What We Learned On The Road
Local band Procedure Club performs tonight with Gladshot at Cafe 9. Before that, members thought it fitting to share a reflection of what they learned on a "mini-tour" earlier this year. This article also appears in the December print version of The Arts Paper, free and available at libraries and cafes around town.
It started before we ever hit the highway. Earlier this year, we were asked to play at a a festival called Athens Popfest in Georgia. The festival, set for August 2017, was in its 14th year, but it would be our first time playing there—and our first time touring in a new configuration. We eyed our bandmate’s trusty 2004 Ford Escape Hybrid, ironed out a tour of the south, and jumped in. Literally.
Touring, as a personal experience, is one that is wholly unique from any other form of travel. It is at once exhilarating, anxiety-producing, isolating, and liberating— a kind of time-travel where typical routines and obligations are tossed in order to hurtle from gas station to rest stop to venue, across time zones and through corridors of unfamiliar sprawl. There is a feeling that you and your bandmates all exist somewhere else outside of the world, viewing everyone you pass along the way with curious bemusement. To chart that course feels somehow defiant, and it grips you with a kind of manic intensity, from moments of joy and sadness to absolute wonder.
We started with the nuts and bolts of the tour, booking gigs in Philadelphia, Durham, Mobile and Louisville. (We never made it to the last venue, but that’s a different story.) We reached a consensus of sorts that this number of dates constituted a “mini-tour,” a designation ascribed to an itinerary in between a “weekend” (two days) and a real “tour” (five day minimum). We packed our supplies into the Hybrid, and were off. Sort of.
There was a real sense of dread that hung over that start date. We hit the road a day or so after President Donald Trump’s initial “fire and fury” comments toward North Korea; we were hearing about them everywhere we turned. Touring already feels like you are trying to escape from the world, but this time it felt like we were running from its potential end.
That feeling followed us over a network of highways, all the way to a venue called The Pinhook in Durham. We sensed a sort of change in the air: Here in New Haven, clubs and venues can be taken for granted, and many of them contain a blandness or sterility. The venue in Durham was run by punks, a necessary meeting point for like-minded folks in a town which, until two weeks after we left, displayed a Confederate monument. We heard later that some members of the community had taken it upon themselves to smash it down.
Our journey continued to Athens, where people were crammed into the tiny venue to watch our midday set. We could feel their warmth vibrating from the crowd: It was our best set of the tour.
But touring wears you out. I was tired already and wanted to get some rest, since the next stop was Mobile, Ala. From Athens, Mobile was still a solid day-long trip away. Leaving my bandmates behind, I headed to the hotel early, but awoke to the sound of loud laughter coming forth between torrential rain that poured down in sheets. Those were my bandmates, who’d stayed and watched shows at the Popfest, and came in soaked and laughing. Wet, musical pilgrims.
None of us slept that night at all, but we had to get up early nevertheless to get to southern Alabama.
We nestled ourselves between the uncomfortably stacked equipment and made our way on the twelve-hour trip further south. I’d hoped to be able to take some side trips, but we didn’t have time for that at all. We stopped to stretch our legs now and then, and when we crossed the border to Alabama, we rested briefly at a gas station. A police officer rolled alongside us in his SUV and asked us if everything seemed to be all right.
Yes, it was fine, we assured him. Adam, one of our bandmates, approached the officer and handed him his phone, asking him to take a picture of us. We stood awkwardly while he took a snapshot.
We finally arrived at our destination, a Mobile, Ala. bar called the Blind Mule. The bar had a large outdoor patio festooned with string lights, which is where we camped for a good while while waiting to play. The gig was good, and we could feel our set really coming together.
After the show, we found that we had been locked out of our hotel room, and had to wait in another hotel room for the night for people to come fix the problem in the morning. The wait was long enough that we were forced to abandon our show in Louisville the next day. We decided to drive up to Gatlinburg, Tenn. to spend the night there as a halfway point to home.
Before the drive up to Gatlinburg, we all got the news of what happened in Charlottesville. It was strange to be driving through Alabama as this was all soaking in. We passed by Confederate flags and innumerable yard signs with the words “Back the Blue” dotting the lawns. It felt dangerous, and we recognized our vulnerability. The shame, I think, of our living history.
But we also recognized something else. It felt good to be part of this small network of musical people, trying to bring some light into our own lives. Trying to bring light into others’ too.