Canada, Air Horns, and the Beermuda Triangle: #MerchMaddieGetsGooey Week 2

It’s a drizzly day in Missoula, Montana. Despite waking up back at elevation with mountains all around me, I’ve been feeling “bleh” today, and am staying in to catch the end of the Presidential debate (shudder) instead of heading to a bar (aptly named the “Oxford”) across from the Vietnamese place where most of us just ate dinner. It’s been a week since I wrote last, and it’s been full of fun shenanigans, a few border crossings, rain, sickness, and overall hilarity. 

When I last left you, we were headed across the border to Toronto, our first of two shows in Canada. If you’ve ever traveled, you understand that border crossings can be tedious and exaggerated, but let me tell you, crossing a border with a band is a whole ‘nother animal. Itemized lists of equipment and instruments, advanced screenings on your entire crew and their passports, and the occasional search of your bus/semi/whatever you may be traveling with if *anything* seems awry? Canada may be known for their polite ways, but it’s certainly no walk in the park touring The Great White North. After our night in Ithaca, we arrived to a 6 a.m. wakeup call at the border. Despite a well-advanced arrival and detailed paperwork, we still marched off our bus for a quick check that the faces on passports matched our disheveled, half-awake stares, and a quick once-over of our bus. While waiting in the office, one border officer did a quick Google search about the band, and our entire crew’s heads exploded as “Hazey” began to play from the officer’s computer. We all stared at one another in disbelief and confusion as the guard jammed out until we were finally given the green light to re-board. We eagerly sprinted out the door, probably more confused than anything else. 

The rest of our time in Canada was just as interesting as it had begun. The venue we were playing used to be called “Sound Academy”, but earlier this year a new owner stepped in, and had completed a $25million dollar renovation just prior to our arrival. We were the fourth show to happen in the new room, but the first after it’s grand opening (a massive, Vegas-style soirée which had taken place the night before). The venue felt more like a strip club than a concert hall, with gaudy black, white, and gold wallpaper lining the walls, modern black leather sofas, metal poles connecting the ceiling, and giant birdcage-esque seats that had to be hauled off the floor. Our antics in New York seemed to have caught up to us as well, with half the crew complaining of head cold symptoms and sore throats. We still made the best of our obscure day, escaping for a quick race on the go kart track next to the venue! We paid a measly $25 for 25 minutes of real-life Mario Kart, complete with spin outs, swear words, and our audio engineer, Pete, cheering on the sidelines as I narrowly won after accidentally giving up my lead to our TM. The day went quick and we crossed the border back into the States less than four hours after the band finished their set, landing Columbus, Ohio the next day for a day off. 

Having a “day off” on tour is a loose term, as it simply means a day without a performance. There’s no day off from your exploding email inbox, your unwashed clothing, catching up with loved ones, or preparing for the upcoming week of shows. I think it’s safe to say we all spent a good chunk of the day working on various projects, but still managed to enjoy some much needed sunshine at a nearby park, playing “football” (a game called heads & volleys), lounging in guitar tech Aaron’s hammock, and coming together for a tour family dinner at the burger joint next to the hotel. By this point in the run, we were all completely at home together, making time off even more enjoyable. We’d past the awkward “get to know you” stage, and things felt 100% like one big dysfunctional, happy little tour family. There are few things that could have made me happier, but finding a barcade next door with a slew of classic games certainly did the trick!

The next week of shows felt like one massive blur. The band had extensive press and promo during the day before each of the next four shows, and the show in Milwaukee marked the beginning of a streak of sold out shows that will end up running the remainder of the tour (with Vancouver being the only exception). In Columbus, our drummer Joe was feeling the full force of the cold we first noticed in Toronto, and despite an afternoon fearing we may have to cancel, he pulled through and played to what was in my opinion one of the most intense shows of the tour. I received massive restocks in Columbus and Milwaukee, and spent most of my days running errands for the team and counting endless t-shirts. 

Other than meeting fans, getting to see which items sell best in certain cities may be one of my favorite parts of working in merchandise. Every city has a different vibe and different interests, meaning that the shirt that’s your top seller one night might not even sell the next day. The group’s product line is fairly diverse, but all related to the new record. Our lead singer wrote How to Be a Human Being based on the curious stories he heard from even more curious characters while on their last tour. Dave had secretly recorded conversations with individuals, and wrote the songs based on the stories they’d shared with him. Even cooler yet is he went one step further and hired actors to represent these people on the cover of the album. There’s ten tracks, and ten (technically 11) characters on the artwork, and while the answers exist on the internet, it’s been fun for fans to learn about the characters, and start guessing who represents which songs - we've even had some fans dressing up as them! Do you know who is who?!

I got the opportunity to photograph again in Chicago at the beautiful Riviera Theatre, which is apparently known for it’s lack of central air - both the band and fans all certainly understood that by the time the show was done! That was one of the most packed, sweaty, HOT shows I’ve ever attended. After running around photographing all night, I ended the set as sweaty as the band. After another massive sold out show in St. Paul, we’ve spent the last two days making our way across Montana, on our way to Missoula for our show tomorrow, followed by our final run of dates down the west coast. 

Yesterday we had a day off in a quirky little town called Miles City, where Ed eat steak for every single meal of the day, four of us went for a beautiful sunset walk following a river, enjoying the brisk fall weather, and the whole crew ended the night in an area our taxi driver called the “beermuda triangle”, the block with the town’s only three bars. To say we stuck out like a sore thumb would be the understatement of the century: we had entire bars stare us down as we entered and order our drinks, but we made the most of it, hosting an hilarious “England vs. America” pool tournament, and blasting Oasis in not one, but two bars filled with ten-gallon jugs and good ol’ cowboys everywhere you looked. OOOPS.

Highlights from week 2 include (but are not limited to): our awkward jam session with the Canadian border guard, my introduction to the rap air horn and it’s necessary use on radios, me absolutely destroying the team at go karting in Toronto, our day off in Columbus, Simon’s pug snapchats (“like a couple of brown shoooeeeesss”), photographing in Chicago and my quick visit with I Fight Dragon’s drummer, Chad, our roadie Friday cramming the whole crew into the front lounge for games, hangs and a Slayer dance session, our fall walk in Miles City, and the now legendary “Fuck off, Nigel” story from the Montana Bar last night. 

Tomorrow we play Missoula , followed quickly by our last five shows. The speed at which this tour is ending is already weighing heavily on me - I’m so very not ready to say goodbye to this new family I’ve inherited, but I’m sure our fun isn’t done yet, and can’t wait to see what this last week holds in store for us.