The Winter Tour of our Discontent

So I started this tour (with On A Clear Day from Seattle, WA) in Port Townsend, WA in the first week of January 2016. After this first show, the garage on the land our friend lives on burned to the ground and inside there were 20,000 vinyl records. No one is sure what started the fire but it was a weird night. I hope the gods of music and chaos found some satiation.

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The following night David Bowie died. (TW discussion of sexual assault)

 

We found out right after our show and I was really sad and surprised. Soon afterwards the articles about his sexual history came out, starting the back and forth about whether it was appropriate to mourn without mentioning his errors and controversy. Initially Stefanie (tourmate) and I had discussed covering one of his songs as a memorial, but after seeing some of the conversations that were happening, I thought I couldn’t really ignore the impact it was having on survivors. On the other hand, I saw some people, including women, spitting fire on social media to defend Bowie’s legacy. Citing, “the climate of the sexual revolution,” and the speculative consent of the people involved as reasons why it was “defamation” to discuss the allegations in the wake of his death, they lashed out at anyone who would dare to question Bowie’s infallible worthiness of unquestioning respect when he died. Still others pushed the message that, above all else, David Bowie was a human being who was flawed and who, despite having made mistakes that he may not have had to answer for, was still worthy of admiration for his life and work.

For my part, I don’t want to upset survivors. I think it is really upsetting when people “just don’t care.” Especially if you live in a community where someone raped you, or otherwise violated your physical boundaries, and then no one cares. And this situation is ENDEMIC. Yeah, David Bowie’s music is brilliant, and people are free to mourn. And whether or not I personally believe he forced sex on someone who didn’t want it, or who wasn’t old enough to consent, doesn’t matter. To me it’s about handling the matter in a way that is sensitive to those living the cultural disease that is patriarchy and rape culture.

I’m not going to pretend that I don’t understand the borderline magical effect that someone like Bowie, with his musical prowess, daring performing presence, and weirdo sensibilities, has on the listener/viewer.  But, yeah, at the end of the day he is human. He both conformed to and broke the norms of his day.  Even in anarchist or otherwise left leaning, DIY culture, people like Bowie are so revered. In Bowie’s case, he broke serious ground for queers and weirdos. But nowadays we have so many artists to look up to, I feel like Bowie’s whole paradigm is dead. He stated it himself in a 1999 BBC  interview, that the paradigm had shifted away from a few high profile makers of music, to a more decentralized, accessible model where anyone with access to technology can create music and distribute it online.

Speaking of which, let’s get back to my dinky little tour….

We had a great time on the West Coast, familiar territory for me. Serac, Quiver, Fang Chia were some revelations of the road. Dolphin Midwives, M O R OAnnah Anti-Palidrome, Beat Alice, and Inle Elni were  delights to play with as usual. In the Bay Area, we hung out with Stefanie’s buddies from the Balkan/Klezmer music community and I had my mind blown for three nights in a row by the insane vibrancy of that style of music, and how it acts as a force that brings people from all over the world of all ages together (see Bucharest Drinking Team, Orchestra Euphonos, ). It got me thinking about different modalities of music, and I really love how participatory and fluid Balkan music is. Any group of folks can get together and play, improvise, and take turns playing different instruments, singing, or dancing.  I suppose it is similar to jazz, old timey music, and lots of other kinds of music that works that way. It’s like different games with different rules, the instruments are the game pieces. And everyone always wins! Contrasting it with the struggle of DIY artists (these different areas of being a musician are not mutually exclusive obviously) to promote ourselves and our distinct performances made me feel eager to find other ways to relate to others through music.

 

The day we drove from Santa Cruz to San Luis Obispo was Stefanie Brendler’s birthday, and we took the long route along the Big Sur coast. Whales, sea lions, hawks, elephant seals, and beautiful plants such as yerba santa were witnessed. It was glorious.

In SLO and southward, it became apparent that we were out of our comfort zone. I’ve always been a bit intimidated by booking south of the Bay Area, which is funny because it is where I grew up. There was not a music scene in the suburban sprawl of big box stores, malls, car lots, subdivisions, etc. where I came of age (although I did benefit from other privileges having come from there, of course). There simply were no venues, except for dance clubs mostly designed for older divorcees where bands played covers of songs on the radio. (I played my first shows in Canoga Park at the Cobalt Cafe which I believe still exists). I was pleased to talk about this with Joshua from the 5432fun! radio show at UCSB where we stopped and played. He too is a strange and inspired musician originally from Thousand Oaks, CA who was so wonderfully willing to slam that town for sucking really bad. It was quite validating. Then again, SoCal is a big place and  I’ve always known that I just wasn’t privy to the cool shit happening. I know there are very legit music communities…and we did indeed run into some delightful musicians.  Essy and the Call, Lillian Villines, Scallion Jake, Welfare Talent, and many others. Through booking this tour I discovered the work of the LA based Tochtli Collective and their annual folk punk festival….which rulz.

In Ventura, CA some of my family came out to the show, something that rarely happens because, as I mentioned, I almost never book shows south of the Bay Area. Despite the fact that we were playing a really weird, douchey bar known for their decadent burgers, and the fact that the headliner of the show flaked at the last minute, it was really cool they were there. If they hadn’t come out we would have considered just not playing at this bro-magnet venue that shall go unnamed.

Also, culturally, all of SoCal is quite strange. In LA (some) people dress like really clean, groomed punks, then they get up to play and deliver the most heinous bubble gum radio pop songs. It seems like many people playing music in the songwriter scene there are trying to present themselves as ready for TV. Also there is a ubiquitous glorification of Spanish colonialism in this region which is flagrant and grotesque. I suppose the same could be said for most regions of the US, that colonialism continues to be glorified in subtle and not so subtly ways. Here it is not subtle at all. There are monuments to the missionaries/genocide everywhere.

And then there was Joshua Tree. The huge rock piles are made from erosion of the rock over time, and they look like piles made “by a giant toddler,” as one park pamphlet put it. The trees are majestic of course, and we had the pleasure of playing another show with the marvelous Essy and the Call, as well as Trystates, Joshua Tree’s very own experimental sound wizards

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Stefanie rocking out

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Essy and the Call casting their spell

 

After this, we became a bit road weary. The long distances of the southwest were inspiring and tiring all at once. We listened to the audiobook of Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle just to really drive home the desolation. However, the Southwest’s beauty, hospitality and musicians were SO worth it.

First stop was Pheonix, AZ where we played at an all ages volunteer venue called The Trunk Space. This place is extremely rad and I definitely feel extra lucky to have played there because it is now in search of another building. What Happened to Judy Winslow? and Sonny Morgan joined us there, two distinct and wonderful artists. I picked Stefanie up in the AM to find out that she had sleepily dealt with a house break in that night from the couch she was staying on…..? From there we ventured to Tuscon where I was greeted with my name on 2 marquees, one outside and one inside the venue, a rare occasion for a DIY songwriter such as myself. Nevermind that yes, on both my name was misspelled in 2 distinct, separate ways on each marquee. It was a delight nonetheless. I rearranged the letters to the proper spelling for the first proud pic, and then, well…..

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Creative adjustments made after we skipped town 🙂

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After the Tuscon show a very nice, yet somewhat tipsy lady luthier approached me and gave me some excellent advice and wisdom about my cello, the types of cellos that work with my musical style, and some ideas for what strings to use. She said the Chinese instrument I was playing worked well for what I’m doing because they are, above all else, loud I will be heard in the mix. She then slurringly added, “let’s face it, you’re not going to be playing Carnegie Hall anytime soon.” Fair enough haha.

So then we drove to Albuquerque, New Mexico and met Sage and Jared’s Happy Gland Band. These folks were truly lovely and are both in other amazing projects. We played in the afternoon, and then got to see Sage play in this great band Beautiful William, comprised of songwriters Sage Harrington and Meredith Wilder. It was truly great to hang out with local musicians and see the showcase that was put together that night. In all honesty it was a much needed break from playing every night, we just hung out in the crowd and soaked it up. Next was Santa Fe. My tourmate Stefanie is also and aerialist/circus performer and waddayaknow, in both these New Mexican towns the other musicians we played with were also into that wacky stuff. So there was much flouncing about and looking at silks and swings, etc. (We also had run-ins with aerialists in the Bay Area and Olympia, WA.) We played with Apple Miner (two members of Apple Miner Colony) in Santa Fe and it was great.

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Driving from there to Durango, CO was stunning. We stopped at this place called Echo Amphitheater which was a snowy juniper lined trail that lead to a rock enclosure where you could hear your voice echo. There was a Russian-born nuclear scientist up there showing friends around. As much as I dislike nuclear science and it’s application, he was pretty nice and he explained the geological strata layers to us, which was fascinating.

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It was 80’s themed Snowdown (a local drinking festival I guess?) in Durango and we saw people all dressed up in the various clothes of the 1980’s…we played on the second or third story of an old hotel where the floor was not quite level. By this point I was dragging myself through my set and was basically sick of my own songs. The other performers were odd matches for us and did not even stay for our sets. I was really homesick and really sick of touring… and then we learned there was a storm rolling in. We were advised by locals we trusted to get out of town a day earlier than planned.

At this point I just wanted to drive out of the mountains and go home however we could. We had one show left in Grand Junction, CO and it was a small private event, I wasn’t attached to it. We ended up going to Grand Junction, but I was pretty tense about the whole thing. I hadn’t been all that excited about going to CO mid-winter in the first place, so I was dragging my feet at this point. To top it all off, the battery light started appearing in my car. I took it in to a mechanic and they said the alternator and battery seemed to be working…..

I had to spend a lot of time alone just to maintain. I read this book Stefanie recommended called Making Your Life as an Artist by Andrew Simonet. This came at a really crucial moment for me and was very grounding, inspiring, and redeeming. The author starts off by thanking artists for making their work and describing the importance of art in our culture and imaginations. He also kicks down some serious practical advice. READ IT. It’s free.

We played that snowy night in Grand Junction. It was a small private show in an office belonging to several women who do work supporting mothers, such as making placenta pills. It was a nice end to our tour. The snow was quite beautiful, yet still somewhat menacing. I had a bad experience touring with Slow Teeth in Minnesota, January of 2010. Driving at 6 am and going 45 MPH, I spun our van off the road and crashed into a snow bank. We lucked out and were alright. I was really on edge about the slippery roads this time around though, and I definitely did not want to get snowed in, being homesick as I was. I think being homesick helped me play better though, strangely.

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We headed out the next day and I could not wait to get home. And then we broke down an hour or so outside of town. The first thing we noticed was that my windshield fluid wouldn’t spray, and we spent a bunch of time and energy trouble shooting that…then the music started cutting out, and then the car stopped working on the freeway. It was my alternator. We got towed to Moab, UT and stayed in the hostel there. The fellow behind the counter is from Beaverton, OR and had a lot to say about the changes in Portland. Mostly that no one thought it was a cool place to live back when he was there. One of the housekeepers was really friendly and told me all about the folks who live there long term and basically drink a lot. She scolded us “young ladies” for venturing into the wilderness mid-winter and told us we needed to, “be aware of what’s going on in the world.” I just laughed and had to agree with her that it was an odd choice for a road trip. But in the end, I’m glad I got to see Moab in early February. The thing is, Moab, UT is crazy beautiful. There was snow covering the red earth and the sun shone brightly. I was still needing a lot of alone time to write and just stew in my visceral homesickness. I got a ride from the hostel cook to the brewery where they serve weak Utah beer. I was getting calls, texts, and messages of support and that was really nice.

 

 

We were able to leave in the morning and headed for Boise. We listened to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. It’s a beautiful book. We passed through Provo, UT, where I was sent as a behaviorally difficult teenager to an isolated treatment center run by Mormons. It was so weird to pass through as an adult and remember riding around in the back of the van they drove us around in, The mountains there are stunning. Incidentally we had a really nice hotel room waiting for us in Boise thanks to my Dad’s business accommodations as a traveling sales rep. I think the young person who checked us in thought we were really big shot musicians because we were on tour AND appeared to be able to afford to stay there. I felt like we were pulling off some kind of scam as we ate free breakfast alongside well dressed business men. But we weren’t. Oh well.

For all my fretting over road conditions, the drive to Portland was the worst drive we had. There was no road alert from ODOT, and there was no storm predicted (I was neurotically checking before we left for any sign of danger). Nonetheless, it snowed a lot and the roads were both frozen and snowy. Semi’s were jack-knifing and we were stressed as fuck. We made it, but it sucked. If I tour again in the winter I will stay out of the snow. However, we would not have witnessed the insane beauty of northern New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah in this particular February of 2016 if we had played it safe. So there’s that.

Stefanie had to hop on a bus to go play a show with the Bucharest Drinking Team in Seattle the very next day. I took her to the bus stop and she had an absurd amount of things all strapped to her little cart, it was impressive. A few hours after we said goodbye I got a text that her very full Bolt bus had lost power south of Tacoma and they were all on the side of the road in the Tacoma/Seattle traffic waiting for a replacement bus…..? WTF. Still, I’m pretty sure she made it to town in time to play the show.

And here’s where I give a big THANK YOU to everyone who is still playing music, writing songs, zines and poetry, tinkering with pedals, hosting and feeding musicians, coming out to shows when they could be netflix and chilling or whatever, and listening to full albums (sometimes even buying them!)  We have fun, don’t we?

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thought on “The Winter Tour of our Discontent

  1. Brenna,
    I really enjoyed reading about your winter tour. Your writing is descriptive and captured both the physical beauty, and the personalities and adventures you had along the way. Thanks for writing it.
    lori

    Like

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