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Friday, September 12th, 2014

First In Line

Friday, September 12, 2014, 4:05 AM – Indianapolis International Airport

“Pre-check on the left.”

I am on the right. I am not really sure where I am supposed to be standing or what I am waiting for until the TSA man presses a button and the wall in front of me begins to collapse like an accordion, folding in from left to right. I notice that I have somehow found my way to the front of the line. I will be the TSA’s first customer today. I feel like the first guy to buy tickets for The Phantom Menace.

Hello, friends! Rob here.

The Revivalists are currently at the end of concourse A in the Indianapolis airport, trying to tune out a sustained, high-pitched beeping noise coming from somewhere behind us. In what must have seemed like a brilliant idea at the time, we booked the absolute first flight out of Indianapolis in order to give ourselves some breathing room on the trip to Fredericton. We checked out of our hotel at 3:30 this morning, after playing a medium-early set at Phases of the Moon Festival in nearby-ish Danville, IL. Tried to sleep from about 11 PM until then. It didn’t take.

I’m thinking about doing shorter, more frequent updates for a while, just to try to keep things more current. How current? Check it out: We are sitting in black chairs with armrests and we are all very tired.  Mike is wearing sunglasses, Ed is on the floor, it’s still dark outside, we board our flight in about half an hour. BOOM. Literally up to the minute. It might be cold in here. I might just be shivering because I’m underslept.

I’m a little bit worried by how easily the words are coming. Writing right now may have been a terrible misstep and it may have been a stroke of genius.  Only time will tell. Either way, I’m tired, and I think I’m done here. See you soon, Canada!

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

One Big Family

Last Monday, as we pile into the van, Andrew shares some unfortunate news: Brian Farmer, Warren Haynes’ longtime guitar tech, a legend behind the scenes of rock & roll and an all-around great guy, has died. Andrew heard the news from our manager earlier this morning. We talk about Farmer on the short drive to Jen’s house just outside the beltway in eastern Nashville. Miles away, the sad news breaks on an official level and spreads in an electronic ripple.

*  *  *

Jennifer Hartswick whisks another batch of eggs and talks shop with Dave in the kitchen. A few of us linger and converse over cups of coffee and a bowl of trimmed strawberries, while the rest spill over into the living room. Even though it is Monday, we are having Sunday brunch.

Last night, Jen, who occasionally tours with an obscure indie musician named Trey Anastasio, graced our stage twice, once with her dulcet voice and once with her blistering trumpet work. Now she is making us breakfast. How awesome can one person be? The food comes out in waves, and between bites we talk about music and try to guess the secret to Jen’s sublime homemade gravy. (She says the recipe changes every time, but today it was a pinch of lemon zest.) We barrage her with compliments, and she ducks:

“Sorry I didn’t have any lobster for you guys.”

*  *  *

Packy Norton, proprietor of the “internationally infamous” Chicken Box and de facto mayor of Nantucket, skids his weathered van into the parking lot of the Beachside Hotel and chirps the horn two times in quick succession. He is likely grinning that marvelous, bomb-defusing grin of his, but it is difficult to tell because his entire head is enveloped in a bright green Kermit the Frog mask. Generally, one would be trepidatious about piling fourteen people (band, crew, and a few girlfriends) into a motor vehicle whose operator’s field of vision is narrowed to the width of the two nickel-sized eyeholes at the back of Kermit’s gaping pink mouth, but this is Packy we’re talking about. It’ll be fine.

Packy is a host without rival. Today, before the show, he is driving us out to Fisherman’s Beach to spend the day eating lobster and playing games on a manicured lawn overlooking the sparkling expanse of the Atlantic.  Part of the reason it’s so great to come to Nantucket and play at The Chicken Box is that it’s basically a vacation. But even without all of the material provisions, we would still love this place because of its proprietor. Magnetic, vivacious, and relentlessly down-to-earth, Packy Norton is the kind of guy you can’t help but love.

*  *  *

This is already an awful cliché even before you multiply it by a factor of “we’re at a music festival surrounded by hippies,” but you can really feel the love Saturday at Peach Festival. It’s a beautiful day off for us, and so many of our closest band-friends, people we know just from being in a band and being on the road, are here. Plus, it’s the last Peach Fest for this incarnation of The Allman Brothers Band, and possibly one of their last shows ever. There’s a certain sweetness in the atmosphere, a little bit sad and a little bit beautiful.

During the Allman Brothers’ set, Brian Farmer strides across the stage, swaps guitars with Warren, and swaggers back to his post in the stage-right wing. He used to do that exaggerated “duck-down-and-step-quickly” walk that you’ll see most techs walk when they have to come onstage, but he quit doing that when his last boss, Johnny Cash, told him to “stop being such a pussy” and just walk upright. Besides, his tenure with Warren Haynes has made him a fan favorite in his own right. To the spectator, Warren means Farmer and Farmer means Warren. In a way, he is as connected to the fans and as integral a part of the experience of seeing Mule or The Allman Brothers or Warren Haynes Band as the band members themselves.

It’s hard to believe that a week from now he will be gone.

*  *  *

It’s moments like these that make me appreciate just how truly fortunate we are- not just to be doing something we love, but to be a part of this wonderful patchwork community, this extended cross-country family of musicians and crew and managers and promoters and professional appreciators; family that we saw on the west coast last summer, family that we’re looking forward to seeing in New York next month, family that got us on the list for that show when we had a night off last week. Packy Norton is family. Jen Hartswick is family. Brian Farmer was family.

There are people back in the real world that we’re closer to- spouses, significant others, relatives, friends- people we see more than a few times a year. But there’s a sense of understanding and fraternity in this upside-down musical community that comes from shared experiences, common challenges, and a unique set of cultural mores. There’s a bond. And Farmer shared that bond with hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

Brian Farmer never had to be good to us, but he always was. He was good to everyone. He had a huge soul. He was quick with a joke, full of incredible stories, and, in spite of an occasionally foul mouth and a healthy penchant for ribbing, he was truly, fundamentally, kind. He was one of the best.

We’ll miss you, Farmer. The whole family will.

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Figuring It In

A young man wakes up on the second floor of a Holiday Inn. He’s not that young. He’s not that old, either. That is, unless you ask his girlfriend, who has taken to chiding him for being “so old” each November, knowing full well she’ll attain the same age the following July. He thinks about her and smiles.

Our debatably-young man is a bit distractable at the moment. He gets distractable when he is excited. He is excited because today he is going home.

…Further complicating the issue of this perhaps-young man’s age is the matter of his lifestyle. His laughable excuse for a job has allowed him to keep roughly the same daily schedule that he has kept since his Junior year of college. And in a few ways, the job is getting easier. That squeaky-clean Holiday Inn in which he is currently taking a few minutes too long to shower? A year or two ago it would have been a mere Days Inn, or Red Roof, or even the dreaded (and so-called) America’s Best Value. Any further back than that, he’d be sleeping on the floor of some college student’s apartment.

So he’s living like a spoiled teenager, but his easy job is also hard. And in a few ways, it’s getting harder. Nowadays, there are so many more obligations. Not that this is-he-or-is-he-not-young man would ever complain about being busy (yes he would). There are so many more opportunities involving radio stations, and websites, and showcases, and promotional this-or-that-or-the-others now. It’s all great, really. But he is convinced that his erratic lifestyle is making him age more quickly. Typically there will be a few days of unreliable sleep, of late hotel arrivals, of early lobby calls, of instant coffee, of clenched fists, recitations of personal mantras and “powering through,” and then he’ll have a day off in Silverlake to eat vegan stir fry and jog around Echo Park. People his age, young people who call themselves old, they go to classes after work and practice muscle confusion in order to stay in shape. Our man of ambiguous youth has to wonder which muscles he’s confusing just living like this.

And all the time he’s loving every minute of it, and all the time he’s just waiting to go home to that girl who thinks eight months makes for a disgraceful age gap. It’s her birthday in a few weeks. He’s actually going to be around for it this year.

. . .

Hello, friends! Rob here.

Forgive the intro. I composed it mostly in my head while going through my hotel checkout routine last Monday, the day we finished a long drive home to begin an unprecedented month off from touring. I wasn’t sure if I was going to post it, since it didn’t feel particularly relevant at the time, but the more I think about it, the more it feels like a state-of-the-union, “Pirate-Looks-At-Forty” type of thing. As we finally manage to punctuate the ambling run-on sentence that has been the last few years of touring, it’s almost impossible not to look back, take stock, and taste pride and gratitude in equal dose.

That’s right: After a long, confusing stretch of shows which I may or may not be able to describe as one cohesive tour, we have some time off from the band and we all feel pretty good about that. But what the heck do you care? Zero is what the heck you care, and rightfully so! You want to hear about shows and stuff!

We got back from California/Blackstock, a run that makes zero sense if you look at a map, and had a few weekdays to recuperate before we skipped town again.

The most recent run of shows started in a repurposed church in Jackson, MS, where it was incredibly hot. Also fun. After that, we got to play a mudpacked Wakarusa, Dave’s hometown, a venue where the green room was teeming with classic arcade cabinets, a cool theater in the part of Kentucky that calls itself “Cincinnati,” and then Chicago, followed by also Chicago (Taste of Randolph afterparty late Saturday night, then ToR itself Sunday at sundown). It was all great, and mostly familiar procedure. When we finished our business in Chicago, we left our van in the suburbs, packed only the bare essentials, and hopped a flight out of Midway for a week of promo gigs on the West Coast.

If the Midwest leg was familiar procedure, the West Coast wasn’t. The first several days consisted entirely of super-short showcase performances, flights, and hors d’oeuvres. Thursday of that week was particularly grueling: we woke up at 6 AM in San Jose, CA to drive to the San Francisco airport in two rented vehicles, flew to Seattle, played three songs, did some elbow-rubbing, and then drove from Seattle to Portland in two other, different rented vehicles. That’s business. Friday in Portland was a bit of a long one, too. In the afternoon, we played a fun, intimate set in the Bing Lounge for a fantastic local radio station called KINK, and then at night it was over to Dante’s, a stylish venue nestled between two strip clubs and a homeless shelter and dripping with punk rock credibility, to play a show that we had booked on less than a week’s notice.

Portland was fun.

Saturday morning we flew home. Thursday evening we flew back to Chicago. We retrieved our vehicle (kind thanks to the Rogers clan for garaging it for us, and double that to Aunt Chrissy for washing all of our van-pillowcases), drove a few hours, got a few hours of sleep, and then it was time for Electric Forest. If you clicked that link, you’ll notice that it wasn’t a link to the festival’s website, but rather to a Google image search. That’s because Electric Forest really needs to be seen to be believed. The tall trees, the costumes, the lights, the art installations… It’s a sensory circus. So often we have to treat festivals like surgical strikes; in, out, and on to the next one. It was a welcome change that we had enough time to (NOTE TO SELF: whatever you do, don’t say “get lost in the forest”) um, lose our bearings . . . in an . . . arboreal . . . region. (Nice.)

The tour ended with a riverside amphitheater set in Peoria, IL. We had never been to Peoria, IL before. We did not know what to expect from Peoria, IL. Peoria, IL was one of the most fresh and frenzied crowds we have ever had the pleasure of entertaining. It was really one of those unexpectedly serendipitous shows where everything just feels great. Overall, the audience was younger than usual, and after the show I got to talk to a lot of early-teenagers who were just picking up the saxophone for school band or what have you, which is something I both enjoy doing and rarely get to do. (Usually I’ll have someone around my age come up to me after a show and tell me how they quit playing the saxophone after high school, which kind of bums me out.) But anyway. The show was a fun, sweaty mess on the banks of a river at sundown. It was a great end to the tour, and it left a good taste in everyone’s mouths heading into the break.

See you in August.

Previous Posts:

September 2014

July 2014

June 2014

May 2014

April 2014

February 2014

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October 2013

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July 2013

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December 2012

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December 2011

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December 2010

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