This is the third and final update of our September tour. If you haven’t checked out the first two, you can do so here: #1 #2, but it’s not like they’re some sort of prerequisite for reading this blog post about the audiences we encountered and the tacos we ate on the final leg of the tour.
When we last checked in, we were driving up to Bend, OR from a beach house in Aptos, CA. We had 3 more off days in Bend before we’d pick up and finish the rest of the tour. On one hand it is a lot of time off. On the other, it’s nice to rest up and go into the shows knowing you can give 110%. Either way, it is what it is.
When we hit Bend, our first stop was the Deschutes Brewery for dinner and a couple pints. This place was awesome! The building was stunning in all of its rustic glory, the food was everything you’d hope for, and the beer exceeded its reputation. Most popular among our group was probably the Pinedrops, Inversion, and Oktoberfest. After dinner we grabbed a couple 6 packs on our way out of the brewery and headed to our home for the next 3 days.
It was dark out by the time we arrived at the upscale “cabin” in the woods (another great AirBnb score for a crazy good price). The place was pretty cool, complete with a hot tub, ping pong table, bikes we could use, and a gorgeous back porch (which would basically become my office for the next three days).
The first night was pretty uneventful. We were about 20 minutes out of town, so we just stayed in and enjoyed the amenities the cabin had to offer. The following afternoon we went to El Sancho, a taco joint run by some relatives of Grisha (our tour manager).
We made it there for happy hour, and no doubt about it, this is the greatest happy hour known to man. $2 tacos, $3 craft beers, $2 cans of Victoria, and $5 margaritas. Now I know what you might be thinking… “oh man, I can get a taco at Taco Bell for $2 any time of day.” Well, this might not be your bag, then. On the other hand, if you’re into great food made by amazing people, this is right up your alley.
These were the best Tacos I’ve ever eaten. They were very clearly made from only the finest ingredients. They were also quite filling. My favorites were the Oxacan Cheese w/ Green Chili, Mushroom and Onion, and Barbacoa. As far as the beer goes, I’ve never seen a better bang for your buck for well crafted beers. I mostly stuck to the Crux Fermentation Project’s Half Hitch. Clocking in at 10% ABV I fully expected to get a short pour for my measly $3…. nope. It was a full glass of evenly balanced, tastefully hopped goodness. Anyhow, we hung out for hours enjoying the weather from their deck and ate taco after after taco and drank beer after beer.
Eventually we made our way home and stayed in for the night once again. The following morning a few of us were up early. I was set up on the back deck checking in with promoters, distributors, and booking agents when I was greeted by a very social local… a deer. He thought nothing of walking right up to the deck, mere feet from where I sat with my tea working away. He’d be in and out, sometimes bringing friends, for the rest of our stay.
As afternoon neared, a group of us decided to head back into town for El Sancho’s happy hour once again. I’d hate to tell you how many tacos we destroyed in about an hour and a half, but let’s just say it was a lot and leave it at that.
Finally, the following day, it was time to get back to work. We cleaned the cabin and hit the road by 11am. Next stop, WOW Hall in Eugene, OR. It was only about a 2.5 hour drive, so when we arrived we had plenty of free-time before sound check. Some guys showered, others napped, others watched football, some ran, and some caught up on emails, etc. But, at the end of the afternoon, almost all wound up at one of two local watering holes, Steelhead Brewery, or Lucky’s Club, the former being a very nice brewpub, and the latter being a great little hole in the wall with $2 PBR tall boys.
When we arrived at WOW Hall we were met by a very friendly staff who was blasting Dizzy Gillespie’s “Afro” album on the house mains. I was immediately sold on the legitimacy of the room. The space was beautiful and reminded us of The Cedar Cultural Center back in Minneapolis. Sound check went smoothly, and then we stepped out to grab some dinner before the opening act, The Stevens Hess Band, took the stage. They were lots of fun. Sonny Hess played the hell out of the guitar and Vicki Stevens commanded respect with her powerful voice and serious harmonica chops.
As their set wound down, we discussed our upcoming set. Sometimes on tour, you tire of certain songs. I’d love to say that you never get tired of anything, and that every song you play feels brand new each time you play it, but that’d just be a lie. There are a couple of songs we’re a little burnt out on. It’s not to say they are bad songs, it’s just that sometimes your better off to put something down for a bit and then come back to it later. I’m not going to say which songs specifically we’re talking about here, because that isn’t really the point. But, there was talk about tossing one of those tunes out for the night… a pretty high energy dance number. However, as we watched Sonny and Vicki work the crowd, we realized that this was one hell of a dancing audience, and throwing out this dance tune was a poor decision. We wound up playing it and there is no doubt that it destroyed.
The show was the best of the tour at that point. It was full of spontaneity, yet one of our tightest. Cole (sax) had flown home from San Francisco to meet some commitments, so we were down one man. Some of us think that the slight difference in lineup created a sense of newness. Everything sounded just a little bit different, so everyone just stretched out a little further than normal. Whatever it was, it was super fun. The crowd never stopped moving and after the show we made many new friends at the merch table.
The next day we made the 2 hour drive up to Portland. While we were grabbing some nachos at the hotel restaurant, Grisha went over to PDX and picked up Cole. Once we had everyone, we drove over to the Roseland Theater where we would open for Thievery Corporation that night. This 1,400 (approx) cap room was hands down one of the best rock rooms I’ve ever been in. It reminded me a lot of First Avenue back in Minneapolis. The stage was huge, the PA was loud, the sight-lines were great, and the staff kicked ass. The entire basement was finished very nicely and was home to killer artist accommodations… including showers, which is something I’m still amazed we don’t see more often. I swear if I ever opened a club, the dressing rooms would have showers in them.
Anyhow, we loaded in after Thievery Corp’s sound check. We set up our gear in front of theirs and still had room to spare on stage. After check we ate at the venue (who happens to serve up a wicked philly… a Lakers favorite). Our set was only 30 minutes long. Some bands might not dig that… “Oh we came all the way out here and set up all this gear, we want to play a full set. ” We on the other hand knew…
A) People came to see Thievery. Get in, get them moving, and get out. Don’t go over your allotted time and get your shit off the stage as fast as you can. That’s your job as the opener. and…
B) We’re used to doing 90 minute sets. If we boil that 90 down to 30, you’re left with a highly concentrated mix of soul, funk, and R&B.
So we played a 30 minute set and felt great about every second of it. The cool thing about playing for Thievery’s crowd is that they came to party! It was a total blast and I feel that it was received even better than I hoped it would be. The main event, Thievery Corp’s set, was like the modern version of the James Brown Revue complete with MCs, multiple singers, DJs, and even a sitar player. It proved that after almost 20 years on the road, they are at the top of their game! When they come through your town, don’t hesitate, just go.
After the show, some concert goers apparently asked a couple of the Lakers if they could get a picture in front of our bus. They walked right past the Knight Train (our ’02 shuttle bus converted into a tour bus) and struck a pose in front of one of Thievery’s massive Prevost hotel on wheels. They must have been pretty disappointed when the guys told them which bus was actually ours.
The following day we drove up to Seattle for the last stop of the tour, two nights at the legendary Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley. One of the funnest things about playing in this band is that we can fit in so many different settings. From opening for Thievery Corporation in a premier rock and roll club, to headlining one of the west coast’s finest jazz rooms the following night!
We’ve played tie died hippie fests, tiny dive bars, family festivals, blues bars… you name it. This music, this “Rhythm And Blues” music, always finds a way to connect with just about any audience. Sometimes we fall into this trap of thinking of it as one genre, but the truth is that Soul, R&B, whatever you want to call it, is an eclectic mix of so many things; jazz, gospel, blues, country, and rock n’ roll. It’s for that reason that we can work so many different types of rooms and festivals, and I love it!
We loaded in and then left for a while so the sound guy could finish wiring the stage, a model I happen to think is pretty cool. It always takes a while to get everything mic’d up, why not just say, “hey, go take it easy for an hour while we finish setting up.” Once we finally got to checking, we quickly learned that it was a very loud room… Great for intimate jazz, but a serious challenge for an 8 piece show band. In my opinion, this is where you separate the men from the boys. You can whine about how hard it is to do your show in the room, or you can take it on as a challenge, and play to the room. We of course opted for the latter (though admittedly, 21 year old me would have gone with the former). The entire rhythm section played without the use of any monitors, the bass rig was turned off (relying simply on the DI signal coming through the mains), and I for one played without ear plugs (to make sure I was hearing what the people seated 8 feet away from me were hearing).
After sound check the club treated us to some of their amazing food. We had smothered catfish, rice, veggies, and a salad. It’s nice to eat real food on tour! Shortly after dinner, we took to the stage. Our strategy of low stage volume worked incredibly well. Grisha swears up and down that it was the best he’s ever heard us sound. He said it was as if he could hear every note that everyone played. That exciting combination of spontaneity and tightness from the Eugene show was back in full force, but this time with the full band. I swear I watched Sonny do things with that show that I’ve never seen before. It was exhilarating.
The club put us up in their (gorgeous) artist condos a couple miles across town. Those only slept 7 (only…ha!), so they also got us two rooms a couple blocks down the street from the club at the Warwick Hotel (which I would highly recommend). Blair and I each stayed in one of the hotel rooms. I was also extremely fortunate that my wife, Heather, was able to fly into Seattle and stay with me for a couple days. Here is a pro tip from the road… anytime you can do something to make yourself feel more human (as I call it), do it! If you have family or friends in a town, go see them. If you can eat a meal similar to one you might have in your own home, do it. If the hotel has a gym, go use it. And, if your spouse, partner, or whatever, can come visit you on the road, make it happen. Touring is tough business, and you need to make sure to take care of yourself, and your relationships with others. As soon as those things start to suffer, your playing will suffer (in addition to all the other terrible things that will happen).
Along those same lines, I have to say that the few times we’ve played the same town two days in a row are among our happiest times ever on the road. So often we roll into town, set up, eat, play, load out, sleep, wake up, and leave town. We never get to see the town. Some nights we actually drive for several hours after the show (like we did after LA on this tour). In Seattle people kept asking us, “How did you like Portland” (by the way, I think there is a weird rivalry there or something). I always had to respond something like, “I have no idea. I saw the back parking lot of the venue, and the venue… oh, and a hotel out by the airport.”
So, the next day most of us did our best to check out Seattle. Nick (bass) hit up Emerald City Guitars. Blair (guitar) went to see Black Mass at a local theater. Heather and I started the day out at Pike Place, Seattle’s famous market (the place where they throw fish). We took a Car 2 Go from the hotel and were there in just a few minutes. Upon entering the Market, I instantly knew this was the place to be. The first thing I saw was Holy Cow Records. I snagged 3 LPs, a seemingly rare pressing of the Gospel Soul of Aretha Franklin, King Curtis Live At The Fillmore West, and the Uptight soundtrack by Booker T and MGs. Everything was in great shape, and let’s just say all three records are worth far more than what I paid for them. I can’t wait to go back to this shop.
While at Pike we also hit Magic Market And Novelty Shop (got some great gifts for my nieces), Old Seattle Papaerworks, a couple book stores, and LOTS of restaurants. I can’t stress enough that if you’re ever in Seattle, you should check out Pike Place Market.
Pike Place Chinese Cuisine
Before the show we were also able to check out a couple of great happy hours including Bellini who had great $5 snacks and cheap taps, as well as El Gaucho. El Gaucho is a swanky joint that might normally be out of my personal price range, but their happy hour has some very good deals. This was one of the coolest bars I’ve ever been in. When you walk through the large leather wrapped doors and step into the near pitch black room, you feel like you just went through a time warp that brought you back to a high end prohibition era speakeasy. I felt like somewhere was a hidden door that led to an illegal card game, but I never could find it.
After that we went to Jazz Alley and played what wound up being the best show of the entire tour. I felt like it was so great because we took the great things from the last few shows and continued to build on it. It sounded great, and Sonny continued to lead us to new places. It was more dynamic than ever and he found more ways than ever to connect with the audience. He made us work all night, following him up, down, left, and right. It was so much fun!
After the show Cole and Riley went immediately to the air port to fly home for some other gigs. The others went back to the condos, while Heather, Blair (guitar), and I went to a great little working man’s bar called Two Bells. They had cheap pitchers and good people… can’t ask for much more than that.
The following morning Nick and Sonny flew back and the rest of us started the long and beautiful drive home. We stopped off in Bozeman, MT and spent the night at my pal Jake’s house (thanks, buddy!). We hit Cat’s Paw for some Cold Smoke, The Molly Brown for $1.75 Hamm’s Tallboys, and The Haufbrau (our favorite of the night) for one more beer and some spins on the jukebox.
The next day we woke up and made the rest of the drive straight through (about 15 hours). We hit a little bit of rain (the first we’d seen on the entire tour), and some nasty wind, but we made it home safely. Oh yeah, we also watched the Shining one more time.
I can’t speak for everyone in the band, but I’d say this was hands down our best tour yet. We played some of the coolest rooms and festivals we’ve ever seen. We got to the high country of Colorado, the deserts of Utah and Arizona, and the beaches of California all the way up to Seattle. We ate well, drank well, slept well, and most importantly played well. Not only did we play well, but we actually learned a lot about our own playing and started to progress in a very new and exciting way. We were safe, happy, and healthy. I for one am looking forward to returning to every single city we played on this tour. Thanks to everyone who came out and to all of the clubs, promoters, opening acts, DJs, writers, and others who supported us. We couldn’t have done it without you.
Next stop… East coast in Mid-November. Stay tuned for a full list of dates!