#MerchMaddieGetsGooey: On The Road With Glass Animals

It’s Saturday night in a drizzly Ithaca, NY, and I’m the only person sitting on our Prevost bus, waiting for the rest of the crew to return from a bar before we make our way north into Canada for a show in Toronto. Today marks show 7 of the Glass Animals Fall North American Tour, and what a whirlwind seven days it’s been! It feels like we’ve been out forever, but it’s hardly been a week.

It’s been a hot minute since I last hit the road. This last year has been hectic in terms of my personal life, between big life moments happening with family and lots of inner struggle trying to decide which professional path to continue to down. I took some time to really step aside and let the necessary things happen, and now I’m finally hopping back in and doing so gingerly; making strides to focus my attention on answering some “what ifs” that have been haunting me for far too long. One of those questions was if I should reset my focus on trying to tour consistently, and I think this tour is the universe’s way of giving me the time I need to figure that out. 

Prior to this tour, I spent the week in Baltimore working a brand event, so Sunday the 25th I popped on a train from Baltimore to D.C. and made my way south to meet up with the crew who’d had their first show the night prior in North Carolina. Working with a new group for the first time is like your first day at a new school: it’s up to you to figure out the existing dynamic and see where you fit alongside the other characters. For some tours, this can take days, or weeks to really find your place, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. 

When I arrived at the Echostage that afternoon, there was a church service being held inside the room (that’s new?), so I wandered through a venue full of little kids and elderly women in their Sunday best to find our bus parked out in back. I was immediately welcomed by a mix of band and crew, shown to my bunk, and introduced to everyone. The first day could not have gone smoother, and it’s only continued that way since. This crew function like a family unit, and they’ve welcomed me to the pack without blinking an eye. By the end of night one I’d been properly introduced to the game of “bummy”, been made a cup of tea, and included in the band’s pre-show ritual. Everything felt seamless and awesome and perfect. There are three “new kids” this tour: one light tech, one guitar tech, and me - the only three Americans (everyone else is English). It’s been fun to see how we’ve all fallen into place, and been neat getting to know everyone a day at a time. I’ve honestly never felt more quickly comfortable and just…at home in a setting as I do with this bunch (except possibly when I first started at Apple). These are my people, I’m good to be myself in every way around them, and take pride in this band and their work like I would a band I’ve been with for years. Tour family is a very real thing, and it’s humbling to feel that in such a massive way so quickly. 

Our first chunk of tour went from D.C. to Philly, followed by a day off and two back-to-back sold out shows in New York City. I’ve never really spent time enjoying NYC, but these shows gave me a new perspective on the city, and made for a hilariously perfect three days including dinner dates with good friends, getting to know the crew over drinks at bars, and an incredible art installation from our frontman complete with palm trees, purple lighting, and a super nintendo with Super Mario World rigged to play a chiptune version of the band’s radio single “Life Itself.” 

After New York, we headed north for a chilly day in Boston, which happened to be a show where the venue was selling the merch, so I had my first opportunity to photograph the show. Our lighting designer, Louisa, has done an incredible job with this show! It's full of fun fills, color combos, silhouettes, and textures all being displayed across giant Tetris-esque arches hanging on either side of the stage with three giant cacti dispersed in between. I won’t be able to photograph the show again until Chicago, but I can’t wait. I’m lucky to be out with a crew that not only has an awesome stage show, but is giving me the opportunity to create my own art from theirs. 

The band is currently touring in support of their new record, How to be a Human Being, which was just released last month. It’s been exciting to see songs coming to life for the first time, and watch the audience react to new music. Their fan base is a mix of die-hards who come dressed as one of the album cover’s characters, to fans who’ve been newly introduced through friends or classmates. The crowds are usually pretty young, and all very excited - for some it’s even been their first concert ever. I’m working really hard to reciprocate that passion by getting to know them, and build on that joy through their time with me at merch. The kids are loving the show and we’ve been flying through merchandise, so it’s been a bit of a whirlwind to keep up with orders and shipments, but I’m enjoying the “hecticity.” 

Highlights so far include: bummy in Washington D.C. behind the venue where we hit one too many cars yet managed to not break any windows, my new fanny pack (thanks, Shawn G!), getting tacos for lunch with the whole band in Philly, dinner with the legendary Amanda Lynn Kim in New York followed by walking from Chelsea back to my hotel on the Lower East Side with no directions (like a boss), my massive, crazy, egg-shaped bathtub in NYC, bar escapades and tequila shots after NYC show 1, photographing in Boston after a miserably cold day, and waking up with our bus immediately next to a street fair in Ithaca this morning. 

Tomorrow we’re off to Toronto for our first Canada show, followed by a week in the midwest and then an adventure driving across Montana for one show in Missoula en route to the west coast.

More updates to come soon, but for now, enjoy some photos from along the way :) 

A Season of Change

Howdy, blog! 

It's been awhile since I last checked in. While in Australia I mentioned that I didn't want that big adventure to be my last major "leap of faith" to happen in 2016. Where here I am, eight months later, and things are happening. Since we last talked I've changed jobs, lost my last two grandparents, stood by her side as my best friend since kindergarten said "I Do," and had a few minor freakouts that led to my favorite band's lead singer's handwriting being permanently outlined on my skin. It's a season of change, people, and in the last month, there's been a few more additions to that list. 

After six years, countless concerts, thousands of photographs, and a whole lot of fun, another major change has been deciding it’s time to say goodbye to Ultra5280. As someone who’s first passion was writing and later assumed I’d go to school for photography, Ultra5280 became my treasured creative outlet when I chose to academically focus on music instead. Even while watching Blink-182 recently, I found myself analyzing the show, taking mental notes like I was going to go home and write – it’s pretty clear my love for celebrating music through words and photographs will never die. The Ultra team has been family to me, and I’m excited to watch them continue to grow from the sidelines. I'm so thankful that Robert Castro took a chance on a wily college freshmann, giving me a platform to grow my skills and share my passion while having adventures I could have only dreamed of. Saying I’m thankful is an understatement.

I couldn’t stay away from music journalism if I tried, (insert Arnold’s “I’ll be baaackk” quote) so this isn’t my finale, but it’s time I re-learn how to prioritize “me” while exploring what I want my next chapter of life to look like.

Speaking of next chapters…I’m heading back out on the road. I’m thrilled to get back to tour life, and honored to get to do so with a spectacularly talented group of Brits. I really hope this time out will be clarifying, mind opening, and answer some offers I've been looking for.

For the better part of the last year and a half, I've struggled internally trying to understand if my passion for tour is something I needed to chase more intently, or if that season of life had passed. I needed to be home for the last year. For me, for family, for that wedding, to truly work through some major life moments. But now the dust has settled, and the things that were holding me in Denver have slowly dissipated – it's time for me to get back to my quest of working to find my next path. Do I stay on the road? Do I move to LA? Do I stay in Denver and work to find new ways to pursue my passions in this city? No more wondering "if", it's time for me to explore these questions, make a decision, and just go. 

In the past I’ve blogged while on tour and will try to keep up this round as well. Regardless, this website will host any writing or photos I create while on my editorial sabbatical, so hopefully you'll see more updates more often on this here little page. 

To celebrate my time at Ultra5280, I've compiled a few of my favorite things I've written for the blog, and photographs I've taken. 

- FIRST SHOW COVERED FOR ULTRA5280: Yeah, Great, Fine with Mr. Right and Popcult at Moe's BBQ. "What's a Popcult?" This is the first time my byline appeared on the Ultra5280 site. 

FAVORITE "ULTRA5280 SESSIONS": I Fight Dragons. Once upon a time we did a video interview series called "Ultra5280 Sessions," hosted by yours truly. This is one of my favorites because it was my first time seeing the boys live, and I went on to then tour the country with them - twice! 

FAVORITE SXSW INTERVIEW: Kris Orlowski sitting on a street corner after playing phone tag all day. We laughed. We joked. It was the most fun I've ever had interviewing someone. 

WHAT I CONSIDER MY FIRST "LEGIT" REVIEW: I may have loved writing, but it definitely took me awhile to figure out how to do more than just re-tell what happened at a show. Mat Kearney at The Black Sheep still does a lot of that, but goes deeper into his story as an artists as well. 

FAVORITE "I SAW THEM BACK WHEN..." STORY: Seeing AWOLNATION play two sold out shows at The Summit Music Hall felt like a big deal back then, but what hadn't been totally realized yet was that their little opener, Imagine Dragons, would go on to become one of the biggest pop acts in the world over the next two years. 

FAVORITE CRAZY MOMENT AT A SHOW: I've seen Atlas Genius quite a few times at this point, but nothing will top their show at the Bluebird in 2013 because of the on-stage proposal I caught on camera. 

FAVORITE SHOW REVIEW: I've reviewed a lot of shows, but I always come back to this piece about Lorde at the 1stBank Center. I just love it, and really did love that show. Much yes.

- FAVORITE FEATURE: It's neat to see this band continuing to work their way into alternative relevance, but even as they grow, I don't think I'll ever write a better piece about Night Riots. This combined a show review, album review, and interview all in one. 

THAT TIME I GOT TO COVER MY FAVORITE BAND: Technically I've photographed or reviewed Jimmy Eat World four times now, but you know your life has come full-circle when you're able to review the show where your favorite band of all time plays your favorite album of all time front to back. It's even better when you're professional enough to eloquently fangirl through you're writing so you still seem legit.

- FAVORITE BAND TO SEE GROW: In 2013 an opening act asked me to come review them at the Bluebird, opening for some band I'd kind of heard of called Twenty One Pilots. That show was the start of it all. Since then, I've watched them grow into headlining Red Rocks three times, and become arguably the most popular band in the world in 2016. That show at the Bluebird is still my favorite. This review is about my second favorite show, their first performance at Red Rocks, and their first tour supporting the now Platinum-selling record Blurryface


Road-Tripped: 3 Days on The Great Ocean Road & The Grampian Mountain Range | #MaddietakesAUS Part 4

Wednesday, February 10th we got up at 6am to check out of our Melbourne hostel and head for the bus stop for the next leg of our journey. Helen and I had booked a 3-day tour along The Great Ocean road and into the Grampian Mountains through a company called Wildlife Tours, and I was admittedly very excited to start this more adventurous part of the trip. After we'd picked everyone up at their stops, we left the city and drove southwest for an hour until we hit the coast and stopped for coffee, tea and biscuits at what may have been the most southern point of Australia I've touched during my time there. 

Our tour guide's name was Eric, and we quickly came to realize he was AWESOME. Funny, kind, and full of fun facts since he was a native who owned property along the road, we spent the day with him pulling off at select spots along the coastal highway, learning interesting facts as we went. We spent some time in the afternoon at a local camping ground with a variety of parrots, cockatoos and lorikeets, as well as WILD KOALAS. This was really my first time seeing the sleepy bears since arriving, and it was amazing to see them in the wild rather than in a zoo or wild animal reserve. They were so close you could almost touch them, and the birds would eat seed right out of your hand and sit on your shoulders. 

wild Koalas doing what they do - sleeping in trees.

wild Koalas doing what they do - sleeping in trees.

We made our lunch stop just down the road from there at a city called Anglesea and started to meet the rest of the people on our tour. Most were between 18-28, all on holiday, their gap year before Uni, or on work visas traveling from city to city while they worked. We were lucky to get a super nice group that all got along well, and everyone became friends quickly over scoops of vegemite ice cream (yes it's real, and not overwhelmingly disgusting). The rest of our first day we spent walking through an ancient part of the rainforest with 300+ year old trees, pulling on and off the road, stopping to see landmarks like the Twelve Apostles and the London Bridge, and finally arriving to watch the sun set in Thunder Bay and spent the night in a city called Warrnambool. The hostel there had a built-in bar, so we all quickly changed into pajamas and got to know each other more over drinks before bed. 

The Twelve Apostles

The Twelve Apostles

Day two we woke up, ate breakfast, and loaded into the bus again after a hilarious round of the name game. We started the day by driving through Tower Hill National Park, a reserve based in the creator of an ancient Volcano, and home to a variety of wildlife including a wild Emu that ran in front of our bus. We hiked to the top of the volcano that was once 5 kilometers wide and found a sleepy little Koala not far off the path. We then went more into the park and stopped for morning tea with ANOTHER koala sleeping in the tree right above our heads! 

From there we loaded in for a bit of a long drive, and stopped halfway for a picnic lunch on our way to the Grampians National Park. Once there we stopped at the park center and saw a topographic map of the park, and learned a bit about the aboriginal community inhabiting the area. We went to Mackenzie Falls for the afternoon, and walked down 260 steps alongside the beautiful waterfall. We continued down the trail and took a quick dip in a spring/pool area farther down the river and soaked in the sun while chilling in the brisk, fresh rainwater water for as long as Eric would let us. Driving downhill and back into the town, we pulled off at the local cricket field, and a "mob" of wild Kangaroos (that's actually the term) hopped out of the bush and came out to eat dinner on the field. They were SUPER mellow and let us sit and lay along them while they eat, even letting us pet them. It was so amazing to watch them do their thing, and we even got to see a Joey suckling on its mom - too adorable 😍

That night we all worked together to prep a delicious proper Aussie "barbie" complete with Kangaroo meat, awesome veggies, and TimTams for dessert. We all sat outside for hours talking, laughing and drinking local beers and wines until we finally turned in. 

The next morning we woke up early, ate a quick breakfast, and took a quick 10minute drive up into the mountains to start our final hike through the Grampians to "The Pinnacle", one of the most prominent rock formations in the mountain range. The hike took about 2hrs up and 2hrs down thanks to lots of stops for scenic views and epic photos. We spent quite a bit of time wandering off the path for views of the mountains, climbing through caverns, making the rocks echo. 

We finally reached the pinnacle around 9:30/10am, and the views were certainly worth it. This was the kind of hike/views I'd been hoping for during our adventure, and I felt a bit at home overlooking the massive drop-offs down the mountains and scenic overlooks across the valley. We took our last group photo atop the peak, and headed back down the path without many stops. Helen twisted her ankle early on during our hike, but made it the rest of the way up and down like a trooper. 

Leaps of Faith on The Pinnacle

Leaps of Faith on The Pinnacle

Once we made it down the mountain, we grabbed a quick bite in the town and then switched to another bus destined to Adelaide. It was surprisingly hard to say goodbye to the half of our group headed back to Melbourne. I imagined this part of our trip to be fairly....lonely(?) since it was just Helen and I without anyone else we know, so it was super awesome to meet so many good people and and make such quick friends. Some of them are coming to Adelaide with us, so I hope we'll be able to meet up with them at least one night this weekend. 

Adelaide is the end of the line for me and my time in Australia. It feels like the end has come quickly, but so slowly all at once. This adventure has been nothing short of amazing at every single turn, and I'm quite heartbroken to face the reality that it's quickly coming to a close. I'm sure it will be nice to be back to a city where Helen is a familiar and for us to have more of a set home base than we've had for the past week, but man - I can't comprehend how much of this journey is already behind us. 

I've done nothing but fall in love with this country during my 20 days here - every last part of it. While each city has been drastically different both in scenery, climate, and culture it's been awesome to see so much rather than just one city, and realize how these landscapes feel just as familiar to as they are different to anything I've seen before. As I write this, we're one hour out of Adelaide after six hours in the bus. I'm ready to get "home", eat and sleep heavy after our big hike and long hours sitting. I'm excited to meet this side of Helen's family as well, a neat opportunity since they live so far away compared to many of our other relative's other extended families. I think my last days before I leave next Tuesday will be just as full of new experiences and adventure as they'll be full of downtime and good conversation - a perfect mix to end my holiday. Here's to making the most of my last four days in this hemisphere. 

Click through the slideshow below to see more photos from our three-day adventure: 

A Hot Minute in Melbourne | #MaddietakesAUS Part 3

While you all back home were celebrating Super Bowl 50, Helen and I were saying goodbye to Sydney for the last time. Before our trip I'd been worried we'd budgeted too much time in the biggest city, but by the time we left it felt all too short. I loved every minute we'd spent between the mountains with Reece and the beaches with Kristen, and even though we'd seen at least a little of everything, I still felt like I wanted more; the city had captured my heart. 

Au Revoir, sweet Sydney.

Au Revoir, sweet Sydney.

Saying goodbye to Kristen that Monday morning was heartbreaking - not knowing the next time I'd be able to enjoy her company. We both agreed that six years was far too long, and hopefully these next few years will allow us more adventures across the globe together. 

We returned to Sydney International Airport at 9am Monday morning,  and checked in for our flight to Melbourne easily. Both Helen and I were worried my bag would be a bit heavy, but the JetStar staff checked it without saying anything (success!), so we boarded our flight without much issue other than it being crazy delayed. That flight was easily the most annoying flight I've ever been on: crying babies, a miscommunication about two Chinese customers with nearly identical names who were assigned the same seat, rigid chairs with flimsy backs, and even more delays on the Tarmac. Once we got going, takeoff and touchdown went off easily, and the Broncos were up at halftime when we landed in Victoria, so I quickly got over it. We took the skybus from the airport into the CBD ("central business district" - the preferred local term for a city's downtown) and by the time we arrived at our hostel the Broncos had won, and I was somewhere new to explore - I couldn't stop smiling ear to ear.

I'd never stayed at a hostel before, and our experience at Green Backpackers Melbourne was a great first time. Check-in was easy and our roommates were kind and quiet. Upon arrival we dropped off our luggage, changed clothes, grabbed sushi from a place on the corner that completely satisfied my week-long sushi cravings, and began to explore the city and some of its famous street art laneways. We wandered for a few hours and got lost in an AWESOME Target (now proven to be my favorite place in the world) before heading back to the hostel, dropping off gear, and heading for dinner at Mrs. Parma's - a place Reece had recommended. On our way we stumbled across some amazing Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations including lion dancers being filmed for Master Chef Australia, and watched for a bit before dinner. The food was awesome and Helen tried a super yummy local cider alongside our parmesans for dinner. We tried to watch "The Blues Brothers" on the hostels rooftop, but I kept falling asleep the entire time and couldn't wait to get to bed. 

Day two, we made friends with one of our South Korean roommates named Seong Hun and he joined us for our adventures around the city. We started the day in the Fitzroy neighborhood looking for more street art, and stopped for lunch a quiet local cafe on the Main Street. After lunch, we walked back to the Old Melbourne Gaol (Irish spelling for "jail") and did "The Watchmen Experience" where a guard processes you as though you've been arrested. I was assigned the character Sammi Sun who'd been arrested for "resisting arrest", and was shown the padded cell among other features of the 100+ year old jail by our hilarious and snarky Sergeant. We kept exploring for a bit, learned about some crazy criminals from the 20th century, and then headed back to the hostel for some down time before our evening adventures. 

dinner on the Riverwalk in Melbourne

dinner on the Riverwalk in Melbourne

We started our evening wandering the beautiful city gardens alongside the river for awhile, and then headed to a bar recommended by Kristen and her friend Katheriene Nelson called The Ponyfish, which was built under one of the river's bridges and is actually set down right atop the water. We got some nice drinks as the sun set, and then headed a block over to The Edge - the Melbourne city skydeck. I spent an hour or so drooling over the beautiful cityscapes (my favorites) and took insane amounts of photos during the golden hour and sunset while Helen patiently waited for me to get my fill.

Once we were done there, we stopped at a restaurant on the river and ate a variety of appetizers for dinner before heading home and packing for our bus trip from Melbourne down along The Great Ocean road through the Grampian Mountain Range, with a final destination of Adelaide. While it felt super speedy, I think 2 days in Melbourne was the perfect amount of time for the city. We saw the basics, and were able fill our days, but not so much that we couldn't enjoy the moment. The city was much more "metropolis" feeling than Sydney in my opinion, but it's architecture and hidden alleyways filled with restaurants looked more like Europe than Australia. A neat change of pace, I'm happy to have seen another one of Oz's major cities, feeling the differences from state to state across the country. 

Check out a few more photos from our time in Melbourne below: 

Brisbane and Back | #MaddietakesAUS Part 2

This weekend was a whole lot of the unnexpected mixed with a whole lot of fun. On Thursday Helen and I headed into the city for our last proper day exploring Sydney, and ventured through the most beautiful bookstore ever (Kinokuniya), and then wandered down to the Sydney Aquarium and spent the afternoon staring at sharks, Dugongs (a manatee type thing), and both Dory and Nemo fish in the same tank! It was super neat to see an aquarium that was built right into the natural habitat of the harbor.

Afterwards, Helen and I wandered through Koreatown, picked up some quick spring roll snacks, and got on a train to meet up with Reece out in a suburb called Penrith. We spent the night at his parents magical home in Korrajong, and hit the road bright and early for Brisbane. It’s about a 600mile trip up the Gold Coast to Brisbane from where we were staying, so why on earth would we waste a weekend doing this? Two things: RED PANDAS and The City Shakeup.

In the Northern Hemisphere, there aren’t many zoos that do any kind of “encounters” where you’re allowed to interact with the animals, but they are plentiful in the great "Land Down Under". A few of those encounters include the chance to meet the Red Panda, my absolute *favorite* animal in the world. The Australia Zoo was founded by Steve Irwin and is known for it’s “up close” animal interactions with a variety of critters. When I was doing research before the trip, the Australia Zoo was the only place to pop up that offered a Panda visit. It just so happens that my friends The City Shakeup - a wonderful band I got the chance to get to know during Warped Tour 2014 - are also from Brisbane, so this was a wonderful chance to see old friends, and make some new adorable ones as well.

this is the photo from Warped 2014 that most accurately describes my love of The City Shakeup

The drive was full of torrential rain, and felt a bit like the world was working against us, but after a long and tenuous 12 hours, the rain cleared up and we arrived in Brisbane in time to meet up with Shakeup boys for a delicious dinner. The next morning we woke up at the crack of dawn and got on the road for one last 60minute drive out of town to the zoo.

We got to the zoo right at 8:05am, and it was quiet and empty for the most part. At 8:14am someone from the gift shop escorted us in to fill out paperwork, and I started finally realizing that this might actually happen. I’d been worried we’d be rained out, but the clouds had broken and the zoo hadn’t turned us away - it was time for destiny. Reece is also a Red Panda lover, so the excitement levels were through the roof! We boarded a little golf cart and were taken into the back alley of the zoo, and arrived at a little gate made of fake rock. The rain let up once again and they escorted us into the enclosure, gave us a towel to cover our legs to protect us from Panda paws, and waited anxiously as the keeper began to call for Psang the Panda.

After 20 minutes of anxiously watching his tail twitch from high above us in the tree, it became pretty clear that Red Pandas are my spirit animal in more ways then one: they are friendly, they love eating, but most of all, they are entirely lazy - so much so that Psang the Panda could not be bothered to leave his snuggly leaf nest to come down and meet us.

As much as I wanted to meet him, at the end of the day, Psang was still a wild animal, and he could not be controlled, so away we went without a so much as a Panda pat or nibble. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, so it may be that Psang is not the panda i’m meant to meet, or better yet, maybe this just means that I’m meant to come back to Australia someday and meet another.

We left the zoo slightly disheartened, but had an amazing brunch at a Neverland-themed cafe which quickly changed the mood of the morning, and then hit the road for an outrageous dance-party all the way back to Sydney. Our last weekend in NSW may not have gone as expected, but it was still perfect in every way. Nothing beats a good road trip with good people, and good memories made.

Today we came back to Cronulla to spend one last day eating, relaxing, laughing and watching Disney movies with the amazing Ms. Kristen. Tomorrow morning (Monday) we leave Sydney and head to Melbourne for the second part of our journey, this time through Southern Australia via the Great Ocean Road. The trouble with making friends around the globe is how little time you get to spend with them. As excited as I am to continue exploring, it's honestly pretty heartbreaking to be leaving Sydney. I don't know the next time I'll see these amazing humans so I've tried to cherish as much of this time as I could. As they say, all good things must come to an end so that more good can come, but this has been to good to be true, and will definitely be hard to top. 

Check out more photos from this part of the journey below: