I’m sure it comes as no surprise that once I hit the road with no bosses but myself, my blog fell to the wayside. (I am currently trying to catch up on four very different posts, expect some long ones.) Celebrating a combination of rare self-scheduled travel time and a chance to spend it with my constant cohort before our tours spread us in circles to opposite ends of everywhere, I hit the road and nearly forgot about my computer. I can’t say that I regret it very much at all, although my creative self began to become a bit overwhelmed with the abundant observing and performing and the lack of alone time. The good news is that I got a solo act out of the deal – something I’ve been timidly scheming for about five years now. I also traveled to a lot of places I’d always wanted to see but never had exact plans to visit.
My trip back to NYC from Chicago was structured entirely by the schedules of bands I play with, as most of my life has been for the last seven years. This time, it was a Black Sheep Ensemble gig and an Inferno rehearsal. Their show routed me South and the rehearsal established the length of my trip. Fortunately, there was a space in the hobeau’s tour schedule just long enough to accommodate my own and we cobbled together a tour collaboratively, something I’ve never really done before. When Black Sheep invited me to play with them at Idapalooza in Tennessee, they were pleased to learn that I now come with a trumpet player. He had some recording to do in Southern Indiana, so I stayed a couple of days extra up in Chicago and met him in Nashville the day that we headed to Ida. He booked the Tennessee shows and I hooked us up with a puppeteer in Asheville for our show with him there and it was a collaborative scramble for our show in Baltimore. All of this transpired over about eight days.
I stepped off of my overnight Greyhound bus to find myself down the street from the venue where I had played with Inferno in Nashville, right beside the highway and the strip clubs. Two of my mother’s former students had recently moved to town and picked me up for a little visit. We went to brunch at an adorable cafe where each table had a heated middle where you can make your own pancakes with endless batter. They then dropped me off in a part of Nashville which was new to me and very dear to them; it was the grungy yet accessible bohemian area, from what I gathered. The coffee shop where I loitered spoke volumes to this. A man on drugs came in without shoes, muttered about, and left his bags abandoned at a table. I was still on edge from what happened in Seattle and this scenario disturbed me more than I could have expected. I steadied my nerves and stood my ground, though, waiting for my ride.
The plan was to arrive at Idapalooza before sunset, given that its location was both secluded and vague. For those who haven’t heard of it, Ida is an intentional queer community in the woods, radical by its very nature, an island sanctuary in the rural South. Every year, they have a music festival where they host and feed hundreds of visitors. It’s a very special place. I was thrilled to have a chance to visit and perform there, having heard many good things about it over the years. We not only made it there before sunset, we were early enough to catch dinner and the evening’s entertainment. It was a scary joy to be without walls, doors, car, computer, or phone for a few days. Everything was pure camping but for the festive community which surrounded us. Mad respect to the fabulous visitors who wore high heels the entire weekend.
It was a bit of a scramble to get settled in, sorting out the location of the car, our instruments, and our campsite. I happened upon my sax friend from Barrage Band and he led us to an area I named “Little Baltimore” where we set up camp under his hammock, glad to have such a cool upstairs neighbor. He left us there and we set up our little tent and filled it to the brim with our musical gear, then headed back to the clearing for dinner. The food all weekend was delicious – a vegetarian/vegan spread three meals a day with a table full of leftovers, snacks, and caffeine options left out at all times. As a couple, we have never eaten so well. The concert in the barn that night included a band whose lead singer sounded just like the lady from Dark Dark Dark… because she was. I ran into several friends from far-flung places and as the night spun on, we met more new friends and drank from everyone’s unmarked bottles, taking note that we were one of the few “straight-looking” pairs on the dance floor, despite our own varied levels of queerness. We went on a wonderful rant about the Midwest with some hilarious Iowans. We finally made our way back to the woods, still exhausted from the day’s trip, and spent a bit of time around a nearby bonfire with more Midwesterners.
The next day, we slept in as long as the summer heat would allow us in the cramped little tent. We explored the camps a bit, finding a jam session with my New Orleans busker friend from Up, Up We Go and eventually breaking into a Rude Mechanical Orchestra song to include a couple of their dancers who happened to be passing by. It was beautiful to see these little tent villages popping up throughout the woods, creating their own common areas by virtue of the terrain. For all of my time spent at festivals, this one was a whole new experience.
The biggest draw for me that weekend was a chance to see my pretend family from Atlanta. While they aren’t quite old enough to be my parents, the couple who leads Black Sheep Ensemble have adopted me as one of their own, and their daughter has become like the little sister I never had. I hadn’t seen her in a couple of years, during which she has turned into a teenager, which was as awesome as it was shocking. Fortunately, she still remains relatively the same; her unconventional upbringing keeping her from becoming jaded or apathetic like so many teens.
We all met up before dinner and the pseudo-family was very pleased to meet the hobeau, since I am not exactly know for getting so thoroughly entangled. They were also glad to have an additional trumpet player with whom to divvy up the high parts. Their daughter did an awesome job playing bass drum for the show and was pleased to tell me that she had made drum line at her school. I like to picture her as the future Luke Skywalker of the radical brass band scene, althougg the details are hazy. The concert went well and everyone had good things to say about the band. It felt good to play with a brass band again, although using sheet music was a bit odd.
Another big highlight of the night was seeing Why Are We Building Such a Big Ship? – one of my favourite bands. While I missed their old repertoire and their brilliant sax player, it was still an excellent show. I dragged my little sister out into the crowd to watch from the front and dance with the rest of the band. It definitely made me realize what I’d missed out not having siblings or cousins when I was growing up, although being an only child was on the whole pretty awesome. After the live music ended, they had to head back to Atlanta, but they left me with a mostly full bottle of whiskey. However, I lost my music stand that I’ve had since band camp. The end of the night was relatively early but still really fun.
The next morning, we made our now usual visit to the nearby campfire, which sat between us and the composting toilets. Our neighbors gave me a plate of campfire breakfast to take to the registration volunteers and someone there in turn gave me their breakfast leftovers for myself. This is case-in-point why I enjoy living at festivals so much. I attended an interesting talk about appropriation in fashion, which was as informative as it was ripe with complications. We met a lot of folks from Chicago that day, including an old acquaintance of mine from Rat Patrol. The rest of my time and energy that day was devoted to fretting over the night’s talent show, where I had decided to debut my solo suitcase show. I had finished it just before leaving for Nashville, the glue barely dried on my large illustrated flies, surprising the boy almost as much as I surprised myself with its completion. Well, I still had a bit of work to do with a box cutter and a glue stick once I got to Ida, but it was mostly complete. What I had neglected was practicing the piece. I had done a tech run thru with the music, but that was about it. The hobeau insisted that I at least perform it once and we compromised on me doing the piece without music on the hood of his car. He was totally right, I needed to work out some glitches. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous about doing a piece that I had essentially been putting off for five years – since I bought the loop pedal.
I have been referring to it as a puppet show, but really it’s better described as “avant-diorama” instead. Basically, it’s a toy theatre suitcase show. Everything fits inside for transport, including the loop pedal and cables and the hazmat outfit I wear during the piece. The show is about ten minutes long and is my vague interpretation of the Baltimore Oblivion Marching Band, who performed in protest outside of Three Mile Island after it went radioactive in the 1970s – a little known bit of history which I became immediately obsessed with. The performance went fine and I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive and engaged crowd than the folks at Idapalooza. The entire talent show was brilliant, in fact, and I sat in on two or three other bands with my sax. Afterwards, we were a little too tired and tipsy for the dance party, but had a ton of fun doing all of the leftover dishes up at the kitchen building. Seriously, it was surreal and a perfect end to the night.
The next day was our last and we spent it mostly saying goodbyes and finally visiting the waterfall. Lunch was very leisurely and I laughed at how my new friends from the weekend were all nerdy goth kids and we spent our mealtime sitting in the shade behind the building – as it’s kind of always been. One of them finally realized that we did know each other from the zine fest in Portland back in 2003, when we saw the Muppets movie together at a brew and view. Odd. I had tried to instigate a massive journey to the waterfall, but it wound up being just me and the hobeau taking a beautiful hike through the wilderness, wading through the stream for a long stretch of the trek. The end result was well worth the journey; I can’t remember the last time I stood underneath a rushing waterfall, in fact.
After such an off-the-grid weekend and a beautiful day spent hiking, the idea of returning to civilization was unpleasant at the very least. I was very relieved to learn that the hobeau’s show in Gallatin that night was actually an under-promoted concert in a field surrounded by horse pastures. We were also witness to one of the more beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen, enhanced by a mellow band wandering through the grass. I laid back on the soft foliage in utter bliss… whereupon I was consumed by insects. The night ended at the promoter’s parents’ house outside of Nashville, where we stayed with a bunch of his friends from Bloomington.
The next day we hit up his favourite cafe in Nashville, which turned out to be my favourite cafe in Nashville whose name I had forgotten! I got distracted outside with a hula hoop and we ran into two of our new friends from Ida who were also visiting their favourite cafe in Nashville. Sometimes, my life is so predictable! We all ate some food and watched the boy play the first set at the open mic, then headed down the street to a pretty chill house show. I got to do my puppet show again! Everyone was really supportive and one of the residents said it was the first time they had ever had performance in their house. I felt honored. The guys from Bloomington played their sets as scheduled and it was fun. We all made plans to meet in Murfreesboro for another house show that the hobeau had also been added to, which was pretty raging for a weeknight. We then stayed in a sweet but dirty punk house on the edges of town and were awoken by the smell of odd fried meat. It was alright.
We made an early, but barely early enough, start on our drive to Asheville. In the normal world of DIY touring, this was an absurdly long drive, but we had my rehearsal schedule in NYC guiding our schedule. We made it to town just in time to load in for our show with Cripps Puppets at a bar on the main bohemian drag. This was only my third time doing the puppet show, and it was a bit intense to know I was performing for people who had come to see actual puppets. The flyer for the show was really nifty and we got a modest but interested turn out, including some important friends of mine. It was awesome to see people’s reaction to the hobeau’s grindcore violin set, watching them stop outside and stare as they passed by. That night, we stayed with my friend from Helblinki and continued our usual ranting about the circus punk scene. We managed to fit two visits to Rosetta’s Kitchen into our stay in Asheville, and at our morning rice and beans expedition, the guy working there even remembered me from the last visit. I saw a few of my friends in town that day and we got a tour of the puppetry studio and the warehouse of galleries which surround it.
During our drive, our puppeteer friend was in charge of my mp3 player and had put on a random playlist I had made ages ago. While it was playing the original Titanium Sporkestra recording, from back when they were a drum line, my phone lit up and I asked him to read me the name. It was my multi-instrumental friend from Barrage Band. I remarked that it was probably just some funny brass band banter and he read to me that Sporkestra had broken up. Wow. The timing was impeccable, but then what else would you expect from a drum core (rim shot). Seriously, though, I was floored. I’ve always considered that band to be my illegitimate child that I never raised, so it saddened and confused me considerably.
The show that night was not very far away in Knoxville at the Groundswell Collective, which is a very charming DIY space in an old hair salon. The folks there were super sweet and the lady who runs the space is surprisingly young. The three of us had a fun drive there and I had gotten a lot of really helpful and constructive advice about my avant-diorama piece, which made its fourth performance much better. Again, I felt empowered by doing a performance art piece to an unlikely crowd, this time at a metal show. It was awesome and I definitely tried to up the noise edge on the music part. The hobeau added a different element to his show as well, doing a piece in the middle on his newly acquired circuit-bent cop car. Normally he doesn’t talk much during his show, but this time he needed some banter while switching to and from the toy, so he went on a truly wonderful tangent about his time at Ida and what it means to be a queer ally. We slept in a house with all sorts of critters and were fed a massive curry breakfast before hitting the road for an even longer drive.
The drive to Baltimore was grueling in the tiny car which barely works. Our quest for a show there had been bizarrely unfruitful and at the last minute Speaker for the Dead saved the day. He was on tour and had squeezed all three of us onto the show. We arrived just in time to jump onstage. During set up for my piece, SFD performed the song he had written about me (see? I do so write about you in my blog) – which was ridiculous but made me smile. The show was crazy but went alright and most of my local musician friends came out for it. The hobeau was awesomely supportive, especially after the drive we had that day. After getting our puppeteer to the bus station so he could head to the big conference in Connecticut, we wound up on a nearby rooftop afterwards with a bunch of Red Emma’s folks, relaxing in the cool summer air as we looked out over the city. As we so often do, the hobeau and I drove all night to beat traffic and fell asleep around dawn at our crash spot for the week.
…PS: Hey you, update your blog!