Better than Shitty...
It sure didn’t take long to come up with the name of our tour last week. After not having played since August, there was potential for a few slip ups on stage. I think we were within a mile of leaving, at 9am last Tuesday, when Dave offered that despite our long lay off we would surely still be “better than shitty”. Hence, it was named…although Gregory (who flew up later in the day), being told of this, kept getting it wrong and calling it “less than shitty”, which I guess could be taken to mean the same thing.
It was smooth sailing on the ride to New York. Traffic was never a problem as we reached D.C. just after lunchtime. We got to the Holland Tunnel (why’d you go that way!?) around 5:30pm and had the usual delays through there, but we were other wise pretty excited about our arrival time at The Lakeside Lounge of about 6:30. We caught our breath and got our land legs back as we waited for the sound dude. We had heads and strings to change so it was a cool hang. At game time, some familiar faces started rolling in. Raleigh boys, Godfrey Cheshire and Kenny Soule showed up. Josh Grier was there (hadn’t seen him in a while!), a couple of the “taper” guys, Nate and some New Heathens, and so were some of Greg’s friends that he knew from Pamlico County, NC. Funny thing happened to Greg in the LaGuardia Airport bathroom, NO! not a “wide stance” incident. He heard some guy singing in the stall next to him and when the guy came out Greg realized that he’d gone to High School with him in eastern NC. They had a chat and the guy was on a layover on the way to Portland…small world!
The gig was rocking. I was MORE shitty than expected but the thirty or so in attendance didn’t seem to mind so we came back for a couple of numbers, cheating curfew by about 5 or 10 minutes. It was a quick pack up. The Lakeside is kind enough to provide “back line”, so you just haul in guitars, chords, snare, pedal and cymbals and you’re good to go. After a quick stop down Ave. A at a nearby pizza joint, we slipped on outta town and headed for Pennsylvania. We had rooms waiting for us near Penn State and that was a good long haul. The weather was messy and Greg and I entertained ourselves with beers and mini-bottles.
Of course we were excited to see each of the “Rest Stop Ahead” signs. We were less than excited to see the “Rest Stop Closed” signs. I don’t know how he does it (other than he’s young and energetic) but Dave managed to carry us in his van (sweet “eVANgeline”), with a Rock stop off in NYC, all the way from 9am one day until 4am the next. I’d say I was too old for this if I wasn’t having so much fun!
We woke up 10-ish to sound of sleet beating on our first floor window. The winds were still howling and as I looked out I noticed snow beginning to mix in. We still had GOOD 4 hours to go. After a fairly decent continental breakfast, with entertainment provided by a gay employee trying to pick up a couple of husky construction types, I proceeded back to the bathroom to cut my chin off. My four blade razor took a circuitous route and somehow skidded sideways to make a fancy little slash deep into my skin. I had some liquid band-aide with me but I couldn’t get it to stop bleeding long enough to apply it. So away we went along I-80 with me riding shotgun, grabbing a fresh napkin all along to hold my chin on with while listening to “The Best of Jerry Clower”. It wasn’t until about showtime in Cleveland that it actually stopped bleeding long enough for me to give it actual medical attention. The show we played that night was my favorite of the week. We had worked all the kinks out in NY and found our groove. It was a respectable crowd for a Wednesday night and we gave’m our best. Every song was in the pocket and our singing was just fine. I couldn’t help but miss one face in the crowd that was always there though, Cousin Dave. He was the local DJ that had such a big influence on the music scene in Cleveland. I first met him and my friend, Samantha Fryberger when she took Dan and me over to Dave’s studio to do a live interview and a song or two on the radio before a Yayhoos show. We went back several times and The OakTeam even went and performed there one of the last times we were in town. I never knew he had health issues. He was such a sweet, soft spoken guy who, more than anything in his life, loved good music. I dedicated this, our best performance in Cleveland to his memory. I couldn’t help but think that while we were playing he really was still in the Beachland Ballroom with us, bopping along.
Again after the show, we had a ways to go. The rest of our trip would be based out of Columbus, OH, staying at the illustrious Crown Plaza hotel. Dave and I again were the last to be awake so we watched some “Family Guy” via NetFlix on his iPhone riding down the road. Our arrival was not quite as late (3am instead of 4) as the night before but I was ready to put my head on a damn pillow yo!
I slept really hard and felt pretty damn good when I woke up the next day (same day really!). I hadn’t drank too much, a couple beers at the club and I mixed a couple of margaritas in the van. My chin still trickled blood after I forgot and used a hot facecloth to wake up, scraping it back open. We had an 11am downbeat in the studio to do some demos with our friend, Mike Landolt, an engineer/producer who has a studio there in town and has also done some pretty big projects in LA, not the least of which was O.A.R. He said he wanted to help out a really talented local girl (just 23 yrs. old) and needed a good band to back her up. As it turned out, we had a show drop out on us for Thursday in Toledo so we had the date open. After receiving the songs (in a VERY skeletal form) days earlier via Email, we were more than happy to play along.
The four rockers and one slow song couldn’t have been more perfect for us. Erica Blinn met us as the back of the van, ready to start unloading and start rockin’! What a cutie! It also didn’t hurt that she sings her ass off and plays the shit outta the guitar (…and harmonica, we later learned)! We went in and got right to work. Within an hour and a half, we’d laid the first track down perfectly. This was gonna work. We ran through a few more and ordered up some rockin’ Greek food. Please pardon my insensitivity but at some point I began translating everything Paul (Friedrich, our graphic genius and merch dude) said into “Hair-lip”. I doubted aloud whether Rosetta Stone had a program available for that language. At days end, we’d recorded all five of the numbers sent to us, and they sounded great! Erica said it was the best day of her life. I know how she feels. There’s nothing like hearing the songs in your head come to life. They’re great songs too!
Our next order of business was to treat ourselves to an awesome Thai dinner. Mike said the place to go was BASIL on High St. Our friend, and self-professed “stalker”, Linda Potts met us at the studio and joined the party. We had a blast and the food was as good as expected (although I still didn’t like the papaya salad, Jack!) By the end of the night, I was starting to get a bit, shall we say… “tipsy”, and started blowing my referee’s whistle. Apparently, that type of behavior is frowned upon in downtown Columbus because it was soon after that that the staff began coming over and taking our plates. Mucho, mucho thanks to Linda and Greg’s mother in-law for their donations of $100 each towards our dining pleasure. Our beautiful playing at Greg’s wedding prompted Mom to pass down some love and we really appreciated it.
Friday morning was pretty lazy as there was not much urgency to get to the studio. We’d cut rhythm tracks on all five of the tunes and just needed to do a few add ons. We also wanted to cut a version of “Weather or Not” for Erica to sing. At some point in the day I reminded myself that we had a gig that night. We also had a dinner date with Linda at her house before said gig. (I was really looking forward to her spinach lasagna!) After getting “Weather or Not” down we broke for lunch at Q’doba’s Mexican Grill. I think the food set us back because when we returned back to the studio there was a lot of lying about.
Finally, it was time to load into the Rumba Café. I didn’t even unpack my drums because there were two bands on before us and I figgered I’d just do it while they were playing. There was a buzz in the room, a 60 cycle hum or something that was affecting Jack’s rig so it took a while to find and cure it. We arrived at Linda’s (and her husband, Dave’s) cozy abode just after 7pm. After some “Oooh-ing and Ahhh-ing” at their wall hangings and Civil War memorabilia, we got down to business. I sat down and did exactly what I said I WASN’T gonna do, eat too much. That lasagna was so damn good that there was no stopping this little butterball. She had some awesome marinara sauce on the side (I heard the sausage sauce was THE BOMB too!), some rockin’ ass bread and of course, mighty tasty wines. We waddled back to the van and drove back to the club. Unfortunately, we were having such a wonderful time that we missed Erica’s set with her band. Boooooo us! Colin Gawel (from Watershed) and the Lonely Bones were just getting started when we got there. Colin’s our connection in Columbus. He hooked us up with the studio gig, the real gig and has in the past helped with securing some radio interviews. He and the LB’s had a new Christmas CD with a song that blew up that day on the FM lunchtime show. The club was packed. There was also a video crew there to record them playing the Christmas tune. I listened in the back, in a room just big enough for a sink and a broom. I had somehow fit my drums in there and had to try mightily to unpack them and put them together in that little space (that had also been crammed with the other band’s cases and shit). It was like changing clothes while driving! Insane! It took a while to change the stage over with no room to move pretty much ANYWHERE!
Of course, once we got on stage all of the hub bub instantly settled down…sanity restored. We brought 5 of the new songs out on display this trip and performed them “better than shitty”. There were a few heads turned like the RCA dog, but once finished the crowds roared in approval. They seemed to REALLY like “Ridin’ Around” and “Gambled and Lost”. The bartender in Cleveland was all about the latter “Those background vocals really MAKE that song!” We played late into the night because…that is what we do! We love playing with each other (shut up! not like that!) and we haven’t had much of a chance lately. And too, sometimes we just can’t stop the damn train from rolling down hill!
We sat up in room 443 just talking till 3am.
The next morning, after watching some horribly gross human on the PBS channel trying to sell us his “Play Piano Yesterday!” rip off CD’s, we kicked it on over to Colin’s Coffee Shop…Yep, THAT Colin. “The best grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup in town” the sign says and it don’t lie! We had a round of each served up to us and we pretty much inhaled them. Our new best friend, Erica Blinn had so much fun hanging with us that she didn’t put up a fight when we wanted to throw her in the van and take her to Wapakoneta with us. So when we left Colin’s, we picked her up along with her guitar, amp and harmonicas and left town about 3:30 or so. The boys acted like they weren’t gonna have room for my Carolina blue Christmas tree (being the Duke and State fans they are) with her gear in the van too, but I found a damn way to get it in and ON STAGE that night (after the whooping UNC put on Kentucky that day! Woo hoo!).
The tree was given to me the night before at the Rumba. It was part of the video shoot. It was a fun, but cold ride to Wapak. I only yelled “FUN WAY!!!” one time. You’ll remember that as our ice breaker when there’s a lull in the van. Everyone has to turn around ass forward until I yell “FUN WAY OFF!!” Big Ron was happy to see us and he was working them phones when we got there trying to get folks out. Rt. 33 Rhythm and BREWS is our most favorite place to play. Them people come to Rock and they get IGNUNT drunk! The place is famous not only for its Rockin’ but also for its pizza.
We destroyed 2 larges after sound check. We rested a while on the “Pow’ful Merka” couch backstage before the 9:15 show time. That’s when the Olympic theme blasted from the speakers and out walked the band…minus me. As our intro music faded Dave blasted into “Battleship Chains” right out of the gate. I strolled out looking not unlike Timothy Leary in ALL WHITE and my Mardi Gras love beads. Once I sat down behind the kit it was ON!! BLAMM! “You got me tied down….” “Killin’ down in Dillon” was next and on down the line we went…whatever we felt like playing. “It’s your gig, do whatever you wanna do” says Big Ron. The first set was over an hour of rockin’, closer to an hour and a half I’d say. We took a short break and brought Erica on at the top of the second set. The girl’s a star.
She’s got the look (Hey! There’s one we haven’t played in a while!) and sounds great. She’s been in bands ever since she was 15, granted that’s only 8 years but she is solid as hell on guitar. I never heard her screw up once, not that I expected her to.
She looked like she was having the time of her life up there rockin’ wif us. Hell, we did too! I think I might have mentioned that she’s got some great songs and playing them loud like that for the folks was a good old time. We kept her up after blasting through three of them for her to sing along on “Purple GTO”. Dave broke one string and pulled a few more off for his guitar solo, noticing this I called out for “37 Miles in Reverse” as next song. I knew his spare was in an open E for me so I figgered it best to get that one outta the way. He later said “Good call!” Only problem was that the song that I had spit out perfectly (after not playing it since ?...Christmas of last year?) the night before, became a brain fart to me in the last verse. We stopped the song and talked about it on stage. Dave said what it was but I didn’t believe him. So finally I just stood up and handed him the guitar and said the hell with it! We’ll rock another damn song! The last two numbers have settled in to being “Enabler” into “Time for You to Go” (a sentiment the crowd took to heart in C-bus!). It’s a perfect match; one goes right into the other. Erica came back up and played the absolute shit out of the harmonica (like on the record) like she was born in Chicago in the early 30’s! We rocked the hell out of it and said “adios amigos”. The crowd was going ape shit… swinging tables around, throwing chairs out the windows, chewing they’re arms off, hitting themselves over the heads with beer pitchers, humping each other, acting like they were kicking a football…OK, they WEREN’T acting like they were kicking a football, but they WERE screaming their guts out! One guy’s liver fell right out of his mouth! So in order to restore order we came back out and did “Weather or Not!” into “Punished” (as it’s called). Every version of “Punished” is completely different and this one was no different (HUH?!). Somehow this one took a weird twist when I brought a China-man into the mix. It was damn silly as hell but I made it work. I think next time we play there we should be billed as “The OakTeam: Band and Comedy Show!” I mean things were already wacky enough when I started singing “Can’t pay the rent, put food on the baby’s feet! It’s all been spent, putting shoes on the table to eat!” in “100 a week”. Erica said that’s when she knew I was dumb…”you are SO dumb, you are really dumb!” “Thunderbird” and “Check Please” rocked the lights back on and it was time to wipe our tears of joy and load the van. Big Ron is always good about offering up shots before we leave. So we had our toasts, got our hugs and our pizza to go and headed back to C-bus. On the way back, we listened to…believe it or not, ELO and Fleetwood Mack and sang those songs loud as hell as we enjoyed a few more cocktails. I had a half a bottle of wine left from the club and poured it into a tumbler for the ride. Greg laughed at it. He couldn’t believe I had that tea glass poured to the top full of wine. We were all very sad to drop Erica off at home.
We wished we could have kept her and kept on going to another city. Lexington, KY, Nashville, TN, Atlanta, GA…and on and on…
Sunday’s ride home was uneventful, but beautiful. Snow blanketed the West Virginia mountains, but thankfully the roads were OK. Dave missed the turn to our last chance to stop at Dairy Queen.
Damnit!! A trip without Dairy Queen! Awwww, that’s OK. You know what? If you could get rich on FUN, we’d all be millionaires right now. This was one of the best OakTeam trips ever.