10/31/12 – 11/19/12
After leaving Jackson, MS in our brand new shiny rental van, we drove away sad and discouraged. A very bitter Halloween. No candy, no costumes, only exorbitant repair costs and the bleak reality that we didn’t even know when we’d be able to come back to pick up our poor crippled Ramada. An uplifting turn of events was around the corner though. As we were driving up highway 81, I realized that we were going to pass right through Trenton, GA, where my aunt Ginnie lives in a beautiful house on top of Lookout Mountain. Her place looks west into the setting sun and on a clear day (most days) you can see for hundreds and hundreds of miles—gazing over the green hills of Alabama and Tennessee. I hadn’t realized we’d be passing so close to her and so didn’t call to see if we could stay until we were about 15 minutes away (plus it was 12:30 at night), but when I told her where we were and what was happening, she said “you know it’s amazing that you called me just now. I was literally standing in my kitchen not but five minutes ago, and the thought came to me ‘I wish that Bram and his bandmates would come and stay with me sometime!’” Mind melt. In that moment she saved us from the harsh realities of the road. Staying there that night we all remembered the feeling of a warm and comfortable home, remembered our families and our loved ones back in Brooklyn. Remembered who we were, what we were doing and why.
We awoke refreshed and ready to continue on, driving the 8 hours or so to Roanoke, VA. The show at Awful Arthur’s that night was fun, but the real story occurred the next day. We had stayed somewhat South of Roanoke proper, and after getting some breakfast, we put our trust in GPS to guide us safely on to Asheville, NC. Except that, well, other than the fact that we eventually made it there, isn’t exactly what ended up happening. So, I guess if you’re a bit south of Roanoke, technically the quickest, or maybe the shortest route to get down to that part of North Carolina is by taking back roads through the mountains. Which, you know, sounded like a great idea at the time. After driving on interstates for the better part of a month, seeing the same never-ending landscape of truck stops and billboards, you start to hanker for something new and exciting. Man, did we get a full dose of that. The roads started innocently enough, all of us gazing out the window watching the countryside roll by. Southern Appalachia truly is a beautiful land. Lush rolling green hills burning orange in the newly minted Fall, meadows and streams finding their way through the valleys. And then the roads started to get a bit windier. And smaller. And then a little steeper. We kept passing little shacks half hidden up in the hills – someone mentioned Deliverance. Actually we all mentioned it. A lot. And theeeeeen the pavement gave out. Suddenly (Sasha was driving – he’s somehow always driving when messed up things like this happen) we found ourselves passing through a gate which I assume they close in the winter when the road becomes completely impassable, and a sign which read “Not Advisable for Motor Vehicles…” or some such thing. Well, we were certainly driving a motor vehicle… But by then we were way out in the country with no way to turn around. The only thing to do was press on. Wow. What the fuck GPS?
After about half an hour traversing tiny dirt roads with not so much as a guardrail, we emerged alive and unscathed onto a road that was at least paved, and then 20 minutes later that road dumped us out onto the interstate. Wow. By far our craziest driving experience so far. But we made it. Glory hallelujah. Anyways, after that debacle, the show that night was simple as pie. Pisgah Brewing Company is an amazing spot, the stage is right next to the room where they brew their dozens of amazingly delicious beers. A couple of our friends from Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band came out, as did some friends from The Broadcast. It was a great night, one for the ages. Delicious Carolina BBQ the next day. And then the next night we played to literally six people in Chapel Hill, NC. Just the crazy ups and downs of being in towns for the first time. If nobody knows who the hell you are and there’s absolutely no press, there’s a pretty good chance that no one will come to see you play. Ha, oh well. Onwards. Friday night found us in Knoxville TN, and then on to Nashville, home of the illustrious Jon Bell, whose birthday it happened to be (coincidence? Well he does the routing haha). We set up camp in this crazy airport hotel with vintage 70’s décor everywhere — fur rugs, pictures of famous Nashville musicians framed on the walls. Planes roaring by our windows every couple of minutes. Jon and his lovely wife Lisa threw a kegger at their home Saturday night, complete with bonfire and cookout. The party was a blast and lasted late into the night, fireside drunken ramblings and many songs sung. Jon grabbed one of Jackson’s harmonicas and went to town but I’ll spare him and NOT post that footage, haha. Love you Jon.
We played our show in Nashville Sunday night and got up the next day to drive back to Jackson to get our damn van, which was supposed to be ready by then… but, of course, that wasn’t the case and we got stuck there for another night. Two weeks after that fateful visit from the infamous tow-truck guy, staying in the same hotel, wishing like hell we weren’t there. Dammit. We had to cancel two more shows (Birmingham, AL and Athens, GA) before finally getting Ramada back on the road, burning a mad Eastern-bound sprint down to Florida for the Bear Creek Music Festival, where we were playing both Thursday and Friday nights. Man, what a beautiful place for a festival! Spanish moss hanging down from the old live oaks, mist and fog creeping around the flat expanse. It was FREEZING COLD down there though, somehow dropping well below freezing at night, a shock to all us Northerners that made it down there expecting mild weather. Our first taste of a winter that in the end seems to have never quite materialized. Also, the festival was filled with Brooklyn bands! Turkuaz, Rubblebucket, The London Souls, Zongo Junction, to name a few. Such a strange and surreal experience meeting up with all these old friends amongst the oak and moss. As if someone had picked up a large part of the Brooklyn scene and dropped it down in Florida. There was a fire going strong in the artist area back behind the main stage, and we all sat around warming ourselves against the frigid temperatures, drinking beer and catching up, swapping stories from the road. A taste of home, right before the home stretch. Finally, we could see the end of this long road, count the days.
Our home stretch was made even more special because for the last week of shows we opened every night for The Ryan Montbleau Band. Those guys are awesome, great musicians, stand up fellows, downright hilarious. Saturday we played a packed show at Skippers Smoke House in Tampa, then turned our sights Northbound once and for all. Sunday we had off in Jacksonville, most of us choosing to rest at the hotel and watch some football while Sasha and Arleigh went off for a short visit with Sasha’s now recently deceased Grandfather, Robert Schauffler. RIP. I’m glad and amazed that Sasha had a chance to see him just before he passed. Monday we played The Pour House in Charleston, SC, then had the next day off to explore the city. Most of the band found a perfect little beach while Ryan and I went on an epic old-town adventure, eating giant oysters and watching the sun set from a little rooftop bar. I love Charleston, beautiful old port city, you can feel the overlapping histories. Reminded me of New Orleans in some ways, but without the throngs of tourists. The old houses and the balconies and the crookedness of the whole thing. The smell of the nearby ocean. Such a joy being back on the East Coast, knowing home was only a few days away.
Wednesday was a short drive up to hit Charlotte, VA, Thursday we made it to Vienna, VA just outside of DC… And then, Friday, we found ourselves in the great city of Philadelphia — it was, at long last, the final show of our first national tour. Insane. We’d played World Cafe Live once before, but upstairs in the more “cafe” part of the joint (also housing a radio station), only now we were downstairs playing to a packed house. Lots of our fans from all over the Philly/South Jersey area came out, eager to catch us at the end of our long run. It was an electric show, felt like a home crowd with people singing along and calling out their favorite songs, a fitting end to our epic journey. Johnny’s girlfriend Laurel had driven up for the show, and as soon as the show was done, I hopped in their car and we busted on out of there before the rest of the band, oh so eager to feel the familiar warmth of our beds, the embrace of our beloveds. Up the Jersey turnpike, gradually seeing the glow of the big city rise into view from afar. We were going home, home at last.
Was it all a dream? The blur of hotels, motels, bars and clubs, the great expanse of the plains, the glistening desert, the towering mountains and rolling hills, the endless highways stretching from sea to shining sea… no, it was no dream. It was America. And we had seen it. And rocked it. And lived to tell of it. But we had precious little time to rest, more adventures awaited us just over the horizon. Because as you must know by now, there’s no rest for the wicked…