On Tour Stories (part 2)

I’ve been thinking a bit more on stories I’ve gathered from the road. There’s been a lot of them. I’ve been touring seriously since around 2014, across a heap of different bands. I generally play around a hundred shows a year, some years more, some years less, but nearly every show has some sort of meaningful interaction that I take with me when I leave. The problem is remembering them, as my journaling is truly sporadic, verging between extremes of writing in my diary twice a day to a nine month period where I didn’t write at all.

There was the night in Katoomba where the pub was cleared by a man who excitedly leaned across the bar to order the next round of drinks. Accidently dipping his hair into a candle there was a flash of light, then an acrid cloud of smoke floating up towards the ceiling. The bar staff flicked up the house lights to see if he was ok and then the smell hit us in a wave. Literally one of the strongest things I’ve smelled, you could see the crowd on the dance floor lifting their heads and wrinkling their noses in disgust. In a mass exodus, the entire bar emptied out as everyone retreated to the smokers area outside for some fresh air. That was night over for us, the bar manager called last drinks and we got to pack out early.

There was the metalhead who heard one of our songs on the radio and excitedly decided to come out and see us play. ‘Yeah boys, really excited to hear you play, can you do that song about dying?’ So we played the song about dying as our first number and he sung along the whole way through then disappeared towards the back of the room. He reappeared one song later with a pint in each hand and yelled out ‘Yeah, play the one about dying again’. Dealing with hecklers is a fine art, and the finest part of it is often strategically ignoring people in the hope that they’ll go away, but old mate was one of about four people there and he stood solidly in front of stage and asked us to re-play that song literally after single song we played.

We got off stage and I was in a bit of a grumpy mood, so I strategically disappeared to the toilet. When I come back he is happily singing our song to the rest of the band. They were in a happier mood because he’d bought a round for the band, so we finished up and loaded our gear out and left him excitedly telling random punters that they missed a great show.

We thought this was the end of it, until we arrive back in that city about a year later, and he’s back. This time though he’s brought his entire extended family (a girlfriend, his brother, his brother’s partner, two random friends and his mum). They’d obviously been drinking for a while at that stage, but he makes a strong effort to introduce everyone to the band and tell us that he likes the new single, but he ‘really wants to hear that song about dying again’. Luckily we showed some foresight, so instead of blowing the one crowd favourite as the first song, we decide to keep it till later in the set. Cue him again, up front with a pint in each hand, enthusiastically yelling at us to play the song he knows. After about thirty minutes of this, the bouncers decide to cut him off and sit him on a park bench out the front of the venue. We play the song about dying to his mum, who gives us a thumbs up and then we load out the back door to avoid him.

There was northern NSW and sleeping in my car, down a back road twenty minutes out of town. The local petrol station has taken the initiative and flattened a square patch of ground behind the bowsers as a ‘free camping ground’. It’s basic, possibly even elemental, to the point where its actually just an open field with nothing in it. I wander into the petrol station to ask about using their toilet, an open bowl with no seat inside a wooden box with no taps, no lights and a spider literally the size of my face that doesn’t scurry away when I walk in by the light of my phone, but sits placidly on the back of the door and watches me do my business.

I walk back into the petrol station and strike up a conversation with the attendant. Anything to fill the time between a seven pm sundown and an honest bedtime, and lying in the back of my car reading books by the light of my phone gets pretty old pretty quickly on the road. We scamper in quick succession through small town life, his childhood, my childhood, my music, local town industry, the local footy team, breakfast options and finally stumble into a point of agreement with the latest season of Game of Thrones, swapping fan theories, dismissing directors and eyeing off the future of the story line. He excitedly tells me he’s just pirated the latest episode which I haven’t yet seen and asks if I want to watch it. At this point I’m well tired of conversation, so I agree and he disconnects the security camera from the in-store TV and plugs in his USB and we have a spontaneous GOT party, gathered around a little TV behind the counter in a petrol station out the back of nowhere.

There was supporting a high-profile female act at Port Fairy Folk Festival. She’s had a baby in the last year and is a little scattered as she’s in the midst of a national tour to release a new album as well as dealing with a new born baby and lack of sleep and breast-feeding at regular intervals.

She’s high-profile, but not quite high-profile enough to hire a nanny on the road, so her partner/manager tours with her to mind the baby while she performs and mind the business the rest of the time. Of course the baby experiences extreme separation anxiety when mum puts her down and walks on stage, and the backstage green room is filled with screams and a crowd of worried stagehands and musicians attempting to placate this little sobbing ball. Finally the manager takes the baby and walks to the side of stage, holding her out Lion King style towards her singing mum. The baby quiets and stares in wonder at the massive crowd before her.

Later I see the mum signing CDs at the merch tent, baby held in one hand, sharpie in the other.

I’ve been slowly dawdling my way back through five years of diaries, pulling out stories that I’d forgotten. It’s funny how fickle the memory is. Things that are massive deals in my life today slowly get their edges worn down over time and disappear into the bucket that is the past. Sometimes when I see old friends I get the chance to pull some old memories out of the bucket and twist and tease them back into shape, gnaw on them like buried bones, dissect how they made me feel and how they’ve impacted my life. I’ve always been pretty ‘forward-thinking’, more interested in the future than the past, often to the point that I ignore the present completely in favour of thinking about whats next. While I guess that’s a little more healthy than being consumed by where I came from, there’s definitely a fine balance and I’m probably weighted a little too heavily in one direction.

One day I’ll probably look back on this post in the same way…

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