Saturday night contained a lot of firsts. It was the first time I ran merch, the first time we played in Germany, it marked the first appearance of the hot dog suit and the first time I said “fuck you, asshole” in German.
We got a late start on our trip from Antwerp, Belgium to Oelsnitz, Germany. Alarms weren’t properly set, showers were needed all around and the beds were comfier than they first appeared. Once we got our shit in gear (and loaded up on croissants) we were on our way. Ahead of us was one of our longest drives on the tour, a seven-hour voyage across country lines. The trip was punctuated by two pit stops; during one we saw a new bride run into the bathroom while still in her wedding dress.
A quick note on European bathrooms — they’re fantastic. You often have to pay for entry, but in many ways it’s worth it. We stopped in one gas station that had completed the checklist for being a dive. Porn mags on the racks? Check. Dirt and grime everywhere? Check. Attendants who seem to be hopped up on some sort of … something? You know it! So I wasn’t too hopeful when I dropped my 70 pence into the bathroom machine.
But man, oh man, was I wrong. The toilets are automated and include a self-cleaning system. It’s majestic. You can buy a vast assortment of sexual tools in the vending machine (part of the aforementioned checklist), but the rest of the bathroom was absolutely spotless. And when you’ve been on the road for four hours and nature comes a-callin’, this is a gift from on high.
Our GPS had us snaking through small German towns and we didn’t see anything resembling a venue. As we reached the end of the directions we still didn’t see anything. So we pulled up a little bit further and there it was: a graffitied beacon of Rock & Roll in the midst of beautiful German countryside. We had arrived.
We parked, met the promoter, met the support and got to unloading. I start grabbing the merch boxes and dove right in. And by dive right in, I mean that I stared at them blankly until Aaron came over and explained how everything worked and gave some suggestions on how to set up. From there, my retails skills came back and I became a folding, sorting and styling machine. I gave each style of shirt their own home in a box, put out a size run of each, spread out the small stuff and waited. And waited. And waited. And ate some homemade goulash. And waited some more.
Finally, the crowd began to build — and our game of “dibs” began anew — while we waited for our slot. Finally, the boys hit the stage and the crowd started to wake up. But, still, they needed a little push, a little something to get the mood just right. It was time for the hot dog costume. I slipped it on, ran to the front, got a laugh from the boys and the crowd and made my exit.
It seemed to have worked.
As the set wrapped up, the merch sales started to roll in. Thankfully, it wasn’t super busy, so I was able to get a feel for pricing, exchanging Euro change (who buys an EP with a 50€ note!?) and trying to translate thick German accents.
After the show finished, the party started up and it was a fun one. Nick was throwing down peppermint shots, courtesy of a fan. Ryan had to dodge the advances of two older women who had a bit too much to drink (and then drank some more on top of that). I, on the other hand, spent my time with a lovely young lady named Jenny and her friends as she gushed over her love of Barney Stinson and Nirvana. She also taught me all of the major German curse words and phrases when her friends got jealous of the attention I was getting. I wish I could’ve remembered some of the words; they will surely come in handy sometime on this trip.
Finally, the free beer was safely stowed in our bellies and it was time for bed. We found our hotel, made plans for the next day, stripped down and passed out.
This morning we’re on our way to Berlin for show number three. We actually left on time today so we should have some time to see the city (and replace Aaron’s broken double bass pedal) before we get down to rocking.
Spinal Tap moments: 4.
CityBeat contributor Nick Grever is currently traveling Europe on tour with Cincinnati Rock band Valley of the Sun. He will be blogging for citybeat.com regularly about the experience.
When I first met Valley of the Sun, one of the first things Ryan ever said to me was, “So you’re the enemy,” with a huge grin on his face. He was obviously referencing something and was extremely happy that he was finally able to do so.
I didn’t get it.
For those of you as clueless as I was, it’s from Almost Famous, the story of a young boy who gets to live his dream and follow a band on a nationwide tour while writing a story for Rolling Stone. In it, one of the band members continually calls his newfound follower the enemy because he sees everything — the good, the bad, the ugly, the drunken — and he can report on it all.
As I sit on a plane, 53 minutes away from Brussels, I finally get the reference (it doesn’t hurt that I watched Almost Famous for the first time the night before we left). So far I’ve watched Aaron drink wine straight from the bottle, seen Nick blatantly break the “no smoking” rule on international flights and learned just how cutthroat the game of Dibs can be. Ladies: Yes we are staring at you and yes we are claiming each and every one of you. Also, selfies. So many selfies.
It’s been pretty calm so far. Seating has been a breeze, Aaron and I prefer aisle, Ryan and Nick are window guys. Our connections have been effortless, leaving plenty of time for piss breaks and pizza runs. The flights were all smooth and filled with enough dibs-worthy frauleins to keep us busy the whole time. Even our luggage was fairly easy to manage. Only two gear bags needed some re-Tetrising, but it was easily corrected.
The trip out of the airport in Brussels was a bit more stressful. We had a hard time corralling our luggage, we couldn’t find our van and Ryan was stopped by an adorable drug dog and his less than adorable handler. But it was all sorted out and we headed out for Desertfest, our first show in Antwerp, Belgium.
The ride was short and we were the first band to arrive. We used our free time to track down some Belgian waffles; Arnaud’s bilingual skills helped us procure food that we actually recognized and pay for said food. We also sorted out usual tour things like reorganizing the van into less of a clusterfuck, catching up with old friends, making introductions to new members and passing out itineraries. Ryan was kind enough to provide us with a day-by-day breakdown of times and locations, all set inside a classy Lisa Frank folder. Because kittens are metal.
Merch is being sold by an outside agency, so I get the night to enjoy some of Stoner Rock’s finest acts, like Witch Rider and Truckfighters. I will be in charge of filming the band with Nick’s Go Pro cameras. No guarantee of quality can be made, but considering our mutual state of exhaustion, I think it’ll be forgiven. Tonight’s sure to be an interesting start to tour. We’ve each been given six drink tickets, we’re running on about 30 minutes of sleep apiece and the boys are playing to a sold-out fest with attendees flying in from as far away as Japan. It’s definitely a trial by fire scenario, but I think they’re up to the challenge. They just might need a caffeine injection between now and then.
I think I’m going to wrap it up for today but I want to start a tally here that will hopefully carry on through the tour. We’re up to two Spinal Tap references/situations today. Check back in to see if we can run into any more locked doors later this week!
CityBeat contributor Nick Grever is currently traveling Europe on tour with Cincinnati Rock band Valley of the Sun. He will be blogging for citybeat.com regularly about the experience.
(Editor’s Note: CityBeat contributor Nick Grever leaves today for Europe, where he’ll be on tour with Cincinnati Rock group Valley of the Sun as the band’s “merch guy.” Nick has graciously agreed to blog about his journey for citybeat.com over the next three weeks. Below is his first installment, an introduction written last night when he was [possibly over] packing for the trip.)
Hello, my name is Nick and since I’ve been a teenager, I’ve dreamt about living the Rock & Roll lifestyle. There’s just one problem – I can’t play music worth a damn.
As a freelancer for this fine publication, I have been able to get a taste of my dream but one element has always eluded me: touring. So imagine my excitement when local rockers Valley of the Sun invited me to work merch for them on their second European tour. I just never expected to be touring the world in a hotdog costume.
Maybe a little background is in order. I’ve known the Valley guys (guitarist/vocalist Ryan Ferrier, drummer Aaron Boyer and bassist Ryan McAllister) for several years, culminating in a profile piece in the pages of CityBeat for their first full-length release, Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk. With that release (and my expertly devised words of praise, no doubt), the band has risen to new heights.
Valley of the Sun signed with Fuzzorama Records and has already toured Europe once, in support of Desert Rock titans Truckfighters. Now it’s time for them to return for another three week tour for shows ranging from massive fests to small dives. We’ll be traveling throughout Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and other countries, joined by Valley’s sound guy across the pond, Arnaud Merckling. In their infinite wisdom, the band invited me along to run their merch; Mangrenade’s Nick Thieme is also on the trip, playing bass in McAllister’s absence.
I’m writing this the night before we leave and I’m still not entirely sure what to expect. But here’s what I do know: I’ll be writing constantly, I probably over packed and Ryan, Nick and Aaron are really excited to see me run around in a venue in my new skeleton onesie (far warmer and more comfortable than it has any right to be) and hotdog ensemble.
These blog entries will ultimately be a record of our trip but it’s going to be more than just a recap of the shenanigans we’re sure to get into and the excellent food we’re sure to eat — although expect a few Instragram worthy images of foreign cuisine, too. (I love me some sausage.) It’s going to examine all the parts of tour life that arise over the course of our trip. What is it like to sit in a small van with four other guys for eight hours when none of us have showered for three days? Is German beer really as good as people say? What happens at 4 a.m. when Ryan starts spouting off about the multiverse as we sit around a bar in Switzerland? Seriously, did I pack enough underwear?
These hard hitting questions, along with my observations and insights, will fill these digital pages. Hopefully they’ll be interesting enough for you to come back and read some more. Expect updates at least every few days — it all depends on how reliable the wifi is in Europe. Hey, that’s another blog entry topic!
Editor’s Note: Cincinnati musician and longtime CityBeat contributor Ric Hickey and photographer Chuck Madden are once again covering the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival for us in Manchester, Tenn., this week. We’ll be posting their dispatches from the fest as they come in throughout the weekend. You can pretend you're there with them (minus the bugs and camping and stuff) by watching the live stream at Bonnaroo.com.
Insects crawl across my keyboard as I type this in the Bonnaroo parking lot. A vast expanse of several hundred acres of rolling green countryside blanketed with cars, tents, campers, tarps, trailers and people ready to party down, these Tennessee hills are alive with the sound of music.
Returning once again with my old friend and photographer Chuck Madden for our No. 1 favorite assignment, we dig in for the long haul. After all, four days of car-camping and toughing it out in the summer sun is no easy feat. But every year, with several heavy bags of electronic gear, cameras, lenses, recording equipment and laptops slung over our shoulders, we embrace the madness with big silly grins on our sunburned faces.
A couple years in a row we were able to camp in a “guest” area just behind the main stage compound. But this year it was not to be, as we were directed to join the long line of cars by the highway that were waiting to pass through the main entrance. After an hour of waiting and a cursory search of our vehicle, we drove into the massive parking lot and began setting up camp.
Kicking off the 2014 Bonnaroo festivities on the Other Tent stage was Nashville’s own Wild Feathers. The band has been all over the world since I saw them perform an acoustic showcase in the Bonnaroo press compound last summer. With three singing songsmiths fronting the band and complimenting each other’s close harmonies, The Wild Feathers put across some of the most pristine Country Rock vocal performances since CSN’s heyday. But plug ‘em in and crank it up and it becomes a different beast altogether.
Opening with “American” from their stellar 2013 debut album, The Wild Feathers fell confidently into the warm embrace of a hometown crowd that was singing along with every word. Still a young band, a year of non-stop touring has instilled in them a simmering confidence beyond their years. Their scorching “Backwoods Company” was taken at an accelerated clip that challenged the afternoon sun for heat and intensity. More than just a band to watch, I think I’d buy stock in The Wild Feathers if I could.
Elsewhere today Chuck and I took in sets by Cass McCombs, ZZ Ward, MS MR and The Preatures. Among the late night sets that I’m excited about tonight are a pair of my favorite new bands. J. Roddy Walston and The Business perform in This Tent, while White Denim takes the stage in That Tent at midnight. Their sets starting just 30 minutes apart, I’ll face my first serious schedule conflict of the weekend.
It goes without saying that Paul McCartney flat out slayed 'em on Bonnaroo's What Stage last night. Snagging Sir Paul as a main stage headliner is possibly the biggest coup in Bonnaroo's 12-year history. To no one's great surprise, McCartney dished out sheer unfettered joy to the thousands via a masterful marathon performance that featured onw heart-warming soul-sending classic after another. You can be sure that his eyes have beheld many wonders over the course of a 50+ year career that is unrivaled and unparalleled in every way imaginable. But even McCartney himself could not disguise his expression of awe and disbelief at the size and deafening enthusiasm of the Bonnaroo crowd.
Today and tomorrow, I'll focus on the smaller stages to catch up close and personal performances by JEFF The Brotherhood, The Revivalists, and Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Already today I've seen the Futurebirds destroy the Sonic Stage with their peculiar powerhouse hybrid of Indie Country.
Sir Paul's son James McCartney drew a respectful and curious crowd to the On Tap Lounge for his early afternoon solo acoustic performance. Sadly, the booming bass reverberating from the larger stages all but drowned out his gentle folk pop purr. If you could huddle up close enough to the stage, he sounded pretty good. But the son of a Beatle deserves better accommodations.
We are barely halfway into this thing and Bonnaroo's memorable performances and highlights already seem too good to be true. In addition to 12 stages featuring live music for 18 hours a day for four days straight, the assembled press are privy to gut busting scenes of spontaneous hilarity in Bonnaroo press conferences twice daily.
Without fail, these press conferences will feature provocative observations from the panelists about their respective Bonnaroo experiences. But more often than not they will degrade into an impromptu exchange of silly quips, wacky tales from the road, and dirty jokes. Friday was no exception.
After setting the bar obscenely low for the 1pm press conference with multiple references to sex acts taking place on and off stage, it was the affable Matt + Kim who stuck around for nearly 45 minutes afterwards, smiling broadly, Happily answering more questions and posing for photographs.
The press conference itself was a chaotic and ramshackle riot that teetered on the brink of peep-show perversion for the duration. Perhaps this was no surprise as its schizophrenic panel included TV star Ed Helms and classic rocker John Oates alongside the eager upstarts Matt + Kim, Nicki Bluhm and Michael Angelakos from Passion Pit. Aside from a brief description of Oates' charity work, the discussion was a lighthearted group improvisation on the pros and cons of playing big festivals.
Helms is doing double duty at this year's Bonnaroo, presenting a comedy revue in the festival's comedy tent and hosting a Bluegrass jam on one of its main stages. Asked why he loves the banjo, Helms sighed, "I believe that banjos are very irritating and that's why banjos and comedians get along."
"Hey Ed," a smirking Oates chimed in, "Do you know why there's no banjos on Star Trek?"
"No John. Why is that?"
"Because it's the future."
Later in the day there was a 4 p.m. press conference that featured some very insightful exchanges between country rocker Jason Isbell and Jazz Fusion guitar legend John McLaughlin (pictured). The Bonnaroo crowd warmly embraced McLaughlin's evening performance in That Tent, causing the master musician to grin from ear to ear from the first notes of his set to the very last.
Though they started 30 minutes late, Rock icons ZZ Top performed a smoking midnight set in This Tent to a capacity crowd who sang along to nearly every song in the bands hit-laden set.
Friday's Bonnaroo festivities started with great promise, as we were treated to a surprise performance by Jack Johnson in the press tent. Johnson is a last-minute fill-in for headliners Mumford and Sons, who had to cancel because their bass player had a medical procedure to fix a blood clot in his brain earlier this week. Warmth and humility emanated from Johnson as he debuted two brand new songs accompanied by ALO's Zach Gill on accordion.
An hour later Trixie Whitley slithered on to the Which Stage in a long black gown and proceeded to mesmerize the mid-day crowd with her hypnotic and soulful swamp Rock. There were moments during her set when she sang with such power and pathos it literally knocked the wind out of me. The crowd was so awed by Whitley's performance they stood in a stunned silence so quiet that at times you could hear shutters clicking in the photo pit.
I don't think Chuck and I stopped laughing once during a spontaneous and hilarious 15 minutes we spent chatting with Daniel, Thomas and new drummer Johnny Colorado of the Futurebirds. We barely had time to catch our breath and regain our composure before a 4 p.m. press conference that featured comedians Michael Che and Mike Birbiglia, as well as Jason Isbell and Jazz Fusion guitar legend John McLaughlin.
Around the festival grounds today we've heard remarkable performances by Jason Isbell and 400 Unit, Nashville's Alanna Royale and Trombone Shorty.
Coming up later tonight: Wilco, Paul McCartney, ZZ Top and many more.
As Thursday began, we heard the tragic news of two people from the Tristate who were killed in an automobile accident on their way to the festival. (Five others were injured in the same crash.)
All told, Bonnaroo attendees and staff number close to 90,000 souls during peak hours. For this long weekend in June Manchester becomes the seventh largest city in Tennessee, with births and deaths on-site like one would expect in a small city over the course of any 96-hour span.
On a brighter note, this year's festival kicked off with a young couple tying the knot under the multi colored arch at Bonnaroo entrance.
In the late afternoon I wandered through Centeroo, perusing the various vendors' booths. Corporate sponsors abound, but non-profits and independent artisans dominate the Bonnaroo bazaar.
In the shadow of a Ferris wheel and psychedelic light tower a giant throng gathered in and around the area surrounding the Other Tent to greet Cincinnati's pure Pop pride and joy Walk The Moon.
Technical glitches delayed the start of their set but they had the crowd bouncing, clapping, singing along and eating out of their hands from the minute they took the stage.
WTM singer Nicholas Petricca shouted, "We're called Walk The Moon! We're from Ohio!" and the crowd roared as the band launched into their single "Tightrope." This writer has never seen a larger crowd assembled for a performance in the Other Tent and Petricca's buoyant charm and boundless energy kept the crowd pumped and jumping throughout the bands' entire performance.
Later in That Tent, Father John Misty brought the weird and the beard via his sardonic Folk Rock parables. I half-expected the depth and humor of FJM's material to sail over the heads of most Bonnaroovians but I was pleasantly surprised to hear many people singing along. A huge fan of his new Fear Fun album, I think I would have driven all the way to Tennessee just to hear Misty sing "Only Son Of The Ladiesman". He didn't make me wait long, playing it in the No. 2 slot.
(Walk the Moon hotos by Chuck Madden)
EDITOR'S NOTE: For this year's installment of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., CityBeat sent the veteran ’Roo team of writer (and musician) Ric Hickey and photographer Chuck Madden down south again to report on the festivities. Keep an eye on this here music blog for updates, pics and more from Tennessee all ’Roo weekend. (If you can't make it to the fest, Cork n' Bottle in Covington is having a "Road to Roo" party that runs through tomorrow's festivities, with a live stream from the fest, drink specials and a rotating collection of visiting food trucks.)
Turkey vultures circled overhead as Chuck and I drove through the rolling green hills of central Tennessee between Murfreesboro and McMinnville, on our way to Manchester for the annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Our circuitous route through small towns and backwoods was briefly complicated by pounding rain. But soon the skies cleared and we found our way to the media campground located behind Bonnaroo's Which Stage, happily settling into an area that's just a few minutes walk from the festival grounds.
The friendly spirit of the festival was upon us immediately as we were greeted by new friends, fellow travelers in the campground and other members of the assembled press in the backstage Media compound.
Highlights of our Thursday perambulations included Futurebirds in This Tent, a glimpse of slam-bang Country rockers Houndmouth in the On Tap Lounge and a display of first class Honky Tonk by J.D. McPherson in That Tent that stopped Chuck and me in our tracks.
McPherson had the crowd smiling and dancing to a Rockabilly hybrid that swung like a wrecking ball. Western Swing met Chicago Blues as McPherson and crew featured upright bass, B-3 organ and saxophone for a syrupy saunter through Bo Diddley's "I Wanna Try For You." McPherson himself added some tasteful Telecaster licks, bringing a warbling echo of Surf music to the mix.
Fan-shot video of McPherson swingin' through "Your Love."
Are you watching the Grammys alone tonight? Wishing you had someone there with you to enjoy the performances and award presentations help make fun of any and everything that deserves to be? Whether you're solo snarking, hanging out with a few pals, throwing your own Grammy mega-party or at the ceremony in person (we hear Taylor Swift is a big citybeat.com fan), join me tonight at this very cyber spot for some hot live blogging action. And when those witty comments pop into your head (or you become outraged with something I've written), feel free to post some comments of your own. The show airs live on CBS at 8 p.m.; pre-show red carpet festivities are probably going on now on E! And you can watch the program (and pre-show activities) through the Grammys site or through the Grammys YouTube channel.
Below is a little "pre-game show," addressing some of the more interesting story-lines this year, the saddest of which began just last evening when superstar Whitney Houston was found dead in her Beverly Hills hotel room. Even though her tragic death occurred just over 24 hours before the Grammys were set to begin, Houston's shadow will loom large over the ceremony, if not overshadow it completely.