9/10/2013 – 9/20/2013
In which the dirty birds cross borders, explore foreign lands, and end up in a surreal Vegas dream.
The sun was rising when we finally stumbled to bed. This had also been the case the night before. We were in Portland, ME and had a long drive ahead of us the next day. We were going North. All the way North. We were going international, headed up to Fredericton, New Brunswick. Headed to Canada
That Portland morning was hot and sticky, the last gasp of Summer in the Northeast, where fireflies light the air and everything seems imbued with a thick, syrupy nostalgia. But we were driving away from Summer, literally. After four hours driving north on I-95, the sun disappeared behind a thick, dark bank of gray clouds. The temperature dropped and we all fished our sweatshirts and jackets out of our bags. In the distance a bright strike of lightning flashed once. And another. The lightning was too far away for us to make out the peeling repercussions of thunder, though we were headed straight for the heart of the darkened sky. The highway was under construction and we were led off onto a detour through small northeastern Maine towns, desolate and semi-abandoned. Houses with dogs tied up out front, old, rusted machinery littering lawns. A town that we were never meant to see, hidden in the folds of hills beside the interstate. And yet now their main street had become the highway. Giant trucks hurtling down the small road. Shutters closed as much against the sound of engines braking on sudden turns as against the oncoming storm.
Gas is more expensive in Canada, so everyone stops to refuel at this one final town before you hit the border. As we got closer, however, the storm and the lightning and thunder started in earnest. Rain smashing against the van, windshield wipers barely making a difference at their fastest setting. Another lightning strike, the thunder coming almost immediately. “Shit!” someone yelled, “That was close!” There was lull in the rain as we pulled off into that last border town, and we immediately realized that the power was out. None of the stations were open, though most were filled with cars and people milling about in the strange green-gray light of the storm. Lightning had fried a nearby substation and everything was closed. With no other choice, and luckily with our tank about half full already, we pressed on.
The sun set, the storm raged on. Phil was driving, his hands at ten and two, battling the winds. Lightning fell on all sides. It was quite beautiful. As we neared the border we all turned off our phones, contemplating the lack of service we would endure for the next three days. It’s always a strange feeling to be digitally marooned after growing so accustomed to being in constant contact through our devices. Weird, but strangely welcome. And then we were there—the US-Canada border, dirty birds perched on the precipice of international tourdom. Having heard countless stories from other bands, we had been prepared to wait for hours as they double-checked our passports and visas, searched the van, interrogating us thoroughly, but the whole ordeal took roughly 10 minutes. The festival had worked everything out in advance, and the piece of paper they had sent us to print out, along with a quick question of how much merchandise we planned to sell (“Uh… as much as possible sir?”), was all that was needed. We were in! We’d made it! We had crossed over into a strange land… well it looked identical to the miles of evergreens we’d just passed, but it felt totally new and different.
After another hour or so, we made it to the hotel, the Ramada Fredericton. The woman at the desk was all smiles. “Ah, wait, don’t tell me what band you are! I want to guess,” she said, looking down at her paperwork. “I went to school for music, so it’s really fun to meet all of you guys who do this for a living!” “What did you study?” I asked. “Oh, I was a voice major in college.” “Classical?” “Yeah.” “Did you enjoy it?” She looked down at the paperwork and said, “Wait, are you Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds?” Arleigh laughed. “That’s us!” “Oh, yay! Ok, well, I’ll need you to just initial these, here…” Once in the rooms, we found waiting for us several bottles of locally-brewed craft beer on ice. Such hospitality! We sank into our rooms with beers in hand, tired and excited for the day to come.
It rained through the night, and was still gray the next morning, though the rain had abated somewhat. Behind the hotel, there was a golf course and driving range. I walked through large mud puddles in the manicured grass. There was an old man taking stiff, short swings. The course was entirely deserted except for him and one other man, a groundskeeper driving a small red mower in the distance. I spotted the river beyond the course’s edge and walked down to it, skirting the puddles. All was silent save for an occasional whack of club on ball. I settled down by the river and watched the water flowing by, reminded as always that water moves the same way in all places upon the earth, sparkling and dancing in that jovial, subtle manner. I sat, hunched over, sitting on a felled tree log, smoking my pipe, looking out over the river. I must have sat there for an hour or more—I lost track of time. At one point, it began to rain again. I was covered by the trees, though, and only a few drops fell down through the leaves to land upon my coat. Just the soft pattering of raindrops amongst the undergrowth by the river. The whack of the old man’s swings. The minute hum of the lawnmower in the distance. Those are the moments I search for, out here on the road. Those simple moments of peace and silence, sitting by a river, watching a thousand rain drops dimple the surface of the water.
That night we played the after-hours set following the Avett Brothers. They have such a beautiful, heartfelt and deep relationship with their fans. They can move between a rollicking dive-bar blues and a soul-scorched whisper-ballad in the course of a single song. And the fans follow them all the way, singing along, dancing. The Blues Tent, gigantic, big as a circus tent, us rocking, crowd raging, the rain pouring down outside. The next night, on the same stage, we opened for Gov’t Mule. Canada, seriously, thank you for being so awesome.
Then the next morning, we awoke early and piled into the van, ready to embark on one of our longest days of travel ever. Which, as you must know, means quite a lot coming from us. Fredericton, New Brunswick is in the Atlantic Time Zone, which is an hour past Eastern Standard time. We left at 7:30am and drove for eight hours down to Boston (crossing back into the US took slightly longer, but was still relatively painless). Once there, we parked the van at Josh’s parents’ house in Winchester, and they graciously drove us to the airport. Checked a few things—cymbal case, pedal boards, luggage—through security, had time for a beer or two and boarded the plane. We had a layover in Chicago (a few more beers at a sports bar) and then boarded another flight, continuing on towards Las Vegas. By the time we touched down, grabbed our gear, finally convinced a cab to drive us all the way out to our strange off-strip hotel, checked in and got our rooms, it was 1:30 am Vegas time. Vegas is four hours behind New Brunswick. So, really, it was 5:30 our time. Hey now, that’s a twenty-two hour travel day. Here’s a fun graphic:
Las Vegas is always a surreal experience. Our time there recently, however, was somehow wilder than ever before. First of all, the night we landed was the night of the Mayweather-Canelo fight, so every single hotel on the strip was either completely booked or was charging exorbitant rates for rooms. We ended up staying in a casino called Arizona Charlie’s, a dive of a joint about 30 minutes from the main strip. Ryan and I threw our bags down and descended to the casino bar to recap the day’s adventures. We found ourselves in some surreal Vegas dreamscape, listening to a smooth-R&B cover band, surrounded by half-drunk outcasts and sullen miscreants. Tattooed men with string hair and mouths missing teeth. The band was actually awesome, perfect soundtrack for that particular scene. They did an instrumental version of that Santana song with Rob Thomas, note for note, solo and all. It was one of their cousin’s twenty-first birthday so she got up onstage to sing a couple of songs. The twenty odd people in and around the bar area listened, dancing slowly in the neon light of the stage glow, slot machines tingling in the background. It was a perfect Las Vegas moment, we couldn’t help but giggle, exhausted and tipsy, that we had found ourselves here.
Though we had dropped in and out of Vegas several times before, we had never actually played a show there. The festival was fun. Tedeschi Trucks Band was there, along with our good friends Orgone and Monophonics. It was strange walking around the Riviera (which after a last-minute change ended up hosting the festival), seeing all these bands intermingling with fans intermingling with the gamblers, all amongst the whirring and clinking of slot machines and the shuffling of chips at blackjack tables. After our show, we tore it up in there, going from bar to bar, celebrating the final night of our little cross-continent run.
The next day everyone went their own way. We had two whole weeks off, which is the most time we’ve had free since January, so we all kind of scattered off into our own little vacation realms. My flight back to NYC wasn’t until evening, so I wandered down to the main part of the strip and explored many of the larger, more famous casinos. It was all a bit much for me, however, and I ended up in a small, divey casino tucked away between all the madness. I took some notes on my phone, kind of a snapshot, and then typed them up later. You can read those here if you want.
So here we are. We just played a few shows with moe. and now are about to set out again on our Fall Tour, promoting the release of our new EP, Fight. Godspeed, ye birdflock! We will see you out there on the wild road.