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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.

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

The Weight

Today is pretty much the opposite of yesterday.

Everywhere you look, it’s uniformed Marines as far as the eye can see. Well, that and sand. We are in a desert, after all. But back to the Marines. This story is about them.

They carry their rifles with them at all times. Apparently it’s part of their training. They have to get used to the weight of it; lugging around a big deadly piece of metal everywhere they go. They just refer to their guns as “weight.” None of the guns are loaded, but just in case, they have these barrels full of something-or-other set up by the entrances to every building on base, and they have to point their guns into the barrels and make sure the chamber is clear before they can enter the commissary, or the cafeteria. They hold their guns while standing in line to order chicken fingers. Four of them lay their guns across their laps and spread a deck of cards out on a square table. I see one man with a real gun slung over his back pointing a fake gun at an arcade machine.

Most of them don’t even put their guns down to watch us play.  Talk about intimidating.

The Marines of Camp Pendleton are gracious hosts, but nevertheless, a civilian (especially a band-civilian wearing a Rolling Stones t-shirt and a five o’clock shadow) can’t help feeling like a bit of an outsider on a military base. Maybe that’s not the right way to put it. Being in the presence of all of these men and women, many of whom are practically kids, who have signed up for something far greater and perhaps far more terrible than most of us will ever know can make one feel insufficient.

And some of them are so young. And some of them aren’t. We talked to a few guys who were around 19 and about to head to Afghanistan, and some guys who had been in the corps for seven years and had been to exotic places, like Spain, or Jacksonville, NC. We talked to medics, and specialists, and guys who launch missiles the size of telephone poles off the back of a truck.

They admire us for what we are free to pursue, and we admire them for what they have sacrificed. Not just the wounded, not just the dead, but all of them.  Every kid trudging through some unforgiving landscape with a rifle on their back gave up comfort and safety and autonomy so that the rest of us don’t have to. And the damnedest thing is, most of them don’t really seem to think about it that much.

They just get used to the weight.


Hello, friends! Rob here.

On May 18th The Revivalists played a show at Marine Corps base Camp Pendleton in Joshua Tree, CA.  A day or two after that I wrote the preceding, and it was edited and turned into a semi-coherent series of words this afternoon. The whole experience was a bit of much-needed culture shock for us, especially considering that it was the day after the Joshua Tree Music Festival. The only thing those two shows had in common was that both of them were behind gates in the desert.

I think I really like deserts.

In a city, or in a suburb, or on a beach, or in a college town, or even in the mountains, there’s a sense of dominion. Like people own this land.  Like people even can own this land. I don’t feel that way in the desert. We spent Joshua Tree weekend staying at a Days Inn next to a Sizzler and a Dollar General, but somehow it felt, to me at least, that out there it was up to the wild to dictate the terms of our relationship. The town’s borders are drawn not by bureaucrats but by rock formations. Rodents scurry across residential avenues in broad daylight and seek shelter in burrows at the roots of resilient local flora. At any moment the warm, soft wind can kick up dust and make you close your eyes.

Under the sprawling night sky there’s a sense of emptiness and isolation that’s eerie yet strangely comforting. It makes sense why, for centuries, humans have looked to the desert as a place of cleansing, healing, and spiritual exploration. It’s the perfect place to leave things behind.

Anyway, the last few weeks of touring have been awesome, and also kind of nuts. Two nights ago we were at the inaugural Blackstock Music Festival in Blackstock, SC. The weekend before that was Memorial Day weekend, which we spent in Lake Tahoe and Northern California. California, by the way, is not very close to South Carolina. I’m kind of not sure how we pulled that one off. I think we rode in the van a lot, and then also maybe a little bit in this weird special van that can drive on the sky?

Naturally, all of the shows were transcendent, life-changing experiences. California is really a wonderful place. L.A., San Diego (with Nahko & Medicine for the People, who are amazing!) and San Francisco were all slammed, and there were surprising and heartwarming contingents of diehards at some of the smaller shows in places we haven’t visited as much like Sacramento and Santa Barbara. And on the other side of the country, Blackstock was great. Beautiful location, top-notch production and hospitality, wonderful people, extremely sweaty weather… What more could a band-guy ask for in a festival?

Okay, this is getting a little long as it is, so I’m just going to kind of unceremoniously wrap things up with a quick shout out: When we arrived at Joshua Tree, this band was playing, and they were just incredible. Really creative, tight, funky music that was equal parts accessible and “out there,” technical and dance-to-able. (Dances are “danceable,” songs are “dance-to-able.” Look it up.) That band is called Scott Pemberton Trio and we all like their music a lot.

Blog over.

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

Turns Out #grandmabetty Is Already A Thing

Hello, friends!  Rob here.

Well, that’s another New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in the bag, and it was another one for the ages.  Three full shows in two days, plus a litany of side shows, sit-ins, late nights, early calls, dashing from one thing to the next, eating and sleeping sparingly and as permitted by schedule…  By now the whole routine is quite familiar, but that doesn’t make Jazzfest any less exciting.  So many people come to visit, so many musicians cross boundaries, there’s an atmosphere in the town that keeps you going long after the coffee and the alcohol and the adrenaline have worn off.

I always thought it was a cruel joke for Tulane to schedule finals on the same week.

With so many memorable events this year, it’s both hard and easy for me to pick a personal favorite.  I got to kick off my entire weekend at Fiya Fest by performing “Masquerade” with a beefed-up sit-in horn section featuring Khris Royal, Carly Meyers and Jen Hartswick.  The last note I played all weekend must have been sometime around 5:30 in the morning on Sunday, when I dropped in on The Mike Dillon Band’s raucous late-late-late-night Saturday set at the Howlin’ Wolf (also alongside Carly Meyers, I am just realizing).  In between those bookends we had both a stellar set at the ‘Fest itself and a late-night (as opposed to late-late-late night) show at the newly-ish reopened Joy Theater, the latter of which featured sit-ins from members of The Motet, a juggling duel (yes, that is correct) between Zack and their trumpetist, Gabe Mervine, and a surprise (even to us, I confess) guest appearance by Warren Haynes.  Dave played an awesome riverboat superjam on Friday, Ed got to trade licks with Sonny Landreth at the Gov’t Mule show before jetting off to his own gig Friday night, and probably other cool things happened that I either lost in the shuffle or missed entirely.

So that’s why it’s hard to pick a single greatest moment from our Jazzfest weekend.  But here’s why it’s actually easy:

Feel the love.
(Photo Credit: Zack Smith/New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival)

That’s David onstage at Jazzfest singing “Happy Birthday” to his biggest fan: his ninety-year-old grandmother, Betty.  What you can’t see in the picture is a crowd of several thousand people singing along.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

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