Interstate 5. The Nickel. Roaming miles and miles of silver and grey speckled asphalt, like traversing the nooks and crannies of an aged 1922 Buffalo nickel. The best part of driving down I-5 from Portland to California is in the middle. Going over the mountain pass is like going down the rabbit's hole. Or maybe it's the other way around, popping out from the majestic green foggy lushness of Oregon to revel in the hot sun of a late summer California tour.
Our last show stop before exchanging one magic land for another was Cottage Grove, OR. The Axe & Fiddle is a nice little bar to play with a vintage book store for a green room. So you can peruse your favorite classic children's books while warming up. One thing about playing shows on the road is the characters you meet. This one had a guy named Gridlock, (or was it Crawdad, can't remember...) a vinyl enthusiast who cuts his own 78s. He was either overjoyed or offended at how many grooves we "packed in" on our Blue Lead Fences 7-inch. He also calls the Lagunitas Brewing Company every day to say hello to everyone over the loud speaker. He told us to go say hello for him.
First stop in California was a quick jump in Lake Shasta at the end of a boat dock to get a little taste of our new magic land, and to give Ritchie a chance to break in his new speedo. The first loss of tour was a pair of prescription glasses attached to Perry's ankle as he executed the perfect Watermelon. So for the foreseeable future, he could only see clearly about 4 feet in front of him. But you know, that's about all you really need to play a show.
Next stop was Davis, CA. Sophia's Thai Kitchen is a big stop for bands during their summer season of outdoor porch shows. We've played there a bunch and it's always a hoot. They fill you up on Thai food and then send you out into the trenches to play for the mixture of college music enthusiasts and fraternity brothers gearing up for rush week. But besides a horde of very loud drunken college kids who couldn't care less what sort of sounds are coming out of your instrument, it's a very fun place to play. There is always a good contingent of fans and music lovers within a foot from you, basking in the sound war you are waging over them. You play loud. You play hard. You sweat. It's a great feeling. Those kinds of shows are good for getting a little loose, experimenting and challenging yourself a bit, letting the moment wash over you and seeing how far you can go without losing control of the reins. And then you bask in the glory. You won. You won for yourself and you won for your band.
What really can make a tour fun is playing and hanging out with other rad bands. That night we discovered a band called The Range of Light Wilderness from the Bay Area. Their bright guitar pop, with a bath of vocal delays, is perfect on a summer evening.
The next night was Santa Cruz, for one of those not-so-well-attended middle-of-the-tour shows, where you start to succumb to the "why am I here?" thoughts. But you push through that and you just play. There are still people there that want to see you. There are some that don't care to see you as well, but you play. After all, that is what it all boils down to, that moment of looking over and smiling at your bandmates during a song.
And after all this, a much deserved day off at the beach. How could you have a California tour without a day of lounging around in the sand? Our very hospitable host, Joey Santana (who happened to have the same prescription contacts as Perry) and his wife Jordan let us take over their beach home for a day. Only one condition though, that we get up and play a show for their 3 1/2 year old daughter and all the rest of the neighborhood kids. So 10am, coffee in hand, there came about 10 kids ranging from 2 to 5, holding on to a follow-the-leader rope. We set up on the porch in the sun with the smell of eucalyptus overhead to play a little acoustic set. Shakers and bells were handed out and by the end of the show the kids ended up playing a show for us. The boys took a special shine to the drum kit for an impromptu eight mallet freak out jam.
The rest of the day was spent surfing and boogie boarding on Sand Dollar Beach with dolphins jumping waves behind us. The juxtaposition of being in a club under bright artificial light with the roar of chatter to being out in the sun with the roar of the waves, from the grey of the road to the beige of the beach, is very palpable. Walking South along the water line over crushed sand dollars, and turning West to succumb to the roaring water. Letting yourself be taken by the waves is like letting that moment on stage wash over you. You're in control, but you let that wave, that outside force, take you over and send you where it may, and spit you out on the other side. It's a bit like tour in general. You prepare and pack, and you have an idea of what will happen. But if you let yourself go just a bit, and let it take you where it wants to take you, that is where the magic happens.
Meanwhile, back in the van. Handsome Dan Galucki is truckin' with a thermos of coffee. Ms. Brooke Parrott is working on her writing exercises. Sir Perry Pfister is drawing out sketches for an art show after tour is over. Papa Ritchie is taking a nap listening to podcasts. And me (Jason Leonard), they call me Jelly. I'm writing this and eating almonds, occasionally trying to practice guitar in the back of the van, which is a bit like trying to not spill your coffee while walking a tight rope.