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There was once a famous writer (I forget whom, e-mail if you know), who said about writing: “I hate writing, but I love having written.” I often feel that way about travelling, and as I faced our first gig on the road I had an habitual reluctance to leave the comforts of my home to sit in a van with two guys and drive to Madison to do a show. In the end, despite my hesitation to leave the tranquil routines of my house, I learned more doing our first road gig, then I did sitting on my couch with a box of donuts.
Six Things I Learned at My First Out-of-Town Show.
1. Bring snacks.
I ate a big breakfast, and I figured I would eat lunch before we left at 2 PM. What I did not anticipate is how much MORE stuff you have to bring when you’re doing a show out of town than when you’re doing the bar a mile a way. In the end the time I would have spent eating lunch I spent organizing gear. I was pretty happy that I had the foresight to bring some food to eat in the car. Trail mix rocks.
2. Bring a flashlight.
The show which was scheduled at Escape Java Joint ended up being an outdoor show, because the cafe itself was being remodeled. When we pulled up in front of the cafe we were greeted with a huge sign that said: “Closed for Remodeling.” Huh, we thought. Aren’t we supposed to play here? Turns out the promoter converted the outdoor patio into a stage and we played outside which was fun. The only problem was that the minuted they killed the stage lights, we had no light to see while we packed our gear.
3. Bring bug spray.
And just because you never know when you’re going to play outside, bring bug spray. “Wow,” I said to Bob, “I’ve never played so close to mulch before.”
4. Bring an extension cord.
That three-foot power strip seems long enough inside a club or bar, but it’s not nearly long enough outside.
5. Have a load-in checklist.
We learned that you have to make sure everyone in the band has their gear, and not just be concerned about yourself. Here’s why: the next morning after the gig, I get a call from Bob, the harmonica player. “Are my harmonicas in your gear?” He asked with urgency. Turns out Bob lost his harmonicas. And this is a big deal. Why? Because Bob’s harmonicas are custom harmonicas and the whole outfit including the leather case costs over $700. He thought he put them in the back of his amp but he couldn’t find them the next morning. After several phone calls to Madison, we finally decided that Bob and Brian should drive up to Madison again that day to look for the harmonicas. So, 8 hours after returning to Madison, they were heading back. Bob eventually did find them, but not in Madison. He went home again and checked the back of the amp again. They had slid under the reverb tank.
5. Bring Duct Tape.
I also learned that you can have fun on the road. We talked about music in the car, our families, and the albums that influenced as teenagers (actually, we talked about many things because Bob was producing an audio/photo montage of us for YouTube. More about that later). I learned that I can be happy on the road if I just be on the road instead of wishing I was back home. I learned that great shows start with greetings from happy dogs. I learned that we look great in the light of dusk at an outdoor show. And I learned that you can get really great thai curry at the Corner Store on Williamson Street in Madison. I’m a forty-one year-old woman who just did her very first road gig, and I learned that getting my ass out of the house to do something completely new and foreign is way more educational than sitting on the couch with a box of donuts.
Tomorrow I’m going to my first out-of-town gig with Short Punks. I’ve written before about how I’m an unlikely musician. About how I would rather be at home on the couch with a box of donuts, than at a show at 10 PM at night. I’ve written about it more than once, because in many ways it’s my greatest challenge. Overcoming the inertia of life to do something interesting with my life.
Tomorrow, I’m going out of town for a mere 20 hours, but I feel like I’ll be gone for a week and I wonder how I’ll cope. I wonder how I”ll manage without the morning meditation at the temple, or what I will do without my usual lunch of miso soup and rice, or how I will take a nap in the back of the van while Bob and Brian trade dialogue from Star Trek, Star Wars, and Battlestar Galatica.
I’m an unlikely musician. I’m a homebody, a book-lover, a cookbook collecter, and a writer. I like quiet, silence, and cats that pad softly around the apartment looking for places to lie in the sun. I’m a person who feels the richness of an empty afternoon. I’m that kind of person, and I’m going to sit in a van for six hours with two guys, and wait a couple more hours before soundcheck, so that I can do a 45 minute set. So, at moments like these I have to ask myself one question: what am I going for?
I’m going because there’s a feeling you can only get on stage, that is not reproducable anywhere else: not in a bar as a customer, not in a classroom as a teacher, not as a buddhist sitting in temple. There really is nothing like the feeling of setting up your gear on a stage whether it’s the corner of a neighborhood saloon or a space along a cafe wall. There really is nothing like the experience of communicating with others without words, of catching the ear of someone who wasn’t planning on listening.
So I’m going. I’m going to ride in the backseat of a rented minivan, headphones on my head, listening to buddhist chants, and taking notes for my memoir. I’m going to watch the flat, grassy landscape of the midwest pass by me like a green-brown sea while I wait for my 45 minutes in the dim sun of a Madison cafe. I’m going to forget about missing miso soup and snack on apples, and listen to the odd snippet of conversation from Bob and Brian when they both realize at the same time that they watched Outer Limits as kids. I’m going because despite how rich I find a quiet life, there’s something unmistakable about a noisy, messy, rocking one.