Wednesday, February 13, 2008

How to Become An Overnight Rock Star

Not to be confused with "How to Become A Rock Star Overnight," my handy guide will simply teach you valuable techniques for overnight forays into rockstardom. That is, when your whirlwind musical life leads you to an out-of-town gig for one evening only, and not a full-length tour. I'll cover things like:
  • Packing all of your gear into one vehicle
  • Making friends with your fellow musicians
  • Navigating icy roads
  • Great East African eateries of the Midwest
Follow along now, and you too will be well on your way to mastering the art of the overnight.

Last Friday, I took the day off from work and headed north to Minneapolis for a show with the Buffali (otherwise known as Clare and Andrew, who I've been playing drums for lately). Sound check was to start at 5:00pm, so we Tetris'd all of our gear into my trusty minivan and headed out from Madison just before noon. You may scoff at me and think "Emily, what kind of self-respecting rock star drives an effing minivan?" But my response, as always, will be that, as a drummer and frequent traveler, there is little better than a minivan. For instance, on this trip it fit my drum set, two guitars, a keyboard, luggage and three people comfortably. Try that in your shitty little sedan.

The drive there went much more smoothly and quickly than we'd anticipated, and we arrived on the U of M campus shortly after 4:00pm. Luckily, there were a few union staff already at the venue who let us in and helped us unload all of our gear. That's Midwestern hospitality for you. Our venue for the evening, the Whole Music Club, was actually pretty impressive. Especially when compared to the live music spaces at the UW's two student unions, the Whole distinguished itself by having a spacious stage, good sound system, very decent lighting and a lot of dancing and sitting room for spectators. All of the walls in the place were also covered in chalkboard paint, allowing for all sorts of works of chalk art and obscure phrases to be scrawled. My favorite art, however, were the various graffiti style portraits of various musicians, including Sleater Kinney, Liz Phair, Atmosphere and Henry Rollins. I snapped a photo of the Henry Rollins picture, because it was too amazing not to document.The likeness is uncanny.


Anyway, as we'd obviously arrived quite early and as sound checks never start on time anyway, we opted to head back outside in search of dinner. A friend of Clare's had recommended we try an Ethiopian place in the city, and as luck would have it, we'd passed by the very restaurant on our way in. I wish I could remember its name, but I do remember that it started with a "u" and was on Cedar Ave. It was, in a word, authentic. The place was no more than a room with tables, chairs, and a big screen television broadcasting Al Jazeera. When we walked in, everyone stopped what they were doing for a moment and stared at us. Yep, definitely the only pale skinned folks in the house.

Despite that initial awkwardness, we were treated very well, and the food was absolutely delicious. I ordered what ended up being a huge crepe with spiced and cooked veggies on it, and in the tradition of the place's home country, ate with my hands. We were each also given a banana for desert (no extra charge) and a bottle of water, and all told, for the three of us and our huge, tasty meals, it only cost $14. Well worth it.

Afterwards, we headed back to the club and met the other two bands we'd be sharing the bill with that night: Le Concorde, a synth-pop band from Chicago, and This World Fair, a rock band from Minneapolis. They were both very friendly and helpful, which was downright refreshing. You never know what you're going to get when working with unfamiliar bands, and musicians can be notoriously off-putting. That wasn't the case at all, though, as everyone was sure to introduce themselves and offer help to one another. We then went through the sound checks, got ready in the band green room (seen above), and waited.

We were on first, and there was a good sized and responsive crowd during our 45 minute set. The Buffali's very lyrical, storytelling style seemed to go over well, and afterwards I was happy as a clam when the other bands had really complimentary things to say about us. Afterwards, we went out into the audience to enjoy the next acts, both of which were quite good. Le Concorde had excellent song craft, with heavy influences from 80's new wave/synth-pop but without being what you'd call "retro." This Word Fair was the most polished of all three groups, probably bound for more mainstream popularity, and their lead singer's voice was stellar.

The next morning, we hit the road back to Madison, only to end up in the middle of yet another foul weather day. The interstate was deceptively icy, and as I did 30 mph, we saw car after car in the ditch, some flipped over, some just stuck in the snow. It was a little nerve wracking, to say the least, and I've resolved not to take another long car trip until spring rolls around. I'm done with that crap for the year and can't imagine it'd be a good idea to push my luck and further.

Still, we arrived safe and sound around 5:30pm, and aside from the trip home, had a great time. I hadn't been to Minneapolis since I was a little girl, and I think now, having seen it even so briefly, I should go back and explore the place a little more thoroughly. In the summer.


John Das Binky said...

Wow, I had no idea Henry Rollins was Latino. And where's the anger?

I will vouch for the minivan as band car de jour. It takes a lot of woofers before that thing is full.

Sounds like a cool trip! I keep hearing MPLS is an awesomely supportive music scene.

I'm mostly resigned to gigs I can do in a day... the overnight rock star life has eked out of me over time. :(

Emily said...

Overnights do lose their appeal after a certain age. And unless you're Mates of State, touring with kids is pretty damn difficult. Actually, it's probably still difficult for them, too, but at least they're a couple. I've made a general policy of never dating bandmates (which has worked out well), so that'll never happen for me.

Anonymous said...

FYI, that's Walter "Wally" Rollins, who leads an oom-pah-pah combo out of Rhinelander. They had a regional hit a few years back with "The Slip It In Polka."

Emily said...

IT - I so badly want that song to exist.

Anonymous said...

I hear it's more fun to dance to than to play.

By the way, speaking as a former full-time traveling musician (long ago, land far away, etc.), I enjoyed your post and it brought back a lot of memories.

One of these days maybe I'll throw down a few tales of the road meself.

Emily said...

IT - I support that 100%. Stories of past rock n' roll exploits are also sure to rile the spiritually pure types who already hate/fear your blog, so that'll be fun. ;)

The Lost Albatross