Mid-Atlantic Tour with Martin Bisi
I leave my bucolic patio, and wait for the guys at Mulberry & Canal, eating a little sandwich I made of salami, basil, mayo, red leaf lettuce, on whole wheat with a pickle quarter. The traffic on Canal is so bad, I just walk to where they are sitting - totally at a standstill. It takes us like an hour to get from there to NJ. We pull off to fill up the diesel tank, and Baz and I search for a restroom. In an area that has about 6 gas stations, none of them have a "working" bathroom. We hunt and hunt until finally Home Depot flashes as a beacon of hope. Thank you Home Depot! We hit heavy traffic on the NJ Turnpike.
En route to Baltimore, we discuss The Boxsprings, Billy Bob Thornton's band that toured with Willie Nelson. Martin questions why big trucks have horns that toot at lower frequencies than economy size cars that have weak horns.
We play a gallery called Hexagon. Supposedly there was an art show featuring some art by kids, but mainly it seems there is a street festival going on around here. Overall it was a great warm-up show. We played so early that we really did a lot of improv. Afterward we walked around and around trying to find a dinner spot. We were starving!! We walked through thousands of people enjoying the Artscape Festival. It was awesome seeing all the freaky stuff - art cars, including one with instruments all over it (even a mandolin, basses, electric and acoustics, drums, sticks, horns) with the license plate MUSICAR. All kinds of little exhibits, a mini-rave in a dark tent with pulsing throbbing techno blaring from it, a People Zoo with drunken fools dancing about, rabbit sculptures, and vignettes galore. Met some dude named Eric Rose who said he used to play in a band called The Paley Brothers in Boston. He caught me practicing inversions on Martin's baritone guitar while Baz was loading out, recognizing the C triad in root position on the second set of strings. We finally find a super hip place that's about 4 levels of exposed brick with a DJ booth and lots of hot alternative type waitresses. The place is a slick fusion-y spot. The DJ plays an extended remix of Will Smith's "Summertime", which I love, except this version has no vocal for me to sing along with. Otherwise it would've been the perfect song as we enjoyed our post-show victory meal here in Baltimore. Martin says chicks love lyrics, and that they should be up front in any mix "for the ladies". I totally concur! We head to a motel, after Martin driving for another couple of hours.
Day two: Today we have off, so after we leave our Super 8 room in Ashland, VA we take off for some sightseeing with our sights set on Jamestown. First we stop off for a bite to eat and some espresso in the adorable town of Ashland Hanover - a quaint, charming, sleepy place on this sunny summer Sunday afternoon. While we gnosh, we notice that Ashland Coffee and Tea has shows, and the live room looks nice - it might be a good spot for Black Fortress, I note. People have lovely accents in this place. We ramble on over to Colonial Williamsburg and check out some shops, a pillory (great pix), and people dressed in period outfits. We find a little beach along the James River and go for a lovely walk along the shore. The water was literally warm enough for a bath, and on the beach we spotted some awesome Confederate flag towels. Late in the day, we stop off at the site of the original Jamestown Settlement, where Martin was enthusiastic to check out historical replicas of ships, the reproduction fort of Jamestown in 1607, and the Powhatan village. He viewed a canoe making demonstration that rocked hard. Formerly, razor sharp giant oyster shells were used to scrape out the wood, but now, due to over-harvesting and all, only significantly smaller shells can be found for such purposes. In the bus, we enjoy lunch consisting of amazing foodie-grade sandwiches and a small bottle of cabernet sauvignon we pour into plastic cups we took from the Super 8. After all the excitement, we head off to Raleigh-Durham to stay with Tom and Sissi of Alice Donut, whom Martin recorded & mixed. They have a lovely house and beautiful children, and take great care of us. We hang out on their back patio all night enjoying some libations (including Austrian apricot schnapps) and amazing food they prepared, consisting of green bean salad, gazpacho, a potato egg tortilla, and chicken tamales. They have toured extensively in the US, Europe, and beyond, and we all gab on and on about music, etc. A lovely evening all around.
Day three: We sleep in a bit, since we have time before picking up John Keith, our drummer for the next 3 shows, who's flying in from NYC. Some members of the party who stayed up partying and catching up much later after I went to bed are a bit hung over today. Goes with the territory, I suppose. I'm unable to access our hosts' wi-fi network, so we all try to use their home computer, which leads to much competition in the morning and some tension. Then in the van on the way to the airport, we discuss how life is harder on women, and everyone, in our mixed company, agrees on that fact. The sky is a bit grey, and I have cramps, speaking of feminine issues. It just lined up that way. Ugh. Part of the last tour, too.
We pick up John and reacquaint ourselves. He informs me that he played a lot with Boston figure Milo Jones. We head off to nearby Chapel Hill, which seems pretty cute and collegiate. We find the club - Local 506 - and drive around to a nearby coffee shop called the Open Eye. I opt for a green tea. We check email and chat. I field various Black Fortress of Opium crises, real and imagined, from faraway, half freaking out, half not coping. We shot a rock video in Boston the weekend before...
Rain pours as we sit in the coffee spot, discussing work and its challenges for creative types. Then we take off for food. John (originally from Jamaica Plain, MA) got a suggestion for some great Southern food at a local joint called Mama Dip's. We give it a shot and were rewarded, indulging in chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, biscuits, cornbread, gravy, and cole slaw. Top that off with some warm pecan pie, and Ajda is happy for a while. We head back to the club, and proceed to wait for someone to show up to let us in, even though we were told if we didn't show up by long before then we could forfeit our precious sound check. But *we* were waiting for *them*! Someone shows up; we load in; we sound check. People are smoking in here. It ain't the North! It's a slow Monday night, but a few peeps come out as the rain stops and the sky clears. On the bill are Knot Feeder (including members of Don Caballero and Tabula Rasa) and The Curtains of Night (a female duo of heavy gtr and drums). Local 506 is a Cool venue with high ceilings and a big stage, plus a bartender/DJ has truly excellent taste in music, plays awesome stuff between bands. I see from a poster that Reeves Gabrels just played here last week, in fact. It'll be awesome to have drums for the next few shows! We do the show and it sounds pretty good on stage (course I could use more of my voice in the monitors, to which Martin later agreed), and people seemed into it. Rob from Knot Feeder was wearing a shirt from one of my fave Boston acts - 27. Martin got some great press in The Independent, which is paper covering the triangle of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. After the show, we drive through the Blue Ridge on towards Louisville, KY. We stop at a Motel 6 at about 4:30AM to sleep for a few hours, and shower.
Day four: We get up at 9AM and begin the shower procession. I go first today, 'cause I take a little longer. Didn't sleep that well last night, though I was able to catch some Z's in the loft bed of the bus while Martin drove. We depart the motel for another 6-hour+ drive. We stop off at Bob Evans for breakfast (best damn biscuits ever) while Martin sneaks some more Z's in the vehicle. Our route takes us up and down mountain passes, and Martin starts getting concerned about the vehicle's oil situation, so we pull off to a BP, but they don't have the right oil for the short bus. Anyway, some of us other band peeps stock up on Rolaids (yesterday's gravy!) and new, limited edition coconut M&M's, which are damn tasty. In line, we overhear some locals discussing abortion and rehab. The snippet of conversation I heard went a little something like this: "My bruther jes got his gurlfriend pregnant, and she was gunna have an abortion, and I said 'If you kill that baby, I'll kill you'. I told him 'you have that baby and when it's ready I'll adopt it 'cuz I'm set up for that sort uh thing.'" The above is absolutely in no way whatsoever exaggerated!
Tonight's show is on a rooftop outside and the weather is supposed to be ideal, plus it's Baz's birthday. Martin comments that the theme song of this tour seems to be "La Bamba" and he explains some of the lyrics to me. We drive many more hours towards Louisville, and about 30 miles outside the venue spot, traffic comes to a complete standstill when a truck cab overturns and kicks a bunch of dirt in the road. It takes about half an hour to clear, and Martin stresses 'cause the hour is getting later and later. Finally we're on our way again. Joe, the drummer in Black Fortress of Opium, told me a little bit about the other bands we're playing with - Sapat, and Parlour - because he saw them at Terrastock last year. This show was hooked up through a friend of Dan Kaufman (of Barbez) named Tyler. We arrive at the building, Glassworks, which is very cool. It reminds me a bit of something you’d see in Fort Point. We load in up on the roof 8 stories up, where one can see for miles in every direction, including the lovely nearby Ohio River. We are situated right downtown, too. Tyler is doing sound for the bands. There are tons of people here, on a Tuesday night. We are handed a key for a loft space provided for us to crash in, and I anxiously check it out. It is huge and furnished with everything. What a crash pad! I just knew the guys would be psyched! I head downstairs to the Jazzyblu Café, which is a bar, for some Happy Hour specials Baz hipped me to. I discover some very friendly locals and some chicken pasta they re-heat for me along with some shredded lettuce that is somewhat salad-like. It’s hilarious, I walk in, mention I’m playing on the roof, and they ask if I’m with Butterface (Baz’s DJ name). How does everyone know this guy?
Sapat plays first; they have many people onstage. They’re pretty cool and experimental. Then we go on, and it feels great. We play at dusk on a rooftop to tons of people. There are little clear blue clamp lights on each monitor, and they look so pretty in the night air, reflecting on my dress and Martin’s sunset-hued shirt. We receive many compliments after the set; some of Martin’s old friends show up. I hop offstage and make a call to a loved one, feeling exhilarated and homesick at exactly the same time. I have some free beer and chocolate chip cookies and head back to the room, as it starts sprinkling. The other band mates remain and socialize, but I wasn’t really in the mood tonight. Getting time to oneself is precious on tour, so I opt for that. Besides, our new loft home was a nice refuge. I started feeling dark and depressed, and was sitting there listening to “Affection” by Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers when Baz and John came in. They were hungry and wanted to go on a grub hunt. They were shocked when I said I wasn’t hungry because normally I have an extremely healthy appetite, but I really wasn’t hungry. They discussed the options, which included going to a local strip club for some wings (recommended by one of our female show organizers), going for a drive somewhere, or ordering pizza. At some point Martin returned and wasn’t in any shape to drive, so Baz ordered pizza. I went to bed, relishing sleeping in a cozy home-like type of place, knowing tomorrow would involve a long haul to Pittsburgh. I should mention that Martin got great press in the Leo Weekly.
Day five: I wake up kind of early and reach for my computer and fall right off the leather sofa I was sleeping on, hitting my arm on the table on the way down. Oh cruel world. I go back to sleep for a while after computing some. Then the others awaken and we shower and eat cold pizza. Martin tells us about a phone call he received at 5:30AM that morning from one of the other bands requesting he come out and party, and then enjoy their mom’s flapjacks. He declined, however. We depart the loft in the pouring rain, kind of bummed. Tonight is the last show of the tour. Michael Kaminski will sit in with us again at Garfield Artworks, where we played back in February.
We stop for breakfast at Toast, but it’s nothing that special. We head out, leaving Kentucky and passing through Cincinnati. In the van, John tells of his recent trip to India, and some things he witnessed there, including ‘round the clock cremations of bodies in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi – the oldest inhabited city in the world.
Today’s trip is long and grueling for a couple reasons, I suspect. This bus can’t go very fast, and it is raining. This is drawing out driving lengths noticeably. The rain is relentless. Plus, it’s the last night of the tour, and I think we all feel the return to reality emerging and creeping in. Jobs, money problems, relationships – you know, reality. Oh well, the tour bubble has to burst sometime. I’m happy to be proudly wearing my new shirt from Jamestown, though!
We pull up to Garfield Artworks, and Kaminski is just arriving as well. He and Leanna are friendly familiar faces. Manny, the promoter, is too. I feel like I have family, which is nice ‘cause I haven’t known anyone on this tour ‘til now. Aaron Jentzen is playing, too. He is a writer for the City Paper here, and he gave Black Fortress of Opium some props for our recent Pittsburgh show. Mike and Leanna brought snacks which save our hungry lives after driving for 8 hours plus:
Sandwiches of ham, fresh basil, lettuce from Mike’s garden, and cheese
Cayenne pepper hummus (Ouch!!!)
A magnum of red wine
We catch up briefly as acts emerge on stage. 2 solo acts, including Aaron, play. His stuff is pretty cool and a little dark. A full band plays next and then we’re up. The set went very well; Michael added a lot of nice touches. He was really up on the material. There were some especially nice moments at the end of the set, when Baz, Martin, and Mike were doing improv. After the show, we load out and take off towards NYC. We drive a few hours and then crash at the Psycho-esque Breezewood Motel. Ever seen ‘No Country for Old Men’? Yeah, it was kinda like that. There was no table in the room; the telephone was just sitting on the floor. 70s lamps with fake wood paneling and exposed brick. Not one ounce of class anywhere to be found. There was a dead baby roach on the wall in the bathroom, to which Baz referred as the fifth Beatle. Once we got out of the bus and into the room with fresh oxygen, we were a little hopped up and awake. The fumes from the bus have been getting to us. We finally go to sleep.
Day six: We get up early and prepare for the drive back to NYC. We grab some breakfast to go from a Denny’s Classic Diner, and ramble on. It pours off and on. I’m a little stressed because I still have another 4 hours of travel to go after I hit NYC, and have to be up early the next morning. The drive is passable, but tensions flare once we’re half an hour outside Manhattan after we take a wrong turn. Martin has a session at 6PM, and is stressed, too. I’m anxious to get to the bus. Others have concerns as well. It’s the end of the tour, and we’re all tired and exhausted. We work it out, as we part ways in Manhattan, but it’s under tense circumstances. Luckily, we managed to get the shows done, so mission accomplished on that tip.
A few days later we discuss what happened and we agree to give it another shot, as we have a show the coming week in NYC at The Delancey.
Out of this tour I learned a lot about what happens when people are pushing themselves really hard going from town to town to play music for others. It’s very admirable, and though some would call it crazy, I call it worthwhile. Though there were some really rough moments, I predict more of the highway. It’s a long road to the top, indeed.