The Big ol' U.S. of A
Fall Tour 2002
Journal of Events—Luther Wright & the Wrongs American Tour in support of ourselves.
Luther Wright—singer, acoustic guitar
Dan Curtis—lead guitar, banjo & vocals
Cam Giroux—drums & vocals
Sean Kelly—bassist and complete freakazoid
Burke Carroll—pedal steel, dobro
Grant Ethier—Soundman/Grand Wizard
The Story: We've been away for years now and everyone is very old. My cane keeps slipping under the brake pedal as we careen through the hills of North Carolina towards Asheville where we treated like kings last time by the wonderful crowd. We have destroyed all of the full maps of America and now piece together bits of state maps to navigate our way on this ridiculous tour. For example: draw a big square on a piece of paper and imagine that it is the U.S. That's pretty much our path. Boston to Florida to San Diego to Washington State back to Pittsburgh. Hey we have a whole month to do it and Backporch records (our U.S. label) decided not to burden us with tour support on this tour (that's "money" for you civilians). Hey, why would we need that? ...Luckily we aren't going to dawdle anywhere particular ('cept for two whole days at a festival in Arcadia, Fla). The first 14 shows in 12 days gets us to Austin where I have hope that we can use our "free" Canadian healthcare coverage to have our blood changed (and eyes rotated) before continuing on towards Flagstaff.
Alright, if I was any more rye I'd be a drink, eh?
Albany and Ithaca were both steller shows in towns that we hadn't played before. Good people up thar. Ithaca is a very nice place with a healthy crop of friendlies. We had a bit of pickle there at soundcheck when Dan's speaker cabinet for his guitar amp died. The screws holding the back on are "Robertsons" or squareheaded, which is a uniquely Canadian product. (likely a "terrorist act", under the Homeland Security Bill). Well we sure didn't have one of those puppies! Thankfully an angel came by and helped us just as our brie arrived with the wine in the dressing room. Had a swinging good show that brought out a room full of people. I punked out to a shocking degree; so satisfying. That damn punk-a-billy music gets me so wound up I could have explode in a mighty bloody mess right there in the arms of glory!
In Asheville we played to a packed bar of new and old faces. Our first time through here in the summer was the quintessential show of our music careers, setting us up with the chutzpa needed to tour relentlessly with the hope of gaining ground in the wildly competitive live music scene of 'merica. Gee, that's so genuine sounding, I like it. And it's pretty much true! The heartbreak of Asheville this time was that we had to leave right after the show to drive all night to southern Florida where we were set to play the Riverhawk Rythym Festival. Fred Eaglesmith and his boys were doing the same thing (as in they were playing Asheville the same night, down the street) and we talked briefly on the phone between our second and third set. We share the same altered state of reality where time and distance melt into the music and faces in the crowd. He's the king of the road, eh? Florida was warm and wonderful and a thankful break from life in the van. We met the "Reeltime Travellers" from Johnson City, an old time- hillbilly band made up of young folks whose music is the real deal. We've been influenced by bluegrass bands over the last few years but these cats put the "ill" in "hill". The guitar player Martha Scanlon is an amazing singer/songwriter whom I expect the world will discover sooner than later. Grant and I watched their set on the 2nd stage after we played our mainstage set. They had put the stage in the ruins of a cultural centre built in the 1800's by an enlightened local population. It was so stunning and wonderful. When Martha sang her songs the world stopped spinning and everything bad ceased to exist. Absolutely devastating singer. The whole band is also wonderfully talented and their stage banter is highly entertaining, can't wait to hook up with them again. Our old buddies the Burns sisters we're also there playing and we got caught up after not seeing each other since the Winnipeg Folk Festival two summers ago. It was a good ole back-slapping time that passed too quickly but filled us up with the communal vibe that really only the festivals offer. A well run deal too, the promoter and his folks put it together like a private party and everyone we met was gracious and generous.
Next day I caught the plague that had been crushing the rest of the boys for most of the tour. I thought I was immune, but no. It's been grim right through to Memphis last night where at least we got to hang out with our dancer buddies that we met last time we played the High Tone. Carrie, Emily and Kelly. Dedicated to the arts and LW & the dub fans ta boot. Sigh...
Being this sick and not in bed is something new and awful to me. All hopped up on cold dope and feverish in my cowboy shirt, Jacksonville, Greenville and Atlanta's' shows are all a blurr. I know we did well but it's like a dream. My fever broke last night likely due to the proximity of Graceland. Good thing too 'cause it seemed like full blown pneumonia was the next biological step. Now I sit sipping a can of Schlitz in N'awlins where we are soundchecking for our show tonight. The local music rag has us as the pick of the week and Grant is rebuilding the crappy P.A. with bubblegum and toothpicks. What a blessing to have him with us. As it turns out the gig is well attended but, maybe it's because I'm sick, I don't like this town and its dirt anymore. Why are people getting shafted by governments that spend trillions of dollars on weapons while so many people live in grinding poverty with no access to healthcare? Yeah, I know. 'Cause a greasy buck is more important you stupid fuck. Sad sad sad. We drift through cities playing music and trading stories with the people and see the results of the cynicism that bastard politicians spew, dividing the working poor, turning us against each other in the name of "Freedom". The freedom to be bullied and broke on the decaying streets of Babylon. Gross and wrong.
There has to be a hot place in hell for those sum' bitches and I'll play in the house band just to be there to watch them fry. I ain't no saint but get me a bucket and a can of paint and I'll draw an arrow that leads away from the sorrow and towards the light where folks treat each other right.
Oh yeah, we're on a plane right now from Austin, Texas to Phoenix, Arizona. Sean and I got the "extra special triple search" procedure (holding the flight up while they checked out the bulge in my trousers, sailor!). I'm not kidding. Probably we looked a little questionable. Turns out I am the only guy on the plane with pink hair and a Pokemon t-shirt and Sean is the only 6' 4" goteed dude with a giant orange Memphis hat. I think it pretty unlikely that anyone about to highjack a plane would dress so conspicuously but then again I am not an expert on airport security (or anything for that matter).
Our gig at the Continental Club was a gas. We played a fine show and then enjoyed the all-star band that featured Merle Haggard's guitarist and the piano player from Johnny Cash's band. It was country music Mecca. Pretty girls two- steppin' with cowboys and Canadians to all the hits. We were wowed by the scene and found all kinds of inspiration from the music and the socializing that a dancing culture offers. Austin really is as great as people say it is so if you ever get the chance to go there don't hesitate. I stayed with my ole buddies Dave and Mel outside of Austin for the last few days at their lovely Texas bungalow. I met my long lost freaky sister Laura Freeman (of the Road Dog Divas) and we had plenty of laughs together. Today she drove me to the airport and we stopped in small Texas towns along the way and perused second hand stores for outrageous clothing. She has a new kids cd out too so the plan is in the works for a small tour up in Canada. I am in real danger now of becoming healthy again after a few days off and some home cooking (thus possibly losing my unrestricted complainer status). My cough still rivals that of a dying mustard gas victim circa 1917 but at least my back still aches like a train crash survivor. The glamour of touring, eh? Nothing that a short drive from the airport to Flagstaff won't fix (and two aspirins). We get to wheel it through the red hills of Sedona, Arizona this afternoon. One of the most beautiful places on earth only! Tomorrow we'll see the Pacific Ocean after we drive through the desert to San Diego and start our swing up the left coast. All signals are green from here on in.
Flagstaff is just like you'd think a medium sized city tucked away up in northern Arizona would be. Part ski town, touristy in the rustic, mountain way they do that pioneer style thang. The club is all set with a very fine P.A. system and the music room is at the back of a classic American bar in the front. It's all good. The sound guy is nice and helpful, we do our thing smooth like then Grant, Cam and I go enjoy a delicious Thai meal at a funky joint full of hip students. Ahh...we stretch our legs and meander back to the club for the show. Virtually no one shows up to see us. Ouch. Gig was apparently booked on short notice. It's a shame but we have fun for those who are there, even playing "Don't You Want Me Baby" and a short Madonna medley. And no, not country versions. Just the best we could do on the fly to recreate that 80's magic. Burke is bemused but still plays a fabulous counter melody in "Material Girl".
The drive to San Diego and the corner of America is amongst the longest of the tour where we have to play a gig upon arrival. Flying along the interstate through the desert that leads to the mountains that leads us to the sea, Grant doesn't relinquish the wheel once. Focused, frenetic, and freaky that guy can just go. He participates in the general van rambling with such an inspired passion and, (when talking about any aspect of music and recording history) a memory for detail that has us all feeling vital and alive! Like some driven preacher out of a Flannery O'Conner story, pounding the bible and a'hollarin' at the top of his voice to a field full of drive-in church goers, only completely different. San Diego is cool, especially the Ocean Beach area where we are doing our play n' stay thing. We chow down on excellent mexican yum yums and again are blessed with a functional club with all the technical necessities and staff. Our ole buddy Kelly shows up with his friend Maria and joins a respectable crowd for our over the top, welcome to the coast boys, freak-o-rama. Enlightenment hits just prior to the show and as a result we explode through the songs. It feels like we are inventing something wonderful as the sounds swirl about the room. After so many shows of late where the dopey effects of coping with that everlasting cold made for a whole new personal category of performance style, this show is a bold step into the light. I am completely comfortable and absorbed in the moment. Blissing out for three monstrous sets while careening through our song list sets us up for the following nights big show at the Knitting Factory in L.A. The band is a band like one strong hand. We move around the stage in a free form dance guided by our collective precision and impulsiveness. It gets so daring and reckless that the payoffs elicit screams from each other. We rock out "Run like Hell" like some arty, rhythmic, extreme sport with a mid-section instrumental part that cruises down until it quietly drops to a whisper of rhythm only to shoot like a rocket through to the end of the song where we nail the last five notes in bombastic, crackerjack unison. What a freakin' party I had going on in the vast ballroom between my ears.
At this point in the tour Cam shows up with a car that he's taking back to Canada for his girlfriend. Kelly rides shotgun with him and we wagon train up the California freeway to the city of angels. All is good.
On a hot tip from Chris Brown we book into the Farmers Daughter Hotel. It's funky just like we want it to be. Our gig is at the Knitting Factory right off of Hollywood Boulevard which is about the most impossible place in the world to find parking so we just swing up in front of the club and rifle our stuff inside then leave the van there, pretending that our out of state license plate exempts us from every sort of legal obligation. The club fills up nicely for our early-ish show and we hit the mark musically from the first note. It's a goddamn freak show of performance and musical roller-coasting that has the crowd on their feet hollaring for more. We are quite satisfied with the whole experience. Often the crowd response and general feeling on stage differ, but not tonight. After San Diego's wild ride of a show I was wondering how we would re-invent ourselves for the picky people of the big city. Turns out that everyone had popped their Noel Coward pills and the stage overflows with personality and musicality. Yes sir, it's a screaming success. We continue playing music back at the hotel on the deck until late late. Dobro, mandolin and guitar nodding away for a small crowd of new friends and other hotel guests. A very pregnant women and her husband grace the scene with their baby ju ju. (We find out that she dropped her package the very next day, a lovely girl!). By the end of the night Dan and I are nose to nose singing each other bits of new songs and gushing with enthusiasm for our collective future. I love L.A.
The arduous drive to San Jose dampens our spirits a wee bit the next day. We drive by the biggest cattle farm ever. Cows packed together for miles and miles. We figured 200,000 at least. It stinks to high hell! I grimly reaffirm my vegetarian vows while the fellas pull off at the next exit to get MacDonald's burgers. Their sickness is deeper than I imagined. As of the beginning of this tour I have stopped eating gas station crap and fast food, which means I generally get one decent meal a day to fuel me up. Lighter and increasingly gaunt, I suddenly start to fancy myself handsome. Maybe it's time for a new obsession. Certainly a cheap option, not eating. The druggie, light-headedness has me oddly blissed out. I start shopping at the boys section of Kmart. How many Pokemon t-shirts does a grown man need anyway?
San Jose is the odd gig on the tour. We play first of three bands but seem to bring in the biggest crowd and get the lion's share of the door money. There is this fabulous water effect light that rakes the stage and I'm so absorbed in it that nothing else about the show matters. Silicon valley folks are nice enough to us but after the last few nights it seems a little flat. We are back at our styling hotel by 10pm and have the most insane, non-musical jam in 'Wrongs history. We punish Burke who tries to play Dobro over our completely retarded song choices. Everyone is in character (as in acting stupid beyond belief) and we laugh until the tears flow. Cam video tapes most of the nonsense just to ensure our utter ruin if anyone outside the cell ever sees the footage. Really though, it's sweet that after all we've been through together as a band and as buddies that we would spend a rare night off jammed in one of four hotel rooms making up songs like, "The Twelve Days of Sandwich". Inspired by the depths of the nuttiness I crossed my eyes for so long that it takes days before I can focus well enough to drive. Mom always said...
Now we move on to where we really just want to be. San Francisco, baby. And you know what? It's actually sunny two days in a row! We book into the Phoenix, our favourite rock n' roll hotel and sit poolside sipping Sierra Nevadas whilst checking out the other rock stars checking us out. My room is like Greg Brady's room when he was trying to impress the cute hippy girl. I love it and vow not to sleep unless there is absolutely nothing left to sing, play or talk about. That actually gets me to 5am but not before we play a return gig at the Red Devil Lounge. Maybe it's because it's Sunday (but likely because there was no fucking promotion!) but it ain't real crowded 'n shit at our show. A respectable crowd fer sure and lots of old bay area friends, but compared to our last gig here it's a tad disappointing. No posters up, no ads in the entertainment papers=small crowd. Oh well, we booked this tour on such short notice that there's plenty of room for improvement and after L.A.'s blowout I have no regrets. That is, that I'll admit to here.
The cheeriness of the next morning's coffee and bagels on the patio still doesn't change the fact that it's hard to leave the groovy comfort of the Phoenix. It is relatively unique in that it caters specifically to touring bands and the like. What's harder is the fact that we are heading south (!) to Fresno before we play Eugene, Oregon. Ouch! It hurts! Fresno turns out to be a fun time although we are pretty pooped by now. My voice starts to go halfway through the set but the crowd is healthy and after the show we meet many enthusiastic people who buy up the cds and thank us for coming to their town. One woman tells a touching story of her leaving the next day after 38 years in the same house to go live in another state, and how we made her last night memorable. Ahhh, shucks.
Now, the following morning arrives with all the grace of a pipe wrench to the head. Our Californian buddy Kelly says his goodbyes and leaves the cell as we drive past Sacramento. A zillion hours later we arrive in Eugene Oregon where I have time to unpack my stuff, brush my teeth, get ready for bed, brush my teeth and get ready for an early morning radio interview. Notice the absence of "sleep" in that last sequence of events. This is leading somewhere bad, this no sleep thing, but for now I'm giddy and working it.
Weirdness is as weirdness does. Winding down, (even with spectacularly clean teeth) took forever and upon finally landing on the lily pad of comfort and sleepyville, just blissing and kissing the lips of unconsciousness, Dan started speaking in tongues from the neighbouring bed. "GRULG-ALARB- RRRRRGINMPFRGGGRACGH-SLAUGHTERALLTHEHUMANS!!!!!!". Then, "as suddenly as he appeared", he dropped back into a silent sleep whilst I shivered myself to something oh so far from sleep-itity. Shee-it, that's okay 'cause it was almost quarter to seven, my wake up to go and appear on the high speed morning radio drive-in show. Do you have those where you are? These fellas were A- okay. They did the crazy mile-a-minute talk radio thing and they had alot of heart, which I'm beginning to suspect is common around these parts. I settle into a chair in the control room and they play a couple of cuts from our cd then we chat and joke on air for a bit before they send me off two coffee cups and four stickers the richer. There's a certain festive sense of wonder in the air as it's (what we Canadians call), "American Thanksgiving". This bodes well for our gig at Sam Bonds Garage that same night; everyone is home for the holidays and going out to the big show!
Show was as big as we'd hoped. It went on and on for three wild sets. All I really recall is feeling as empty as I've ever felt from given'er at a show. Happy but sooooooo spent. Eugene is a good place to blow yer doors off I figure.
It's here that the story pauses for various causes. The thread is sure to be picked up and traced back to here.