There and Back Again
Last week I went on a short run of shows, which I dubbed "The Pittin' Out Tour." I named it that because my car's air conditioning did not work, and I didn't expect to fix it before I left. I was heading to the Deep South for a week of shows. My wife is smarter than me, and took the car in for a tuneup a week before we left. We spent a good bit of the tour not "pittin' out" our shirts, as I expected, but driving in refrigerated comfort.
I picked Dustin Meadows up on Sunday, with my son in tow. We drove to Nashville, and I dropped the kid off with my sister to spend time with family. We did the Spiffy Squirrel Comedy Night at The East Room in Nashville, then stayed with friends of Dustin. I watched "Django Unchained" and slept on a concrete floor. I didn't realize until well into the next morning that I had enough blankets to make a nest of sorts, and actually get comfortable.
Monday we drove to Huntsville, to Maggie Meyers' Irish Pub, where we got the chance to do our full sets for the first time. The crowd was small but appreciative, and the place was great. There was an open mic afterward, and we each got back up and did some material we hadn't done in the main show, then we drove to Birmingham to sleep at my sister's house.
Tuesday had the potential to be a disaster -- we had a gig at Seasick Records, right down the street from where we were staying, but their power got knocked out. At the last second, friends got us moved to Saturn, an amazing new venue with a retro outer-space theme owned by one of the members of Man... Or Astro-man? After delaying the show for an hour, and panicking because no one was coming, we wound up with a really receptive crowd and overall the best night of performances of the week. Closed it out with beers on the back porch with my dad and some good talk.
Wednesday we zipped down to Tuscaloosa for the show at Druid City Brewing Co. It was us and a slew of local comics, and we were treated well and enjoyed the room despite being the least interesting part of the night to many of the patrons. Despite that, and the friendliest heckler I've seen in a long time, we had fun. Drove back, stayed with family one more night.
We saddled up and drove to Athens, Georgia on Thursday. I've had bad luck with this town and gigs since my band days, and tonight was no exception. We got double-booked with four bands, told we had to start on time and end early, and then we wound up with zero customers for the comedy show. It's a college town in summer, sure, but it still stung a little. But we were staying with great friends, and we found some amazing sandwiches while walking the nearly-deserted downtown, so it wasn't a total wash. Got the best sleep of the tour and saddled up the next afternoon for Knoxville.
Friday was the blockbuster show of the trip. We were opening for Jasper Redd, a local comic who's got a Netflix special and is now based in LA. We pulled up to the Saw Works Brewery, only to find the room so packed you couldn't make it to the bathroom. We had to stash our merch in the employees-only brewery area just to avoid it getting stepped on. It was wall-to-wall people, great local beer, a food truck outside, and a really fun vibe. I mixed up some older material into my set and had a lot of fun with the crowd. The bar staff in particular was cool as hell, and took good care of us. We went out with some comics for a while, then crashed at the house of one of Dustin's friends, whose cat and I nearly got into a fistfight.
Saturday morning was when the marathon home stretch began. We got up, hit a kickass little diner, then drove over 500 miles to Mobile, some of it through a blinding thunderstorm. We got to town around 8, finding tree limbs down in the streets, and made our way to the Blind Mule. The attic, where the comedy shows happen, was a delightful spot, a little hot and gritty, but just the place for some road comedy. We had a small turnout here too, and a couple chatty ladies who wanted to make the show about them. My approach to this is usually to just bowl them over and not let them get a word in edgewise, and it seemed to work for me on this night. Talked to some of the locals for a bit, debated sticking around, but we had more driving to do.
250 miles back the way we came, and we were back in Birmingham about 4am. My son was back at my sister's house, having spent some time with her and some with my old man. A few hours of fitful sleep later, we were packing the car and saying goodbyes, and then we were off. The drive up to Columbus was pretty wonderful in its lack of excitement. We ate some Popeye's, listened to Motorhead, got through Nashville and Louisville without traffic jams, and dropped Dustin off at home around 9pm.
By the time my son and I got back to Toledo, it was midnight, and I was so tired my face hurt, but of course I couldn't sleep. I wound up on the couch drinking beer and getting a couple episodes into the newest season of Doctor Who before I could finally drift off.
Was it worth it? Financially, of course not. I appreciate anyone who'd let strangers with no draw come to their town and do comedy. That said, there's just not enough money at an off-night show to pay comedians from 800 miles away what it cost them to be there. We knew that going in. We more or less broke even on our travel costs, and we made enough money to eat and live by selling our merch. We didn't stay in a hotel once, and we didn't spend much outside of survival and caffeine, but we made it work.
As a life experience, it was a blast. It was summer camp for aging nerds, a rock and roll tour minus the van and the loading in of drums in the southern heat. And as a creative exercise, it was invaluable. I recorded my CD over a year ago, and I want to start thinking of my "next hour." Most of these shows provided a fantastic opportunity to work on just that. I can't speak for Dustin, but for me, the Huntsville, Birmingham and Mobile shows in particular gave me insights on my headline set that a year's worth of open mic spots at home would not have taught me.
There's also the general skill set you pick up in road mode. What to eat, and when. How to budget time. How to keep the energy up for 45 minutes in a hot room when you're deliriously low on sleep. How not to be too drunk, or spend too much money on records, or otherwise ruin your own party.
I've specifically avoided mentioning names so far in this post. But I'm gonna attempt to thank everyone who helped us, who performed with us, or who otherwise made last week awesome. I'm certain to forget someone and I apologize. But these people all rule and made the trip a blast for us:
Chad Riden, Brad Edwards, Jordan Jensen, Dustin's military friend whose name I've forgotten, Matthew C. Tate, Blair Scott, Nichole Adams, Scott Eason, Lisa and Ham Bagby (and Milo and Jack), Tom Bagby, Liz Buckingham, Daniel Drinkard, Michael McCall, David Hagans, Andy Birdwell, John Bergman, Bo Hicks, Bob Baker, Richard Lockhart, everyone at Druid City Brewing Co, Chris and Suzy Holcombe, Shaunak Godkhindi, Caroline Schmitt, Jasper Redd, Shane Rhyne, Matt Ward, Sean Simoneau, Victor Agreda Jr, the bartenders at SawWoarks Brewery, Jeff Blank, everyone at Sam's Diner in Knoxville, Ryan Jetten, the Gov'na and everyone at the Blind Mule, Mark Phillip, and my road dogs themselves -- Dustin Meadows and my son Rocco for hanging in and eating up the miles with me.
Next year I wanna do it again, and film it. See you guys then, I hope.
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Where I write about the stuff I do when I'm out doing the stuff I do.