It’s break again! You know, for not actually being on real, uninterrupted tour these last two weeks, it sure feels like we’ve earned a bit of a break. Both weekends were pretty intense no-time-for-sleep-just-get-to-the-next-thing kind of weekends. When I last wrote, it was a Thursday, and The Revivalists were headed to Tuscaloosa for our last show with the sensational Tumbleweed Wanderers. We had a great time in ol’ Tuscaloo, bade farewell to our new friends over some late-night Jimmy John’s, and got right back into the cycle.
The next night was a fraternity party in Athens, GA. I’m not certain what the theme of the party was, but based on casual observation I can only assume it was “really drunk girl.” After the show in Athens, we drove to Atlanta so that George would be able to fly out early the next morning for a wedding in Connecticut.
“But wait,” you say. “Didn’t you guys do Saturday and Sunday nights in Destin? How do you play music shows without George? Aren’t bass players kind of important in contemporary music?”
The answer to all of those questions, including the one that wasn’t a yes or no question, is yes. You see, we knew well in advance that we would be down a man for a few weekends in October, but the inaugural Global Fish Aid was a joint Fiyawerx/Gulf Coast Original Music Productions venture. That’s like a gravitational singularity of awesome, and we just couldn’t pass it up. So we enlisted New Orleans heavyweights Eric Vogel (bass) and Khris Royal (saxophone) and turned the weekend’s shows into more open, off-the-cuff, jam-type experiences. And boy howdy was it fun. It’s always good to play with new people. And it’s double-always-good when they are absolute beasts.
SIDEBAR: I think there’s a new thing going on, almost exclusively among SEC sorority members, where girls will wear a really big t-shirt with not-particularly-long shorts, and that’s their going out outfit. Is this new? Where did this come from? Can I blame Miley Cyrus? I would say I feel like my parents right now, except my parents are cool.
We returned home on Monday of last week, took Tuesday to catch our collective breath, and then started the lengthy drive to Dallas on Wednesday evening so we wouldn’t be exhausted for our show at Prophet Bar on Thursday night. Oh, wait, that’s not what happened. What actually happened was that we got a call on Wednesday because Dallas’ local morning show, Good Day Dallas, had had a cancellation and hey guys can you be at the FOX affiliate station in downtown Dallas at seven o’clock tomorrow morning okay great thanks see you there:
That’s us running on about three hours of sleep and being thoroughly out-chippered by the trained professionals at KDFW. Fortunately, we booked two nights in the same hotel in Dallas, so we were able to get the remainder of a full night’s sleep after filming the morning show and rock Dallas super hard Thursday night. It was a bit of an early morning on Friday to get to Canyon, TX in time for load in at West Texas A&M University. We had the unusual privilege of performing in the WTAMU Buffaloes’ basketball arena as part of some kind of homecoming pep rally. It was a pretty early show and a relatively quick in & out (dry counties tend to have that effect on bands), which was good because we had about nine hours of driving to get to Austin.
Austin is the best. We teamed up once again with our old friends/selves from a parallel universe, Moon Taxi, to bring a magical aura of fun rockin’ music to The Parish in Austin. Austin is a great environment and it felt really good to pack a house full of wonderful people. Plus, Moon Taxi is awesome.
So that was our weekend. It was mostly long drives and in a weird way it kind of flew by. Last Friday or so the band did that thing bands do sometimes where one guy gets a cold and then everybody gets a cold, so over the course of this entry picture us all cycling through various stages of illness.
Hey, Pensacola! (More like Friendsacola, am I right?) I would be remiss if I failed to inform you that while The Revivalists are on vacation, our very own Ed Williams and Michael “Mike” Girardot are heading your way tonight! Ed’s gospel-funk side project, RumpelSTEELskin (best name of anything ever) will be opening for the New Orleans Suspects tonight at Vinyl, and you should go to it! What’s that, New Orleans? Feeling left out? Well, guess what? Tomorrow they’ll be at Gasa Gasa! Go watch Ed & Mike do stuff! Yay!
Well, it’s been a little while. I take full responsibility for the gap in communications. I’ve been having a bit of trouble stringing together complete sentences lately (don’t worry, I didn’t have a stroke or anything) and I think I got a little too caught up in the vacation mindset as we took most of August off. But now we’re back on!
The Revivalists have officially made our international debut! A few weekends ago, we traversed over ninety kilometers of the Trans-Canada Highway and racked up obscene roaming data charges to bring our particular brand of wholesome family rock and/or roll to the lovely people of Fredericton, New Brunswick during the 23rd annual Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival.
I’m proud to report that all of the stereotypes about Canadians are true, which is to say that they’re exceedingly polite and hospitable and they are completely unfazed by bad weather. Our semi-official host, HJBF music programmer Brent Staeben showed us all a wonderful time and personally I can’t help but feel as though Fredericton is a good place.
Other than breaking our personal record for northernmost show (and then breaking it again), the rest of our recent September tour was fairly standard. We’ve hit some new places, some familiar places, a few of those outdoor-summer-concert-series things of which I am unshakably fond…
Dave’s family came to Atlanta while we were playing one such outdoor-etc in nearby Roswell, Georgia, and he jumped out of the van to stay with his family while we had a few days off. Naturally, we took this as an opportunity to mess with him. You see, our exciting new chariot, Sprinterfell, runs on diesel fuel. And definitely NOT biodiesel. David has owned quite a few clunkers in his day (including Vandalf, The Revivalists’ first touring vehicle), and as a result he has borne witness to a litany of automotive catastrophes even without including anything band-related. When it comes to cars, he can be a little shell-shocked.
So we did what any good friends would do. We led him to believe, through a series of band group text messages, that we had accidentally filled the tank with biodiesel and that we needed to either repair or replace the engine, which would cost us well upwards of ten thousand dollars. Zack even managed to enlist a third party to play the part of a surly mechanic during a phone call shortly before revealing the ruse:
For those of you unsure, unaware, or unconcerned, that is legendary luthier Paul Reed Smith. Zack has been playing a PRS amplifier for a little while now, and so he took advantage of a day off in the DC area and paid Paul’s headquarters a visit. At some point he mentioned the prank, and Mr. Reed Smith was apparently all to eager to participate, gleefully cursing into the phone while telling Dave our vehicle needed “a whole new back end.”
We’re bad people.
And then there was last weekend. I know I’ve used terms like “marathon” and “endurance trial” in the past, but last Thursday-through-Sunday was a very strong contender for the most physically and emotionally taxing weekend in band history.
The Thursday show in Auburn wasn’t tough in and of itself, but it’s part of the equation because it took place about eight hours’ driving time from our next show in Lafayette. We were originally expected to arrive at 4 PM on Friday, but we negotiated to 5:30 so that we would actually be able to (sort-of) get any sleep Thursday night.
We still didn’t sleep very much. Sometimes, believe it or not, it is difficult to keep seven band-guys on task immediately after playing a show, especially when the task in question is one so patently unappetizing as load out. We left Auburn at 10 in the morning, running on about five hours of sleep.
In retrospect, we should have seen it coming.
It was an ominous day on I-65 S. The bright, wet heat of the day brought out about a trillion little black, flying bugs to mate. It was apocalyptic. Not for us, so much. But future generations of whatever species of insect that was will learn about that day in history class. We were popping so many of them on the windshield that, from inside the van, it sounded like it was raining. I was going to take a picture of the front of the automobile and post it on social networks.
It was a strange, sweltering day, but spirits were high. We were making good time. And then, speaking of reasons to take a picture of the front of an automobile:
That happened. We were parked next to the guy in the picture and he pulled around in front of us too tightly and clipped our front bumper clean off. Eleven days after Paul Reed Smith, posing as a mechanic for a practical joke, told Dave that our vehicle needed “a whole new back end,” we found ourselves unexpectedly in need of a whole new front end.
“Karma” isn’t the right word, but it’s the first word that comes to mind.
We exchanged information and stuff, but we were eager to get back on the road and the damage looked to be purely cosmetic, so we pulled back onto the interstate without doing much in the way of diagnostics. The damage was not purely cosmetic. As of today, we still don’t know the fullness of what’s messed up under the hood, but the alignment is shot (like, if you want to drive straight you have to turn the steering wheel about ninety degrees clockwise form where it should be) and we ended up having to tape down some parts of the wheel well that were scraping up against the tires. We hobbled our way to New Orleans.
We were originally going to blow past our beautiful home on the I-12 bypass, but because Sprinterfell was feeling more unsafe by the minute, we had to stop in town and change vehicles. After two weeks on the road, it was a bit painful to spend a thirty-minute layover in New Orleans waiting in the parking lot of a U-Haul store, but we needed to do a bit of hitch-shuffling to get our old vehicle (to which we fortunately still have access) in proper towing shape.
Certainly nothing more could have gone wrong, right? After all of that? Friday was done being terrible and we were only a few hours late. Home stretch, guys. Let’s roll. Wait, we need to stop for gas. Wait, the keys are locked in the van.
The only set of keys.
I’m almost-but-not-quite stupid enough to write a detailed report of how to break into a vehicle that I own and post it on the internet, but suffice it to say that there was a bit of MacGuyvering involved, and that The Revivalists were definitely not meant to be car thieves.
Certainly nothing more more could have gone wronger, right? After all of that? Friday was done being terrible-er and we were only a few hours more late. The rest of the drive actually managed to pass without incident, and we arrived in Lafayette well after we were supposed to, but with enough time to set up our instruments on the side of the stage, stretch our legs, and catch our breath before a hurry-up sound check. It was our first show in the state of Louisiana since early June, and it was a complete riot.
And that’s the story of the worst day of banding ever. The show technically started after midnight, so literally nothing good happened on Friday, September 20th, 2013. Sorry if it was your birthday or something. Your birthday sucked. The end.
Just kidding. It never ends. That was only two days out of four, and two engagements out of five. Saturday could not have possibly been a better welcome-home present. Sincerest gratitude is due to everyone who came out and helped actually sell out Tipitina’s. This was a major milestone, and, coming off of a pretty grueling Friday, one hell of a bounce-back. I’m sure Saturday will go down in the annals of band history as one of the best times ever. That is, assuming we ever amass enough history to necessitate annals.
Just what the hell is an annal, anyway?
We had to curtail the post-game celebrations on Saturday (but we didn’t) because we had a very long Sunday. Sunday was a challenging double-header, but now that it’s over I can look back and say that it was a great way to cap off the tour. We started by hosting a Tipitina’s workshop, which was cool because we were able to just leave our gear onstage after the show on Saturday. It was very rewarding to have a chance to engage the next generation of musicians, and these workshops hold a special significance to The Revivalists, because Zack and Andrew met at one of them many years ago.
And then it was back in the van.
One quick load out, one quick drive, one extremely slow truck stop Subway franchise . . . one quick load in, one quick sound check, and just like that we were ready for the last show of the last weekend of the last tour of the first part of the month. It was loud and hot under the low roof at Happy Harbor, and it didn’t take long to get the foundations shaking.
And just like that, it was over. And just like that, it’s on again. We’re headed to Tuscaloosa tonight.
Tonight is our last night playing with a wonderful band out of Oakland called The Tumbleweed Wanderers, and I urge you very strongly to listen to all of their harmonious musical offerings. They’ve been a great group of guys with whom to share stages and green rooms, and we’ve become completely enamored with them over the course of ten-or-so shows.
It is official. The Revivalists have entered the final week of leg two of the Age of Van Tour! (Hold for applause) We’re over the hump! (more applause) We’re almost home! (more applause) We spent more days doing things!
We’ve been at this one for a long time now. George and I have been playing a game called “That Was This Tour.” As in, “Hey, remember when we were almost late for the gig at The Independent because we were trying to find that Chinese restaurant you guys ate at last time we were in San Francisco? That was this tour.” Or “hey, remember when the border patrol shook us down in Las Cruces? That was this tour.” Or “hey, remember when our van broke down for the third or fourth time five miles away from our show at the beautiful Gerald Ford Ampitheatre in Vail, CO, and we had to get it towed to a shop and it’s still there and they’re trying to get us to pick it up but we’re two time zones away by now and goodness knows when we’ll be back?”
“That was this tour.”
RELATED: We have a new vehicle.
I always knew the extravagant “rock ‘n roll lifestyle” would someday allow me to purchase an expensive brand-name German luxury automobile. I just never imagined it would be yet another transport vehicle that I jointly own with five other men. Yes, we’ve finally moved on (slightly) up from the van and into a shiny new Sprinter, which is the widely-accepted stepping stone from van to bus. In case you’re wondering, a slim majority of the band has succeeded in officially naming the vehicle “Sprinterfell,” but the naming process has been a bit more contentious than normal. There were a lot of great alternates, with “Van Diesel” being a popular runner-up, but none of the other names come complete with nerd cred and a built-in catchphrase:
Sprinter is coming.
(Note to self: Never research break-in periods on a new engine. Especially when you have to use that engine right out of the gate to tow a few thousand pounds of gear up and down an entire mountain range at highway-ish speeds. Also, we probably need an oil change.)
Still, the Mountain Part of Leg Two of the Age of Van Tour was pretty great. We always get to see some scenery when we strike out west, but this time a lot of our destinations were more remote than they have been in tours past. Most of the Mountain Part was just us crawling our way across utter wilderness on two-lane roads from one isolated ski resort to the next. We spent countless hours winding through box canyons and negotiating no-guardrail hairpin turns while gawking at dramatic expanses of mountain, forest, river, lake, and sky, almost too distracted to notice that we weren’t getting any cell service.
The shows have been great (of course, I always say that). It’s community-sponsored outdoor summer concert season nationwide, and most every Colorado show took place in crisp daylight next to some intimidatingly beautiful mountain face. The exceptions were a cool little bar show at the Eldo in Crested Butte and a ‘Ride Fest afterparty in Telluride’s historic Sheridan Opera House. And when I say “historic,” I’m talking hundred-year-old-building, last-summer-Jewel-played-a-benefit-to-save-the-place historic.
So Colorado was as magical as ever, but I have a confession. As a horn player, long stretches in the crisp, rejuvenating mountain air only make me yearn for the atmospheric density of sea level. Sweet, oxygen-rich sea level. Oh, how I missed thee. For a breather like me (that’s a slangy term for “wind instrumentalist” that I just made up and you can totally use), the first sea-level gig after two weeks in the mountains feels like playing basketball on the moon.
This week we’ve been cutting a swath through the midwest. It’s starting to feel ravenous, rabid, the way we’re tackling shows. Maybe it’s just that one week left feels quick compared to four weeks down, but I like to think we can all taste home a little bit. We’ve been getting little tastes of home along the way, with familiar faces abound in Lawrence and St. Louis (an extra special hello to the contingent from Broadway Oyster Bar who came out to see us on Thursday), and pretty much all of the city of Chicago is family now.
Oh, great gosh almighty, Chicago. The Phish/Pearl Jam/Pitchfork Festival/New Kids on the Block afterparty (okay, probably mostly just the first three) at House of Blues was one of the best shows we’ve ever had. The end.
Well, not really. We didn’t even get out of House of Blues until about five o’clock on Saturday morning, and we had a show in Bloomington Saturday night, followed by an overnight drive to All Good Festival. All in all we survived the entire weekend on about thirty hours of bed sleep split between the seven of us. We left All Good early after our set, drove a few hours out, had a family dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings, and went to bed early. Now we’re taking care of a few chores while recuperating in a Ramada somewhere in Ohio.
It’s weird being on tour for so long. Patterns tend to emerge. The land turns from hills to plains and back again. Sleep comes and goes in waves. The ratio of clean clothes to dirty laundry in one’s suitcase gradually shifts from “manageable inconvenience” to “sword of Damocles.”
It’s been good, though. Overall, it’s been really rewarding playing so many festivals this year because we’re really starting to feel like we’re part of a community. We see people at High Sierra who saw us at Wanee, or folks at Bonnaroo who were at our VIP set at Hangout… There’s a certain familiarity within the festival scene that can be comforting, especially when we’re on the road for weeks or months at a time. We get to make friends on both sides of the barricades who we’ll see again and again.
Almost as good enough as home.
Addendum: Yes, we did play High Sierra Festival, and yes, it was a beautiful, well-organized event, and yes, The Revivalists spent three magical days there, but I woke up on the morning of day one with a pretty severe fever, and as such I spent most of that weekend shivering in a hotel room and quietly resenting my bandmates for being able to enjoy themselves. Robert freaking Plant played a set not half a mile from my eardrums, and all I had the energy to do was eat a delivered calzone in bed and pass out while watching “Office” reruns on Netflix. Tragic.
Well, it sure is tour. The first leg of the Age of Van Tour is complete (that’s right, this is one of those fancy tours with an official-sounding name and a stylish limited-edition t-shirt), and now we are a week into the second, much longer leg. For some reason I feel like working backwards, so let’s go for a ride. In reverse:
Monday, July 1, 2013. 12:50 PM. Deming, NM: Dave sits in the chair next to mine in the lobby of the Comfort Inn. I take a short break from my elaborate creative process (alternately writing and plinking around on the internet). My conversation with Dave yields two quotes that bear repeating, neither from me:
“There’s a dentist’s office right by the hotel. I have an appointment at 2:30”
“I can’t believe we have to spend $3300 on this fucking van.”
Monday, July 1, 2013. 12:05 AM. Deming, NM: Small desert towns take on an interesting character at night. Despite the warm, granulated winds, it feels still. Almost but not quite unnervingly so. In spite of the circumstances, I kind of like it here. Which is good, because we might be here all day tomorrow.
I guess Andrew was right after all.
Sunday, June 30, 2013. 11:40 PM. I-10W: The van’s transmission is malfunctioning. Dave emptied an entire bottle of transmission fluid into the transmission fluid hole (clearly I am a cars expert), but the vehicle refuses to shift at higher speeds. We, like the unnamed subject of the “Friends” theme song, are stuck in second gear. Time to look for hotels and auto mechanics.
Side note: New Mexico’s highways have bizarrely worded safety notices. Things like “ZERO VISIBILITY POSSIBLE” and “DUST STORMS MAY EXIST”
Sunday, June 30, 2013. 12:30 PM. Kerrville, TX: As we pile into the van to continue the 800,000-mile drive across the vast, featureless expanse of I-10W that connects the part of Texas where people actually live with California (by way of other states), we arrive at a decision made from equal parts boredom and “Wheeeeeee! New(-ish) technology!”: During the course of our journey, we will be postingasmanyinanethingsonVineashumanlypossible. You can follow the Vine-a-thon on Vine (duh) or on our Twitter website page if you lack either the means or the inclination to spend any time on Twitter’s spazzy little cousin.
Sunday, June 30, 2013. 1:00 AM. San Antonio, TX: After the show, we bid Mike a temporary farewell. He ducks into the Honda Fit he borrowed from his parents and drives back to Austin to spend a few days with his family. If all goes according to plan we’ll be in San Francisco in time to pick him up from the airport on Tuesday night. We finish loading the trailer, make a quick detour to look at the Alamo, and begin the long drive to the west.
Saturday, June 29, 2013. 7:15 PM. San Antonio, TX: Backstage at Sam’s Burger Joint (an excellent music venue, don’t be fooled by the food name), Mike fishes a bottle of gummy vitamins out of his bag to discover that they have all melted into a single amorphous green mass with the approximate viscosity of rubber cement. For the third day running, the word of the day is “Oh my God, it is so hot. Please let it be less hot than it is. Or kill me. Just kill me.”
Friday, June 28, 2013. 10:30 PM. Austin, TX:Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds rule pretty hard. Great band, nice people, top-notch horn section stuff (which is all I really care about), you name it. Their lead singer Arleigh Kincheloe and harmonica-ist Jackson Kincheloe (they are, in fact, brother and sister) come onstage during our set to rock some “Whipping Post” with us. It is awesome, and I think a video will exist at some point.
Friday, June 28, 2013. 4:00 PM. Austin, TX: We pull up in front of Stubb’s BBQ (an excellent music venue, don’t be fooled by the food name) to load in and we can see those squiggly heat lines coming off the roof of the car in front of us. Once again, the word of the day is “Oh my God, it is so hot. Please let it be less hot than it is. Or kill me. Just kill me.” Three of us go shirtless for load in.
Friday, June 28, 2013. 12:00 AM. Dallas, TX: I didn’t realize we had quite so many friends in Dallas. It really warms my heart to see a packed room at midnight on a school night. Of course, that could just be the heat in Dallas. I think today’s word is “Oh my God, it is so hot. Please let it be less hot than it is. Or kill me. Just kill me.”
Wednesday, June 26, 2013. 10:00 PM. Houston, TX: Good show tonight. I think we’re going to like Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013. 5:00 PM. Houston, TX: Houston is hot. It’s more than hot. This isn’t just heat; it’s oppression. It’s supernatural. Illogical. Profane. It’s a heavy, solid heat. I can feel it pushing down on my shoulders and I can feel the thickness of it in my chest every time I inhale. It makes loading our gear up a flight of stairs on the outside of the venue super awesome. Fortunately, there’s no way it could possibly stay this hot all week.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013. 10:30 AM. New Orleans, LA: As per tradition, we drive separately to Andrew and Mike’s house, pile in the van, deliberate over whose turn it is to drive, and leave town half an hour later than we had planned. This leg of the tour will be the longest continuous stretch out of town in band history. I tend to have mixed emotions at the beginning of extended tours, but at least we’ll be spending July away from the New Orleans heat.
Thursday, June 20, 2013. 2:30 AM. New Orleans, LA: We made it. We got home bit later than expected, but we didn’t explode. That’s always good. We enjoy a week off. The band starts a Vine account, a few guys have solo shows and sit-ins, and little else happens. As it should be.
Wednesday, June 19, 2013. 12:15 PM. Kansas City, MO: After spending all morning in a shop and being driven from the shop to pick us up, the van won’t start. Again. Dave calls the mechanic, and after a brief conversation he climbs underneath the van and does something very technical to the starter solenoid (I believe the procedure is known as “hitting it with a screwdriver”) while I try the ignition. After a few unsuccessful attempts, the engine turns over. We resolve, perhaps recklessly, to make the fifteen-hour drive to New Orleans without stopping the engine once. We will have to fill our gas tank four times.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013. 11:30 PM. Kansas City, MO: Kansas City is cool, the Crossroads district is cool, and opening for Tedeschi Trucks Band is really cool. But what isn’t cool is that our van won’t start. We call AAA. A very affable tow truck driver named Steve plays along when we ask him to tow us all the way to New Orleans, then hitches up our vehicle and drops it off at a repair shop. So much for knocking a few hours off of the drive tonight. Also, Ed was duped into eating one of what the restaurant adjoining to the venue refers to as its “Ultimate Death Wings,” so he is basically dead. Ultimate dead. It will take him close to twenty-four hours to fully recover.
June 5-16, 2013. Age of Van Tour, Leg One: I have discussed the Tour Time-Compression Phenomenon at length in previous entries (short version: tour really screws with your perception of time), but this tour has been extreme. Between Bonnaroo and Sleepless New York Festival Weekend, there was some serious TTCP going on, and in my head this whole two-week run is pretty much a huge mishmosh. So that’s how it’s going to come out here.
There were a lot of parallels between Bonnaroo Weekend and the Sleepless New York Festival Weekend. Both saw us performing four shows in three days (one indoor show on Friday night and three festival sets over Saturday and Sunday in both cases), neither allowed for much nap time, both were incredibly hot, there wasn’t a single jerk at either, and both were like, the best things ever.
As a huge item to cross off of the band’s collective bucket list, Bonnaroo eclipsed all of our wildest dreams. It was big, wet, hot, and utterly exhausting, but an amazing experience. The shows were all great, the crowds were rabid, and the whole thing was just generally very well put together. There were also a lot of uniquely magical moments, like the Billy Idol and R. Kelly sit-ins at the Saturday night superjam, the entire David Byrne/St. Vincent set, and even just walking around the festival late at night when all the crazies were out.
The Sleepless New York Festival Weekend might have been even more grueling than Bonnaroo. We started out playing a Governor’s Ball afterparty at Bowery Ballroom in New York City, and then we had to get in the van and drive to Hunter Mountain (arriving at about dawn) in order to beat daylight traffic on our way to Mountain Jam. This, of course, was after driving overnight from Philadelphia to beat daylight traffic getting into NYC, and before driving overnight from Mountain Jam to get back to NYC for Governor’s Ball. Also we played two sets at Mountain Jam.
Did you get all that? If not, here’s the simple version: We played a lot of music, we saw some music, we barely slept, it totally ruled. Anyway, back to the reverse chronology:
Monday, June 3, 2013. 8:45 PM. New Orleans, LA: The sun sets late over the levee. Andrew suggests that we change the name of the tour to “Kill the Van,” because we might be on the verge of upgrading our vehicle. At first everyone seems to like it, but then it seems a little bit too punk rock, so, much to Andrew’s frustration, we stick with “Age of Van.” Dave’s surprise early 30th birthday party/picnic/potluck/unofficial Revivalists sendoff party was a roaring success, but now the Junebugs are starting to roll in and it’s time to go.
Happy birthday to Revivalists lead vocalist and chief grower of sweet afros, Mr. David Shaw! He’s 108 years old today, and still rockin’ every bit as hard as he did in his late seventies and early eighties!
Well, it’s summer tour all right. It’s pretty humid in the van and, um, other stuff I guess? Come to think of it, climate is the only difference between summer tour and other tours. It’s bright, it’s hot, we change shirts more often, but the rhythm is still the same.
Last weekend was an excellent warm up for bright and hot. We had a really fun crowd in Lafayette on Thursday, and I’ve written so many permutations of the sentence “Pensacola was great and we love it there” that it’s barely worth mentioning how great Pensacola was on Friday or how much we love it there. Fortunately, there’s still something to talk about from Friday because HOLY WOW THIS BAND CALLED NAHKO AND MEDICINE FOR THE PEOPLE OPENED THE SHOW AND THEY ARE SO EFFING GOOD AND YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO THEM ALL THE TIME FOREVER. They do an amazing job of tinting straight up feel-good rock with shades of world music without getting too hippy-dippy. Plus, they’re just awesome.
It was kind of interesting how Thursday and Friday were so similar (raucous indoor night shows in familiar cities) and then Saturday and Sunday were both extremely sweaty sunshine day festival gigs. We barely made Saturday’s show in Atlanta, and as a result we had about eight minutes to get from parking the van to playing the downbeat. Fortunately, the crew at Virginia Highlands Summerfest was incredibly on-point, and we were able to practically almost pretty much start on time and considering we’d had about a forty-five second sound check everything felt way better than it had any business feeling.
We were out of Atlanta early enough that we were able to get to New Orleans by a reasonable bedtime, so we didn’t have any excuse to be late for Oyster Fest the next afternoon. It was a fun show, and home is awesome, but my lands was that a sweaty show! I think Sunday might have been the sweatiest day of my entire life. Anyway, then we got to groove out to the Gin Blossoms and go home early and throw Dave a surprise early birthday party the next day.
And now we’re out again. We’re in Philadelphia tonight. Last night was a good start to the tour. Virginia Beach is full of very nice people, and near the end of the set a waitress at Jewish Mother (which is actually the name of a venue) brought Dave the largest slice of chocolate cake in the world and we led the crowd through “happy birthday” while Dave spoonfed bites of cake to front-row spectators.
So I’m feeling pretty good about humanity in general today. See you in Philly.
Okay, it’s time to get serious. We’ve had more time off the first half of this year than all of last year (probably? Maybe? Please don’t fact-check me), but now festival season is in full swing and we’re gearing up for summer tour. And this isn’t just a “let’s play Pensacola and Ohio and be home in a week” tour (although we will do both of those within the next two weeks). This is going to be a hardcore, three-suitcase, leave-a-rent-check-with-your-roommate kind of tour. I’m going to be gone for so long that I’ll forget what I look like, and that doesn’t even really make sense!
We’re going everywhere. But you probably wanted to know where we’ve been!
Well, the answer is Hangout Festival.
Set on the alabaster sands of Gulf Shores, Alabama, Hangout Festival is far and away the most awesome thing that The Revivalists are technically allowed to refer to as “work.” We had such a great time last year that we intentionally blocked off the entire weekend this year in hopes that we would be able to use the time productively by either networking and giving interviews or watching Stevie Wonder be the most unapologetically awesome human being in the history of things. If I’m actually allowed by real United States Tax Laws to deduct the price of a Ke$ha CD from my return (it counts as “research”), then surely I can justify calling Mr. Wonder’s possibly unrehearsed Bob Marley cover (he was seriously calling out the chord changes for his band) a genuine learning experience.
To be fair, between time spent researching musical luminaries like Stevie and Tom Petty and way more time spent researching Hangout’s unrivaled artist hospitality, we did manage to do some actual (actual) work. Sunday was our work day. Between press engagements we played two sets, one on a public stage and one in the VIP area. Really, there isn’t much to say about the performances themselves other than that they went well and our friend (and possibly my hero) Khris Royal joined us onstage during the VIP show and did awesome things on a saxophone.
And that’s pretty much it. Hangout Festival was vacation for us, but vacation is over forever now. We’ve made productive use of much of our time at home. We’ve worked up a few new songs over the last month or so, and we’re really excited to completely rework them over the next month’s worth of live performances. Starting today.
Oh, right. By “that,” I mean Jazz Fest. Sure, a Jazz Fest retrospective may seem a bit late by now, but (here’s where I kinda-sorta cop to being lazy) when you paratroop right into the thick of it at the end of a two-week tour, it takes a little while to fully recover and process everything.
Last time I wrote, we were at the beginning of tour with Gov’t Mule. Fortunately, we were able to adapt to their bizarrely professional schedule, where things start happening before 7 PM and you actually have to be on time for stuff. Despite breaking off in the middle of the tour for one very enjoyable evening in Lexington and then another in Asheville with our good friends Thomas Wynn & the Believers, we were able to settle into a decent routine. Bus bands like Mule often travel long distances overnight, which can make it difficult for van bands like The Revivalists to keep pace, but this tour was pretty mercifully routed and Mule’s crew was pretty willing to work with us.
Speaking of willing to work with us, extra-big hip-hop-style shout-outs to Slim and Jay, Mule’s sound guys, for running our sound for the duration of the tour. It made everything awesome.
Speaking of made everything awesome, restrained and dignified British-style thank-yous to Gov’t Mule themselves for having us sit in every single show of the tour. It’s a great learning experience to get to play with such incredible musicians, and, to be perfectly honest, it’s also a bit of a thrill to get to share the stage with such rock legends and soak up some of their crowd-love.
The preceding sentence was not intended to be quite so gross.
So the Mule tour was a resounding success, but there was still a battle at home waiting to be won, and we had to go win it. For sweet lady America. Jazz Fest this year was a trial. A marathon. A feat of both physical and psychological strength. Or maybe it was just a battle. Like my father never used to say: One metaphor at a time.
Maybe I’m overselling a little bit, but four shows in two days was a pretty awesome challenge. We started out Friday at Fiyafest, an event which over the last few years has snowballed from an annual friends-and-family crawfish boil into a sprawling day festival benefitting The Roots of Music. We were the first of twelve-ish acts on the stage at Fiyafest, which meant we had to get there early in case the stage crew needed to work out any kinks during our sound check.
Fiyafest was an all-day affair, but we couldn’t stick around for as long as we would have liked because we needed to get to the storied Mahalia Jackson Theater to sound check for our eighth and final show with Gov’t Mule. We were all going to sit in on Mule’s encore, but we had to leave early (SPOILER ALERT: we spent all of Jazz Fest leaving things early) so we could be at the fairgrounds the next morning, and somehow it was already 1:30 in the next morning, and oh dear we are not going to sleep at all tonight. Fortunately, Gov’t Mule bandleader and all-around rock legend Warren Haynes is a kind and understanding individual, and he shuffled the setlist around a bit so we could all have a little fun and still get away in time to still not really get enough sleep but yeah like whatever that’s Jazz Fest.
And then it was Jazz Fest.
We were the first of eight-ish acts that day on the Gentilly Stage, which meant we had to get there early in case the stage crew needed to work out any kinks during our sound check. The festival itself is impossible. It’s orchestrated chaos. The number of pieces that have to fall into just the right place at just the right time just to keep a single stage running within thirty minutes of its posted schedule is mind-boggling: the hurry-up sound checks, the constantly revolving drum and keyboard risers, the influx and efflux of gear, the transport vans running back and forth nonstop, the invisible volunteers who stock the hospitality trailers with precise allotments of Sprite and Miller Genuine Draft… And that’s just one of seven or so stages, not to mention all of the vendors and artists and demonstrations and signings and interviews scattered throughout. It’s a complicated system even before you factor in weather, human error, human noncompliance, and all of the other variables.
And there are always variables. In keeping with this year’s emerging theme of things that are supposed to be fun turning into big poopy messes, everyone was talking about the mud at this year’s Jazz Fest, and how, seeing as it was racetrack mud, it was actually mostly horse poop. Someone wrote a very nice write-up of our performance that spent two paragraphs talking about how everyone was walking around in poop before they even got to the music. Fortunately, lots of kind and resilient individuals braved the mudpoop and came to the ‘Fest early enough to see us.
Even with all of the muck and the hustle, Jazz Fest turned out to be a pretty pleasant day in the sun. The show went well, we had a nice time at the signing booth, and when all of our chores were done we still had a little time to watch Mute Math and Galactic (featuring Corey Glover and some other guy on vocals) and catch a brief respite before we had to leave (early, of course) to load in for our late-night show at the Howlin’ Wolf.
Despite the undeniable prestige of the festival itself, the jewel in the weekend’s crown was definitely the Wolf show. The Revivalists are no strangers to Jazz Fest, daytime or night, but this felt like a step up in terms of legitimacy and awesomeness. It was the most authentic Jazz Fest show we’ve ever done: We started an hour late from our original start time of “like 1 or 1:30 AM, maybe 2” and played until 5 in the morning in front of a suspiciously alert and enthusiastic crowd. We played off the cuff and were honored to host a revolving door of special guests. Like a real band. Sincere thanks to everyone who joined us onstage and made it a special night: Mike Dillon, Ben Ellman, Lucas Ellman, Jesus (the one from the band Lettuce, not the one from the bible, although Bible Jesus is a pretty cool guy in his own right), Jamison Ross, Eric McFadden, Ryan Zoidis, Eric Bloom, a guitarist who introduced himself as “Brazil,” Maggie Koerner, Roosevelt Collier, and probably other people who I am very sorry to have omitted.
It was a lot of fun to just get up there and call the plays from the line and adapt as guests came and went. At one point I had to run backstage while our friend Maggie was singing a song with the band to teach trumpeter Eric Bloom the horn line to “Shot of Tears” so he could play it with us. The whole night was like that, and it was so fun that we hardly noticed when 5 AM rolled around and it was time to call it a night.
Or morning, as it were.
For all of the craziness, The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is one of the best times of the year. We’re always inundated with friends both old and new, and for a youngish band like us there are challenges and conflicts and opportunities to prove ourselves around every corner. The constant stream of familiar faces reminds us how big our world is getting, and how small it has always been.
The end. I’m sorry if you’re dying to hear about Hangout Festival (SPOILER ALERT: It ruled), but that’ll have to wait til next Wednesday because I’m a little backlogged at the moment (due in no way whatsoever to procrastination and ADHD). We’re about to be on tour for almost all of the summer, but the only thing we have this week is a benefit concert tomorrow (Thursday) night at Tipitina’s for the victims of violent crimes here in New Orleans (particularly the May 12th parade shooting) . It’s a great cause, so please come by if you can.
Today I write you from the lavish backstage area at Norfolk, VA’s Norva Theatre. Of course, anywhere with an artists-only bathroom seems palatial by our standards, but for goshsakes, pressing “3A” in the elevator takes you to a basketball court, and apparently there’s a hot tub somewhere around here.
Of course, nobody actually uses the hot tub anymore. One of the guys on Gov’t Mule’s crew described it as a “roadie bouillabaisse.”
Speaking of dirty fun, I am pleased to report that The Revivalists survived Wanee Festival with nothing more than a few missed showers and a lot of unabashed hero-worship. I got to see one of my favorite saxophonists ever and my all-time favorite band in the universe, and there are at least a few pictures of all of us with veterans who are way out of our respective leagues floating around Facebook.
The festival itself is an extremely successful production. There are only two stages: the classic festival stage with layers of security and forty-foot stacks of amplifiers booming across a huge open field, and a more intimate ampitheatre-style stage shaded by a canopy of live oaks and Spanish moss. The overall size of the festival’s beautiful campus hits that Goldilocks sweet spot- not too big, not too small. The people were all kind, our set was good, and pretty much everything was fun.
Also, Dave killed it so hard with Galactic to close out Saturday night at Wanee and if you don’t believe me you can check it out here. There’s a little bit of me on there as well, but who cares because you should actually probably skip to track twelve and listen to mad scientist Skerik take an innocent saxophone solo and gradually twist it into a tricked-out metal odyssey. Anyway, Wanee was cool.
And now we are doing real tour stuff again.
Well, sort of. Right now we’re on night two of eight with Gov’t Mule (and two more shows without them), but I almost feel guilty calling it “real tour stuff” when we’ve been playing seated theatres with catering and basketball courts. Anyway, we are driving to places. And when we get to those places, we play music and then leave. So that is happening.
Speaking of things that are happening, our Clevelandian comrades The Burning River Ramblers (whom I believe I have mentioned once or twice before) are finalists in a vote-gathering contest sponsored by Hard Rock Cafe which, if they win, will put them on an awesome international tour and basically make them rich and famous forever. They totally deserve it because they’re a great band in their own right, but if that’s not enough to move you then please remember that these guys rank among our oldest and dearest band-friends and a lot of why we’ve had such a great time in Cleveland boils down to their hustle and hospitality. So please, for their sake, for our sake, hell, as a personal favor to me, please click on this here link and vote for our friends The Burning River Ramblers:
And that’ll be our summer in a nutshell, come to think of it: tour, festival, rest, repeat.
Since we’ve all been on break, there is little to report. Some of the guys did a few side gigs in the area, a few of us spoke at the Loyola Music Industry Forum on Monday. Zack has been moving, which is awful.
The biggest thing that happened to me over the break is that a local news outlet called the NOLA Defender asked me if I would be interested in contributing a regular column on the subject of life as young traveling musician. Since I’ve already been writing about band stuff on a semi-consistent basis for over three years, I couldn’t think of a good excuse to say no.
So, starting pretty soon, Blog Wednesday is expanding! Kind of. Some of what I write for the Defender will be entirely redundant with what goes on here, and other times those contributions will be more informative as to the oft-unseen technical aspects of life on the road: where you eat, where you sleep, where you poop, how not to kill each other, that sort of thing.
So that’s how I spent my Spring Break. Still, I’m pretty sure Dave’s got me beat:
Alright, time to go to work. See you at Jazz Fest.
We’re on spring break! Two whole weeks of not doing anything at all (except for Dave, who is on tour with Galactic)! I don’t even know what to do with myself. Well, there’s always hours of video games SAXOPHONE PRACTICE AND CARDIOVASCULAR EXERCISE.
Not that we haven’t earned a break (except for Dave, apparently). It’s been two weeks since I’ve last had both the time and the energy to check in, and I’m really not kidding about either. The last week we spent on the road was some of the most hardcore banding we’ve done in years. We left at about eight o’clock on Monday night, drove until a bit past two in the morning, and checked into one of rural Alabama’s most luxurious motor lodges for a few hours of bed-sleep. We resumed driving at eight the next morning, which was the result of a turbulently-negotiated compromise between “we’re going to be so late!” and “we’re going to be so tired!” The one plus to having to leave a hotel at such a blasphemous hour is that there’s usually still breakfast in the lobby.
Our long, hurried trip to Raleigh more or less set the pace for the entire week. All of the shows had relatively early start times, so we ended up driving after a lot of them. We drove to DC after Raleigh, to Brooklyn after DC, and half of us took the van to Connecticut after Brooklyn. We actually slept in Connecticut after the Fairfield show, but we had to wake up early to get to Baltimore. And then we had to drive straight to New Orleans from the Baltimore show (a mere sixteen or nineteen hours, depending on traffic) so that Dave could squeeze in another rehearsal with Galactic. So if you’re wondering where we’ve all been for the last week or so, the answer is mostly sleeping. And Freret Street Festival. Everyone was at the Freret Street Festival. It was awesome and you missed it.
Oh, right, band stuff. Sorry, sometimes I forget that we’re actually musical performers and not a troupe of professional van-drivers or something. Anyway, we found the time for five shows during those six-and-a-half days of non-stop vanning action. In order, we hit Raleigh, DC, Brooklyn, Fairfield, and Baltimore. We had only been to Raleigh once before, so we weren’t sure what to expect, especially on a Tuesday night. It was a similar story Saturday in Baltimore. It was only our second time playing there, and Baltimore Soundstage is a big enough room that it can feel very lonely when you don’t have enough people in there. Fortunately, in both cities a surprising number of people seemed to know that we exist, and Tuesday and Saturday turned out to be a great set of bookends to the three middle shows.
Now, while we were admittedly a bit more confident about DC, Brooklyn, and Fairfield, I don’t think any of us expected to sell out all three shows. But hey, we did, and that was pretty cool, right? Unfortunately, because of the breakneck pace of this tour, there wasn’t really a whole lot of time for us to get into much trouble. It was mostly just driving when we should have been sleeping and sleeping when we should have been driving.
Also a hat-trick of sold out shows. I’m not going to let you forget that.
And now I need to make a bit of a rough transition so I can talk about the musicians we played with on this tour, because they were all really fantastic. Seriously, I’m going to make links out of all of the band names and if you click on any of them you will find music that you like. In Raleigh and DC we were reunited with The Hill and Wood, a blast from our distant past (summer 2009, to be exact) featuring the eldest of the Campanelli brothers. For the next two nights we were joined by some cool retro soul-type music acts, specifically Alecia Chakour (of Warren Haynes Band fame) in Brooklyn and Jesse Dee in Fairfield. And finally, after the Baltimore show, I think it’s safe to say that The Revivalists have a total band-crush on The Stone Foxes, a no-nonsense four-headed rock monster from San Francisco. But in spite of all of this awesome, the absolute show-stealingest music person of the tour was a gifted guitarist named Bobby Paltauf who sat in with us in Fairfield. Skip to the two-minute mark to hear him rip:
Oh, did I forget to mention that he’s twelve years old?
So that was pretty much it. Good tour, good people… good church, good steeple? Sure, whatever. Good enough for spring break. Until next time, friends!