>Coast To Coast #7: Down South (Parts 1 & 2)

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If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably learned a few things about me.  One of them is that I love Fruit Roll-Ups.  Another is that I don’t sleep very often.  And if you’ve read any of my tour blogs, you know I’ve patronized half the Starbucks in America.  But WHY, you ask?  Why not get a slice of each city’s flavor by going to its local coffeeshops?  Why throw money at a giant corporate monolith when there are charming Mom-and-Pop stores all across America, yearning for–and deserving of–my business?  Why not support the little guy, David and Goliath and underdogs and free markets and America and slingshots and all that jazz???

Because Starbucks are everywhere, they’re cheap, they have free wi-fi, and they’re consistent.  If I’m at home, I’m going to the local place.  If I’m on the road, all I want is a Starbucks.  I know what I’m getting.  ESPECIALLY if I’ve been to that Starbucks before.

Back in July, I found a Bux in downtown Knoxville near the Preservation Pub and camped out before showtime.  It’s part of the Hilton here, adjacent to some hotel bar called the “Orange Martini.”  I had a coffee and typed up this blog entry, which was a Day In the Life-style post about one day of travel from NYC to Philly to DC.  And now, nine months later, here I am again.  Same town, same Starbucks, same table, same drink order, same amount of time before the show, and (sure, why not?) same post!

A Day In the Life, April 21, 2011:

12:11AM
You’re not going to believe this, but I’m awake.  I can’t sleep.  How far is it to Knoxville again?  When should I leave in the morning?  Oh yeah, they’re on Eastern time–I’ll lose an hour.  Do the math, Chris.  Carry the nine.  You got this.  I should leave somewhere between 8AM and 2PM to arrive in Knoxville for the show.  That gives me plenty of time to sleep.

I should read something.  Reading sometimes makes me sleepy.  What is available to read?  Shopgirl, by Steve Martin.  I like Steve Martin, and I like shopgirls.  Let’s do this.

2:34AM
Dammit Steve, your novella reeled me in.  Curse you and your heartening, understated romance! I’m even more awake now, and I’m almost done with the book.  Tomorrow’s going to be a long day.

Check that: today’s going to be a long day.

6:29AM
Who is calling me???  What disaster, natural or otherwise, could justify a call at six-twenty-oh-nevermind.  It’s my alarm.  But why in God’s name did I set my alarm for 6:29AM?

Now I’ve got the unenviable task (perhaps you’ve been here) of remembering–still half-asleep–what early morning event I’m supposed to attend.  I’m jogging my sluggish memory, and I’m getting nothing.  There are two options in play:
1) Something of tantamount importance (breakfast with the governor? running a half marathon for charity?) is happening early this morning.
2) I’m an idiot who set his alarm for 6:29AM for no reason.

You already know.

9:03AM
That’s a little more like it.  Let’s get moving, onwards and upwards and towards Knoxville!

Thing #1 on show days, whenever possible, is warming up the ole vocals.  I say “whenever possible,” because sometimes I have company/am a guest and don’t want to disturb folks with crazy noises.  Today I have time for a quick warm-up. A very quick warm-up.  Then I need to hit the road.

10:57AM
That warm-up went a little long.  I started playing songs and got carried away.  The bad news is that I’ve probably exhausted my vocal chords.  The good news is that 1) it was fun, and 2) I’ve still got plenty of time to get to Knoxville.  It’s a short drive.

1:35PM
Somewhere on I-40E between Nashville and Knoxville.  In the three weeks since I left Tennessee, spring totally sprung.  It’s not just green, it’s downright tropical around here.  Trees are overgrowing, grass and shrubs are trying to take over the highway.  It’s like one of those History Channel shows depicting what the world would look like post-humans, year by year.  Nature is taking over!  Someone get a weed eater!

2:00PM
I try to minimize caffeine intake on show days, because caffeine’s rough on the throat.  This means I’m occasionally driving 8-12 hours to a show, starting at dawn, without coffee.  Hence, my love of 5 Hour Energy shots.  Because today’s drive is so short, and I started so late, I thought to myself, “I don’t need caffeine!  Vocal chords: you’re welcome!”  And what I’m trying to say is this: I was wrong, I need caffeine, and my vocal chords will not thank me when I drive headlong into the Rainforest That Eastern Tennessee Has Become This Month. 

3:55PM
Boom!  Eastern time.  I love Eastern time, except for its TV schedule, the way it affects my sunrise/sunset expectations, and how it often cuts my travel days short.  Otherwise, it’s the best.  Glad to be back!

Now seems like a good time to update some tour stats:
5,714 mile
16 states
12 5 Hour Energy shot
4 time zones
4 shows left, 3 weeks down, 2 more to go
1 minor car accident
1 show canceled
0 speeding tickets

I’ll post more stats soon.  I’ve kept insanely detailed records of things like how many Fruit Roll-Ups I’ve eaten and what my favorite Starbucks was.  These are the things you (maybe?) need to know.

5:07PM
Brings us back (roughly) to the present.  I’m back at my hotel lobby Starbucks in bustling downtown Knoxville, chatting with an impossibly friendly barista about the weather.  This month, I’ve seen some new places, and I’ve certainly driven through a lot of the country.  I’ve learned a lot.  And if I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned these two things:

1) America is beautiful, and it’s filled with good folks.  Don’t let the ugly and the mean tell you otherwise.
2) The South is awesome.  It’s good to be back.

6:58PM
I’ve moved into the “Orange Martini,” because it has places to plug the laptop in.  Rock and roll!

Lots of show days, especially ones where my drive’s reasonable, are very hurry-up-and-wait.  I rushed out this morning to beat some traffic and bad weather, only to get here and have hours to kill before a late showtime.  My favorite days, weirdly enough, are those where the drive is long and showtime is early.  Just pull up to the venue and plug in (e.g. Portland a few weeks ago).  As you’ve probably gleaned, I’m not big on “waiting around.”

So, I’m here, biding some time before it’s time to load-in.  Then, it’s time to sound-check.  Then, it’s time to open the doors.  Then, it’s time for the show to start.  Then, it’s time to actually start the show.  And now it’s becoming clear this post will have to be a two-parter, and all of those times will have to come in Part 2.  The day’s only half done, and I’ve got miles to go (and shows to play) before I sleep.

In fact, 5,714 miles so far.  Still no sleep.  I’ll see y’all soon.

(Editor’s Note: There was a break in the action while Chris did some more things.  Now that he’s done more things, here’s Part 2!)

7:31PM
I always get a kick out of someone catching me changing clothes in my car.  It’s the same weird gene that makes me shave one day later than I should; I like laughing with people laughing at me. 

Anyway, this isn’t a non sequitur: a crowd of sorority girls just caught me changing clothes in my car.  They might think I’m homeless, but not carless, and not without several neckties. 

8:28PM
Tonight might be the night I meet everyone in Knoxville.  I’ve been at Barley’s Taproom for thirty minutes and I think I’ve met the entire staff and half the patrons.  I’m not gunning for a record or anything.  Barley’s is just full of friendly folks.  And one insane bachelorette party.

The bachelorette party is a table-full of girls (maybe 8 of them), sitting down, occasionally screaming in unison.  Which is good–you obviously want gals at a bachelorette party to have fun.  I’m trying to figure out, though, what prompts their screaming.  If zany hijinx are happening at this table, I can’t tell.  I don’t even see rounds of drinks coming to them.  They’re simply sitting and talking and occasionally screaming, “WOOOOOOOO!”  Maybe there’s a high-stakes poker game I can’t see. 

I really hope they’re still here when I play.

10:02PM
They’re still here!  Sadly, I think they’ve mellowed a bit.  I was really hoping to have fun with them.  Their mood has shifted from “devil-may-care-exuberance” to “boozy introspection.”  Of course, they’re still screaming “WOOOO!” from time to time.  But it’s different.  It’s different.

10:58PM
Just finished the set!  That was fun.  Usually, I don’t try out brand new songs (especially if they’re not 100% finished) unless I feel really, really comfortable.  I did, and I did.  Hope to bring y’all a video or two of some new tunes I’m excited about.  Thanks to the folks at Barley’s for being so fun and game for anything.  As always, it was really fun singing for y’all.

11:16PM
Oh No Oh My!  I’ve been looking forward to hearing these guys all tour long.  I know this band because I have many friends in common with singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist for Oh No Oh My, Tim Regan.  He’s been in a lot of bands I like, in both Memphis and Austin, including Snowglobe, Antenna Shoes, The Pirates, and Oh No Oh My.  He’s like a Dave Grohl for indie rock, right down to the subtly hilarious between-song banter.

And they’re awesome live!  This is going to be a good night.

Midnightish
Talking to some really nice UT students who came out to the show.  Always impressed by the college kids I meet on the road–they’re way more active/engaged/into new things than I was.  I basically majored in “Beatles-And-Football.”  And minored in ping pong.

Anyway, they were kind enough to garnish my beer.

12:37AM
Here’s a weird story:

As you may know, I have a friend named Matt Woods.  Matt has worked as a singer/songwriter in Nashville since I met him in 2004.  We’ve played many shows together, we’ve lived together, we’ve shared an enthusiasm for Donnie Jeffcoat, etc.  He’s great (for an Auburn fan) and I’m proud to call him a friend.  Now…

Last summer, I was touring through Knoxville and saw a sticker in the bathroom.  It caught my eye, because it said “Matt Woods.”  But when I looked closer, I noticed the website was for www.myspace.com/therealmattwoods.  In other words, there is another Matt Woods, also a musician, based out of Knoxville, who may or may not be more real than the Nashville Matt Woods (NMW).  So, I texted NMW the picture and said something like, “Looks like you’ve got competition,” and he texted back something like, “Shut up, Jeffcoat.”  End of story.

The infamous sticker.

So, now I’m talking to the manager at Barley’s and she tells me her boyfriend’s a musician.  I say, “oh, what’s his name,” and she says, “Matt Woods.”  And I reflexively yell, “You mean THE REAL MATT WOODS?!?” The same.

She hands me TRMW’s new record, and we have a good laugh about the Matt Woodsesesses in our lives.

Now, as someone who has lived with Nashville Matt Woods, and someone who has spent ten minutes with the highly diplomatic girlfriend of Knoxville Matt Woods, I think I’m uniquely equipped to finally, at long last, bring both sides together and TEAR DOWN THIS FIREWALL!  Think about it, fellas. 

1:12AM
Wide awake and a half tank to burn–now is obviously the time to drive to Nashville.  It’s a weird, semi-troubling fact that I’m more awake to drive now than I would be at 9AM.  I’m a night-owl anyway, but (as I’ve written before) it takes several hours to relax after a show.  Might as well spend them driving to the next destination.

1:59AM
Stopped for provisions (read: caffeine, fruit snacks).  Something really weird is afoot at the Kingston Exxon at 2AM.  I can’t explain it, but it might involve meth.  Let’s ride, Ruby!

1:12AM
What?  Haven’t we been here before?  BOOM–back in central time.  How should I use this extra hour, courtesy of time zones, their creators, and (sure, why not) God?  I’ll listen to my favorite mix I’ve made for the trip and reminisce about the very recent past: 

The 88, “At Least It Was Here
Ahhh, Albuquerque!

Sleigh Bells, “Rill Rill
California, the times we had!

Fleet Foxes, “Helplessness Blues
Reminds me of that time with those people!  And that place!

That was fun.  In all seriousness, I’ve jumped into a lot of new music and podcasts on this trip.  Many of them have single-handedly kept me awake and entertained through the hours and hours on the road.  I’ll do a big round-up of all my favorites in a future post. 

2:07AM
It’ll be nice to be in Nashville tonight/this morning.  I’m actually getting a little tired.  I can’t remember the last time I was here.  Christmas?  Some random football weekend last fall?  I do know this: it seems like every time I re-visit Nashville, it rains.  It’s like I moved and y’all got a monsoon season.  Or, a permanent dark cloud hovers over my car when I enter Davidson County.  One or the other.

I will say this: it’s great to get back on a familiar road.  As much as I love exploring, it’s been a long month of new places and new roads–it feels good to throw away GoogleMaps for a night.  It’s nice to, at least for a few hours, know exactly where you’re going.  I could drive the last ten miles of this trip in my sleep.

Not that I will, mind you.  I’ve still got three hours left on that 5 Hour Energy and enough caffeine in me to launch a spaceship (caffeine does that, right?).  I’m tired, but not sleepy.

And there’s that groping Nashville skyline.  There’s the Batbuilding.  There’s my turn, winding north now around the loop.  And there’s my exit, coasting right into the east side, in the shadow of the football stadium.  Just a few minutes now.  There’s the 5 Points, and 3 Crow.  And–should’ve seen it coming–the rain on my windshield.

Feels like I never left.

Give you all I have (and a little more),
CM

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>Coast To Coast #7: Down South (Parts 1 & 2)

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