Saturday, April 25, 2009

Pagans! A parable about booking/promoting shows.

So we wandered into this store full of maces and witchcraft supplies a few days ago.  The friendly proprietor and Kat chatted about the big pagan bonfires they'd been to, and what it's like to run a store for pagans in the deep south.  (Hard.  This guy is not in it for the money.)  By and by he asked us to play a show there.

This is the easy way of getting gigs: making friends with people.  (Kat is especially good at this; everyone feels like she's their best new friend when they meet her.)  Alas, the easy way mostly works if you just play in your hometown, because very few people want to book you on a few days notice, and it's hard to make friends with people from afar.  We got the rest of our gigs the hard way: calling a stranger on the phone and trying to sell them on something.  Normally they ignore you, or tell you to email them, then ignore your email.  Repeat, repeat, etc.

So this guy has a store mailing list, and he sends out an email promoting the show to those several hundred people.  He's also the head of a local pagan group, so he sends out another email to another several hundred people.  He then notifies all of his facebook and myspace friends, which is another several hundred people.

This is the easy, effective way of promoting gigs.  He brought in a crowd of some 35 people, which was a ton of fun and which made everyone some money.  Big shows are fun: a flautist came, and we talked her into playing along for a few songs.  She was quite good!  After that, some guy went and got a bongo drum (they sell them at the shop) and joined in too.  He was quite bad, but everyone cheered him on anyway.

Alas, the effective method of promoting gigs only works if you play in your hometown.  The hard way is to make a bunch of friends on myspace wherever you go, and post to all the event websites about your gig, and tell everyone you see about it.  It's very improvisational and hit-and-miss.  We got a lot of people at our second Birmingham show (after the show at the pagan shop) because of two reasons: first, we recruited an accordion player, and she brought a group of friends.  Second, we're staying with some well-connected couchsurfers, and they brought a crowd of couchsurfers along.  (Thanks, Rishi and Mark!)  It's iffy though.  Our third show in Birmingham was tiny, because all that stuff just didn't work too well.

So that's what it's like to book and promote shows.  Basically, try to make friends with pagans.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Good eatin in Birmingham

I just had the most delicious dinner.  We're staying with a very excellent chef in Birmingham, Angela, and she just cooked us a fantastic meal: halibut over asparagus and new potatoes, with a beurre blanc sauce, plus salad and bread on the side.  mmmm.  We ate at her restaurant last night, an upscale diner called John's City Diner, and had fried green tomatoes; steak on hash browns, topped with cilantro and a berry vinagrette; roast duck; and mac and cheese with ham.  Come to think of it we had some pretty damn tasty barbecued ribs for lunch today at Full Moon... it's been good eatin since we got to Birmingham.

The next couple of days look pretty exciting... tomorrow, we're going out to barbecue again, and later to some caves outside of town, and possibly a Wilco concert.  The next day we're going to go to a metalworking class -- we met the instructor, Michael, randomly when we were getting kicked out of this foundry we had wandered into.  Friday and Saturday, we have shows coming up, and then we have to leave bright and early on Sunday to get to the next town, Charleston.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hitching stories, part 2

We left Starkville yesterday and got a bunch of nice, normal rides fairly quickly.  We got to Birmingham without thunderstorms or encounters with the right hand of satan.  Sorry guys, good hitching makes bad stories (unless you end up dating later).

Come to think of it, though, the night before we left was pretty eventful.  I went to a Hootie and No Blowfish concert (the singer, Darius something, apparently has had a thriving solo country act for the last 10 years) and learned about how Obama is the antichrist.  It's in the bible, I'm told!

Friday, April 17, 2009

"I mean, I fell on her, but it wasn't my fault"

So last night we went to see Lord T and Elouise, two rappers / aristocrats that wear powdered wigs for their show.  (Thanks, McRae, for getting us in!  He's also known as "McRae-zee".)  It was a pretty wicked party until Kat and our friend Jen started dancing with this guy, and he fell on Kat.  Her knee dislocated or something and we hobbled over to McRae's to ice it.  (This entry's title is his response.)

I'm kind of glad we had to leave the concert: I had inadvertently dressed up as Elvis and written a rap to battle the two performing gentlemen, and Kat's injury let me chicken out inconspicuously.  I did wear a ridiculous denim one-piece suit all night.  Zipped down halfway.  With aviators.  I'll post some pics if I can get em.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Starkville, Mississippi

So far in Starkville...

-We showed up on time to our gig by sheer chance, and ended up waiting around forever for a crowd to show up. We eventually got around 30 people though, and it was a great show.
-We relived a bit of the college life by getting free pizza at the Mississippi State campus. And a free t-shirt. I miss college.
-We explored an abandoned train with our Starkville hosts. The trail there is surrounded by 12-foot-tall trees, flowering and heavy-scented.

Our next show is in Birmingham in a week, but we might try to line up a gig for Record Store Day in Nashville on the way. I'll let you know!

PS. Johnny Cash was once arrested here for picking flowers... apparently they ritually pardon him every year in some ceremony with lots of music.

Hitchin stories

We left Baton Rouge at 7 am, bound for Starkville, Mississippi, 5 hours away, and got some fun rides...

Our second ride had ritually bonded himself to his ouija board in a ceremony of blood. We saw the scars! It subsequently told him he was the right hand of Satan. He was pretty ok overall though, not as crazy as that makes him seem... his girlfriend was with him, and they gave us an alligator claw on a keychain. They were out of gas money, trying to get to Florida. We gave them $5 and wished them luck.

The next dude that picked us up seemed so everyday that I immediately felt that I was speaking with the country America. This made the whole set of conversations really entertaining for me. We found out he was an oilman, but that he had been unemployed for several months. Oil work was good money, but you were unemployed every now and then, and he never could figure out how to save up. He argued a lot with his wife -- a "fiery" half latina. Really nice guy, drove us an hour out of his way.

He dropped us off an hour before dark. We were 100 miles south of where we wanted to be -- and the storm clouds were gathering -- but on a road where all traffic was bound for there. We hitched furiously but the sun set and the clouds opened. We were in a real bind. Hitching after dark is impossible. We pitched the tent and tossed our stuff in.

Unfortunately, Kat's boyfriend had taken a tarp out of Kat's backpack before we left, and we didn't have enough rain cover. It rained and thundered and lightninged fiercely for hours. At one point there was a small stream running under my body, and the low end of our tent had a four-inch-deep puddle. We were in ponchos, so our chest was dry, but our legs and arms were soaked through.

Even as we lay there trying to sleep, I wasn't really miserable. There was something pretty meditative about it. And funny too. Hey, did I mention we hadn't eaten since noon? We hadn't eaten since noon. Oops. I slept a bit, then woke up shivering at 3. Then I was really miserable.

We packed and started hitching at 7 am. It was bitterly cold and windy and nobody picked us up. That day just sucked until 3 pm. We got dropped off at a Mennonite bakery and ate delicious cornbread. We were in serious danger of missing our 6 pm show so we called our Starkville host and asked if we could pay him to pick us up, which he did. (Thanks, Ricky and McRae!) Next up: Starkville.

Baton Rouge

This town had no character. At no point was there anything that made me feel like I was in one town in particular: anonymous streets, buildings, and trees. Some of it was pretty nice, but none of it was at all unique.

It does have lots of characters though. We stayed with Kat, and she, her roommate Sean, and their friends were easily the best thing about that place and reason enough to come back. Good people, involved in really interesting stuff. They also played host to some train-hopping bluegrass musicians, who were all fun to drink with. They played me "Rattlin Bug" even though they hate it.

We played a bar above a restaurant called Avoyelles. That place was dead! Luckily we had brought the whole crew we had previously met and everyone had a good time. We brought a bunch of percussion and everyone was part of the band, including random kids that wandered in. Plus they paid us a bunch of cash plus food!

We also opened for a metal band at this concert venue / coffee shop / highschool hangout called Insomkneeacks. Everything about that show was an accident but it was all good times anyway. They moshed to our slow songs. I love the guy that runs that place, he makes no money off it but he keeps it open because he wants kids to have somewhere to hang out, even though they don't buy his cofffee. These people didn't pay us, and the kids tipped us $2.38. Haha. Booking shows from three time zones away can be hit and miss.

We stopped getting work done in Baton Rouge, which was terrible. We still had tons to do: book shows for the last 3 weeks of the tour, do more web promotion, and so on. Terrible. Did we get back on track? You know the drill, read the next entry.

First show!

We showed up at the Circle Bar somewhat anxiously: we had heard it described as a "typical Jewish bar" (?) and we had had a tough time getting in touch with the proprietors to confirm basic show details (what time do we show up? how much are we getting paid). Sure enough they had accidentally double-booked the night and we had to split the bar take [1] with the other band.

That was all ok though, because the show went great! No real mistakes and the crowd loved us. Maybe a third bought the cd, everyone tipped, and one dude loved us so much he took us back to his place and cooked us catfish. Mmm. Thanks, New Orleans. Next up, Baton Rouge.

[1] We get paid in tips, plus some combination of three other ways: flat fee, bar take (portion of money the bar makes, usually 10 or 20%), or cover charge (usually 50-100%).

New Orleans

The story of New Orleans was our host there, Robin. As soon as we got there she sat us down and said, "Look. The good gumbo is at Coops, and you want to get begniets at Cafe Del Mundo. On Friday there's a free crawfish boil at R Bar. Come with me to international pillowfight day on Saturday, and afterwards RJD2 is playing a free show at Tulane. On Sunday you can go to the strawberry festival, and on Monday there are free red beans and rice down the road." We said that sounded good and went and did most of that stuff.

When we weren't doing it we were prepping for our first show: working out arrangements for her songs with two guitars, and practicing them over and over again. We also did some logistical stuff, like getting people to come to shows. If you work hard (network on myspace, contact local radio stations, post to websites) you can get more people to come to the shows, which the venue loves, and which makes you more money. That was the first week of New Orleans... then we had our first show! Tune in next time.

What's this?

I'm Shawn Drost, and during April and May of 2009, I'm traveling and playing music with my friend Kate Elliott. We're doing this in an unusually cheap fashion: we're booking our own shows, we're hitching between cities, we're staying with couchsurfers. It's been a crazy time so far and I wanted to tell some stories about it for friends and family. Hey, you might even enjoy it if you don't know me. Watch this space.