Travels with Bambi (Road Doggie Steve Sowley's Notes on the Fall Tour 2017)
Woke up 9 am after going to bed at like 4am; not a surprise really, it’s not like you immediately shut off your tour clock the second you’re done. I wake up expecting to pack up my sleep gear and quickly brush my teeth before having to jump back in the van. Instead, I’m rising slowly, taking a hearty shower, and walking out for breakfast with my friends Michelle and Christina. Then back to my crashpad to do some work. Slowly adjusting to life post tour takes time and to quote Malcolm Tucker, “I got a to-do list longer than a fucking Leonard Cohen song.”
I get some texts from the band…jokes, results on bets placed last night, someone found my knife, and Jarrett still has my passport (“I’m gonna sell your identity.” “It’s priced to move.”) A photo comes through and Mike is shaving his beard off. It’s surreal how you have to adjust back to whatever your life was before you commited five weeks to this tour thing. Five weeks is long. Our friends in Waxahatchee did ten weeks this year, which just sounds inconceivable. I have no idea how you do that. I always end any tour thinking “If they want me they know how to get to me” which is what I’m currently doing. I absolutely love being out with these guys, seeing the world, making jokes, finding shelter, fighting colds, rocking out, and being a little family. It’s important to me, because even before this became a thing I loved them, and always wanted the best for them. If whatever I do helps them get through the haul of touring then I always want to offer it to them. I have a couple days left in philly before going back to Chicago, and I reckon we’ll have a small get together before I leave.
I had a goddamn blast on this tour and we blasted a bunch ourselves. I want to thank Charlie from the fanclub for asking me to write all this out. Thank you to all the fanclub members that said hi, you’re a swell bunch. Thanks to everyone that gave us shelter on the road, you have no idea what you do for a band like this. Thank you to all the friends (old and new) we saw out on the road that kept us entertained. Thank you to the bands that opened, y’all kept our ears and heads ringing in the best way. Thank you to John and Megan from Street Eaters for being the kindest, sharpest and funniest sweethearts we could be around.
Lastly, thank you Jarrett, Marissa, and Mike for asking me to come along, for putting me to work, and for letting me snore next to ya. You three are the best and I am so thankful and lucky that you’re in my life.
11/1/17: Metro Gallery Baltimore, MD: Screaming Females, Street Eaters, Outer Spaces, Purrer, Composite
Woke up comfortably enveloped in my sleeping bag and a soft couch; in the distance I can hear Jarrett’s dad strumming on a guitar—just some easy going Fahey type strumming. It’s a beautiful way to wake up. Jarrett’s mom is making breakfast. Typically a morning wake up call is like this on tour: Marissa’s alarm goes off first, then Jarrett’s alarm goes off ten minutes later. In between those two alarms you are bound to hear two sounds: 1) the air being let out of multiple sleeping pads and B) King Mike letting out a morning fart. “Ahhhhh the rooster has crowed this morning!”
A little coffee and some vegan breakfast tacos, while we listen recordings of Jarrett’s high school marching band covering Styx. Everyone is amused and trading stories of high school bands and teenage embarrassments. At one point, the Doughertys bring out their respective guitar and accordion and perform an Irish traditional they’ve been working on, “Wild Mountain Thyme.” It’s very beautiful and touching. I get slightly (and silently) choked up watching this couple perform a song together for us. It’s just so tender and intimate and makes me think about family and allowing creativity to flourish within a family. Screamales are a family—they’ve been at this since they were teenagers, and they show no signs of stopping. Processing that on the day of the last show of this tour is a heavy thing, but one that is nothing but sweet and positive.
The drive to Baltimore is long but steady—I read an interview with Mike Watt in the car, and it’s very amusing. Lots of talk about language, and communication and family and punk. We jam Allman Brothers, Geraldine Fibbers, Blue Oyster Cult and Portishead to name a few. Somewhere in Virginia we drive past the largest Confederate Flag I’ve ever seen. I wonder if people are embarrassed beyond belief by that (probably not) and I wonder if anyone has tried to drive their car into said flagpole to take it down (again, probably not.) We hit a WaWa where I score a dank BLT hoagie and then we hit traffic that takes us down to a snails crawl. DC traffic, like most cities, is the worst. Maybe it’s the additional stress of oppression that is the Nation’s Capital that makes it feel worse than say getting into Brooklyn or LA. Regardless, we trod on and arrive at Metro Gallery with half an hour to spare before doors. We do a quick load in, set the merch up and it’s showtime. It’s a stacked bill tonight as Street Eaters friends Composite got added at the last minute and the show does have an 11pm curfew. We make do though. One surprise is that my friend Jasmine plays guitar for Composite. I didn’t know it was her band on the bill and she didn’t know I was out with Screaming Females. In the blur of loading in we had our backs turned to one another on the stage, and then we turned around and both gasped with surprise and happiness. I met Jasmine when she was in the hardcore band Neo Cons, and she’s a sweet and positive angel; plus she fucking shreds on guitar with such confidence. A lot of friends turn out to the show tonight so there’s a lot of hugs and chit chat and quick change overs, and “how many drink tickets are there???” and “where’s the van, we need more shirts!” Honestly, the whole night was a blur and it’s probably better that way. If I had a moment to really think for myself I probably woulda started crying.
I don’t know why it’s like that, maybe it’s the pisces in me. The first tour I did with them, we capped the last night off at a block party in Chicago. We thought it’d be funny to cover “Zero” so I did the lead vocal, and tried to go into the crowd but missed my step on the railing. It was very silly and goofy and then I teared up during Rose Mountain. Last year, the tour ended in Philly; Moor Mother opened and they performed an incredibly intense set, which they are wont to do. I’d seen so many sets by them but this one sent me over and I was weeping. I found Camae after the set, hugged them and we both started crying. Jarrett and some point was like “jeesus why’s everyone weeping?!”
It was far too busy a night for waterworks though, between seeing so many buds, and chatting away and flippin shirts for cash and moving gear I didn’t really come up for air until we were back in the van. Composite played a soulful set of raging hardcore. They’re a new group, but they’re all so solid and strong you’d think they were at least five or six years into this group. They all looked mad cool and tough too. Purrer came through with pummeling set of hard rock that sounded like Neil Young and Crazy Horse playing “Loveless” or some shit. Wild. Outer Spaces were all rhythm and groove—keys, drums and guitar giving out some hooky and funky pop songs not unlike Young Marble Giants or the slinkier Yo La Tengo songs. Street Eaters gave us one more blast of True Wave calling for a massive resistance to the 45 looming mere miles away. What a powerful band. So grateful I got to experience their sound for so many days. Screaming Females came out strong with a rousing rendition of “Empty Head” which slammed into “Real Mothers” and then “Sheep.” The jam on “Rose Mountain” didn’t elicit tears, but I did do a little soft shoe in the merch area with Bad Canoes drummer Dawn Riddle. At some point Mike’s bass died out and while he sorted out his issue, Marissa opened up the floor to jokes. Here’s a good one
“What do you call a belt made of watches?”
“A waist of time.”
The band bounced back with thee solid sender of “Glass House” and “Step Outside” before closing with “Hopless” and “Boss.” Before “Boss” kicked off, Marissa called me out again, this time though I wasn’t embarrassed. I screamed back “I LOVE YOU SOOOOO MUCH” and she asked people to bring me shots of tequila or Bath Bombs from Lush. I received the former, and gave out some hugs and daps from nice fans.
We piled into the van and drove back to Philadelphia with Dawn Riddle in tow who filled our hour and half drive with hilarious stories from her adventures over the past six months. It’s a great way to end the night, a perfect period to 35 days of travel over this great land.
Again, I’m the last one to wake up, but it’s okay since my hair is all clean and curly and I smell nice. I slept like a cat in sunlight, all stretched and happy. Pack up and roll out to “Sweet Melissa’s” a simple but solid breakfast spot in Decatur. They have a decent amount of vegetarian options and are playing all sorts of classic jam band/hippie material. At one point, the song “Melissa” by The Allman Brothers comes on and we wonder if everyone who works there has to take a break and sing along. Then, “Eight Miles High” by The Byrds comes on and we talk about how that’s one of the best guitar sounds in rock history. Coltrane inspired shit. Decent meal. One of the better fruit cups I’ve had in over a year—kiwi, grapes, strawberries, pineapple. Most fruitcups come with a melon which is probably the weakest fruit to choose from.
It’s about a five hour drive to Durham from Atlanta so we hit it quickfast, and thankfully there isn’t much trouble. I spend a chunk of the time listening to my friend Vish’s podcast and then we swap in some Misfits because it’s halloween and we should be in that kind of mood. I don’t really celebrate Halloween; I’m not against it, but the process of coming up with a costume, creating said costume and then being confident in wearing it is just a goddamn pain for me. I’m never ever happy with the denouement—my brain is bigger than my skill set. I think the last time I wore a costume, I was ReRun from the show “What’s Happening?” My partner and I have always talked about dressing up as Big and Lil Enos from “Smokey & The Bandit” but getting cowboy suits fitted for people 6’3” and 4’10” is a costly project. Working at a bar has it’s limits too; I usually work on Halloween or Halloween weekend and working in a costume that’s gonna get splashed with beer, liquor, lemon and lime juice is also a drag. When i was a kid I loved it; one year I was Harpo Marx. Another year I was an egg.
The Pinhook in Durham is a tight, small venue that is very queer positive and couldn’t have been a better place for a Halloween show. We load in and I make I wonder aloud how far the venue is from Carolina Soul, which is a fantastic record shop in The Triangle. After bringing everything in I learn it’s a mere four hundred feet from the venue, so I take a quick stroll over. I said I wouldn’t buy anything else, but I just have to look. They have a tremendous selection—when I was here last year, I found like five disco 12”’s that were on my want list for a long time. Alas, nothing this time, which is good. If I mention a record store in this diary, it’s worth your time. Not bragging or nothing, but I fuck with records and I’m more than willing to share my info.
Back to the venue, and Screamales are finishing their soundcheck. Jarrett’s parents live outside of Durham and meet up with us for dinner; they’ll also provide lodge for us for the evening. Both of Jarrett’s parents are musicians, which explains where he got so much of his talented skills from. Jarrett’s mom is a radical free thinker and his dad is a passionate inquisitive soul. They are a total joy to be around while we talk tour and life over empanadas and side dishes. It’s so nice to see these two people who obviously love their child and what he’s doing. Not everyone understands punk and the need to play 100 shows a year, but they clearly do, which is evident in their love and adoration.
Two band bill tonight, so we have a lot of time before the doors open; my merch station is an elevated plot along one of the walls, with a lot of floor space but limited display space. It’s fine, but as the show gets more packed (and eventually sells out) I gotta worry about people knockin records off the display table. We make it work though, and thankfully there isn’t too much trouble. Lots of costumes coming though: a LaCroix Can, a Darth Vader, A Beetlejuice, a “sexy antifa” which definitely had me swooning. The place is packed, everyone is looking good and excited; only thing left to do is rock this place to the ground. Street Eaters waste no time, clearly riding the wave of the night before, they turn in a pummeling display of solid True Wave. People are going ape, I don’t think a lot of people here have seen them before. It’s now hitting me: This is the second to last Show, and I don’t know when I’ll see this band perform again, and I’ve seen them do thier thing for 33 nights, and goddamn how lucky am i that I get to watch a band that good do what burns in their hearts? Same with Screaming Females, who turned in an incredibly powerful set—opening with a barn burning “Normal” into “Criminal Image” into “Starving Dog.” That’s a 1-2-3 punch you can set your watch to. The crowd isn’t daft either, they’re eating it all up reveling in the sonic wallop these three friends are creating. At some point, Marissa mentions its the second to last night of tour and thanks Street Eaters, and then calls me out; I try to run away, but John and Megan pull me back. Marissa says something about how I’m available for hugs and I yell “ALRIGHT, LETS GET ON WITH THE NEXT SONG.” I get so shy when she calls me out. I’m not worth of attention. I am just a dummy. Closing with “Hopeless” it is clear they should do an encore. Mike is clapping along and encouraging it, I’m screaming for twenty more songs. The band comes back, and encores with “High.”
We drive back to the Dougherty house and I fall asleep on a long and comfy leather couch. All is well in the Triangle.
Well dummy, when you have a 9 am wake up call, and you lay your body down at 6am, what the fuck do you expect? I spent most of the day sluggish, groggy, and irritable. I’m not really showing it, save for the two hours that I drooled into a pillow. The drive to Atlanta was completely unremarkable save for a stop off for gas in which we encountered some fellow travelers returning from a festival called Hulaween, a festival also in Florida, but with a more jam band element to it. One of the fellow road dogs was in a Winnie The Poo onesie and a knock off Grateful Dead drug rug featuring the dancing bear. This immediately makes me think of our friend Grace Ambrose and how much we all miss her.
When we woke up in the morning, Jarrett excitedly informed us all that Paul Manafort and Rick Grimes had been indicted and that was the main topic of the ride. Much speculation as to what happens next, or what we think would happen goes around the car, along with what we’d spend if we had 18 million dollars. Of the four of us, Jarrett seems like the most excited that this is all happening. He almost looked like a child on christmas day when he told us. It’s a good look.
The Masquerade is a giant mall like venue that has three or four different live spaces, so it’s not unlike the White Oak Music Hall in Houston; here though it’s more like a performance compound than the White Oak’s giant Box of a space. When we arrive, four or five men immediately haul out all of our gear, and run it down a seemingly long hallway to the live room, the aptly named “Purgatory.” There’s a bit of nervous energy, some slight tension, moving through the room as we have been informed that a band is playing across the courtyard (in “Heaven”) who’ve recently come under fire for being associated with The Proud Boys (the band was quick to deny any such association.) We as a unit are vehemently anti-fascist (big friggin shock) and while I don’t expect much action, there’s definitely some nervous tics moving through our crew. Us and Street Eaters vow to stay close though and we do. After load in and soundcheck, Marissa and I take a walk around the nearby park, the aptly named Hurt Park, and talk about our feelings on relationships and dating and love and distance and all the frustrating tangled wires around our hearts.
After a hearty meal, we adjourn back to Purgatory where long time friends of Screaming Females, The Rememberables kicked the night off. Their set was a booming display of solid mid tempo rock numbers with lots of flashy guitar work. Made me think of Soul Asylum or Screaming Trees. Plus they’re all total sweethearts. With that nervous energy from the aforementioned Proud Boys business, Street Eaters came out loud, strong and vicious. John gave a speech about the resistance of psychic death brought on by the impending presence of fascism that really got everyone going. It made them play harder, one of the harder sets I’ve seen them pull off.
Screaming Females did their thing, and it’s like, yeah there are four shows left, and they’re obviously tour tight. I haven’t heard any of them say anything critical of their own work for a minute now. That’s good because each night has been incredibly powerful and it resonates with the crowd. There was some solid dancing going on…two cool ladies stage left that definitely won in the best dressed and best footwork categories. The center was a mess of pogo’ing, pushing, and light moshing. I call this a “push pit” which could be comparable to the crowd shots in the Sonic Youth video “Dirty Boots.” My merch table is stationed to the back so I can only see so much, which is why I was surprised to see Marissa’s hand go flying into a crowd and a hat fly in the opposite direction. Without context the thought process is “Oh, crowd’s wild and Marissa is pulling a goof move by throwing a dudes hat.” However the reality was “Oh this guy in the front just ran his hands up Marissa’s legs while she was on the edge of the stage, and he’s about to get duffed.” Guys at shows, at any show, not just Screaming Females shows: please stop doing this. Please stop inserting your crummy behavior into a performance, especially if the performer you’re watching identifies as a woman. It’s a real shitty look, and it can ruin the night for some, if not all. Toxic masculine bullshit behavior is never a thing anyone wants. End of the night, Marissa didn’t seem shook, thankfully. We joke about “I wish a motherfucker would” and tonight a motherfucker did, and I was too far away to clap hands on this dude, but whatever…tense night.
An old friend of the band, Nick, who’s tall and lanky and attractive and an exceptionally smart professor brought us back to his house in Decatur where we posted up for the night on beds, floors and cots. Jarrett, Nick and I stayed up and talked about movies for a bit before the two of them went off to sleep and I took a shower and did my weekly hair treatment. I also have one of the best sleeps of the whole tour on tight and sturdy cot.
Pop early and G/T/F/O the hotel; we got a long drive but the 2 hour dent we made last night certainly helped. I don’t know if it’s Stockholm Syndrome or delirium, but sleeping on my slowly deflating camping pad on the floor next to John and Megan’s bed felt so nice and comforting. Tour life is a bit like Stockholm Syndrome—you’re under the boot of your master, the tour schedule and his toady, father time. You’re constantly out of your comfort zone (save for the 45 minutes you’re on stage) so you just accept everything as it is and adapt and you tell yourself “THIS IS GREAT” and it is absolutely great, even when it isn’t shaped to your comfort. Even when you’re sleeping on a tile floor and your camping pad is dying. Even when you haven’t gone to the bathroom in a day because every toilet looks sketchy or doesn’t have a fucking door. Even when you’re consoling a lady who can’t stop crying because she got way too high and she lost the records she just bought (“here, just take these, nah don’t pay me, please stop crying.”) Even when you are crying your eyes out because you left your love in your favorite city. It’s the greatest.
I’ve never been to FEST; I’ve always written it off as a pop punk festival which doesn’t really interest me. When it’s done well, it’s great. When it’s done less than great, it’s a real work on my ears. From what I’ve been told, it’s a wild party, and I am very much a gal that loves a party. Screaming Females go on late, so we don’t even have to load in until about an hour before the set; the plan is, drive directly to whatever venue our friends Shellshag as their set will start about ten minutes after we arrive. “I’m walkin in there, and immediately getting a cold beer in my hand while Shellshag are rockin” Jarrett enthuses, and that my friends is the plan. We got the venue, parked illegally next to some atrocious dumpsters, walked in, Shellshag is rockin, and we got cold brews in our hands. Took maybe five minutes. Name me another festival where that happens. Pitchfork? 30 minute check in, 15 minute beer queue, 10 minute slog through a crowd of munted dipshits. I turn my back and everyone is scattered. I step out onto the patio for a smoke, and some people watching when whom should be shaking my shoulders but the mighty John Hays. I met John last year on tour, when Mike said “you gotta meet this guy, he’s legit.” Mike doesn’t really bullshit, so I took his word for it. John is a very sweet, funny, charming hunk of a man. He plays in a great doomcore band called Flesh Mother, does some solo acoustic songs, does some standup comedy, and does the merch/roadie gig for Shellshag. Big hugs are exchanged and some chit chat before he gets hit with sales. Solid dude.
We motor over to Wooly’s and get checked in, we still have a ton of time, so Mike, Jarrett and I go to Bo Diddley Plaza and catch Iron Chic, and Superchunk. One of closest friends is Tour Managing for Superchunk; I met Matthew Barnhart in 2009 in Barcelona. He was tour managing a band, The New Year. My bud Jason Groth, who played in Magnolia Electric Company and the Coke Dares were standing around the Midway at Primavera when The New Year walked up. “Sowley, you know Matthew Barnhart?” Someone pushes Matthew to me, he says “You mailed me a jacket from Jason Molina, and I have all your posts on the Electrical Audio forum in my RSS feed.” Now, normally if someone said the latter to me, I’d be reaching for my mace, but there was something in that boys face that just charmed the shit out of me. He then snuck me backstage to watch what was easily the worst Sonic Youth set i’ve ever seen. We stayed up til five in the morning, bullshitting and laughing and I fell in love with him. I hadn’t seen him since the Electrical Audio anniversary party, so it was great to get a couple minutes with him. It was really wild to see Iron Chic playing to so many people, a lot of whom were singing along. Superchunk were great…played a lot of songs I hadn’t heard live before which was just wonderful. Found my friend Alithea, who is like, The Queen of Fest. She’s a tuff, beautiful angel and we get to catch up for a bit. Ugh, okay, this Fest is really cool!
The homies Meatwave were on the bill at Woolys and they ripped. Total funny goofballs that rip shit up on stage. Great to reconnect with them. This is a Sunday, the third and final day of this thing; typically people are burned out, tired, and have committed to never drinking again. This crowd though? They are amped, wylin out and numerous. Its really really wild. Street Eaters, being the eaters of streets that they are feed off this wild energy and deliver a tightly wound set of street rock. My station with the merch is located on the otherside of the wall from the stage, so I cannot watch the sets, but the venue has a CCTV feed projected onto the wall right above me. All I can think is “okay, if some fool starts some shit, I can see it, but how will I get through the throng of people?” Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about that one bit once Screaming Females start. They too feed off the crowd’s wild style and deliver a ferocious set. At some point, Mike eyed a person in the crowd that looked like they were dehydrated so he handed them a bottle of water. Said person looked offended, and next thing ya know, the band is getting water thrown at them. Wild stuff. John Hays and Shellshag are in the house, hugs are in order, and I’m movin units!
We load out and stay at a friends house…given that Gainesville is so small, everything is in relative walking distance, so I fell back and caught up with some friends. Drinks, musique, and bullshitting until the damn sun came up! FEST, you won my heart. Lets do it again.
This entry is going to be about as brief as our stay in New Orleans. It’s tricky ya know, you want to embrace everything a city can offer you, and New Orleans on Halloween weekend sounds like THEE place to be, but alas when you have a 10 hour drive staring at you from afar, you best not act a fool with the whole dilly-dally.
We woke early and split from Ron’s crash pad (thanks again, Ron) and rolled out for some fine Mexican breakfast. Mike and I rode in the back, and we both fell asleep; I remember looking at the gps and reading “arrival time—5:35pm” before konking out. I woke up an hour later and the arrival time read “6:36pm.” Turns out we hit a gnarly traffic jam in which we moved only a mile in 6:36. Our load in was scheduled for 6:00pm with a 7:00pm door time and a 10:00pm curfew. We haven’t even left Texas and our schedule is blown to bits.
Once we cross over into Louisiana, it’s an easy and beautiful drive. So much water, wildlife, and gorgeous scenic accompaniment. We get to the First Unitarian Church and it’s a massive, gorgeous building. Before my mom passed away, she was attending a unitarian church and I can understand why. She was never really a religious person, but she found comfort in being part of a community of people that care about the safety and well being of others, while holding onto a theory that *some* sort of spiritual force could exist in the world. I can dig it, it’s not for me but I can dig it.
Last time I was in New Orleans was about eight years ago for a Tape-Op conference. It was an exhausting week of recording engineer conferences and panels, coupled with long nights of substance use, and greasy or fried food. Bad garage boys with too much coke on their brain left me feeling like a total outcast, but thankfully my wonderful-slash-beautiful-slash-inspirational friend Sarah Mason was there to rescue me. She drove me out to some ritzy party way outside of the quarter. I remember sitting poolside talking to affluent babes. Last time I was in New Orleans, my old co-worker Greg insisted we go to Bourbon Street. It was a nightmare. It was like Friday night and people were lit to death. We walked by one bar and the band inside started playing “Welcome To The Jungle.” As we continued down the street, we passed a different bar with a different band playing “Welcome To The Jungle” in the same place the song would be at had we stayed and listened to the first band. Strange energy in this city…sorry, “voodoo.” Strange voodoo in this city.
Lucky for me, Miss Sarah Mason showed up for a minute. I hadn’t seen in her in a couple years. She’s doing great things in The Big Easy—playing drums in the band Black Abba, and running a awesome label called Spacetaker Sounds home to groups like Trampoline Team, Georgio Murderer and Buck Biloxi and The Fucks. We used to work together back in Chicago, and she’s one of my favorite people in the world. We caught up, kicked it in The Whip (New Orleans is technically the only city where The Whip meets all Chamber of Commerce codes) and shot the shit before she had to duck out. I do regret passing on her Statue Of Liberty costume. I coulda been a sexy Statue Of Liberty for Halloween, but at the time I just wasn’t in the mood.Why wasn’t I in the mood? I think it was because we were stretched for time and I started to get anxious. There was just weird “voodoo” in that town and it threw my whole mood off. Too many ghosts in one city and I kept having to look over my shoulder.
Gland opened, and holy moly were they great. Just snotty, loud punk. No other way to slice it, but man they played great, and had the best attitude. Street Eaters shout out like a cannon but the voodoo got them for a second as John’s bass went out the window soundwise. They recovered quickly and hit the crowd with their massive sound “They certainly sound bigger than a two-piece.” Yeah, gurrrlllll. Screaming Females were great, but I was too distracted. Like I said, ghosts. They ripped through “Glass House” into “Empty Head?” Whooo brother. “Broken Neck” was fantastic too. As the final notes of “Triumph” hit, it was time to quickly move some units and GTFO—25 minutes from the last note to when all the gear was back in the whip. Don’t ever say we aren’t the most efficient. And as quickly as we loaded out, we were gone…into the night to crash out in Mobile, Alabama.