9/24/12 – 11/1/12

In which the dirty birds tour with good folk, waltz through New Orleans a few times, and race a storm up the East Coast. 

The morning of September 24th found us driving down to Philadelphia to start a month’s worth of touring with the masterly Allen Stone (and band) and the blithely wonderful Magnus Tingsek, the “Swedish D’angelo” as we named him. And what a time it was. For example, and to start, I present the following video, shot backstage that very first night. As you can tell, we were well impressed.

What transpired over the next month was, to say the least, a lot of fun. Every one of those guys is in their own way a magician, gangster and comedian of the finest sort. After Philly, we raced back to New York, and did a two night run at The Highline Ballroom. Somewhere in the middle of all that, we made our way to GoodDay NY and played very, very early in the morning. We were honored and surprised to meet the great Lyle Lovett, who was on set promoting his new play, The Exonerated. In DC, we played at the 9:30 club, where they fed us tasty cupcakes and gave us a bunch of free shirts (which we all still wear constantly. It was a theme throughout the rest of the tour. On any given day, upwards of four people would roll out of bed wearing the same, black, 9:30 shirt. So, their masterminding was quite effective). Over the next week, we played Newport News, Charlotte, Nashville (where the soundboard crashed, dramatically, and then after the show we learned the sound guy’s name was, in fact, ‘Crash.’ ), Atlanta, and Ybor City (a historic neighborhood in Tampa). Each night the chemistry built between us and our new tour companions. Brent,  Allen’s bassist, and I even learned a couple of Tingsek’s songs and started sitting in on their opening set, making it a quartet. Eventually, for the last few shows, we even got the horns up there on a song or two. Also, in Ybor City, Arleigh started singing ‘Tell Me Something Good’ with Allen, and then did it every night of the tour thereafter. What a combination of voices! Luckily, there’s documentation.

After the Tampa show, we drove to our good friend Brian’s house, on the coast in southern Florida. It was very strange, having been preparing for fall internally and thinking kindly upon the approaching colder, shorter days—days filled with a good book and a warm mug of coffee—to suddenly find ourselves once more back in the heat of Florida, getting bitten to all hell by the no-seem-ems and generally just feeling weird. But no matter. We had a good old time, watching football on his flat screen TV, telling stories and shooting the breeze with his father. Good people all around. The next day, they took Phil and I out on their boat, and we went cruising into the sound, flying along, beset by dolphins who skimmed their way along the water bed, dancing in the shallows, briefly following in our wake.

Chilling. Post dolphins.

After that glorious day off, we drove and rejoined the Stone boys down in Fort Lauderdale. Strange gray, rainy day in southern Florida. It was a Sunday and Ryan and I managed to watch the first half of the 49ers game before sound check. Intermittent rain clouds dumping down. Surreal Florida, unrelated to the rest of country. The tip of the continent, poking out and away from our accustomed, American reality. Full of no-see-ems and alligators.

The next day was another day off, driving day really, and both bands decided to spend the night in Tallahassee. Allen and the gang invited us over to their bus for a little get-together. It was very homey — Greg, the keyboard player, made delicious tacos, we brought beer and wine, all took turns DJing — it was pretty adorable, actually, creating a little social night out in the middle of nowhere roadland. Loads of fun. Ended up raging pretty hard, dance party style, too many people getting down in that little space.

A place unto itself where fall never comes. Tuesday found us in the beautiful town of Mobile, AL, where we played this crazy old rocknroll club called The Music Box. I loved that town, walking around. It felt like a tiny New Orleans. All of those coastal towns speak deeply to me. Charleston, Mobile. Old architecture and wrought-iron railings on balconies. Old churches. I went and sat for some time in the oldest church in Alabama. Sometimes it’s good to just get away from the noise and immerse yourself in the silence of an old, empty church. Any church will do, really, as long as it is sufficiently quiet.

 

And then. the day after Mobile, we woke and drove to New Orleans, the prized jewel in the crown of cities that circle the Gulf. It was but a brief visit, however, as we left the next morning. But, no worries, we made it back as you’ll see later on in this recounting. Anyways, the show was a success, at the House of Blues on Decatur Street. Sadly, it was Mans Merstein’s last show. He had been touring with Tingsek, playing craziness upon the keyboards like some sort of demented octopus-genius. Here’s a video I shot. Being as it was his last show, and being as how we all thought quite highly of him, we all stood right offstage, cooing softly and appreciatively every time he’d make a run. Dig it, he’s a goddamn badass. (For the keyboard solo, check in at 0:48).

Shows in Austin, Houston and Dallas followed. Awesome crowds, great energy. Texas people are very warm and open. The nights were some of the best in the whole run. Sadly, the show in Dallas was our last with Allen and Tingsek and the boys. We ended up at someone’s high-rise apartment in downtown Dallas, singing and laughing and such until the early hours of the morning. There was a wall that the apartment’s owner had us sign, and somehow we ended up playing hangman. I think Trevor (the fanciful guitarist in Allen’s band) spelled out, “Trevor Larkin is a very handsome man” or some such nonsense. Documented forever upon his wall. Or at least until someone else moves in and they paint over it all. While they all continued on West, bound for the desert and for LA, we headed back to, of all places (always) Florida to play Clearwater Jazz Festival, opening up for The Avett Brothers. A great night, great crowd, and it was really nice to finally hear The Avetts play. Ryan ran into our old friend Paul backstage, who’s been touring with them on piano and bass, and after the show we all hung out together in the parking lot, playing cornhole until 2 in the morning with their crew. It was pretty symbolic of the vibe on this run — good people, good music. Parties in unexpected places, old and new friends around every corner. And hovering above it all, an over-arching sense of camaraderie, musical kinship, one big traveling family.

The Avett Brothers onstage at the Clearwater Jazz Festival

Our last shows of the run were in New Orleans. After touring pretty much non-stop since early March, we had made a point to have some days off in the city. My wife Kim flew down, Johnny’s girlfriend Laurel came down. It was a family affair in the Crescent City. Our shows (at Tulane university and at Voodoo Fest) weren’t until the next weekend, and we spent the whole week eating fine food, sampling the city’s nightlife (read: Bounce Party), and walking the lamp-lit streets. It was a fine way to end an eight month tour.

Royal Street balcony.

Then, Sunday morning, we woke and drove 24 straight, mind-numbingly grueling hours home. We had to. Sandy was bearing down on our city, and we weren’t going to be able to get home if we didn’t do the whole drive in one go. So, shit. Get in the van and let’s roll. We only stopped for gas and restroom breaks, and one time we stopped and quickly got some Panera. We were obviously very worried about the storm, though we had no idea how much actual damage it would cause. Crazy. The highlight of this drive, though, happened as I was driving through West Virginia. The outward reaches of the storm were blowing a cold front through, and we suddenly were driving through a midnight snow storm. But, the point is that at this exact moment, the Giants won the World Series, and we were all very very very happy. Screaming and shouting, pounding each other on the back, singing that Queen song. It was a glorious moment. Which was soon overshadowed by the fact that we drove through the Holland Tunnel (at 10am after leaving NOLA 9am the preceding day) a mere three hours before they preemptively shut the tunnel. And then, throughout the following night, bearing witness to the destruction ravaged upon the land. We all were fine, though. I don’t even think any of us lost power for any considerate amount of time. But, damn… What a crazy few days. We were the only ones running to get into NYC. In the aftermath, it makes you appreciate what you have in front of you. This life we are creating, full of friendships and late-night hangs and music. Full of laughter. And just remembering that it can all disappear in the momentary flash. Sasha Brown, angel that he is, took all the seats out of our van and used it to deliver supplies. Somehow, he ended up on the national news with Brian Williams. We had no idea. Also, thank you to all of the wonderful people who donated to our van’s kickstarter. Your donations ultimately helped out in ways we never imagined.

 

So, that’s pretty much where we stand. We had about two solid weeks off, most in what seems like forever. And now we’re back to playing more shows, starting with some weekend hits in the Northeast. Just got back from four nights in Boston, Portland, ME, Northampton, MA, and Providence. Looking forward to finishing out the year opening up for Gov’t Mule in our hometown, and of course looking towards next year, getting primed and ready for 2013. There is plenty still to tell, and so much more just cresting the horizon, but that’s it for now. Until then, thank you, as always, for taking this amazing journey with us.

Yr friend,

Bram

Highway overpass system seen in Dallas.

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