Better late than never, right? Read on to learn about the final four days of our West Coast tour.
Wednesday, Oct. 14; Santa Fe, NM. After camping in the van somewhere in Arizona, we completed the drive to Brian’s house. Brian is a guy we met about two and a half years ago in Tucson when our former band Casados played with his band D Numbers. This time around, he was kind enough to hook us up with a house show in Santa Fe. The fall fiesta included a variety of amazing foods, with Brian’s soup being our favorite (ingredients: carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, apples, etc.). Yum!
I think this Santa Fe show may have been the first time we’ve had people laugh out loud during our set. As we played in the living room, the crowd was listening closely, processing the lyrical content, and then chuckling at the poignancy. It was pretty awesome. And based on the people we met, Santa Fe seems like a cool city.
Found at a rest stop somewhere between Santa Fe & Norman, OK
Thursday, Oct. 15; Norman, OK. Universe City, where we played in Norman, is a huge house that used to be a fraternity dwelling but is now being fixed up and used as a community art space. There are also 14 bedrooms upstairs, with 12 people currently living there. Much to our surprise, the paparazzi showed up in Norman. Who would have guessed? A guy named Adam asked if it was ok for him to take some pictures of us. We said yes, assuming he would take a few shots during the show. No big deal.
As we turned around to pull some equipment out of the van, the flashes began. Two cameras were flashing frantically during our set, and we tried not to be distracted by Adam climbing on a speaker behind us, then lying on the floor in front of us. (We love you, Adam.)
We met some interesting folks at the show as well. One guy in the front row was doing yoga stretches throughout our performance. Another guy was leaving the show with a huge wooden cross that he carries everywhere. We tried (unsuccessfully) to get the lowdown on why he carries this cross. He didn’t give us much info; I guess he’s just taking that “carry your cross” thing quite literally.
Friday, Oct. 16; Kansas City, MO. Before we knew it, we were back in the Midwest. The West Bottoms of Kansas City provided perhaps the craziest experience of this tour. We were surrounded by seemingly vacant warehouses as we drove into a shady-lookin’ part of KC.
Sunset in the West Bottoms
The night started off as a downer. Two of the three locals had dropped off the bill last minute, and it was questionable if the show was even going to happen. The original plan was a show at The Pistol—an open space with a stage located on the second floor of an old warehouse. But the promoter, Joe, was suspecting no one would show up (since two of the locals bailed), so he proposed we play at some art show instead. He recommended that we head over to the art show, get some food, and check the place out.
We scrunched into Joe’s Chevy Cavalier, with Nic and Heather both in the passenger seat. (The backseat was occupied by salvaged windows Joe had found in a dumpster earlier that day.) As we passed by a police officer who was directing traffic in the middle of the street, Joe repeated, “Please don’t look at the tags. Please don’t look at the tags. Please don’t ask if I have a license.” We made it by with no hassle, and Joe informed us this was just a “rent-a-cop” anyway (an off-duty officer hired to make visitors feel safe).
Our destination: An abandoned warehouse. We took the freight elevator up a couple flights to learn that this building was actually very full of life. Several floors are occupied by artists, and on this particular evening, the artists had opened their studios to display their work. We explored the building, eating hummus and Doritos, drinking beer or wine, and viewing paintings, photographs, pottery, and so on.
We ended up playing two shows that night. We first played a few songs in an elevator lobby situated between some art studios. Then we played our original show over at The Pistol, which turned out to be pretty great despite the bogus start. The underground art communities of the West Bottoms, where lots of people live and work, were unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before. We do love you, KC.
All our gear crammed into a wheelbarrow; Kansas City, MO
Saturday, Oct. 17; Columbia, MO. The final show of our tour was part of the Bluebird Music and Arts Festival. Darling Disarm, a band from Champaign-Urbana, was playing on the same festival. It was fun to run around Columbia with Mike, Kayla, and James, and we enjoyed seeing Chicago Farmer and Death Ships that evening.
We completed our 8,747.1 mile circle on Sunday (Oct. 18), landing at home in Urbana, IL. We returned feeling at peace with the world. It was a good tour. For the next couple weeks, we’ll be sleeping in our own bed and cooking in our own kitchen. Then, come November, we’ll be off again.
Touring is filled with ups and downs, highs and lows. And really, you’ve just gotta roll with it. Otherwise, you’ll surely end up miserable.
Saturday, Oct. 10; Las Vegas, NV. We had never been to Vegas before, and had even determined that we’d be perfectly content never visiting that city. Our trip across the Mojave Desert was golden and beautiful. Then lots of seizure-inducing flashing lights welcomed us into the city. We had some trouble finding the venue. The GPS led us to a Taco Bell next to a strip mall in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Hmmm…we must have the wrong address, we thought. But a call to the promoter verified we were in the right place.
In the strip mall, next to Jamba Juice and Panda Express, was Meatheads Video Poker Bar. Apparently, Meatheads is in the process of changing its name to MEET Bar/Lounge, but has not yet changed its sign. Inside, video poker machines lined the bar, with a screen every foot. We weren’t feeling very hopeful about this show, but much to our surprise, the crowd came up close and listened, and many of them took CDs home. People we met at the show (locals) advised us to not go near the strip. Despite their advice, we did drive down the strip before leaving town at 3 AM. Hello, light pollution.
Sunday, Oct. 11; St. George, UT. The next day we drove down the road to a coffee shop called Mojo Underground in St. George. We were greeted by some exceedingly nice gentleman who helped us carry in and set up our equipment. We hung out for awhile and ate a great pumpkin spice waffle and a veggie sandwich. Then eventually, we got around to playing.
The crowd was small, but respectful and attentive. In banter between songs, we learned that Utah is home of the 3.2 beer—meaning beer sold in Utah is 3.2% alcohol instead of the typical 6%. Beer producers actually bottle special pseudo booze for the state of Utah. Further, the state mandates that beer only be sold in conjunction with food. The crowd also informed us that there are lots of fundamentalist Mormons in the area, which we were already aware of thanks to This American Life’s story on Warren Jeffs and the FLDS Church. Thinking we could discuss this further, Nic asked the crowd if they were familiar with This American Life. Collectively, they responded no. NPR? Nope.
Monday, Oct. 12; Flagstaff, AZ. Our drive through Northern Arizona was one of the most interesting thus far—natural beauty juxtaposed with extreme poverty and the Navajo Reservation. We got to Flagstaff early, which allowed us to explore their fairly happenin’ downtown, eat some more good Mexican food, and practice for the night’s set. We played in the cocktail lounge of historic Hotel Monte Vista. It was a pretty posh deal, and much like our Vegas show, we were pleasantly surprised by the vibe.
The audience was a combination of Flagstaff locals and hotel guests—traveling from places like California, New York, the UK, and elsewhere. We had a longer-than-normal set time, so we dusted off some old Casados tunes and even pulled out a few covers. All in all, we had a really good time in Flagstaff.
Tuesday, Oct. 13; Tucson, AZ. Our show in Tucson was a huge waste of time. We loaded all our gear into The Hangart—an obscure art gallery—and then found out the show was not actually going to happen. The local (Forrest Fallows) forgot about the show, but then sent us a myspace friend request the following day. And the promoter, Jake, was not expecting anyone to show up because he claims people in Tucson are flaky and don’t go out to see live music.
Jake basically gave us a couple options—either (a) we could play at The Hangart for an empty room, but he could record and stream our performance, or (b) we could go play an impromptu show at some 24-hour diner called The Red Room. Having just driven about 387 miles out of our way, neither option really appealed to us, so we loaded our equipment back into the van and started driving toward Santa Fe.
Thanks to all of you who have been keeping up with our journey! Stay tuned for one more blog post about this tour.
Have you ever woken up from one of those dreams that felt so real you questioned if it actually happened? That feeling of confusion pretty much sums up our experiences in California—asking questions like “did that really happen, or was it a dream?”
Wednesday, Oct. 7; Chico, CA. By the 14th day/14th show, exhaustion was an understatement. We had both reached delirium. It was a long drive from Portland to Chico. After sleeping very little and being in a van for about nine hours, we arrived at our destination—a train car disguised as Empire Coffee. It felt like we were in some strange dream, like soon enough we would wake up and try to explain to one another that we were playing in a caboose in some sleepy California town.
If you’ve ever known an independent touring band, you’ve surely heard stories about going on tour and playing for five people. It’s far from ideal, but it happens. It’s hard to go to a new town where you know no one and no one knows you. In general, it takes a lot of work to get people to come check out a new band. We’ve toured enough to know this, so we typically set our expectations low.
So far on this tour, however, we’ve had the opportunity to play for people every night. Some shows have been bigger and some have been smaller, but there have generally been 20+ people each night who seem genuinely interested and supportive. Chico was our night of playing for about five people…in a train car. On the positive side, we did gain a couple fans and enjoyed hearing Fera.
Leaving Empire Coffee, we realized we never ate dinner and were both quite hungry, which seems to be a common predicament when traveling. We drove down the road and found a Denny’s. As we paid for our hash browns and eggs, the waitress advised Nic to go find his pillow. He was looking pretty rough.
Dillon Beach, CA
Thursday, Oct. 8; San Francisco, CA. Our drive took us through several cute northern California towns in route to San Francisco. We followed some signs for Dillon Beach (our last name, for those of you who don’t know), and though we only spent a few minutes there, we found ourselves considering a move. Eventually, the GPS led us to the San Francisco tower where we would be playing that night. We used a loading dock and elevator to transport our stuff up two floors, and then carried everything up one flight of stairs.
The building we were in is three stories high. If you walk onto the roof of the three-story building, you can see a tower on top of the building that stretches up four more stories. (Photo at left was taken from the roof of the three-story building.) Our friend Annie and her boyfriend Jeremy live in this tower. We played in their living room, on the tower’s first floor. “Last night we played in a caboose,” Nic told the audience. “And now you’re playing in a tower,” someone added. Yep.
We were the first band of the inaugural Tower Concert Series, which turned out to be amazing! Our San Francisco show is definitely in the running for best show of this tour. Sixty or so people packed into the tower. Most people sat on the floor, with a few viewing the show from a spiral staircase. The crowd was silent as we played, and there was lots of fun crowd interaction. Everyone there was incredibly nice, and it was great to see former Champaign-Urbana resident Darrin Drda.
Our set was followed by a folk opera, written and directed by Annie Bacon. Ukulele, upright bass, and fiddle provided the instrumentation, and four vocalists each played a role in the story. For example, Savannah played the part of an elderly woman with dementia, and Elizabeth was her caretaker. The story slowly unfolded, with each song providing additional details.
Friday, Oct. 9; Santa Barbara, CA. The next morning we left for Santa Barbara. Sometime during our drive, we stopped to take a picture of the “City of Burlingame” sign. (Burlingame is Heather’s maiden name.) Soon after, we got a call from our friend Gillian (who lives in Illinois). She casually asked where we were, and then said, “Well…I’m in Santa Barbara waiting for you guys to get here.” What? Was this for real? Gillian’s sister had been planning a trip to LA, so Gillian flew to LA with her sister, then rented a car and drove up to Santa Barbara to see us! We were shocked and impressed.
Nic, Heather, & Gillian; Santa Barbara, CA
Once arriving in Santa Barbara, we walked on the beach, ate some superb Mexican food at a place called La Super-Rica, and played a show at Muddy Waters. We enjoyed having Gillian there—having a piece of home in California. The three of us were able to vent about our road-weariness and our existential crises, which was refreshing. The highlights of our Muddy Waters show were meeting venue owner Bill and seeing Rey Villalobos play. Rey is the singer/songwriter of The Coral Sea, whose Volcano and Heart record frequents our CD player. It was great to hear some of his solo stuff as well.
So…a caboose; Dillon Beach; a tower; Burlingame, CA; and a surprise visit from Gillian. As I retell these events, it does in fact feel like a strange dream.
Booking shows can be hard—especially when those shows are thousands of miles from home and in cities you’ve never visited. No matter how much you communicate about the details, surprises are inevitable. Such is life…
On Sunday (Oct. 4) we showed up in Spokane, WA, to find a “Show Cancelled” sign on the door of Empyrean Coffee. As a small independent band, we’ve learned that things like this are bound to happen. Even still, it’s always a bit disappointing. There were people inside, so we went in to find out what was going on. The barista informed us that the two owners, who were supposed to work the show, were stuck in the central part of the state because of some intense wind/dust storms that led to road closures.
After realizing we were from Illinois, however, the barista made some phone calls, took down the “Show Cancelled” sign (which we were the first to see), and said the show would go on. Empyrean is set up as a coffee shop with separate rooms for live music. Coffee shop “venues” can be pretty lame, but this was actually a really cool place. Attendance was decent for a Sunday, and despite the rough start, we had a good time.
The following two nights were spent in the hipster meccas of the Pacific Northwest. Monday night (Oct. 5) we walked along the Puget Sound and saw a beautiful sunset (pictured above) before playing in a Seattle DIY spot called The Josephine. It’s basically a hidden venue; it looks like an unmarked storefront with an interior room that’s a cross between a living room and a theater. The sound system had been double booked, so the show was delayed. A few people had to leave before the music even started, but most of the crowd was able to stay late on a Monday, and it ended up being a great show.
The Josephine is another one of those places where people come for the music—not for beer or hooking up or studying or any of the other options. Show-goers sat on couches or the floor and listened attentively. Our music was very well-received, and we enjoyed the locals. Mike Dumovich opened the show with a great folk-inspired trio, and Eyvind Kang closed out the night. Eyvind (who has collaborated with Lou Reed, Laura Gibson, Beck, and many others) did a solo viola performance as accompaniment to the black and white silent film, Man with a Camera. It was amazing!
We drove through the night and arrived at our friend Bill’s house in Portland somewhere around 5 a.m. on Tuesday (Oct. 6). After a few hours of rest, we did some laundry and met up with our friends Ryan and Ashley (transplants from Champaign-Urbana) for happy hour. Then we played that night at Ella Street Social Club (pictured at left)—a small bar with tables and chairs facing an oval stage.
The show was alright: The crowd was completely silent (which is apparently unusual for this particular bar); Nic got to spend some time with a high school friend; and we enjoyed meeting Justin from Midwest Dilemma. After the show, we headed back to Bill’s for another short night.
Thursday (Oct. 1) we made a stop in Pocatello, ID, which proved to be a good idea. A guy named Levi from the college radio station set up a show for us at College Market Coffee and Books. We were very much at home. Idaho, in general, felt strangely similar to the rural Midwest. College Market also reminded us of a place called The Coffeehouse in our college town of Normal, IL, where ISU is located (Idaho State in Pocatello or Illinois State in Normal).
There was a good turnout at the show, and people seemed into our music. We also learned some fun facts from the crowd. For example, Pocatello is the Smile Capitol of the U.S. It is actually illegal to NOT smile there. Also, the lead researcher of Bigfoot apparently resides in Pocatello.
We stayed with our friend Cary Judd and his family after the Pocatello show and had a great breakfast of waffles, eggs, and bacon the following morning. We were quite comfortable at Cary’s house and probably could have just moved in. But soon enough, we had to embark on the beautiful drive to Bozeman, MT.
Friday night (Oct. 2) we played at The Filling Station in Bozeman, which is one of the only bar shows on this tour. In recent years, we’ve become realistic about who we are (and who we aren’t). The Filling Station served as a reminder that our music is not well-suited for a bar on a Friday night.
Nonetheless, it was a good show. We’re glad we got to see Tony Furtado from Portland and Gospel Gossip from Minneapolis—both pretty amazing. And the audience was quite nice. We even had a world music lesson about the harmonium when one guy from the crowd said, “That lady should tell us about her instrument.”
The Filling Station; Bozeman, MT
Saturday (Oct. 3) we drove down the road to Missoula, MT. We took one detour during our trip. The signs for Garnet Ghost Town looked innocent enough…
As we followed the signs, the road became gravel, then eventually dirt. It also became increasingly narrow and steep. Abrupt drops bordered one side, and of course, there were no guard rails in sight. As you might imagine, our mini-van is not ideal for sharp turns on an uphill one-lane gravel road. But by the time we figured that out, we were committed, because there was nowhere to turn around. Luckily, Nic is a calm driver, and we made it out alive!
(Yes, those are bullet holes.)
Our show in Missoula was a smaller show in the basement of an art gallery. We had reached a point of exhaustion, so this was a lower energy performance for us. It felt like we were playing in our living room for a group of friends. Everyone at the show, including several children and our dog, sat on couches and conversed with us between songs. It was a nice show, and was the first time we’ve shared a stage with eight-year-olds (The Scribblers). Missoula seemed hip, and we enjoyed spending time with new friends.
The new album is here, and we’re excited to share it with you! Its official release date is October 27, but it is available for pre-order NOW on both CD and LP. Visit the site below for pre-order info:
We will also be kicking off a West Coast tour this week, with more East Coast and Midwest dates to follow in November. Spread the word, and come on out to a show if we’re passing through your city! Check out the “in person” page for more details and show dates. Hope to see you out there!
09.24.09 — Iowa City, IA — Public Space One
09.25.09 — Lincoln, NE — Clawfoot House
09.26.09 — Ft. Collins, CO — Everyday Joe’s
09.27.09 — Denver, CO — The Booya Bourgeois
09.28.09 — Provo, UT — Footloose House
09.29.09 — Logan, UT — Why Sound
09.30.09 — Salt Lake City, UT — Kilby Court
10.01.09 — Pocatello, ID — College Market Books & Coffee
10.02.09 — Bozeman, MT — The Filling Station
10.03.09 — Missoula, MT — ZACC Gallery
10.04.09 — Spokane, WA — Empyrean Coffee House
10.05.09 — Seattle, WA — The Josephine
10.06.09 — Portland, OR — Ella Street Social Club
10.07.09 — Chico, CA — Empire Coffee
10.08.09 — San Francisco, CA — Tower Concert Series
10.09.09 — Santa Barbara, CA — Muddy Waters
10.10.09 — Las Vegas, NV — MEET bar/lounge
10.11.09 — St. George, UT — Mojo Underground
10.12.09 — Flagstaff, AZ — Hotel Monte Vista
10.13.09 — Tucson, AZ — The HangArt
10.14.09 — Santa Fe, NM — Brian’s House
10.16.09 — Kansas City, MO — Pistol Social Club
10.17.09 — Columbia, MO — Bluebird Music and Arts Festival