Except the van. If I could feed burgers or enchiladas to the van to keep it from falling apart on me you better believe I would.
As is currently tradition, a lot of things rapidly improved after we left Florida. As much as I do enjoy a balmy 75 and sunny for half the winter, there is a lot more of this country that I’m always anxious to get to. But it’s kind of funny that this has fallen by the wayside a bit even more than it used to. In my own head, I’ve become acclimated to the craziness of the day-to-day, and I often worry that if I start to blog I just won’t have anything new to say. That’s ridiculous of course; there’s always something going on and I just need to look a little bit harder for the brightest moments.
It’s been a month since the last post and March has been an absolute whirlwind. Let’s hit the highlights and the best stories as concisely as we can without being too vague.
New Orleans on Mardi Gras is essentially exactly how you imagine it. The entire French Quarter turns into one giant nightclub, more or less. It’s chaos, and honestly while I had an absolute blast, I don’t think I need to go back again for that particular holiday. New Orleans is a party every night of the year both with and without occasion, and as a person who values a place to sit down while drinking at the bar as opposed to being packed into a dark, neon-lit room like a sardine, I think I’ll return on an off-week. That said, Mardi Gras is an absolute spectacle to behold. There are no less than a dozen parades that run the week leading up to Fat Tuesday, and they are incredibly large productions. They have the best marching bands in the world in these parades, and they are unbelievable. From the elaborate floats (each one with a massively complicated theme that coincides with that given parade’s overall theme of the year) they throw beads to the crowds of onlookers, of course, but they also throw a LOT of other stuff – cups, hats, frisbees, stuffed animals, fidget spinners, hula hoops, bouncy balls, foam swords… the list goes on a lot longer than that. Greg and I collected easily several dozen sets of beads and maybe twenty other assorted knick-knacks in the span of attending just a few parades. Sitting at the bar is fun and all, but have you ever tried to catch a rogue beer koozie that’s flying through the air while balancing your open beer in your other hand? It’s a riot.
One thing that was fairly surprising was the fact that outside the French Quarter, Mardi Gras is a very family-friendly holiday. I saw more families than anything else at the parades that ran Uptown. But it’s fairly easy to imagine why – people are playing music, dancing, and throwing toys for hours (and I do mean hours – the larger parades easily lasted 4-6 hours or more) from on top of these magnificent moving works of art. It’s not too unlike Disneyland. I’m not sure there’s any other celebration like it in the country – there really is something for everyone. That all being said, next time we go back we’ll spend a lot more time on the new-to-us Frenchmen’s Street outside the Quarter – there’s a lot more live music and a LOT less people, which is definitely more up our alley.
Photo dump #1 incoming:
After New Orleans we headed straight for Texas. Instead of heading to Dallas, though, we we re-routed so that we could play all our favorite Texas cities in the span of a couple weeks rather than splitting it up into two visits like we did last year. This year, every gig we played in Texas was a gig we had played the year prior, with the exception of one. The new booking agent at our favorite taco-serving venue had recently ventured into house concerts, so we got to play our second ever house show early this March as well. With no exception, every single show we played in Texas went extremely well. Texas as a whole has really grown on us. It has all the things that we like: good tacos, good barbecue, good weather, good music, good beer, and good venues. As you might expect, often we talk about what we’ll do when we decide to stop touring full time, as well as where we might decide to stay. Alongside the southwest in general, Texas comes up quite a bit, for not only all of the above reasons but also that it would give us a home base right in the middle of the country, where we could run smaller tours to any coast of the country a lot easier than we can currently based so far to the northeast.
Texas highlights include:
- We returned to Sancho’s, the aforementioned best taco-selling venue. This time I too got the tacos instead of a torta, and let me tell you, the hype Greg has given it for the last year was completely true. Those tacos were amazing. They’re street tacos, so they’re on really small corn tortillas, with both pickled and raw onions, cilantro, lime, a bit of salsa verde, and on ours, carnitas. That’s it. And they were the best damn tacos I ever had. Fortunately we’ve developed a great relationship with their booking agent and I think we’ll be able to indulge in those tacos for many years to come.
- In-N-Out! Texas is the start of In-N-Out country. At this point, we’ve tried almost every fast food burger chain – Checkers, Five Guys, Whataburger, Hardees, Shake Shack, and all the usual suspects. I am of the firm, unchangeable opinion that In-N-Out makes the best fast food burger in the country. It’s literally always fresh, always exactly as I ordered, always cheap and always delicious. I will concede on the fries – I can take them or leave them (plain, anyways – animal style fries are a beast to be reckoned with). The whole secret menu in general allows you to customize things a little further than what the original menu seems to allow, too. It’s unbeatable. The thing that confounds me the most is people that actually prefer Whataburger to In-N-Out. Whataburger is way more comparable to Wendys or Hardees, in my opinion. That all being said, we went to In-N-Out twice this month and will probably go several more times when we get to California.
- We also returned to Austin for the second time. Entirely on accident, we ended up booking our sole Austin show smack-dab in the middle of the giant music festival SXSW. This made for a great crowd for our show, but an absolutely miserable driving experience. It took us 45 minutes to find a parking lot to put the Beast in, and we paid a pretty penny for it, too. Then we got to walk a half a mile with all our gear through downtown Austin and giant throngs of hipsters. I love Austin a lot, but again, unless we’re playing the festival I don’t think we’ll be back in town during this particular event.
- That said, Austin also gave us one of our coolest fan experiences of our careers thus far. A few days before our show our page got a Facebook message from an individual asking about start times and reserved seating. While answering their questions I took a look at their profile, and it belonged to an Australian man who was traveling with his wife on a three-week tour of the US. We got just lucky enough that they stumbled upon our event listing in the local papers and wanted to come see us. Not only did they both show up, but they stayed for the entire show, which is rare in many circumstances but especially so in a place like Austin with so many other things going on that evening. Naturally we decided to say hello after the show was over, and to the surprise of all of us I think, the group of us hit it off so well that we spent the next several hours drinking beers, swapping stories, and wandering around the city. I learned a surprising amount about Australian culture (my favorite new fact: in Australia, it’s not called McDonalds, it’s called Maccas. Try saying that and not instantly feeling Australian). Brenton and Georgie, I truly hope we cross paths again one day! (Australia Tour 2025?)
- One more note about Austin – Terry Blacks. This is the only barbecue place we’ll ever go from now on in Austin. We actually inadvertently tried another barbecue place that’s related to Terry Black’s – a place called Black’s Barbecue. Black’s has been in the barbecue business since the 1930’s and is supposed to be one of the best in Texas. Terry Black’s was founded by two members of the original Black’s family; they tried to operate under the Black’s Barbecue name but were actually sued by other family members as supposedly their barbecue recipes and processes were not similar enough to the traditional Black’s way. A little Hatfield-McCoy situation, barbecue style. But in our opinion, Terry Blacks was significantly better in all possible ways. We walked a half hour and waited in line for almost as long to eat there, which is something we almost are never willing to do, and let me tell ya – it was worth every second. Best barbecue I have ever eaten, and quite frankly the best barbecue I may ever eat.
- During our stay in Dallas, we took a quick trip over to Fort Worth to hit up another favorite Mexican spot of ours – Joe T. Garcias. This place is kind of bizarre by restaurant standards. First, they seat over a thousand people in their outside courtyard. No exaggeration, look it up. Second, they only serve two dishes, fajitas or enchiladas. And third, your food comes out about three minutes after you order it (maybe we got lucky both times, but it’s literally been damn near instant after we ordered. This time, we had a mariachi band sing us a song just after we ordered, and the food arrived before they were even finished). It’s unorthodox but the food is truly phenomenal and it’s a gorgeous restaurant. Both times we’ve eaten there I’ve had enough leftovers for two more meals. Fort Worth itself is a cool town and next year we will definitely look a whole lot harder for a gig there.
Photo Dump #2 incoming:
After Dallas, we went up to Oklahoma to return to Norman for a single show. This coincided with our most recent van repair – brakes. We were getting a telltale squealing from the front drivers side tire that sounded like the brake pad had worn down to its wear indicator. Naturally with the amount of driving we have coming up this was cause for near immediate concern. So we found ourselves at one of the only open mechanics on a Saturday in a small town – a Midas. But the mechanical gods have never truly forsaken us, and we once again got extremely lucky with our choice of mechanic. In a few short hours and just over $150 (the cheapest van repair to date!) we were back on the road, brakes feeling and sounding as good as new.
We have noticed something unusual since we had this repair done – do you remember the mysterious clunking sound that I’ve brought up time and time again that just never seems to have a cause no matter what mechanic we take it to? Since we replaced the brake pads, that sound has stopped completely. This was just under a week ago, so perhaps it’s too soon to make that call, but it would seem to me that the brake pads may have been the culprit all along. Here’s to hoping for another ten thousand miles of silent braking.
The past couple days we were in Amarillo. This is another area we’ve grown extremely fond of. Our gig schedule is a bit tight (and getting tighter) over the next few months, so we didn’t have as much time as we wanted to return to one of our favorite places in the country – Palo Duro Canyon. But we of course dedicated an entire day to it regardless. It was every bit as spectacular as I remember it, if not doubly so since this second time around it was considerably less foggy and rainy. I feel the exact same way about it now as I did when we left the southwest last year – why the hell didn’t we just stay here the entire time? Why do we ever leave? It’s just so unbelievably beautiful and unlike anything we have on the east coast. I never get tired of looking at canyons, mountains, and red rocks. I feel better, I write better songs, we’re more active people – just everything about being out here seems to be better for us. Truly, I cannot believe anyone settles for the southeast without having visited the southwest first. Actually, I’m glad they don’t – the lack of people in large parts of these areas is something I’d like to remain unchanged.
Photo dump #3 incoming:
We made it to Albuquerque this afternoon, another city we really enjoy. We returned to our favorite New Mexican restaurant – Sadie’s – and ate our fill of enchiladas and sopapillas. Tomorrow I think we’ve decided to do a bit of camping on our last day off in New Mexico. Friday we play a gig and then head straight for Phoenix for another mid-day gig the following afternoon. It’ll be a very busy weekend.
Here’s a few other fun facts that don’t fit into this narrative of locations:
- Greg has finally picked up a part-time job. It’s very very sporadic work, and he is only allowed to work 3 hours a day when there is work available, but it is FAR better than nothing. I’ve also been given another contract from Appen, so I’m back on the 4 hours per day grind as of a couple weeks ago. It’s soul crushing, but we need the cash coming in to fund this summer’s many projects.
- I also got Greg on the calorie-counting train. I’ve been logging all of my meals since about October of last year, and because of it I’m down about 15 pounds since then. (Ten to go before I’m finally satisfied). Recently I’ve convinced Greg to do the same, and while it does take the fun out of day to day snacking (thought to be clear I am a firm believer in not denying yourself the things you love, just eating less of them), it’s really been the most effective tool for getting into better shape that I’ve found. He’s lost a lot of weight as well – we both look better than we have in a very long time.
- We’re moving along on the album, but we still need to write 3-4 more songs before we have a full record. I am terrified that we will not get to that point, but we still have about two months before we need to start really dialing things in. We have about 8 new songs that are slotted to be on it so far, which could potentially be enough, but I think I have a few more good songs in me somewhere that should be included on this.
- We’ve finalized our van remodel plans to the best of our abilities. The main modifications include raising the bed about a foot, building two new cabinets, and building a second permanent seat for our table. It’s significantly less work than what we had originally planned for, but the more we talked about the time it would take and how busy we’re going to be, it seemed the best course of action was to only do what was really necessary. I’m nervous that this will still be a lot more than we can handle, but only time will tell for that.
We leave the desert and head for central California during the second week of April, which is approaching so fast it’s making my head spin. We are about to be so unbelievably busy that I’m not sure we’ve scheduled in any time to sleep. So forgive me if I fall behind on this again. I never mean to, but with so much going on and feeling like I repeat myself a lot of the time, it always seems to be a lower priority than it should be.
Thanks for reading my ramblings. Send vibes for good weather so we can enjoy what little time we do have in the desert this year!