As I slide into my seat on my flight from Chicago to Boston, the overly calm voice of the pilot informs us that this will be an "extremely bumpy flight". For some reason, it doesn't phase me in the least because I am feeling a huge sense of gratitude right now. I feel like I've somehow managed to find the majority of the puzzle pieces needed to construct a beautiful portrait of a life I couldn't have even dreamed of living. In the past two months, I've gone from doing the first full Push Stars' tour in over a decade to opening for Colin Hay solo for two weeks and interspersing my own headlining shows. I have been busy. And busy makes me happy. You could even say I feel useful. Almost.
When The Push Stars announced our intention to reunite last Fall, we immediately told everyone that we were going to tour. Looking back, it was an audacious move because we frankly hadn't done it in a really long time. The musical landscape had changed, our individual perspectives had changed, and we had been sitting on the bench for so long, our butts were sore. We all agreed that three weeks on the road would be the maximum length of time we would do, which was completely different from past years when we'd go eight months straight. That being said, it was still a huge undertaking. From booking the shows, designing and printing new merchandise, hiring a crew, fine tuning dusty gear, renting a van, and last (but not least), picking out our "Sunday best" outfits. With all of that going on, there is hardly any time to think about the music. To start the tour, we rehearsed at our friend (and tour manager) Ron Mesh's house in Rochester, NY. The very next day, we played our first show in Cleveland. What will always amaze me is the chemistry that Dan, Ryan and I share. From the very first gig, it all felt so familiar, dependable and (hyperbole be damned) almost magical. We just seem to be able to always predict each other's next move, to the point that songs began and ended perfectly after only one rehearsal. It was so much fun to bounce around the stage. Ryan's drumming combined with Dan's bass hits a switch in me where I find myself traveling through time to my younger, more agile self. I tend to jump around like a kindergartner on a Halloween sugar high. Of course, the day after, when my neck and back hurt, I quickly realized that I'm not in kindergarten anymore. It's also worth noting that booze has stronger after effects than bite-size Snickers.
The three weeks that brought us from Chicago to Washington and points in-between were some of the best times of my life. I haven't laughed that hard, played that loud or sang that recklessly since, well, since back when we did rock and roll as a full time job. If I had to choose, I think New York City was my favorite night of the entire run. We played a venue called the Bowery Electric, which is a small club with an almost 1960's supper club feel. The stage is fun to work, and the crowd is right there with you. It felt packed and loving. The crowd sang along to songs that I didn't realize could be sung along to and they sang all night. It was a comforting reminder that ten years on the road was not wasted time, and that music in its many forms can have a real impact (even if it's for just one night) in a small but beautifully sweaty, beer scented basement rock club in the East Village.
Ryan MacMillan, Chris Trapper, Dan McLoughlin (left to right)
A bonus to the three weeks spent together was indulging our shared love of comedy, or at least our attempts at it. In the olden days, we used to do fun little "Spinal Tap" style skits whenever we traveled. They were always improvisational at best and centered around themes such as my not realizing the Chuck E. Cheese band wasn't real (and my desperate insistence that our band should be just as consistent musically) or us berating each other for making very minimal musical mistakes, etc. In those days, we couldn't share much of our sense of humor with our audience. Now, we could make a skit and post it within the hour on whichever social media outlet we wanted, funny or not.
Another fun memory of the tour was when we met a great guy named Red who owns a brilliant fifties style hot dog stand in Paw Paw, Michigan. He had worked at the factory next door his entire life but one day, he decided he had had enough. It had been his dream for as long as he could remember to own his own place so he finally scraped up enough courage and borrowed money to build the stand brick by brick. The first few years, he lost his shirt but then suddenly, he saw lines of cars waiting to get in. By the time we discovered the stand, it had become the hottest spot in town. So, if you ever find yourself in Paw Paw, MI, stop in to Red's Root Beer stand and tell him we said hi.
Dan McLoughlin, Red, Chris Trapper, Ryan MacMillan (left to right)
And that is the magic of the road: new friends telling old stories and old friends telling new stories. We ended the tour with a sold out two night stand in Boston. I couldn't believe we had done it. Mission accomplished. Sixteen shows in eighteen days and my vocal chords somehow powered through. Despite Ryan and I catching a cold two days into the tour and the semi-constant under the radar hangovers we carried throughout, we were all riding high from our triumphant return to the rock and roll lifestyle. It was an amazing journey.
I immediately went from the Push Stars' tour (which mostly took place at in your face rock clubs) to opening for Colin Hay solo in big, beautiful theatres. It was daunting to say the least to go from playing with my band to playing for a thousand people, all alone. One of the most noteorthy differences between my solo career and playing with the band is that I can travel lightly on my own. Two guitars, one ukulele, a suitcase and I am ready to work. Those are the only tools I need.
Often times when I'm opening for him, I tell the crowd that Colin is my idol. More and more, I realize just how true that statement really is. There is no manual for being a singer/songwriter. Because of this, I always look for wherever the closest mountaintop may be and then try to walk in that direction. My favorite moments with Colin are just chatting with him backstage before or after a show. That's when I go to school. Not so much about music business stuff, but more so about the creative process. He also has plenty of tips on how to navigate bullshit and bullshitters and how to still be a good person despite some of the more unsettling aspects of our unique lifestyle. He listens to new songs of mine and gives me advice (which he claims I never take) and never stops caring and looking after me. And I never stop valuing his opinion and expertise. But always, as I watch him singing, it occurs to me that I'm on the same bill as him and then I have myself a moment.
Opening for Colin Hay at the Pantages Theatre, Minneapolis, MN on 11/4/17.
I also played two wonderful house concerts, one in Denver and one in Dallas. House concerts can go either way. You can end up playing for three people: the neighbor, the grandmother and the co-worker who's not into music, all while the family dog continually licks your shoe as you tap your feet to help pass the awkward time faster. Or, you get just the opposite: full houses of great music fans that became lovefests in both directions. Luckily, these two house shows were the latter.
House concert, October 2017.
As my Fall tour winds down, I am about to head out to the West Coast for four shows and then I'll be playing with my old friend, the great Martin Sexton in our respective hometowns: Buffalo (mine) and Syracuse (his).
As always, thank you for your ears....