Road Blog: Friday September 20, 2019 - Athens, OH
September 20, 2019
Bob and I met Gabriel at the van in the parking lot of our hotel in Beachwood, looking distraught and agitated, freshly drenched in coffee after a mishap with a plastic lid. This just 12 hours or so after taking the better part of a pint of Bud Light to the crotch in Akron after someone knocked it over next to him the night before. Being the professional that he is, he rallied and we got on the road. We listened to Hank Williams as we drove south, into the foothills of the Appalachians, towards Athens. As we approached the Ohio river, the terrain became more hilly and wooded, with some great views and a good break from the flat northern region.
Athens is the home of Ohio University and we drove through campus on our way into town. It’s a beautiful city, with lots of trees and hills and there were people everywhere, walking around enjoying the sunshine. We stopped at a guitar store in town and looked around for a bit as the owner gave us the stink eye from behind the counter, seemingly more annoyed that we were in his store than actually interested in selling us something. From there we had an early dinner at Casa Nueva Restaurant & Cantina, recommended as the place to go by the promoter for the evening’s gig. It’s an employee-owned, no-tip-establishment, Mexican diner, bar, and music venue. We had a great meal, checked out the music room, made a mental note to follow up with them, left, and headed towards the venue.
Load in at Jackie O's Brewery was early 4pm, for an early show, 6-8pm. The venue sits on the outskirts of the downtown area. It’s a small brewpub with a nice, clean inside area and a big patio out back. We met Stacey, the manager, and our sound engineer, who’s name escapes me, ordered up pints and waited for the word to load in. Gabe and I had a cucumber and ginger infused sour ale that was maybe not really my thing, but a good beer. We knew going in that this was going to be a different kind of gig. The mandate was “quiet electric” which is somewhere north of acoustic and south of full out rock. The patio was small, but we had some room to move around, and the sound was really good. I had a little time to call TrooperGirl22 and meander around before we played, and at 6pm it was showtime.
We played two sets to a crowd that grew and shrank on and off a bit throughout the night, but we always had faces in front of us. It was hot and sticky, but we’ve played in worse conditions. We tried to keep it loose and fun - people were attentive and receptive, and it was a good night. Our friend and superfan Dawn from Northern Ohio showed up a couple songs in, beer in hand, Tucos shirt on, mother, son and his girlfriend in tow. It’s always great to see her, she knows all the songs, and it’s a better show when she’s around.
After the set we tore down, sold some merch, mingled with the staff and patrons, said goodbye to Dawn and her family, and headed south towards West Virginia. We had a two hour drive over the Ohio River, through the mountains, hills and hollers, into Huntington, and east to Barboursville, where we had a room for the night, two hours closer to Knoxville. We stopped at Sheetz, a first for Bob. It’s a glorious gas station-party store-fast-food-restaurant. Bob was wide-eyed with the smile of a kid in the Disney store as he browsed the isles for treasures. He left with a bottle of water.
Our hotel shares a parking lot with a bar called Uncle Bill's Pub and Grill, and it being only about 11pm, we wandered over to see if we couldn’t wet our whistles and get in a little trouble. We ordered up one Woodford rocks and 2 Sapphire tonics and set up camp at a high-top adjacent to the bar. I dropped $5 into the digital juke box for 6 songs I never heard. I texted my pal Jeremy Roberts who lives here, from the band Flat Tracker. He was working but it was nice to hear back from him, even if we couldn’t meet up for one. Before long we had a new friend – Shaun (Sean? Shawn?). A local kid with intense eyes and a determined delivery who asked us for advice on exactly what he should do with the endless song lyrics that are in his head and filing up his notebooks at home. He was asking us about being on the road, songwriting, and how the gigs work. He never smiled, he almost growled, but he wasn’t angry or mean, just so hyper-focused and determined. He offered to roadie for us, pro-bono, and sleep on the ground between gigs. I asked the boys what they thought, and we even started considering bringing him on as a bass tech, but we agreed that it just would be fair to hire him when we’re barely breaking even as it is, and there’s not all that much room in the van. He understood. We exchanged a good strong handshake, agreed to meet again down the line, and he went his own way. I really do hope we meet again – he’s a good kid with a big heart, and I honestly hope he finds what he’s after.
This morning I went out for a run and saw a big tour bus in the parking lot of our hotel. I half expected Shaun to be propped up against the tire, assuming the bus was ours, ready to start his new live as a rock and roll roadie, but he wasn’t there. I imagined this whole scene where Steve Earle walks out of the hotel, sees Shaun sleeping there, takes him on as a roadie, they get to talking, turns out Shaun actually has it and Steve mentors him into becoming a fortified artist. Four years later we’re watching the CMA Awards show and there’s Shaun singing his hit song. It could happen. Anyhow, the run was tough, along the higway, past the strip club, around a dead cat, and back to the hotel. It felt good to get the blood flowing and a clear head to start the day. We’re off to Knoxville now, to wrap this run up at a bar we really like – Preservation Pub. Athens was fun – big thanks and xo to JackieO’s Brewery for the hospitality, Uncle Bob’s Bar & Grill for the drinks, and Shaun for making the world go `round. See ya tonight Tennessee.