Back on the Road With Peat Rains from You Bred Raptors?: Part 2
Day 4 – Harrisburg, PA – JB Lovedrafts
Minus the final stretch, each drive on this little run was bizarrely about the same length. Normally, that means you did your job admirably. But, things have never been that clean while tour booking. It felt strange to be in the car for three and a half hours each day. It’s a good amount of time in a cramped car, don’t get me wrong. But geographically, we just aren’t covering that much ground. As I stated earlier, this route isn’t normal but not much is after the pandemic. Today, we are headed to Harrisburg, PA, my old stomping grounds. I experienced my formative years here. I was a young, angsty teenager, angry with the world and sporting some pretty cringey hairstyles in the process. And while I was hesitant to initially add this spot to our routing, I’m very glad we did. We have found quite a home at JB Lovedrafts. It’s a divey, punk bar located right on the strip of 2nd street in Harrisburg. Central to lots of foot traffic and always a free cover, the shows are well attended and energetic. I usually don’t fuck with that formula if it’s working. We say when we are available and they make it happen. That is very much not the norm for us.
We were asked this time if we would like to book another location that had just opened, a brewery outside town. I had only heard very good things about this new place, its attendance and sound system. I really debated back and forth about it but eventually just chose what we knew and were familiar with. I’ll sometimes ‘what if’ myself to death after making these calls. It’s important to challenge your band and brand at new locations and never rest on your laurels, whatever the fuck ‘laurels’ may actually be. With that said, this tour is more or less a litmus test to how 2022 will go. I didn’t want to play a potentially half-empty brewery on Halloween weekend, even if we were getting paid the same amount. I’d rather pack out a small place that’s been loyal to us instead of taking on an untested place. The brewery was new and I didn’t personally know anyone that had played it. It could have been AWESOME. But, we will leave that to another time when maybe the date is not available at our normal location and we need to get creative.
With that disclaimer out of the way, I can tell you that the show did not go off without a hitch. It was riddled with technical issues and was a frustrating show to get going. I want to preface this by saying we don’t use this tour diary to talk shit or air dirty laundry. We rarely do laundry on tour so it’s plenty dirty already. But, I do want to be honest when things go wrong. We arrived at the venue in a torrential downpour. This has happened the last few times in PA. I’d like to speak to the barometer’s manager, please. Our normal booker was not on-site as usual. And the normal sound guy was also not there. That’s cool, these things happen. The stage is small so we drop our gear off in the basement that is an abandoned arcade made up of mini cabinets and a small foosball table. It seemed like a forgotten wonderland for drunk elves between shifts working in a chocolate factory. There were three bands on the bill with us headlining. The second band was also on tour, from the land of Texas. They were a tight, crust-punk band called Noogy. I briefly spoke with a few of their members where they told me they were on the second leg of a six-week tour. I was shocked that they could find a route that would support that. I had to stop myself from asking to see their map or their tour spreadsheet. Watching their set, I felt a familiar pang from my youth, surrounded ironically by some of the same people that helped shape my love of punk rock music, now with kids of their own nearing that same age when I first heard a power chord compressed and distorted through a RAT pedal. This band ripped through hooky originals and faithful covers from Operation Ivy and Bad Religion. I felt both old and happy that a band of young twenty-somethings cut their teeth with the same tunes I did. Upon further investigation, this band actually had a formidable following and history in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. They’ve also taken up the cause of addiction awareness after the tragic death of their original drummer and friend. You could just feel the love and drive between the members. Perhaps I was projecting, but I really was rooting for them. In pure punk rock fashion, they were the nicest bunch of pussycats. They also had to bail directly after their set. Usually, this is pretty tacky. But, they were quick to point out they had another show they had to start driving to… in Arkansas. What…? This band had a sixteen-hour drive to their next show. We’ve played Arkansas before. No one is getting paid enough there to make that trek. We wished them godspeed on that long haul. We have only done that stretch once and it was coincidentally the last tour we did before Covid-19. Nashville to New York City in one sitting. We had to get the rental car back in time and we weren’t going to try to play the Sunday after Halloween. I don’t recommend it for any band. Overdrives are dangerous and are usually a result of bad planning but sometimes, you just can’t help it.
While setting up for our set, it became evident that the game of telephone between myself, the original booker, the new booker, the new sound guy, and the operator procuring a house drum kit and bass amp was lost somewhere in the line. Alright, let’s figure this out. We eventually found the parts of a drumkit we needed. I used my bass amp with their house bass cab. That’s one problem down. The next issue, decidedly bigger was that our sound guy couldn’t get any cello sounds from the PA. Two DI boxes, three XLRs, and a lot of shoulder shrugging later, it was evident that it was up to us. I want to preface this by praising sound guys everywhere. The stereotype of the burnout musician that hates their job has some basis in reality but I’ve found it to be the extreme outlier to the bell curve. Most sound technicians are nerds about everything sonic and their ability to transition between a vast array of music styles, equipment variance and all under a time crunch is impressive. I couldn’t do it. Plus, you’ve all met and performed alongside diva bands that show up late to soundcheck, demand unrealistic things, and then proceed to shit-talk the one person in charge of how they sound to the audience. That’s not smart and it’s fairly obviously transparent as an amateur band move. But, there are times when you have to rely on yourself and your collective knowledge in the band to troubleshoot a problem. This was the case tonight. Tara abandoned the idea of using any in-ear monitoring system and instead focused on just getting some – any – sound. In a stroke of good luck, someone from the first band was still there and offered their combo amp. We now had sound but no monitors. With any fretless instrument and especially one with a bow, hearing yourself is essential. We immediately lowered our expectations for our sound for the evening. The crowd had grown and were growing impatient. Perhaps that is my anxiety talking but that’s how it felt in the moment. We just needed a talk-back microphone. It wasn’t great but it would have to do. We launched in the first song after the most basic of line checks conducted for us, by us. Truth be told, I was worried during that first song. The cello was pitchy and I was almost sure Danny, our drummer, couldn’t hear it at all. The crowd was energetic and a bit inebriated by this point, probably to our favor. There was also a leak in the ceiling and the collection bucket was amongst one of the first casualties of the makeshift mosh/dance pit. Imagine the danger here, but then compound it by imagining people dressed as sad clowns, horses, and bananas colliding together in a fever dream orgy scenario.
The rest of the set started to get better. I could feel Tara’s frustration emanating though. She doesn’t ever let it show though. We can read each other well, below our masks. On the outside, she was a fucking champion, bowing the electric cello like she was using a machete in a dense jungle and swaying back and forth, feeling every song and its varying emotions. I’ve never met a more talented, professional, and kick-ass musician. Her emergence in this band saved us from near death at a really rough and unsure time. We share the same critical self-analysis that plagues even the most seasoned players. We hear every nuance, every mistake, and flagellate ourselves for it. And when these situations are out of our control all we can do is put on a good show with the same amount of energy and confidence. Aside from bringing ALL of your own gear, including a PA to every show, these fuckups are going to happen. I miss the earlier tours when we had a sound technician, lighting director, roadie, driver, and photographer on the road with us. They were equipped to deal with this while we focused on playing. We hope to get back to that but until then, it’s up to us. In reality, the crowd was probably none the wiser of any issue. It was an incredibly raucous, slightly sloppy but incredibly fun set. We had to call an audible with a few songs that required looping and err on the side of caution. That’s what I love about this band. We’ve all been through the trenches together and apart and being able to rely on someone else is unparalleled. We all showed up to WORK today and we will be a cohesive unit that leaves an impression on all that witnessed it.
We had a really great night for merch as well. But our best-laid plans to use the rubber band method for these shirts was an unmitigated disaster. It was a mess of cotton and polyester looking for the right size and trying not to make a fort out of the discarded ones was excruciating. We will be going back to rolling and taping them up and you, the consumer, will just have to DEAL WITH IT. The next day we found that one of our really nice masks was stolen off the stage after we had finished. One of the few advantages of playing last is that you don’t have to strike lightning fast. I ran to the merch booth and someone took the chance to grab it. These things happen but it was kind of a bummer. Now we are going to be forced to start using face paint instead and book exclusively juggalo events. WHOOP WHOOP!
The stolen mask in question. If seen, please call the F.B.I. Photos by Aj Rios
Day 5 – Shanks, WV – All Hallow’s Eve Fest
The festival circuit has been a really exciting development for this band. The issues around booking them are prevalent though. We are currently not on a booking agency roster and do not have label support or management. Without these, securing festival slots has been trying. It is an exclusive club and you aren’t invited unless you know someone in the game. So far, we have been either the very tiny names in a big festival poster or the large headlining names in a smaller festival advert. These shows are a beast all their own. We have played amazing festivals, packed to the gills, that were total clusterfucks behind the scenes, and really organized events that had absolutely abysmal turnouts. The pay is never consistent and who is in charge will vary from year to year. Starting a festival, while daunting and migraine-inducing, seems to be a lot easier than keeping a profitable one going for multiple years. Cold-emailing these festivals during booking season is all but useless. Even if they are opening submissions and your band has ticketed history in that market, the success rate is slim to none. This is still a very much word-of-mouth circuit. Having a solid online following, engagement and the sonic understanding of what their crowds are into will go a long way. I am very much jealous of the bands that make festivals their bread and butter every year. I’m hustling trying to book Topeka, Kansas on a weekend when an hour north might be a huge festival going on that wants nothing to do with you.
One of the enduring festival families we have been fortunate enough to link up with is the Gotta Fest out of the West Virginia/Virginia area. Tonight’s show was more or less a gathering of friends, extended family, and other festival promoters and artisans in the area. Less of a formal festival and more of a family reunion after a year and a half of silence. We were told our lodging would be a converted school bus. This COULD mean a bus with a tent inside. But these beautiful people have always delivered for us so we fully trusted them. It turned out to be a decked-out mansion on wheels. It even had heat and a bathroom. Here’s to many more stays on a vehicle like this.
We’d be playing on the promoter family’s land. They own something like seven acres deep in the West Virginia wilderness. GPS was spotty arriving but there was no mistaking we were at the right place when we pulled in. The weather had cooperated most of the day but the clouds were teasing doom. We had a plethora of snacks and it was actually imperative that we put a dent in the bag so we could Tetris our gear more efficiently on the long trek home tomorrow. We decided to just donate all of our snacks to the event. I plopped the Fresh Direct bag full of almost nothing healthy down by the picnic table adorned with various bottles of alcohol and materials to make s’mores. I watched people emerge from tents like timid animals slowly starting to feed. It was a proud moment. I set up merch next to one of the artisan tents. Almost on cue, I felt a single and dramatic raindrop adorn my arm. This was definitely going to be one of those ‘rain or shine’ events. The glassblowers sharing our tent space offered part of their table as the rain picked up. It was beginning to dampen our merchandise, but not our spirits. There was a beatboxer, a singer-songwriter duo, and a DJ that would take the stage before the two headlining bands. Everyone brought their own flair to the mix and while it was musically different, there was still a semblance of sonic cohesion. By the time Deaf Scene was setting up, the rain was relentless. The crowd had scrambled to nearby tents but still remained engaged. The mud was inescapable during the changeover and made its way to halfway up our pants and into our cars. The weather can be unpredictable but the ability to push through misfortune shouldn’t be.
We played a tight set and heard an energetic and undeterred crowd out in the darkness. Echoes of clapping and whooping and hollering ricocheted from various nautical compass points. Illegal fireworks were set off, alarming the pack of roaming and watchful guard dogs. It was a surreal show but another welcome bullet point in this band’s history. We spent the rest of the night with Deaf Scene in our requisite Magic School Bus, listening to the nighttime DJs splash the dark with ambient soundscapes… In my bunk bed, I had started to feel a pang of regret. If only because this tour seemed so short. We were only just finding our groove and it was time to go home. It felt like such a tease after being immobile for so long. We rolled out in the morning after saying our goodbyes. It would be a long trek back to NYC. I felt a rejuvenation I hadn’t felt in some time. Ideas were spilling out of me for new strategies for this band, new song ideas, and new places to play.
To be honest, in the process of setting up this tour, I dreaded sitting down at my laptop to do my normal booking routine. Days would go by and my guilt started to compound that I was missing opportunities. I kept saying “I still have plenty of time” knowing full well it was already an uphill battle ‘after’ Covid. I was just so unsure of how I felt about this project. We have been around twelve years now. The cliche and tired definition of “insanity” hovered all around me like a patient vulture. We have done everything we are supposed to and then some. Yet still, we keep hitting the same roadblocks. Should we abandon ship? Should we re-brand? Take off our masks and get a singer? Should I just start a new project and start with a clean slate? I have genuinely pondered all of these options. But, I owed it to my band members and to the work we’ve all put in to give this one last huge push.
The tormenting and existential fork in the road lingers in almost all of my waking thoughts. I think of a band putting in their time, playing tons of shows and putting out quality material, and having a matching work ethic. There’s a parallel universe out there where another band followed the exact same trajectory but had that added bit of luck: the VIP person giving them a chance, getting to open for the right tour package, the serendipitous celebrity retweeting or tagging them and subsequently blowing the band up. Same work put in but two vastly different outcomes. And the lesson learned couldn’t be more different: The first band was foolish and didn’t change things up when it obviously wasn’t working. But that second band succeeded BECAUSE they stayed the course and believed in their art, didn’t change and someone eventually took notice. It’s this cosmic mind-fuck that I can’t escape. Our music has touched a lot of people. That never fails to make an impact on me when I hear it. I, personally, don’t feel it’s that hard to brand or market to a larger audience. That is an unfair label we’ve been given. It might be unconventional but the emotion and accessibility are obvious, I believe. We are operating in a very uncertain time in music. Labels, booking agencies, and management just will not take a chance on ‘weird’ bands if they don’t come fully equipped with an army of steadfast followers with a tested revenue. It’s up to us. But I’m close to waving a white flag and begging for help from anyone who will listen.
A huge solace in all of this is having band members that shoulder some of that uncertainty. It makes it all worth it, through all the shitty shows and inevitable rejections if your ride-or-die partners are there to absorb some of that shrapnel. It’s taken a long time to get to this point and I feel we owe it to all of the great musicians we lost over the past year to keep pushing. The salmon swimming upstream to spawn are not deterred when shit gets difficult. That is by design. Some will not make it and that, sadly, might be us in the end. But, this is all we know. I do feel really excited about planning our most ambitious tour to date for 2022. We are going into the studio, armed with a year of writing and a new appreciation for live performance after being deprived of it for so long. We hope this will be our Mr. Holland’s Opus, if you will. I truly hope the path we have chosen was the right one in the end. In the meantime, we’ll see you back on the road soon. And we’ll bring the snacks.
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