One day a few years ago I had the extreme pleasure of hosting Rodriguez for an evening. He was in town on a PR tour and wound up hanging out at the Secret Stash offices after meeting with local media folks. A small group of us were hanging out listening to records and talking about whatever people talk about when he made an announcement. It was something to the effect of, Hey guys, I just want to say that sometimes in life you find yourself in the place you belong with people you belong with…. Thank you.
At the time I found his statement to be very mindful. It always sort of stuck with me, but it wasn’t until we started toruing a bunch that it really made sense to me. When you’re out here bouncing from town to town you are pretty vaunerable to getting a little blue. Most of your time is spent on a bus or in hotel rooms. You’re away from your family and it can get very hard sometimes. Being succesful at touring takes a lot more than being a good musician. How well you play is no more important than how you interact with your bandmates and all of the people you meet along the way. It can get pretty dark when you find yourself in a city, venue, or room you don’t like surrounded by people you don’t care for. But, when you happen upon that place that Rodriguez described, it can be one of the greatest joys in life.
After a two week tour of the west coast last fall we stopped in Bozeman, MT for a night on our way home. We had an offer to play in town, but for a number of reasons it didn’t work out. One of my lifelong best friends, Jake Sibell, lives there. He put us up for the night and showed us around town. I’ve spent a bit of time there with him on other occasions, but for everyone else on the tour it was their first time. I believe we all found in Bozeman what Rodriguez found that night at Secret Stash.
This weekend we finally returned to Bozeman, this time to headline the 35+ year-old Sweet Pea Festival. It’s about a 14 hour drive from Minneapolis and there really isn’t much between the two. Rather than spend the night in North Dakota we thought it would be best to make the long drive in one shot to maximize our time in Bozeman. We were running with a little bit of a skeleton crew as Cole (sax) didn’t come with and Nick (bass) flew out with his family and tacked a little vacation on to the end of the trip (a brilliant idea). Less people means shorter stops which means making better time. We’ve also been making great time in our new RV because we don’t have to stop for restroom breaks. Long drives are very manageable because you can get up and walk around, play cards, and sleep on a very comfortable bed. Right now for instance, it’s 7:10 PM and I just woke up from a nice nap. I’m sitting at the kitchen table writing this blog and drinking a beer (which is legal to do in an RV). Blair is driving and Sam is sleeping hard in back to prep for his driving shift.
Anyhow, we left Minnepaolis at 6 AM and rolled into Bozeman a little before 9 PM. Sonny got a room at the Lewis And Clark Motel which is 2 blocks from Jake’s place, where the rest of us stayed. After we got all settled in we walked into town to get some food. Our intention was to go to Taco Del Sol, but they were closed. We wound up at Copper, a casual-fine dining joint downtown. The food was slamming and the happy hour deals on drinks were good considering how nice the restaurant is. After that we hit the Barmuda Triangle neighborhood for a taste of the classic Bozeman experience. We started with some Moscow Mules at The Molly Brown. Riley and Tony opted for the slightly more economical option of a pint of PBR and a shot of Jag for $3.75. From there we headed over to The Scoop for $2 shots of Beam and a few spins on the juke box. Unfortunatly we did not make it over to The Haufbrau this time, but we will for sure next time.
The following morning we woke up and got some breakfast at The Cat’s Paw, a mini casino, bar and grill, and liquor store. Again prices were properly Bozeman. Sam (organ) wasn’t with us, though. A friend of his who lives out there took him out on the Gallatin and taught him how to fly fish. After breakfast Sonny went back to the hotel for a nap and the rest of us drove to Water of the Gods (AKA Norris Hot Springs), a quirky little hot spring located at a campground about 40 minutes out of town. It was exceptionally relaxing. They’ve got a little stage near the spring so you can take in a show while you soak. They also have beer, wine, and lots of food available for purchase. Unfortunately, we were there before the full menu was available or any concerts were taking place, but we had a great time regardless. It rained on and off while we were at the spring, but that actually made it more fun.
After our soak we met back up with Sam and a well rested Mr. Knight and went over to the festival. Despite the rain there were thousands of people enthusiastically enjoying James McMurtry’s set when we showed up… and for good reason. He and his band kicked ass! It was a righteous mix of blues, country, and high test rock and roll. If you ever get a chance to check ‘em out, do it!
It started raining again when we took the stage. For about the first 15 or 20 minutes of the show stage hands were running up on stage and moving gear around to keep it as dry as possible. Sonny’s set list got drenched and he kept moving it and taping it down. Despite the large energetic crowd, I was having a very hard time getting comfortable and settled in with all the other crap that was happening on stage (and suspect that some of my band-mates felt the same way). We played fine, but I wasn’t’ yet having a really great time. Eventually everything got settled in on stage and the rain even let up. The crowd grew significantly once the sun went down. We all agreed that it was one of the best crowds we’ve ever played for…. Maybe the best. That’s not to say it was the largest, but rather the most engaged, high energy, came to party crowd. It was a very healthy mix of young and old, families and single 20 somethings. It was one of those almost magical nights where the energy of the crowd fed the band, which fed the crowd more and so on.
Our set was 2 hours long, which for us is a very long show. We normally do 90 minutes. Initially we weren’t too pumped about the long set, but we added a few songs that we don’t normally play and agreed to stretch out some of our existing tunes. That’s where the show got really fun! Sonny took more liberties within the show than I think he ever has. It also challenged us as players to figure out how to stretch out some of the solo sections without getting into tasteless, pointless, noodling… something we collectively loath with a deep passion. To be clear however, just because a band takes long solos doesn’t necessarily mean they’re getting into that territory. I think the perfect example of that is James Brown. In the late 60s it was commonplace for that band to play 10 minute versions of songs like Cold Sweat, but in every recording of it I’ve heard, they never sound to me to be self indulgent or overdone. Anyhow, I’m very happy with how our execution of that concept at Sweet Pea. And it was certainly well received by the audience. I hope it leads to more of that in the future.
I’d be remiss if I failed to mention something about this show that we will remember forever. Right up in the front row were several young women who instantly fell in love with Riley, our trumpet player and master of ceremonies. It’s not something I would normally talk about, but it was without doubt one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. As the show continued on, his fan club grew as strangers bonded over their love of his dashing good looks, witty charm, and trumpet playing. At one point, I shit you not, a couple of them started climbing up on the gate to reach out and get as close to him as possible. His appeal even caught the eye of a young man who clearly found himself smitten with Riley’s finer qualities. It was like Beatles mania for a trumpet player. It was all in good fun and nothing unsavory happened. It was just good for many laughs. Many thanks to the Riley Helgeson fan club for their support.
After the show, we went back to Jake’s and ordered some top notch pizza from Rosa’s and had a few beers before crashing. Me, Sam, and Blair (guitar) slept on the RV while Riley and Tony crashed in Jake’s place. The following morning we hit the road by 8 AM. Next stop, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming for their Concert on the Commons outdoor music series located right at the base of the ski area. It was a beautiful 5 hour drive. When we arrived it was raining on and off. We loaded in but couldn’t sound check on account of lightning. We killed some time drinking spicy margaritas at The Mangy Moose, a very cool, down to earth, reasonably priced bar that I was frankly a bit surprised still existed at such a world class resort. I’ve skied over 20 ski areas and Jackson has long been on the list of places I’d like to ski someday. After being there this weekend, it moved to the very top of my list.
Eventually we did a quick and dirty soundcheck and got into our hotel rooms which were just a short walk from the stage. More rain came through so we had to delay our start time. Once we finally go into it, a nice crowd gathered for a rainy Sunday evening. We wound up cutting our set down from 90 to about 60 minutes so that the other band, Analog Son, didn’t have to go too late. The decision to shorten the set didn’t happen until we were a few tunes into the show. It was a fun challenge to figure out how to modify the set list to accommodate right there on the spot. This is more challenging than it may sound because the music doesn’t really stop in our show. Each song goes right into the next, many with very precise musical transitions. Anyhow, we made it work well and had a great time doing so. With any luck we’ll be back for a full set sometime soon!
After we changed out of our suits Sam and I walked up to check out the tram. They weren’t running it much because of the lightning, but that had all passed and we were going to try and sweet talk our way on. When we got there it was all closed down for the night. But, we kept walking and found a gondola that was still running. Without hesitation we hopped on and rode up to the top. From there we hiked as far up one of the ski runs as we could before the sun went down. On our way back down we stopped into the bar at the top of the gondola for a beer before our ride to the base. When we got back down Analog Son had already finished and we had to pack up our gear (which they were using). After that, a few of us (myself included) went right to bed. I was in bed by 10 PM, something that rarely happens on tour. It felt very good, especially before the 22+ hour drive home today.
Riley and Tony (trombone) went back to the Mangy Moose where they wound up hanging out with some of the guys from Analog Son, who apparently had a very interesting afternoon. As I understand it, the story goes something like this… The hotel accidentally double booked their room. Some other guy checked into their room, dropped his stuff off, and left to go do some things. When the band showed up they were given keys at the front desk and went in to their room. After they got there, they found a gun belonging to the other guest stashed under the pillow. Shortly after, the other guest, a blackout-drunk old man walked in the room. Thankfully everyone was very cool. They all went down to the front desk to get things straightened out, but when the hotel management heard the word gun they called the police who arrived shortly after. The gun owner had a conceal and carry permit and ultimately everything worked out alright.
Sonny had himself an interesting night as well. He made a new friend at the base area. When Sonny asked him if he knew where he could get some food, he brought Sonny into the restaurant he worked at. Even though they were closed, he made Sonny a massive sandwich and then broke out the Jameson. He stayed late and made a bunch of new friends. Again, Sonny found that place and those people that Rodriguez was talking about.
This morning we woke up at Jackson Hole and hit the road by about 9:30 AM. We altered our route to go through Yellowstone National Park. I’ve been extremely fortunate to see lots of incredible wildlife. In fact just a couple weeks ago I was in Rocky Mountain National Park with my wife, my parents, and our nieces. Our drive through Yellowstone today may have been the most stunningly beautiful I’ve ever seen, though. We didn’t see nearly as much wildlife as I did in Rocky, but the scenery was second to none. I’m going back someday, but next time with my wife and at least a week of free time. We only stopped twice to take some pictures because our total drive home today is 17+ hours long.
I took the first driving shift this morning. I had a blast driving the big rig through the park. I think it’s the combination of being so high up off the ground, and the massive windshield that make it so cool. After we exited Yellowstone we drove through Buffalo Bill State Park, which is also breathtaking.
The next couple moths are pretty quiet for us, then things will pick up a bit come fall. We hope to crank out a few new tunes during the down time. In the meantime, this was an excellent way to wind down a very fun summer. Thanks to all the amazing people we met along the way on this trip. And a very special thank you to everyone who came out to our shows. Hopefully we’ll back to both Jackson and Bozeman very soon.
To see more pictures from our trip, and to keep up to speed with what we’re up to in real time, check out our revamped Instagram page now under the keen management of Riley Helgeson. Is there anything that boy can’t do?
PS- extra special thanks to Jake for putting us up in the B-O-Z. You’ll never know how much it means to all the guys. See you soon, pal!
Oh yeah, and this….