger. Dang! I threw back the drink, and trying my best to keep a manly facade, turned back to him for approval. Timber, however, was now staring at his empty glass with mild disgust; almost as if he was insulted by its small size relative to his own. “Well kid, if we’re gonna be drinkin’ outta these damn thimbles all night I guess we’re gonna haveta put back a number of ‘em. What d’ya say?” Before I could respond the next drink was in front of me.
By the third shot in rapid succession, I was desperate for a way out, and thankfully got it in the form of Robert and Cruz, who came over to see who the gargantuan dude I had been hanging out with was. As they made their introductions, I mumbled something about the bathroom, and quickly made my escape. Robert and Cruz proved to be better matches for Timber’s tequila drinking, but with the next day’s 1300 mile drive to Oklahoma looming in the near future, everyone soon decided to call it a night. Timber followed us out to the van, and didn’t seem too keen on our departure. “Where ya guys goin’? We haven’t even had any fun yet. Let’s light some car windshields on fire and start a fight! Show these local boys a thing or two!” We hastily told him about our early departure, and grunting loudly, he turned and headed down the deserted Montana street; his dogged and arrow-straight pace giving no indication of apparent destination nor the gallon of liquor he had recently imbibed.

That was the last we saw of him, but later that night, as I lay in my sleeping bag on the dingy motel floor, I dreamt he and I were on the rig, arms slick with oil, brandishing axes high against an army of attacking pine trees. We stood back to back against the onslaught, and with each triumphant thwack of a fallen foe we would both throw our heads up to the stormy Kuwait sky and victoriously roar…………………Timber.

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#18 Americana album of the year and other accolades

We’re excited to announce that Runaway Freeway Blues is the #18 Americana album of the year (based on radio airplay) on the Americana Music Association’s top 100 list.  You can view the full list on AMA’s website.

Plus, we’ve been thrilled to be included on a number of year end “Best of 2013″ lists.  Here are just a few:

The Alternate Root’s Top 101 Albums of 2013:

The Music God’s Country/Americana Top Ten Albums of the Year:

Speakers in Code’s 150 Best Songs of 2013:

SONGBiscuit’s Top 50 Albums of 2013:

American Songwriter’s Top 50 Albums of 2013:

NashvilleGab’s Top 25 Albums of 2013:

GiantStep’s Best Alt-Country Albums of 2013:

KDHX DJs Top Ten Albums of 2013:

Jim Morrison’s Raves & Rants – Top Albums of 2013:

BLANK Newspaper’s Top 32 Albums of the Year:

Swedish Music Blog’s Top 100 Songs of the Year:

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“Runaway Freeway Blues” is one of American Songwriter’s Top Albums of 2013

American Songwriter magazine has released their list of the top 50 albums of 2013, and Runaway Freeway Blues made the cut! “Given the arena-sizing of folk-rock over the last several years, you’d almost expect the opening track’s tethered-in-place acoustic guitar figure and faint four-on-the-floor kick drum pulse to build to a real geyser of a chorus. But “The Fall” isn’t that sort of song, and The Black Lillies aren’t that sort of band. They’re a storytelling, occasionally funky, Appalachian-pop outfit, which would make them not at all hard to pick out of a contemporary roots band lineup populated by stompers and shouters. Songwriting frontman Cruz Contreras delivers the tunes on Runaway Freeway Blues with the cracked, southern-accented croon of a guy who’s dabbled in indie rock yet camped out in country. And the performances get warmer—as opposed to just, you know, louder—when Trisha Gene Brady adds her dusky, blues-inflected harmonies.”

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So, an old man, a 20′s flapper, an effeminate mime, a bleeding Dead-head, and a cross-dressing Red Panda walk into a bar…….

….and play a gig. In Nacogdoches, TX. On Halloween. Sounds like a recipe for a good time, but I am getting way ahead of myself here, so let’s start at the beginning…..

Chapter 1: The Pale

This particular tour kicked off in the sassy city of Indianapolis, Indiana. I definitely do not use the word “sassy” lightly. In fact, I rarely use that word at all; so I hope that gives you an idea of the severity of the sass. Anywho, Indianapolis was the first gig I can ever recall being asked to remove articles of clothing during the performance. To appease the screaming female masses (which I am pretty sure was actually just one friend of the band trying to mess with me), I proceeded to unsnap several snaps of my trusty green corduroy snapper. O snap! It was quite a relief to me, as I always end up wearing undoubtedly the warmest shirt I own on the hottest stages we play, but I think the audience got more than they bargained for. Riding around in a van all day and only being active at night has turned my already borderline translucent chest into a shade similar to bleached milk, and undoubtedly the stage lights reflecting off of it may have caused temporary blindness within the audience. Everyone seemed to recover,however, (no more clothes shedding was requested) and the show ended up being a great kick off to the tour.

Chapter 2: Three of My Favorite Things

The second day of the tour was undoubtedly one of the greatest days I have ever experienced, as it involved three of my all time favorite things…. windmills, cheese, and drums. Through our travels I have had the joy of seeing windmill farms all across our great land, from New Mexico to West Virginia, but no windmills excite me more than those of Northwest Indiana. That’s because they were the first windmills I ever got to see, and the experience had a profound effect on me. In the fall of my senior year of college I was called by Nashville (formerly Knoxville) songstress Jill Andrews to do a one off gig in Milwaukee, WI. The night before we were set to leave I got home from a gig at midnight, eager to catch some sleep before our 5 AM departure. Unfortunately, my roommates had decided to throw a last minute house party, and rather than peace and quiet I was greeted by the beer-slick floors and unholy cacophony that is a collegiate Friday night. I got little sleep and only managed a few fretful hours in the van in between my driving shifts. We reached Milwaukee and played an incredibly fun and memorable gig. Unfortunately, immediately after the headlining band finished performing at midnight, we had to load out and drive back to Knoxville. The bass player on the gig, Bryn, is not only an amazing musician but also one of the hardest road warriors I have ever met and volunteered to drive the entire ten hours back home by herself. I attempted to stay up and keep her company, but the exhaustion of the previous night started to get the best of me. The last thing I remember was looking out the window and seeing all these blinking red lights in the sky all around us. It looked like an alien invasion! I woke up in in the morning and found out it was not in fact extraterrestrials, but a windmill farm. Thus, a passion was born.

Directly after the windmill farm, we stopped at a roadside dairy farm. Regrettably, because of time constraints we were unable to visit the calf-birthing barn, but we did get to sample some fantastic cheeses. It is always slightly awkward going up to a sample woman/man knowing very well you have no intention of buying what they are trying so hard to sell, so I sidled up next to a middle aged couple at the counter, hoping to pass for a son or nephew. “Hmmmm, this cheese sure is great!” I said, affectionately elbowing the man in the ribs. It did not take long for my overly friendly behavior to start weirding the couple out, so they hurriedly made their purchases and left. Thankfully, Trisha Gene appeared and unlike cheap, sample gobbling me, she did intend to buy some cheese. The best I tried was a cheese that had been aged for 6 years, which to me is a counterintuitively long time for a dairy product to exist. If that cheese were in school, it would probably just be entering the first grade. Unfortunately, cheeses are grossly undereducated in this country.

After the cheese farm, we made a stop in arguably my favorite music shop in all the country; The Chicago Music Exchange. I went in to get my snare drum worked on, and left with a whole drum set. 1964. Ludwig. Silver Sparkle. Pretty much everything I have ever hoped for in a set of drums. Unfortunately, because of time/spacial constraints, I had to ship the drums to my folk’s house in Austin, TX, where we would be several days later.

Chapter 3: Chuck Mead and Curds of Cheese

Chuck Mead and His Grassy Knoll Boys kill. Absolutely off the charts amazing. Imagine going to the most intensely informative class of your life, but instead of picking up chalk, your teachers sling on guitars and rock the skin off of your face. That was exactly what the four dates we co-billed with Chuck were like. We ended up combining forces at the end of every gig and jamming for sometimes almost as long as our individual sets on whatever songs Chuck or Cruz happened to call out. 2 drum sets, three guitar, bass, key, 3-5 vocals…. an absolute powerhouse of sound and some of the greatest jams I have had the privilege to be a part of. They are also incredibly stand up, kind dudes. We blew a trailer tire about thirty miles outside of Racine, WI and Bobby and I offered to sit out on the interstate in the Wisconsin cold to watch the trailer while the rest of the band went searching for a replacement. It was looking like a recipe for frostbite (at least from my Texas perspective), but luckily within five minutes of sitting outside, Chuck and the boys came to our rescue. “Hey fellas, want a beer?” They asked, pulling their van over to the side of the road. Robert and I spent the next thirty minutes cracking jokes and drinking beer in the van with the band. They even turned a blind eye to my cashmere, salmon (not pink!) scarf that my mom had given me to wear. While amazingly warm and comfortable, it takes an incredible amount of masculine fortitude to sport in public, especially in front of your new musical idols. Martin, the drummer, also told us about a great place to stop for some cheese curds on our way from Madison to Minneapolis. I had always been fascinated by cheese curds since hearing of them on the aforementioned trip to Milwaukee, and like most things that fascinate me, I mentioned them with a highly annoying frequency. “Exit 68. Get that boy some damn curds!” was the text Martin sent Trisha Gene. We ended up stopping. It was amazing. A tiny, unassuming gas station in the middle of nowhere, WI ended up being a Dairy Mecca that would make even a seasoned cheese monger blush. An entire refrigerated wall of cheese, various samples, and foam fake cheese paraphernalia from hats to coasters; this place had it all. I ended up getting the standard white curds, and just as promised, they squeeked when I chewed them. Awesome! (although my digestive system thanked me when we left Wisconsin: dairy, starch, and beer seem to be all they eat up there)

Chapter 4: Keep Austin weird. Keep Nacogdoches weirder.

Playing a gig in Austin was a bit like Christmas come early for me; I got to see my mom and pop, I was greeted with a brand new (old) drum set, and, like most every Christmas I have had in Texas, the weather gave no indication of the season. The gig was at Antone’s; an old historic blues club that has been a stomping ground for legendary Central Texas musicians such as Pine Top Perkins, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Gary Clark Jr. Antone’s has always been very supportive of young musicians,and because of that support, I had gotten to play there several times in my youth. I had not, however, played at the brand new club location on East Riverside Dr. We shared the bill with Shinyribs, a newer band led by the front man of the recently disbanded “The Gourds”; a legendary Austin group. Trisha Gene has been a huge fan/friend of the Gourds since back before she ever started pursuing music, and even flew down to Austin for a New Year’s Eve show the band played when she was celebrating getting her undergrad degree. I also have a history with the band. One of my first ever gigs with my middle school band, “New Moon”, was opening up for the Gourds at a benefit for a local elementary school (my dad still wears the free t-shirt he got at the show). Tactlessly, I mentioned this to Shinyribs’ drummer (who also played for the Gourds), hoping to form some sort of bond. Instead, I got a, “Thanks for making me feel old, kid.” Keith, if you are reading this, sorry dude. Anywho, the gig was a blast and ended up being a great homecoming for me; high school friends, teachers, and even members of my pop’s church came out to see the band. Thanks to all who made it out!

The following day was Halloween, with a gig scheduled in Nacogdoches, TX. We were on a tight schedule, having tried to squeeze in as much Austin time as possible, and no one had any idea what to wear for Halloween. Luckily, Cruz had to make a crucial stop at the bank in Hutto, Texas (home of the Hutto Hippos), and we were all afforded fifteen minutes in a near by Goodwill to throw together a costume. I quickly found a ridiculous looking straw hat and coupled it with an obscenely brown, desert-themed pearl snap shirt. The costume worked and was dirt cheap, but I realized that it really only made me look like a dorky, exaggerated version of what people probably expect an Americana/country musician to look like. Dang, back to the drawing board (although I did buy the shirt; seriously, it is nasty). Luckily, within seconds of casting the straw hat aside, I found it; a black felt, ninety nine cent beret. Instantly the whole costume was illuminated in my mind, and the remaining pieces seemed to call to me from their racks. A tube of black and white face paint, a low cut woman’s striped shirt, and sacrebleu! I was an effeminate mime. The rest of the costumes were as follows….. TGB- The only one to actually pay any heed to the theme of the party we were playing (1920′s), Trisha Gene donned a pretty dress and a masquerade mask. BAM! 1920′s masked flapper girl. Cruz- Cruz purchased mostly things that he probably would have bought anyway (a powder blue two piece suit and matching “Hawaii” trucker hat), but thanks to a pair of obnoxiously large polarized sunglasses, passed as a senior citizen. Or a blind guy. Or a well dressed blind senior citizen on vacation in Hawaii. Most of these costumes were pretty open to interpretation. Tom- The genius of Tom’s costume was that not only did it require a knowledge of multiple generations of popular culture (70′s jam band and current TV phenomenon), but it also required by far the least amount of money to pull off (95 cents). By applying a generous amount of fake blood to some of his standard “gig clothes” (a Grateful Dead hat and tie-dye shirt), Tom became “a Walking Deadhead”. Genius. Robert- Depending on one’s definition of success, Bobby had by far the most successful costume of the night. 1 slim, body-hugging woman’s kimono + 1 Panda Bear Hat + 1 bushy red beard = a cross-dressing red panda. Both headed to small town Texas dressed in women’s clothing, Robert and I figured we had about an equal shot at being beat up after the gig.

Thankfully, we were both unharmed, but my costume did cause it’s fair share of troubles. No mime costume would be complete without a lack of speaking, so I decided to take a vow of silence from the moment I crappily self applied my face paint till the last note of the gig. Things started pretty smoothly. As a non-singing drummer it is pretty easy (and often encouraged) to stay silent during a show. I even managed to draw a few laughs by “miming” part of my drum solo in “Nobody’s Business”. The real trouble came at set break. As I headed to the bar trying to figure out how to mime-order a beer, I noticed that the merch table was conspicuously unoccupied, with a small group of people waiting eagerly to make purchases. Whether everyone in the band was caught up socializing or it was a cruel joke on me that they had all banded together on, I don’t know, but I dutifully headed over to the table figuring it would be a good test of my skills. The situation immediately disintegrated into shambles. I did not even know how to begin communicating with these well intentioned people, and I am pretty sure with my wild, exaggerated hand gestures and throw together Goodwill costume they had no idea that I was a mime. I try to imagine it from their perspective; after enjoying the first set of music they head over to the merchandise to try to support the band with a purchase, only to be accosted by the band’s drummer, in smeared make up and French women’s apparel, who starts waving around CD’s and modeling t-shirts, shrugging inquiringly. It probably freaked a couple of people out for sure. Thankfully, Cruz showed up, and I was left to go figure out how to order that beer. I realized that the easiest way was to point to whatever drink your neighbor is having and hold up the number one. Subtleties and specifics are not readily at an effeminate mime’s disposal.

Epilogue: Band Questions

As promised, I will now answer a randomly selected question that was submitted to the band. Our good friend Patrick Hall, of West Virginia, asks, “Who in the band is the biggest foodie?”

Dear Patrick,

That is a difficult question. We all like food. We usually eat it a minimum of three times daily, and usually enjoy it. Rather than a direct answer, I will try to provide several key “food facts” about each band member…… TGB- Dates the head chef of a popular Maryville, TN restaurant. Grows and cans her own vegetables. Robert- Before becoming a full time musician, worked as a souse chef under Bruce Bogarts, who has won “Best Chef in Knoxville” several years running. Uses the word “demi glaze” in normal conversation. Tom- Often makes a meal of canned sardines and crackers. Once cooked a pork loin in Electric City, WA. Cruz- Cooks eggs. Only eggs. Lives in a home with no kitchen. Bowman- Abhors dried fruit and bananas. Notorious for asking a restaurant what its vegetarian dishes are, only to end up ordering BBQ………………. There it is, hope it cleared some things up for you Patrick!

Well that’s it for this blog edition friends! Please feel free to keep submitting those questions. As of now I only have enough questions for one  more blog post (meaning one question), and while I could wax on for blogs upon blogs about the wonders of cheese and windmills, it is nice to get to say some things about the band and its other four members. Thanks for reading!

Your friend,

Ol’ Bowms

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Free music download on NoiseTrade!

This month only – get our debut album, Whiskey Angel, for FREE via  This is the one that started it all, folks!  We hope you enjoy it.  Download it here:

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I Heart NYC (as well as Wrightsville and Thomas)

I would love to be able to romanticize my situation by saying, “I arrived in New York City with nothing but the clothes on my back and a song in my heart,” but the truth is I had much more than that. I had my drums, cymbals, and percussion accessories. I had my back pack; complete with laptop, book, CD player, and Bruce Hornsby albums. And I did have the clothes on my back; just not the remaining garments I had packed for the six day trip we had just started.

Let me back up…. The previous evening we had had a rare gig in Knoxville. It was not a typical hometown performance at the Bijou or more recently the TN Theatre, however, but an extravagant tailgate party for what would end up being a heart breaking overtime loss to Georgia the following day. I had played many sweat soaked, beer drenched Saturday afternoon tailgates for various fraternities in my four years at UT, but this was a much more lavish, family friendly affair. The show was a blast and proved to be a good opportunity to shake the rust off after a rare two week break from the road. We played our last song, a new arrangement of an old cover (“T for Texas, T for Tennessee), packed our things, and began our overnight journey to the Big Apple.

There are not really shifts or guidelines for overnight drives in the Lillies, but the general rule of thumb is drive until you feel tired and then pass the wheel to the next person feeling alert. Tom was up for driving and volunteered first, so I settled into the seat and tried to get as much sleep as I could until I was inevitably awoken for my turn. Around 9 AM, we stopped in New Jersey for gas. Wrinkled and smelly from the previous night’s gig, I went around back to the trunk to grab my toothbrush and a fresh t-shirt. My heart sank. My bag was no where to be found. I did not panic, however. I had experienced this feeling many times before, only to discover that my bag had simply fallen into the back seat or been wedged behind the cooler. This time it was not. The bag was gone. Later, we pieced together that a member of the band (who will remain unnamed) had stopped at some point in the middle of the night to get something out of his/her own bag, placed mine on the wheel well of the trailer, and accidentally taken off, leaving the bag’s approximate location somewhere between northern Tennessee and New Jersey.

It was not such a bummer, though. As I am more than willing to admit, I have easily the worst fashion sense in the band. I probably get this sense (or lack thereof) from my father, who went to get clothes at the TN department store “Goody’s” sometime around the year I was born and decided that would probably be all the shopping he would ever need to do. In fact, of the three “gig appropriate” shirts I had packed for the trip, one was Cruz’s and the second was my roommate’s, who decided when I was asked to join the band that I needed it more than he did. There were three cherished items, however, that are now lost forever…. 1. My moisture-wicking West Virginia athletic shirt, given to me by Patrick Hall the day after my 23rd birthday. 2. My spit-caked, Texas flag emblazoned high school retainer (perhaps the least rock and roll item ever lost in a traveling musicians bag.) and 3. A never before worn t-shirt of one of my favorite new bands, Humming House (from Nashville), that featured a giant white llama on a green back-drop. The third loss was made even more heart breaking when days later I found out (from a reliable source in a Thomas, WV bar) that backpacking trips in Montana often keep several llamas in tow to ward off bears (apparently, the bears are frightened by the llamas’ unfamiliar, peculiar appearance). Not only had I lost a sweet new shirt, but also a stylish, comfortable bear repellant. Anywho, with the help of my folks (who had flown up from TX for the show) and shirt donations from the incredibly fine people of The Burning Bridge Tavern in Wrightsville, PA, I was able to piece together plenty of things to wear for the upcoming shows. Rock and Roll!

Speaking of which, the first show of the trip was a big old heaping pile of awesome that went down at, wait for it, Madison Square……….Park. The crowd was substantial and attentive and included (among many others) my mom, pop, sister, brother-in-law, childhood friend Clara, and dental wizard/band friend Kamand. We also found a new friend in an ornery, stuffed raccoon (pictured below) that had apparently made an appearance at every concert at MSP for the last two years. It was a pretty interesting experience pouring thick, juicy waves of Americana music over the sonic backdrop of bustling Manhattan, but Tom took full advantage of the ruckus; incorporating ambulance sirens and various other noises he heard into his pedal steel lines. The Madison Square Park Conservancy later called the show “one of the most rocking Studio sets the park has ever hosted”. (You can watch a high quality video of “Ramblin’ Boy” from the gig here:

The following night we played at a great venue down the road called “Hill Country BBQ”. It was a pretty surreal experience; walking into to the club/restaurant off of the crowded New York streets I was immediately reminded of the feel/asthetic of many of the popular BBQ joints I use to frequent in and around Austin (I found out later that the owners are from Lockhart, a smoked meat mecca). The gig went well, and as an encore we debuted an acoustified version of the Zombies classic “Time of the Season”, with the whole audience singing along.

A gig-less Monday had us saying farewell to the Big Apple and hello to the historic city (definitely look it up) of Wrightsville, PA. The Burning Bridge Tavern is run by some of the kindest, most hospitable people you could ever hope to meet and not only did they clothe me, but they put us all up for two nights and fed us four hearty meals free of charge. Super kind folks, super cool bar. The final stop of the mini-tour was another one of the band’s favorite clubs, the Purple Fiddle in Thomas, WV. As usual, the place was packed to the gills with friendly, smiling faces ready to get up and get down. Afterwards, we repaired to a local bar where, to build team strength and unity, I instigated a series of “trust falls” among the band and bar patrons. The camaraderie flowed freely and everyone ended up having a few laughs; except for Cruz, who was way too trusting of an overly inebriated man and ended up with several bruised ribs.

Well there it is, as up to date as I am liable to get for the time being. Now I would like to briefly ask you, the blog reader/Black Lillies fan’s, for a little bit of assistance. You see, as a traveling musician chronicling my experiences, I end up from time to time finding myself feeling a bit like Guy Fieri. For those not in the know, Guy Fieri is a big, frosted-tipped goober who hosts a show my pop watches on Food Network called “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives”. Every week Guy cruises around the country sampling various dishes from some of America’s best, as the title states, diners, drive-ins, and dives. It is actually a pretty entertaining show, and the best part is that 12 to 15 times an episode this spikey-haired little cheeseball has to come up with a new, trendy way to say, “That dish tastes really good”. Similarly, sometimes when I think about trying to write blog posts at various points in our journeys all that comes to mind are variations on “The gig in (insert city here) was really fun.” That’s why I would like to enlist your help in what will hopefully be an on and off Q&A section between ya’ll and the Lillies. Not only will it  provide you with little insights into what things are really like with the band, but it will also give me (the newest member) an opportunity to find out more about my band mates and the four years before I joined. Questions can either be directed towards specific band members (“Dear Bobby, You have a red beard. What is that like?”) or towards the band in general (“How does Bobby’s red beard affect the rest of the group?”). You can submit them underneath this blog’s post on the facebook page, or in the “comments” section of this blog. Lastly, I know with our friends/fans this probably goes without saying, but please only submit questions that you would feel comfortable having your grandmother answer (if your grandmother was in the Black Lillies). Hopefully these questions will provide more blog posts when nothing particularly bizarre is happening on the road. Yeah! America(na)!

Your friend,


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Mountain Stage

We had a blast playing NPR’s Mountain Stage a couple of months ago. It was our second time on the show – our first marked the very first time we played on a nationally-broadcast program!  The second time around was MUCH more comfortable and less nerve-wracking.  The episode is airing now on NPR affiliate stations throughout the country, or you can click here to listen online.

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