International Biscuit Festival, met fierce competition this year in Ms. Hardin's bacon lettuce and fried green tomato biscuit, and ultimately capitulated to Ms. Randall's sweet potato casserole biscuit. Why is Knoxville the biscuit capital of the world? Doesn't matter. Just make sure you wake up early and get there before all the biscuits are gone.
tour blog continued...
Most of the day was spent in preparation for the rapture, or rather for the horror show that life on Earth was sure to become for those of us left behind. Even so, the flash mob rioting around the gas station on the edge of town set our nerves on edge. People screamed, groaned, laughed, and wept crumpled on the sidewalk in glittering sequined dresses. They crowded the register demanding cigarettes and lottery tickets.
We had just rained down brimstone on the 321 Local, an unassuming gem of a venue with a headbanging sound system and a tightly knit family of employees, friends, and bandmates who come out to every show, every night, unless, of course, it's the rapture. It was our idea to stop by the gas station on the edge of town for late night snacks, but they jumped in with both feet, ducking the hopeless and homeless and sheriff's deputies with practiced ease.
Then they took us back to their campfire, burning outside an old plantation house further out of town. It was like Forrest Gump's house in Mad Max's world. The whole crew of bartenders, band members, and punk rock fashionistas were gathered, wisecracking, trading war stories, checking the perimeter for zombies. Then Ryan lit his arm on fire with the gasoline.
For the final launch of space shuttle Endeavor, the sleepy bayside town of Titusville was overrun by a swarm of amateur photographers, science club adherents, rocketry enthusiasts, and people driven by a sense that it must be important, this penultimate space launch, this next to last mission of exploration before the military takes over once and for all. Endeavor did indeed perform four DOD experiments (simplex, rambo-2, maui, andseiti) during her last flight, but they all were overshadowed by the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer 2. AMS2 can detect dark matter, which theoretically holds the universe together, anti-matter, a necessary byproduct of the theoretical Big Bang, and strangelets, wherein strange quarks in place of the usual up and down quarks result in superheavy isotopes of known elements.
We drove across Florida in the dead of night, stopping in Orlando for overpriced gasoline at 4:30 AM. As the ghostly grey of dawn accrued on the trees and tangle of the swamps that surround Cape Canaveral and Titusville, we became ensared in heavy traffic on the narrow secondary roads leading to the world's most famous spaceport. The nerds had beaten us. A local in a very unofficial looking hat offered to let us park in the CVS parking lot for $20. We decided to park at a distance and hike to the water.
There is no sound at first, just a flash and a plume of white exhaust expanding outward in all directions. Then the massive orbiter, a white dot on the orange dot of the external fuel tank, is lifted upon a pillar of fire atop a pillar of cloud rising thick and fast toward the lumpy egg crate mattress of cloud cover. Then the noise washes over you, building as waves of energy from different altitudes reach your ears simultaneously,and just when you think your eardrums will burst, it's over. The flight commander, Captain Mark Kelly, says "Call acknowledged" to mission control on the local AM station, and you know they made it.
The road does not, in fact, go on forever. It dead ends in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, 90 miles from Cuba, on an island known to the tourists as Key West. This remote fishing town slash naval base might, as the legends say, rest on a vortex of mysterious energy that brings out the glorious chaos in everyday life, like Sedona or Mesa Verde, or it might just be a seafaring outpost on the edge of the world where crazy things happen sometimes.
To get there you cross the Overseas Highway, a hundred mile bridge connecting the mainland to Key Largo to an arc of barrier islands including Bahia Honda, a state park with white sand beaches and snorkling with pufferfish, stingrays, elkhorn and star coral, to Big Pine Key, with the blue hole and it's freshwater lens, to the iguanas at least seven feet in length on Sugarloaf Key.
You finally arrive and Duval street is a wild mockery of Bourbon street, no holds barred burlesque shows, drag shows, strip shows, and cover bands around every corner, $10 all you can drink liquor in every bar. Some fat local fisherman in a costume walks to the center of the street and blows a conch shell, calling the drunken masses to him like the pied piper. We knew it was not going to end well. We survived.
The campus of Florida Southern College is a temple of education designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Envisioned as a series of esplanades slicing through orange groves and joining together at inspiring summits of logical housing, inviting learning forums, and uplifting religious fellowship (FSC is Methodist to this day,) it is quite possibly the best untapped skateboarding video terrain in the world. On the day we rode bikes through it, the largest water dome in the world was turned off to save water.
Once again we melted faces at Evolution Records, a last remaining stronghold of retail vinyl where Robert puts on shows and sells concessions just to survive. Goodnight Neverland wore these spooky feather and bone totems in their hair and sang about loneliness in harmony, and Ratham Stone rocked out in a radio friendly way.
Then late night we climbed up through the trapdoor onto the unfinished balcony stage above the concession stand and sculpted some blues and soul jams with a piano, drums and tremelo electric guitar, and Robert told us the story of the flood after the great No Name Storm, when he went door to door in a rowboat evacuating the folks who lived at lower elevation.
Knoxivi, the internet broadcasting company where Jess works, hosts local and touring rock bands in their studio at eleven o'clock every morning, streams them live to the web, and hosts previous episodes for your viewing pleasure at a later date. The above statement is so amazing that I recommend you consider the urgent need for this sort of grassroots entertainment option in your own community, or if you already have it, I recommend you click the email link at left and tell us about it in detail. Please?
So we got to be on internet TV, and then we got to play at Preservation Pub late enough that the epic Black Lillies show going on at the Bijou Theatre was already done. Our hometown people came straight from that show to the pub, and brought the spillover crowd with them, because Knoxville either can't stop or won't stop the biscuit fueled rock.
In the hop garden behind the warehouse at the Terrapin Brewery, a disused loading dock has been converted into a stage to host live music during brewery tours and tastings. Beer snobs, epicureans, and regular townsfolk que up for the latest concoction, one a Tupelo Honey flavored 11% ABV wheat beer called Gamma Ray, and experience the legendary wealth of the Athens music scene while their dogs retrieve frisbees across the four acre lawn. Our plan was to draw people who had been drinking all afternoon at the tasting to the 10PM show at the downtown venue.
Max Eve opened for us at the Rye Bar, which is down some treacherously steep stairs from Clayton Street. He's a one man Trans Siberian Orchestra, conducting an ephemeral continuum of looping guitar tracks, percussive slapping, power chords, picking patterns, self-harmonizing metallic walk ups, and glassy wobbling slide downs all glimmering on the edge of existence. Of course, it's impossible to stay perfectly in time, even when playing to fresh samples of his own design, hence the need to cycle old loops out and introduce new ones.
We ate exquisite Georgia style pig with Mild Elrod's sauce at Jot Em Down BBQ, and we forgave their simplified view of North Carolina style, because everyone thinks their own personal recipe is the best, after all. And we found out that you can't really get My Chemical Romance unless you print out the lyrics and read along while listening to the album. I still haven't tried it.
The Baltimore Murder Map shows where not to go in the city if you wish to avoid being murdered. It's roughly half full at this point, with January through May murders lighting up east and west Baltimore, leaving a wedge of southern Baltimore extending toward the District of Columbia and a block to the north. These polar havens are connected by a single ribbon of asphault called the Jones Falls Expressway.
Dr. Slothclaw from Red Lion, Pennsylvania followed us with their brand of explosive funk storytelling, which included a haunting cover of The Muffin Man by Frank Zappa. Fish Head Cantina is a dream venue. It looks like it was designed by a touring musician. Unfortunately, it's a peninsula jutting out into the Baltimore murder map, which means you must be this brave to enter.
We stayed up all night with Mike Merod, who just graduated from law school. He's still got the screws in his foot from the lakehouse party. He told us passing the bar is a lot harder than building a bar in your garage, and a lot less fun. Confuscius say, "Wisdom that comes with age is the bitterest."
New York is being overrun by time travelers. I'm pretty sure the band that played after us was an actual New Wave band on tour from the 1980s. There is a ban on smoking in public parks, but the time travelers are the only people who can afford cigarettes anyway.
We took the Williamsburg Bridge over to Brooklyn with Charlie, a New Zealand wine maker from the future, to Erin's party in a new building that's in default and under construction. We met the new neighbor who moved out the next day.
Seth from the 1920s showed up on his bicycle with Absinthe and licorice gum. The soundtrack was Birdie Nam Nam, a quartet of French DJs who come from a time when the turntable is a recognized musical instrument. For breakfast they eat pancakes with peanut butter. When is that from?
The legendary J.C. Dobbs has autographed photos on the walls of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, The Dandy Warhols and other bands that played there. Golden Phi caused a freak cloudburst with their blues metal that delayed the Phillies game for two hours.
Bong Hits For Jesus was in the building, and we got to meet The Great SOCIO, who took us back to their band house on hallowed ground and taught us to play Shuttle Cup. Think beer pong with badminton shuttlecocks.
We asked where to get a good Philly cheesesteak. Alberto said Pat's. Nick said Gino's. Then they were grappling on the floor, smashing into walls, breaking things. We got sandwiches at Frak's, and ate them at The Grape Room and listened to the woes of a booking manager, which you can read at www.coverbandssuck.com.
Joe has a Monster Vault in the apartment building where he lives with two of his frat brothers. He gave us a hundred condoms to distribute with Monster logos on the wrappers. In honor of Nick's birthday, we took the foosball table outside, and Dave created a ghastly new form of antifreeze called the Godzilla, made from Sake and Monster.
We played Mitchell's, the bar on the other side of Pumper's, where Whitewater has been drinking long enough to have established a wall of suckers where confiscated fake IDs hang like FBI wanted posters in the post office. Erin spilled a drink on Trevor's distortion pedal. It was an accident, but she was in accident prone territory, probably on Four Loco or some other unholy caffeinated alcohol, so we sent her to the other bar where she found the stripper pole.
The next morning we got in the studio at University of Wisconsin Whitewater, where Joe and his roommate Josue are studying sound production and recording. All our gear was at the bar, so we set up any mics we could find, and played turn-the-heat-up jazz rock while the snow buried the high voltage broadcast equipment outside.
Fort Wayne Indiana
We pulled into town just ahead of the storm. Mookie's bar and grill is a huge metal barn with motorcycle parking out front. The old hippies in Fort Wayne like to stand outside in the fast falling snow and smoke and talk about following the Grateful Dead around the country in the days when gas cost twenty five cents, you could fix the Volkswagon yourself, and no sheriff's deputy anywhere recognized the smell of ganja.
We split sets with Elephants In Mud, the dub heavy trio of locals that switch instruments and styles at whim. They played a Tribe Called Quest medley that brought the house down during the third set. Lynn's drums are specifically suited to hip hop. They reminded me of Ross Rosar's set with the hubcap and the five gallon bucket.
John the bass player, keyboardist, and pinch guitarist took us to Chick Fil A because of the reference to that restaurant in our new song "Big Mike." He told us about his other gig playing jazz at upscale martini bars on Fridays and Saturdays, all covers, nobody listening. It's still better than having a day job.
Wilbert's Music is right across the street from the stadium downtown. You would think there would be some foot traffic. No. There were like ten people in the bar all night. We took requests for Tom Petty, Matisyahu, whatever they wanted, but it didn't help. Dejected fans dragged their feet on the way to the parking deck as they left the stadium early.
Game attendance has been way down since King James left. The most recent estimate is $30 million annually in lost revenue. Some of the stragglers wanted to hear Justin Bieber. That was too far. We played Red House instead, and Calvin the security guard came in from the parking lot to tell us that Cleveland would be thanking us if they had heard it. He's a blues man, too.
The next day we visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They let rock bands visit free of charge in exchange for a CD to file in their archives and proof of a recent gig in Cleveland. The pick of destiny is located atop John Paul Jones' 1975 Alembic Series II eight string bass. Also, some of Jerry Garcia's guitars have specially designed toggle switches that control the weather. There is no photography in the museum, or I would show you.
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