And we almost all made it. Please pour one out for Rich, our sound engineer. He died a damn hero.
But, once again, I’m ahead of myself. Here I am wallowing in the bitter release of tour’s end; drowning sorrows as I pour (again and again) one for me, and one for dear, sweet, brave Rich. While there you are, ignorant to current events. When last you heard, the outlook was rosy. The Barley brothers were dead in Bozeman, and we were through the snows and storms, and coasting our way south on Interstate 5.
Be forewarned, dear reader. There is naught but grim, brutality ahead. Such was the legacy of the Frostbite Tour.
On Friday, March 9, we were booked to return to the Tractor Tavern. It was to be the triumphant, sell-out conclusion to our first two-day run in the city that houses our favorite sandwich. We had planned a wild, slow-cooked-pork-themed gala. Cilantro, romaine and jalapeños were to be the only garments allowed. Loaves of fresh bread were to be handed out at the door. The eventuality of such a debaucherous night was sure to land most of us in jail. We cared not. Were we not the brave warriors from the West? The only stringband to survive the Rockies, the Sawtooths, the Cascades and the Sierra Nevadas? Our names were whispered in hushed tones; were intoned to bless weddings; were screamed to ward off evil. Our hubris and carelessness were growing in proportion to the raising temperatures.
Doom often portends with smoke, darkness, and fire. So it was this Friday. The cloud of crows, buzzards, and thick, evil smoke could be seen from our much-abused hotel rooms. We got in the van, a heavy stone of dread in our gullets.
The Tractor Tavern was burned.
We had left our instruments in the venue, confident that it would be safe and secure in this civilized, west coast, temperate, rainy place. We had been wrong.
The remains of guitars and banjos, my bass, the mandolin, Philip’s fiddle… all were mutilated; desecrated; abused and torn. Pieces of them had been nailed – black with flame now – to the threshold of the Tractor Tavern.
The dismembered instruments had been arranged to read: “Death Waits in Portland” and was signed in a twist of blackened, melted, meshed strings: “The Barley Brothers.”
We should have been smarter. We should have learned from their mistake, leaving us alive in their gas-soaked cellar. We should have made sure they were dead before we began to feast and frolic and forget ourselves in beer and the wild-abandon of music. We should have buried them deep beneath rock and earth and stone.
But we had slipped. And now here we were.
Rain began to fall.
The wicked fire hissed, as our clothes collected the rain, clinging to our bodies. We looked at our burned instruments, our equipment, our gear, our livelihood. Our tears were of shame, of sorrow, of rage. They mingled with the chilling rain, stinging eyes and cheeks with their frigid tracks.
It was the cold of those tears that galvanized us; that finally brought us together. We harnessing the cold; the power of the Frostbite tour. We soaked in its chill, implacable might. We absorbed the intractable cold; the merciless bite of the stinging rain as we watched our show and instruments and dreams burn. We had forgotten our brotherhood in the success of shows, and the bright lights of the stage. Each of us had taken up our own room at the hotel, and treated it like our own kingdom, with subjects, servants, and fickle laws. We had splintered. We had become a house divided, and we had fallen.
Death waited, so they claimed, in Portland.
We huddled there in the rain, arms draped over shoulders. We made a vow. Our blood was shared and we became a brotherhood once more. “No mercy,” we said with one voice, the ice of the Frostbite Tour in our veins.
We took stock of our resources. Our van, ourselves, our wet clothes, and whatever cash we had on our persons. Our wallets had been in the fire, as had the merchandise and collected monies and tributes from the tour.
Together, we had $208.00, and enough gas to get to Portland.
I needed coffee, so that left us with $205.00 and enough gas to get to Portland, minus the drive to the coffee shop.
We couldn’t afford to re-equip our band at any legitimate music store given our meager resources. We would have to turn to the streets. Luckily, from his time as the front man of What A Strangled Web We Weave, Tour Manager Joe had serious connections and reputation in the Seattle musical black market.
For $200.00 (keeping $5 for coffee, round 2) we went with the only option available. We loaded our van with our much-used gear: A drum set, enough amplification to fill a small stadium, and an array of shitty but serviceable electric guitars, basses. We would not be a stringband in Portland. We would be fucking metal. And our heaviness would decimate our enemies. Such was the decree of the Frostbite Tour’s will.
We did not speak for the 4 hour drive through blinding rain south to Portland. Each of us was making peace with the dark gods of touring, of winter, of fate. We were preparing to kill or be killed.
The bridge over the Columbia River was desolate. Our van drove alone into the city that would be our doom or our triumph.
Without phones or maps, we may not have found the venue, save that The Barley Brothers had prepared a welcome for us. Once again, we had only to follow the billowing clouds of smoke and the stench of death to find what should have been our venue for the night.
The rain pounded down, but could not quench the raging inferno that had been Revolution Hall. Silhouetted before the flames were 7 figures. The ridiculously tall hats of Earl and Jervis Barley, their band, their tour manager, and their sound engineer. In the flicker of fire and occasional bursts of lightening we could see their scarred and ravaged faces.
A crowd gathered around the venue; ticket holders that had come for the show, but were now transfixed by the spectacle unfolding before them.
No one spoke. No one moved.
Then Earl threw a banjo. It soared through the dark space between us, crashing at our feet, it’s neck shattering, it’s body shuddering in a last, twangy spasm. The international challenge for a Battle by Music. To the death. The proverbial gauntlet had been dropped.
With a collective nod, we accepted the challenge.
They had, once again, underestimated The Brothers Comatose. There they stood, framed in flames, cocky with their stupid hats, and their new and sparkling stringed instruments, assuming us to be string-less, song-less, and sound-less.
They took their positions, and beckoned for us to do likewise.
We threw the back doors of the van open in slow motion. Water droplets spraying out in an arc, as the light from within shone into the storming night, casting reflected rainbows into the eyes of the startled – then terrified – Barley Brothers. We began to assemble our arsenal. Amps stacked upon amps, cords lying in puddles, rain soaking into our electrical barrage. The drums stood on a platform of pallets and flaming boards salvaged from the building. The jaws of the Beer & Barley Brothers dropped when we took our positions – our low slung, low tuned pawn-shop reject instruments already screaming with feedback and rage.
The crowd of ticket holders, concerned neighbors, and curious passersby was huge and thick, and they pressed forward to watch the battle begin.
The Barley brothers – according to tradition as the instigators of the challenge – played first. They limped into their signature song: “Whiskey with my Whiskey”. It was redundant, regurgitated, un-inspired, and pathetic. It was the mediocrity that was the most painful. Waves of pain flowed through us. We doubled over at the chorus; at the clear musical theft of our musical heroes. I spewed my guts out… heaving and writhing. The perfect banality of their music was deadly. Poor Rich. Poor, poor, brave Rich. He saw that we were all near to death; saw Joe unconscious, Ben and Ryan cowering and whimpering, Philip wailing as – blinded – he flailed against the sound; myself in the fetal position, shaking and heaving. He threw himself between us and the Barley Brothers’ last triple chorus. The forgettable, imitative shit-music tore him to shreds. We screamed as we watched him be rent asunder. He turned to us, and with his last, icy breath, croaked, “No…. mercy….”. And then, he was gone.
Their song was done. We pulled ourselves to our hands and knees… and then to our feet. Rich had sacrificed himself, and we would not let his death be in vain. We wiped our mouths, ignored the searing, screaming pain. We let the frigid rain pour over our wounds. We let the icy chill numb our grief. We turned that shit all the way up.
We began to play.
We crushed them with our metal. The sonic force of our sludge-driven-vengeance tore through them, knocking them off their feet. We did not relent. The slow, churning dirge assaulted them, driving them back; back into the flames. They screamed as they were swept into the white rage of the inferno they themselves had lit. We played on. There was no mercy in our metal. We played harder and heavier. The flames roared as they feasted on their new, human fuel. Our ears and fingers bled, the pavement under our feet cracked and caved, but we would not stop. “No Mercy,” Rich had said.
And so it was.
Time passed in the thick swirl of our deafening song.
Dawn cracked the sky, and the storm abated.
And then we stopped.
We stood in the center of a smoldering crater. The Revolution hall was reduced to ashes, as were the Beer & Barley Brothers.
There was complete silence.
The crowd began to disperse.
We dropped the instruments on the ground.
We took Rich’s remains into the field beyond the hall and, with our bare hands in the rain-softened earth, we buried him.
In that same field we saw our merchandise case, finding our money within – obviously stolen by the recently deceased Barley Brothers (God rest their souls).
We had money to drive home.
We had our van.
We had our lives.
A light, gentle rain washed us clean of blood, dirt, and death. The last cold dawn of The Frostbite tour cleared its cloudy skies and, as we loaded into the van, the sun broke out on Portland Oregon.
It continued to shine on the van as it drove south, headed to the sun and warmth of California.
We have been home for two days now.
When people ask me how the tour was, I say “it was fine,” or “good.” If they ask me what happened to my right hand, noticing the missing fingers; if they ask where the scar on my cheek came from; if they ask about the bloodied strip of Rich’s T-shirt I wear around my left arm… I just look at them. And there, deep in my eyes, they see a reflection of the cold, the dark, the ice, the death, and the blood of the Frostbite Tour.
They shudder… sometimes they lay a hand gently on my shoulder. Sometimes they weep.
Always, they walk away – dazed by the lingering might of the Frostbite Tour, 2017.
It is over, but it will never be gone.
Our Winter’s Tale continues, dear reader.
We had reclaimed our van from the villainous Barley Brothers (as well as my woolen peacoat, Ben’s hat, Alex’s mustache, our dignity, our lives, and our razor-keen survival instincts).
There we were driving, again, the long, mountainous roads of the Northwest. For the first time in 10 days, our road was pointed West. West! We clapped each other on the back. We carried on like soldiers called home from the front lines. West towards sea level; towards gentle climates and refined civilization; west towards home!
And what was this sweet pitter patter we did hear upon our van’s roof as we hurtled down the interstate? Was that… rain? Oh sweet un-frozen, soft, warm(er) rain! We pulled the van over, rushing out to let the rain fall in our faces, to gather it in our hands. We soaked ourselves in rain and hope.
It was a very foolish thing to do.
The roadsides were still frozen – snow lay thick all around us. Our clothes were sopping. We began to shake and shiver on that bleak roadside, coming back to our wits too late to save our clothes, but just in time to save our skins. We crowded back into the van and raided the band merchandise, layering ourselves in our own shirts, wearing baseball-ts as our only option for pants. We huddled around the heater vents and felt our hearts sink as the rain turned to hail and snow.
The curse of the Frostbite Tour had followed us West.
The roads of Spokane looked like a frozen, industrial ghost town. Groups could be seen beneath overpasses, huddled around glowing barrels. The streets were all but deserted. We did not have high hopes for our show that night.
The show was sold out… though not for the reasons a touring band would hope.
The people fought and clawed their way to get in. They threw themselves at our feet, begging for help of the (now) legendary killers of the Barley Brothers. We could not get through a song, but we were interrupted by supplications, indecent proposals, and wringing hands, begging us to intercede on their behalf.
We looked at each other. We put our instruments down and held council from the stage. The situation was dire, from what we could understand. A tyrannical rule of bandits, highwaymen and other unsavories held the town in their filthy, amoral grip. The people asked us for help.
What could we do?
The next day, the 8 of us (Pat had stayed back in Missoula, where he bought a farm and tractor) laid waste to the hordes of surprised, complacent ruffians of Spokane. They had taken up residence in the town hall, and the more luxurious hotels of the downtown area. It was all a blur of berserker, blood-lust fury, and I remember only frozen images and moments: The look of cool, calm, precision as Alex smote about him with his banjo; tour manager Joe defeating their chief in single hand-to-hand combat; Ryan screaming into my gore-speckled face “What’s happened to us?!”
In the frenzied, celebratory aftermath, we allowed the people of Spokane to throw us a parade. It was joyous, filled with everything a good party and parade ought to have… it was only marred by the snow that fell. Steadily. Coldly. Mockingly, even.
We headed for Prosser, Washington the next day. (Photographer Mike stayed in Spokane, vowing to protect the people he had come to love for the rest of his days. We were now only 7.) The road bent west, but the dark clouds and chill air froze our hopes and westward joys.
Hearing of our savagery, of how a once righteous and peaceful string band had become a vengeful tribe of killers on the Western Plains… the people of Prosser kept their distance. They did not want trouble in their peaceful town, and it seemed that trouble was riding our van like a white, hell-bent stallion.
We were payed to not play. They asked us (politely, from behind their collected rifles and shotguns) to continue on our way after securing promises that we would not get out of the van, or stop moving until we had crossed the county line.
Without a place to lay our heads, to re-group and re-stock our supplies, we quickly took a turn for the worse. As our van climbed out of the high desert of Eastern Washington into the yet-higher frigid crags of the Cascades, Ben came down with scarlet fever. Phil: dysentary. Joe and Alex were burning tour posters in the back seat, buried under sleeping bags and blankets, trying to shake the cold from their bones. Ryan and I were tearing up the faux-leather seat upholstery, mistakenly thinking it had nutritional value. Only Rich seemed unaffected, and he piloted our van through the blizzards, sleet, and ice-slick roads towards Bellingham.
The band nearly died on the summit. Rich, bless his heart, had been driving all night. His strength was gone, and the roads were blocked. The rest of us were moaning, groaning shadows… half crossed over to That Good Night.
Were it not for The Rainbow Girls and their van, Snoqualmie Pass would have been our collective grave.
Instead, the bold and intrepid heroines harnessed us to their touring chariot, commandeered a massive snow plow, and in a caravan of steel and will and determination…
We crossed the mountains.
While many of us may have needed serious and immediate medical attention, there was a show to play. Thus we arrived at The Green Frog in Bellingham. We may not have been strong enough to “play our instruments” or “sing coherent words and phrases,” but we gave it all that we had.
The night was spent convalescing in a lake-side retreat thanks to the kind mercies of some wonderful Bellinghamians. I was in a fever-ridden fog, but I do recall falling asleep to the gentle sound of rain… sweet, liquid rain, and thinking.. we made it West… west……
Still weak, still feverish, still on the brink of madness and collapse, we hurtled towards Seattle through the pounding (but not frozen) rain.
There was only one place that held the restorative powers that could make us whole again. Only one place that could pull us from the depths of calamity and despair, and make us right again.
Like a crazed and starved prow of a bulldozer, we barged our way to that magical place. We feasted on sandwiches the likes of which the outside world does not know. It cured us. It put love into our hearts. It opened our eyes, the scales fell away, and we saw the beauty around us, and the miracle that is each moment of life. We wiped grilled onions and aioli from each others mouths, giggling and frolicking like new-born spirits of goodness and light.
We were back.
We held court that night at the Tractor Tavern. We wept and laughed at the music of The Rainbow Girls. We thrashed and wailed to the crushings of Hillstomp. Our bodies, minds and souls were in equilibrium. We had acquired the musical Triforce. We were playing our songs for Seattle, and all was right in heaven and on earth.
Completely drained from the day, from the previous days, from the entirety of our Frostbitten misadventures, we dragged ourselves to our hotel beds. There were no more worries. We had only two shows to play on the mild and temperate west coast – our two homes away from home: Seattle (again) and Portland.
Nothing could go wrong. No more evil (we thought) could thwart us. No villain would dare to assault our triumvirate of Rock.
The Frostbite Tour would bite us no more…. so we thought….
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.
The Frostbite tour continues to exact its brutal toll upon our bodies and psyches.
We had 2 shows to play at Winter Wondergrass on this last Saturday. We were turned away at the gates by an armed security detail. Our bonfire of the day before had not, apparantly, been met with good humor by the festival staff. Being resourceful, we found our good friends in the band Cabinet. Using their natural generosity and good-will to our dastardly benefit, we rendered them unconscious with chloroform, disguised ourselves in their clothing, and made our way back into the festival unmolested.
Our sets were rowdy, raucous, and very confusing to fans of either The Brothers Comatose or Cabinet.
We ate all we could of the backstage hospitality food, wrapped what we couldn’t in the tablecloth that it had been set upon, and with wild eyes and ear-splitting whoops, we made our naked dash (our full bellies gave us pangs of conscience, and we gave the good lads of Cabinet back their clothes) back to the van.
In all of the high-speed-Steamboat-Springs-Police-chasing adrenaline that followed, we didn’t realize that our own clothing was also left strewn across the festival grounds.
We needed clothes, and shelter. (Food, thanks to our soggy tablecloth full of grub, was in great supply.)
We sheltered that night in an abandoned condominium. We stitched great robes out of their curtains and sheets. We tore the upholstery off the couches to make our footwear.
Thusly attired, we drove the snow-blown roads over rocky mountain passes to the quaint, tasteful, refined and upscale town of Crested Butte.
We were met with dropped jaws, wide eyes, and frightened screams. Our gravy-smeared faces (for we had feasted on our tablecloth spoils all the live-long drive) and strange raiment must have unnerved the locals, for they gave us a wide berth. Sadly, stores pulled the window shades down and locked their doors at our approach. Our attempts to find new clothes, food or lodging were thwarted.
Without lodging, suitable clothing, or a new supply of food and water, we would not last long in that high-altitude, eternally snowing, unforgiving land.
Joe reminded us that friends of ours from Florida had come to this frostbitten alpine place for the weekend. They had even invited us (ha!) over for dinner. How foolish of them! We, however, collectively leapt at the opportunity. We made sure to wipe all foam from our mouths and clean our beards before we approached their warmly-lit palatial estate.
Not surprisingly, they did not believe that the bedraggled, curtain-bedecked, frostbitten travelers were, in actuality, the Brothers Comatose. It wasn’t until Ben and Alex sang “Brothers,” shivering on their doorstep that they put away the shotgun, and opened the door wide to our savagery. Oh sweet warmth! Oh, how the wine and beer and whiskey did flow! Oh, the feasting that was feasted! Our Floridian friends watched us from behind the solid, granite counters of the fortified kitchen.
We woke the next day in a great pile of curtains, pasta sauce, cookies and blankets in front of the great fireplace in the main room of our host’s home. Someone, during the night had covered us with blankets. Clothes were laid out for us – in our sizes, in our own inimitable styles.
We scrawled a thank you on the wall with the remnants of the Tomato Sauce, and headed towards Crested Butte with vigor and confidence.
In our new clothes, with full bellies, we had our way about the town. No whiskey was too expensive. No earthly delight would be denied us. We made real estate deals. We ran for office. The police was ours to control. The seedy underbelly of Crested Butte yielded unto us its black pearls of iniquity.
The show that night was played in a haze of power, lust, excess and wild extravagance. Ben was carried to the stage on a litter born by the local high school football team. Phil played the entire set being fanned on a divan whilst eating grapes. Decrees were made. Proclamations were proclaimed. Again, we drank deep of that heady liquor that is a great, rowdy crowd at a show far from home. It intoxicated us.
In the great white blanket of that late night/early morning snow-blizzard, still drunk on the vapors of a raucous show, we lost our way. The night was spent huddling close for warmth in the van; drinking the remaining whiskey in turns to try and stay warm; drawing straws should one of us need to be eaten.
Dawn broke just as Phil was being prepared for his noble sacrifice.
He was spared – the sun shone, and the way was clear. We drove, dear reader. We drove to outrun the bitter snow; the wicked cold; the frostbite that threatened both body and soul.
After two days, we arrived in Boise.
What do I recall of these two days? Very little.
Only that now we were 8 people in the van. Where did Pat come from? How did he become a fixture in the back seat? Did anyone know him? Did he, as he repeated incessantly, truly have our best interests at heart? Only time would tell. The odometer proved we had traveled far, and the frigid mountains now loomed in our rearview mirror. I couldn’t explain the tattoo, the recent credit card purchases or the new passenger… but we were safe from Old Man Winter…. for now.
The snow, for the present had been left on the mountain tops. Boise was cold, but dry and clear. The people were loud and triumphant and incredible and boisterous. We loved them, and they loved us. In a hazily-remembered fog, I can recall a key to the city being accepted, Ben donning a leather glove and calling a Peregrine falcon to his wrist, and a flow of fine ale that seemed like the mighty Mississippi in the years of the great floods.
It is now night.
We are warm. We are alive. We are clothed.
Tomorrow we rise early to, again, summit the highest of peaks – this time towards Victor, Idaho. Will our good fortune last? Will our supplies hold? Who is Pat? Will the Frostbite tour overcome our noble heroes?
I vow to report and relate all just as it occurs, dear reader.
In the meantime, wish us warmth, luck, and clear roads.
We got in the big white van on Wednesday afternoon to begin our Frostbite tour. It started as a clever name. It is now legitimate. I have lost most of the fingers of my right hand due to frostbite. Alex’s mustache has broken off. Ben lost his left foot, Ryan lost the tip of his nose and one of his ears. Phil seems unaffected. I am typing this laboriously with my left hand and the thumb of my right hand.
But, I am ahead of myself. Let me, laboriously and painfully, type away to bring you up to speed.
When we left Wednesday, it was from sunny, mild, never-snowing Northern California. When we stopped driving after just short of forever, it was freezing, we were in Wendover, Nevada, and most of our rations were gone. Tour manager Joe went out into the bleak white wastelands to hunt for supplies. We begged him not to go, but in our weakened, frigid state, we were easily overcome.
Thursday morning, we drove to Salt Lake City. On the way we found Joe. He had pulled a Hoth, and was sheltered in the belly of a cow carcass to avoid freezing. He now only eats his meat raw, and (if you catch him out of the corner of your eye) can be seen eyeing us hungrily when (seemingly) unobserved.
In Salt Lake City we picked up our sound engineer, Rich, and were able to replenish our supplies at the rustic outpost, Whole Foods. Thinking the worst was behind us, we had a debaucherous sold out show at The State Room. We became complacent, ate through our supplies once again, and collapsed in an exhausted, spent heap sometime in the wee hours of the morning, Friday.
Before the dawn we were roused by Joe, (now wearing the pelt of the cow he had slaughtered). He raved about storms, Thor, the ice gods, and an early festival load in. We shambled to the van. It wasn’t until we were well down the icy, snow-covered, endless mountain roads that we realized we left our warm blankets, jackets and hard rations behind. There was no time to go back, and the ferocious blizzard that came roaring ever-closer behind us did not allow us to turn around and reclaim the precious cargo.
Thusly we arrived in Steamboat Springs for Winter Wondergrass on Friday. Thusly we did throw ourselves on the bagel buffet backstage, causing the other guests and bands to recoil in horror as they watched our wild-eyed, ferocious orgy of near-starvation, half-frozen hunger. We played that afternoon on the main stage. With our warm garments carelessly left behind, we did our best to stay warm. We set the house drum kit ablaze on the outdoor stage, and huddled around the flames as we played, trying to keep the piercing, stinging chill out of our bones.
By the end of the set, the fire department was putting out the enormous blaze we had built and fanned, and the paramedics were taking us away to be treated for hypothermia and frostbite.
We were not scheduled to be released for several days, and so Joe and Rich, posing as doctors, had to spring us from the hospital that night so that we might still make our late-night after-party set at Shmiggity’s (I did not make up that name).
In a feverish daze of hospital drugs, beer, and lack of oxygen (due to our hospital respirators being disconnected, and the extreme elevation), we played a set that can only be described as ‘savage,’ ‘unforgettable,’ and ‘a clear prelude to madness.’
Late that night, once the revelers had all gone, we packed up into our van to rush – just ahead of the now on-the-alert hospital authorities – back to our cabin for the night.
The plush amenities there defied our senses which had, by this time, lapsed into pre-historic patterns of survival. We devoured frozen pizzas without warming them. We wrapped ourselves in towels. I slept in the bathtub.
Morning has brought with it a return to our pained and (for some) limb-less senses. The Frostbite tour stretches out before us, with forays beyond great mountain passes, long stretches of frozen tundra, and storms attacking us along every route.
We are planning a shamanic ritual tonight to appease the storm gods and, if we are crafty and cunning enough, we should be able to make off with some warm outer wear left carelessly in a backstage or well-heated beer tent as we make our way back to Winter Wondergrass for our two sets today.
Wish us luck.
Send us supplies, or – if you are planning to meet us at one of the shows, just bring them with you. We are in need of citrus (to ward off the scurvy) and raw meat (for Joe).
See you out there on the cold, cold road.
We were driving home from Sacramento last night at some ungodly hour, and I was remarking to Ben all the things I should write down for our tour stops, so as to not make the same terrible mistakes time after time at the same places. Terrible mistakes. About carnitas. I was thinking – make a note in my phone; record a quick voice memo; scratch it out in a journal? …
And then Ben said: “use the blog.” He’s so wise! I think it’s the hat.
So – here’s a blog post that isn’t exactly a Coffee report, though coffee will be reported on. It’s a note to myself so that I can know better how to navigate Chico and Sacramento in those two most important aspects of touring: food & coffee.
Notes to self: Dear Gio,
Chico crowds are party crowds: take naps before Chico shows, and be prepared for anything. Anything.
Naked Lounge in Chico has awesome coffee and – on Saturday mornings – a record swap / live DJ. Perfect.
Don’t eat Chicken Tikka Masala before shows ever again.
At La Fiesta Taqueria in Sacramento, dear Gio, you always order pastor, chicken and carnitas tacos, because you can’t remember which of them you like. You like the pastor and the chicken. Stop ordering their carnitas.
…on a related note: the carnitas at Gordo’s taco truck in Chico is (are?) awesome. Order carnitas there.
Old Soul coffee in Sacramento is an Emperor’s New Clothes coffee shop. You don’t like their coffee or their roasting philosophy… or their idea that one barrista is enough barristas to both take orders and make orders. If you ever go back there, bring your sandwich board, pamphlets, and megaphone and do your Dark Roast Evangelizing in front of their misguided shop.**
The people at Fieldwork brewery are awesome. Give them lots of high fives.
**I get that some people like the light roast stuff. But some of us like earthy, roasty-toasty, salt-of-the-earth, make-me-feel-something-in-my-soul coffee. Some people like to read lots of historical fiction – or non-fiction best sellers. If I opened a bookstore, I would stock those books – even though I don’t read them. But I would also stock the books I like. Right? Can’t we have both? Oh, light roast coffee shops, why must we be such bitter (ha!) enemies??
We left on Thursday morning at 8am to get to San Luis Obispo. This was OK, because leaving from home means that I can drink my at-home, stove-top espresso percolator (AKA Mucca pot, AKA Bialetti 6 cup, AKA ‘Chester’) with the fresh-ground Hardcore Coffee (in Sebastopol right off 116 – best espresso in the county!) espresso beans. Add half and half.
The drive was eternal and consisted of a (… start sad, shameful music here) Starbucks stop somewhere outside of Gilroy. I’m a huge opponent of the chain – both it’s business practice of setting up shop right next to the local folk, and their bad espresso. But they have saved our entire band from bloodshed and mayhem countless times with their omnipresence and accessible caffeine even on the most remote roads of tour-dom. (…and… end music.)
SLO is a great place to play – especially when you are at the Fremont Theater. Yes, the theater is beautiful and the crowd was amazing and fantastic. But – very importantly – the theater is across the street from BlackHorse Espresso & Bakery. Tasty, and local. It was necessary to wash the taste of evil out of my mouth. It was good… but it was hedging a bit towards the light side of roasting… and you all know how I feel about that, dear reader. Let’s not belabor the point.
From SLO we headed down the coast for a show (the first of two) opening up for our buddies in ALO. Their LA show was at the Troubadour and I love that place. Also, those ALO guys are consummate gentlemen, and kick-ass musicians. It was a joy to be on tour with them. But, I digress. Conveniently, just around the corner from The Troubadour, is a wonderful little bar/cafe/bakery called La Conversation. The service was delightful and it was – by a wide margin – the most delicious, dark, roasty, perfect espresso of the trip. We’re headed back to The Troubadour in June (sources say), and I’m already looking forward to the coffee.
The show was also heaps of fun.
That night we drove to San Clemente to begin a 2 night stay at La Casa di Zolg. Our friends, Denise and Mike, are generous and amazing to the point of unbelievability. 8 people total in our band and crew, and we were in the lap of delicious luxury for two days. Leaving San Clemente is the worst decision that this band makes consistently, year after year. You’d think we’d learn.
2 espressos (or, to be italian and correct, espressi) were had in San Clemente. The first at my old stomping ground, Zebra House Coffee. It’s a damn fine espresso they serve there. The big to-do around town, however, was this North Coast espresso house that opened up right on the beach: Bear Coast Coffee. The new shop just won the annual “best-of” competition. I tried it. It was good, but depressing. The North Bay is now exporting this mistaken approach to coffee roasting… and people are buying into it! Noooooo! We need an international espresso intervention team to come in from Australia and get us back on track. I think that the ultra-hipster decor (bare wood, chrome, exposed beams and pipes, minimal everything) creates this Emperor’s New Clothes mentality in people. It’s not better espresso, but the decor hip-timidates people into thinking they must just not have ‘good taste’. I believe the same insidious mentality is at work in music as well… but that’s for a different report. To conclude – the new coffee shop was like seeing Acre Coffee (the hip new Petaluma chain, where I live) or Four Barrel (from the Mission in SF) in San Clemente. It was good – but not better.
We played The Belly Up in Solano Beach on Saturday night, again opening up for ALO. What a great venue… and another lovely local espresso shack across the street: Lofty Coffee. Had some great musical conversations with the excellent staff there… too much water in my “Gio,” but I blame myself for distracting the staff with my excited chit-chat about bands, shows, and Australia. (My actual mission in life is to have a coffee drink named after me: 2 shots of espresso with just about an inch of hot water – a very, very short – or, as I like to say, baby – americano, which will be called, throughout the world, a “Gio”. Pass it on. Help me achieve my dreams.*) Anyway, Michael (barista and keyboard player) – hope the new band works out, and you should send me a demo. Soul-Music meets Queens of the Stone Age was how he described it. No wonder I wasn’t paying attention. He was speaking to my hopes and dreams.
We drove home Sunday… all day. My first coffee of the day was ~gasp~ drip coffee. No morning espresso. Such is the magic of the Zolgs and their hospitality. Their drip coffee was exquisite and wonderful.
The whole band re-upped on caffeine somewhere in Valencia, at a Whole Foods. This is utilitarian – like a Starbucks stop. I may as well start telling you about pee stops.
We’re home now, I’m back with my Hardcore beans and Chester. I’m happy. The kids and Jenny are great, we’re getting ready to head to Chico and Sacramento. “Where to get espresso there?” and “will it be dark and roasty and delicious?” are the pre-tour questions I ask.
If you have any hot tips – let me know.
*The espresso drink, The Gio, is a drink that belongs to Molly – the owner of Hardcore Coffee in Sebastopol. It’s her drink, and at Hardcore, it is named after her. She introduced me to it, and I love her for it. I am actively trying to claim naming rights nationally, which is a bit dastardly. But it does protect you from ordering a Molly at an espresso shop, and having the EDM-experienced barista give you a hard, hard look and ask you in a low voice, “what did you say?”**
**This has happened.
The Coffee Report – Jan 20-28, 2017
When you have to get up at 3:45am to catch the airporter, it is advisable not to drink coffee so as to more effectively pass out on the bus.
This I did, good reader. And pass out on the bus I also did.
Having to be awake and functional from 6-8am the morning of our flight out was difficult: trying to focus on not losing my ID, getting my bass checked to Miami, finding gates – all of these things were made difficult by my lack of caffeine and consequent wooziness and disinterest in life and everything in the waking world.
It was, however, important to NOT drink coffee, so as to more effectively pass out on the plane.
And pass out on the plane I also did. Thank God.
The first coffee of the tour was half spilled all over my carry-on bag from my thermos. I can’t seem to find a way to not spill water bottles on planes. Tips are welcome. It was not warm, and it was not terribly delicious, but it was espresso with a little bit of (at one time) hot water and cream, and I felt clever for having thought so far ahead… less clever because my bag was rather soaked in espresso… but still. Pretty clever, right?
Here was the fear. The fear was that Jam Cruise would be rife with coffee but – terrifyingly – absent of espresso. I had hope, however, that the decadence, gluttony and sheer debauchery that seems inherent in a cruise ship would somehow – please – include an espresso bar.
Folks, it did.
One floor below my cabin, a pleasant mid-ship stroll away, there was espresso.
And it was good.
The first day the coffee schedule was a normal, diurnal human’s coffee schedule. I went to bed… late. As Jam Cruise continued, the coffee scheduled shifted as did the normal hours of activity. Jam Cruise – whether you do copious amounts of drugs or not – will transform you into a nocturnal dance-fiend. It is foolish to resist, so I didn’t. I hauled my bass around, jammed when I could, slept when I could, and ended up on a solid two wake-up/shower/coffees-per-day routine – one around noon, one around 8pm.
Getting off the boat was both liberating and an exhausting reality-crash.
We had a day and a half to drive from Miami to Charlotte, NC. We were back on the mainland, and back in the fickle world of yelp/internet-search coffee stops. Happily, my espresso dependence is recognized by the band (mainly because they don’t like to be on tour with the version of me that hasn’t had espresso), and so these road-side stops are not only tolerated, but encouraged.
Whole Foods is a regular stop: everyone can get a breakfast/lunch/dinner of their preference, there’s coffee and espresso, and – even though we spend exorbitant amounts of money for our granola-crunchy-kale&beet-leafy-help-me-digest-food-please food choices – we all leave happy (ish).
But, Whole Foods espresso is not something to write home about. Nor is Jam Cruise espresso. They are stop-gap measures to prevent the cranky-crankerton beast that is Gio-Without-Espresso from rearing his ugly, cantankerous head.
The first local espresso we had was in Savannah, after an amazingly hospitable stay at Casa Di Quattlebaum – the childhood home of our good buddy Austin Quattlebaum from Crow & The Canyon.
The espresso of the day was from Coffee Fox. The place was like many of your modern-day, hip local coffee roaster joints of which I am a strong proponent. However, it had fallen victim to a current localcoffeesmallroaster trend of which I am a huge opponent: the light roast. Folks these days like to roast the coffee just enough to brown it. It stays very flavorful on the high end, has lots of acidic bite… I guess some folks are into that. But not this bass player. I need something deep, full, dark, and roasty in order to fully satisfy those crucial, euphoric parts of my bassy-espresso-loving soul.
The espresso of Coffee Fox was too light, folks. The people working there were awesome and kind and wonderful, but the espresso was too. damn. light.
Happily, even when the espresso is too. damn. light. It still calms the savage beast. The drive to Charlotte could continue.
When we got to the venue I headed over for the traditional afternoon cup of espresso at Earl’s Grocery in Charlotte, right next to the Visulite theater. Excellent, beautiful, dark, full-bodied, roasted, full-flavored espresso. It was excellent.
So excellent that we went back the next morning.
I was a happy boy twice over.
(I am glossing over the part in the tour where we have – at this point – met up with The Infamous Stringdusters to open 3 dates for them. They are awesome guys, fantastic players, and their shows are incredible. But this is not the “Awesome Bands Report. This is the Coffee Report. So let me get back to it.)
The next day’s drive would be an epic 7 hour journey to Washington DC to the 9:30 club. Whenever we approach DC, I listen to Fugazi, one my favorite bands of all time ever. Their bassist, Joe Lally is one of my all time favorites – I grew up learning his lines and loving his playing. Remember this, as it will be important in about 2 paragraphs.
The theater was amazing… and so was the coffee a mere block and a half away at Compass Coffee. They got it right. Best espresso of the trip thus far. I attribute it to the magic of Fugazi, still at work on the streets of DC all these years later.
I asked the people at the theater about Fugazi. Gus, the front of house engineer (that’s the guy that makes sure the sound coming to the audience is groovy and perfect, for those of you wondering. If you want to have good show manners, next time a show sounds great, let your local front of house guy know. They work their asses off.) said that Joe Lally (remember? My favorite bassist from Fugazi? I told you to remember.) still came around every once in a while. I asked Gus if I could leave a love note for Joe, and Gus said he would deliver it for me. So I got to write a teeny-bopper style thank you note to one of my earliest influences, bass teachers, and inspirations. It was awesome.
Today we woke up and headed to breakfast and coffee at Busboys and Poets* in DC. The espresso (cappuccino this morning, actually) was good. Spectacular? Not really. But good. So now I’m well-caffeinated, needing to pee, sitting in the van as we drive to Philly.
We’ll be staying with uncle Pierre in Philly.
Best perk of staying with Uncle Pierre? He has an espresso machine built into his fridge.
*Bonus about Busboys and Poets – it doubles as a bookstore, and I had read all the books I’d brought for this tour. But – again – this is The Coffee Report. The Band Book Report will have to wait.
It’s been a lot of days and a lot of shows since the last little tour update. Many espressos were consumed. Many shows were played. I’m in a very… unique motel in Bellingham right now. We’ll cross the border and head into Canada tomorrow (can you say International Touring Band??!!).
So – I’ll try and encapsulate the missing week here in one post. Sorry for the brevity and the lack of photos (I’m sooo bad at taking those photos) – I’ll make up for it with detailed descriptions of what I ate and enthusiasm for the metal versions of Brothers Comatose songs I’ve been working on in the van.
After Prosser we played Spokane. Spokane is always a great time – ever since the good ‘ol Neato Burrito days. (Speaking of which, we stopped there for lunch before show time. Never disappoints!)
After Spokane we drove an hour and change to get to Cliff & Sharon’s. Cliff is the man that motivated the first ever Brothers Comatose tour waaaaay back in 2010 (2009? I can’t really remember). He booked us in Idaho, and we connected the rest of the dots in our old Red Chevy G20 Van, and thus was the touring life begun. We spent the next day lounging around Cliff and Sharon’s house, eating their food, sleeping, reading their books, and generally recovering our juju and mojo.
The next day we headed to Bozeman, Montana and the Filling Station. The show there was great as usual. That place adds a roadhouse spark to the music that must be some sort of magic generated by all the old beer cans and license plates hanging around the place.
Thursday brought us to Missoula and the Top Hat. Missoula crowds are some of the greatest, loudest, most kickass crowds you can ask for. We got a double encore that night. Double! It may have happened to us before, but I couldn’t tell you when. Boston from Bozeman made the trek to Missoula, and made us a kickass belt buckle. I laid claim to it. It’s got a skull on it, and it helps me write chunky metal riffs.
Friday brought the band and van into Victor, Idaho and the Knotty Pine. The night was raucous and loud with a bachelorette party in full swing. Penis hats were sighted. Barbecue was eaten. Good times were had.
Saturday was in Boise at the Neurolux. The show was a sold out, packed house, get-down extravaganza. Boise has been so sweet and good to us, and the show there was so damn fun. My amazing wife flew out to Boise on Friday with a friend to meet up with yet another friend. They had their reunion party times, and then Jenny and I got to see each other on Saturday. I finally had a dance partner for the Easy Leaves set. Makes these last 7 days away from home not quite so hard to bear.
Sunday saw us rolling into the distant land of Enterprise, Oregon. Home of the OK Theater, Darrell, Bart, and a huge host of good and generous people. The show there was a town potluck, and folks all showed up bearing delicious home cooking. I can’t over emphasize the powers of home cooking on the touring musician. It breathes life into the body. The show there was great with lots of guests coming up to sing and play.
Today is Monday, and we drove and drove and drove today. The Canada border crossing looms tomorrow, and we’ll play Vancouver tomorrow night.
Thanks for checking in for the tour log. I’ll try and get things a little more up to date in the future!
Guess where I am right now.
Did you guess in a van??
If you did, you’re right.
Last update was right before the Eugene show. Sam Bond’s was a good time – thanks to all of our friends and Eugenian fans who came out to get rowdy with us!
We stayed at a cheap motel right around the corner from Greek row… which was interesting.
Got up, had coffee and made the gorgeous drive to Sisters, Oregon. The show last night was a sell out party with some of the most earth-shaking crowd stomping I’ve ever experienced. It was a damn good time in a beautiful place. Thanks, Sisters. Also – Angeline treated us to breakfast in the bakery the next morning.
Good coffee, delicious food… I love those two things. It makes touring and these long-ass drives in the van worth it.
We’re headed for Prosser, Washington right now and I really have to pee. So – I’m cutting this little tour update short here because it looks like we’re pulling off in to a nice little wooded turnout.
lots of driving, some tacos, and finally getting to internet in Prosser, WA)
Here we are in Prosser, Washington, home of Brewminatti’s – a fine establishment for coffee, music, food and beverages. It’s a sold out show (woo woo!) and the barista here is gorgeous…
The coffee is made with precision and love as well – have I mentioned the barista?
Had delicious tacos across the street, and are now getting ready for some sound checking.
All is well and good in the world of well-caffeinated bass players.