Well I thought the highway loved me. But she beat me like a drum. – Jason Isbell
The road is an alluring place. It’s the stuff of fantasy and Kerouac. Windblown freedom and white line slavery. It can take you places far beyond this plane without leaving the ground. However, it does not come without sacrfice.
Bands start out as a collection of people who first began plunking around in their bedrooms in solemnity. Soon they figure some structures out, meet some like minded folks and decide to jam. Then it’s garages, back yards, storage sheds. Up next is the local bowling alleys, dive bars, street dances and VFW halls. Around this phase, most bands make the tough choice whether to jump head first in the deep end or remain content to tread water in the shallow end. It’s a difficult decision that one doesn’t fully grasp or comprehend until they are very far down the path of satisfaction or regret.
For the brave souls who choose to hit the road as a full time musician, they are taking on hardships and sacrifices they don’t truly understand at the outset. It’s a lifestyle choice that impacts everything else about them. It’s not just a career or a hobby…it’s a life. 24/7. There are no off days, and the rare off days you do get are on Monday and Tuesday when everyone else is at work. Friendships fade. Relationships struggle. Bank accounts dwindle. Beds get less comfortable. Showers get less frequent. Drinks get more frequent. Exercise is less. Fast food is more. But, you feel more alive than at any point in your life. You begin to enjoy the grind and look forward to the challenge of making it. If you’re lucky you hit some success somewhere along the way that affords you a crew, bus, and nice hotels. This is certainly the minority of road dwellers. It takes its toll on you no matter the extravagance of your travel methods, how many frequent flyer miles you’ve racked up or how many/how few gigs you’re actually playing. The old adage of they pay me to travel, I play the gig for free is applicable.
The road has a way of dirtying up your soul and making you numb. Personally, I’ve never been out for more than a 2 week run and that was about 10 days too long for me. I’m a creature of habit and structure. I enjoy glimpses of the road life…but wouldn’t want to make touring permanent. Despite what Pat Green says, it takes more than 3 days to wash it out of your soul. Look, there’s a reason vintage acts park themselves in Branson or Vegas and have the people come to them. Everyone I know that travels for a living gets off the road for an extended period at some point. People celebrate this feat when it happens as if someone has quit drinking. “Congrats man…you’re getting off the road!” But, just as with booze or drugs…the road is a mistress that’s hard to quit. She inevitably seems to pull just about everyone back in at some point and to some degree.
Over the past few years, we have seen some success stories about life off the road. Seth James stepped out of the Departed and off the road to pursue other things and play music for himself again. I remember one Facebook post where he referenced driving to a now-rare gig by himself with nothing but his guitar and his amp and the feeling of liberation he felt. It was just as if Dusty Chandler had escaped the smoke and lights. Seth had reconnected to the joy he had in purely making music again. Nick Dennard announced last week that he was stepping out of the Jason Eady band to get off the road for a while, clear his head and focus on family and other things. The outpouring of love and support from fellow musicians and fans alike has been staggering. When I reached out to Nick about it, his first response was the Jason Isbell lyric that adorns the top of this article. The road is a mysterious and dangerous muse. Its outward beauty is contrasted by its inner struggle. How long will Nick stay off the road? Who knows? He doesn’t even know at this point, even if he thinks he does. Thousands have done this same dance before him and thousands will do it afterward. Everyone must focus on what fits them best.
Once you’ve seen the inside of every honky-tonk, dancehall and corporate night club on the Texas/Oklahoma/Colorado/SEC circuit and beyond five or six times…are you still being fulfilled? You must ask yourself if you want to be the grissled old guy chasing that brass ring in a passenger van 4 nights a week or the happy old guy back wailing away at the local VFW hall by your house twice a month. The choice is yours. The road doesn’t change its rules, but you can change yours. Some folks beat the road and some don’t…but the drumbeat never stops.
-The next edition of our Galleywinter Texas Talkin’ Podcast shall be up this week.
-Spring has finally sprung and it’s officially festival season. LJT next month. Ready now.
-Vinyl on HBO is confounding. Too busy and all over the place. It’s like they took the worst parts of Mad Men and the most dull parts of Almost Famous then hired Aaron Sorkin to write it. (I’m still watching though)
-Was talking to someone the other day who mentioned having to return a Redbox dvd. I didn’t know that was still a thing. It was like meeting someone with a landline or VCR.
-I’ve Ubered all over the country and I must say that the drivers in Fort Worth have always been the most consistently funny, interesting and prompt.
-I haven’t had a Floathouse burger yet in 2016…I aim to change that soon.
-I still want the groundskeepers from Augusta to come visit my house.
-My mancave is adorned with autographed items from George W. Bush, Nolan Ryan and Tom Landry. Have you met my Texas yet?
-This month’s recommended album: Reed Brothers – EP. The Reed Brothers are two of the most talented guys we have in this scene. As sidemen, their credentials are unrivaled. Their own project is starting to gain momentum on the backs of great songs and an electric live show. We have the track “Hammer Down” featured on The Drop. If you like your music with a bit of bluesy crunch mixed with your country tonk…check this out.
-“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” – Mark Twain