Here we are again, dear reader.
When we left the relative civility of Boise and headed over the mountains toward the wasted, cratered tundra of Idaho towards Victor, we had no idea what would be in store for us. Up until this tour, our travels in this part of the world had been filled with warmth, sunshine, luxury, shorts and air-conditioning.
How could we have known that the Stringband Tribes roamed this area in the winter, inflicting brutal and swift justice on any trespassers? How could we have known to stock up on cases of beer to pay as tribute to their Lead-Singer War Chiefs? Who knew that the winter touring world was so terribly, savagely different than that of spring?
Certainly, not us.
Our first encounter was begun with good faith by all of us in the van. The roadblock of sharpened wooden stakes, cow skulls, and bizarre flags was met with curiosity by we unknowing, unsuspecting travelers.
It became clear that the tribe of Gleb Furrows and The Hard Drinkers was not part of some elaborate jest, when, like pirates of old, they threw open the sliding door of our van, and tried to board us. They were strong, and their knives were sharp. Luckily we had bolstered our ranks with Pat, and also with a Boise-based photographer, Mike. They had not counted on there being 9 of us.
We were able to beat them back, and (with only minor cosmetic damage to the van) blast through their roadblock.
We continued the drive in a very nervous state. We kept 24 hour watch in shifts, with eyes at every angle of the van. Guitar strings were re-purposed as bow strings. Picks became arrow-heads. In the icy winter cold, we patiently fashioned a grill of icicle spikes for the van, honed to razor sharp points.
By maintaining speeds of over 90 mph across icy, curving, mountain roads, we were able to stay one step ahead of those lords of Sawtooth pass, the infamous Grubner Family Band. As we swung into Victor, it was only the keen bow skills of Rich (our sound engineer, remember?) and Ryan that kept the (so the locals told us later) cannibalistic Daisy Shine and the Modern Farmers at bay.
The fortified warmth of the Knotty Pine in Victor was brief, but welcome sanctuary.
There we feasted on roasted meats. We drank heady brews and quaffed ales. We wiped our hands on our clothes. We slicked our hair back with our greasy fingers. Bones were thrown on the ground. We sang traditional songs. We toasted to foreign gods, and swore strange oaths. It was a dark, warm, cozy evening.
We should have known better.
The next morning found all of us clawing our way to consciousness through a sedative-addled fog. We were tied, back to back in pairs, surrounded by cold, brick walls in some sort of cellar? Prison? Dungeon? It was hard to tell in the dim light.
Our van keys were missing, as were our instruments, and our most identifiable articles of clothing: my large navy wool coat, Ben’s hat, Alex’s mustache.
Our confusion and disorientation was lessened, but our terror increased. when our captors made themselves known. It was none other than the Northwest’s own The Beer & Barley Brothers. Earl Barley was wearing Ben’s hat. Jervis Barley was wearing Alex’s mustache. It was abominable.
They explained their dastardly plan to us, punctuated with kicks, blows to the head, and much mockery: to steal our van, our gear and the remainder of our tour dates. They laughed as they poured gasoline all over us and the wooden flooring of the cold, cold cell that would, apparently, soon become our furnace-y tomb. They then lit a tall candle, set it in a crack in the floorboards, laughed one more terrible laugh, and left, locking the door behind them with a resounding CLANG.
We sprang into action as we watched in dread as the candle’s hot wax slowly dripped towards the gasoline-slick floor. Our eyes stung with petrol and sweat. Our salvation lay in our recent devolution to savagery, a natural side-effect of this cursed, frostbitten tour. Alex and Phil had filed their teeth to a keen edge during the tour, and in moments, they had chewed through the ropes that bound the rest of us. Joe, the first to be freed, dove towards the low-burning candle, blowing it out just as the deathly flames were about to ignite.
The nine of us threw ourselves at the iron door that stood between us and freedom. Again and again our collective weight slammed against the punishing, cold steel of that mean portal.
Bruised and bleeding and stinking of gasoline, we emerged blinking and screaming our vengeance into the snow-glare of the morning.
We were in a field. There were no landmarks in sight; no buildings, no roads, no trails. There was a herd of mean, shaggy, long-horned cattle rooting through the snow in the vague distance. There were jagged mountains all around us. There was a pair of dastardly, evil boot tracks that led to the familiar twin treads of our van vanishing into the far distance.
Using the ropes that had previously bound us, it was not long before we had wrangled, harnessed and broken 9 of the shaggy, wild cattle. With fire in our eyes and murder in our hearts, we whipped our posse of bull riders down the trail, following the twin tracks into the mountains, hot on the trail of The Barley & Beer Brothers.
We had every advantage. They thought we were dead, and we knew exactly where they would be that night. The Filling Station in Bozeman, Montana. Playing their sick masquerade, and foisting their subpar, no-talent-hack songs on the innocent and unsuspecting crowds.
We reigned up and made our plans at the outskirts of Bozeman.
The show that night was grim, bloody, and triumphant. Our posse descended on that sham concert with mighty roars and thundering hooves. Before The Barley & Beer Brothers could tell what the terrible disturbance was in their shit-show, weak-ass performance, their mandolin, fiddle, and bass players were either gored or trampled by our mighty bull-steeds.
A hush fell over the bar.
Ben and Alex Morrison strode, side by side, to the stage – steely blue eyes fixed on the Barley Brothers. The Morrison rage is a thing of legend, and the crowd of The Filling Station bore witness to its might and fury.
Our instruments were reclaimed. My jacket was back. Ben picked his hat from the broken, bloodied corpse of Earl Barley. Alex pulled his mustache off of the still, lifeless face of Jervis.
We grabbed the instruments that still lay strewn about the stage. We set our shaggy, mighty cattle free, and finished the set to much celebration.
The next day found us back in our van, back in our clothes, back on the road of our Frostbite Tour.
The story of the tenacity and brutality of The Brothers Comatose proceeded us, and we met with no more obstacles on the road to Missoula. In fact, many of the local Stringband Tribes left tributes and offerings at the rest stops along our route. We were thus feeling sated, calm, and magnanimous as we wheeled our mighty white chariot into town and to the Top Hat.
The show was grand. The crowd was wonderful. The beer was plentiful. The food and drink and carousing was just what we needed to finally wash the memory and smell of gasoline from our clothes and mind.
We were looking forward to warmer weather, and to easy travels.
Surely, the Frostbite Tour must have exhausted its store of trials and ordeals?
We would find out with the rising of the sun, and with the next day’s journey towards Spokane. West, towards the (hopeful) warmth and safety of the familiar coast.