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Road Scholars
By Bob Carlton

Life on tour with a local rock band: cockroaches, car trouble, canceled gigs, waning label support—and the redemptive joy of playing music wherever people will listen Day One

OK, so here’s the plan. Get up, get my shit together, say goodbye to my wife, pick up the band at 11 AM, load up the van, pick up our friend Steve (he’s playing roadie on this tour) and be on the road by noon. We’ll race down to Point Pleasant, N.J., and pick up the new van Gig Records offered us for this tour, then head to South Amboy, N.J., and play a great rock show.

Here’s what actually happens: I don’t get to the band until 12:30, then we run around town doing last-minute things. So technically we don’t get on the Northway until 1:30. We head down to Jersey at around 65 mph until we hit a real nasty snowstorm. That slows us down to about 50 mph. By the time we get to Point Pleasant, the weather has turned real shitty. Luckily, we get there in one piece. We pick up our swanky new van with a trailer on the back, and Joel and Steve watch The Jerk on the TV in the back while I drive through a complete whiteout. By now, the weather has turned real bad. We pull over in Middletown, N.J., to call the club and let them know that we are going to be late. Turns out that the club shut down early for the night due to the storm, so the show is canceled. So instead of playing tonight, we sit in at an Outback Steakhouse watching the snow come in sideways.

Great way to start a tour.

Day Two

Today we’re heading to Baltimore to play a show. The only problem is Gig Records fucked up, so there is no show tonight. The tour is slowly turning into a disaster. Steve tells me that when the Clash and the Sex Pistols toured together, they had more than 20 shows canceled. I remind him that we are neither the Clash nor the Sex Pistols. We decide to lift morale by spending the day in Atlantic City. Rachael loses $15, Steve loses $5, Joel doesn’t bet and somehow I walk away $28 richer. After spending several hours there, we jump in the van, pick up a 30-pack of Miller High Life and go to our hotel and relax. Luckily, VH1 is airing a Behind the Music on the Cult. Suddenly, I don’t feel so bad.

Day Three

After everyone showered up, we all got into the van and headed over to Denny’s. Every morning the band members get five bucks to live on for that day. It’s amazing how far five dollars will go if you stretch it out.

Today is a driving day for the band. Doesn’t matter anyway, because we haven’t played a show yet, so every day has been a driving day. Joel is teaching Steve how to play gin rummy, and Rach and I spend the evening winding down with some TV. Eventually we are going to have to make a beer run. So far the tour has been plagued with bad luck. I’m not sure if it’ll get better or worse. This is our seventh tour, and I still have no idea how to make everything perfect.

Day Four

Today we hauled our asses to Virginia Beach, Va., only to find that the asshole booking agent denies ever booking us. I hate the fuckers who think they have every band by the balls. It’s people like this guy who make playing music suck. I partially blame myself, because when I booked the show, I told him that I would send out the contract right away. He told me not to bother because he doesn’t like to deal with contracts, so I didn’t. Lesson fucking learned. It’s just so frustrating—the band is losing money, I’m losing money, and we’re all itching to play. And to make matters worse, the club in Chapel Hill called us to let us know that Edwin McCain canceled his gig for tomorrow. We were supposed to be the opening act. They tell us that the entire show is canceled—they don’t want an out-of-town band playing without a headliner, because North Carolina and the University of North Carolina are playing a big basketball game that night. The entire population of Chapel Hill and its surrounding area will be there. Thanks a lot, Edwin McCain. Can this get any worse? I hope the fuck not. To make myself feel better, I advance the rest of the shows. Everything after Chapel Hill looks good. We eat at Applebee’s and check into another hotel. After a quick beer run, we settle into our room to play cards and watch TV. Damn, Steve is becoming a good gin rummy player.

Day Six

We get to Charleston, S.C., and check into our room. Cockroaches are pretty common down here, and Joel hates cockroaches. Well, our room has a few of them, and one of them crawls around Joel’s bag and then darts off under the bed. Rach and I tell him we saw it crawl into his bag. It was pretty funny to see him slowly open his bag and then use his drumsticks to pull out articles of clothing as if he were in the middle of some complicated brain surgery. We head over to the club around 8. We’re playing the Reef—pretty big place with a nice stage. We meet up with the other band, and they seem very nice. It’s a modest crowd, and most of them are here to see the headliner. We actually play a decent show, considering that we haven’t played in a while. We hang out till the headlining band finishes, get paid and go back to the hotel. When we get there, Joel moves beds to hunt for roaches. He finds at least eight of them scurrying around the room. I think I’m going to sleep in the van tonight. We never tell Joel the roach didn’t actually go into his bag.

Day Seven

It doesn’t matter how long we’re out on tour or how well the tour is going—good or bad, I always find myself being homesick by the time we’re halfway through. My wife is my best friend in the entire world, and I’ll be away from her for a long period of time. That’s not easy. Funny thing is, not only do you miss the big important things, you also miss the not-so-important things—how your pillow feels, your couch, the way your wife slightly overcooks her scrambled eggs. Hell, I even miss the dog.

Today the band traveled to Atlanta to play the Star Bar. We had a great show, sold plenty of merchandise and had a great time. The staff treated us with respect and the music fans were even better. Funny thing is, I would trade it all just to be home with my wife and her slightly overcooked eggs.

Day Eight

Tonight we head into Athens, Ga. We’re first on the bill of three bands. Tonight’s crowd is a bit thin. I’m surprised because the local music magazine gave us a great write-up, and in the past we’ve done pretty well in Athens. The door guy tells me that in the past couple of years the music scene has changed a bit. Cover bands now rule the Athens music scene. Unfortunately, it’s not just Athens. Cover bands seem to rule almost every city in America, including Albany. Turns out that the Dave Matthews Cover Band, also known as DMCB (yes, this is their actual name), are playing down the street. To make matters worse, indie-rock band Elf Power are playing nearby at the 40 Watt Club. Damn, I love Elf Power. Whatever the reason, hundreds of kids are at the Georgia Theater to see a Dave Mathews cover band while we play to a small crowd. On a good note, Elf Power doesn’t hit the stage till midnight. So after the Dryer show, Steve and I head over to the 40 Watt Club while Joel and Rach go back to the hotel. We enter the club in time to catch Elf Power’s last few songs, two of which are covers. How ironic.

Day Nine

It’s Sunday, and there is no show scheduled for today. Our next show is in Birmingham, Ala., about three hours from here. We decide to do absolutely nothing today and just stay in Athens. We watch football, do laundry, check e-mail, call home and catch up on some rest. It’s a nice day. I did want to spend the day in search of great Georgia barbecue. But I’ve been told
that you can’t get barbecue on a Sunday, at least not the good stuff. Well, what the fuck! Sunday is the perfect day for barbecue. I thought everyone barbecues on Sunday. Turns out that the best barbecue in Athens is done by the local Baptists. Well, that sucks for me. Thanks a lot, religion.

Day Ten

Every tour has one funny disaster story, and this one is no different. Tonight, while we were leaving the venue, I somehow got the van and the trailer wedged up onto a curb. So the van was sitting on top of the curb in this kind of see-saw situation. For some reason, I didn’t hear Steve tell me that the curb ahead of us was very large and that maybe I should veer off to the right. By the time I figured out that he was warning me, I heard a huge THUMP followed by grinding metal. So it was 3 in the morning, the van was halfway in the road, the trailer was still in the parking lot and we were sitting in the van wondering what to do. Lucky for us, the bar was filled with plenty of drunk patrons with plenty of ideas. We had people jack up the trailer, while others tried jacking up the van. One guy suggested that we take the trailer hitch and “bust the shit up.” We had cinder blocks under the tires, tree branches, two-by-fours. You name it, we used it. At one point there were about 14 people in the parking lot, all trying to figure out how to free the van. We finally got out of there and back to our hotel.

Day Eleven

Today Steve, Joel and I killed some time at the Best Buy in Bowling Green, Ky. Rachael took advantage of our outing to spend some time alone. Hey, I don’t blame her. When you’re stuck with the same three people everyday for two weeks, you need to find time to be alone. Not that we are not getting along on this tour, we are getting along just fine. As a matter of fact, I don’t think we’ve gotten into one fight on this tour.

I don’t know what made me think of this just now, but the other day in Atlanta, a guy came up to me and told me that I was going to be famous someday. I asked him why, and he said “I don’t know, I’m drunk.” I love being in a band.

Day Thirteen

Tonight’s low attendance was affected by several things. We’ve never played in Indianapolis, it was raining heavily, our label did absolutely zero radio promotion, it was a shitty Thursday night, and the local band we played with was playing the next night elsewhere in town. Some bands will play every weekend in town and then wonder why people don’t come out. (In our case, we just wonder why people don’t come out at all, but that’s another issue.) So anyway, with low attendance and all, we still played a good show. It was a bit sloppy, but we had fun. We met nice people at the venue, sucked down free beer, and got paid to play our music. Everything was fine until we got to our hotel, when all of a sudden the van did a weird thing. Yep, the 2000 Dodge van that the label gave us made a loud thumping sound whenever we turned the wheel. It was late, so we figured we’d take care of it early tomorrow before we left for Chicago.

Day Fourteen

We woke up around 10 today, got some food and then brought the van to a mechanic. He told us that we needed two parts replaced in the front wheel, and that if we didn’t replace them, we would run a huge risk by driving to Chicago. We called the label, and they basically said we were on our own. Well, thank you, Gig Records. We realized that the label never ever asked how the band was doing or how the shows were. Every time we called them, they just asked about the van. We’re starting to understand what their priorities are. I really hate our record label right now. Plus they call me “bro,” and I hate that even more. How could things get worse?

Well, this is how. The mechanic tells us that the parts we need won’t be here until tomorrow. That’s no good, because we need to be in Chicago today. We decide to take a chance and drive on the faulty front end. The people at the garage put our van back together and do what they can to make sure we get to Chicago safely. Well, it works—we get to the club, meet up with our friend Ashley, and have our first decent meal in days. We play with a shitty boring band that sounds like any other crap you would hear on any shitty alternarock radio station. We also play with another band called Family Haircut. They rock, but everyone leaves when they come on.

Day Fifteen

Well it’s the last day of the tour, and we’re all excited that we’re heading home. We have one more show in Detroit, and then the plan is to haul ass to New York. It’s about a 12-hour ride home. Rachael and I plan on driving the first half, then Joel and Steve will take over on the second half. Exhaustion is starting to hit the band. All those late nights, combined with all the drinking, are catching up to us.

Tonight, we play a place called the Old Miami. Man, Detroit is such a shit hole. (My apologies to anyone who lives here or is from here.) The last time we played here, Joel was accosted by a drunk guy with a peg leg with a radio hanging off it, who was looking for some money because he watched over our van while we were loading out. The whole time he just slurred the words “How about some compensation?”

We pull into the club around 7 PM and load in to what looks like someone’s basement, except this basement has a stage and a bar. I guess the bar is an old Vietnam vet hangout by day and then a rock club at night. I find it hard to imagine war vets hanging out here, but there they are, lined up at the bar.

Rachael and I get into an argument after soundcheck. The first fight of the tour. It’s funny that it happens on the last day. I’m surprised that it took so long to happen. We fight about what song to soundcheck with—how stupid is that? But that’s what happens when you’re cooped up together for a long time. I admit it’s mostly my fault, though most of it comes from being really tired and really wanting to go home.

I decided to take a nap in the van while the rest of the band got some food. Steve chose to walk to a local pizzeria alone, but the bartender told him that he shouldn’t walk the two blocks alone. Steve laughed it off, but after another thorough warning, Joel went with him. Hanging on the wall by the entrance is a poster of a former patron at the bar. I guess there is a $1,000 reward to anyone with information on who shot the guy. I’m glad Joel went with Steve. I realize that this could happen anywhere, but for some reason being in Detroit makes it worse.

What did Kiss ever see in Detroit?

Day Sixteen

We’re about 40 minutes from home, and I can’t wait to see my wife. As for the dog, yeah, I guess I’m looking forward to seeing him, too. It’s weird because during the tour, two weeks felt like forever. But when I think back on it, two weeks seem to fly by and the days seem to smoosh into each other. We had a blast driving around the East Coast playing our songs to people, and though we never had big crowds, the people who stayed and listened really enjoyed us. That’s all that really mattered to us, anyway. Even if there were only two people in the audience, we always played as if it the club were packed with 1,000 people.

Epilogue

Johnny Rotten once asked, “Have you ever had the feeling that you’ve been cheated?” Well, when I think back on our two-week tour, I start to think the same thing. Have we been cheated? The business side of music sucks, and Gig Records pretty much proved to us that it sucks. Our relationship with Gig Records has rapidly fallen apart since we’ve been home. We haven’t spoken to each other in a week. As a matter of fact, the last time they talked to me, they only asked if we had the receipts for the tire rotation and oil change. Again, they mentioned nothing about the band or the tour. They just asked about the van. You would expect a small indie label to treat their bands with more respect. Guess I was wrong.

So why do we do it? When this band started, I was 24. I’m 32 now. Our crowds haven’t gotten any bigger since our very first show, we haven’t won any readers’ polls, no one is beating down our door to pick up where Gig Records left off, and we’re not making any money. So why does Dryer continue to play shows and put out music?

Well, here’s the answer. We believe in each other. It sounds really stupid and clichéd, but it’s true. I’m lucky to be playing music with two extremely talented people. And we’re lucky to be surrounded by loved ones and friends who really believe in the band. That’s what keeps us going. That’s why we will continue to write music. We’re not going to let some small shitty label out of New Jersey ruin our dreams of selling out Valentine’s.


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