The world looks a little different than it did since the last time we spoke. I’d kind of like to talk about it for a minute, and all the things that have happened leading up to it.
So let’s briefly recap 2019. Last I left you, we were on our way to Buffalo in June to remodel our van and record our sophomore album. We successfully finished both of these things by September. Our van’s new interior has improved our living conditions by a factor of ten, and our album was received very well by friends, family, fans, and media alike. We left WNY in mid-September for a fall-to-early-winter tour which ran until mid-December. All in all, a fairly productive and successful end to 2019, and we rang in 2020 at our usual New Year’s bar among good friends.
Ah, the optimism I had for 2020 in January. Had only we known.
We began our last tour in mid-January and, like in many previous years, started in Georgia. This was followed by a very long string of Florida shows, including a week of shows in the Florida Keys, and concluded with a drive straight from Fort Walton to just outside of Houston.
We arrived in Texas on March 5th.
Texas has become one of my favorite places to tour through. I can’t say for sure if I’d want to live there, but as a touring musician it offers an almost unparalleled level of benefits – a music loving culture, great, cheap food, REALLY cheap gas, and some of the better drivers we’ve encountered. When I say we were thrilled to arrive in the lone star state, I’m not exaggerating.
We played our busiest week of shows ever starting March 5th. The schedule was planned as 9 shows in a row with only one day off. The first five shows went off without a hitch. On our sixth show of nine, the atmosphere in public began to shift. We had our first discussion about the Coronavirus while sitting at a bar. We publicly lamented for Austin over the cancelling of SXSW, but quietly cheered that no cases had been found in this county. On the 7th show, I felt uncomfortable accepting drinks from the bartender and wished that people would leave the bar and go home. On the 8th show, the bar manager and sound guy waved at us instead of shaking our hands, and the show was not attended nearly as well as expected.
We cancelled the 9th show. This was on 3/14.
We had booked state park reservations for the following Sunday and Monday, so we resolved to honor that reservation and give everything a few more days before we decided what our next move was going to be. I spent six months booking this tour. I did not want to overreact.
By Monday we had resolved to cancel all remaining March shows. This was on 3/16.
On Tuesday we did something we’ve talked about for a long while, something I in particular have been trying to make happen for years. We visited an Arlington area animal shelter and adopted a dog – a little rusty-colored, one year old, 14 pound Chihuahua mix we named Piper. My thought process was that with a forced break from touring, it would be the perfect time to help a dog adjust to our lifestyle. Piper presented us with a number of challenges early on, but she’s blossomed into the sweetest little companion and has been a wonderful distraction from the seriousness of the situation. Though she’s been plenty of work since day one and still does not know life as a true van dwelling dog as we’d hoped, she’s integrating so well into our lives, and we both love having her around.
This was 3/17. That evening, we started the drive back to Buffalo.
Our other option was to go further west, to Arizona, and try to wait out the bulk of this problem there, in hopes of picking the tour back up in April. Us choosing to do that would mean that we felt optimistic about what was going on in the world. Going home meant that we did not think this issue would be resolved by April, and that we’d have to cancel at least six weeks worth of shows. Right now, we’ve been right on each and every decision.
Since we’ve arrived back in NY, it’s been both a whirlwind and a whole lot of nothing. Early on, I would lament at the lack of things being done every morning, at the friends and family who continually said “I’m not worried about it” and “it isn’t a big deal”. I feel like from the beginning, I had a good idea that this was going to be a big deal. I watched diligently as county after county, and now state after state, imposed social distancing laws and acknowledged that Americans were not immune to this virus.
I spent about three months in that mental state. We ended up cancelling the remainder of our tour by mid-April. I turned 26 in lockdown in May. All our summer festivals and shows following our tour were cancelled by June. We watched the ebb and flow, the flattening of the curve, the rise of the anti-maskers and the US becoming the COVID-19 epicenter of the world.
We watched this while we fell apart, to be truthful. We watched the life we built – the thing I poured my heart and soul into for YEARS, investing every spare penny and moment and time into, be taken from us by an out of control virus and those too selfish to think of those other than themselves.
I lost my interest in playing music almost immediately after arriving in Buffalo. At first, it felt too serious to be doing something like singing. But soon, I found myself making excuses any time a guitar was around. I think my soul needed a break. I was pouring everything into what we were doing, both mentally and financially. As so many had warned, and I had long expected, being a musician had finally become a Job. And with a Job comes tasks and duties that you don’t enjoy. And while music will always be something I love and adore playing, also being the accountant, the manager, the marketer, the promoter, the website designer, the booking agent, the everything – it wore on me to the point where I think I wanted nothing to do with any of it, the music itself included. On top of that, I think watching something you’ve worked so hard to achieve be laid entirely to waste by things out of your control would take the wind out of anyone’s sails.
And then, in July, to the shock of quite literally everyone involved – my family was exposed to and contacted COVID-19.
We were SO careful. We didn’t go to any bars or parties. We wore our masks. We kept our social circle extremely small. But my younger sister was exposed at work, and she came to my parent’s house to celebrate my youngest sister’s high school graduation. And that was all it took. Myself, both sisters, my dad, and Greg all tested positive.
We spent the better part of this month in state-mandated isolation. The process when you contract this virus is so strange – we heard my sister had tested positive just a day or two after the rest of us went for our tests, so we all assumed we had it as well and acted as such. We actually were visiting my parent’s second place in the thousand islands when we started feeling sick, which is in about the middle of nowhere, so the four of us that were all infected together found it very easy to isolate from the rest of the world there. But we didn’t get our test results until just a couple days ago – by this point, it was over a week after we had been given the tests, and we were all over most of our symptoms and on the mend. In short, if we had been waiting for our results to begin isolating ourselves, we would have exposed a LOT of people because of how long it took.
We all recovered without much pomp or circumstance, and for that I am eternally grateful. We all had variations of coughs, fevers, headaches, and fatigues. We all also lost our senses of taste and smell to some degree – myself worst of all. Everyone else has returned to normal on that front, but it’s the only symptom I’ve yet to shake – if I had to guess, over two full weeks since my symptom onset, I think I have about 60% of those senses back now. On that note, stop taking those senses for granted. Taste is 80% smell, and when you lose them both, you lose all enjoyment of any food, period. I still can’t taste my coffee in the morning. Just yesterday, I got some of my ability to taste garlic back. I still can’t taste chocolate or mac and cheese or guacamole. Anyone who knows me (or who has read any of this blog when we’re touring) knows that I am an absolute foodie. I think I was genuinely was bordering on depressive for a few days when I couldn’t taste anything at all. The only flavor I could still detect was bitterness, and it made eating anything a chore. It was also one of the most bizarre sensations of my life – the flavor going out of food is like the color going out of the sky. You don’t ever really think about it until suddenly it’s no longer there.
That said, we got through this about a hundred times luckier than many others, and while it’s cathartic to complain about my experience, I recognize how fortunate we’ve been. But the rules feel different now. I’m no longer wearing a mask because I’m afraid OF other people, I’m afraid FOR them. What if I’m still contagious? The CDC promises me I’m not, but how sure can they be with something so new? How can I ask anyone to come to a show, knowing even at my most careful moments I still managed to contract this disease without any difficulty? How can I ask someone to come and risk their health for me? How do I justify leaving WNY before we have this under control as a country? What if I can catch it a second time? Am I actually any safer now than I was? Are there long-term implications that have yet to rear their heads? I really don’t have much aside from more questions at this point.
And on an equally as frustrating note, we’ve received a shocking amount of borderline animosity and unexpectedly crazy behavior from family and friends who we told about our diagnosis. As much as I don’t plan on being social for probably the remainder of July, I can feel the whispers of accusations between closed doors. Based on what we’ve heard, I know some people assume we did something wrong when we were being more careful than almost anyone I know. Too many people panicked went and got tested after finding out we had it despite us not having seen them WEEKS prior to our exposure. And very few asked if we – the people who actually had the disease we are all so scared of – were doing alright. I understand the fear, I truly do. But we were the ones in actual danger. It was unprecedentedly disheartening across the board. I was looking for a modicum of support during a terrifying moment for my entire family, and we got something a lot closer to a pariah status instead, and we’re still feeling the implications of it.
There may be a silver lining to all of this (that isn’t just my realization that I might not be surrounded entirely by the kind of people I’d hoped). I’ve been listening to music again. And listening to music makes me feel like I want to play. I think maybe there’s something to be written about here. I can’t stand the on-the-nose, Coronavirus-specific songs that call this pandemic out by name, but there may be some more nuanced emotions that have come out of actually contracting the virus that might have their place in a few songs. I’m a little bit excited that I feel that way without having to force it – for a minute, I was worried that feeling might never come back.
I want to talk about the other major thing I did during this lockdown period too. I bought a small business. I didn’t finalize the purchase until mid-June, and as I’m still getting comfortable doing my new job(s), I don’t really want to get too into the details of exactly what I’m doing. Not because it’s scandalous or anything, but entirely because, in typical me fashion, I’m afraid of it going poorly and having to explain to people why it didn’t work out. (Remember when I kept the first tour a secret from the world for almost a year?) That said, I have no indication it isn’t going to go well. It turns a reasonable profit, it’s been running for five years, it’s in a fairly stable niche, it’s something I can do completely from my laptop, and it’s music-related – so it’s something I don’t have to learn from scratch. If I can grow it in the ways I’m envisioning, this can easily replace all the ridiculous side gigs I’ve been working over the last several years to cover the gaps left by our gig incomes. This is something I’ve been trying to do for ages, and I’m optimistic that I’ve finally found it. I actually took out a small loan to finance the purchase, I’m that confident. (And I didn’t even take out a loan to buy the van back in the day).
Speaking of the van, after a few agonizing days earlier in the summer, she’s running well again. We had been fighting with a leak in our heater core for over a year, and with all our down time took it upon ourselves to replace it. It was a horrible but not impossible job. Immediately following that job the van had trouble starting while warm, which resulted in me replacing all the spark plugs myself, only to realize that the actual problem was a loose connection on our engine temperature sensor – we wasted a full day on that one, and the actual fix took about five seconds. We also had our windshield replaced – the first, and probably sole, repair that was covered by insurance thanks to a rock to the windshield while we were still on tour. We’re still hoping to fix our large generator while we’re home, as well as a couple other little projects, because there.’s always a few of those kicking around.
But sadly I don’t think we’ll be going anywhere any time soon. Every place I’d like to go is being absolutely ravaged by COVID right now, and I suspect much of this country is on the verge of another large scale shut down. I think we’ll be in NY well into 2021, and I don’t expect the first time we leave will be to do any playing, either. It’ll be just because we finally can.
So we’re in a very weird limbo. We got the Thing everyone is so scared of, and our antibodies should clear us to go about our lives as we did before. But instead we have more questions than answers, and nothing feels like much of a relief despite our luck with the virus experience itself. I’m enthusiastic about the new business, and music is starting to sound appealing again, but there are very few around me that I’m interested in sharing any of that with. I have every intention of putting my head down, working on the new business, writing a couple songs, and teaching my dog some more manners. But as much as all of that sounds appealing now, I suspect I’ll have a hard time doing an entire year of it.
I just thought it might be good to write some of this down. Truthfully, I wrote the entire part about our March tour dates and everything preceding it a couple weeks after we got to Buffalo. But my heart wasn’t in writing about it further then, and everything has changed so much in a few short months. I’m glad I waited, and I’m glad that it’s written down now.
But god, do I miss the road. It didn’t hit me until very recently how much I miss how things were Before. I miss waking up in random truck stops on lonely highways in strange deserts and high mountains. For a little while, I thought maybe the sadness that I had developed since arriving home might be because I was maybe getting tired of what we were doing. 26 is pretty close to 30, and I was starting to think that maybe I was interested in something more stable. But a little bit of soul searching has proven the opposite to be true – I’m not done running around, not even close. The sadness comes from the same thing the sadness came from at the beginning, and the catalyst for everything – it came from feeling like someone, or something, else was in control. I didn’t get much of a say in coming home, it would’ve been foolish to do anything else. It’s the same way I felt when I took my first full-time job – I felt like anything else would’ve been a mistake.
So I’ve had my break. I shrunk my circle. I learned, I grew. I feel the differences in myself from before this pandemic and after, and despite the heartache I am certainly stronger for it.
I just want the universe to let me get back to my life before I forget everything I’ve learned. It’s selfish, I know. But time keeps marching on and I won’t be able to do the things I want to do forever. Put me back on I-10 right where we left off, headed southwest. I didn’t get to see the Superstitions this year. We didn’t go to the Badlands like we planned. I think about Moab on a weekly basis, and how long it’ll be before I get to go back again. That all breaks my heart so badly that I try desperately not to think about it. I’m trying to focus on the positive until I can stop lying to myself about how sad it really makes me.
The weather has been wonderful this summer so far. Piper finally became friends with my parent’s dogs. Greg has really taken to smoking meats, and we’ve had a great menu of meals since we’ve been home because of it. I didn’t die from COVID-19, and I can probably give some plasma and antibodies to those less fortunate now.
And the road is still out there, and the very instant I can go, I’ll be gone for a long, long time.
We’re less than three hours away from another long overnight drive back to Buffalo. I have a wildly varying number of conflicting feelings about this, and each time we prepare for our return I find the overwhelming majority of these are not as positive as they used to be. But at the end of our last tour I concluded things with a collection of stories from our recent travels, and I’d like to do something similar this time around. Instead of just stories, I’m going to give you a glimpse into the deleted scenes of the past six months – we try to curate the things that make it out into the world of social media, and there’s so much that we never get to talk about. So here are some photos and anecdotes from the life of a van-dwelling touring musician.
I wanted to start with this since it’s been all I’ve thought about since we left. Hawaii was borderline magical. Of course you expect it to be beautiful, but it truly feels like some kind of otherworldly paradise. I could talk for hours about all the things we did and how much I loved it.
If you follow us on any other social media platform, you’ve seen all the beautiful pictures Greg and I posted that week and several weeks after. The snorkeling videos, the beautiful green mountains and jungles, the unbelievable food, the plumeria flowers and the hiking views. But this picture is how I will always remember that trip. This was towards the end of a beach day, after swimming in an immense surf on one of the most beautiful coastlines I’ve ever seen. Just outside this shot, Greg and my sister Haley are still in the water, being tossed around by the waves and grinning from ear to ear. My dad is standing next to me. I am exhausted here. My hair is an absolute mess and my rash guard is full of sand. But in this exact, candid moment, I can’t even begin to tell you how honestly happy I was. To be surrounded by family in our own personal Shangri-La, where each and every moment was an undeniable adventure and seemed to be better than the last. Unforgettable does not even begin to describe how I feel about our time on Oahu, and I am so unbelievably thankful that I got to experience every moment surrounded by some of my favorite people on earth.
I have also vowed that this will most definitely not be the only time I go to Hawaii. I may never get to live in paradise like my sister did, but I have more than a sneaking suspicion that we could make our next trip out there a business venture.
Mahalo and aloha, Honolulu. We’ll be seeing you, and that’s a promise.
On finding other people’s cool vans:
One of the best resources I had when planning how to move into the van back in 2017 was other people already living in their vans. There is an astounding community of van-dwellers and full time RV-ers all over the world, and every once in a while we get to encounter some of them. Most often, we’ll see a Mercedes Sprinter with a roof vent installed and argue about whether or not it’s a camper on the inside. But every once in a while, we come across a rig that is undeniably a complete camper conversion, and it’s way cooler than anything we’ll ever drive.
The top picture was at the Grand Canyon this year – that truck was MASSIVE. And European! And while it was most definitely an RV, all I could think of was the gas mileage whoever drives that is getting. The second picture was after an overnight stop at a Walmart in Daphne, Alabama. That little red van that could is exactly the kind of photogenic van I wish we were driving, save for the lack of space we’d have in anything smaller than our current ride. The last was just recently in Kansas at a TA truck stop. It might be hard to tell from the angle, but that thing is a school bus. Whoever converted it raised the roof up by about a foot, and installed that whole back porch looking area, on top of painting it and whatever awesome stuff they did to the inside.
By the van life community standards, our van couldn’t be further from “cool”. We don’t get nearly as many Instagram followers as the weekend warriors driving cool 70’s campervans or the families living in Skoolie conversion buses. But the thing about living in a van is that you can customize everything to exactly what you need to achieve anything that you could possibly imagine. And our big, boxy, white Beast is perfect for us in so many ways. I hope she runs for another hundred thousand miles.
On weird tips at gigs:
People LOVE to put weird stuff in our tip jar. Greg does this joke at a lot of our gig that goes “If you like what you hear, you can toss some money in the tip jar, and if you don’t, you can write what you don’t like about us on the back of a twenty dollar bill and put it in our suggestion box.” It gets a laugh nearly every single time, and over the years we’ve received dollar bills with lots of stuff written all over them – usually compliments and song requests. (Nobody has critiqued us via a tip, yet.) But I have so many weird tales of things people have tipped us, given us after the show, or written on paper and tossed on our merch stand.
I don’t have pictures of the best stories, but I’ll tell them anyways. My favorite song request story was at a bar in South Carolina where we were being really well received. A camo-clad southern gentleman threw five bucks and a piece of paper in the tip jar. Whenever paper ends up there, I always have to stop after the current song and fish it out, because it’s usually a song request. This time it was, but it took me a second to decipher it. This guy actually wanted us to play the National Anthem. In a bar. At 11pm. I think he was trying to show off his patriotism to his lady friend that was with him, but I don’t think she would have been too thrilled if we asked everyone to put down their drinks, get up from the bar and remove their hats. We had to skip that one, despite him submitting the same request a half an hour later. (Though I often wish we had played it just to see what would have happened).
We’ve also been tipped the following: a winning ($2) lottery ticket, dollar bills folded into origami, meatballs, hundred dollar bills (my favorite), K-Cups, and more than once, drugs (which we politely returned). The top picture is from our show in Boulder earlier this week, we actually received two of those in absolute mint condition. The second was on Easter in California, at a tiny little saloon north of San Francisco. Everyone tells you to say no to drugs from strange people and I think we’ve mastered the art of that, but nobody prepares you for how to handle when some lady you’ve never met wants to tip you in hard boiled Easter eggs.
None of this is said with malice, however. As much as a $5 bill goes a lot further in our gas tank than almost any of this other stuff, I don’t tell stories about those tips. Except for the homemade food. Just buy us a beer instead, please.
On van repairs:
We’ve put over 40K miles on the van since we bought it. It’s a ’95. So it’s inevitable that things break down with some sort of regularity. I’ve talked about this at length in previous posts, but I thought I might shed some light on what actually happens when something decides to die on us.
Step 1: Hear a weird new sound. Decide to ignore it until it starts happening with regularity.
Step 2: Hear the sound for the third consecutive day in a row. Curse a lot when it starts happening every time you drive.
Step 3: Google some stuff to decide whether this sound is likely going to cause you to be stranded or if you can put off repairing it until the end of the tour.
Step 4: Google has told you it’s either an inconsequential piece of the suspension, or your engine is literally dying. Not exactly helpful.
Step 5: Text my dad to confirm what I suspect the problem to be. You know how on cop shows the team always has someone sitting in front of a bunch of computers they can call who can give them the crucial information they need to catch the bad guys? That’s what texting my dad when I’m worried we’re going to break down feels like.
Step 6: Based on my dad’s recommendation, either: do nothing because it’s not a big deal, try a temporary DIY fix, or immediately start looking for a mechanic (and start praying that you get lucky and it doesn’t cost you your entire grocery budget for the week).
Step 7: Rinse and repeat in two weeks when the next new sound pops up.
As my dad would tell you, this is what happens when you have old shit. Break down stories are often of the more exciting variety to tell, but damn do they suck when they’re happening. The pictures above are of two separate repair incidents that we attempted to DIY, but so far are technically unresolved. The first is a picture of our starter (and a glimpse at how rusty the undercarriage really is), because the van has started doing this thing where it doesn’t start every single time you turn the key. We were considering replacing that, but after climbing underneath to take that picture I noticed what’s shown in picture number 3, which is a cable running directly to our battery that was all but chewed through. We settled on replacing that cable first before trying to mess with the starter – while we were in Idaho we set up shop in an Auto Zone parking lot for a few hours and completed that job ourselves. Since that swap, the van has only not started on us a couple times, so we think that it helped. We’re in the “put it off until the tour ends” phase of repair there.
The second picture is of our old multi meter. It’s really tough to have anyone help you diagnose a problem from a thousand miles away. So whenever I do call my dad about an issue, I’m always sending pictures of stuff to try and make clearer the problem we’re dealing with. With this particular picture, if I remember correctly we were determining whether that multi meter was capable of reading current (it was not). This was also when we were having an issue with the van starting back in February, but at that time the van would start when we jumped it, and recently a jump does nothing if it doesn’t turn on. So we suspected a parasitic drain on the battery and needed to test it with a better-equipped multi meter. Sadly we found no such drain and the problem seemingly vanished overnight, as many of the van’s idiosyncrasies seem to do. It’s yet to be seen whether or not this one will come back around to inconvenience us yet again.
Ah, me and my old shit. A tale as old as time. But I’ll take a mechanical issue over a sewage problem every day.
On the eternal question of getting a dog:
I’ve shared this picture before, but look how damn perfect our friend’s Chihuahua Sally looks in the back of our van.
I’ve been around dogs all of my life and I love most dogs more than I like most people. And we get asked fairly often if we travel with a dog. Now, I would like nothing more than to run at full speed to the nearest animal shelter and adopt the first scrappy little terrier I set my eyes on. And I know Greg feels similarly. And there are lots of other van-lifers and RVers who have pets, in fact I know more than one person travelling full-time with multiple large dogs.
But the truth is that right now, it would be very tricky. Possible? Sure. But it would make things quite a bit harder than they are now logistically. When we aren’t playing a gig, our lifestyle is perhaps as dog-friendly as they come. We hike, we go camping, we’re always outdoors with somewhere to run around – some truck stops even have dog parks these days. But we also have to do things like go to the gym. And spend four to five hours inside music venues when the van is parked three blocks away. And go grocery shopping when it’s 90+ degrees outside. If we had an air conditioner that didn’t require electrical hookups, or if we could afford to always leave the van in a campground when we have a gig, I would absolutely 100% get a dog literally tomorrow. But the van gets so hot sometimes, and our schedule can be so crazy, and the last thing I’d want to do was make both the dog and us miserable.
That being said, I look at animal shelter pet listings about once a week. I feel like my life would be legitimately complete with a furry little co-pilot hanging his head out the window. We would need a unique dog – a dog who loves meeting people and going new places, who doesn’t mind loud noises at truck stops and could behave if we brought him to a show (I envision an 150% increase in tips if we had a dog wearing our sign). A dog who doesn’t bark much, who can be trained well, and who’s small enough to be comfortable in our little 8×12 foot space we call home.
I believe that dog is out there, and that one day we’re gonna stumble across him. Until then, I’ll keep spending too much of my free time watching videos of dogs on the internet. Someday, someday.
On trying to take decent pictures and failing 80% of the time:
This is why most of our pictures we post are of the van, or a landscape, or other random things, and much less often of us. I often tell Greg “Take a picture of me!” And then he takes one or two and I look at them and immediately decide they will never see the light of day. Because the truth now is that all of our social media activities have to be coordinated. We can’t post goofy pictures or bad shots of us unless they’re remarkable in some way, because for us social media is a tool to connect with people about what we do and not a personal journal (and that’s one of the reasons I started this blog – this is more for me than anyone else). And unflattering pictures of us don’t do us any favors. Slowly over time, we’ve learned how to tell each other to “make a less weird face and stand less weirdly”, and overall the quality of our pictures has really gone up. But in every set of photos we take, the large majority always look like this when we’re the subjects.
But I keep them all anyways and save them for myself. Like these ones, for example. This was in New Orleans (no surprise there) on the Sunday before Mardi Gras in a little bar in the French Quarter called Cafe Beignet. We had just finished watching a parade and wanted to find a place to sit down for a while. And I asked Greg to get a cool picture of me….. and these are what I got. I’m sure that if I ever have kids they’ll find these super amusing, along with the hundreds of others that look very similar to this from all over the country. And they are amusing. But what’s really great about all the shots that never make it to the Instagram page usually tell a better story than the ones that do. You can almost see me in the first picture asking Greg what in the hell he was doing.
On the whole music thing:
The third picture in this set here is something I have not previously shared publicly. This past year I had applied for us to have a performance showcase at South by Southwest. For the uninitiated, it’s one of the biggest music festivals in the country. I expected no response fully and completely, but we were going to be in Austin where it’s held at the exact same time as the festival no matter what. So with literally nothing to lose, I applied and kind of forgot about it. Until I got the email pictured above. Now, I would have of course loved to hear yes. But this was quite literally the next best thing, and said in a fairly flattering way by a very prestigious selection committee. I was absolutely floored when it showed up in my inbox.
Of course, we ended up not getting called for the festival – that I most certainly would have posted about. But that doesn’t matter to me at all. I applied with our current music, press quotes, and media, thinking it was absolutely not on par with what the bar is set at for a festival like this. And instead of “thanks-but-no-thanks” we got a maybe. A maybe! That means they liked what they heard and saw. That means someone read our application and listened to our music and thought we might be a good fit for the festival. And on learning that, I know that once this new album comes out and we hit things really hard next year like we’ve planned to, we have a really good shot at getting the “yes” that I’m chasing.
The top picture is our Spotify code. You can scan that in the Spotify app and it’ll take you right to our page, which is cool. Spotify is our target with this new album. As much as selling CDs and getting Facebook likes are important, one of the biggest metrics that people look at when gauging a band’s success these days is how much their music has been streamed online. So I’ve laid out a pretty comprehensive marketing plan for the next 8-12 months that really focuses all of our energy there. My digital marketing background has come in handy more times than I can count, I’ll tell ya that. But things like this make it a great time to be an independent musician. Previously you needed a record label to swoop in and blast your music out to the masses. Now, you can do it all yourself, and if you’re good you can do it pretty cheap. So as much as I wish someone would swoop in and save me from doing this all myself, I’m incredibly grateful that I can.
(Shameless plug: if you haven’t already, go follow us on Spotify. It takes like 30 seconds and really helps us out.)
The middle picture is from our second ever house concert that we played in San Antonio. House concerts, for me, are weird. They’re technically great, because you don’t have to bring an audience ever, you make more money at one of these than you ever will playing as a bar band, and you play to a silent crowd of listening people. Sounds great, no? And logistically it is great. But I don’t love playing them the way I should. Maybe I just haven’t played enough, but to me, I feel extraordinarily out of place playing music in someone’s living room. I think maybe it reminds me of all the house parties I’ve played as favors and how much I don’t miss playing for free, or even worse, the promise of “exposure”. But they are something that we’re going to continue to push for more of, because of that laundry list of benefits I mentioned. And that’s a huge part of being an independent musician, too – not everything is comfortable. Sometimes you play shows you can’t stand and make a lot of money. Sometimes you play shows you love for tips and beer. Every single show is a learning experience and helps you make the next one just a little bit better.
The whole point of moving into a van was to focus everything on music. It’s been a long, slow grind, but we’re getting there little by little. I have no doubt that at this rate, if we keep at it we’ll be able to have long, lucrative music careers on the other side of this thing. Here’s to hoping the rest of the journey to that point isn’t any harder than it has to be.
I could talk forever about Utah. Of all the states I’ve been surprised by, Utah is number one by a mile. When anyone from the East coast thinks of Utah, I’m not sure they think of anything more than Mormons if they’ve never been. Only people who have been there “get it”, if you will.
We only drove through a small corner of southeastern Utah last spring on our way to Colorado, and I was absolutely blown away at what I could see just from the highway. So this year, we planned almost a whole week in Moab right towards the end of the tour. And every single minute of that week was breathtaking. There’s tons of free camping around Moab, so not only is it incredibly affordable to be there in a camper, but it attracts outdoorsy people of all types and corners of the world. I couldn’t even begin to count how many cool vans and RVs we saw in our short time there.
Greg wrote a really great paragraph for our social media pages about the campsite we stayed at on some public land that really captured the essence of our most recent trip to the desert:
“We had the privilege of making this spot our home for a few days and we’re slightly bummed to have to be leaving it. Often when we’re asked “What’s your favorite place you’ve been to?” it’s easy to tell people cities, towns and landmarks. Those types of places are more easily understood. It’s a lot harder explaining that there’s this beautiful, peaceful patch of dirt in southeastern Utah that gave us this feeling of peace and happiness and joy for a few days. So for those asking: this may be one of our favorite places. This beautiful, peaceful patch of dirt. Friends, if you’ve never been, do not sleep on Utah.”
There’s this thing that I’ve noticed among all the most beautiful places I’ve been to. They tend to look fake, kind of like a movie set that’s been airbrushed into place by some invisible special effects team, and it always looks just a little hazy. I first noticed this at the Grand Canyon, and I’ve seen it at every national park and extraordinary place in nature we’ve been to since. It’s like a signal from the planet that “hey, you’re looking at something amazing right now and you should pay attention”, and it’s the feature that gets lost in photos. When I look at literally anything in Utah, it looks like this. Much of it looks alien, like we stepped onto Mars for a moment and got to look around. It’s an absolute treasure of a place and perhaps one of the most overlooked in the country.
Greg and I have talked about what happens after we decide we want to live in a house again. (Mind you, I don’t think this is anytime remotely soon.) We talk about places we might like to live, and Texas comes up a lot as an option. It’s centrally located to make for easy, short tours, it’s got a great music scene in several cities, it’s affordable and there’s a whole lot less snow than there is in WNY. But secretly I also love the fact that it is a whole hell of a lot closer to all these beautiful desert states that I have grown to love so much, and I certainly haven’t written any of them off as a future home.
On sleeping at truck stops:
This is something that many people find weird. We spend probably 85% of our nights sleeping in truck stop parking lots. Now don’t get me wrong, truck stops are not the ultimate solution to RV travel. I have seen some very shady things go down at these places, including screaming domestic disputes, homeless panhandlers approaching cars, drug deals, lot lizards, and active crime scenes, among plenty of other things. But I see those things less than 1% of the time. Every other day, we pull into a big, well lit parking lot that has bathrooms and gas and a convenience store and even showers if we need them, and then we get a night of sleep that is usually peaceful and always undisturbed by anyone telling us that we can’t park there. I value my sleep too much to take risks by parking in places where people might ask us to leave.
This is also where our van’s design comes in the most handy. When you close the metal partition door between the cab and the living space, we are basically undetectable from the outside. All the doors lock, and all the spaces where light could sneak out are covered. We look like a parked, unoccupied white work van and nothing else. I will never know how many times our getup has prevented us from getting hassled, but I’m sure it’s been many more times than once.
Plus, we have security cameras installed in three different places in the van. Over each seat in the cab facing the windows, and one looking straight out of the bumper, which is where this photo is taken from. When it gets late, we do our best to not leave the van, and if we hear anything weird we can flip the cameras on to look outside and see what’s happening. If those cameras are off, and it’s quiet out, inside the van truly feels like its own little world. It’s been one unchanging aspect of our lives that we’ve had every single day since we started this adventure, and I think that has helped immensely in regards to making things comfortable day in and day out.
We’ve talked about getting a new van, almost exclusively so that we could have more space and get better MPG. But I think wholeheartedly we’ll run this one into the ground first. Not only could I not imagine anyone else driving the beast around instead of us, but this one has done remarkably well at getting us from place to place and keeping us safe each night we spend on the road. I think I owe a lot more of our success to stumbling across this van on eBay than I’ll ever be able to quantify.
On being with your significant other every minute of every single day:
You ever have an argument with someone and leave the room to cool down after it’s over? I literally haven’t gotten to do that in almost two years. Living in a space this size with anyone would be immensely difficult, and that person being not only your significant other but also technically your business partner makes that doubly true. Despite this I personally think Greg and I do better than almost anyone else would do on this front. Like any couple we have fights, and when you can’t even so much as go to the next room to breathe for a minute it can really complicate things. But here we are 18 months later and our relationship is so much stronger than it was before we left Buffalo.
You learn a lot about a person you spend this much time with, but I have learned so much about myself simply by being with Greg every single day. I’ve learned the things that I can handle and the things I can’t. I’ve learned how to pick my battles and let a lot of things go for the greater good. I’ve learned that we share so many of the same goals and aspirations far beyond just playing music for a living. I think I’m a better communicator and partner after living this way, and I think Greg is too.
Greg has been the comedic relief to my intense focus, the driver to my navigation, the carefree traveler to my workaholic, and the public speaker to my reserved stage presence. The longer we are together, the better we seem to complement each other. And in just four short days we’ll have been together for six whole years, which is still unbelievable to me.
I was always going to do this van-life thing once I got the idea in my head. I remember when I decided to ask Greg if he’d be interested too, and that if he said no, I would just get the smallest van that I could handle and a big guard dog and hit the road myself. But the relief that comes with having someone at your side who has your back and wants to walk the same path as you do is immense. To be able to share the highs and lows with someone else who understands your own journey as much as you do is absolutely priceless. I could do it alone if I had to, but having done it with my partner in crime I most definitely would never want to. There isn’t another person on earth who I owe more of my own success to than him. And at the end of the day, when it’s just the two of us planning out our days, weeks, and years, we make a really, really good team.
So there you have it. Another six months of touring and traveling under our belts. Each time we do this we learn a little more, and we make a little more progress, and I feel a little bit more convinced that moving into the van was the best decision I have ever made.
They say that when you travel, the trouble is that you always leave a piece of yourself in each place you go. I have found this to be overwhelmingly true. A piece of me lives in Amarillo, another in Flagstaff, one in Santa Cruz and another in Asheville. It’s been weirdly and surprisingly difficult to manage that. I want to live in all of these places and revisit these moments time and time again. It breaks my heart a little bit each time we leave somewhere that I’ve left a piece of myself in. And I’m not sure I’ll ever get over that feeling.
Buffalo has taught me plenty and made me wise and hardened to a lot of things that I couldn’t learn any other place. And Greg starts every show by saying we’re “The Rightly So from Buffalo, New York”. But I’m starting to feel like that isn’t true now. It hasn’t felt like where I’m from for some time. In fact, I’m not sure that I’m from anywhere anymore. I’m from the red rocks of Arizona, from the mountains of the Sierra Nevada and the surf off the South Carolina coast. So much of who I was before we moved into the van is gone, and it’s all been replaced by the things I’ve learned and places I fall in love with every single day. And I’m not sure I’d like to be from somewhere ever again.
In every state and county, between the hills and valleys and over the lakes and rivers, I live for the long highway drives. When the world is flying by out the window, the engine humming low and the wind whipping around us, I am always, always contented. It’s the most honest kind of peace I have ever found. I could live in the drives between all of these places forever. I hope that when I get to heaven, it has room for a big lug of a van like ours. I hope that gas is cheap and the weather is warm, and that the roads up there wind on for all of eternity. But I hope that’s a long, long time from now, and that I have so many more years to cruise these dusty, earthly highways that will always feel like home.
I guess this has become more of a quarterly this year than a blog, if even that. I’ve been so busy trying to take everything in and keep my head above water that this continues to be one of the things that falls through the cracks. I’m already looking back on some of my favorite parts of the year though, and that’s hard to believe, even though it shouldn’t be seeing as we’re already into May. The last month and a half has absolutely flown by, and while I’m not surprised in the slightest I do think that if I don’t start writing about it now all but the gleaming highlights are going to be forgotten. So, here we go.
We got to Phoenix on March 30th after an all-night drive from Albuquerque. Sadly the first half of the drive was in complete darkness, which was a shame because the mountains in that part of the country are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. We did get a taste of it the following morning when we drove into town, straight to the gig. The most notably different thing about Arizona this time around was the color – everything is SO green right now. All the cacti were in bloom and all the plants and trees were vibrant, a far cry from the completely arid desert that we saw this time last year. It was a privilege to see.
It’s a cool feeling to go from surrounded by strangers to surrounded by friends literally overnight. Our friends Savannah, Drew, and Colton are all based out of Phoenix. In our first two days in Arizona a combination of the five of us did the following: played a show together, got drinks, hung out at Savannah’s show, and had a barbecue at Colton’s beautiful house in Mesa. It’s always refreshing to feel part of a sort of community, especially when we spend so much time alone and isolated from any semblance of a regular life. Not to mention all of us are musicians and Savannah and Drew also live in a van, so we have a LOT to talk about whenever we get together.
But I’m always most excited to get to Arizona because of all the camping. Savannah and Drew really know the good spots in and around Phoenix, and they’ve yet to take us somewhere that I haven’t been absolutely blown away by. This visit was no exception – they took us just outside of the city into this gorgeous canyon, surrounded by towering saguaros and wandering Longhorns. I would have paid a pretty penny for the views we got for free on that public land. We cooked burgers and drank beers and sang songs for three days, and were even joined by some of Savannah’s friends who are also ex-vanlifers themselves. And as much as the rest of this post is going to be about where we’ve been and the things we’ve seen, I still find myself thinking back most fondly on the times when the most important factor was who we were with. It’s an entirely different experience when you get to share these unbelievable places and experiences with good company.
The first of many photo dumps:
For the second year in a row it felt like we truly did not get enough time in the Phoenix area . But there’s always a show to play in the next town over, it seems. So we packed up the van and shook off the red dirt and drove back up into the mountains of Arizona. We were returning to Flagstaff for a show, but we had some other business to attend to in the area first.
Our second visit to the Grand Canyon contained less jaw dropping shock and more anticipatory appreciation. Though truth be told, it has never failed to take my breath away each time I’ve laid eyes on it. I said it last year and I’ll say it again, with even more emphasis this time: everyone on earth should see the Grand Canyon. Everyone. Pictures will never do it justice. I’ll probably visit every single time that I pass through northern Arizona for the rest of my life, and God willing, that’ll be many more times.
We hiked below the rim for the second time this year. While camping with Savannah and Drew, they took us on a hike to a neat little cave set into the canyon walls near where we were camping. That hike, while not grueling, was most certainly a challenge for semi-experienced hikers like us (Savannah and Drew backpacked 40 miles in 4 days into the Grand Canyon earlier this year. They’re about as extreme as any hikers we’ve ever met. So when they say a hike is “not too bad”, we basically prepare for a marathon). So with that experience fresh in our minds, as well as the memory of climbing up the Bright Angel trail out of the Grand Canyon last year and quite literally thinking we might die, we thoroughly prepared ourselves for this year’s hike. We’ve acquired real hiking boots, hiking backpacks, camelbacks, bigger water bottles, and perhaps most importantly, over 6 months of regularly going to the gym. And as a result, the hike down and back up the Kaibab trail to Cedar Ridge was almost a cakewalk in comparison. Not quite a total breeze – while our actual trek below the rim was just a 3 mile round trip hike, there was a section of switchbacks near the top of the canyon that were most definitely unpleasant coming up. But upon reaching the top we had more than enough energy to walk the mile and a half trail back to where the van was parked, and with our earlier casual hikes around the rim that morning, we ended up with over 8 miles of hiking that day, which I think even to this day is still our furthest total distance. Next time, we hope to hike all the way to the bottom, which would be an overnight backpacking trip, and I think it would be the hike of a lifetime.
While we were still in the desert I came to a realization – our plans had lined us up to have about three consecutive free days for the entire time we’d be in California, and I had to make sort of a snap decision. As soon as we left Arizona, we’d go straight to Yosemite. It would be our only chance to go this year and I was intent on not missing out. In planning, the overnight 11 hour drive from Flagstaff to the bottom of Yosemite Valley seemed like no big deal. Upon packing up at our Flagstaff gig at 1am and realizing that we had our longest drive ever in front of us in the middle of the night, for a very brief moment I regretted my decision. But with a few Starbucks espresso shots in the fridge and each with our own set of podcasts and audio books to listen to, once we got into the rhythm of driving the time passed fairly quickly. We stopped for a single hour of sleep at a California rest stop just as the sun was coming up.
The drive into California was weirdly emotional for me. I spent 12 years living in Buffalo and 10 living in California. So despite the fact that I’ve physically spent more time in WNY, I still tend to say that I grew up in California, because it honestly feels like I did, even if you’re a long way from finished with your childhood at 11 years old. I didn’t handle the move to the east coast well, and as a quiet kid who was never quick to make friends I was fairly miserable for a few years and spent the better part of a decade wishing I was back on the west coast. I went to LA when I was 19 to do some recording, but anyone who’s been to California will tell you that Southern California can feel like a completely separate entity from the rest of the state, in the same way that NYC is not representative of upstate New York. So it quite literally felt like I hadn’t been back to the place I grew up in 14 years. I haven’t met many others who’ve had that kind of experience, and while Greg – who lived his entire life in one house until we got our apartment – could certainly sympathize, he certainly could not empathize. Even on our drive to Yosemite, which wasn’t particularly close to where I lived, just seeing the rolling, dusty California hills again kind of made me choke up. A lot of the memories I have from my early childhood seem so distant and faded, and seeing even the faintest reminder of these places and experiences made a lot of things come rushing back, and it was overwhelming.
But I had very little time to be consumed by my own thoughts, because once you get within a couple hours of Yosemite the scenery becomes more breathtaking with every bend in the mountain roads. Once you leave Fresno, everything turns lush and green, and the snow capped mountains are still way off in the distance. It has a vaguely European, Sound-of-Music-esque aesthetic. Slowly you climb the mountains, and the green meadows give way to pine trees and dense forests. Suddenly without warning you come around a single curve, and you’re thousands of feet up looking out on the most expansive valley you’ve ever seen, stretching for miles around. I truly did not believe I’d see anything as impressive as the Grand Canyon elsewhere in America, but looking out over Yosemite Valley I think I may have been wrong about that.
Our initial descent was tedious in the van, but uneventful. As you might imagine, over eight thousand pounds of rusty metal does not exactly handle mountain driving well. About three miles from our destination at the bottom of the valley, Greg turned to me and said “Do you smell that? Is something burning?” I immediately suspected our fridge or our slightly-broken car charger for our GPS, but unplugging both did nothing about the smell. We pulled over and, to our shock, found our brakes to be quite literally and visibly smoking. This was an entirely new development for the van, and something that had never happened to us before, despite crossing many a steep mountain, including the Rockies (and I’m now doubting the quality of the Midas brake job that we got back in March). Without cell phone service we did the best we could – wait for the smoke to stop, and slowly creep our way to our destination. (A later google search would reveal this to be not entirely uncommon with new brakes and heavy vehicles down steep roads, and we’ve since learned to embrace lower gears.)
Since we had but an hour of sleep between Sunday and Monday, the only thing we did the first night was shower and go to sleep at like 8:30pm. Monday morning we were up at nearly the crack of dawn, preparing to do what we came there to do, and that was to do about the most challenging hike we could handle. The first thing we did was consult a park employee, who gave us the disappointing news that almost all the trails we wanted to do were still closed due to snow – April is still considered winter in Yosemite. So we picked the hike up Yosemite Falls, which was supposedly mostly clear, and told ourselves we’d stop as soon as things got too dicey.
The first third of this 7.3 mile round trip hike is entirely in the woods, slowly winding up the side of a mountain. It’s tedious, back breaking hiking. Nothing but switchbacks for ages. Then you cross a few small streams and waterfalls, and trudge up some seemingly unending steep inclines, before you round a corner and reach an observation point that lets you see Yosemite valley in all of its glory, called Columbia Rock. And it is quite breathtaking from that spot. This was the place the park ranger had advised we might want to turn around. But the trail looked dry, and many less equipped hikers were pressing on, so on we went as well.
The next third of this hike involves a lot less tree cover, so that each turn in the trail yields an ever-more impressive view of the valley floor. The trail is still dirt for the most part, until you start to get close to the base of Upper Yosemite Falls. The falls are so massive, and there is so much water due to the snow melt, that the mist created by it has an incredibly wide radius. It feels like a light rain almost before you can even see the falls. But eventually you round another corner, and the falls are suddenly before you, and lucky for us, in full force on a chilly but crystal clear day. After stopping to marvel for a moment, we looked again at the trail ahead. This is where we got our first look at the snow. Now, there was no fresh snow in the park. All that was left was the slick, icy snowdrifts that remained from the concluding winter. So whenever there was snow on the trail, the trail was quite literally nothing but extremely densely packed slush and ice, easily over a foot thick in most places. And yet, we watched many hikers continue. Many in just tennis shoes and water bottles in hand. Looking at Greg and I, with our packs full of food and water, our heavy-duty hiking boots, and our many layers of clothes, I said “as long as it doesn’t get any worse than this, we can keep going.” Truth be told, I didn’t mean that – we encountered several people who made it to the top that day already, and I was dead set on being one of them.
The last third of the hike is borderline chaos, but almost exclusively because of the snow. The trail is steep and winding on its own, but every few feet when you put a giant icy snowdrift into the walking path, you’re taking a challenging hike and making it unpredictable. A wrong step sends your leg careening into the abyss beneath the snow, which was often terrifyingly hollow. The snow was so slick from all the foot traffic that it was almost too easy to lose your footing, even on the way up. And all the while, you’re climbing a mountain in the most literal sense of the word that there is. Every few minutes you have to force yourself to look up and see the absolute majesty that’s before you, and make note of the fact that the edge of the mountain gives way to a near vertical drop down to the valley floor, now over a thousand feet below you.
The last quarter of a mile is entirely in snow. It’s weird, because it’s far too warm to snow, and we were in jeans and t-shirts and perfectly comfortable, yet we were absolutely surrounded by snow in every direction. A real testament to the amount of snow they do get at the peak of winter. But eventually, you get to the top of the mountain. The change in elevation from the trail head to this point is 2700 feet. And you can see every single inch of that distance looking out over the valley. Much like the Grand Canyon, it doesn’t even look real. But this one is different, because you had to work for this view. This is a view that so very few are privy to, and that makes it even sweeter.
The very last section of this hike is to the falls overlook. Because to get to the apex of Upper Yosemite Falls, you actually have to climb down the face of the cliff that the water has carved just above the river. This is, in my opinion, the scariest part of the hike. There are stone steps carved into the cliff, but there is only a handrail on the inside of the trail. And the steps are about a foot and a half wide at the very biggest. In that moment, the distance between you and the abyss feels microscopic. But these terrifying stairs take you to the overlook that is surrounded by guard rails, and the fear is once again replaced by amazement. You’re standing on top of the tallest waterfall in North America, and it’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.
This tour has been rewarding almost every day in one way or another. But there have been many days where I feel I’ve ended up playing a good show, or shooting a cool video, or whatever the musical activity of the day is, purely because of luck. And many days, that has been the truth. But nobody gets to the top of a mountain on accident. You have to take every single one of those steps yourself, and there isn’t a soul on earth who can do it for you. I earned every inch of the view at the top of the falls, and I didn’t owe it to anyone other than myself. That hike may very well have been the most rewarding thing that I have ever done.
The hike down is very similar to the hike up, except for the part where gravity is now pulling you down over the slick snowdrifts. So instead of jamming a foot in to get a leg up, you’re sliding down the tracks you made with almost no way to stop yourself. And the edge of the world is still just mere feet away from your slippery shoes. Collectively we fell less than a half dozen times total – Greg took a couple minor spills and I stepped into a hollow snowdrift and sank in up to my thigh while banging up my shin pretty badly – but given the terrain I feel like this was a victory for us.
The second best part was getting back to the bottom, and having another park visitor ask us if we had made it to the top. Getting to say “yes, it took us 8 hours total and it’s a hell of a hike but absolutely worth it” was thrilling all on its own.
I wouldn’t recommend Yosemite the same way I recommend the Grand Canyon. I still want everyone to go to the Grand Canyon, because with little to no effort you’ll be able to see a natural masterpiece that will blow you away, and it really gives you a greater appreciation for our planet and our National parks system. There are quite literally a number of places where you can see the Canyon from your car on the highway, it’s that accessible. At Yosemite, the views are amazing in so many ground-level locations, it’s true. And if you have the chance to go, by all means go. But the people who really need to go are the ones who want the challenge of nothing short of a journey, and the rewards that come with it. I don’t know too many people who could have followed us up that mountain, but anyone that could absolutely should. It’s not easy to get up there, but it’s worth every second you spend doing it. The view at the top is truly the best thing I’ve ever seen.
Our second day at the park was unquestionably less dramatic than our first, especially since we had to leave that afternoon. But we did drive over to Bridalveil Falls and get one more look at yet another breathtaking Yosemite waterfall (this one was as but damper than we were expecting, too). After a quick detour to the cafe and gift shop, just like that we were on our way up and out of the valley.
We didn’t have more than a moment to catch our breath at any point during our time in California. Immediately after leaving Yosemite we had to get all the way to Morro Bay for our first couple of California shows. These ones and the two that followed the weekend went well, in fact these were probably the best set of shows we had in California.
That week we had but a single day off, a Saturday. I had this day planned out as soon as I booked the show dates. On Friday we played in the town over from one of my favorite places ever – Monterey. This is a town that my parents took us to as kids quite a bit, and some of my fondest childhood memories take place here. So I booked us an RV park for the night after the gig, and Saturday morning we were up extremely early for yet another day of adventuring.
We went to Point Lobos first, and barely – the van was juuuuust within the maximum length requirements the park has in place. This is one of the first places that instilled a love of hiking and the outdoors in me, and I’m sure it would do the same to many others as it’s an absolutely beautiful nature preserve directly on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. There are miles and miles of tide pools that are absolutely teeming with life – in fact hunting for crabs and other small marine life in these was one of my favorite things to do as a kid there. And being back made it hard not to feel like a child again as we scrambled over rocky outlooks and up ocean weathered boulders just to look out at the surf slamming into the shoreline. I had a hard time tearing my eyes away as we left.
But this was immediately followed by a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. For the uninitiated, this is basically the best aquarium in the country, if not the world. It has every type of sea-dwelling creature that you can imagine, and hundreds more that you can’t. It was the weekend when we went, so the whole place was packed with people, but for me that hardly made it less enjoyable. Here was the most pronounced location where I experienced the strangest phenomena related to visiting all these childhood places – everything felt a LOT smaller than it used to. It makes sense that it would, of course, as I was almost certainly under five feet tall when we moved away. But looking at a lot of the exhibits, many seemed to be half as small as I remembered them, and that’s definitely not a feeling I was expecting. It made me feel a little more “grown up” than I wanted to while taking pictures of penguins and petting bat rays and the like.
We concluded this day with a trip to Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey. Clam chowder is a bit of a staple in this part of the country, despite the distance from New England, and eating it out of a sourdough bread bowl still remains one of my favorite comfort foods to this day. So naturally we had to find the best clam chowder on the Wharf and order as much of it as we possibly could. (Spoiler – it was too much clam chowder and we had almost too many leftovers to fit in the fridge).
And just like that, we were on to the next place. The week of Easter we were to be joined by my sister Haley for a few days – she had a conference in San Diego and wanted to fly into San Francisco a few days early to hang out with us. In order to do this, we had to book a campground for the week, buy a tent for her to sleep in, and rent a car to drive us all around in – and this came with the added bonus of not having to drive the van anywhere near San Francisco as well, as well as giving us a safe, legal place to park the van, as there is little to no free camping in this part of California. Ironically, it turned out that the place that combined the right price with the right distance to the Bay area happened to be the first ever place that I went camping as a child – Mount Madonna County Park in Watsonville. And the closest town with an Enterprise to rent a car from was Gilroy, the town I grew up in. So on the day we picked up the rental car I got my first look at all the changes that took place over the last 14 years. Unsurprisingly, there were tons, and at first I was having a hard time recognizing anything at all. But the more I looked, the more I was able to pick out familiar signs and buildings – Mountain Mike’s Pizza, the Nob Hill grocery store, Las Animas Park, O’Henry’s Donuts. All names of places we used to go that I literally have not thought of in years, all brought back in an instant. It was a very strange mix of feeling out of place and feeling nostalgic – so much had changed, but so much had not.
That afternoon we had Super Taq for lunch. This was our family’s favorite Mexican place, comparable to Super Oscars in Phoenix that we have grown to love so much. When I was young I would only ever get a cheese quesadilla there, so I was excited to try the burritos and see how it stacked up to some of the other places we’ve been. In my opinion – as unbiased as possible – I prefer Super Taq to Super Oscars because their burritos have more “stuff”, more guac and beans and cheese and the like. Super Oscars is more than half meat, and that’s not the only thing I want out of a burrito (unsurprisingly, Greg feels the exact opposite and still prefers Super Oscars, carnivore that he is).
Between the pickup of the rental car and Haley’s arrival in California it felt like about an hour and a half had passed, while in reality it was almost four days. Between daily hour and a half drives to our multiple bay area shows and trying desperately to get cell phone service at our campground so we could work, the time passed unbelievably quickly. But once Haley arrived things quickly entered a sort of vacation-mode that we try to embrace whenever we have company. And I haven’t vacationed with my sister in quite a few years, and never without the rest of our family, so while it wasn’t much of a reprieve from the chaos, it was certainly much more entertaining.
We went up to San Francisco on the Saturday after Haley arrived, and attempted to see the Golden Gate Bridge. Upon arrival to the closest viewpoint we could find, we were immediately mobbed by about five hundred international tourists with zero regard for personal space or being conscious of other people’s photography. It took us about a half hour of driving around to find a better spot, but we did – and honestly, the bridge looked a whole lot better from where we ended up anyways.
After this it was time to revisit yet another favorite childhood activity of mine, and something that I wish WNY had very much – sushi boats. This is a restaurant where everyone sits around the sushi bar and sushi is served on small dishes, usually 2-4 pieces at a time, on little boats floating in water drifting in a track around the bar. I have always been a lover of sushi and unorthodox meals, so these restaurants have been a favorite for me since I was old enough to start appreciating raw fish (if memory serves, I was eight or nine years old). It’s fun, too – you watch the different types of rolls and fish come around to your seat and pick and choose the things you want to eat, and then you pay by the number of plates you’ve cleaned. It’s a really great way to try different types of fish preparations, plus you get a lot more variety than you would by just ordering a plate of sushi at a normal restaurant. We did some damage at the restaurant we found – I think the final number was around 22 plates.
We had a show that night and the next, one in Pacifica and one in a tiny town called Forest Knolls. Both of these went well enough – the first one suffered a bit due to the fact that we were on a bill with two other bands whose sound didn’t mesh with ours, and the second suffered solely because it was Easter Sunday; I think otherwise it would have been a great spot for us. I felt that way about a lot of our shows in California, which even now is still bumming me out a bit. It felt like a lot of the shows could have gone better than they did, but we kept catching off nights or weird circumstances that held us back. I still want to come back to the majority of these venues to cement either way whether it makes sense for us to be playing these areas. That is, after all, what this is all supposed to be about.
Monday we didn’t have a show, so we kept things a little more low-key and went down to Santa Cruz, yet another site of many childhood memories of mine. We spent the afternoon wandering around on the wharf and were treated to a really neat display of dozens of sea lions hanging out below us. I could have watched those things all day, they’re both amazing and incredibly goofy at the same time. This was followed by an evening at the campground where we had our first campfire of the year, which is always something I look forward to.
Tuesday Haley left us to head for her conference, but not before we drove into Gilroy one last time to take a quick look at our old house. It makes me a little sad to write about, because the place that exists in my mind does not exist in the real world anymore. The house I grew up in was a bluish-grey color, the house at 550 Eden is currently painted dark brown. The front door is different, and they tore down the playground that my dad built from scratch for us when we moved in as the first owners of the house. I’m sure that’s just the tip of the iceberg, because that’s just what you can see while you’re driving by. As much as I would kill to go stand inside it for a minute and just walk around, I’m sure the amount of differences and things that have been changed over the years would make me sadder than it would make me happy. I hope they kept the patio in the backyard, at least, it was beautiful and we moved out so fast after building it that our family never really got a chance to use it. And I hope they kept the orange tree. And the jasmine plant. And the little water fountain in the rock garden by the front door. In my mind, at least, all of these things will always be there.
But again, we left little time in our schedule to dwell on such things. We headed straight for northern California as soon as Haley left for the airport. NorCal is a beautiful place, unquestionably. We spent our time there camped at a casino outside of Eureka, which is certainly better than camping at rest stops with 8 hour parking limits like we did all through Central California. We had two gigs up this way, but they were probably the most frustrating of the tour so far – we were seriously underpaid and undervalued for the time we spent performing, and the audiences were extremely eclectic, but not exactly in a favorable way. Again, I’m hoping that we caught these places on off nights, but for all I know that’s just wishful thinking.
We did get to make one neat pit stop that week, and that was to the Avenue of the Giants. This is a 20-something mile highway that is lined with the biggest redwood trees that you have ever seen in your life. We’re talking like 20 feet in diameter trees. It’s really pretty unbelievable to see. They’re so big you have to use the panorama setting on your phone to get all of the tree in the shot. Greg in particular was pretty enamored with the redwoods, and if we come back through this way we’ll definitely be spending some time camping among them.
We got to Oregon last Sunday. I don’t know what it is about this place, but the whole state seemed to welcome us with open arms. But you know things are looking up when gas prices are down from the California average of like $4.15 a gallon to the Oregon average of $3.30 (our gas account is seriously hurting this month. We had our first ever fill up that broke $90 recently, and I think a piece of my soul died that evening). But from the minute we arrived things started working a little more smoothly – we found overnight parking with general ease, the weather was wonderful, the people were kind, and the gigs were phenomenal across the board. In fact I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more welcome as a musician than I did at our gig in Sisters, OR. Truly good people work and live in that town. We also played a killer show in Portland where we opened up for a record label showcase night and got to feel like real musicians for a minute, along with two fantastic nights at a tiny vineyard/winery in the small town of Terrebonne.
We did get to do a very brief couple nights of camping while in Oregon. As much as I wish we had time for more, I’m happy we were able to fit in anything at all. We found some nice public land about an hour north of Bend right next to a hiking trail that lead to a beautiful waterfall called Steelhead Falls. It was the tiniest taste of what the Oregon wilderness has to offer, and I can’t wait to go back to take a bigger bite of it. We spent a lot of time driving back and forth between the Bend area and the Portland area on the one winding highway that runs horizontally across the state, and each night I’d watch the towering pines turn into black, angular silhouettes against the twilight sky. The remoteness and beauty of those drives alone is enough reason for me to want to come back as soon as we can. But alas, that won’t be until 2020 at the soonest.
So, that just about catches us up, believe it or not. We drove into Washington state today and are camped out at a Walmart currently – it’s 2am, Greg is asleep and I am bound and determined to get this post out tonight. We’re also about 27 hours out from our flight out of the Seattle Airport to Hawaii. I’m turning 25 this week, and Haley is graduating from the University of Hawaii with her Master’s degree – what better reason to go to paradise than celebrating a couple life milestones? I can’t think of a better excuse. So the last day or so has been nothing but preparation – we’ve bought luggage and bathing suits, we (hopefully) found a parking lot for the van, and currently we’re working on defrosting the fridge so that we can leave it off for the duration of our trip, running this Wednesday to next. We’ll quite literally be as far west as we can go without passports.
I feel I am still much too young to be worried about birthdays, but that has yet to stop me. Turning 25 feels important, and it’s making me want to double my efforts of running headfirst into the fold of all the things I want to accomplish. We have an extremely busy summer ahead of us, and I have big plans for the coming year. But at this moment, I am utterly and completely worn out by all the chaos that has been the last six weeks. I am so very, very looking forward to taking a week off of any and all work – including music – for the first time in years. When we get back I’ll get back into the swing of things with a vengeance. But right now I’ve got two tickets to paradise (first class tickets, Happy Birthday to myself), and that’s the only thing I care about.
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!
Hang on, because this isn’t going to be an overly uplifting reintroduction. We’ve been back on the road for just shy of six weeks and it’s been one thing after another the entire time. It’s quite literally gotten to where I haven’t have time to do anything other than eat, sleep, work, and try and keep the van from falling apart around us. As usual, writing here takes a back seat to everything else that’s going on, and it’s endlessly frustrating that I miss out on recording the idiosyncrasies of each day on the road and have to settle for this massive, sweeping overview instead.
I’m thrilled to be moving again, don’t get me wrong. For every day I spend with my head in my hands because yet another critical piece of our house or life has fallen to pieces, there are twice as many moments where I wonder what took me so long to choose this kind of lifestyle. I think of our old apartment, the thin walls and matted carpet, the neighbors with loud marital problems, the driveway that was never plowed in the winter. I also think of my miserable hour long commute I took five days a week and sitting for hours at a time in a windowless room making money for someone else. I’d never in a million years go back to that. That said, over the last six weeks there have been more downs than ups.
There’s far too much to tell to take this day by day. So in hopes of getting myself back in the habit of writing, I’m gonna give you both the good and the bad in highlight-reel format.
The van has had various things break no less than six times since we’ve left: our water pump tubing cracked again, the hole in our roof got worse, (we bailed no less than 2 gallons of water out of our overhead storage one week) our brakes are making a terrible (yet intermittent) noise, some part of our radiator was leaking coolant all over the passenger side floor, and some un-diagnosed electrical problem caused us to need a jump start once every two to three days. I actually think there may be more things that I’m forgetting as well. Of these issues, three of these are temporarily fixed and three of these could become major issues again at any moment.
The contract for my second job that I picked up in the fall ended abruptly in early February. Now I’m back down to one part time job. I’m trying not to let this cripple my ability to enjoy things but I spend a very large amount of time worrying whether or not we’re making enough money to continue long-term. Then answer right now is that we are, but barely.
I’ve been sick for half the time we’ve been on the road, it seems. I had no voice the entire time I was home in Buffalo, but managed to get it back just before we left. By our third gig I felt a nasty cold coming on which took me out of commission for roughly another week. And in these last two weeks I’ve not only managed to lose my voice almost entirely yet again, but I also somehow managed to pick up a SECOND cold immediately after my voice began to rebound. Today is the first day I haven’t felt under the weather in some regard in a long time.
I know that’s just three things, but these are the big-ticket items that have truly permeated nearly every aspect of every day. There have been dozens of other little things in the day-to-day that become a lot harder to deal with when all of the above things are hanging over your head. For example – we had a very high-paying gig cancel for reasons beyond our control in a very critical spot in the spring. Usually it’s not the end of the world when this happens, but when on that same day the van is actively breaking down, I have a LOT less money coming in and I feel like death warmed over, something little like that makes you want to throw in the towel. Some days, all it took was untimely cold weather to make me give up on the day before it even started.
The gigs have been great, save for the two or three I have not had a voice for. Overall we’re better paid than our last tour through Florida and Georgia, we’re getting very solid crowd and venue reactions, and our gas-money (soon to be new-album-money) fund has never been fuller thanks to increased tips and merch sales. This has been the one thing that has really kept me going when everything else looks a pitiful shade of grey. This is, after all, supposed to be the entire point of what we’re doing. If the gigs were going poorly I may have turned around before we hit Miami this time.
We’ve gotten to spend a good deal of time with friends and family already. We’re much busier this time than we were last year – which is great – but fortunately our schedule did allow for a little down time. Most notably, we spent a few days with some really good friends of ours in St. Petersburg, and nearly an entire week with my parents and sister at my Aunt Deb’s place in Naples. This has been the second thing that has kept me going. I can’t emphasize this enough – when things feel like they’re getting out of control, there is nothing that feels better than having a place to park the van worry-free for a few days while also having access to unlimited shower, a full kitchen, a power hookup, and simultaneously being surrounded by loved ones. It’s the best kind of stress relief. It’s a literal breath of fresh air when things are crumbling. I’d be much more pessimistic about the next four months if we hadn’t had those two breaks when we had them.
We’ve gotten to revisit some of our favorite restaurants already, and those of you that know me well know that there is very little that puts me in a better mood faster than a good meal. We returned to the Savannah Seafood Shack (best po boys in America), we got more fritas cubanas in Miami (we ordered 10. That may have been too many but I do not have regrets about this), and we found a great little poke bowl spot in Miami as well (a favorite of mine). We also ate a TON of great food while visiting with everyone, so much so that there are too many places to list here.
The weather is good and warm. We’ve seen very little rain lately, and that alone is pretty spirit-lifting after the autumn we had.
We’re leaving Florida sometime within the next 24 hours. That’s always something I look forward to.
As you might guess, there’s plenty more that I could list here as well. Smaller things, but good things nonetheless. For example, we finally got to meet the hosts of the Americana Cafe Sundays concerts that we’ve now played twice – this is the gig that comes with a house for us to stay at in Northern Florida, and the house we’re still at as I write this. Maggie and Mike McKinney are two of the kindest, most genuine, most interesting people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. They may be in their seventies, but their energy and compassion for the people of northern Florida and the music they create is inspiring. I genuinely hope to see them again many times in the future. They were a beautiful bright spot in an otherwise dismal week.
I’ve also been struggling a bit lately with feeling obligated to be sharing what we’re doing online. Certainly this goes hand-in-hand with having a rough go of it lately, but I’m not enjoying having to posture myself and our life in a certain way to appease people on the internet who want to feel included. (This doesn’t apply here, for what it’s worth – this is almost completely unedited speech on my part.) We have this Patreon thing still running and we got basically no content out in February, and I have been feeling piles of guilt about it. But I’ve been so sick and there have been so many other things going on that really needed our attention more than anything else, especially more than putting together cover videos for the internet. And so we apologize and promise we’ll do better next month – and we will,because I’m a perfectionist and I don’t like leaving things half finished like this. But that doesn’t stop people from asking what’s going on. But then when you try to explain that you haven’t had the time, they say “But you’re living the dream! What else could you possibly be doing every day?!” And by the tenth word of your next sentence explaining why it isn’t always butterflies and rainbows they’ve already tuned out. People don’t want to hear about how hard this can be. People want us to post nice pictures so they can say “I’m so jealous”, and that’s it. And that’s really been eating at me lately. In all of this chaos and struggle that has been January and February, perhaps the worst part of it all is that it’s extremely isolating. There’s thousands of van-lifers and full time RVers, but how many of them are also musicians? Who don’t have a trust fund or a pension to ride on financially? Who have an old, unpredictable rig that changes its functionality based on the weather? And who just happen to be unlucky this time of year? If these people are out there, I’d love to meet them.
So, there it is. I’m sure to you it might not seem like it’s been as rough of a ride as it has. But it has been much tougher this time around. I think when you take the magic of discovery out of a lot of these places, issues that you previously overlooked become more prominent and harder to handle. Fortunately, after Thursday things look drastically different for the next few months, and I am anxious for the change.
Anyways. Sorry this has been so depressing overall. I mean it when I say I’m happier now than I was before we left, challenges and all. We’re going to New Orleans on Saturday and I am unabashedly thrilled to be celebrating Mardi Gras in one of the coolest cities in America. I hope that much like last year, all of the tough stuff is being thrown at us right away, and that the minute we get out of Florida things are going to get a whole lot better. I am optimistic in every way I can possibly be. But if you have any good vibes to spare, if you wanted to send them our way I would be grateful.
Here’s a big ol’ collection of photos from the high points of the last six weeks. It really hasn’t been all bad, and here’s some proof of that.
2018 is drawing to a close. As we’ve been prepping for the long drive home that starts in earnest this evening, I’ve spent the last few days re-reading this blog and putting together the above map of every road we’ve driven. Together these things do a pretty good job at chronicling what has been the most unbelievable year of my life so far. But in revisiting all the things that I’ve written about, I’ve been reminded just how many amazing moments I’ve left out of this blog as well. So, along with the summation that this post is going to be, I’d like to include some stories I never did justice to. (I’ll forewarn you – there’s four stories and they’re very long.)
It’s just past noon on a Tuesday, and we’re standing in a conference room. Or at least, that’s what it feels like; this particular local radio station is pretty bare-bones. I put my guitar back in its case and make idle chatter with Greg about the interview we’d just signed off from. It went well. The host closes out the show, turning things over to the afternoon voice of this local NPR affiliate, and joins us in the adjacent room as I’m slugging the lukewarm remains of my morning coffee. “So, what are your plans before your show tonight? There isn’t a lot to do in Amarillo,” she laughs. I tell her that we’re always looking for something different to do, and her eyes suddenly light up. “Have you ever been to Palo Duro Canyon?” We of course shake our heads. Neither of us had ever been to western Texas before, and we’d only arrived in town just three hours prior. “You have to go. If you only do one thing today, make it that.” Greg and I exchange a look. It’s mid-March, and the weather is abysmal. It’s probably in the low 40’s outside, heavily overcast and raining lightly. We need to be at our gig tonight by 6pm. But it’s only noon, and state parks are a notoriously affordable way to kill an afternoon. “We’ll have to check it out,” I say as we head for the door.
An hour later we’re south of the city, cruising down an extremely foggy single-lane highway. So far we’ve seen little more than sprawling acres of farmland. All around us the ground is flat and as yellow as I’ve ever seen it, starkly contrasted against a dismal, dark grey sky. I think to myself that we might be throwing away a half a tank of gas on this. But we solider on into the mist.
Out of nowhere the ground starts to turn red. Dark green shrubs begin to dot the yellow prairie that is rapidly disappearing. I turn to my right and look out the passenger side window, and in a break in the fog I see a massive gouge in the earth. It’s probably fifty feet deep and three times as wide. “Look at that!” I’m practically yelling. In all our travels so far I had never seen anything like it. I grab my phone and snap a dozen pictures, only to find that it looks like nothing more than dark smudges on my phone screen. How is that even possible? I’m suddenly upset that I won’t be able to share what this place is really like with anyone else, but the thought is fleeting as more and more canyons start to become visible.
The highway dwindles until we arrive at the park gate, and the electric excitement in the van is palpable. The landscape around us has changed so drastically in the last five minutes that it almost seems impossible for it to get better. We follow the road – now little more than a dirt path – into the park, around a few corners and down a few small hills, and abruptly the real canyons come into view.
Even in the heavy fog, it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. The canyons stretch as far as you can see in every direction. We’re standing on the rim, hundreds of feet above the rivers that run through it. It’s brilliant shades of red and orange carved in bizarre patterns and formations, and there’s something new to marvel at every time you move your eyes. I’ve never seen something so majestic and breathtaking and it leaves me at a loss for words.
We park the van on the edge of the rim and get dressed for the weather – a long sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, winter jacket, scarf, boots, and a beanie for myself to stave off the cold the best I can. And then we pile out of the van and even closer to the rim’s edge to get a better view. I find I could have stood out there in a t-shirt, the view is so incredible that I couldn’t have cared less about the weather. We both took countless photos, knowing full well that there was hardly a point in doing so. I hold the details in my mind more clearly than any picture we took ever captured.
But I do look back on those pictures because we included ourselves in so many of them. We take a lot of photos; a fact that should surprise no one. More often than not they’re of places and things, and not of us. But on this day, each of us took dozens of pictures of the other, and the amount of happiness I can see in us there surpasses nearly any other place we’ve been before or since. This was the very first place that gave us the sense of adventure and discovery that we’ve chased doggedly ever since. It came so unexpectedly and caught us so off guard that it felt surreal that we had ended up there at all. And it showed us, particularly me, that not only is it okay to embrace the unpredictable, but there are things that you might never see and places you will never go if you always stick to the plan. I’ve carried that sentiment with me since that afternoon.
We spent the next four hours exploring the canyons, hiking in and around little trails that cut through the rocks at the bottom. In my naivete, as we were leaving I thought this might be one of the coolest things we’d see this year. I thought that maybe this place was just an amazingly well kept secret. Surely I wouldn’t be more impressed by the red rocks of Colorado, the martian landscapes of Utah, and the Arizona desert and mountains. Surely the Grand Canyon must look a lot like this; after all, Palo Duro is the second largest canyon system in the country.
I was wrong about all of that, and I’d be wrong a hundred more times if it means I get to return to those places. But I will always think of Palo Duro fondly, because I remember it as the place that started my love affair with the American Southwest.
It’s a Saturday afternoon, and I’m laying on my back in the middle of a parking lot. The metal guts of the van protrude out at odd angles just inches above my face. I sigh deeply, wondering to myself if airborne rust particles are toxic to breathe in, and in the same moment realizing they can’t possibly be good for you. Pushing this from my mind, I call out to Greg who’s standing next to the van in front of a pile of tools and assorted materials that are far from ideal for the job at hand. “Okay, hand me the first one.” Greg reaches under the van and hands me a roll of muffler tape – the kind that has to be soaked in water before use, so naturally it’s dripping a watery orange substance everywhere. But this is now the second time I’ve done this job, and this tape looks a lot less dried out than the stuff we bought in New Orleans that failed on us in less than two weeks. I look to our poor muffler, practically completely unwound again. It strongly resembles an empty can of soup that’s been torn down one side, a flimsy ragged edge hanging far too close to the ground for comfort.
I take this slimy tape in a gloved hand and start wrapping it around the largest part of the torn metal flap. It pulls things back into something that resembles a muffler-shaped-object, if you can ignore the gaping, rusty hole in the bottom that no amount of tape was going to fix. But this is not a beauty pageant. I’ve got all my hair tucked into a beanie to keep it off the ground, sunglasses on to keep any rogue shards of metal out of my eyes, and orange muffler tape juice running down my arms and encroaching on my rolled up sleeves. It doesn’t need to be pretty, it just has to work.
I get the first roll in place, secured with a second roll of slightly more normal tape to keep it from moving until we can turn the van on. The slimy orange stuff is heat activated, so I’m working as quickly as I can so we can get things permanently bonded as soon as possible. My arms are tired from holding them straight up for minutes on end. This parking lot isn’t exactly clean, and I’m in my good sweatshirt. But Greg hands me the second roll of tape, and I do the best I cant to strategically position it around the muffler so that it won’t give out on us a second time. I struggle with it for a few minutes, but eventually I decide it’s good enough. I climb out from under the van, desperately trying to keep my hands from touching anything. I’m sure to any passerby that in that moment I looked crazy, or homeless, or both, especially since I was half grinning at the absurdity of what we were doing.
Not three hours earlier I had just purchased my new Gibson. I did this repair in the parking lot of the Guitar Center where I bought it while waiting for the technician to add a strap button to it before hitting the road again. Three hours ago I was chatting with a salesman about how much fun it is being on the road, and how well the tour is going, in a completely normal outfit while buying a very expensive guitar. I’m not sure anyone who saw me in that moment would have recognized me climbing out from under the van; certainly I didn’t look like the same person in any conceivable way. But that’s the reality that we live in now. One minute you’re on top of the world, and the next you’re literally laying on the ground in a parking lot.
It’s well after midnight in Wichita, Kansas in late April, and we’ve just finished our set. We’re in the the quintessential music dive bar, with posters and stickers covering black walls and a hearty old soul behind the bar offering us cans of PBR. It’s always PBR.
We had a good night, unexpectedly. Wichita is a college town, and we don’t fare as well with the under 30 crowd as I’d like. But the people that come to Kirby’s are people that want to see and support live music, and I’m not sure there’s a more exciting trait to discover at a new venue. So often we’re relegated to a corner of the bar to play cover song after cover song that a stage alone, small as it may be, is a refreshing sight. Along with the usual handful of CDs, we sold three shirts right then – at the time the most we’d ever sold in a single evening. We were second of three on a Thursday night bill, so a rare opportunity to stay and catch our breath before heading off to wherever we could find to park for the night had presented itself. So we each take another free PBR and return to the merch table. We aren’t starved for a social life, but we take every chance we get to find and talk to good people. On the road, any connections you make with locals are so often fleeting and temporary, so we try and make them count.
The questions come in the order they always do. Where are you from? What are you doing here? How long have you been touring? What was your van before it was an RV, an ambulance or an armored car? Who books your shows? What’s your favorite song to play? Are you a couple? Where are you playing tomorrow night?
We of course have a canned answer for every one of these by now. I alone have answered each one a hundred times, often two or three times a night. But every night has a different flavor, and tonight it’s Buffalo pride. There’s a Bills fan here talking our ear off about Buffalo being the best city of all time. He’s never lived there, he says, but the “Bills Mafia” is so cool and the people he’s met from there are so awesome. He can’t wait to visit again. He takes a picture with us to post on his Wichita Bills Fans Facebook page. I’m weirdly put out by all of this, wondering if this guy was even here for our set.
We make our way back inside to catch the third performer. It’s a guy with an acoustic guitar and he’s playing Neil Young. “It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” he sings to the still-crowded room. And how true that feels right now. I think of the Buffalo fan outside and wonder where he got all those ideas. For a minute I want to tell him that’s he wrong, but the truth is that he isn’t. Buffalo, for all its worth, shaped me into the person and musician I’ve grown into. And it certainly is the right place for a lot of people. But I had already started to fade away before we left, fading into the cycle of a bitter weekend warrior with all of this desire and nothing to do but drink it away. Buffalo watered and fed me, showed me the ropes, and then told me to get the hell out the minute I was starting to stand steady on my feet. And now, over a thousand miles away, it feels like the best gift I could ever have been given. There’s a bar full of people in a city I’ve never been to before who came to see us play and want to see us play again, entirely because of what I was able to build for us from the ground up. I’m not sure things would have ended up this way if I had been living somewhere else. It’s hard not to be thankful now, when I can look back on everything instead of just blindly wading into an uncharted future.
The night is winding down and our grizzled bartender signals last call. I grab one of our stickers from the merch table and plaster it on the front door alongside hundreds of others. I know this won’t be the last time we’re here, but it feels good to add our name to the roster of people who have played this locally-famous little hole in the wall. We shake hands with our temporary friends and they promise to look us up online. We truly wish each other well though we all know we’ll likely never meet again. Then we haul all our gear from the bar to the back of the van and climb in. There’s a truck stop half an hour away from here. I chart the course and we hit the road again, forever tired but a long, long ways from burning out.
It’s mid-afternoon in the Rocky Mountains. The road before us is hardly deserving of the title, looking like a rough-hewn gravel pathway more suitable for four-wheelers or wild horses than something of our maneuverability. The suspension creaks and rattles with each pothole and dirt mound. I grit my teeth and hope no lasting damage is being done; without cell phone service, the town we passed a half an hour ago might as well be a world away.
“Is that a bald eagle?” I find myself suddenly exclaiming. “Oh my God, there’s two!” They appeared as if from nowhere to soar lazily between the snow capped peaks and valleys surrounding us, only to disappear as quickly into the dense forest. We watch them go with rapt attention; it wasn’t too unlike seeing a mythical creature.
We shouldn’t have been so surprised, really. Finding ourselves in the most remote place either of us had ever been should have been reason enough to expect all of these things. But at just four months into this lifestyle, how could we be prepared for much of anything? Every day has dealt us a different set of circumstances, and we’re just trying to field as many pitches as we can. Was it really just a week ago that we left the dry heat and urban sprawl of Phoenix? I’d never felt further from the desert than I did in this moment, absent-mindedly worrying we’d encounter some significant overnight snowfall despite feeling we were well into spring. No way to check the weather, though.
Another rusty pickup truck flies by us on the left, passing us at easily double our own speed. The fact that anyone could choose to live permanently in a place like this baffles me more than I’d like to admit. We’ve easily passed a dozen farms, some that were definitely stately vacation cabins and others with long-term residents seeming to be scraping to get by. I’m excited to be here now, but the isolation makes me a little nervous. I couldn’t do this place long-term. I then realize that forgot to tell my parents we’d be unreachable. I hope they don’t try to call.
“It’s on the right in two more miles,” I tell Greg, raising my voice to be heard over the road noise. We’re cruising at an easy 20mph, so it takes far longer than it should have to arrive. Finally, we pull into something that resembles a campground. It’s a free “recreation area”. There’s a few picnic tables and fire rings, and an outhouse that’s still locked for the season. The Welcome Sign tells us not to shoot off fireworks and to pack out all garbage. There isn’t another person or vehicle in sight.
I step out to stretch my legs, quietly rejoicing that the van appears to still be in working order. The distinct sound of rushing water is suddenly audible to my right. A few steps into the brush reveals the bright blue waters of a mountain river running strong not ten yards from our parking spot. The barely-legible sign indicates that it’s the Colorado River. The very same creator of the Grand Canyon was here, in front of us. A private viewing of a natural legend. The waters are so crystal clear that if it was warmer, I would have undoubtedly jumped in.
I follow the river to my right, scrambling over loose gravel and down a shallow embankment. Greg’s footsteps are behind me. We don’t have to go far to find a better viewing of the water. The river curves around a corner, deepening under the small bridge carrying the single road back to civilization. The banks are lined with dense weeds and plants I can’t identify, and it’s so early in the season that not a single tree has gotten it’s leaves yet. You could call it bleak, but I found it surprisingly beautiful. This place must be amazing in the summertime, I muse. Suddenly a dark shape materializes downstream. “What is that?” I say in Greg’s general direction, with a vague notion that he probably has as much a clue as I do. A moment passes, and the dark shape morphs into three, and a small, brown, wet head pokes out of the water. “Otters!”
As if on cue, one of the river otters climbs up onto a bare patch in the river bank. We watch them in awe for the better part of a half hour, swimming and chirping around the river. To credit the place as magical seems cheesy, but in the moment no other words were really doing it justice. It reads like a scene from an overly romanticized novel, but instead it’s unfolding in front of my eyes. It isn’t the first time that I’ve felt this way about a place and I know it won’t be the last, but it hits me like a ton of bricks every time.
As the sun starts to dip behind the mountains we slowly retreat to the van. A whistle sounds, and the isolation is abruptly interrupted with the sounds of a rusty freight train that is cutting across the river bank opposite us. I watch it pass from the driver’s seat. What an odd place for train tracks, I think. I wonder where they’re going. I wonder why.
“What do you want for dinner?” I hear Greg ask from somewhere behind me. But I don’t care about that right now. I try to immortalize this moment. How the sky looks, the pattern of the smudges on the windshield, the rumble of the train wheels, the whispering of the wind through the towering pine trees outside. I try to recall the nearly unbelievable sequence of events that have lead me here. I can feel that this is a place I’ll want to remember. I know I might never find my way back to this particular spot. I stop and just breathe in as much of it in as I possibly can.
Then I climb into the back of the van to have dinner, and the scene ends. The part of me that drinks in these moments water from a desert spring goes back to sleep, waiting endlessly for the next place that leaves me nothing but happy to be alive.
It’s a lot, right? I only regret I couldn’t have captured every single day like that. For each of those stories there’s two dozen more just like it. I hope you enjoyed reading them, but honestly I wrote those mostly for myself. I already find that certain events and places look fainter in my mind than I’d like, and I want to hold on to as much of this year as I possibly can.
I can’t believe the year is ending. I can’t believe we’ve gone over 20,000 miles. I can’t believe we made it this far. The good days outweighed the bad in droves, but there were more than a few times where I thought we wouldn’t make it. But not only did we make it, we don’t have any plans to stop for at least another two solid years, very possibly longer. If you had told me this a year ago I probably would have passed out from the massive weight you would have just lifted off me.
But truthfully I think I’m an entirely different person now. I think back to what I was doing a year ago at Christmas and the weeks leading up to our departure, and it seems like every opinion that I used to hold has changed in some way. I don’t think it’s outwardly obvious, especially to anyone who doesn’t know me well, but there isn’t a thing in this world that I don’t see a little differently than I did just twelve short months ago.
I could write an entire novel on the things I’ve learned. But I think the biggest lesson for me has been the finite nature of everything in this life. Greg and I spend such a short time in each place that we travel to that we often feel the need to really make every moment count. When you wake up each morning feeling like you need to make the most of it, your perspective on the world changes like crazy. And it bleeds into every aspect of life. Everything comes to an end. It’s so important to me now to spend my time and energy on the things and people that are truly important to me, and to let everything else go.
I don’t know what the future holds for us past next June. But I do know we have at least that long. This year has been incredible, but as selfish as it may sound I truly hope the best days are yet to come. Though I still have a hard time believing things could get better than this.
So many people ask me what my favorite place we’ve been is. And while we’ve been to some amazing cities and places, my favorite part of all of this is the in-between. Of course when I think back on this year, I think of all the amazing places, shows, natural wonders and incredible people that we’ve visited and met. But what might surprise you (and surprised me a bit too) is that I think my favorite thing might actually be the driving.
On the best drives, we’re heading somewhere completely new. Greg is driving with his window down. I’m in the passenger seat and there’s Jason Isbell or Brandi Carlile on the radio. The van is cruising down a brand new highway, and we have no idea what we’re going to find when we get over the top of this hill. And that’s always the best part – we’re forever looking for the next adventure together.
I thought about it, but I’m not going to stop writing here. I’ll be back in 2019. Thanks for following along with us for all this time. Here’s to hoping this is just the end of the beginning.
These past few weeks have certainly made up for all of the sitting around we did in October. I’m not sure there was a single dull moment in all of November, which I can hardly believe is already over. We’re just days away from concluding our first year on the road, but we’ve still got lots going on in the meantime!
I have to bring up the weather again because it has become the bane of my existence. I planned every stop on the tour pretty carefully, with the general climate predictions having a great deal of bearing on the places we planned to go. I expected it to be chilly in Tennessee and Virginia in November, of course. What I did NOT expect was to be facing temperatures in the low teens in North Carolina this time of year. It was sixteen degrees one night. Our fresh water pipes froze and I hardly slept then – we don’t have the battery capacity to run a big enough heater overnight, and I’m paranoid that if we leave the generator on while we sleep the exhaust will malfunction and we’ll die. So it’s been brutally cold most every night. South Carolina has been marginally warmer – we get highs in the mid-50’s, but nights dip down into the 30’s and 20’s often. Though it did snow while we were in the smoky mountains, it wasn’t much more than a dusting, and I unquestionably prefer this weather to a typical Buffalo early winter. But it’s far too close for comfort! In a van with sub-par insulation, this can still be far from tolerable. I’ve found that the weather has a tendency to permeate into a lot of other aspects of life and I’ll never make the mistake of being that far north at this time of year again. I, for one, hate getting up in the morning or doing much of anything when you can see your breath as soon as you stick your head out from under the covers.
Aside from all of that, the Carolina’s have been an adventure and then some; a little too much at times but mostly in the positive direction. We kicked things off down here with our very own “vansgiving”! We found a nice little KOA to camp out at for a few nights and made our very best attempt at recreating a real Thanksgiving dinner in our smallest-of-all-time kitchen. But I really feel like we pulled it off! Everything we made was the fastest, simplest version of the dish, but it came together in a way that made it feel like we were celebrating the holiday the way I was used to. We ended up with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, and an apple pie for dessert (and wine!). Now don’t get me wrong, it was weird not being home for the holiday and seeing family like I always have done for my entire life prior to this year. But I absolutely loved doing Thanksgiving exactly how we wanted to. There was no discussion of whose family we’d spend “Actual Thanksgiving” with and whose we’d see on a different night, no running around, no schedule to follow. Just us, in our little house on wheels, making as much food as we could handle whenever we felt like it. 10/10 holiday celebration, very much looking forward to doing that again next year.
It was total chaos in the kitchen.
And there were SO many mashed potatoes (but not too many, that’s not possible)
Enjoying the fruits of our labor.
Our string of Carolina shows started the day after Thanksgiving, and it’s kept us busier than we’ve been in quite a while. There’s nothing more welcome than a little bit of chaos after weeks of endless boredom as far as I’m concerned. Tonight will be our 7th show in two weeks, which is how I’d like our schedule to look year-round if I had my way (and it IS starting to look that way on the west coast – just wait til you see our schedule next spring). Of the 6 shows we’ve played so far, each one has been extraordinarily different from the last, but not a single one of them has been disappointing in the slightest. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve played great shows all over the country. But after this string of shows I’m left wondering why we spent any amount of our time in the Midwest and the Northeast… at our first show in North Carolina we made almost triple what we expected to make, and while that may have been our most financially lucrative show of the second half of 2018, every show following it has had a major redeeming quality in one way or another. We’re still here and I can’t wait to come back.
There’s something else to be said for the people of the south as well. Again, don’t think I’m knocking any other regions of this country when I say this, because we have met incredible people everywhere we’ve been time and time again. But from Chattanooga to Charleston, we’ve continually encountered some of the most attentive audiences, the most generous tippers, and the most genuine conversationalists. They pay us better here, they feed us better here, and they listen better here. We routinely have in depth discussions about our travels and adventures with strangers we meet after shows, not fueled by excessive alcohol consumption but because people are interested in our story. The old adage about southern hospitality is not exaggerated in the slightest. Living on the road can be a grind, especially on days when it feels like nobody in the bar is listening after you drove three hundred miles to get there. I don’t think I’ve ever once felt that way in the South. It’s really something special.
But unfortunately, as life often goes, when one things is going swimmingly, something less enjoyable is waiting to strike. We had our second real breakdown a week and a half ago just outside of Charlotte. This one was quite a bit scarier than our first problem when our battery died back in San Antonio. We were gearing up to leave a truck stop one afternoon, and when Greg turned the van on it didn’t appear to be charging our house batteries. Right away this raised some red flags, but I brushed them off as something that probably wasn’t immediately critical. We hit the road anyways and about five minutes after getting on the interstate, our radio shut off. Weird. I figured we had some kind of electrical issue, but we’ve had several of those in the past with a few non-critical ones left unresolved, so I was concerned but not too worried. I started Googling the symptoms, and that’s when things started to hit the fan. Our cigarette lighter outlet delivering power, which meant we had no speedometer. Our windshield wipers starting moving at a quarter of their normal speed. Random lights start illuminating on the dashboard. And then the engine started to sound funny. Keep in mind we’re doing 65 on the highway and all of this is happening within the span of a couple minutes. As this is going on, I come across an article about alternator failure, and it reads like someone is sitting in the van with us as they wrote the article; it’s textbook. And at the end of the article it describes how with no power left in your battery, your fuel injection system will cease to operate and the vehicle will die while you’re driving. This is where I start to panic. I tell Greg to take the next exit and do whatever he can to keep from coming to a full stop, as I wasn’t sure we’d have the battery power to get moving again. The auto gods had a moment of mercy and allowed us to essentially coast into a shopping plaza. We shut the van off and attempted to turn it back on with absolutely zero success – our alternator was clearly toast.
The the next 24 hours were much less frightening. We called Triple A first for battery service, just to make sure it was, in fact, our alternator causing the problem and hoping to avoid paying for the towing of an 8,000 pound van. Once the kindly technician was able to confirm that for us, he then sold us a new battery and installed it. He assured us that a fully charged battery would take us the five miles we needed to go, to the only mechanic open on the following morning, which was a Sunday – a Firestone. Fortunately it did, and we spent our first night ever sleeping in a mechanic’s parking lot (it was in a really nice part of High Point, NC – so it was actually a very quiet and peaceful place to park, which would have been awesome had I not been stressed out up to my eyeballs). I was also worried about leaving the van in the hands of a “chain” mechanic, but we were lucky enough to meet some supremely qualified guys working at this particular location. We were back on the road before noon – the whole thing lasted less than a full day. No gigs were missed or even remotely effected, which is a miracle in itself (a day later we were way up in the Smokies west of Asheville – a breakdown out there could have been a three day ordeal). But we drive a vehicle that was built in 1995, we drive it every day, and we put a lot of miles on this thing (we’re well over 60k miles now). Only two serious issues in twelve entire months of this still feels like a winning ratio to me.
But that brings us to my other (and often sole) source of stress – money. I don’t like to talk financials too much, because at the end of the day we’re making plenty of money to be comfortable in this lifestyle. But the long and short of it is that because of my digital marketing background I’ve been able to find more remote work, and Greg has not been so lucky. So I pay for 95% of the things that we do or need or want, and Greg pays for his student loans and saves what’s left over, and as a trade off handles things like driving, making dinner, and calling people because I hate talking on the phone. That’s been the status quo since about day one, and Greg and I are both comfortable with that arrangement because it makes the most sense. That is, until I picked up this new job. Part of the plan was to be able to visit places and enjoy being able to experience things while we did this, and when I have to be on the computer for four hours every day, it really cuts into that in a bad way. Four hours might not sound like a lot, but between playing gigs, booking shows, going to the gym, working my other part time job, and navigating van life – which often can often require as much work as a job – it doesn’t leave us too much time to do anything else. Plus, the job is very stressful and inflexible, and it can be mentally exhausting. Right now, since we’re heading into the home stretch, I’m just trying to pack away as much cash as I can while I still have the time. But 2019 is looking a whole lot busier than this year, and though I’m not one to freely throw away a chance to make some steady income, I’m seriously thinking about quitting and trying my luck with some less lucrative or reliable options to get my sanity and freedom back. Some day – I can’t say when, or that it’ll be anytime soon, but still – we’ll move out of the van and back into an immovable dwelling. I don’t want to come to the end of this road and find that I wish I had done more or seen more, but instead spent too much time staring at a computer screen when we could’ve gotten by without it.
So as usual, there have been ups and downs, but things are mostly looking up. The past couple of days, however, have been a particularly bright spot. On Wednesday we played something called the Awendaw Green Barn Jam. This is a weekly outdoor concert series in a suburb north of Charleston. We played with three other ensembles on a very eccentric little piece of property to a pretty large crowd on a 40 degree weekday night, an incredible feat in itself. But this show was an absolute blast. Not only did we get to swap stories with a couple other touring bands (a rarity for us, and something we always look forward to), but every single person working the event, selling food at the event, or playing the event, was an absolute delight to talk to and hang out with. And as an added bonus, they had a spot for us to park and plug in overnight. So for the first time in ages, we got together with a group of great people over
a bunch of beers after a gig. We were all strangers not hours before we were all congregating in one person’s living room, talking like we’d been friends for years. It reminded me so much of all the nights we’ve had after really good gigs back home, where good music and good people having a good time was the only thing anyone cared about all night. I can’t tell you how much we needed that reprieve. I could write an entire post on that night alone, about the Jam Ladies and the freezing weather and the cases of PBR and American Opera and the music teacher from Fredonia and the barn cat who almost lit his tail on fire, but alas, I don’t have the time…. maybe another day.
We kept things going the next morning – I wasn’t ready to get back on the computer. Instead, we headed into downtown Charleston to do some exploring. Greg had a hankering for an authentic southern breakfast, so we found a small little cafe in the city and loaded up on biscuits and gravy and other delicious, fatty, tasty breakfast foods. Then we went to the touristy area of downtown and spent a few hours just walking around, which we’ve done in just maybe four or five cities since June, as opposed to easily over a dozen, maybe more, in our first six months on the road. It felt good to be in a new place again, and I got such a good vibe from Charleston. It has all the charm of an old southern city, with the architecture and vibrant colors of New Orleans (it even has its own French Quarter), topped off with a gorgeous coastline. Not sure what else you could ask for in a city to be quite honest. I really wish we’d had more time to spend there this time around. But we only had time for just a few hours as there was work to be done once again. (But here’s a little slideshow of some of the sights:)
Today we’re headed into Myrtle Beach for a show at 9pm. We’re en route to they gym as we speak – I have work open in one tab and this blog open in the other, hopping back and forth between them whenever I have a couple seconds of a break, otherwise there would be no time for updates here until January, maybe. We’ve got five gigs and just over two weeks remaining until we go home for the holidays, so I’ll probably do one more post here after this until 2019.
Thanks as always for reading – I’ll see a lot of you guys real soon!
I was hoping for 100% smooth sailing once we got out of Ohio, but is that ever the case in any situation? I was definitely right in saying that things would improve overall, but there’s been a couple bumps in the road heading south. That being said, we are out of October and things are finally feeling like they should again.
We arrived in Tennessee on November 4th, immediately following our last show in Ohio that was the night before. We were so excited to finally be heading south, into better weather, uncharted territory, and more shows. And then we proceeded to almost die nearly immediately.
I want to say I’m being over dramatic, but it actually was kind of a close call. We parked at what was actually the same truck stop we stayed at on our very first night on the road, a Flying J just south of Knoxville. After some hemming and hawing, we decided to back into a parking space on the edge of the lot, under one of a half dozen trees around the perimeter. It started storming pretty heavily later in the evening, but we didn’t think much of it until an incredibly loud scraping sound woke us out of a dead sleep at 4:30am. The tree we had parked under had split in the high winds, and about a third of it came down practically on top the van. The bulk of the branch (which was like 6″ in diameter) missed the rear of the van – right where we were sleeping, mind you – by maybe a foot or two. It scraped up the back side pretty good, ripped off a tiny accent light and crushed our receptacle for a TV antenna, but miraculously, that was all the damage there was. Which amounts to pretty much nothing. (Greg pointed out to me later that if we had pulled straight into the spot rather than backing in, it very definitely would have shattered our windshield, which is a scary thought too.)
And of course these things never happen on days where you have lots of free time. After a tree almost comes through your ceiling, sleep becomes more or less impossible, so we got Denny’s and got the day started as soon as we found the damage to be minimal. We played Knoxville’s famous Blue Plate Special radio show that afternoon at 12, but load in was at 10:30am so we were downtown pretty early. That show was a lot of fun – we’ve never played to a live audience when simultaneously being broadcast on the radio before. We had a show downtown that night as well. It also was an absolute blast, but it went from 10pm-1am. In the hours between the first show and the second I had a bunch of work to do, so I ended up being awake for about 22 hours straight that day. Exhausted is most definitely an understatement as to how I felt when I finally got to lay down.
That was undoubtedly the most eventful day we’ve had recently, if not ever. But things have certainly been more chaotic, if nothing else, since we (finally) got out of Ohio.
First and foremost, the one big negative that we can’t get rid of – the weather continues to get worse, and I’m so fed up with it. I did my best to plan a fall/winter tour that would keep us from freezing our asses off and so far I have not succeeded. It’s been down in the 20s at night multiple times in the past two weeks. You can see your breath in the van most mornings when we wake up. Because of all the rain we’ve been running our big, loud old generator to keep the heater on. All around, it sucks. The cold snap is supposed to let up this weekend and put us back in 50 and 60 degrees (today is the first day of sun we’ve had in over a week, but it’s still freezing). So, fingers crossed for some better weather, and soon.
The gigs have been great, though. That’s one thing that continues to go really well no matter what happens with everything else. We had three gigs in Tennessee and they all went wonderfully, even better than planned and with good pay to boot. And that’s been a welcome reprieve from the drudgery that was most of October and all the other things, big and small, that often make what we do a challenge. The music was always supposed to be paramount, and I’m so grateful that it’s the one thing that comes to us with relative ease.
And since we’re working and moving again, that means we get to make time for some fun in between all of the events of the day-to-day grind. A couple days before our gig in Chattanooga, Greg surprised me with a (very) early Christmas present! He got us tickets to see Dawes, a band that I’m very fond of, right in downtown Chattanooga, and right after our gig to boot. So we played a very easy brunch gig (a first for us) and then had an afternoon to hang out in a pretty cool city. We got some incredible burgers for dinner, found a bar with ping pong tables and played a few games over a few beers, and then enjoyed a really great concert from an awesome band.
That’s something I don’t talk about too much on here, the effect that living in a van has on a relationship and how it changes a lot of traditional expectations. It’s almost impossible to surprise your significant other with a physical present for any holiday, for example. And that’s just one little thing. Imagine, for a moment, your favorite person in the world. Now imagine that you spend every single day entirely with them. 24 hours a day. You eat every meal together, you go to the gym together, you grocery shop and drive around and get gas and camp and do laundry together. Also, you work together. You are literally never not with this person. It’s pretty easy to see how things could go south quickly if you’re not exactly the right kind of people for this lifestyle. So, it’s unbelievable to me that after nearly eleven months straight, neither Greg nor myself are sick of hanging out with each other yet. I think that it speaks volumes about our relationship and compatibility that we can live this way, with the same goals in mind while making the same sacrifices. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just sat and considered how incredibly lucky I have been to have found a person who so willingly wanted to pursue this absolutely crazy idea with me, and that not only did we succeed at it together, I’d dare to say that we’re thriving. We fight like any other couple, don’t get me wrong, but not any more than what you’d probably consider normal. He’s truly my partner in everything we do and it’s hard to imagine it being any other way ever again. I think there’s some rule in the Book of Relationships that says if you find someone who you can live comfortably in a vehicle with for a year, you should probably keep ’em.
Anyways, enough sappy stuff. We did get to Nashville! We went back and forth for a bit on whether or not it was worth it to go, but in the end decided that it was. First, we took Greg’s guitar, which he bought in Nashville a couple years ago, back to the shop he got it from for an adjustment (the action was a bit high for his liking). We then got some authentic Nashville hot fried chicken. This was probably the only food this entire year that we tried that I didn’t love. Greg really wanted to try a particular restaurant, and though I’m not much of a meat-eater to begin with I promised we could try it out. I handle spicy food pretty well, but I don’t like anything too crazy. I still like to taste the food, you know? And to add to that, a couple times in New Orleans we were warned about something being “really spicy”, and I had no issue with it. But this chicken (we ordered the medium) was at the absolute top of the amount of heat I can handle in any food. It was edible, but just barely and only when I covered it in blue cheese. Should have gotten the mild. But Greg really enjoyed it! He ate my leftovers and everything.
We walked around on Broadway for about fifteen minutes, and only after stopping into a fancy hat shop where I got Greg an early Christmas present as well. But since it was about 30 degrees out and drizzling, we killed the rest of the afternoon with a couple beers indoors. Then we did get to meet up with our vanlife buddies Savannah and Drew! It’s always fun bonding over dinner and drinks with another couple who are living a life that’s nearly identical to ours. I can talk all day about the weird idiosyncrasies of living in a van, but like in many things, there’s a lot that you just cant “get” until you’ve done it yourself.
The other exciting news this week is that our schedule for the first half of 2019 is almost finished. We’ve taken our schedule from this year and put it on some steroids. We’re doing Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and much of Arizona all before April. And then we’re heading to northern California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado before we start making our way back home (with a very exciting stop planned for Hawaii as well to visit my sister). That’s thousands of more miles than we did this year in the same amount of time. But I’m so excited I can’t even stand it, I can’t wait to get out to the west coast! It’s been a long time since I’ve been to California, and I hear the pacific northwest is pretty cool.
We’re sitting in traffic in Virgina right now, 20 miles outside Roanoke. We’re headed to the gym (an aside – since we’ve taken up the gym more seriously I’m down 5 pounds and Greg is down 10, and it is awesome). Tomorrow we’re playing in Staunton, and then we’re making a beeline for North Carolina where the weather surely cannot be colder than it is up here.
So, things are certainly looking up since we got into November. We’ve got Thanksgiving planned out and just five more weeks of shows until we head home (our last gig is 12/22 in North Carolina, and our first gig home is 12/23.. we gotta move.) Here’s to good gigs, better weather, and a seamless end to our very first full year of van living!
Well, we’re still kicking, and I know that’s worth something. We’re also still way too far north for my liking this time of year, but we’re almost at the end of our Ohio shows and soon we’ll finally get to head for Tennessee. But let’s talk about what’s happening now.
Let’s start with the one thing that has been going very well – every show we have played this month has been amazing. We opened for Phoebe Hunt & the Gatherers in Jackson, MI on the 12th, and it was in my top five favorite shows I’ve ever played. Then last week we played a promotional early-afternoon spot in a Cincinnati music store and filmed early-morning video shoot for BalconyTV of Cincinnati the next morning. And then this past week we played a show at a little dive bar downtown, followed by a show at a massive brewery outside the city. All of those shows were exceptional. I would like to do nothing more than to play music five times a week for the rest of my life, and doubly so when we get the kind of response that we’ve been receiving all week from everyone we’ve met. I think we’re really starting to hit our stride at live shows, and that’s a great feeling.
But that’s also what’s frustrating. When we do have shows to play, things are better all around. Life is fulfilling and all the other crap that I’ve been wading through just to get to these shows seems 110% worth it. But we’ve had five of these good days in October, and I can’t live forever on that kind of good to not-so-good ratio. I knew this was going to be our slowest month of the year, but it doesn’t make it less difficult to endure.
To elaborate on to this, I’ve found a second part-time job to replace the one I lost. The work isn’t too difficult, but the time commitment is a lot more than I was hoping for – 20 hours a week Monday – Friday, without flexibility. This is twice as many hours as I was working in my other position. So now, I have two part time jobs totaling about 35 hours a week, plus the 5 or so hours a week I spend on booking shows, PLUS all the time we spend at gigs, which is usually 5 hours per show. So on a week with 3 gigs, I have roughly 55 hours of work per week to do, oftentimes more because I’m a perfectionist to the nth degree, and because there’s always some other project for the band or side-hustle that I’m working on. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a lazy person by nature and I like working hard at what I do. But the problem here is this: I’m now left with almost zero time to learn new covers, or to write songs, or to practice or hone my actual craft in really any way. I already didn’t have a ton of time previously, but now it’s down to essentially nothing. It feels like I’m back in Buffalo, spending all my time on things that feel like dead ends just to get us through the day-to-day. I only get to play music at shows that I’ve already booked, and that’s kind of killing me.
So, I want to take a second to tell you about a project that Greg and I are hoping will help turn this around a bit, and we need your help to make it work.
We’ve started a Patreon page. If you’re not familiar with the website, it’s basically a way for people who make stuff (be it music, art, video games, lectures, etc) to connect with people who really believe in their work and contribute to making more of it.
You can check out our page and some more in-depth info about the project here: www.patreon.com/therightlyso (And if you’re already one of our first Patrons, thank you!!)
If you read this blog regularly and you enjoy it, I promise you that you’re really going to like what we’re doing on Patreon. I get a lot of comments from people who read this and say that they’re living vicariously through us, which we honestly love hearing – sharing our adventures is one of the best parts of our travels. Our Patreon is going to be like this blog on steroids – we’re going to bring you “with us” as much as possible. Everything from video blogs about life on the road to private, live concerts is going to be happening. We’ve got big ideas, and we’re hoping to share this with every person that’s even a little bit interested.
Now, I want to make one thing VERY clear – this is in no way a fundraiser, a GoFundMe or a KickStarter. There’s no “goal” that we need to hit. Also, despite the contribution being monthly, there is zero expected commitment and you can stop at literally any time, and we won’t mind. We just want people who value our content to be able to get as much of it as they want, and in doing so give us the ability to spend more time making it, and making it better. If If you choose to contribute, you’ll be getting cool stuff right away, no matter what (we’re really kicking things off starting in November). You can join us for literally $1, and I’ll let you in on a secret – we’re probably going to offer a bunch of the higher-tier content to everyone that joins us for the first month or two, so you can sign up for a dollar and sample a little bit of everything and see what you like.
And as an aside, this blog will never not be free and publicly available – and I want to thank you specifically for reading these ramblings of mine at all. I do love being able to share this kind of stuff with people like you guys. But if you find any value in the things that we’ve been creating and sharing with you since we’ve been on the road, we’d really love your support – and I promise we’ll make it worth your while!
Okay, that’s enough of that (for now). Let’s recap our time in Cincinnati, cause there sure has been a lot of it. We’ve been here for several weeks, which is the longest I think we’ve been in any one city aside from home.
Cincinnati is in a unique spot – if you haven’t driven around the country a bunch, you often don’t think of Kentucky and Ohio as being anywhere near each other. The reality is that they share a border, and Cincinnati is more or less on top of it. So you get a hearty dose of midwest-folk combined with some southern charm. It’s a beautiful city, and I’ve actually really enjoyed our time here, though we’re certainly long overdue to get moving again.
Our first show in the city (the music store one I mentioned above) was literally right downtown, and we spent the whole afternoon after the gig walking around and taking in as much of the sights as we could. There was a cool little flea market happening right downtown, and we ended up in a place called Findlay Market, which felt a lot like Burlington’s downtown “strip”. I got to introduce Greg to pho, which I’ve been wanting to do for ages, and he’s a big fan! (If you’ve never tried pho, you must. It’s the best soup on the planet. If you’re ever out this way, Pho Lang Thang is the spot).
We didn’t spend a ton of time downtown – it’s still a big city, and getting in and out in the van is always a task of epic proportions. We did, however, make a weird little pit stop at the only supermarket I’ve ever seen that could rival Wegmans. It’s called Jungle Jims, and I’m pretty sure they have every food item known to man. The store is as large as a shopping mall, and I’m not exaggerating. They have full aisles dedicated to countries selling stuff that doesn’t look like it’d be available anywhere else in America. There’s tanks of live fish you can buy to eat. There are singing animatronic characters all over the store. It’s like half supermarket, half carnival. I found bacon flavored soda in one aisle and Buffalo-milk cheese in another. The fact that I’m actually writing about our trip to the grocery store in this blog should tell you how incredibly unusual the whole thing was. If you’re ever passing through this way, it’s quite honestly not the worst way to kill a couple hours.
We’ve been camping out at truck stops nearly all month because of the tight budget we’re currently working with. But over the weekend it was rainy and overcast here for several days in a row, and unfortunately we can’t run the new generator in the rain. So I caved, and we found a cheap campground just south of the city. (The place was called Big Bone Lick State Park… Greg found this particularly amusing, but not quite as funny as the fact that it was located in a town called Beaverlick). We arrived to an absolutely packed campground – they were throwing a little Halloween carnival this weekend, and it was kind of nice to feel like we were in a neighborhood that was in the holiday spirit. I worked double-overtime this week to get everything done before the weekend, so I was actually able to enjoy two full days off for the first time in forever. It was awesome, and doubly so since we had full hookups, which makes our van feel more like a real little home than anything.
We still have two more shows in Ohio – one in Eaton, and one more in Cincinnati – later this week in the first few days of November. We’re headed to Knoxville almost immediately after, and we’re hoping to make a short stop in Nashville too sometime next month – not only do we love that city, but our good friends Savannah and Drew are in the studio down there working on Savannah’s new album, and we’re hoping to catch up with them. Until then we’ll be mostly found in one of the dozen Starbucks scattered about the suburbs, working our butts off and biding our time until we can really get moving again.
One last time: www.patreon.com/therightlyso. $1. Check it out. Share it with someone who likes folk music, or RVs, or travelling, or the guy who won that billion dollar lottery a couple days ago. We’d be super grateful. Otherwise, we’ll see you when we’re definitively south of the Mason-Dixon line!