by Rob Mathews
Day 5 – New York
We woke up Tuesday morning in our new digs in Brooklyn ready to get out and take on Manhattan before our gig that evening at Pianos in the Lower East Side. After a quick round of showers we were off to the nearest subway station where we all got our Metro Passes and figured out how to get over to the Staten Island Ferry. Julie freaked out a resident New Yorker that was in no way interested in being in her picture of Darci on the subway. Julie then reached out to touch him on the shoulder while apologizing and this just put him over the edge...he got up to take refuge in a safer place. Apparently New Yorkers aren't as touchy-feely as us mid-westerners. We made in no time to the ferry, got our required photos of the New York skyline from the south and of the Statue of Liberty and then were on our way to explore a few more parts of the city: specifically Greenwich Village where we had probably the best falafel sandwich on the planet at Taim and Central Park.
Back in Brooklyn around 4:30 it was time to start putting together our game plan to get our gear over to the club. Most places in NYC provide backline for the bands but you still need to get your guitars, keyboards, and breakable drum items there (snare, cymbals, etc.). For our 15 passenger van, the LES would be a no go. There is no where to put that big sucker over there. After putting our heads together we decided to hire a car service (i.e. minivan) to take the gear and 2 people over while the rest of us got back on the subway. The car service was $25 each way plus tip. Add in subway fares and there was no way this gig was going to be a moneymaker. Oh well, for the charms of NYC we dealt with it.
Coming up out of the subway station at 2nd Ave & Houston is like walking into a hipster paradise, except it's not exactly paradise when everyone is cooler than you, thinner than you, dresses better than you, etc. After a 3 or 4 block hike we walked up to Pianos where Vince and Matt were already unloading the gear. Blue Bird played Pianos last year but I was not on that tour. Pianos is set up with three areas: the front room (free admission), the upstairs lounge with quieter acts (free admission), and the showroom where we were playing ($8 cover). Guess where strapped for cash Lower East Siders were going to be hanging out? Last year Blue Bird played the upstairs lounge and it was packed. Not so much of a packed house for us this year in the showroom. That said, we had a few friends out and some of the dudes from the resident band, Love Life, from London hung out for our set. It was fun to be playing in Manhattan.
After our set the stresses of the big city meant drink fest was on for all of us. We hung out at Pianos for a few hours and then got the car service back over to get the gear back to Brooklyn. Matt, Vince and Darci took care of that duty while myself, Marta and Julie stayed behind to either train or cab it back over. One problem: Julie and I were pretty tipsy at this point and couldn't find Marta. In retrospect we really didn't look that hard. I tried giving Marta a call and she didn't answer so we had the bright idea to go looking for her. That pretty much consisted of holing up at the bar of the Mexican place across the street drinking margaritas, shots of tequila, munching on free chips and salsa and making friends with the proprietor's 3 year old. At this point Marta is blowing up my phone wondering where the hell WE WERE. Of course I had it on vibrate and wasn't paying attention to it as it sat on the bar. Eventually we all found each other, poured ourselves into a cab and met back up with our three band mates and hosts in Brooklyn. More drinks and fuzziness ensued, finally giving way to sleep. All in all, New York wasn't much for the show, but definitely some good memories and friends were made.
DAY 6 – Pittsburgh, PA
We were finally turning the van around and heading back west. As we said goodbye to NYC in our rear view, made our way across Jersey and back into Pennsylvania thoughts starting turning to where we were going to stay for the night after our show. It was realized that we had absolutely no friends in the state, let alone the city of Pittsburgh. I enlisted my trusty Sprint card on laptop and found us a cheapish hotel room about 17 miles away from the club. I often wonder how bands got it done before all of this technology existed. GPS and the use of mobile web have really saved our necks more than a few times. I would imagine that each day we would have had to tack on an hour or two to our travel schedule just to get this stuff figured out. But I digress.
After checking in to our hotel and getting ready for the show we set out to get into the city and find the venue. I must admit, we were all pretty taken aback by the landscape of Pittsburgh. It's a beautiful city with hills and ridges and bridges and old buildings with a blue collar charm. We arrived at our venue, Howler's Coyote Cafe, to be pleasantly surprised at the size of the stage, the ambiance of the music room, and to the delight of a few, the discovery that you could smoke in the adjacent bar. Many times I look at pictures of venues in far away cities only to be disappointed when I get there. They almost always look better in pictures. Howler's was the exact opposite. The pictures online did it no justice. We had a nice crowd for a Wednesday, and played with some great bands: Paul Jay (Pittsburgh), Sinnet (Boston), and These Lions (Pittsburgh). The others went for a walk down the street to find something to eat after our set while I stayed behind for some much needed alone time and to watch the other bands. I, for one, had a great time hanging out with the locals.
We certainly hope to return to Pittsburgh and Howler's in the future.
DAY 7 – Louisville, KY
We didn't leave our hotel until about 11am and ran into a bit of traffic getting out of Pittsburgh, so we ended up taking our sweet time getting to Louisville. So much time, as a matter of fact that really the only part of the city we saw was the venue, ZaZoo's Bar & Grill. Since we didn't have a place to stay lined up here either the plan was to just go to the venue and start asking around for a place to crash for the night to save money. So we arrived at the venue around seven...only no other bands had arrived yet. Darci remembered that she had some friends from her hometown of Mullen, Nebraska that lived somewhere around the area. She got in touch with them and they were planning on coming out to the show and offered up their place for us to crash as their kids were back in Nebraska with their grandparents. The only hitch: they were 45 mins outside of Louisville. The good thing is they were in Elizabethtown, south of Louisville, in the right direction of Nashville where we were to play the next day.
ZaZoo's was a pretty good venue. Excellent stage setup and the sound was great. The crowd wasn't large but was good and very receptive for our set. The show didn't even start up until about 10:30—I asked the sound man early in the night what time the show would start. He replied honestly, “Whenever we are ready. We can start as late as we want and go until 4:00am. Sometimes that's better as it keeps people drinking late.” Folky-rockers Field of Kings played before us (and helped set up the show) and we stuck around afterward for a bit to watch the blues band play after us (Mississippi something or other...). From there on it was a white knuckle drive following our hosts at 90 miles an hour into the Kentucky countryside. We made it in one piece and hunkered down into our deluxe accommodations for the night finally around 4:30am.
DAY 8 – Nashville, TN
Ok, so we slept in late again. That was obviously going to happen due to the lateness of the previous night, but who cares? It's only a 2 hour drive to Nashville. At this point in time we are all getting pretty confused about what day of the week it is. You actually have to stop and think before it comes to you. We decided it was Friday (the 13th no less).
We pulled into Music City around 2pm, but that was not all that early—our set was to be at 5pm at The Nashville Underground, a club owned by Gavin Degraw (there is also a NYC version that Blue Bird played at last year). The thing with Nashville is this: downtown around Broadway, music starts around noon and goes late into the night. This we were prepared for, so the 5pm set time didn't really bother us. What were weren't prepared for was that everyone else is playing exclusively covers. Strange to me. Bands blow in for their hour long set, play 9-10 cover tunes, hoping to catch some tips from the tourists and then are out the door. We played one cover just to stay in line. Next time we will probably look for a gig in East Nashville where I've been told is more of the “original” music/hipster enclave. A fun fact about our visit to the National Underground: when telling the bartender that we were from Nebraska, she informed us that she had just moved there from Lincoln. Small world. Darci also had a cousin that lives in Nashville that came to see our set and amazingly enough, she knew the entire staff at the club as she hangs out there all the time (and is apparently friends with the Degraws).
We had a long 7 hour plus drive to Columbia the next day so we decided to have a sit down meal (our first in many days) and then leave Nashville to get a jump on the drive. Matt decided to pick up a rental car here, as he wanted to get home earlier than the rest of us on Sunday for impending work and was afraid that he wouldn't be able to get one in Columbia. So we drove out to the airport, got his car, and then started heading toward Columbia. We made it about 2 hours outside of town before finding a cheap hotel in Cadiz, KY. The motel was called Super 7. Our only question: did the seven make it one better or worse than a Super 8?
DAY 9 – Columbia, MO
We were glad that we got that jump on the drive—it was no only 5 hours into Columbia, which was a piece of cake after all the driving we'd already done in the past week or so. Still no place to crash in Columbia so once again I got on the laptop and reserved us a room at the America's Best Value Inn for a mere $40. I thought I had done great. Upon arrival I quickly knew better. This place was crackhead city-it was easy to tell that most of the “guests” were actually tenants on the weekly rate. We went to the desk to check in and the college age dude with the could-care-less attitude said he didn't have our Priceline reservation and that the type of room we reserved was not available. He was able to sell us another room, though, a double. We said fine and paid for it. I figured I'd just call Priceline and get a refund on the other room (which happened after jumping through some hoops). So we go to get into our room and the AC is not blowing cold. And it's hot—95 to be precise. So I go back to the ball of fire behind the desk and ask for a different room. He gives me a new key and we proceed to a filthy, not yet cleaned room. No worries...the maid agrees to clean it right away and we finally get in and can get cleaned up to go to the venue.
We were playing at the Bridge, a fairly new venue for Columbia. Attached to it is the Columbia Academy of Music, a place for younger musicians to go for lessons. A pretty sweet set up. We were sharing this bill with probably the most established touring band we had a chance to play with on this trip: The Giving Tree Band from Chicago. Both bands arrived at the venue at the same time and there was every indication that these dudes had been at it a lot longer than we have. Professional flight cases for every piece of gear and they were traveling in a Sprinter—lots more room than our 15 passenger van. They got set up and did there sound check while we watched and we knew it was going to be a great night of music. They have a great folky, almost country, sound—make no mistake, they are a bit crusty (hippie) but more on the folk rock side for sure. They don't go on extended jams and stay true to their recorded arrangements. We made great friends with them quick and will be exchanging shows with them in the future in our respective hometowns. Once again a great venue with a great staff. The crowd was slow to arrive for the evening and never really filled up to capacity, but was very responsive to both bands.
In all honestly, touring at this level is tough. It can either be an ordeal or an adventure depending on your attitude. To me, and I think all of us, it ended up becoming an adventure. Sleeping in strange places, on floors and couches and trying to find a place to go to the bathroom in the middle of nowhere is not for everyone. For sure it could have been way worse. Every single venue we played had a great stage, top notch sound and good staff. I started booking this tour way back in February to ensure that this was the case. This was not the case for the tour that was booked last year on much shorter notice. We made a lot of new friends, both in fans and the bands that we got to share the stage with. The band contacts become indispensable as we continue to grow our circle around the country. Also, the tour pretty much broke even from a money standpoint, which is all you can really ask for when touring on a truly independent level. There was only one show where we didn't get some sort of cash payment for our performance: Pianos in NYC. We did get some free drinks from them, so it wasn't a total wash. We probably could have skipped NYC altogether and the tour would have actually been profitable, just because it cost us so much gas money to get out there for that one show. Still, I'm not so sure I would have done it any other way and can't wait to do it again.