so i was supposed to be at NAMM. that was the plan, anyway – but as the time got closer, it was pretty plain that there wasn’t gonna be enough cash in the coffers to make that happen. i could have sprung for the ticket, but i knew i’d probably need at least a few hundred for the incidentals surrounding the trip, and it just wasn’t in the cards again this year.
so i get an email from todd from the youngers, asking if i was available on the 15th – and obviously, at this point i was. it turns out that the youngers are headlining – headlining – a show at the castle theater in bloomington, illinois.
and yes, there’s a backstory here.
when the youngers released heritage, their latest album, they hired an independent promoter to champion their record to select radio stations in their format, and one of those stations was WWHP in farmer city, illinois – between champaign and peoria, just outside bloomington. larry, the mastermind behind WWHP, fell in love with the album and had been trying to get them to come out for a show for roughly a year before they finally agreed on a date and the details surrounding the show. in fact, there were people who had shown up at DelFest this past year who’d told the band that there was a radio station out in the midwest that was playing their album on a regular basis, and that they really needed to come out and play there.
so todd asked if i’d be available to make the trip out west with them, and since i didn’t have the NAMM trip hanging over my head, i jumped at the chance. also, i had been put in a bind by work back late in the summer last year, and had to bail on the guys because of a migration i’d been summoned to do in richmond, virginia – i know it put the guys in a shitty situation, and i was eager to make it up to them. this would be a great gig to set things right. todd was pretty adamant about travelling light – initially, he just wanted the baritone and electric guitar, but after we talked, we agreed i should probably bring the lap steel as well…obviously, if i had my druthers, i would’ve brought the banjo and the pedal steel – but considering that we were travelling in randy’s blazer, with all the gear in the back, the pedal steel (and the larger amp i would’ve had to bring to accomodate it) would’ve been nice, but it would’ve taken up too much space. and after all – a lot of my friends do fly dates all the time and have much heavier restrictions than i did for this gig, so who am i to bitch, really?
we had a rehearsal in todd’s dining room, with just the three of us – todd, randy and i – and it did feel good to play with them again. after having run through the songs, i started to get excited about the show.
todd had tried to set up another show for friday night, which would’ve meant we’d have had to leave a lot earlier than we did…but there just wasn’t enough time to sort that out, so it was a one-gig road trip..which was fine with me, to be honest – it would’ve been nice to have the extra show tacked on, but i was perfectly happy to just concentrate on the one show…and not having to mess with my work schedule to do so. 🙂
so when it’s time to leave, we all meet in our traditional meeting spot – i picked todd up at his house and we drove to the parking lot at weavers’ market on route 272 in adamstown, and randy was already there, and daniel “scrappy” bower had just pulled up…
…without his kick drum.
needless to say, he suffered a bit at the front end of this trip for that, and i scrawled the logo for the makeshift “tour” into the dried salt on the rear window of randy’s cruiser:
all ball busting aside, though, we got on the road at a decent hour and got a lotta miles under the tires before the sun went down. the original plan was to stop over in indianapolis and start from there the next morning…but everybody had quite a bit of gas in their tank when we got there, so we decided to keep driving until a little more fatigue set in – initially, we thought about trying to go ahead and go all the way to bloomington and check into the hotel early, but they didn’t have rooms ready for the night before the show, only the evening of – so we decided to stop in champaign and get one double room for all of us and hunker down there – we’d leave from there the next morning, drive to bloomington, check into our rooms and get a shower there before we left for an afternoon interview on WWHP the day of the show. we checked in, carried up some of the acoustic instruments to the room, and hunkered down – somebody turned on the TV (which was acting a little strange for some reason, fuzzing out at odd intervals as if something were interfering with it…but only for the first half hour or so). Scrappy and Randy took the bunk closest to the door, Todd and I closest to the bathroom…and watched the first two Beverly Hills Cop movies until around 5 in the morning before we finally dozed off.
showering the next morning before we left wasn’t really an option for any of us – certainly because we’d planned to do so at the hotel in bloomington once we checked in, but also because the shower in the hotel we’d stayed at overnight was…well, not real inviting. but – it was all good. we were ready to load up and make some time on the road into town as it was. as we were driving in, i mentioned to randy that he should turn on the radio station that we were going to be appearing on and see what they were playing.
we didn’t have the radio on for more than ten minutes before they played a youngers song. then out of the song, there was an actual commercial for the gig that night. then, out of the commercial break, larry opens the mic and announces that it’s “youngers day” on WWHP, and for the entire time we listened that day, they started every break with at least one, if not two youngers songs. it felt good sitting in the car with randy, hearing them play our little secret on the radio…that was a moment for him, and i was glad to have been there. it was surreal, in every sense of the word, to be celebrated like this so far from home…i mean, here we were, thirteen hours from home, and it was youngers day, for pete’s sake!
at the radio station, it was pretty much decided before we got there that it’d be an acoustic performance – in fact, i wasn’t even going to go initially. i figured that the three principals in the band would be able to pull this off without me, since i hadn’t brought any acoustic instruments. but todd wanted me to come along and play mandolin for the radio set, and there wasn’t any good reason not to – all i’d have done otherwise would’ve been to stay at the hotel and sleep. so after we checked in, i grabbed a quick shower, put on my show clothes, and we started back up the road to the radio station in farmer city for the interview segment.
larry williams at WWHP is a rare breed – he’s an absolute “music first” guy. the whole time we were listening to the station in the car, we kept asking ourselves: what do we have to do to get a station like this in our market? seriously – everything they played was tuneful and well-written, as opposed to some of the americana stations, which will opt for raw meat whether it tastes good or not (it’s long been my opinion that there are a lot of acts within the americana format who pass off their lack of musical or songwriting talent as “rawness” or “barebones” or some other such nonsense as that, and i ain’t buyin’ it). the first thing they played after we turned them on was paul thorn‘s honky tonk neanderthal – a great song. they were also featuring the new gregg allman album, low country blues during the drive…a phenomenal record, and i didn’t hear one shitty song the whole time. a lot of non-comm stations are the exact opposite…you suffer through turd after turd, hoping to hear something that doesn’t suck – and often you won’t hear anything that doesn’t suck for whatever duration you’re listening.
and radio wonders why they’re in trouble. most of the people who’ve stopped listening could clue them in pretty quickly.
this station, honest to God, was an absolute breath of fresh air. it was a real pleasure to be in their company for the afternoon. the only disappointing thing about our meeting with larry was that he wasn’t able to come to the show – we were hoping to have him introduce us, but he wasn’t able to make it. a real shame, since he’d done so much to champion this record. and let me tell you – when we thanked larry from the stage during the show that night, the mere mention of his name got an ovation from the audience.
the man is clearly very highly thought of in his neck of the woods. and rightly so.
we finished the interview and got to the venue around 4pm-ish and loaded our gear into the theater – it reminded me a bit of the cla-zel theater in bowling green, ohio – in terms of the way the floor was set up and how the balcony seats were set up around the perimeter of the room. another room that i’m really fond of, by the way. todd set up at center stage, and randy on the traditional stage left side of the drumkit – todd and i shared one of my guitar racks, which we set up on the other side of the drum riser, and sandwiched our amps on either side of it – it was a comfortable little setup, actually. there would’ve been plenty of room on the stage for the pedal steel (onstage, that is…not in the truck, man), but i would’ve had to have brought another amp for it, blah blah blah…and it was actually cool not to have to think about it – much as it would’ve enhanced the set. the soundcheck was an absolute breeze, as well. we were set up, soundchecked, tuned up, the whole nine yards – in less than an hour. awesome.
so we went down the street and upstairs to the restaurant that they sent us to for dinner…and just as we were getting settled into our table, a couple recognized us – recognized us – and told todd and randy that they were coming to the show later and that they were really looking forward to it. then the guy stopped by the table with a piece of paper and asked us for autographs.
nope – no break in the surreality in sight at this point.
we walked back over to the theater, i said hello to the hameses – carl and jane – and walked backstage. or, i should say, tried to walk backstage…the dressing room was up a flight of stairs and behind a door, but i didn’t know which door it was. i went up several flights of stairs trying to open doors, all of which were locked, before giving up and walking back down to the stage and waiting in the wings just off the side of the stage until lights.
now, as surreal as the trip had been up until now, the show itself was every bit as much of an out-of-body experience as the rest of it had been. there were people in the audience singing along to the songs, yelling out requests for songs from the record – they were intimately familiar with the band, and it was obvious from the first song. the crowd was phenomenal, and they were an absolute pleasure to play for. but i’d be lying if i told you that a great crowd is enough to make for a great gig. there’s plenty of room for error in a headlining show, and all the love in the world can’t make up for shitty onstage sound or internal political crap or any number of other things that could still derail a show…but i tell ya, man – this show was an absolute perfect storm.
the sound onstage was absolutely perfect – the amps were the right volume onstage, and when i’d wander over into todds’ space, i could still hear everyone else as well as i could when i was standing in my own monitor zone – and right out of the gate, it was obvious that we were gonna take some chances and stretch out a bit during this show. the licks were flying back and forth between todd and i from a pretty early point in the set, and we were both “on” – the band clicked from the first few notes of the first song, and the audience seemed to love the extended jams that we incorporated into some of the songs. we were soloing off each other and playing harmony lines in truck driving man, and for having just brought a princeton reverb for the gig, my instruments sounded huge…and it was positively blissful, standing in front of it and locking in with this band.
as with the mauch chunk opera house show, i found myself feeling rather proud of todd and what he’s managed to accomplish with this band – todd and i have a couple of decades of history at this point, and i’ve watched him grow up before my eyes, and it made my heart swell to be there and see the fruits of his hard work coming back to him. at intermission, we went out front to man the merchandise table and the crowd of people lined up to buy CD’s and t-shirts was positively insane. we signed CD’s and posed for pictures for almost half an hour before we had to go back up for the second set, which was every bit as amazing as the first…i didn’t want the show to be over. i wished we had four more albums’ worth of material to play so we could string this on as long as possible.
the guys were understandably euphoric after the show – after everything was loaded up and we’d said our goodbyes to the staff at the castle, the guys in the band wanted to go to some party downtown, but i wanted no part of it…i went along for the ride, until it became obvious that this party was just a bad idea, and i got a ride back to the hotel and was prepared to call it a night until my phone rang just as i was about to doze off…it was todd, and they were heading to steak and shake and wanted me to get dressed and come along. and who was i to say no, really? it was relatively early, by most people’s standards, so i put my clothes on and went downstairs to wait for them to pick me up.
scrappy was a little drunk already, and – as i’d said earlier – the guys were riding on a cloud from the show and everything else that had happened that day. scrappy was sporting a tall can of coors light when we walked in, and thought he was being slick, but the waitress picked up on him right away…but didn’t give him any grief about it. when we got back to the hotel, we all convened in scrappy’s room to finish off the beer that had been sitting idly in scrappy’s fridge. randy even came down and stayed up with us for a while before calling it a night. the three of us, though – todd, scrappy, and i – stayed up until 5AM (again) drinking and talking in scrappy’s hotel room before i finally wandered down the hall and went back to sleep for a few hours before having to get up to start the trip home.
when we got up the next morning and got ready to leave, todd called me on my cell to see if i was ready to check out…i met him in the hallway to walk down to the elevator. “scrappy’s room smelled like rock and roll this morning,” he says to me as we’re getting on the elevator, and i nearly pissed myself laughing.