Red Eyes, Honey Bears, and Organic Food: Albany and Good Old St. Paul

I suppose I should start at the beginning… 2am on a Wednesday.  That’s when we had to wake up to catch our flight to Albany to open for Black Joe Lewis And The Honeybears at the city’s popular Empire State Music On The Plaza Series.  Our flight was originally set for a 5:20am departure from our hometown of Minneapolis, though we received word late Tuesday evening that it was delayed 25 minutes.  Myself, Tony, Riley, and Cole all met at Sam’s house where we would leave our cars and walk to the nearby light rail stop.  It’s a really good deal at only $1.75 each way.  Nick and Blair just met us at the airport.


Sonny flew out the day before as to avoid the inevitable exhaustion that would follow such a gnarly itinerary.  That’s not to say he couldn’t or wouldn’t do it, because he has in the past and certainly would again.  But rest is one the best things you can do for your voice.  Leaving Tuesday afternoon allowed him to get a proper night’s sleep in Buffalo so he could hit the stage well rested and ready to tear heads off.  


As soon as I woke up I saw a text from Sam saying we’ll grab a later train due to the flight delay.  I was faced with a difficult decision… Go back to bed for 30 more minutes, or fight through it.  In an unprecedented move, I opted to stay up.  I literally only had 2 hours of sleep at this point and was worried that if I could fall back asleep, waking up again might be really hard.  I took this extra time to make myself a very large breakfast.  It was bigger, healthier, and cheaper than grabbing some schlock at the airport.  I’m really glad I did it, because as it happened, most of us (myself included) didn’t eat anything else until 4:30pm.  


The delayed flight was sort of nice because it allowed some of the guys to get a little more sleep.  But, we had a short layover at Chicago O’Hare and wound up landing 9 minutes before boarding for our connecting flight to Albany.  Also, that flight departed from a distant terminal that we had to be shuttled to.  Myself, Tony, and Sam were the last people to board the flight.  We made it there 2 minutes before boarding officially ended.  


Albany is cool
Albany is cool


We landed in Albany at 11:30am.  Some very friendly event volunteers picked us up and brought us to The Renaissance Hotel.  At that point everyone sort of spread out.  I tried to nap but wound up watching The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.  It was the episode where Will an Lisa elope in Vegas and have a Shaft themed wedding.  It even has a cameo by Isaac Hayes!  Sam went out and enjoyed The Best Burger In Albany  while Blair and Nick discovered what was quickly added to our list of The Best Bars in America, The City Beer Hall.  They were in time for happy hour.  For $11 total they each had two very nice beers.  But the kicker is, every time you order a beer at that place, you get a voucher for a free personal pizza, so they each had one of those as well.  


The City Beer Hall
The City Beer Hall


At 2:30 we caught a ride from the volunteers over to sound check.  Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears had just finished their soundcheck and were being dropped off at the hotel as we were being picked up.  I gotta say, what an awesome group of dudes.  We meet a lot of other bands on the road, be it bands that open for us or vice versa.  A lot of times everyone is tired (see above for an example of the type of schedules we’re all subjected to regularly), and while no one wants to admit it, every musician has an ego.  You might be surprised how often it gets in the way of bands enjoying each other’s company and music.  I’ve been on both sides of it.  I’m not talking about people being outwardly hostile, but rather just disinterested and disengaged .  Anyhow, Joe and company were the opposite.  As soon as the van stopped the door flung open and Joe Lewis hopped out and introduced himself to everyone in our crew.  His band filtered out and did the same.  


As it happens their bari player was subbing for Antibalas (another super nice group of dudes) when we played with them in Chicago last summer at an event very similar to this one in Albany.  Even more coincidental is the fact that we were set to play with Antibalas at a private party in Saint Paul, MN the next night.  


Check one, two
Check one, two


Anyhow, after check we ate dinner backstage before the opening act, MIRK kicked things off.  If you dig contemporary neo-soul, you should check them out.  They combine hip-hop and R&B influences and play with an excellent pocket.  After listening to about half of their set Blair and I ran over to the Beer Hall for a quick round before the show.  We had the Other Half Forever Ever, which was one of the best IPAs I’ve ever hard.  


The Beer Hall from the inside
The Beer Hall from the inside


We made it back just in time to get changed and be on stage for our 6:15 hit.  It was a fun show particularly because we only had to play for 60 minutes.  Don’t get me wrong, we’re more than happy to play longer sets, or even do multiple sets in a night.  But, when we do 45-60 minute sets they usually wind up being pretty damn high test!  I think we played one ballad all night.  It’s super fun to go out and play almost exclusively upbeat and high energy material.  


After the show we made a bunch of new friends at the merch booth and then watched the headliner.  Damn, those guys rock.  It was so much fun to watch a show that is super tight and super loose all at the same time.  By that I mean they all played extremely well and executed all of their well arranged parts, but within that framework they appeared to explore new ideas and make a lot of decisions on the spot.  


Eventually we made our way back to the hotel, cleaned up, and went out for some food and beers.  When I came down to the lobby to meet the Blair (guitar), Nick (bass), and Sonny, they had already made a new friend, the hotels’ shuttle driver.  Though we were heading back to the City Beer Hall only one block away, he offered to give us a lift.  I laughed and just as I was about to say no he opened the door to his van and I was instantly hypnotized by the cool blue glow of fluorescent lights.  We hopped in and each crawled into our very own leather captain’s chair for a short trip  around the block before we arrived at the Beer Hall in style.


Rolling in style!
Styled out


Eventually Cole and Riley came down to the bar.  I hung for two beers (and two free pizzas).  Somewhere during beer number two Black Joe Lewis and most of the Honeybears showed up.  Apparently after I split a few of The Lakers went to the speakeasy bar located beneath the Beer Hall.  They were almost turned away at the door, but were eventually let it.  Good thing they were.  Inside they found $12 cocktails, dorks dressed in victorian garb (you’d think if you were going to dress up to go to the speakeasy bar, you’d at least wear era appropriate clothing), and a rude bartender who insisted on enforcing the uber hipster house rule that you may not use your cell phone for anything other than taking one instagram photo of each cocktail they serve you.  After being treated like crap by much of the staff the guys left at which point they were reminded by the woman working the door that they should be thankful for being let into the bar.  


Walk right into the kitchen to claim your 'zza
Walk right into the kitchen to claim your ‘zza


Pop quiz, did I eat 3 of these in one day?
Pop quiz, did I eat 3 of these in one day?

If you’re looking for good beer at good prices served by good people, go to the Beer Hall.  If you are a smarmy hipster douchebag who likes to dress up like a jackass before going out to order hoity toity mixed drinks prepared by a pretentious, self righteous bartender, the Speakeasy definitely sounds like the hang for you.  


Apparently after the misadventures of the Speakeasy, a few of the boys hit some more bars.  I didn’t really get all the details, but let’s just say the cabs picked us up at the hotel for our flight home at 4am, and the bars in Albany are open ‘til 4am.  


The Albany airport is very small, so you can imagine our surprise when we walked in and saw a MASSIVE motionless line at the security checkpoint.  We were even more surprised when we learned from the lady in front of us that all flights to Chicago were cancelled.  I pulled out my phone to check United’s flight tracker which stated that our flight to Las Vegas was still on time.  WTF!?  I went to the United desk where I confirmed that 1) our flight was still on time and 2) Our tickets were to Chicago (connecting to MSP), not Vegas.  Also, Tony (trombone) was awake enough to realize that we weren’t even waiting in the security line.  That line was backed up from the Southwest Airlines ticketing counter.  Once we made our way to security, everything was a breeze. While we were waiting for our flight, between the wall to wall coverage of Donald Trump on the news, we heard that all of Southwest’s flights for the day were cancelled due to some sort of computer system failure.  

Not the first time, won't be the last...
Not the first time, won’t be the last…

After that, everything went pretty smoothly.  We landed in Minneapolis around 11am, just before the gnarly heat wave crippled any chances of happiness the city could have for the day.  We had a little time to kill before our next gig, a private party in Saint Paul, MN.  


If you're flying United and they give you one of these little waffle thingies, open it up and set it on top of your hot coffee like this for like 30 seconds. Thank me later.
If you’re flying United and they give you one of these little waffle thingies, open it up and set it on top of your hot coffee like this for like 30 seconds. Thank me later.


That night we played what turned out to be the coolest private party we’ve ever done.  It was for a coalition of co-op grocers.  The food was banging, the people were fun-loving, and the events were bonkers.  They blocked off the street in front of the club and had a water balloon fight right in downtown Saint Paul.  Also, the headliner for the evening was one of my favorite bands, Antibalas!  


As the opening act, like the night before, we played a short set.  This time it was only 45 minutes.  It was some of the most fun I’ve had playing in a while.  It was 45 minutes of non-stop, fast-paced, high-energy rockers…and it felt damn good!  After our set I had to split immediately.  The next morning I was departing at 6am with my wife and our nieces to visit my folks in Colorado for a few days.  The report back was just as expected, though.  Antibalas killed it as always.  


It was a jam packed couple of days and for me, the little vacation that followed was much appreciated.  Immediately following my return from Colorado, we would begin shooting Sonny’s first ever music video.  More on that to come!

-Eric (drums)