On July 4th, I looked at my lawn. I had to mow it with all the rain that had been coming down lately in Illinois. This has been an extremely wet summer, but I can’t complain about it as it has turned our flower beds and prairie patch into a verdant, fragrant paradise for butterflies, robins, and cardinals. Even the passersby admire the hydrangeas, lilies, rhododendrons, and other flowers bursting like so many fireworks. The lawn too, which in other years suffers under the scorching sun or is shaded by the silver maple, looks like a real lawn. I broke down and even fertilized a couple times to take advantage of growth. So on July 4th, I knew that I had just one week to travel before this lawn would have to be mowed again along with weeding the flower beds.
So at 1:30 a.m. July 5th, I sit outside, sipping hot tea and trying to get my thoughts together. In the next week, our band will travel over 3,600 miles and cross seven states. I had just returned from England and Ireland a week before and a month before that had traveled over 4,000 miles around the west. All in all I have traveled over 15,000 miles in just three months.
Joey pulls into the drive and we jump the Golden Eagle’s battery, which has been dying with the van doors open. We all know that it is time to get a new battery, but we are pretty busy, and besides, the mechanic in Iowa said that the cells of the battery are fine. However, the mechanic in Iowa doesn’t ride in our van with us and sounds a lot like the other mechanic in Iowa that said the transmission he replaced was fine before the transmission he replaced went out in Louisiana. So I note that we would buy a new battery on the road.
2 a.m. was chosen as the start time because it would be late enough that the crazies who had been lighting fireworks off all night would probably be depleted of their caches of roman candles, M-80’s, and other large explosive devices. Indeed, as we jumped the van, here and there was a pop-pop-pop of firecrackers with the occasional loud boom, followed by a siren as the police slowly mopped up the last of the partygoers. We got the van headed out of Chicago and onto 1-55 toward St. Louis. The Illinois State police were out in force, and several cruisers pulled alongside our van and peered in to see what we were up to. Or they would quickly pull out after us and pace us for ten miles or so. It was a bit nerve-wracking, but they had a job to do. And we had our job to do as well, and so we were sticking to the speed limit with our destination clear in our sights. As soon as the dawn started to lighten the skies, the police called off their pursuit.
People always wonder what goes on in a van with so much time on the road. For the most part Joey and I rehearsed; that is, we listened to CDs made by Andon Davis and Anna Fermin, who are part of the Wild Onion Traveling Band. We have a show on July 17 at FitzGerald’s and a bigger showcase opportunity in September in Sweden with them. Between Andon and Anna we have about 15 songs to get under our belts, and so we listened as we drove through Missouri. Occasionally, I would shoot some video with my phone to post on Facebook so our fans could see what we were looking at as we went along, the St. Louis Arch turning in the early morning light and the look of the scenery passing by as we rolled along.
Speaking of food, people always wonder what we eat when traveling. For the most part, we rely on granola bars and trail mix. One quick meal usually means a fast food salad or a Jimmy John’s “unwich” and that’s about it. The main goal is to get from Point A to Point B, and large sit-down meals cut into the clock. As far as drinks, plenty of water is necessary and coffee. Starbuck’s is usually the coffee of choice as it seems to have more of a kick. But in a pinch McDonald’s coffee suffices. If there is no coffee to be had, a Coke will work.
About 15 miles from the New Mexico border, the land switched again. Now it became rangeland, with open vistas crowned by big cumulus clouds. In the far distance, mesas and mountains announced that we were entering the Land of Enchantment. Evening was starting to creep in, and so we checked in with Brian who was waiting for our arrival. Our goal was to make it to Tortilla Flats, which is a nice Mexican restaurant that closes at 10 p.m. So we raced on in, had Brian hold a table, and made it in time for a great New Mexican dinner.
During the following days, we played several outreach shows and the beautiful Skylight Club in Santa Fe. We went to La Casa Sena restaurant where Pat Gharrity, the head chef and Switchback fan, prepared some fantastic meals of antelope from a game farm in Texas. We managed to get the battery changed and soon it was time to bid Santa Fe adieu and head north to Evergreen, Colorado and our Rocky Mountain leg of the trip.
Our Colorado shows had a lot of weather to them. Both were outdoors and the concert in Evergreen was saved by a tent as the rain proceeded to come down in buckets for at least the first set. Joey kept having to empty his left shoe as rain trickled down from a hole in the fabric and onto his set. Finally, during Stellar Jay’s Wing, a group of guys were able to wrangle a small tent behind Joey, and he was able to keep the rain off for the remainder of the set. The sun then broke out and everyone was treated to a double rainbow.
We left the Lone Tree around midnight and drove for 12 hours straight to make our next show at the Focal Point in St Louis. Having three guys driving made it easier. The main concept is to rotate every two hours, with one guy driving, one on shotgun, and one attempting to sleep as best as he can sitting up in the back. Dawn found us racing along the Flint Hills and eastward. We kept a fast pace, only stopping for gas and coffee as this time we were hoping to get a couple hours of sleep in. We arrived in St. Louis around 1 p.m., grabbed lunch, and hit the hay for two hours. Then we woke up, got ready, and drove to the Focal Point for sound check.
After the concert, we loaded up all our gear into the van, got in, and drove another five hours to drop Brian off in Oak Park, Illinois. Then it was up to the north side of Chicago where I helped Joey unload his drums. Finally, I got home around 10 p.m.
The next day I woke up and Aine was smiling at me, happy to see that Poppa was back home. It was raining, but by 1 p.m. the skies cleared and I had the lawn mower out. Sure enough, the grass had grown high enough to need to be mowed again. As I was mowing I realized that for the last five times, I had averaged about 3,000 miles between each mow. Such is the life of a traveling musician.
~ Martin McCormack