DISCLAIMER: As my grandmother used to say, our band uses 'swears'. Not everything is neat and tidy. We don't always get along. We don't always make a profit. We all take turns driving. We all enjoy a drink. We get mad when nobody shows up for a show, or requests Bittersweet Symphony, or yells "The Freshmen!" before we hit the first chord. In other words, we're people. This is a job. But it's a good one.
On my way to picking up the Sprinter van at the rental place, I thought for a moment that we may not be taking the trip after all. They require a special kind of insurance, and my personal auto policy wouldn’t cover 9 people in what would certainly become a giant fart box on wheels, if past tours were any indication. I was able to get the appropriate insurance the day prior to us leaving, thanks to my insurance agent, but I had to call her at home at 6:45 am to make sure that all of the paper work was in order, and even put the rental place on the phone with her in case there were any questions. Turns out, the rental place couldn’t have cared less, and my 4 hours on the phone the day before, and anxiety over whether the tour would happen due to a technicality, was for naught; they never checked to make sure we had insurance. You would think that I would be relieved by this information, but being Dutch, and cheap, I was angry. How dare they NOT question me and check my insurance card and potentially be the reason that we would have to cancel shows for the first time in a decade!?! I decided to be happy that we were soon on the road, 8 of the 9 members all crammed in the van (Quinn would join us later as Tour Manager).
Lou, Channing, Joel, Sam, Griff, Wheelz (first time tour for him) were on the road, off to pick up Randy in Lansing. Once we picked up Randy, Channing pulled out the selfie stick and took a pic of us. She's a better singer than a photographer (this is AFTER she photoshopped the hell out of it. I reminded her that there are other filter options besides Blurry White People).
Everyone looked fresh as a daisy, ready to rock it out on our first tour of the year. Looking at the picture, I had the suspicion that at the end of the mini-tour we would not be so fresh and wondered how this group was going to handle the road. Especially Chris Wheeler (Wheelz) who hadn’t been out with us yet, and who I was going to run completely ragged. He was going to be a driver, merch person, loader and unloader, and at the kid’s shows, an Elvis impersonator, female opera singer, and a Mexican wrestler. He’ll need his strength, and the 5,000 calorie a day (I’m assuming here) diet will easily be worked off.
May 10 Pittsburgh Winery. After the 7 hour drive, everyone was feeling especially anxious to get out and play. You never know what to expect when you arrive a club; will the stage be big enough? Will the sound man be an asshole? Will there be anything besides an already opened bag of chips and salsa in the backroom? Which contract did they get, the new one with sparkling water, protein bars, and gluten-free red wine, or the contract from 1998; Jack Daniels, 2 packs of Marlboro Lights, and an array of colored condoms (absolutely no green ones!)
The winery, and most wineries around the country are great venues, and the stage was big enough, the sound man was cool, and we set up and did sound check without incident.
We hit a local Irish pub for dinner, since dinner at the winery would come out of the proceeds at the end of the night, and the budget was tight. Looks like the other guys would have to pay for their own meal tonight, unfortunately. Each band member is paid the same at every gig, and there’s the assumption that food and drink will be provided by the club. Many times, I don’t get paid at all, having chosen to take the “profit” instead, if there was to be any. The band hasn’t made any money touring since the year 2000, but touring is a necessary evil. In fact, this particular tour of the East Coast will cost us (me) about $4k in losses. Fortunately, I have the Lawn Chairs House Concert tour to make up for it.
I felt guilty about the members having to pay for their own dinner, so when the bill came, I called it a “band meal”, and paid for it. Mostly because I knew I could mention it in this blog.
Back to the club, there was a private event happening, so we were asked to keep the backroom shenanigans down to a reasonable volume. They provided wine, and we drank most of it before the show. I decided a nap was a good idea, and laid down on the floor with the headphones on and took a quick 15 minute one, a trick I mastered when I was in the army, driving a tank through the streets of cities like Hamburg or Dusseldorf. In those days, we would park our convoy on the side of the roads, 40 vehicles waiting for the few that got caught up in traffic, or took a wrong turn. It usually good 20 minutes or so to get the convoy back together, and during that time, I would sit up right in the turret, and tip my head in helmet back and sleep for 15. I would wakeup and be refreshed, and ready to rock, or in this case, drive around German towns for no other reason than to show our American muscle during peacetime in the military.
We rocked the show in Pittsburgh that night. It felt good to play with these guys, and for a Tuesday night, the place seemed really full and appreciative. We hadn’t played together in a few weeks, and we were already pretty tight. Other than that sluggish feeling I have when I drink wine, where I think that every song is too fast. “C’mon, Sam, goddammit, slow down the tempos” I would think, and then listening to the recording later, I would have to admit that I was wrong, Sam was spot on. I swore Lou and Griff had turned up their amps, breaking the cardinal rule that the volume that is played at sound check is the volume you’ll stay at for the show, but dammit to hell again, the sound man confirmed that neither one had turned up their amps, it was him that brought them up in the mix, and I had to apologize to Lou for the look I gave him during the performance. I had mastered that “look.” A half smile, or smirk even, and eyes that say “I know you just turned up but I’m not going to say anything, ok yes I will say something but it will be brief and after the show, even though I will have to say something on stage as well because I dunno I can’t concentrate on remembering the lyrics, while I’m being blasted across the other side of the stage by your amp.” And so, for that I apologized.
Lou is one of my closest friends, always there with a smile and infectious laugh, always 100% rock and roll, all of the time. It’s not rock if your amp is under 8, it’s soft-rock. He often jokes before a show, “HELLO CLEVELAND! ARE YOU READY TO SOFT ROCK?!!” I suspect he thinks we play too many ballads, but hell, our biggest hit is a ballad. He’s the only vegetarian in the band, yet doesn’t preach to us about it, and for that we are grateful. I cut him as much slack as I can, because he was there through the hardest years, trying to rebuild this thing back into a bonafide rock and roll band again, albeit a band that plays kid’s music to help pay the bills.
After the Pittsburgh show, we hung out around the merch table in hopes that people would actually purchase an album, a concept long lost since streaming music for free has become the new norm. A handful of people bought merch, and we were able to get into the van with the knowledge that we were only going to be $3940 in the hole.
We stayed at a Residence Inn that night, and thanks to a friend of the band, got a huge discount. I was ready to hit the hay early, as in midnight, knowing that we had a 7am lobby call in the morning. At 4am, my phone rang. It was the front desk asking if I was Sam. “No,” I croaked. Then I heard the distinctive voice of Griff in the background. Griff sounds like Grover from Sesame Street, and sure enough, at 4am, there was Grover in the background telling the hotel clerk to ask me if I knew which room he was in. I misunderstood, and said “He’s not in any room, he’s in the lobby right next to you.“ I told her, drugged by the unison tablet I thad taken with one last sip of wine. Apparently, Grover had wandered off at 4am in search of cookies from that blue monster, and forgot where his bed was. “Send him up,” I told the clerk. I had no idea which room Sam was in. I was without a room mate tonight, and Griff could crash on the couch for a few hours. I answered the door in my underwear and invited Griff in. “Sorry, man. Sorry. I must have been sleepwalking,” he said as he plopped onto the couch, where he fell into a deep coma before I got a chance to get back into bed. He felt bad the next morning, knowing he had broken cardinal rule number two: Don’t wake up BVA under any circumstance, except for a hotel fire, and if possible, in said fire, carry BVA out asleep, swaddled in hotel duvets, and lay him in the cool grass while the fire department gets it under control.
I wrote a poem for Griff the next morning, and immediately felt bad about it after I posted it on social media. But clearly not bad enough to refrain from reposting it again:
Poor little puppy
Too much sugar he ate
While others went to bed
He stayed up late
Poor little puppy
Wandered out into the halls
In search of more sugar
Should he make some calls?
Poor little puppy
He had no luck
Then forgot his room number
He went to the front desk
To get help from them
They called every room
Grumpy dog answered
He wasn't very happy
To take in the puppy
Who interrupted his nappy
Poor little puppy
Now asleep in the van
On the way to Poughkeepsie
With the rest of his band
Night-night little puppy
Though the sun's shining bright
Night-night little puppy
There'll be more sugar tonight.
Next Stop: Pawling NY via Poughkeepsie.