Friday, May 23, 2008

Tour journal continues... week 1

Day two: Cincinnati – show at Blue Rock Tavern. Neat little up-and-coming neighborhood; venue / promoter was super nice. Dinner at strange next door “community center” fundraiser event. Opening band, The Pomegranates, are coming to DC to record a CD. Why? Seems like more trouble and expense than it's worth, but best of luck to 'em! Met 1st kid of the tour (20 something guy) who was affected by Fugazi / Dischord similarly to myself. Nice to learn that some of the young kids are still getting the message from the same source. Since then, have met people in every town with similar stories. It was a Saturday show in a small bar – decent crowd. About half were there for the music, other half was out on a Saturday night. Joe is very enlightened in his response to non-attentive audiences. He ends the set each night with “Sons and Daughters,” acapella standing in the middle of the crowd. The chattiest crowds have all gone silent during this...

Day three: First trip across Indiana, show in Chicago at Schuba's. Plush venue – nice sounding room, nice gear, good soundguy (Stan). We are joined by cellist, Alison Chesley. She rocks. An old friend from college, Chuck Jones, surprises me at the show. He's large. He gave me a whammy pedal and an electric kazoo. He said I look like an aging baby bird. Mahmood also came to the show (he booked the tour). We should have taken a photo for the alumni magazine. Show was good. We stayed with Joe's friends Damon and Wayne of The Eternals. They visited into the wee hours, I fell asleep.

Day four: Second trip across Indiana, this time south to Bloomington. Venue, the Art Hospital, is a small DIY venue, an old house in a commercial district. Not sure if anyone lives there. Seems to be run by college kids. Unfortunately, it's a rainy Sunday night and school is out for the summer. Small crowd, but super-attentive. We went for dinner late, and the nearby vegetarian restaurant had just closed. We popped into the coffee shop downstairs and happily ran into Jesse, who hosted Joe and Ricardo during their last visit. He happened to be working there. Good thing, since we didn't have arrangements for a place to stay. He took good care of us, even made vegan pancakes for breakfast and we all had a chance to play with his scottish terrier Dexter.

Fun trivia fact: Joe Lally keeps a bottle of fish oil tucked into a compartment near the driver seat at the front of the minivan, so he can take a swig as needed. Icky.

Day five: Our third and final traversal of the state of Indiana, this time heading back up north to Detroit. We have a motel room near the airport. The hotel has funky 70s soul music playing day and night. The place is funkdafied. The bathroom is a bit funkdafied, but passable. The show is a strange one. It's a large venue, with a massive stage. Joe, smartly, decides that we should set up on the floor, in front of the stage so we can perform as though we are, in fact, in the same room as the audience. This turns out to be perfect, especially given the modest size of the crowd. Mostly the opening band and their friends. Seems like everyone is pretty drunk by the time we play our set. The music goes well. I'm now “off book” and playing the set without peeking at my notes. This frees things up considerably and I feel good about it.

Day six: We drive through Canada to take the short-cut to Buffalo. We go through a tunnel from Detroit to Windsor, Canada. Detroit seems like a hardscrabble town. Coming out of the tunnel in Windsor, everything is sunshine and smiles. We find a Little Italy type of neighborhood, but it turns out we can't afford to eat at restaurants in Canada with the exchange rate where it is these days. We pick up a few things from a cute little Italian grocery and have a makeshift lunch on the sidewalk by the van, followed by espresso at a lovely gelato joint. My romance with Canada wears out as we drive to Buffalo; long stretches of highway through farm country is the same as in the USA, but with lower speed limits. We catch a peek of Niagra Falls on our way back over the border. The show is at Soundlab, a nice little basement club downtown. Orthrelm opens for us, and Mick sits in on a couple of songs. He's unreal. In a good way. Brian Fending puts us up for the night at his place in the suburbs. Somehow we don't wake his wife and daughter at 3am, and Reba, the Rottweiler warms up to us after a few minutes.

Day seven: Scenic drive to Ithaca. Lunch at Moosewood. On the way into Ithaca, we listen to Gillian Welch's “Time: the Revelator” in the van. It ends with an epic song, “I Dream a Highway” and every chorus (“I dream a highway back to you...”) makes me tear up. It's tough being away from home – and we're only now finishing the first week. It's going to be a while yet before I get home to Cameron.

This touring thing is a strange way to make a living. Especially when it costs $80 to fill up the van every day. The small shows we're playing mean that we're living close to the break even point. Joe's been selling a few CD's – some nights are better than others, but I'm not sure how he's going to pay for his plane fare to/from Italy plus our tour expenses. Doesn't seem like he'll have much change in his pocket when we're done... Maybe we'll do better as we get later in the week and into another weekend.

We walked around downtown after lunch and saw several posters up advertising the show. Hopefully we'll get a decent crowd, but playing a college town like this after school's out doesn't seem too promising. Joe has a great attitude about this stuff. He is so committed to playing music, he'll be doing it one way or the other and the business stuff will catch up eventually.

I'm a bit jealous that he's able to put his writing and playing first. Personally, I get all caught up in the money, or more accurately the fear of not having enough money. Ricardo, our brilliant drummer, doesn't have health insurance, doesn't have a car, and doesn't make enough money to need to file taxes. My overhead isn't so low. I have a mortgage, I choose to live with only one other person (and our dog), I have health insurance, we have a car, and comprehensive auto insurance. Otherwise, we're quite frugal – I'm not sure how I can get my overhead much lower. It seems that being a musician today means giving up attachment to all material things, not having insurance, and also giving up attachment to “normal” personal relationships, since you'd need to be touring almost constantly in order to have any kind of steady income. Of course things aren't all that bleak, and many musicians find ways to hold onto part-time or project based day-job work in addition to their writing and playing. Hopefully I can make some progress towards that when we get back from the tour. My fear is that I'm going to need a full-time day-job to get out of debt and that's going to put my musical projects on hold for three or four months at least.

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