Full disclosure – I am writing all of this many days after it has happened. My recollection of all but the best espresso is dim and shaky and not to be trusted. We are currently making the drive from Omaha Nebraska to San Francisco.**
Last night, we drove 2 hours after the show to get us to Grand Island, NE (note: it is neither Grand, nor an Island) where Tour Manager / Mr. Manager Henry got pulled over by deputy Wayne… and let off with but a warning.
This morning up at 8:30 to get Phil to an airport so he could fly home. We, meanwhile, drive. The upside is that we’ve had 2 nice espresso stops today.
One in North Plains, NE, and one in Laramie, WY. Here’s the espresso machine at Cold Creek Coffee in Laramie. A truly beautiful thing. My dream android would be this, self-powered, on wheels, with the added capabilities of an R2 unit (i.e.- it would also help me fly my X-wing.)
But when our story left you all, we were breathing the sweet air of peace, and were sleeping in Troy, Illinois. So that is where we shall pick up our tale.
We woke up in Troy, and headed to Evanston – a suburb of Chicago. My heart and mind were filled with thoughts of deep dish pizza… alas, dear reader, this was not to be. Maybe next time, Chicago (pause to wipe the heavy, single tear from my eye).
The drive was not memorable, nor was the espresso.
Space, the venue in Evanston, is notable for its hospitality and fully-rigged recording / rehearsal studio attached to the venue.
When the show was over, we ripped some pretty tasty funk jams in said full-rigged studio… Funky, that is, for a bunch of suburban white kids.
We went to bed, and slept the long, weary, hard-won sleep of people who have been driving too much, sleeping too little, and finally are looking forward to a short drive day.
Where did we get espresso the next day? Who knows. It’s all a blur when it isn’t superb.
We drove to Madison, Wisconsin the next day… I think it was Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays.*
Madison was our second date playing with our new band-buddies, Trout Steak Revival. They are awesome players and even more awesome people. Some of the more cynical people of the world claim I only say this because they let me sit in with them playing electric guitar… pshhh. I mean, come on! Pshhhh, I say again. Harumph, and piffle, and the rest of it.
As I was saying, we were playing our second show with the wonderful Trout Steak Revival (who have excellent taste in guitar-players, as I believe we’ve mentioned) – and we were in Madison, Wisconsin – which, it turns out, is a beautiful, lovely, and very pleasant place to take a long walk for coffee and sunset-viewing. I’ll gloss over the show this night… was it us, Madison? Was it you? Was there something you wanted that we couldn’t give you? More bass solos, perhaps? Whatever it was, we were like ships in the night. If you get the Madison Weekly, when it comes out next Wednesday, you’ll see the personal add we posted after the show. It’s posted under “Missed Connections.”
You – the audience in Madison, Wisconsin. Us – The Brothers Comatose. Sorry we missed each other. See you in the Fall. We promise more bass solos.
We sacked out in a nearby motel which probably had a number associated with it… probably a 6 or an 8… and it was another reasonable van call to get to St. Paul, Minnesota the next day. Again, I have nothing to say about the espresso we had this day. One of the doses came from a Whole Foods, which is always disappointing. No local flavor or vibe when you’re at a massive, nation-wide chain.
The show was super fun. The Minnesotans were bad ass, and they got rowdy with us, and it was a great party.
The venue – The Turf Club – had some kind of crazy Minnesota underworld connection, and through a series of phone calls, secret hand shakes and palmed bribes, we stayed at The Radisson. You may notice that the name of that hotel didn’t have any numbers in it at all. Or the words “rodeway, travel, econo, discout, budget,” or any such thing as part of their name. A real, legitimate, hotel.
We had made it.
Not necessarily because we wanted to, but merely to do our duty according to the contracts we all signed when we sold our souls for Rock N Roll, we trashed the rooms.
I know that Ben and Alex left their beds completely unmade. Kyle and I each used 2 towels for our respective showers, and dropped the wet, used towels right on the ground. Ryan and Phil left their empty pretzel bag and apple core in the trash can in their room. Henry threw the TV straight through his 11th story window, and scraped “BROCO FOREVER” into the bathroom mirror with his straight razor.
The last show of our short run with Trout Steak Revival took us to Iowa City, and The Yacht Club. It was also prom night, and saturday night, and we were in the most college of college towns I could remember being in.
The show was a good rowdy time, but no where near the spectacle and experience that was the line for late-night pizza slices. It was awesome. If you ever fear for the future of America, just go get pizza at 1:30am in a college town on a Saturday, the weekend after finals. You’ll come away knowning that everything is just the way it’s always been, and that we’re all just the same savage animals we’ve always been. Our progress as a nation can be measured by the cultural diversity in the toppings.
We said our teary good-byes to our new Trout Steak buddies, promised to stay sweet, to never change, to have a great summer, and went our separate ways into the balmy mid-west night.
The last show of the tour was going to be in Omaha Nebraska. We drove the drive. We must have had espresso, because I am still alive and able to type this to you right now… but I don’t recall where it was…
Omaha Nebraska on a scattered-cloud, warm Spring Sunday afternoon was exquisite… and deserted. I was taking photos of the sun-setting city scape in the middle of the main streets at 6 o’clock… with nary a car in sight. I was wearing sunglasses with polarized lenses… and this is what my eyeballs were seeing:
Despite the ghost-town like emptyness of the city streets, we had some great and goodly folk roll out for the show. We frolicked and sang songs and drank Nebraska beer, and ended the tour in warm and welcome company.
That night began our long and sleepy drive home… which brings us full circle to the beginning of this blog entry.
One more epic drive to go.
*This is not true – I’m great with Thursdays. It’s Wednesdays and – mostly – Sunday afternoons that I struggle with. But never pass up an opportunity to quote Douglas Adams – that’s what my writing teachers would have been wise to say… though they didn’t. Mostly they said things like “This seems tossed off, and written last night in a blaze of procrastination-fueled inspiration. Take your writing more seriously, try proof-reading once in a while, and sit up straight.” They were very observant teachers.
**Editor’s note – we made it from Grand Island, NE to Elko, NV in one day. 18 hours in a van, over 1,000 miles. Insanity. We are all going mad.
Dear Tour Diary,
shit shit shit shit shit shit.
We have another full week of touring, and things have gotten bad. The tit for tat, eye-for-an-eye mentality of this band has turned mean. Real, real mean.
I’ll try and catch you up, Tour Diary.
After a day of tense, never-let-your-guard-down driving, we slept at a Super 8 in Topeka. It was, for a Super 8, quite lovely. We slept well. Ryan – the only member of the band without a vendetta and score to settle – was in charge of the keys, and (despite my bribary attempts) he maintained the moral high ground and the evening was peaceful and uneventful. We rose not too early, and headed out to find coffee and food.
It is worth noting, tour diary, that even in the midst of blood feuds and smoldering vengeance, there is an unassailable unity of purpose in our morning need for caffeine. For the brief drive to the cafe, we were a band again, and there was peace.
The brief cease-fire was broken, as poor, sweet, neutral Ryan – our Switzerland – innocently sipped his morning coffee. On sip, and then – PPPPHHHHHTHHHH – he spat it all over our surprised faces, and ran to the bathroom gagging. In the uproar that followed, it was revealed that Ben, retaliating for the stolen bedroom (remember, tour diary?), had tried to spike Phil’s coffee with salt, mayonnaise and onions. Phil, being on his guard, had done a Princess-Bride-Esque drink switch with Ryan (assuming his neutral status would give him relative safety in this passive-agressive touring guerrilla war). We were noisily ejected from the cafe. I barely managed to finish my espresso.
The drive from Topeka to Columbia, Missouri, was fraught with danger and bad vibes, tour journal.
I don’t think I’ve ever needed a second cup of coffee so badly as when our ship of ill-will landed at The Rose Music Hall that afternoon.
I raced, by myself, out the door, down the block seeking espresso, safety, and a friendly face. Leaving my gear behind with my not-to-be-trusted band mates was, in hindsight, a mistake. But the need for good espresso overrides all my better judgements, as you well know.
Tour Diary – if you ever find yourself in Columbia, Missouri, get thee to Fretboard Coffee. It will make you happy; it will bring you great joy; the atmosphere and company will lift your spirts, and their deep, dark, lovingly roasted espresso will sooth your soul.
Conveniently, just upstairs from this espresso-slinging oasis was a comic book shop.
Just down the street was a used bookstore, where a book-loving, music-loving photographer/book-clerk and I chatted on the finer points of book-clerkery (as you know, tour journal, I too am a ~former~ bookstore clerk), comic addiction, and record collection.
I was in such a happy place as I walked jauntily back to the venue, the dark espresso still pumping strongly through my veins, holding my new books and comics close to my chest, that I was totally unprepared as two men in ski masks jumped me – darting out from behind alleyway dumpsters.
Thank goodness, tour diary, for all of those Kung Fu movies I watch. In mere moments, one of the would-be thugs was running in fear back down the alley, and the other was crumpled before me, confessing all. They had been hired, tour diary – HIRED – by Alex, still intent on his revenge. (Never would I have thought pretzels to be so important to anyone…)
My espresso-sweet reverie was broken.
This was war. I thought on my suitcase – my bass – my gear, all back in the van; back with those mean savages.
When I got back to the venue, all hell had broken loose.
My bass was being doused with lighter fluid by Alex, while Ben and Phil and Ryan, each with a broken bottle in their cut and bleeding hands, were slowly circling one another in a deadly stand-off. Henry and Kyle were tearing up each other’s suitcases, spilling them all over the road, screaming at each other all the while.
I had nary a moment to take this in. My bass was in danger, tour diary. I sprang into action.
I had just tackled the fire-wielding Alex, stopping his bass-inferno, when the police came.
The venue had been observing our antics, and, wisely, had taken their own measures.
The police station of Columbia Missouri is spacious and accommodating, and the officers were rough, but polite.
Being locked in separate cells gave us all a chance to take a long, hard look at ourselves, and our petty grievances. Apologies were hollered and accepted down the concrete halls of the jail. The Rose Music Hall lobbied hard, and we were released in time to make our set. Dani, my bookstore-clerk-friend, came by and took some pictures, and a great time was had by all.
The night was capped with $1.00 pizza slices, and a late-night drive to a Motel 6 in Troy, Illinois. Today we head for Lou Malnotti’s pizza in Chicago. Someone is claiming that we also have a gig to play in Evanston, but I say that they have their priorities severly backwards, tour diary.
It is raining. The truce and reconciliation from the Columbia Jail still holds.
I have high hopes for the rest of this tour.
But I’m still not leaving my coffee anywhere near Phil.
Dear Tour Diary,
We have been enjoying some fairly unheard of R&R mid-tour here at Antelope ranch in the gracious and kind care of Annabel and Lyric. I’m typing outside, at a table enjoying my panoramic view of snow-capped mountains, sipping espresso, and the breeze is soft and cool. The snow stopped yesterday (Sunday, if you forgot, tour diary) and the weather has been comical in its 180 degree flip from the ice and snow and cold of earlier days.
The show in Denver Saturday night was sold out, had delicious BBQ, and had the vibe of playing music in a hunting lodge from the 70s. It was awesome. The people of the crowd were delightful.
Sunday broke clear and sunny, and we made brunch at Annabel’s. We feasted!
We had the entire day off, and our new friends, lead by Kelsy, invited us over for dinner. We lounged, recuperated, read, wrote, climbed, ran, went to town for coffee – the usual indulgences of a day off on tour.
We were all headed to dinner, replete with wine, beer, and whiskey. Henry graciously offered to drive. We were all thankful, and imagined a band dynamic where bygones were bygones, affronts were forgiven and water babbled happily under bridges.
What naïveté, tour journal!
The dinner was lovely, the company was delightful, and the evening was great. We thought only that Henry was being his usual Tour Manager self when he rallied us all out to the van to be driven home. In our blurry haste, we never thought twice when Henry said we needed gas on the way back.
We were all happily buzzing away in the van, never suspecting a thing when Henry asked Alex for help – to run into the shop and grab a receipt.
Suspecting nothing, Kyle – our trusty sound engineer on this run – offered the already snoozing and snoring Alex to run inside in his stead. As soon as the van door closed and Henry saw a dimly lit figure headed for the shop…. He peeled out, screaming the tires and van engine down the streets of Boulder, cackling madly of vengeance and justice.
It was a serious shock, tour journal.
It was also a very hectic and bouncy ride – so bouncy that Alex was jostled awake. And he complained loudly from the backseat. At the sound of Alex’s voice, Henry screamed, and slammed on the brakes. The rest of us sprang into action. I restrained Henry, Ryan restrained Alex, and Ben drove the van back to the gas station to pick up the now furiously angry Kyle.
Ben had to restrain Kyle, and there we were in a weird, 3 person stand-off. We had to pay the 76 station attendant to drive us back to Antelope Ranch (where Phil was busy stealing Ben’s room, bed, and had locked himself into his pirated accommodations).
Ben nearly kicked down the locked door to his room when we got back, which was tricky, because then Kyle got loose.
It took a lot of beer to get everyone to finally go to sleep and forget – for the evening at least – their grievances.
This morning was another sunny and beautiful Colorado treat.
We spent most of our time trying to clean up after ourselves. We then loaded up into the van and have been driving for the last 10 hours. Our destination is the Super 8 in Topeka.
So far we’ve only been putting out small fires in the van. New rules have been put in place. We have to use a neutral buddy system anytime we leave the van (to ensure no one else gets left). We also only give the keys to the driver after 2 different sources have confirmed that all band and crew are in the van.
Additionally, Phil and I are not allowed to throw anything away, and may only ask the newly formed garbage committee to throw things away for us.
There have been several near disasters. Phil’s fiddle was found placed dangerously behind the rear tires of the van at one stop. I still think Alex tripped me on the way into the dinner stop restaurant – he claims I didn’t see a bump in the sidewalk.
The plots are still forming – no one is safe, tour journal. I’m afraid for the long days ahead.
Dear Diary –
It’s Gio again.
It’s Saturday, April 29th, and – yeah, you guessed it. It’s still snowing.
What gives, Colorado?
Yesterday we got to Boulder in the early afternoon and had ourselves a very lovely time playing music for beer lovers at the Boulder Theater. Everything was going so well – I got a nap in, found some delicious espresso from a local establishment. I even thought my revenge on Phil for his dastardly coffee-tossing-out had been exacted, and I could turn the page towards more sunny, hopeful and friendly days.
Not so, Tour Diary! Not so!
It turns out that the pretzels I threw out were not, in fact, Phil’s. They were Alex’s. And he had been fasting all day, with the hopeful security of his pretzels awaiting him to provide the sustenance he’d need for the show that night.
Imagine his groggy fury at their loss. Then imagine it again, but with more swear words, and throwing things. That’s closer to what happened.
Sadly (or not? Depends on how you view these kinds of things, tour diary) the only thing that was in ready supply at the theater was craft beer. The strong kind. Alex’s fury quickly turned to somewhat sloppy bonhomie after a few well-placed pints.
The set was delightfully hard to remember. I believe we played music? Hard to tell, tour diary. We could turn to those in attendance for a report of the evening, but I don’t think they will remember any more clearly. This is to be expected for a beer fest, yes?
That night – and for the nights to follow our good friend Annabel has offered to put us all up in her amazing home. There is a drum set here, electric instruments, a Rhodes… Everything we need to record our rock record. Dreams can really come true, tour diary!!
We poured ourselves into beds last night, and got good rest – well, all except poor Henry, (our tour manager for this run).
Drunkenly mistaking Henry’s bed for mine, Alex – in a rare show of mean vengeance – dumped a heaping shovel-full of snow on Henry’s peacefully slumbering head.
We all awoke to the scuffle/wrestling match/weeping that followed.
Tempers have finally settled… but the tension around the lunch table was thick today, once we had all woken and assembled. Trust is running a bit low, and us only 4 days into the tour.
We play Denver tonight. Alex, Phil and I are all constantly looking over our shoulders. Henry still smolders with sleepy, rage-ful injustice.
I’m sure this will all be cleared up soon, tour diary.
Dear Tour Diary –
It’s Gio again.
We’re on tour… again.
It’s late April, bordering on May. According to my calendar, Spring was due to have sprung over a month ago. Wyoming did not get the message. Instead, it snowed all over us on our savagely long drive from Reno, Nevada en route to Denver, Colorado. Nothing to cap off a 15 hour drive day like heavy snows and low visibility.
But I’m starting from now, and you don’t even know about the last two days yet! Sorry, tour diary. I’ll start at the beginning.
The tour started in Reno. We’ve driven through Reno on every tour that has taken us East on the 80… which, over the last 8 years, has been a lot of tours. This was our FIRST time playing Reno. And we even wrote a whole song about the dang place. Can you believe it?? Well… the people of Reno came out in wild and rowdy droves to the show, and we – collectively as a band – fell in love. We’ll have to go back soon. It was a damn fun show.
The drive the next day was less fun. Did I already mention that? I did? Sorry, tour diary.
What I DIDN’T mention yet was the travesty that occurred on our drive. You know me, tour diary. I looooove espresso. We stopped at a great spot – the Hub – in Reno. I ordered 2 drinks – one to have immediately, and the other to keep in reserve for the espresso-scarce wasteland that is I-80 through Nevada. The weather was cold, I didn’t need any refrigeration… and thanks to my sweet planning, my delicious espresso awaited me, as far as I knew, for the long road ahead.
Imagine how much I cried, oh dearest diary, when Phil (totally without asking me!!) threw out my coffee at a road stop! Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much someone holds you and rocks you back and forth, apologizing. Sometimes it just isn’t enough.
We made a coffee stop eventually…. but it was shitty. Note to self: never trust Phil with your coffee. Remember that, tour diary!!
We woke up early today after our epic drive to get back on the snowy and icy roads. Didn’t we leave the curse of the Frostbite Tour behind us? Were the savage gods of ice and snow not satisfied with our sacrifice and pain last tour? Apparently not.
Luckily the weather broke by Laramie, and now we’re cruising into Denver to play a craft beer party. Chances of us having a coherent, not-sloppy-drunk set are diminishing. The conditions are kind of perfect:
Did we have a super shitty drive all day yesterday from which we need therapeutic succor?
Did we have another thirst-inducing drive today through yet more snow and ice that demands yet more liquid stress-relief and muscle relaxation?
Will we get free craft beer for the entire time we’re at the venue (5-7 hours)?
Luckily, if you’re at a free-craft-brew party, tour diary, you’re likely to be way more drunk than us. We’re banking on that.
We’re approaching Boulder, thank coffee. There’s great espresso in this town. The last two days have been full of (I’m ashamed to write it) Starbucks… and one stop was just laughably dark-hued water. Rawlings and the little shop, Huckleberry’s, had good espresso. That is the only reason, diary, I’m able to even form complete sentences right now.
Well, I should go. Phil is asleep, and I think I saw a bag of his pretzels that I can’t wait to throw away.
Talk to you soon.
And we almost all made it. Please pour one out for Rich, our sound engineer. He died a damn hero.
But, once again, I’m ahead of myself. Here I am wallowing in the bitter release of tour’s end; drowning sorrows as I pour (again and again) one for me, and one for dear, sweet, brave Rich. While there you are, ignorant to current events. When last you heard, the outlook was rosy. The Barley brothers were dead in Bozeman, and we were through the snows and storms, and coasting our way south on Interstate 5.
Be forewarned, dear reader. There is naught but grim, brutality ahead. Such was the legacy of the Frostbite Tour.
On Friday, March 9, we were booked to return to the Tractor Tavern. It was to be the triumphant, sell-out conclusion to our first two-day run in the city that houses our favorite sandwich. We had planned a wild, slow-cooked-pork-themed gala. Cilantro, romaine and jalapeños were to be the only garments allowed. Loaves of fresh bread were to be handed out at the door. The eventuality of such a debaucherous night was sure to land most of us in jail. We cared not. Were we not the brave warriors from the West? The only stringband to survive the Rockies, the Sawtooths, the Cascades and the Sierra Nevadas? Our names were whispered in hushed tones; were intoned to bless weddings; were screamed to ward off evil. Our hubris and carelessness were growing in proportion to the raising temperatures.
Doom often portends with smoke, darkness, and fire. So it was this Friday. The cloud of crows, buzzards, and thick, evil smoke could be seen from our much-abused hotel rooms. We got in the van, a heavy stone of dread in our gullets.
The Tractor Tavern was burned.
We had left our instruments in the venue, confident that it would be safe and secure in this civilized, west coast, temperate, rainy place. We had been wrong.
The remains of guitars and banjos, my bass, the mandolin, Philip’s fiddle… all were mutilated; desecrated; abused and torn. Pieces of them had been nailed – black with flame now – to the threshold of the Tractor Tavern.
The dismembered instruments had been arranged to read: “Death Waits in Portland” and was signed in a twist of blackened, melted, meshed strings: “The Barley Brothers.”
We should have been smarter. We should have learned from their mistake, leaving us alive in their gas-soaked cellar. We should have made sure they were dead before we began to feast and frolic and forget ourselves in beer and the wild-abandon of music. We should have buried them deep beneath rock and earth and stone.
But we had slipped. And now here we were.
Rain began to fall.
The wicked fire hissed, as our clothes collected the rain, clinging to our bodies. We looked at our burned instruments, our equipment, our gear, our livelihood. Our tears were of shame, of sorrow, of rage. They mingled with the chilling rain, stinging eyes and cheeks with their frigid tracks.
It was the cold of those tears that galvanized us; that finally brought us together. We harnessing the cold; the power of the Frostbite tour. We soaked in its chill, implacable might. We absorbed the intractable cold; the merciless bite of the stinging rain as we watched our show and instruments and dreams burn. We had forgotten our brotherhood in the success of shows, and the bright lights of the stage. Each of us had taken up our own room at the hotel, and treated it like our own kingdom, with subjects, servants, and fickle laws. We had splintered. We had become a house divided, and we had fallen.
Death waited, so they claimed, in Portland.
We huddled there in the rain, arms draped over shoulders. We made a vow. Our blood was shared and we became a brotherhood once more. “No mercy,” we said with one voice, the ice of the Frostbite Tour in our veins.
We took stock of our resources. Our van, ourselves, our wet clothes, and whatever cash we had on our persons. Our wallets had been in the fire, as had the merchandise and collected monies and tributes from the tour.
Together, we had $208.00, and enough gas to get to Portland.
I needed coffee, so that left us with $205.00 and enough gas to get to Portland, minus the drive to the coffee shop.
We couldn’t afford to re-equip our band at any legitimate music store given our meager resources. We would have to turn to the streets. Luckily, from his time as the front man of What A Strangled Web We Weave, Tour Manager Joe had serious connections and reputation in the Seattle musical black market.
For $200.00 (keeping $5 for coffee, round 2) we went with the only option available. We loaded our van with our much-used gear: A drum set, enough amplification to fill a small stadium, and an array of shitty but serviceable electric guitars, basses. We would not be a stringband in Portland. We would be fucking metal. And our heaviness would decimate our enemies. Such was the decree of the Frostbite Tour’s will.
We did not speak for the 4 hour drive through blinding rain south to Portland. Each of us was making peace with the dark gods of touring, of winter, of fate. We were preparing to kill or be killed.
The bridge over the Columbia River was desolate. Our van drove alone into the city that would be our doom or our triumph.
Without phones or maps, we may not have found the venue, save that The Barley Brothers had prepared a welcome for us. Once again, we had only to follow the billowing clouds of smoke and the stench of death to find what should have been our venue for the night.
The rain pounded down, but could not quench the raging inferno that had been Revolution Hall. Silhouetted before the flames were 7 figures. The ridiculously tall hats of Earl and Jervis Barley, their band, their tour manager, and their sound engineer. In the flicker of fire and occasional bursts of lightening we could see their scarred and ravaged faces.
A crowd gathered around the venue; ticket holders that had come for the show, but were now transfixed by the spectacle unfolding before them.
No one spoke. No one moved.
Then Earl threw a banjo. It soared through the dark space between us, crashing at our feet, it’s neck shattering, it’s body shuddering in a last, twangy spasm. The international challenge for a Battle by Music. To the death. The proverbial gauntlet had been dropped.
With a collective nod, we accepted the challenge.
They had, once again, underestimated The Brothers Comatose. There they stood, framed in flames, cocky with their stupid hats, and their new and sparkling stringed instruments, assuming us to be string-less, song-less, and sound-less.
They took their positions, and beckoned for us to do likewise.
We threw the back doors of the van open in slow motion. Water droplets spraying out in an arc, as the light from within shone into the storming night, casting reflected rainbows into the eyes of the startled – then terrified – Barley Brothers. We began to assemble our arsenal. Amps stacked upon amps, cords lying in puddles, rain soaking into our electrical barrage. The drums stood on a platform of pallets and flaming boards salvaged from the building. The jaws of the Beer & Barley Brothers dropped when we took our positions – our low slung, low tuned pawn-shop reject instruments already screaming with feedback and rage.
The crowd of ticket holders, concerned neighbors, and curious passersby was huge and thick, and they pressed forward to watch the battle begin.
The Barley brothers – according to tradition as the instigators of the challenge – played first. They limped into their signature song: “Whiskey with my Whiskey”. It was redundant, regurgitated, un-inspired, and pathetic. It was the mediocrity that was the most painful. Waves of pain flowed through us. We doubled over at the chorus; at the clear musical theft of our musical heroes. I spewed my guts out… heaving and writhing. The perfect banality of their music was deadly. Poor Rich. Poor, poor, brave Rich. He saw that we were all near to death; saw Joe unconscious, Ben and Ryan cowering and whimpering, Philip wailing as – blinded – he flailed against the sound; myself in the fetal position, shaking and heaving. He threw himself between us and the Barley Brothers’ last triple chorus. The forgettable, imitative shit-music tore him to shreds. We screamed as we watched him be rent asunder. He turned to us, and with his last, icy breath, croaked, “No…. mercy….”. And then, he was gone.
Their song was done. We pulled ourselves to our hands and knees… and then to our feet. Rich had sacrificed himself, and we would not let his death be in vain. We wiped our mouths, ignored the searing, screaming pain. We let the frigid rain pour over our wounds. We let the icy chill numb our grief. We turned that shit all the way up.
We began to play.
We crushed them with our metal. The sonic force of our sludge-driven-vengeance tore through them, knocking them off their feet. We did not relent. The slow, churning dirge assaulted them, driving them back; back into the flames. They screamed as they were swept into the white rage of the inferno they themselves had lit. We played on. There was no mercy in our metal. We played harder and heavier. The flames roared as they feasted on their new, human fuel. Our ears and fingers bled, the pavement under our feet cracked and caved, but we would not stop. “No Mercy,” Rich had said.
And so it was.
Time passed in the thick swirl of our deafening song.
Dawn cracked the sky, and the storm abated.
And then we stopped.
We stood in the center of a smoldering crater. The Revolution hall was reduced to ashes, as were the Beer & Barley Brothers.
There was complete silence.
The crowd began to disperse.
We dropped the instruments on the ground.
We took Rich’s remains into the field beyond the hall and, with our bare hands in the rain-softened earth, we buried him.
In that same field we saw our merchandise case, finding our money within – obviously stolen by the recently deceased Barley Brothers (God rest their souls).
We had money to drive home.
We had our van.
We had our lives.
A light, gentle rain washed us clean of blood, dirt, and death. The last cold dawn of The Frostbite tour cleared its cloudy skies and, as we loaded into the van, the sun broke out on Portland Oregon.
It continued to shine on the van as it drove south, headed to the sun and warmth of California.
We have been home for two days now.
When people ask me how the tour was, I say “it was fine,” or “good.” If they ask me what happened to my right hand, noticing the missing fingers; if they ask where the scar on my cheek came from; if they ask about the bloodied strip of Rich’s T-shirt I wear around my left arm… I just look at them. And there, deep in my eyes, they see a reflection of the cold, the dark, the ice, the death, and the blood of the Frostbite Tour.
They shudder… sometimes they lay a hand gently on my shoulder. Sometimes they weep.
Always, they walk away – dazed by the lingering might of the Frostbite Tour, 2017.
It is over, but it will never be gone.
Our Winter’s Tale continues, dear reader.
We had reclaimed our van from the villainous Barley Brothers (as well as my woolen peacoat, Ben’s hat, Alex’s mustache, our dignity, our lives, and our razor-keen survival instincts).
There we were driving, again, the long, mountainous roads of the Northwest. For the first time in 10 days, our road was pointed West. West! We clapped each other on the back. We carried on like soldiers called home from the front lines. West towards sea level; towards gentle climates and refined civilization; west towards home!
And what was this sweet pitter patter we did hear upon our van’s roof as we hurtled down the interstate? Was that… rain? Oh sweet un-frozen, soft, warm(er) rain! We pulled the van over, rushing out to let the rain fall in our faces, to gather it in our hands. We soaked ourselves in rain and hope.
It was a very foolish thing to do.
The roadsides were still frozen – snow lay thick all around us. Our clothes were sopping. We began to shake and shiver on that bleak roadside, coming back to our wits too late to save our clothes, but just in time to save our skins. We crowded back into the van and raided the band merchandise, layering ourselves in our own shirts, wearing baseball-ts as our only option for pants. We huddled around the heater vents and felt our hearts sink as the rain turned to hail and snow.
The curse of the Frostbite Tour had followed us West.
The roads of Spokane looked like a frozen, industrial ghost town. Groups could be seen beneath overpasses, huddled around glowing barrels. The streets were all but deserted. We did not have high hopes for our show that night.
The show was sold out… though not for the reasons a touring band would hope.
The people fought and clawed their way to get in. They threw themselves at our feet, begging for help of the (now) legendary killers of the Barley Brothers. We could not get through a song, but we were interrupted by supplications, indecent proposals, and wringing hands, begging us to intercede on their behalf.
We looked at each other. We put our instruments down and held council from the stage. The situation was dire, from what we could understand. A tyrannical rule of bandits, highwaymen and other unsavories held the town in their filthy, amoral grip. The people asked us for help.
What could we do?
The next day, the 8 of us (Pat had stayed back in Missoula, where he bought a farm and tractor) laid waste to the hordes of surprised, complacent ruffians of Spokane. They had taken up residence in the town hall, and the more luxurious hotels of the downtown area. It was all a blur of berserker, blood-lust fury, and I remember only frozen images and moments: The look of cool, calm, precision as Alex smote about him with his banjo; tour manager Joe defeating their chief in single hand-to-hand combat; Ryan screaming into my gore-speckled face “What’s happened to us?!”
In the frenzied, celebratory aftermath, we allowed the people of Spokane to throw us a parade. It was joyous, filled with everything a good party and parade ought to have… it was only marred by the snow that fell. Steadily. Coldly. Mockingly, even.
We headed for Prosser, Washington the next day. (Photographer Mike stayed in Spokane, vowing to protect the people he had come to love for the rest of his days. We were now only 7.) The road bent west, but the dark clouds and chill air froze our hopes and westward joys.
Hearing of our savagery, of how a once righteous and peaceful string band had become a vengeful tribe of killers on the Western Plains… the people of Prosser kept their distance. They did not want trouble in their peaceful town, and it seemed that trouble was riding our van like a white, hell-bent stallion.
We were payed to not play. They asked us (politely, from behind their collected rifles and shotguns) to continue on our way after securing promises that we would not get out of the van, or stop moving until we had crossed the county line.
Without a place to lay our heads, to re-group and re-stock our supplies, we quickly took a turn for the worse. As our van climbed out of the high desert of Eastern Washington into the yet-higher frigid crags of the Cascades, Ben came down with scarlet fever. Phil: dysentary. Joe and Alex were burning tour posters in the back seat, buried under sleeping bags and blankets, trying to shake the cold from their bones. Ryan and I were tearing up the faux-leather seat upholstery, mistakenly thinking it had nutritional value. Only Rich seemed unaffected, and he piloted our van through the blizzards, sleet, and ice-slick roads towards Bellingham.
The band nearly died on the summit. Rich, bless his heart, had been driving all night. His strength was gone, and the roads were blocked. The rest of us were moaning, groaning shadows… half crossed over to That Good Night.
Were it not for The Rainbow Girls and their van, Snoqualmie Pass would have been our collective grave.
Instead, the bold and intrepid heroines harnessed us to their touring chariot, commandeered a massive snow plow, and in a caravan of steel and will and determination…
We crossed the mountains.
While many of us may have needed serious and immediate medical attention, there was a show to play. Thus we arrived at The Green Frog in Bellingham. We may not have been strong enough to “play our instruments” or “sing coherent words and phrases,” but we gave it all that we had.
The night was spent convalescing in a lake-side retreat thanks to the kind mercies of some wonderful Bellinghamians. I was in a fever-ridden fog, but I do recall falling asleep to the gentle sound of rain… sweet, liquid rain, and thinking.. we made it West… west……
Still weak, still feverish, still on the brink of madness and collapse, we hurtled towards Seattle through the pounding (but not frozen) rain.
There was only one place that held the restorative powers that could make us whole again. Only one place that could pull us from the depths of calamity and despair, and make us right again.
Like a crazed and starved prow of a bulldozer, we barged our way to that magical place. We feasted on sandwiches the likes of which the outside world does not know. It cured us. It put love into our hearts. It opened our eyes, the scales fell away, and we saw the beauty around us, and the miracle that is each moment of life. We wiped grilled onions and aioli from each others mouths, giggling and frolicking like new-born spirits of goodness and light.
We were back.
We held court that night at the Tractor Tavern. We wept and laughed at the music of The Rainbow Girls. We thrashed and wailed to the crushings of Hillstomp. Our bodies, minds and souls were in equilibrium. We had acquired the musical Triforce. We were playing our songs for Seattle, and all was right in heaven and on earth.
Completely drained from the day, from the previous days, from the entirety of our Frostbitten misadventures, we dragged ourselves to our hotel beds. There were no more worries. We had only two shows to play on the mild and temperate west coast – our two homes away from home: Seattle (again) and Portland.
Nothing could go wrong. No more evil (we thought) could thwart us. No villain would dare to assault our triumvirate of Rock.
The Frostbite Tour would bite us no more…. so we thought….
Here we are again, dear reader.
When we left the relative civility of Boise and headed over the mountains toward the wasted, cratered tundra of Idaho towards Victor, we had no idea what would be in store for us. Up until this tour, our travels in this part of the world had been filled with warmth, sunshine, luxury, shorts and air-conditioning.
How could we have known that the Stringband Tribes roamed this area in the winter, inflicting brutal and swift justice on any trespassers? How could we have known to stock up on cases of beer to pay as tribute to their Lead-Singer War Chiefs? Who knew that the winter touring world was so terribly, savagely different than that of spring?
Certainly, not us.
Our first encounter was begun with good faith by all of us in the van. The roadblock of sharpened wooden stakes, cow skulls, and bizarre flags was met with curiosity by we unknowing, unsuspecting travelers.
It became clear that the tribe of Gleb Furrows and The Hard Drinkers was not part of some elaborate jest, when, like pirates of old, they threw open the sliding door of our van, and tried to board us. They were strong, and their knives were sharp. Luckily we had bolstered our ranks with Pat, and also with a Boise-based photographer, Mike. They had not counted on there being 9 of us.
We were able to beat them back, and (with only minor cosmetic damage to the van) blast through their roadblock.
We continued the drive in a very nervous state. We kept 24 hour watch in shifts, with eyes at every angle of the van. Guitar strings were re-purposed as bow strings. Picks became arrow-heads. In the icy winter cold, we patiently fashioned a grill of icicle spikes for the van, honed to razor sharp points.
By maintaining speeds of over 90 mph across icy, curving, mountain roads, we were able to stay one step ahead of those lords of Sawtooth pass, the infamous Grubner Family Band. As we swung into Victor, it was only the keen bow skills of Rich (our sound engineer, remember?) and Ryan that kept the (so the locals told us later) cannibalistic Daisy Shine and the Modern Farmers at bay.
The fortified warmth of the Knotty Pine in Victor was brief, but welcome sanctuary.
There we feasted on roasted meats. We drank heady brews and quaffed ales. We wiped our hands on our clothes. We slicked our hair back with our greasy fingers. Bones were thrown on the ground. We sang traditional songs. We toasted to foreign gods, and swore strange oaths. It was a dark, warm, cozy evening.
We should have known better.
The next morning found all of us clawing our way to consciousness through a sedative-addled fog. We were tied, back to back in pairs, surrounded by cold, brick walls in some sort of cellar? Prison? Dungeon? It was hard to tell in the dim light.
Our van keys were missing, as were our instruments, and our most identifiable articles of clothing: my large navy wool coat, Ben’s hat, Alex’s mustache.
Our confusion and disorientation was lessened, but our terror increased. when our captors made themselves known. It was none other than the Northwest’s own The Beer & Barley Brothers. Earl Barley was wearing Ben’s hat. Jervis Barley was wearing Alex’s mustache. It was abominable.
They explained their dastardly plan to us, punctuated with kicks, blows to the head, and much mockery: to steal our van, our gear and the remainder of our tour dates. They laughed as they poured gasoline all over us and the wooden flooring of the cold, cold cell that would, apparently, soon become our furnace-y tomb. They then lit a tall candle, set it in a crack in the floorboards, laughed one more terrible laugh, and left, locking the door behind them with a resounding CLANG.
We sprang into action as we watched in dread as the candle’s hot wax slowly dripped towards the gasoline-slick floor. Our eyes stung with petrol and sweat. Our salvation lay in our recent devolution to savagery, a natural side-effect of this cursed, frostbitten tour. Alex and Phil had filed their teeth to a keen edge during the tour, and in moments, they had chewed through the ropes that bound the rest of us. Joe, the first to be freed, dove towards the low-burning candle, blowing it out just as the deathly flames were about to ignite.
The nine of us threw ourselves at the iron door that stood between us and freedom. Again and again our collective weight slammed against the punishing, cold steel of that mean portal.
Bruised and bleeding and stinking of gasoline, we emerged blinking and screaming our vengeance into the snow-glare of the morning.
We were in a field. There were no landmarks in sight; no buildings, no roads, no trails. There was a herd of mean, shaggy, long-horned cattle rooting through the snow in the vague distance. There were jagged mountains all around us. There was a pair of dastardly, evil boot tracks that led to the familiar twin treads of our van vanishing into the far distance.
Using the ropes that had previously bound us, it was not long before we had wrangled, harnessed and broken 9 of the shaggy, wild cattle. With fire in our eyes and murder in our hearts, we whipped our posse of bull riders down the trail, following the twin tracks into the mountains, hot on the trail of The Barley & Beer Brothers.
We had every advantage. They thought we were dead, and we knew exactly where they would be that night. The Filling Station in Bozeman, Montana. Playing their sick masquerade, and foisting their subpar, no-talent-hack songs on the innocent and unsuspecting crowds.
We reigned up and made our plans at the outskirts of Bozeman.
The show that night was grim, bloody, and triumphant. Our posse descended on that sham concert with mighty roars and thundering hooves. Before The Barley & Beer Brothers could tell what the terrible disturbance was in their shit-show, weak-ass performance, their mandolin, fiddle, and bass players were either gored or trampled by our mighty bull-steeds.
A hush fell over the bar.
Ben and Alex Morrison strode, side by side, to the stage – steely blue eyes fixed on the Barley Brothers. The Morrison rage is a thing of legend, and the crowd of The Filling Station bore witness to its might and fury.
Our instruments were reclaimed. My jacket was back. Ben picked his hat from the broken, bloodied corpse of Earl Barley. Alex pulled his mustache off of the still, lifeless face of Jervis.
We grabbed the instruments that still lay strewn about the stage. We set our shaggy, mighty cattle free, and finished the set to much celebration.
The next day found us back in our van, back in our clothes, back on the road of our Frostbite Tour.
The story of the tenacity and brutality of The Brothers Comatose proceeded us, and we met with no more obstacles on the road to Missoula. In fact, many of the local Stringband Tribes left tributes and offerings at the rest stops along our route. We were thus feeling sated, calm, and magnanimous as we wheeled our mighty white chariot into town and to the Top Hat.
The show was grand. The crowd was wonderful. The beer was plentiful. The food and drink and carousing was just what we needed to finally wash the memory and smell of gasoline from our clothes and mind.
We were looking forward to warmer weather, and to easy travels.
Surely, the Frostbite Tour must have exhausted its store of trials and ordeals?
We would find out with the rising of the sun, and with the next day’s journey towards Spokane. West, towards the (hopeful) warmth and safety of the familiar coast.
The Frostbite tour continues to exact its brutal toll upon our bodies and psyches.
We had 2 shows to play at Winter Wondergrass on this last Saturday. We were turned away at the gates by an armed security detail. Our bonfire of the day before had not, apparantly, been met with good humor by the festival staff. Being resourceful, we found our good friends in the band Cabinet. Using their natural generosity and good-will to our dastardly benefit, we rendered them unconscious with chloroform, disguised ourselves in their clothing, and made our way back into the festival unmolested.
Our sets were rowdy, raucous, and very confusing to fans of either The Brothers Comatose or Cabinet.
We ate all we could of the backstage hospitality food, wrapped what we couldn’t in the tablecloth that it had been set upon, and with wild eyes and ear-splitting whoops, we made our naked dash (our full bellies gave us pangs of conscience, and we gave the good lads of Cabinet back their clothes) back to the van.
In all of the high-speed-Steamboat-Springs-Police-chasing adrenaline that followed, we didn’t realize that our own clothing was also left strewn across the festival grounds.
We needed clothes, and shelter. (Food, thanks to our soggy tablecloth full of grub, was in great supply.)
We sheltered that night in an abandoned condominium. We stitched great robes out of their curtains and sheets. We tore the upholstery off the couches to make our footwear.
Thusly attired, we drove the snow-blown roads over rocky mountain passes to the quaint, tasteful, refined and upscale town of Crested Butte.
We were met with dropped jaws, wide eyes, and frightened screams. Our gravy-smeared faces (for we had feasted on our tablecloth spoils all the live-long drive) and strange raiment must have unnerved the locals, for they gave us a wide berth. Sadly, stores pulled the window shades down and locked their doors at our approach. Our attempts to find new clothes, food or lodging were thwarted.
Without lodging, suitable clothing, or a new supply of food and water, we would not last long in that high-altitude, eternally snowing, unforgiving land.
Joe reminded us that friends of ours from Florida had come to this frostbitten alpine place for the weekend. They had even invited us (ha!) over for dinner. How foolish of them! We, however, collectively leapt at the opportunity. We made sure to wipe all foam from our mouths and clean our beards before we approached their warmly-lit palatial estate.
Not surprisingly, they did not believe that the bedraggled, curtain-bedecked, frostbitten travelers were, in actuality, the Brothers Comatose. It wasn’t until Ben and Alex sang “Brothers,” shivering on their doorstep that they put away the shotgun, and opened the door wide to our savagery. Oh sweet warmth! Oh, how the wine and beer and whiskey did flow! Oh, the feasting that was feasted! Our Floridian friends watched us from behind the solid, granite counters of the fortified kitchen.
We woke the next day in a great pile of curtains, pasta sauce, cookies and blankets in front of the great fireplace in the main room of our host’s home. Someone, during the night had covered us with blankets. Clothes were laid out for us – in our sizes, in our own inimitable styles.
We scrawled a thank you on the wall with the remnants of the Tomato Sauce, and headed towards Crested Butte with vigor and confidence.
In our new clothes, with full bellies, we had our way about the town. No whiskey was too expensive. No earthly delight would be denied us. We made real estate deals. We ran for office. The police was ours to control. The seedy underbelly of Crested Butte yielded unto us its black pearls of iniquity.
The show that night was played in a haze of power, lust, excess and wild extravagance. Ben was carried to the stage on a litter born by the local high school football team. Phil played the entire set being fanned on a divan whilst eating grapes. Decrees were made. Proclamations were proclaimed. Again, we drank deep of that heady liquor that is a great, rowdy crowd at a show far from home. It intoxicated us.
In the great white blanket of that late night/early morning snow-blizzard, still drunk on the vapors of a raucous show, we lost our way. The night was spent huddling close for warmth in the van; drinking the remaining whiskey in turns to try and stay warm; drawing straws should one of us need to be eaten.
Dawn broke just as Phil was being prepared for his noble sacrifice.
He was spared – the sun shone, and the way was clear. We drove, dear reader. We drove to outrun the bitter snow; the wicked cold; the frostbite that threatened both body and soul.
After two days, we arrived in Boise.
What do I recall of these two days? Very little.
Only that now we were 8 people in the van. Where did Pat come from? How did he become a fixture in the back seat? Did anyone know him? Did he, as he repeated incessantly, truly have our best interests at heart? Only time would tell. The odometer proved we had traveled far, and the frigid mountains now loomed in our rearview mirror. I couldn’t explain the tattoo, the recent credit card purchases or the new passenger… but we were safe from Old Man Winter…. for now.
The snow, for the present had been left on the mountain tops. Boise was cold, but dry and clear. The people were loud and triumphant and incredible and boisterous. We loved them, and they loved us. In a hazily-remembered fog, I can recall a key to the city being accepted, Ben donning a leather glove and calling a Peregrine falcon to his wrist, and a flow of fine ale that seemed like the mighty Mississippi in the years of the great floods.
It is now night.
We are warm. We are alive. We are clothed.
Tomorrow we rise early to, again, summit the highest of peaks – this time towards Victor, Idaho. Will our good fortune last? Will our supplies hold? Who is Pat? Will the Frostbite tour overcome our noble heroes?
I vow to report and relate all just as it occurs, dear reader.
In the meantime, wish us warmth, luck, and clear roads.
We got in the big white van on Wednesday afternoon to begin our Frostbite tour. It started as a clever name. It is now legitimate. I have lost most of the fingers of my right hand due to frostbite. Alex’s mustache has broken off. Ben lost his left foot, Ryan lost the tip of his nose and one of his ears. Phil seems unaffected. I am typing this laboriously with my left hand and the thumb of my right hand.
But, I am ahead of myself. Let me, laboriously and painfully, type away to bring you up to speed.
When we left Wednesday, it was from sunny, mild, never-snowing Northern California. When we stopped driving after just short of forever, it was freezing, we were in Wendover, Nevada, and most of our rations were gone. Tour manager Joe went out into the bleak white wastelands to hunt for supplies. We begged him not to go, but in our weakened, frigid state, we were easily overcome.
Thursday morning, we drove to Salt Lake City. On the way we found Joe. He had pulled a Hoth, and was sheltered in the belly of a cow carcass to avoid freezing. He now only eats his meat raw, and (if you catch him out of the corner of your eye) can be seen eyeing us hungrily when (seemingly) unobserved.
In Salt Lake City we picked up our sound engineer, Rich, and were able to replenish our supplies at the rustic outpost, Whole Foods. Thinking the worst was behind us, we had a debaucherous sold out show at The State Room. We became complacent, ate through our supplies once again, and collapsed in an exhausted, spent heap sometime in the wee hours of the morning, Friday.
Before the dawn we were roused by Joe, (now wearing the pelt of the cow he had slaughtered). He raved about storms, Thor, the ice gods, and an early festival load in. We shambled to the van. It wasn’t until we were well down the icy, snow-covered, endless mountain roads that we realized we left our warm blankets, jackets and hard rations behind. There was no time to go back, and the ferocious blizzard that came roaring ever-closer behind us did not allow us to turn around and reclaim the precious cargo.
Thusly we arrived in Steamboat Springs for Winter Wondergrass on Friday. Thusly we did throw ourselves on the bagel buffet backstage, causing the other guests and bands to recoil in horror as they watched our wild-eyed, ferocious orgy of near-starvation, half-frozen hunger. We played that afternoon on the main stage. With our warm garments carelessly left behind, we did our best to stay warm. We set the house drum kit ablaze on the outdoor stage, and huddled around the flames as we played, trying to keep the piercing, stinging chill out of our bones.
By the end of the set, the fire department was putting out the enormous blaze we had built and fanned, and the paramedics were taking us away to be treated for hypothermia and frostbite.
We were not scheduled to be released for several days, and so Joe and Rich, posing as doctors, had to spring us from the hospital that night so that we might still make our late-night after-party set at Shmiggity’s (I did not make up that name).
In a feverish daze of hospital drugs, beer, and lack of oxygen (due to our hospital respirators being disconnected, and the extreme elevation), we played a set that can only be described as ‘savage,’ ‘unforgettable,’ and ‘a clear prelude to madness.’
Late that night, once the revelers had all gone, we packed up into our van to rush – just ahead of the now on-the-alert hospital authorities – back to our cabin for the night.
The plush amenities there defied our senses which had, by this time, lapsed into pre-historic patterns of survival. We devoured frozen pizzas without warming them. We wrapped ourselves in towels. I slept in the bathtub.
Morning has brought with it a return to our pained and (for some) limb-less senses. The Frostbite tour stretches out before us, with forays beyond great mountain passes, long stretches of frozen tundra, and storms attacking us along every route.
We are planning a shamanic ritual tonight to appease the storm gods and, if we are crafty and cunning enough, we should be able to make off with some warm outer wear left carelessly in a backstage or well-heated beer tent as we make our way back to Winter Wondergrass for our two sets today.
Wish us luck.
Send us supplies, or – if you are planning to meet us at one of the shows, just bring them with you. We are in need of citrus (to ward off the scurvy) and raw meat (for Joe).
See you out there on the cold, cold road.