Thought I’d send a little year end wrap up, and cover a few topics people have been asking about. It was a pretty incredible year for me. I played 153 shows and opened up two major tours for artists I greatly admire. I performed in listening rooms, amphitheaters, house shows, rock clubs and theaters. I drove a lot of miles...a LOT of miles. As most all of you know, one of the biggest highlights of my 2019 was opening for Rob Thomas on his national tour this past summer. With that in mind, I wanted to write a recap of that tour, and give everyone a behind the scenes look at how it came to be, and what it was all like.
W/ Rob Thomas
So Rob and I have been friends since my band opened for his band (Matchbox 20) for a few weeks in the mid 2000’s and we have stayed in touch since then. He was nice enough to sing on one of my solo records, and he has covered one of my songs in concert on a few occasions. Our friendship has consisted mainly of late night texting, oftentimes musically affectionate, sometimes creatively inspirational, and always personally warm. I try to respect the pressures of his life by not bothering him much, even though he never actually seems bothered by me. I see him sometimes at his shows, and know some of his solo bandmates well.
In anticipation of Rob releasing a new record (Chip Tooth Smile), he was on a promotional radio tour, playing small acoustic club sets, and doing meet and greets for contest winners in various markets. It was on this tour that I went to see him in Rhode Island. I had just wrapped three months on tour supporting Martin Sexton and two months headlining my own shows and was planning to take the summer off.
Before I got up to sing a song with Rob at the show, I was chatting backstage with Matt Beck, Rob’s musical director (as well as a frequent collaborator on my records). I was explaining to Matt how I felt I was overplaying the same cities and needed some new towns to go to. Well, he relayed that to Rob on their drive back to NYC, and then texted me this:
“I was chatting with Rob and he said “wouldn’t it be cool if Chris opened our summer tour as the first act with a solo acoustic set?”. Now before I continue, I should explain that I have learned over the years to temper expectations, because oftentimes, comments like this fall by the wayside. Of course I was super excited, but his tour was about a month away, and I know these things are planned many months out, so my cynical side figured it would be received by the powers that be as a whim on Rob’s part, and set aside permanently.
A couple weeks later, I checked in with Rob, and in not so many words he said he was trying to make it happen, but was getting some pushback on the business end because as I had expected, the tour details were already set in stone. He then said that one would think it shouldn’t be as difficult to add me because it was his name on the marquee. It was at that point that I got truly excited because it sounded like he was willing to go to bat for me.
I’ll skip all the inside baseball part of the business details but I was eventually offered 34 shows, and Rob and his wife Marisol went way out on a limb for me. Some of the shows I couldn’t do because of various time constraints, but I was doing most of the tour, and was so excited I could have danced on a couch in my underwear and unbuttoned dress shirt.
I realized I didn’t have to do too much preparation as I was only doing a twenty minute set each night, and because I’d been on the road for five months, I was already pretty seasoned. I decided to drive myself (as opposed to being on a bus) so I opted to rent a car. My faithful rental company offered me an upgrade into a black Jeep Wrangler, which I was going to refuse on the count of practicality until I realized it might be nice to have something distinctive to park among the four tour buses and two semi-trucks that transport Rob’s production gear. After about six weeks, I had to swap the Jeep out for a Nissan Sentra which even Rob pointed out was not quite as cool.
The tour started out in Austin, TX. As I humbly walked into my dressing room there was a hand written note on the fridge from the headliner himself welcoming me to the tour. “Class act” I thought to myself. I was incredibly nervous, not that I question my own abilities on merit, but just because of not knowing how the circumstances would play out. I was one guy walking onstage with a guitar, unannounced to crowds of anywhere from two to eight thousand people. I wasn’t in the advertising, so I was on my own as far as explaining why I was there.
W/ Rob Thomas
As I was walking out on stage at Austin City Limits Live, I realized I had already played on that same stage before, opening for Martin (Sexton), which gave me a little comfort and confidence. “You’ve got this” I said to myself, and I went into my thing. I was struck by how receptive Rob’s fans were. I guess the audience tends to reflect the artist, and Rob of course has a reputation for being a nice guy, which I will elaborate on later. They listened, and laughed at the right spots. Good. I exhaled a sigh of relief. One thing I quickly realized was that I would need to tighten up some of my introductions. The less people know you, the less patience they tend to have for you to get to the point. I felt that and made adjustments throughout the tour.
Rob always watches his opening acts, and was there side-stage the first night, and every night thereafter. I think that is such a lovely thing about him, although at the same time, it’s a little unnerving, like the boss watching you give a Power Point presentation for thousands of people that may or may not care. Some shows, he would request that I play a certain song, other shows, he would spontaneously walk out on stage and sing with me, especially if he felt that the crowd seemed distracted. And in a lot of shows, he would segue from his song “Getting Late” into my song “Keg On My Coffin” during his set, and he’d ask me to join he and the band on stage. It was funny to realize how infrequently I’ve been on stage without a guitar during my career. Suddenly my arms felt like huge liabilities that I had to figure out what to do with. Like two wooden clubs just dangling into the abyss. Eventually I blamed my discomfort on the fact that my song doesn’t lend itself to anything other than intoxicated, clumsy swaying back and forth, with an occasional barber shop quartet style hand gesture.
At the beginning of the tour, I was paranoid that the crew must have been annoyed at my addition to the lineup. After all, they had already been in a routine, and I showed up late to the finely tuned assembly line. It ended up being quite the opposite, as I already knew some of the crew from the Matchbox days, and the rest of us became fast friends effortlessly. Another nice thing about Rob is that he carries himself with a lot of gratitude, and thus genuinely appreciates his crew, and they love him back.
As for Rob’s solo band, the only way I can describe it is this: I’ve been forunate to be on the field for some pro sporting events, either as anthem singer or guest, and I am always struck by the fluidity and skill in the motion of truly great and gifted athletes, where you see talent and discipline intersect to create something truly remarkable. It was the same exact feeling watching Rob’s band. They literally bring it every night.
But I will also say this, and here’s where I am going to brag about Rob. Obviously he gets credit for songwriting, and having his finger on the pulse of whatever it takes to have a string of hits that have entered our collective pop consciousness. What I think he gets less credit for is his ability to deliver great performances night after night, with the hunger of someone who is forever trying to make it. I am consistently struck by Rob’s singing. The veins in his neck bulge and burst from the first note of the first song, and he sings like his life depends on it, in the tradition of the great soul singers. Because I know and relate to a lot of his personal story, I understand some of where this comes from, but it still astounds me.
The tour went from Texas to Nashville, Florida to New Orleans and to the midwest and east coast and so on....and the venues ranged from sweaty amphitheaters to stately theatres...and we toured from summer to fall.
There are a lot of fans who will follow Rob to multiple cities. Some are regional and some are national. They are probably about 80-90% women, and for whatever reason, are also among the most supportive music fans I’ve met. They seemed to embrace me right away, knowing that Rob had hand picked me to be there (it feels much less cult-like in person than it sounds). Again, the fan base usually reflects the artist. Every night they would come say hi at the merchandise booth, tell me I did a good job, and I started to get to know their stories after a week or so.
Even my own friends came out of the woodwork with fandom. I have toured with people of varying degrees of fame over the years, but the second I signed on for this tour, I was bombarded by friends asking me if I could hook them up to meet Rob. It is a funny problem to have, to have to weigh the level of friendship versus the amount of favors you should appropriately ask for. In the end, Rob was always gracious, greeting anyone who knew me with a story about his fondness for my songwriting and friendship.
W/ Rob Thomas
The Final Night
This tour felt a lot like summer camp because a.) It was summer and b.) you get really close to everyone and then are suddenly hit with the realization that you might not see most of them much anymore, if ever. So I was in a weird, distant mood the whole last night, trying to push off sadness over the end of what had turned into an unexpectedly exciting and loving summer.
We were at the Foundation Amphitheater in Youngstown, OH, and I had learned a new song of Rob’s called “Early in the Morning” and I was going to cover it because I love the song and it would be a full circle thank you since I had sung a Matchbox song on the last date of our tour together years earlier. So I learned it, but started regretting the idea because Rob had started to do his own solo-acoustic version of the song almost every night in his set, and was crushing it. So no matter what mediocre version I whipped up, it would pale in comparison.
I had carefully written down the lyrics to the song, because for some strange reason I can only remember lyrics If I wrote them (a few years ago, John Prine asked me to sing an encore with him, and I blanked on lyrics that I literally grew up with). So I was going to go with the fool proof route of a cheat sheet on stage. I gingerly walked out to the microphone and pinned the handwritten lyrics down by my feet using my wine glass, water bottle and cell phone to hold down three corners of the page. What I had failed to realize is that it had become a tremendously windy night so by the time I started to sing Rob’s song, I looked down for the lyrics and the one uncovered corner had decided to flip over and completely eclipse the rest of the page. At that point I was singing from memory exclusively, to five thousand people, which must have sounded similar to a guy at karaoke who should have been sent home in an Uber long before his number was called.
Needless to say, I closed my set with “Keg on my Coffin” and Rob and his entire band snuck up behind me and joined me for the song. And that in a nutshell felt like life itself: beautiful, forgiving, surprising, sad, joyful and triumphant, all the nice things you can’t take with you, but live inside you. Summer camp had come to an end.
W/ Rob Thomas
I sometimes forget how truly lucky I am to have some talented and gifted artists see the good in me. And I only hope that I reflect that with a humble yet huge sense of appreciation on my part.
Cruise With Chris Trapper
My Bahamas Cruise
So a few people thought when I have talked about my cruise on stage that it was a joke, but it’s not. We meet up in Florida, and sail to these spots in the Bahamas: Freeport, Nassau and Half Moon Cay.
I’ll play a couple shows, do some meeting, greeting and drinking. We’ll talk songwriting, or guitar playing, or the popular cuisine of the French & Indian War. The list of attendees is growing rapidly, and it’s going to be a great hang, so I hope you’ll join. More info here: https://fanclubcruises.com/event/chris-trapper-concert-cruise
Alan Doyle Tour
I am excited to be joining my friend Alan Doyle on tour for a few weeks this April. It’s the first time we have toured together as solo artists. We have a long and successful history together that you could probably google if you’re curious, but in short, he is one of the most contagiously joyful performers I’ve ever seen, so I’d recommend everybody get tickets because the shows are already selling out.
A lot of people have asked me recently about house concerts (ok not a lot, but more than three and less than forty) and yes I do them when I can and it’s much easier than you think to put one on. If you want some info, check in with my agent Nick Young at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Trapper House Concerts
As the year comes to a close, I am so endlessly grateful for all of you, and I hope I show it as much as I mean to. May 2020 bring you dreams in three dimensions, and love that lifts your soul to higher heights. Mostly may there be more music in your heart that moves you for it is these moments when we feel the most alive.