Spokane, WA, Eagle, ID and Missoula, MT (July 23, 24 and 25)
We have never been through Spokane before. We’re not quite sure why we’ve missed it because it seems to be a happening little city. The cab driver that I had today said that the city has had a healthy growth spurt in the past few years, picking off some of the corporations from Portland and Seattle that are trying to reduce some costs. The city has a very mid-western vibe to it; clean wide streets, solid four story brick buildings, a citizenry very aware of pedestrian signals. I’ve never gotten more consistent flack for walking against signals, even with no cars in sight. Cars come to a complete stop if you step off the curb when it’s not your turn; some old man threatened to run me down with his pick-up truck if I ever tried to walk against a light again. It must be a reaction to the methamphetamine problem in these parts, control what you can, come down hard on any and all law breakers. In any case, it seems like a decent place.
Tonight was our first true theater gig of this run, a beautifully renovated Fox Theater no less. We had great sound on stage, great sound in the theater, and a very receptive audience. It’s always fun to play the outdoor venues in the summer but they really aren’t the best venues for the type of music we perform. We usually end up fighting the sound on stage and the dynamics and subtleties of the performance are often lost. It takes a theater gig like this to remember what we are all about.
We are somewhere outside of Boise today, if you are interested in finding us on the map, because I’m not sure you’ll be able to find Eagle, Idaho. The venue is the Wood River Winery: a tract of land in the middle of potato country, on the edge of a housing development, that’s been turned into a vineyard…this ain’t the Napa Valley. But the owners are trying hard and have gussied the place up with a fountain, some arbours, lots of vegetation and a few Botchie Ball courts (go figure) and apparently the wine is pretty good too (although I suspect that it has been shipped in from California and rebottled…just kidding). We were treated extremely well and if it weren’t for the 97 degree temperature it would have been a decent place to hang out for the day. Despite the heat, Jeff and Al had a raging game of Botchie Ball, with Jeff coming out on top.
If the gig in Spokane was an example of sculpting a set of music with a set of fine carving tools then tonight was the equivalent of sculpting with a chainsaw. It was a Friday night crowd in the middle of July and they wanted to whoop it up and who can blame them…so we whooped it up. Not exactly my favourite type of set to play. Usually one just needs to give in to it and go with the flow, but tonight was difficult because of how tired we all are. One more show, one more very long drive.
This country gets very big out here. The drives get longer, more scenic, but longer. At least we are in a bus, which is difficult enough; the Son Volt band and crew are in a van, which is real dedication and real work.
I don’t think we’ve been to Missoula Montana before. We weren’t anywhere near the center of town today so I never really got a feel for the place, but it’s surrounded by a whole lot of beautiful open space. I wouldn’t want to live here, but every time we come through this part of the country it makes me want to start planning an extended road trip with my family. It’s just such a beautiful part of the world and it would be nice to take some time rolling through it.
Tonight was a nice way to end the tour: a sold out show in a decent, functional theater on the University of Montana campus. It’s been a grind and we are all running on fumes but we dug deep into our reserves tonight and had a decent show. By the end of it we were sputtering but we made it thanks to a very good audience. It’s been a fun run of dates and although the promoters would argue that the co-bill wasn’t as successful at the box office as they would have hoped, from our point of view it has been a good experience. It’s been a pleasure to listen to Son Volt every night and it’s always a pleasure to be on the West coast in the summer. We head home tomorrow to spend the rest of the summer with our families and to continue to chip away at the new album. There will be some intriguing offers being made through our website in the next month so check back in every now and then, better yet, get on our mailing list so that we can let you know what is going on. Keep safe and enjoy the rest of your summer.
Vancouver, BC and Seattle, WA (July 20 -22)
I don’t think that this has ever happened to us before. Our Vancouver show was cancelled due to lack of ticket sales. I am not completely surprised. We played a pretty big gig in Vancouver last summer in the same venue, we had a decent turnout for that show, but there wasn’t the type of demand that warrants a return just twelve months later, especially without a new album. It’s tough enough playing indoor gigs in the summer in Vancouver without overplaying the market. I guess the promoter felt that with the addition of Son Volt on the bill we could do the business, again. No such luck. We didn’t find out that the gig was cancelled until we had checked in to our Vancouver hotel; the promoter was desperately trying to make this work right up until the last minute. So what was to be one day off in Vancouver turned in to two. Fortunately we were booked in to the Wedgewood Hotel the nicest, plushest, most comfortable hotel of the tour and all for a decent price. The Wedgewood is also located right in the heart of all that is happening in downtown Vancouver; it has a great bar from which to watch all the street action, and, man, there is a lot of street action. We had perfect weather for our little sabbatical, we spent way too much money, went to way too many bad movies, paid way too much for too much bad food and drank way too much overprice booze. It was time well spent.
I’ve never really been able to get a handle on Vancouver, the seedy side of the place has always overshadowed everything else, but these couple of days spent in the city with nothing to do but wander around has given me a new appreciation. There is no doubting the beauty of the location; the BC coast is about as stunning as it gets. Over the past couple of decades the city planners have worked hard at opening up the city to the large natural harbor that it sits on and they have done a remarkable job, despite the ongoing battle against private developers and the condo mania. It’s a beautiful city and absolutely dripping with money….a few too many homeless people, drug addicts and sex workers on its streets, but that seems to be the norm for all of the coastal cities out here.
What a difference a couple of hundred miles and an international border makes. Tonight’s show was jammed packed, a 4000 people sell out. Oh well…these are the vicissitudes of touring.
Todays gig was at the Seattle Zoo. A day at the zoo is always a good way to spend some time no matter how old you are. What’s not to like when you can wander backstage and visit with the Sloth Bear, Snow Leopard and Humbolt Penguins. The downside to this type of gig is the limited amount of playing time. The animals need their sleep so curfews at these venues are very strict. Tonight we had an 8:30 curfew which meant each band only got an hour on stage. It was our turn to go on first tonight so we loaded in at 3:30, sound-checked at 4:30, hit the stage at 6 and were done by 7. A very focused day. We had a decent show, not the greatest sound on stage, but a very good audience especially for this type of venue, where a large chunk of the crowd is there because it’s an easy and inexpensive night out with the family and a fun way to check out some music that one might not be too familiar with.
After the show we were taken on a behind the scenes tour of the new penguin exhibit. The last time here we were treated to dinner with the Grizzly Bears, so the penguins were a bit of a letdown, but still pretty cool and very much appreciated…it’s just hard to beat six inch long claws and a head the size of a bean bag chair.
We have added October 2009 shows in Lexington, MI; Three Oaks, MI; Ann Arbor, MI; Pittsburgh, PA; Carrboro, NC; Lewisburg, WV (our third Carnegie Hall!!!); South Orange, NJ; Easton, MD; Vienna, VA; Blacksburg, VA; and Black Mountain, NC.
We are also going to be in Quebec in November 2009: Montreal; Sherbrooke; Quebec City; Rouyn Noranda; and Val d’Or.
Check out the TOUR tab above for further information.
Sacramento, CA – Jacksonville and Portland, OR (July 17, 18 and 19)
Northern California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho; my favourite part of any west coast swing. I love this area of the country. Tonight we were at the Montalvo Arts Center on the outskirts of Saratoga. Our regular play in this area for the past decade has been the Mountain Winery, one of our favourite venues in the country, but they recently did an upgrade to their facility and added 750 new seats which made the venue a little bit too big for us. Fortunately the Montalvo Art Center is about as perfect a replacement as one could hope for. This is a beautiful outdoor venue. The building that now houses the art center was built as a private house in the early 1900’s by James Phelan, the youngest mayor in San Francisco’s history and a US Senator. It was the center of political and social life in Northern California. Phelan invited artists of all stripes to visit his home and to use it as a retreat to work on individual artistic projects but in an environment conducive to cross-discipline dialogue. On his death Phelan willed the villa and the 175 acres of property to become a public space dedicated to the development of art, literature, architecture and music…and so it is. It’s an incredible piece of land, set a few hundred feet above the city on the side of a hill populated by redwoods, spruce, cypress and many more that I couldn’t identify: a spectacular place….in some ways it’s even better than the Mountain Winery.
We had a good show tonight, I think. I didn’t personally have that good a time. I’ve lost my mojo, which can happen from time to time. So my feel for what is going on, on stage is heavily skewed by my own troubles. It’s a loss of touch, a loss of feel for ones instrument and an inability to feel the connection through the instrument to the other players on stage. When this state of being strikes, one has to put down ones head and gut it out, search for that performance that will lift you out of it, dig for your mojo.
It was a good size audience tonight, with a lot of enthusiasm. I thought Son Volt sounded excellent.
We’ve played the Brit Festival in Jacksonville three or four times in the past and it is always a very welcome stop. This area is a spectacular little piece of Oregonian paradise and this venue is about as beautiful as they come. The venue sits on the side of a hill just above the town, the stage facing up the hill to the audience who sits in amongst giant Ponderosa Pines. People come with their family and picnics and set up for an evening of music. We had a very good show; lots of energy from the crowd, which helped our own energy. I think I found my mojo. It was hiding in one of the travel cases, now I just need to coax it out.
Portland has for many years been one of our favourite cities to visit in North America (it might even be our favourite). Over the past two decades of coming here it has slowly grown and evolved but it seems to have evolved for the better and not lost that peculiar flavour that makes it such a good place to hang out. There is a popular bumper sticker in town that states, “Keep Portland Weird”, which kind of sums it up. The locals seem to know what they got, and aren’t about to let it go without a fight. Unfortunately our hotel was way the hell out of town and the gig (the Aladdin Theater) was also across the river from the downtown core, so there were no easy walking excursions available. Some of us weren’t going to be robbed of our Portland fix, so Al, Tim and I jumped in a cab and headed downtown. Tim and I scoured some of the finer instrument stores, made the pilgrimage to Powell’s (the best book store on the planet), bought a dozen doughnuts at Voodoo Doughnuts (one of the best doughnut makers west of the Doughnut Plant in NYC), stocked up on some See’s Candy lollipops (to appease the rabble back home) and called it a day. The gig tonight was awesome…and it’s all because of the audience: another reason that Portland is so high on our list, the audiences are amazing. This was our sixth show in six nights, our eleventh show in twelve nights, but the audience refused to let our energies flag. Their enthusiasm was infectious; they coaxed my mojo out of the travel case and back in my pocket where it belongs. It looked and sounded like Son Volt had an equally great time…they were full on rocking tonight. Tomorrow we have a much needed day off in Vancouver. I plan to do a whole lot of nothing.
Southern California – San Diego and LA (July 15 and 16)
I don’t hate Southern California, I hate LA. I don’t care if it’s fashionable or unfashionable to hate LA. I just hate LA. But San Diego is another matter. I know nothing about the city or whether a city actually exists, but the weather here, the light here, the breezes here are so beautiful, they almost compensate for all that concrete. It’s an oddly soothing place especially if you spend the day in the confines of Humphry’s-By-The-Bay….so my perspective is slightly skewed. Coming down from our three day sojourn through the desert, the cooling breezes coming off the San Diego Bay were all the welcome that we needed as we stepped off the bus. We never got the air-conditioning unit fixed but the #2 unit did a bearable job.
The gig at Humphrey’s is always fun because it’s such a great set-up for the travelling musician. It’s on a great piece of real estate: an outdoor venue sitting in the courtyard of the hotel, with the stage backing on to an immense marina. It is mere steps from backstage to ones hotel room. I think our performances here have been inconsistent over the years. Tonight was one of those shows that I couldn’t get a read on. My sound on stage wasn’t great. I wasn’t even enjoying my guitar sound, but I feel that we played well. It took its own course so we rearranged the set list mid-way through in order to go with the flow. Not a huge crowd tonight, but some pockets of real enthusiasm. Overall, a very good day.
I guess the truth is that I don’t really “get” LA. Maybe saying that I hate LA is a bit strong. Perhaps if I lived here or visited it more often or was given a tour by a native Los Angelino I wouldn’t find the place so ugly, so devoid of character, so uninteresting at street level. In any case when we arrived, Alan, Jeff and I hopped a cab and when to the one place here we knew we would find something unique and peculiar to this city: the Hollywood Cemetery. It’s odd that in all my visits to LA I have never visited this place. I love graveyards and it makes a visit all the more interesting when you trip over a small, modest grave marker for someone like Fay Wray or Jane Mansfield or John Ford. Then there are the monuments to eternal greatness like Douglas Fairbanks mausoleum or Cecil B De Mille’s twin sarcophaguses. In any case, it was nice to be in a quiet green space. The oddest marker was the one for Johnny Ramone. We couldn’t decide if his monument was an actual grave marker, or a prop for a movie, or some kind of ironic, cruel, post-mortem joke played on the ultimate New York punk rocker by some of his rich Angelino pals. In any case he looked very out place sitting there across from Douglas Fairbanks, just a stones throw away from Tyrone Power.
The gig tonight was at The Wiltern: a very large venue which we haven’t played in about twenty years (back when we were hip with the LA in-crowd). I think that, back in the day, it was a proper sit down theater. It has since been renovated and turned into one of those extremely cavernous theater-clubs. I suppose it wouldn’t be so cavernous if it were filled with a screaming audience, but tonight it felt awful cavernous. We had a tough time with the sound on stage and fought through a low end swamp for the entire performance. We had a few people who told us that it sounded great out front, so, for the health of our psyche, we’ll believe them….
Rumour has it that Michael Jackson is dead….I heard it on TV.
Tucson and Mesa, AZ (July 12 – 14)
It was 109 degrees in Tucson today. There were a few half-hearted attempts to escape our air conditioned pod, but none were very successful. At one point I decided I needed to at least stretch my legs and get some blood moving, so I headed off for the railway museum which was just a couple of blocks away. It didn’t take long for my skin to start sizzling and my brain to start melting. I tried to take a different route home, basically walking around the block, and I got completely disorientated. Since it was Sunday in downtown Tuscon (and it was 109 degrees outside) there wasn’t anyone on the streets to point me in the right direction. I was pretty sure that I had met my end, death by melting, but a little more staggering around through the baking, empty street of downtown Tucson and I eventually found my way back to the bus. I crawled into my bunk and hid there for a couple of hours like any self-respecting reptile. At one point during my walk I could have sworn that I heard an orchestra tuning up in the distance or some kind of avant-garde music piece being performed. It kind of sounded like the synth at the beginning of Shine On You Crazy Diamond. So I began to walk toward where I thought the music was coming from. When I finally found myself lost and disorientated in amongst the office towers I realized that the music was being created by the din of all of the air conditioning units in the buildings, together they were creating some kind of harmonic which was echoing off the buildings and, it being a Sunday, there was no traffic noise to drown it out. Very strange, I felt like I was walking around in a credit sequence. I told you my brain was melting.
We got news yesterday that Son Volts van never made it off the top of the mountain in Utah. They went to leave and the transmission sprang a leak. While the band stayed behind to wait for the van to get fixed, Jay and Mark flew in to Tucson to do tonight’s show as a duo. They put on a good show for the faithful. We also had a decent show, not great; we were a little tired due to this being our fifth show in five nights. The audience, although it was very sparse, was very supportive. It’s always fun to play this town, even on a Sunday in July with the temperature in triple digits.
It was 113 degrees in Mesa for our day off. It was almost like being in some kind of bizarre reality TV game show: points given for how long you could go for a walk in this heat without completely losing your mind. Pete went for a too long walk, came back to the hotel, stepped in to the elevator and promptly punched his room number, instead of the floor number, into the keypad…..drool.
Some of us decided to stay in air-conditioned environs and went to see Bruno. The drive to the theater almost killed us. The hotel was kind enough to drive us in their shuttle but it had been sitting in the sun all day. It was a 20 minute drive across the barrens of suburban Phoenix….I felt like a suffocating dog. Bruno was disturbing and pretty darn hilarious. It’s a very subversive movie and I doubt that it will do anything close to Borat at the box office. It pushes too many uncomfortable buttons so it probably won’t have the return rate that Borat had. Five of us guys went together and despite the fact that the theater was empty we chose to sit side by side by side.
The gig tonight was at The Mesa Arts Center which is a beautiful venue but probably a bit big for this double –bill. It was a very excited and responsive audience despite it being swamped by the venue. We had an ok show. There were some very good moments and a few average moments. Son Volt rocked. One of the two air conditioning units on the bus has packed it in. This could be a very uncomfortable ride to San Diego.
Some of you have no doubt noticed that the download section is not retaining your CC info, which is forcing you to re-enter the info each time you purchase a download. The company responsible for this is aware of the situation and is working on correcting it. Sorry, about this, we know that it is a hassle and we appreciate your patience. We’ll hopefully have it fixed soon.
Snowbird, Utah (July 10, 2009)
We spent today half way up a mountain at the Snowbird Ski Resort. Not a bad way to spend a beautiful mountain day. Snowbird is just one of the many ski resorts that sit above the Great Salt Basin, above Salt Lake City. Ski resorts like this one all over the country have gotten smart over the years and realized that their chalets and restaurants don’t have to sit empty during the summer months. The growth in summer sports like mountain biking have helped the bottom line and a lot of these resorts have added music festivals to their summer schedules. We usually have the good fortune of playing a couple of these every summer: no pressure gigs surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. Snowbird also has the added bonus of “fun time activities”, like a toboggan slide, bungi trampoline, zip line, a climbing wall and other cool stuff for kids and not-so-kids. There is also a gondola that brings you to the top of the mountain so you can look down on the rest of the world. It was a fun day, especially for Ed.
The gig was as enjoyable as the rest of the day: a Friday night crowd, the first night of the festival, a beautiful summer evening…..rock on.
Santa Fe, NM (July 11, 2009)
A long 14 hour drive from the mountains of Utah to the deserts of New Mexico. There is only so much sleeping one can do so we watched some really bad movies on the newly named SYFY channel (apparently Sci Fi was too confusing to us all). We didn’t see one square block of downtown Santa Fe, which is ok by me. I love this area but I find the city a bit too Disney….”visit olde time Santa Fe-land”….but I like the land and I like the light and I like the people.
The gig was at a decent little outdoor venue attached to the Santa Fe Brewing Company: a relatively small space with a good sound system out in the middle of nowhere. Son Volt was not part of the bill tonight. We had a very fun time tonight, it was very loose, with a few technical problems and a few guitar clangs and vocal miscues, but it still had a good feel and lots of good moments. It was helped along by an enthused audience. It was freakin’ hot out there today.