Thursday, December 19, 2019

Thumpasaurus on Tour Fall 2019

Thumpasaurus on Tour Fall 2019

The Space Barn Has Landed

Logan, Lucas, Henry W, Nate, Paul, Henry S
(not shown, Ben: projectionist)

I’m having a new experience.  Thumpasaurus, a funk punk band from Los Angeles that counts my son as a member, has allowed me to accompany them, selling merchandise (t-shirts and albums) on the Pacific Northwest leg of their tour from Missoula, Montana to San Diego, California (shows in Missoula, Seattle, Portland, Chico, Berkeley, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Diego).  From there they will head east through the Southwest to Texas.  I’ve always enjoyed tour memoirs and I saw this as an opportunity to observe one firsthand.  Your typical memoir of yesteryear was written by a superstar headliner for drama.  This one will cover the true “Opening Band Experience,” one I can’t say I’ve seen in print before.  The headlining band on this tour is Too Many Zooz, a trio famous for busking in the NYC subways, their performance videos and their masterful use of classical instruments in a modern popular music context.  The latter is one thing the two bands have in common and partly why they were considered a good combination for a tour.

To say they love what they do is an understatement.  They would have to; a tour is serious work for any band, mental and physical.  As a band gains notoriety they receive more services and support, but they are also under more pressure to continually deliver.  As an opening band, there is much more paying of dues, much legwork to get them to the main event, night after night.  In this case, that means renting a large van and driving the band, gear and merchandise cross country, organizing room and board, and managing a strict schedule on a very tight budget.  More often than not, they are couch-surfing, staying with family and friends to save money.  It is a young person’s game.

The schedule is punishing.  We had two days to get to Missoula.  The first day saw us driving 13 hours from the San Francisco Bay Area to Hermiston, Oregon on our way to Missoula, Montana (including a truly terrifying, freak snowstorm in a rural, unlit section of the two-lane road that snakes through the River Gorge and added more than two and a half hours to our ETA at the end of the drive).  The drive through Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Montana was beautiful and such a contrast to our western home due to the aforementioned, untimely snow storm in late September.  The second day was a six-hour drive to Missoula and included the first performance of the tour on a day that wouldn’t end before midnight.  The next morning’s departure time is 6:00 am.  It goes on and on like this for 20 shows, this tour alone.  On this night in Missoula, the entire band and I share an airbnb guesthouse close to town, which is lovely; we were able to check in before sound check which is optimal.  (On our return after the show, we see a doe and her fawn walking the snowy neighborhood streets.)

We are at the Top Hat in Missoula and it’s sound check time.  That usually happens a couple hours before showtime.  Though they have done headlining tours, on this tour Thumpasaurus is the opening band.  In this case, Zooz will have the earlier sound check, remove their gear from the stage and take their dinner break.  The opening band soundchecks afterwards and leaves their gear onstage, “striking” it directly after their performance so the headlining band’s gear can be installed.  It’s an opportunity for me to get the lay of the land.  Every venue is different, every stage, merchandise area, house manager, sound man, traffic pattern and parking spot.  It’s time to set up merchandise, eat and relax just a bit before the performance.  There will be no peace after Doors (meaning: the venue is now open).

The Top Hat is billed as a “polished live music venue with a vintage vibe featuring upmarket pub fare and a large dance floor.”  I’ll agree with that and add this is as nice a venue as I’ve ever seen with the nicest people you’ll ever meet.  This room boasts a large dance floor, surrounded by wooden booths and tables, overlooked by an impressive piece of carpentry, a huge, vintage (ca. 1900), hand-carved bar brought from Wisconsin at great expense.  They couldn’t have been more accommodating and were very appreciative that the bands took the long trip.  This is a different genre for this venue, used to seeing local country and bluegrass acts, and they definitely showed the love.  Most nights end with a long line of people waiting to buy merchandise, meet and take pictures with the band and tonight is no exception.

Day three saw us driving out of Missoula at 6:00 am, making the seven-hour drive through Spokane on our way to Seattle, Washington and the 1000-seat Neptune Theater.  This is a totally different venue from the Top Hat.  This tour is comprised of mostly all-ages, general admission shows at venues that can support the extra oversight required (underage crowds must be sequestered).  At the Neptune Theater, the balcony upstairs is a great place for parents and kids, while a standing-room-only dance floor downstairs is great for those who want to dance or get closer to the stage.  There is a devoted merchandise area and very kind and helpful staff.  The merchandise booth is busy after their last song.  Most of these are new fans, which we love, but we are starting to see repeat customers out of town, and that is very exciting.  People are starting to travel to see these bands in different cities as part of a vacation and I think it’s amazing.  We saw a honeymooning couple from Europe at two shows.  This was the biggest show the band had ever played and we stayed until well past midnight.  Tonight in Seattle, we are staying in an interesting place: a 1909 guesthouse in a “nature preserve” with huge picture windows and the original crumbling staircase crawling through a mess of foliage.

Day four, a well-deserved day off.  We walked in the gorgeous Ravenna Park, then made the easy three-hour drive to Portland in the afternoon.  After checking into our gorgeous airbnb (a not-so-tiny- house with spectacular carpentry and design), we walked the neighborhood of restored 1900s homes, ate amazing food and rested.  Day five’s show is at McMeniman’s Crystal Ballroom, a gorgeous performance space in a building dating to 1914, a place of many different lives, filled with art and music history.  Jimi Hendrix, a hired gun at the time, was kicked off Little Richard’s band in this room.  This is just one of the many crazy, but true stories I heard during my private building tour with a very friendly staff member.  The history here is as deep and wide as the collection of show posters will attest.  This show is especially fun; there’s a special energy whenever the boys play on a famous stage.  And this room’s dance floor is spring-loaded, making everyone just a little less encumbered by gravity, living for “Dance Like it’s Your Life.”  Add to that, the band projectionist is using the house projection system instead of setting up the portable screen, making the signature video slideshow look more amazing than usual.  We all leave there happy.  
Day six, a day off for the tour, but not for Thump.  We return to the house at 1:00 am and are out at 7:30 for our eight-hour drive to Chico (allowing for a completely-worth-it, hour-long lunch with my BFF Julie in Ashland, OR).  Thumpasaurus is taking advantage of driving past this town to do a headlining show at the unique venue, Lost on Main.  This place is a huge, multi-room pool hall, bar and event space, with stage and dance floor, filled with funky decorations, appealing equally to the local college-aged crowd and seniors alike.  Their local band, Smokey the Groove was lots of fun.  And, uniquely, this venue has an associated house in town, set up for bands to stay the night, which is much appreciated.

Day seven saw us leaving Chico at 9:00 am for Berkeley, California, an easy three-hour drive.  The Cornerstone Craft Beer and Live Music venue is on Shattuck in the heart of downtown Berkeley.  It  has a modern brew-pub atmosphere with sleek, minimalist furniture and a patio.  Through double doors in the back, you find the live music venue, a large dance floor with an upstairs, wraparound  balcony with seating.  This is one of my favorite shows.  The opening band’s green room is an extension of the upstairs balcony overlooking the stage: best seats in the house.  Plus, my nephew Gavin is here and I love seeing him and his friends from UC Berkeley.  Back in our hometown, we get to sleep in our own beds for a couple nights.

Day eight had us driving two hours to Santa Cruz and the Catalyst Club.  The Catalyst is a large venue with two stages, four bars and a restaurant.  It is an older establishment so the stage and lights are pretty simple, no green rooms, but it highlights the group’s spare appearance tonight (a quartet with no projections, as our projectionist had an emergency).  In this venue, the crowd is leaning heavily toward college-age.  It reminds me of their origin, when an earlier version of Thumpasaurus was called Adventure Band and the boys were still in school.

Day nine, a day off for the tour, but not for Logan, who attends rehearsal in Orinda on Saturday before the Santa Cruz Thump show for a performance with the Kyle Athayde Dance Party on Sunday night in Alamo, CA.  Growing no moss...

Day 10, an actual day off to do laundry and repack for the next leg of the journey.

Day 11, driving out of NorCal again, this time on our way to Santa Barbara and the SOhO Restaurant and Music Venue.  This venue is unexpectedly located on State Street in an upstairs area of a courtyard full of daytime businesses.  The bar and food are great and though this place is smaller, the show is crowded and fun.  Today is a big day overall as we previously decided to drive to Los Angeles after the Santa Barbara show arriving about 2:00 am.

Day 12, we get to sleep in.  We make the easy drive to the Teragram Ballroom for this SOLD OUT show in their hometown of Los Angeles.  This place is a black box built for sound, and boasts Robin Danar, of CBGB fame as sound man.  This is perhaps the most exciting show, being so high quality and so well-attended.  In addition, I get to share the “merch booth” with Gemma, another band mom, and she is all kinds of fun.  It is a truly joyous atmosphere in the lobby after their set and we love seeing old friends and making new ones.

The Merch Table at the Teragram Ballroom, Los Angeles 10.9.19
 (Gemma & Shamera) 

Day 13, we are out by noon and on the road to San Diego and the Belly Up Tavern.  It’s a three-hour drive with no traffic at this time.  Having attended UCSD, northern San Diego is my old college stomping grounds and I’m happy we arrive early to check out some old favorites spots (Juanita's Taco Shop and Del Mar Shores).  My husband also lived here for a time, though we didn’t meet until later, so returning is fun for us both.  The Belly Up Tavern has changed over the years.  It used to be filled with pool tables but now is devoted to performance with the addition of different leveled seating areas, bars and stage lights.  This show is my last one on this leg of the tour and I’m sad to leave.

I think my favorite thing about this tour is the consistent, crazy cheering for the opening band (and the resultant crush at the merch booth).  This is rare and evidence of a great pairing of acts in the right cities at the right venues.  I love hearing how people of all ages react to this new music.  Many are Zooz fans, now also Thump fans.  Many are music lovers, drawn to the virtuoustic playing, others respond to the ideas behind songs and the band’s mythology, while others admire the projected slideshow experience.  There’s a lot to like.  One of my favorite questions in the merch booth: “Are they friends?”  The answer is a big YES.  I think it’s obvious to fans and makes the band even more relatable and likeable.  That and the fact that they all come out after their set and talk with the fans.  Beyond the performance, I think this is the #1 most important way to connect with fans.  Having a personal experience, even 60 seconds, deepens the connection, usually existing primarily on social media and streaming sites.  It is not unusual for fans to bring gifts after the show.  We see everything from handmade, personalized bracelets to voodoo dolls with Thumpsuits.  The fans give back a piece of what they get.  How perfect is that?  And, when my son turns to me and says, “I am so happy I did this,” it’s the perfect balm for that parental feeling of risk that consumes as you watch them try to win over new rooms night after night.  This career choice is only for the truly passionate and determined.
As with all things, there must be balance in order to sustain.  My goal here is to show both sides: the joy of creation/glory of performance and the other, pay-your-dues, less glamorous side of a music tour.  This is the reality of most businesses, which is what this is.  In closing I will say, touring is hard work but also surprisingly rewarding and so, so much fun.   Thank you, guys, for allowing me a seat in the Space Barn.