….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?”
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!