A while ago — 6/22/12
In which the Dirty Birds catch you up to speed about such adventures as Jazz Fest in New Orleans, Mountain Jam, Bonnaroo, middle of Ohio chance encounters and more.
Pardon the lengthy absence of dispatches from the road. The last one I sat down to write turned into a Levon remembrance, and, well, I just haven’t quite had the heart, or rather the fire in my fingertips. Also, we’ve been traveling like some band of homeless gypsies back and forth across this vast, fine, terrifying expanse of land that we call America. That said, let me catch you up to speed.
Big news in Dirty Bird land is that some of us got Pantera membership cards, so every time we visit a Pantera (as we’ve loving come to call our favorite chain bakery) we build up points towards free coffee, pastries, sandwiches and the like. Which is pretty cool. Because, as the title implies, life can seem like just one long series of little moments and events in between Pantera visits. For example I present the following story:
So we were driving back from Summer Camp, a huge insane hippied-out festival in Southwestern Illinois, hosted by the band moe. Twenty thousand or more people hanging out in the intense, dusty heat. Tents hidden in the woods. There was this trail that led through the madness that was the only good way to get from where we played to the main artist tent where there was free beer. Thousands of glassy-eyed pipe-wielding herb-smoking bare-chested blissed-out individuals. Beads. Body paint. Hoola-hoops. When night finally fell after the endless summer day, the trail was illuminated by hanging lamps and lighted day-glo-painted paper lanterns, like some kind of neon hippie Shinto temple. But that’s not the point—we had driven 17 straight hours the day before to get there, and after playing on Saturday, we got up early Sunday morning to drive 17 straight hours back to Brooklyn. (This kicking off a month-plus stretch of several long, grueling, often overnight drives to get us to shows in strategic locations far and wide across the land… because that’s how we roll!) Somewhere in Indiana, I struck up a Twitter conversation with one Mr. Brian Bender, the little fiend. First he posted about this awesome hardwood flooring he had found, and how he was excited to get it back to Brooklyn to re-do the floor in the control room at The Motherbrain. Something about a U-haul truck… eventually he and I realized that we were both driving on I-80. Turns out he had gone home to Bloomington, IN to pick up the wood, and was now driving it back… and, of course, we were only an hour or so behind him. So we agreed to meet up at a rest stop, and some time later we found ourselves eating together at a Pantera in the middle of frickin’ Ohio, laughing to beat all heaven. We barely ever see each other in Brooklyn, our schedules being what they are, and yet here we all were randomly sitting down to a meal in the middle of the damn country. Life is what it is sometimes.
We went back to New Orleans! For Jazzfest! If you are trying not to drink, don’t ever go to New Orleans. Just a word to the wise. Or perhaps to the unwise. Good thing I wasn’t trying not to drink, because shit, I had a great time. And boy did we play some music—Friday night at the Blue Nile, opening for Soul Rebels, 500 people dancing and sweating and generally throwing down, it was a party. We had the next few days off in the city, and all kinds of insanity ensued. Also, Coop’s ensued—perhaps the best all-around restaurant experience ever. At least, it’s my favorite place to get food in NOLA.
We spent some serious time in Florida—West Palm Beach, Orlando, Jacksonville, Tampa. Crossed in and out of Florida about five or six different times over the course of two weeks. We opened for the Counting Crows at Sunfest, hey Ms. Delilah. Ryan whipped up some of his famous “bootleg sangria” backstage to rave reviews, by now a staple of West Palm Beach culture, I’d assume. Also on that trip, half the band got some kind of crazy stomach bug somewhere along the road to Savannah, GA. It’s unclear what it was from, but everyone who was staying in one of the two rooms in Jacksonville the night before (yes two rooms for the nine of us, cause that’s how we roll) woke up feeling terrible, and getting worse throughout the day. Unclear whether it was from food or water, but whatever it was it was horrible, pretty much turned them into zombies for 24 hours. How we ever managed to get through that show I’ll never quite know. Jackson had to run off stage at one point, didn’t quite make the bathroom. Luckily, however, I did not get any such thing. Perhaps it was the water in their room? A dirty tap? Who knows…
We played Mountain Jam! Twice in one day! Once on the main stage and once inside the lodge for a righteous bunch of ragers. The rain clouds parted just in time for our outdoor set. Grey and epic, hanging above the mountain tops. We all took a ride on the ski lift, up and back down the mountain, amazing views. That night Gov’t Mule paid homage to the man himself, Mr. Levon, and brought his band onstage for a tribute. We all watched together from up on the mountainside, fans amongst fans, great feeling, just taking it in.
Then there was another 17 hour drive to Manchester, TN for the big one, the pickle in the apple’s pie, the 80,000-person behemoth known as Bonnaroo. My only regret is that we missed Radiohead’s set on Friday night (though many of us watched it streaming in the van on our way down). But damn, just to have been a part of that was pure madness. Our sets went really well, played once on Saturday and twice on Sunday. Ran into some old friends backstage, surprise meetings. Festivals can (at their best) be like giant family reunions for bands. People we never get a chance to see because we’re all out crisscrossing the shit out this country and world. And here we can all sit down like normal people and share a beer and a meal and a laugh backstage while awesome music blasts from all over the fairgrounds. And wow, wow, wow, Bonnaroo is huge. I never made it to the general admission camping area, but I heard tell of people walking upwards of an hour from their campsite just to get to the festival entrance. The endless streams of people leaving some of the main stage shows looked like a sea of human cattle, claustrophobic to say the least. But the music! Gary Clark Jr. was a huge highlight for me. What a bad-ass that guy is, super relaxed in the beat, patient. But by far the most amazing thing that happened there was D’angelo coming out and playing a set with Questlove, his first US show in 12 years, all covers. It was amazing. Zeppelin, Hendrix, Funkadelic, “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window…” What?!
Holy mother of all that is holy. We were all exhausted, having played that morning and driven 17 hours the day before, but I convinced myself to make it to Questlove’s Superjam, with “unannounced special guests.” As Quest started announcing people, I got more and more excited. The lineup was insane: James Poyser, Cap’t Kirk from The Roots. Pino Palladino… and then, Quest got real serious and low on the mic and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen… I’ve been waiting twelve years to say this… Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome to the stage… D’angelo!” and the whole place went fucking CRAZY. People grabbing each other and screaming in each other’s faces, unintelligible shouts, “aaaaagghhholyshiii oooOOOOOHHHHHH! D’AAAANGEEEELLOOOOWWWWWHAAAAAATTTTT!” It was fucking epic. We played two more sets the next day and then finally packed up our tents and drove out, spending the night at a nondescript roadside motel somewhere outside of Knoxville which, in the morning, we realized was across the street from the nondescript pseudo-Italian restaurant where we had eaten dinner a few nights before, headed the opposite direction. And I’m pretty sure that a few minutes after leaving Knoxville, we pulled off and got breakfast at Pantera, steeling ourselves for the long drive back to Brooklyn.
Grandiose times here in fowl territory. Sorry, sorry, Sasha, Phil and Ryan have been just really laying it on thick with the puns as of late and my brain is melting. (“Panera is to bread as Pantera is to… shred…” yyyeah…) Until next time.