Monthly Archives: April 2011
>Of beauty and serenity: life on the road.
It’s day eight on the road for Big Tree, an indie-pop band based in the Bay Area and making its way to New York for the summer. We’ve driven down the California coast, saying goodbye to the enchanting Pacific Ocean, and slowly trudged east, driving through suffocating L.A, mountainous Colorado, and desolate Gallop, New Mexico. On the 11th of March we finally made it to Taos, excited to enter a small world tucked away in northern New Mexico that exudes a sort of magic. We had traveled by way of Santa Fe, stopping at a less-than nice hostel to fill up on grease for our veggie-oil van (that’s for another day).
The outskirts of Santa Fe depressed us; strips malls, abandoned houses, and taco bells cluttered the almost clear blue sky. Thus, when we made it to the quaint town of Taos, embedded with pueblo art, clay houses, and all things teal and periwinkle, we sighed with relief. We looked around us and saw snow-capped mountains in the distance and dust beneath our toes. In between the dust and the snow, we saw where we were staying:
Life on the road for a band is always made simpler when you know people. Quality Inn’s and Howard Johnson’s aren’t really worth the $60 stay, and nothing beats staying in a warm bed with families who welcome you with open arms. Lucky for us, this house in Taos offered not only warm beds, but a hot tub, three adorable ridgeback dogs, and a plethora of fish tacos and tequila.
We were supposed to play a show that night at the “Taos Bar.” We had trouble getting in touch with the venue’s owner; the guy who booked our show was on an impromptu vacation in Alaska (of all places…), and our other contact was mysteriously “out of town.” We asked some locals where the Taos Bar was, and after a few failed attempts, learned that no bar by that name exists. Finally, we found the sole Taos bar: Mountain View Lodge. There we met Ralph, the extremely friendly owner who had no idea we were supposed to play a show that evening. He offered us a beer as a condolence, which we politely accepted. We learned he had no mic’s or amps, and obviously no advertising for the show had been done in town. We thanked Ralph and made our way back to our rental mansion for the night, not entirely disappointed that we would be missing out on a night of music.
Janet, a family friend and owner of the house, took us out for authentic New Mexican cuisine. We devoured fresh guacamole, rice and beans, and an absurd amount of cheese and tortilla chips before cozying up back at the house— sipping on margaritas in their hot tub until our tired eyes let us sleep. The next morning, Janet’s husband John took us out back through his blue door for a lesson in shooting a gun, which for all five band members was a never-explored, er, “hobby.”
We reveled in our surroundings, the hospitality of our friends, and kept repeating over and over “we are the luckiest people in the world.” Traveling across the country in a band is not always easy, yet we made our way across the US with relative ease as we visited old friends, made new ones, and played shows (almost) every night. Although the main purpose of the tour was the music, every now and then we let ourselves relax and take in the overwhelmingly unique pockets of America without worrying about needing to play a show. And this is exactly what Taos, New Mexico provided for us.
We woke up at Alexandra’s, where I took the most luxurious shower of my life (bathrooms with two showerheads and no curtain, surrounded by mosaic tile and prescription shampoo? Yes please). We ate day-old pastries that Muddy Waters so graciously gave us the night before, and then drove baaaack to Claremont to play at Pomona College.
Pomona is apparently the smarter hippie version of Pitzer. Unfortunately for us it was a Sunday, so even though our indie-pop-psychedelic-jazz-blues music often excites the ears of said Pomona folk, these bookworms must’ve all been in the library focusing on their studies and missing out on the best concert of their lives.
Still! We lured a decent sized crowd right on the campus quad, with special guests Mandy Schwecherl (my cousin!) and her friend John. It was great to have my family come and see me, and it made the show even more fun to play. After our gig we planned to meet up with Mandy and John for dinner and drinks right after we quickly stopped at the cafeteria to filter some grease for our car.
Yes, grease. I don’t know if I have explained this, but our van runs on vegetable oil. Yes. The luxury of this is two-fold: our van costs about $135 to fill up on diesel; on veg, we can go the same distance-if not further, for little to no money. Secondly, diesel emits sulfur and a bunch of other nasty stuff. It’s bad for the environment. Used vegetable oil does not contain any sulfur, and emits only 15% of the nasty stuff that diesel does. And we’re recycling.
However, the aches and pains of running a van on veg are also two-fold, if not three or four-fold. Mainly, it’s the filtering process. We can’t just throw used oil full of French fry particles and crispy bacon bits into the tank—we have to filter it. We purchased a fancy filter that collects dirty oil from a pump, but every time we tried using it on the road, our pump would blow a fuse. Fast-forward to when we were trying to meet Mandy and John for dinner, and we had a vat FILLED of grease we wanted in our van, and a broken pump that refused to let us filter the grease quickly and efficiently. We had to go back to our old-school method, which means pouring the grease into a sock-filter ourselves, and then watch the grease slowwwly drip into a bucket, which takes five times as long and can get pretty messy.
Di Desmond and Ian Levine)
Long-story short, we got some grease, brainstormed about other ways to fix our pump, and met Mandy and John for sushi. We devoured practically every fish in the sea while enjoying a few sake bombs, and then made a quick stop at the liquor store to pick up beer and Andre (?) before crashing at a Howard Johnson’s.
The next morning we all woke up overheating in our sleeping bags, and quickly aroused to greet the warm southern California air we’ve been yearning for. We had been recommended a breakfast spot the night before; Kaila and I repeated the name over and over again since we knew our beer-cushioned heads would have a hard time remembering it. It was called Some Crust Bakery, and the only reason I can tell you this is because of the picture I took:
Anyways, Some Crust had egg-sliders! So delicious! So creative! You could pick your bread, your dressing, and your toppings. Sometimes I just love America. After we ate we drove to Santa Barbara to meet up with our friends Hannah and Fishman. They took us on a hike to the beach that was absolutely beautiful. We made it to the coast and swam in the ocean, sipped on beer, and expressed how relaxing and luxurious tour was so far. (Granted it was only day two, but…well whatever).
Once it started to cool off we walked back to the car and drove into town to our venue: Muddy Waters. The place was a neat medium sized coffeehouse that also offered beer and wine. We picked up about a ton and a half of Mexican food on our way over, sound checked, and ate ourselves into oblivion before our set.
Once again, the show’s energy was great. There weren’t as many drunk and hyper attendees as Pitzer, but the crowd seemed to be having a great time. We stuck around for a band that played after us, and then crashed at a friend of Kaila’s. We all had a slumber party in the living room—eating ginger snaps and gummy bears— before falling comfortably to sleep.
A little past noon on Friday, May 4th, we gathered our duffle bags, amplifiers and instruments, pillows, sunglasses, and bourbon, and several grocery bags filled with Trader Joes snacks. We spent a good thirty minutes figuring out how to assemble our roof-bag (which was advertised as 99% waterproof; we kept our fingers crossed), and said goodbye to friends who gave us their best, along with a batch of homemade granola bars. We piled in, turned on Akron/Family, and began our journey across the country.
We also did a little shake-weight in the van to, you know…exercise.
Our first stop was to Pitzer College, one of the Claremont Colleges outside of L.A. We were leaving from Berkeley, and had about a 400-mile journey ahead of us. Oddly enough, even though 400 miles is quite far, the distance becomes deceptively brief when you are only covering one state. A car trip from Berkeley to Claremont takes about the same amount of time as driving from Portland, Maine to Trenton, New Jersey: roughly 6 hours and 46 minutes. Still, I would choose meandering through the coastline of California over the Mass Pike, the New York Thruway, and the George Washington Bridge any day.
We made it to Pitzer as the sun was setting, curious as to what we would encounter at this stereotypical hippie-school. Luke’s friend’s sibling, Emily—our contact to the school, greeted us. She was dressed in an interesting manner: a sporadically colored dress, face-paint, and dyed hair in heaped braids. We quickly learned that we were playing at an art-event that was promoting “the other-side.” We were essentially performing at a student circus.
After loading in our equipment, we did our best to fit in with the rest of the student body. Kaila and I had our faces painted and bedazzled, and we all dressed ourselves in sparkly boas and mardi gras beads.
Pitzer generously fed us veggie burgers and grilled pineapple, which fully prepped us for the free kegs of beer the school was providing. The campus police put up a fence to designate where the 21+ kids could drink, but the loose constraints to this rule reflected the whole school’s attitude about, well…rules. I grabbed my beer, walked out beyond the fence, smiled and waved to the (probably stoned) campus police, and went to finish my second veggie burger on the patio as I sipped on my free beer.
On to the show.
It was great! There were about 200 kids packed in our outdoor venue—many were literally inches away from our faces. The energy of such a compact, robust crowd was amazing, which somewhat made up for the sketchy sound system (they had all our sound running through one line, which resulted in Kaila’s keyboard and my mic to intermittently conch out…woops). Still, our performance was extremely well received, and we had a blast as the Pitzer kids danced and sung along to our hour-long set.
A highlight, for me at least, was when a fine young Pitzer gentleman felt so inclined to give me a thin mint during a song. Inclined Pitzer gentleman, if you are reading this, thank you.
After our show, we blasted Latino music in the van while we loaded out, and played some parking lot beach-ball soccer to pass the time. We packed with ease, for Colin had talked to some new fans that offered to put us up in their off campus house, providing us with a free place to sleep. With all our equipment in the van, we drove to the address we were given, which led us to a complex of apartments. Once in the apartment maze, Colin went to look for the phone number of the “friends” we met, and to his avail, learned it was never saved into his phone. As we sat in front of a row of about 100 apartment buildings, we knew we were out of luck. We drove back to the campus, ate a majority of the snacks we had bought earlier to mask any sort of stress, and indulged in a few swigs of whiskey. Danny and Colin went off to some sophomore dorm party, and Luke, Kaila and I brainstormed about places to sleep while we proceeded to finish off the homemade granola. In the end, we were able to get swiped into a nearby building, and spent the night in a luxurious all-girls dorm common room, equipped with plenty of floor space, a few couches, a nice piece of armoire, and some fake plants.
We slept with plenty of beer and burger in our bellies, along with the satisfaction of a free place to crash, and more importantly, a well-received and heavily attended first show.