(I started this on the road in Wisconsin last week and finished it today in Massachusetts..)
Thought my laptop was completely fried, hard drive, files, unfinished songs and all, but James fixed it and here I am! Writing from a cottage on a beautiful lake in Wisconsin. Elkhart Lake, to be exact.
We continue to lead charmed lives. With hardcore space-shuttle van missions in between to get to the charmed destinations. The rear A/C unit in the Sprinter broke. Not the end of the world, but it can make for some uncomfortable 13-hour drives, which we’re doing regularly as of late. Got to get to the end of the rainbow! On Saturday we played in front of maybe 1000-2000 people at an outdoor beer festival in Denver. The next day we played Mishawaka Amphitheater in the gorgeous Rockies, a river rushing directly behind the stage, tossing out cool moist mountain air.
Then we got in the dilapidated blue shuttle and drove 13 hours on Monday, munching on Colorado’s finest magical oyster crackers and winding up in a hotel in Iowa for six well-earned hours of sleep. Got up and dove another six hours yesterday to get to this beautiful little lake town in Wisconsin. The people are extremely friendly, the food is amazing, and bratwurst, cheese and beer are an art-form not to be taken lightly.
We are thankful to have a two-night stand here. It means we didn’t have to drive anywhere today. Or load out last night.
Kalamazoo, Michigan. Des Moines, Iowa. Wichita, Kansas. Bellvue, Colorado. Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Everywhere we go, there are people who know the words to the songs. People sporting the t-shirts. People who drove from two hours away to see the show. Even the places we have never been to (Kalamazoo, Des Moines), it seems we can count on 50-60 people showing up and being pumped on an off-night during the week.
Tomorrow we will drive 14 hours east and then another three or so the next day right into a boat cruise in Manhattan. Huge boat in Boston the next day for our annual hometown cruise. 900 people on a boat. And then we’re home. Thanks to Yahuba for getting married the following weekend, thereby giving us a weekend off! Those don’t come very often these days…
Mountain Jam was a blast and an honor. Met Mavis Staples. (!!!!!) She said I have to write a song for her. OK then! The night before, James and I went to Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble in Woodstock, where Mavis was the special guest. After a full set from Mavis and her band, a full set from Levon and his band, all 18 musicians did a combined 12-song set and recorded a record right in front of us. If they didn’t feel they got a good take, they would replay the tunes. Sometimes three times. Larry Campbell running the show. Mavis taking us to church. Levon holding it down as he has for decades. Amazing. Felt like we were watching history being made.
On a different level, was also very impressed by the Avett Brothers set at Mountain Jam. A couple of weeks ago we played the Canal Street Tavern in Dayton, Ohio. In the kitchen/green room, as we sat around a table eating our subs, I noticed an Avett Bros. poster on the wall. Someone said it was from 2005 or so when they played there last. Made me think… Five or six years later and now they’re playing on the Grammy’s, blowing up everywhere, and blowing up the very Mountain Jam stage that we played on a few hours before them. You really don’t find many templates in this business. Every act is so different and the industry changes fast. But to see the poster of a band who has been at it longer than us, having played the same club that we now find ourselves in, a band who is still fighting the good fight and KILLING IT night after night on bigger and bigger stages…
Some days I’m not sure how many more years we can go. It’s been eight years in one van or another. We’re grown men in a metal box day after day. Might as well be in a submarine (no disrespect to those who actually do live in a submarine). I remember hearing years ago about how Dave Matthews didn’t “make it” until he was 34. I always thought that was a good number to shoot for. And I thought I was quite the modest and realistic one for thinking that 34 would be when I would “make it.” Although I would also tell you that there was no such thing as “making it,” and I still believe that for the most part.
I turned 34 on Saturday. And as I told the boat, “Glad to see that I was right.” I have made it.
I’m still my own record label, I’m still in debt and fairly broke, and I’m still riding in a van trying to make sure everybody has enough money to eat. But the music is better than ever. And all of these seeds we’ve been planting for years…they’re sprouting. People sing the words every night. And we play bigger and bigger stages, we’ve opened for Dave, we’ve seen that operation. His level of success is not a pipe dream now. I mean it is, but we can see it for the reality, even the impossible reality that it is. We have witnessed it. And maybe we’re just getting started.