There will be a post soon about May Day, but in the meantime here’s some travel stories from the previous week. Yesterday was wonderful but exhausting, so today is a day for writing and resting.
Staying in one place for too long starts to get to me. It was about a week (during which I thankfully had a lot going on in NYC) before I decided to yet again join my hobeau on his tour. Similar to the last time, I’d found myself a gig sitting in with a large band, but mostly I was eager to get out of town and spend some time with both the fella and the open road. Somehow in the cruel irony of joining a professional touring band, I’ve been traveling less than usual. Regarding the difference between sleeping on someone’s floor after playing a DIY show or sleeping in a hotel after playing a big show, my basic nature remains unchanged and hopefully will continue to do so as long as my body will put up with it. I look back at these bright little pictures from a week on the road and my heart glows with memories of years of vagabonding in bands, playing silly shows in the middle of nowhere for little more than the love of this life we’ve chosen.
After the Inferno van got back to Brooklyn, I stopped into a bar to get change for the bus and was immediately asked about the sax on my back. Faced with the chance of playing a few tunes for drinks, I somehow chose the responsible option and headed to bed. It wasn’t long before I was up and packed for a trip of undetermined length. I met up at the cafe with a couple of kids who were on their way to Philly and we had a pretty easy drive there. I was hoping to startle the hobeau and his touring partner awake, but they were already stirring when we let ourselves into the punk house where I had found them shelter a couple of nights before. Slowly we got ourselves packed and out of the house and headed to Satellite Cafe for vegan bike shop wraps and coffee. All was well until the car key refused to come out of the ignition.
The next four hours became an increasingly intense ordeal. Without the key, there was no locking the car or opening the trunk, which was where his touring partner’s cello was safely locked – too safely, it turned out. Eventually, the car’s owner struggled with his burden while we looked for solutions on the internet and I brought him treats from the cafe. A friend even visited on his motorcycle but found no solution. I borrowed a wrench and vice grips from the bike shop, but even those didn’t work. I called mechanics, locksmiths, car dealers, the works. I almost even bought him a AAA membership so that we could get free roadside assistance. We were all committed to spending as little money as possible on this. Finally, ten minutes before the hardware store was about to close, he came running into the cafe jumping and smiling. He had employed the oldest solution in the book – hit it with a hammer. The key pushed straight in, started the car, and came out in one piece. I wanted to call everyone I’d asked for advice that day and tell them about this thing called a hammer. As soon as my initial joy wore off, though, I snatched the key out of his hand and ran upstairs to the bike shop. I’m not even sure what I said, but somehow they let this crazy lady leave her ID so she could “test ride” a bike and I was at the locksmith in the nick of time. Of all of the people I’d called, the guy there had been the nicest. He assured me that their locksmith was a wizard with broken keys and indeed he was. They said that one more turn and that key would have broken off in the ignition, so I copied it just in time. All of our problems solved for a few dollars! I let them keep the change on a ten. I also returned the bike and tools with a six pack of tall boys and candy for the non-drinkers. We thanked Satellite for all their support as well. We had gotten off easy for sure.
Our trio had lost the afternoon, but we made it to New Brunswick just in time for their show. Even I was amazed at the timing of it all. They played with Prehistoric Horse at an experimental music fest in a gallery, followed by a pretty good trip-hop band and some other acts. A few of the guys there recognized me from shows at the new music space in Chelsea, wondering who was helping with the door since both of the girls who do it were there in New Jersey. It made me feel useful and important, which is always a good thing on the road. I hit the wine and cheese table pretty hard, feeling that the stress of the day entitled me to drink and ignore my mild lactose intolerance. The cellist’s boyfriend had driven out to the show, so we traveled separately from them to her parents’ house outside of Baltimore. The morning came far too soon.
I was the first one up, but soon coffee and the fluffiest pancakes lured the others out onto the patio. The afternoon show in Baltimore wound up being mostly my gig. They were both supposed to play sets at it, so I had arranged for myself to sit in with Barrage Band. In the end, the cellist wasn’t booked and the hobeau played trumpet with the brass band, but in the end got to do his violin solo act. It was a pretty wonderful event and a classic example of why I like Baltimore so much. The rain had moved the Free Farm benefit inside, but they still had a row of tents out front for the chili cook-off and microbrew competition, as well as info tables and a stage within the warehouse. I ran into almost everyone I know in that city and made several new friends. I even connected their new saxophone player with my friend’s busking band, who need a horn player exactly when I’m already going to be on tour. The set was a lot of fun and it felt good to play with a big marching band again. His solo set went over pretty well too, although several of my friends couldn’t stick around long enough to see it.
We had to hurry out of Baltimore just as the event was finishing. The drive to DC was pretty awful, what with road closures and the complexly flawed little car struggling with the rain and hills. We made it to the venue just in time for his set, though. Again, it was a strange gallery space with an experimental music show. While it was tempting to stay in Baltimore and see my friends, I wasn’t about to miss the saxophone player from Zs, who was also playing a set that night. We geeked out over our old saxes after the show. The two cars reconvened at the cellist’s parents house again and we ate the cheese from New Brunswick as well as anything else we could find in the kitchen. We slept well into the afternoon, made breakfast, puttered about the house, and continued deeper into the South.
I had never heard of Staunton, Virginia, let alone been to it. We knew very little about the show they were playing, except that the guy was about to get married and had never thrown a house show before. In spite of all potential misgivings, it was pretty splendid. The most beautiful thing about house shows is that they attract the kids who might not otherwise get out to legit concerts. Everyone there was psyched to have musicians from New York and ponied up to the host’s donation hat impressively well. The night ended with a jam session in their music room, where I totally slayed the toy piano. All told, we were pretty well taken care of. We got our own furnished room to sleep in and eggs in the morning. We’d told him that we prefer to eat vegetarian food, and in response he’d asked for examples. He was especially proud of the cantaloupe he’d gotten us. He did pretty well, and it was our fault that our second night in town ended with a late night drunken frozen fish stick and chicken nugget binge.
Indeed, there was a second night in town. Their show the next night had fallen through and we’d all been scrambling to find another nearby. The backup plan was to head to Charlottesville and see what we could find there, but at the house show we had met someone who said he might be able to put some extra acts on a concert at a DIY space. We ran into him at a cafe the next day and he had indeed come through for us. That afternoon was spent doing internet whatnot in various coffee shops around the quaint downtown. On my way to move the car, I got stopped by a girl and had my picture taken for a fashion blog due to my ’90s ska shoes. She also came to the show. The guy found us at another cafe and gave us the good news that there would be a cookout before the show. Staunton for the win. The night was pretty fun, with a duo on tour from Boston headlining, and I sat in with the cellist for the first time ever. At some point I had already gotten promoted from merch girl to tour manager, so I’m not sure if playing in the band is a lateral or what.
The next morning we headed for Charlottesville, where we hit up their main drag and checked out Twisted Branch Tea Bazarre and the taco shop in the old movie theatre and grabbed coffee. It was a short visit, mostly indulging the fact that I had never seen the place. There were a variety of buskers out, which is always a good sign. Onward to Richmond, where the cellist had to catch a bus back to NYC. This left just the two of us, then I’d be a catching a bus myself and he’d be touring the Midwest for another month alone. Finding ourselves with some spare time and already in Richmond, we set out to get an oil change for the car and some new wiper blades. Thankfully, it also came with a vacuuming. Yes, someone cleaned our house for us. The sheer domesticity of this and other parts of the day led us to the term “common-law hobo-marriage.”
We didn’t see much of Richmond, which was alright with me since I had just been there on tour a couple months before. We spent most of our time in two of my favourite places, though, Lamplighter and Strange Matter. We spent a while at the first, soaking up the smell of coffee roasting while working respectively on the internet. I had a deadline for some freelance online work and he had to slog away on the endless booking frenzy of a solo touring musician. Eventually, we finished up and headed to Strange Matter for more sturdy food. It really is some of the better vegan bar food I’ve had, especially for a rock club. It was odd to be back at that venue but not playing, and even odder to be the merch girl at a metal show. I refused to wear makeup, but at least I wore high heels. I had a disconcerting dream a few nights later where I sold merch for Inferno and had imagined the whole being in the band part all along… Anyway, the show was actually kind of fun and I ran into some bike club folks who remembered me from Slaughterama a few years ago. It was also pretty hilarious to be doing merch at a Cannabis Corpse show. We’d been offered a place to sleep at the afterparty, but as soon as we got into the car, we felt the urge to get moving to the next city. The party was fun the little while we were there, but I’m sure we would’ve woken up in a pile of drunk metal dudes. So, the little car charged further South as the rain and sunrise came to meet us.
The hour or so of sleep in the parking lot of a random Waffle House was nothing compared to the comfy bedroom at my friend’s place in Wilmington, where we slept away a good chunk of the day once we got there. A couple days earlier I’d suddenly remembered that a friend from Emperor Norton’s had moved down there several years ago. I always forget which city he’s in (as I had done with another friend when we passed through Charlottesville), but thankfully I remembered just in time. He lives in a cute little house on the edge of town and the spare room happened to be vacant when we visited. Yet again we lucked into two nights in a row with the comfy bed. We woke in the afternoon to the smell of delicious homemade curry, showered, and headed out to explore the town a bit on the way to the show. My friend showed us the scenic view from the tallest parking garage as well as the most bohemian cafe in town (my usual tourist punk request). How could I not visit something called The Juggling Gypsy? They were even having a fire spin and drum jam that night; burners. I gave them an Occupy newsletter as well as one of the May Day posters we’d been traveling with, which they proudly displayed in the front window.
The guy who had booked the show turned up while we were at the cafe, sampling the vast expanses of coffee and cider, and we headed for the venue. My friend navigated us past the downtown waterfront with its cute shops and laundromat rock club and other ridiculous aspects I really ought to go back and explore. The show was at a place called Squidco, which is the most incredible avant-garde record store I have ever seen. The shop moved down there from NYC when they realized that mail order could be just as successful. The space and the folks at the show were lovely and the selection of recordings was overwhelming. My friend invited some local punks, which spiced up the vibe a bit as well as depleted the free wine. We all went back to his house and jammed out on his piano and drum kit for a while. I pulled out my sax and we tried to hazily remember Emperor Norton’s tunes. The next morning, the punks showed up on our doorstep with homemade pancakes and hashbrowns. What could be better?
…Going to the beach, that’s what! We got to go to the ocean! It was too cold to swim but we got our legs wet. I found the most wonderful seashell in the world, the size and shape of a sword hilt and flecked grey with wear. We also saw dead jellyfish in all stages of devouring crabs. I’d never touched one and was astonished how solid they feel when you poke them with a shoe. We walked around on the beach for a while before heading back to the house to regroup and take off. I routed us through South Carolina, hoping it would be less hilly, but also so we could make our rest stop at the fantastically tacky South of the Border, which my co-pilot scoffed at but nevertheless immediately put the sticker on his suitcase.
We reached Asheville by dark and again just in time for the show. I was hungry and cranky but sometimes this is how touring goes. It was a pretty long drive and I probably didn’t pick the wisest place to grab quick lunch. I was pretty glad to be back in that town, though. The experimental show was at Izzy’s, which is a pretty sweet little cafe on my favourite street in town. After the set, we hit up The Getdown for a little bit, then got cheap vegan food at Rosetta’s Kitchen before heading to bed around the corner. We were staying with my friend from Helblinki and her puppeteer beau. Their space is pretty incredible, full of puppets and instruments and circus chaos. While writing this, my computer wasn’t recognizing the name of the city as a real word, instead suggesting “Vaudeville”… which is a fine substitute.
We slept quite long considering we were on the living room floor due to a busted air mattress and a tiny couch. We got up and out in the afternoon, taking advantage of a pleasant Saturday by busking in shifts on the street. I ran to the car to get posters and newsletters to give to Rosetta’s Kitchen, where I grabbed us lunch to go and scored a couple Occupy Asheville patches. Meanwhile, he busked us up some money until I got back, at which point he ate while I had a go at street performing. Unfortunately, we don’t know any of the same songs, and sax/violin improv isn’t a big breadwinner with tourists. We made a bit of money, then headed back to the garage apartment to regroup and send him on his way.
My hobeau had to head West for another show that night, while I remained in Asheville. Just before he took off, another houseguest arrived who is also a fiddler, so at least I had a surrogate violin friend for the transition. I was staying in town another day to help our hosts with their Puppet Slam that night. On the way, the local fiddler and I ran into a bunch of buskers he knew, including one who was playing an upright piano right on the street corner. We stopped into Firestorm Cafe and Books, where I dropped off more May Day and Occupy propaganda and caught some of the revolution and labor songs performance. We then ran to the supermarket to better stock the makeshift bar for the show that night, of which I had been put in charge. I made more in tips than I had busking, even after sharing it with him. The puppet show was a splendid collection of five minute sketches by a wide variety of local performers and it sold out a decent sized little theatre. We had a mild afterparty at their place where the group of us drank avocado smoothies and watched puppetry videos until we passed out on the living room floor. I missed my travel partner, but it was a beautiful night nonetheless.
The next day we woke up in a pile, surprisingly rested. There were pancakes and coffee, a theme on this trip. My friend and I then set out for busking in strikingly coordinated outfits; some lady assumed we were French. Playing accordion and saxophone, she and I really had no choice but to play a lot of D harmonic minor. We knew a few songs in common and I followed along on some of her originals. It wasn’t nearly as busy as the day before, but we made a little bit of cash. Between those two days, I left Asheville with more money than when I’d arrived. A friend I met in Key West had just moved to Asheville a few days before I got there and had come to the show the previous night. He happened to be reading in the nearby park and followed the sound of a saxophone to us, guessing correctly that it was me. Eventually, we were all completely distracted by a group of Morris dancers who marched past us on their way to perform at the park. I couldn’t shut up about how awesome it was to see Morris dancers and about the troupes I’d seen in England, Vancouver, and Chicago. I have an unnatural obsession with it and hope to someday form some sort of fusion troupe if and when I settle down somewhere. This group had the most unusual horse I’d ever seen, not a puppet but a guy pretending to ride one.
After we’d given up entirely on busking, we wandered around until we met up with my friend’s boyfriend, who works with the coolest bus tour company in Asheville. We got to see him dressed as a nun, then a sports fan, then a nun again but this time on a tall bike with squirt pistols. I heard that he had to shave his awesome mustache to get the job, but only because he has to eat fire at the start of the tours. We found the bus again at the co-op where their roommate works. Asheville is small but lovely. We met back up with the fiddle player and he dropped me off at a yard sale where I finally got to hang out with my local Valentine’s Day friend and a bunch of punks. One of them was selling a really nice bike he’d fixed up, so I called my Key West friend and I think they worked out a deal. I felt like I must have introduced him to more people in a few hours than he’d met in many days there.
I had persuaded my local musician friends to give me a ride to the bus that night. I’d learned that there was an overnight one which goes from towns an hour South of Asheville directly to New York City for fifty bucks – not bad. Our little road trip was made even more fun by a stop at a roadside custard shop/Indian restaurant. We ordered from the same counter for both and ate a bunch of delicious food on the patio as the sun set over the railroad tracks behind us. Below there was a little waterfall and a large collection of garden gnomes. It was pretty spectacular. The rest of the night was pretty low-fi tour-tastic, with a late night pie stop at a Waffle House and loitering in a dark parking lot listening to music. Finally, the bus turned up (late and full) and I slept the entire ride to NYC. It took a good hour and several cups of coffee in a charming French bistro in Chinatown for me to feel aware enough to get back on public transit and make the trip to Brooklyn. It wasn’t until I got a hot shower that I really shook off the bus ride. I busied myself with some housework and eased back into the city.