I can almost count the days left on this tour on my fingers. I certainly can count the number of shows – there’s only four remaining. Much like in January when it felt like we’d never actually get in the van and drive away, heading home feels like an equally foreign concept now. And I’m feeling a lot of feelings about the whole thing. But first, let’s recap the conclusion of Texas, our return to Arkansas and our spur of the moment Memphis visit.
Austin is a very cool city. An incredibly different feel than much of the rest of Texas, and probably the youngest average age of any city we’ve been to so far. Sixth street is the main drag downtown for nightlife, and it feels a lot like Nashville with a dash of New Orleans grunge. (All the famous bar streets in this country look incredibly similar, for what it’s worth.) We spent four nights in an RV park right downtown and got a pretty good taste of what the city has to offer.
First of all, Terry Black’s Barbecue. Hoooooooooly cow, you guys. We’ve had lots of great food on this tour but I feel the need to call this place out by name. Those of you that know me well know that I am not the worlds biggest carnivore – by no means a vegetarian, but if I have the choice between ribs or a pasta dinner, I’ll usually choose the latter. But at Greg’s insistence we stopped for barbecue our first night in Austin, and we so happened to be just down the street from this place. I had a brisket sandwich and it was unquestionably the best barbecue I have ever had in my entire life. And also maybe the best peach cobbler too. If you ever go to Austin, eat at this place. You can thank me later.
We spent a couple nights hanging around downtown, once on purpose and once on accident – there’s a few drink deals on 6th that make it pretty tough to leave without tossing back a few. I had hoped (and somewhat expected) to see some amazing music in all of the bars, but while there weren’t any bad players, it was overall nothing too spectacular. Maybe we’ll try and book one of those venues next time – I think we’d do pretty well there.
We had two gigs in Austin. One was pretty close to the aforementioned main strip – The Driskill Hotel is apparently a bit of an Austin staple and was gracious enough to book us on a Thursday night. Aside from the struggle of parking and maneuvering the van downtown, it was a really great gig. Beautiful venue with a massive built in crowd, an incredibly accommodating booker at the bar and a more than reasonable payout. A+ show, we’ll be returning next time we pass through without a doubt. The second gig was at a coffeehouse towards the north side of the city, far from the business of downtown. A much more low key and less lucrative gig for sure – next time we’ll be booking downtown exclusively if I can help it.
Our last day in Austin we finally got to break in the drone! Ziker Park was just around the corner from the RV park we stayed at, so after checkout on Sunday we stopped over for a couple hours to test it out. In between rain showers I was able to get some incredible shots – that thing is fun to fly and takes awesome pictures for being so small. I so wish I had this thing when we were in the Southwest. While we did get some good shots on our phones, next tour the video quality is gonna shoot up by like 250%. Here’s a couple sample pictures we snagged:
Post-Austin things slowed down again for a bit. Between there and San Antonio, combined with our lack of gigs for the first week and a half of May, we had overshot our budget a bit and needed to lay low until payday. So we spent a couple nights at a few free campgrounds between Austin and Fort Worth. I got some Florida flashbacks after just one day – we made the mistake of parking under a tree and ran our totally full batteries down to almost nothing overnight. So we spent a couple days driving around in rural Texas looking for free, sunny places to camp, and managed to find a couple on the Brazos river. Not the worst way to kill time for a few days. We also caved and bought a fan. It wasn’t less than 90 degrees for a single day that we were in Texas. I’m fairly convinced that the back of the van would hit, if not surpass, 120 degrees – no windows makes it damn near impossible for the air to circulate, even with our overhead vent fan on. Some things have literally melted off the walls in here. So we bought a tiny air circulator fan and it has actually made a world of difference – I can actually sleep past 8am now without being woken up by the heat.
Friday we had our last Texas gig of the tour in Fort Worth. Upon rolling into town I immediately wished we’d had more money and more time to spend there; it looks like such a neat place. We played in the Stockyards, which is a section of town that is more or less a modern recreation of the Wild West, complete with longhorn cattle and staged shootouts and people in full cowboy attire. We treated ourselves to one more meal of good Mexican food at Joe T. Garcia’s (also highly recommended – they only serve two dishes but they do a near perfect job at making them) and wandered around for a bit at our leisure until the gig.
This particular gig was perhaps the most strangely executed gig of the tour. We showed up hours early as nobody had told us when we were going on – we were supposed to open for some up and coming country singer. Well, the headliner that evening changed at least once between when the show was booked and the day of, and when time came to sound check, nobody but us was around. No headliner ever showed. The bar scrambled and called in a local to fill in – and he showed up without a band. Since he didn’t want to play solo for three hours, we ended up splitting the night. We played the first two hours and he played the second, and Greg and I walked out with a free meal and significantly more money than we had expected to make that evening. Unorthodox? You betcha. But financially it worked out better for us, which is always a win in my book. (Also, we met the nicest old Australian men at this bar after the show. We bonded over the unexpected hospitality we’ve received from Texans across the board and Niagara Falls. They may have been my favorite new people I’ve encountered so far on this tour and I wanted to hang out with them all night. Australia is now on the bucket list.)
Yesterday we finally left Texas (not before stopping for In-N-Out Burger one last time. I’ve gotten Greg hooked, and I can’t say I’m happy to leave the land of consistent, cheap, and delicious burgers). We drove back through Arkansas and stayed outside Little Rock last night, at yet another truck stop that we had already visited once.
Today, entirely on a whim, we decided to go into Memphis for a few hours. I knew we’d be passing through on our way to Tupelo but I hadn’t planned to stop, until Greg decided he wanted to see Graceland while we had the chance. So this afternoon we took a tour of Elvis’ mansion and surrounding grounds. And despite accidentally dumping the contents of our fridge to the ground on our way out and leaving our roof vent open while it thunderstormed and soaked our carpet
(whoops), we had a great time. While massively overcrowded for my taste, it was pretty cool to see such an iconic place. Everything inside is original and has been preserved incredibly well for its age. Apparently, Elvis bought Graceland for $100k when he was 22 in 1957 – that’s almost a million bucks in today’s money. As a musician living out of a van at 24, I can’t say that doesn’t make me both a little jealous and a little awestruck. How crazy it must have been to be so wildly famous and successful so young.
We of course had to get some Memphis-style barbecue before we left town. While Terry Blacks still has my vote for best barbecue ever, I did have an excellent pulled pork sandwich followed by excellent peanut butter pie. Food wise, this tour has essentially spoiled us. There’s almost no situation where I won’t shell out the cash for a really good meal, and I’ve done my best to make sure all of our food excursions on this tour have been the best available when I do have the funds to splurge. But we’ve had so much good food in such a short span that I think I’ll be unable to top a lot of these meals for a long, long time. I still think about my New Orleans crawfish boil and beignets and jambalaya, about the po boys from Savannah, the grouper in Florida, and all the Mexican and New Mexican food from the Southwest and Texas. I already wish there was anything even remotely close to any of these things in the Northeast. (And I’m all ears if you have suggestions, but be warned: we’re critical as all hell after the places we’ve been!)
If you guessed we’re at another truck stop tonight, you guessed correctly. Tomorrow we’re headed to a nearby state park to charge up the batteries overnight (it’s been overcast, so our solar panels can’t do the work we need them to lately) and then we’ll head to Tupelo for the fourth to last show of the tour. After that, it’s a two day haul all the way back to the Fort Myers area for two more shows before we start the trek home.
And that’s it! I can’t tell you how much it feels like we only just started. Of course January feels like forever ago, but in another sense these past few months have absolutely flown by. And while I am of course looking forward to seeing family and friends at home, another part of me definitely wishes it wasn’t ending and is already counting the days to the mid-July date we’ve set for the start of the second tour. We’re booking in October as we speak, and we’ve got no plans to stop anytime soon. This “Proof of Concept Tour”, as I have come to call it, has shown me that all the things I had hoped were possible, are possible. We can book shows in pretty much any city we like, we can make money doing it, and with a little effort we can stay in the black so long as we keep living out of the van, which we’ve both grown to be incredibly fond of. We’re set up to do this for a long, long time. Maybe we won’t ever be Elvis-level successful, but at the end of the day I don’t give a damn about owning a mansion or horses or planes or any of that superficial nonsense. I just want to keep playing music and keep seeing more of this beautiful country for as long as I can. If I can continue to afford to fix the van when we break down, to buy us a good meal when we’re sick of bologna sandwiches, and to buy the gas to get us to the places we’ve yet to go, I’m already a lot closer to my own idea of success than I ever thought I’d be.
The next time you’ll hear from me, it’ll probably be the last time before we’re home. I’m hoping to do a recap of all the highs and lows of this crazy adventure and maybe tell some previously untold stories to round things off, so expect the longest blog-novel to date and a lot of reflecting and rambling and the like. Wish us well on this home stretch, and we’ll see you Buffalonians sooner than later!