Road Blog: Friday July 15, 2016 - Rochester, MN
July 15, 2016
We left Milwaukee under cloudy skies and headed west towards Madison and Minnesota. We passed exit after exit of Subway, McDonalds and Wendy’s signs before we decided to explore the small town of Tomah, Wisconsin on the quest for some food that isn’t mass-produced, chemical-infused and served in a paper wrapper. We ended up in a small café/diner complete with a stuffed corpse representing every upper-Midwestern mammal (and most fish) from the black bear all the way down the chain to the cottontail rabbit decorating its walls. A few heads turned as we walked in and sat down. Clearly, they don’t see a lot of strangers in these parts. The waitress was charming, with her northern-American/Canadian accent, and talked Patty into the beef and cheese sandwich (which Gabe also chose) and I went with the BLT and fried cheese curds. Nods of approval around the table as we paid the bill and headed towards the Mississippi River. The eastern edge of Minnesota between Lacrosse, Wisconsin and Rochester is a beautiful piece of country. Smallish mountains covered in trees, yellow and white rock outcroppings, and rivers and lakes dot the passing countryside. The sun was out in full force now, and we arrived at our dive hotel with plenty of time to rest up from the late night in Milwaukee before load-in.
We loaded in at Kathy’s Pub and headed on foot into downtown Rochester to find something good for dinner. The bar has frozen pizzas for $11 that they’ll even throw into the toaster oven for you, but we’re trying to keep things at least minimally healthy these days, whenever possible, and when it’s not free. We ended up at a Mexican cantina joint complete with all the colorful and crazy gin and tequila drinks and a wide array of street tacos to choose from, none of which had ever seen a street. Patty and I shared the carne asada and mahi-mahi tacos. Patty wasn’t impressed. For the record, I really wasn’t either. They weren’t bad but nothing to write home about. Gabe got a burrito and enjoyed it, and our appetizer of 2 salsas and guac with chips was really good, as were the gin drinks Gabe and Pat had and the Surly Hellfire ale I got.
The amount of people walking the streets of American cities and driving cars on American highways with their noses buried into their mobile phones is simply staggering. Walking to and from the restaurant, about 4 of every 5 people were looking for Pokemons or something. Entire families of 5-7 people, from the parents down to the toddlers, each one fixated on their own tiny screen. People on dates waiting for their food. Literally almost everyone we saw. It was surreal. Every 2nd or 3rd car we passed on the interstate was driven with a phone screen between the driver’s eyes and the windshield. Parents with kids strapped in, old ladies who can barely see above the dash, and kids with a vehicle full of friends. It’s seriously alarming. We’re all guilty of it at some level, I know I am, but be careful out there, people, and for Christ’s sake, look up at the sky once in a while, or into the trees, or into the eyes of someone else. We’re turning into machines. (Rant over.)
We played Kathy’s Pub 3 years ago this same weekend and it was a different sort of show for us. It’s a 3-level townie bar right at the edge of downtown Rochester, and there is a constant flow of people on every level, either stopping for a drink, stopping to watch the band or wait for a friend, or in transit from one level to the next. The vast majority of these people haven’t heard us or most of the bands that have influenced us. A lot of them would be just as happy with a good cover band. But a lot of them did come to hear live music, and if you’re any good, they’ll be engaged. The bands play at the street level and there is a really nice stage at the end of the room. People love to drink in this city, and some of them drink a lot. And start early. There’s a bit of electric tension in the air with the diverse groups of patrons, the copious amounts of alcohol, and the loud music. It lends itself to a bit of unpredictability, and it makes it really fun for us to do our job.
Captain Gravitone, a band from Mankato, MN, played first, hitting at 10pm. They reminded me most of Gogol Bordello, with a real sort of gypsy-Tom Waits thing happening. They did some originals, some covers and even a couple jazz standards. It was cool to see something so different from the rock bands we usually play with.
Patty had some issues with his bass rig before our set and had to bypass his effects chain and tuner for the night. We persevered and hit the stage around midnight to fairly full room. It took us a few songs to find our groove but we locked in and felt better and better as the next 2 hours went on. We had some great response and some dancers keeping us entertained, and a steady stream of onlookers passing through, stopping for a song, a verse, or just a moment, flashing us the devil horns \m/ or something more obscene, providing an endless reel of entertainment for us.
We finished up just after 2am - deaf, sweaty and a bit tipsy, but with a great, super fun show behind us. We loaded out though a huge crowd of inebriated people celebrating a recent wedding, finished our whiskeys, and headed back to the motel. These are the nights that keep us at it – that keep it fun. Sometimes it’s the smaller cities that provide that hidden gem of a venue or scene and the people who actually leave their homes and their screens to see live music.
Tonight we’re in Minneapolis, one of my very favorite cities. It’s more like a pilgrimage for me, to the land of The Replacements and Husker Du, not just another “A-market” we like to hit every year. I also have some dear friends there that I only get to see when we’re in town for a show. I’m missing my niece’s birthday celebration today, and that is weighing heavy, and Patty’s wedding anniversary and coinciding family reunion are this weekend, so that’s on his mind as well. The people and life-events we’re missing out on back home are with us as we sleep, drive, and play in constant rotation.