Brent Amaker and the Rodeo are back from tour now, but as their hangovers and drugs wear off, they've been sending in reports —Eds.
The weekend is finally here. The show tonight is the one I’ve been anticipating the most, not only because we're playing with our friends, Los Skarnales, but because my brother (who I haven’t seen in probably four years), will be at the show. Austin is like New Orleans on the weekends; all you have to do is walk down 6th street and let the night happen. We met up with my brother at the club, caught up a little bit, played a good set, and then proceeded to get completely obliterated. Amazingly, I maintained a resemblance of an intelligent human being long enough to see two of the greatest bands I have seen in a long time.
Before our last tour, where we first met Los Skarnales, I had no idea that such a thing as “Latin ska” even existed. The sound they've developed is a completely unique blend of ska, traditional Latin music, and R & B. They are in no way a revival act or a jokey third-wave ska band, but perhaps the most legitimate and powerful musical trajectory around right now.
They hit the stage like an explosion and leave you transfixed in a state of awe and disbelief. Watching them that night, I just kept thinking, “THIS, is the best fucking music on planet earth right now. This is the new American music that nobody seems to know about." I really felt like I was like seeing Elvis in 1955.
Radio La Chusma went on before Los Skarnales, and they were amazing as well, but with a completely different take on Latino ska. What struck me the most about both bands was the incredible level of musicianship of virtually every member. We live in an era where we’ve become accustomed to laptops on stage and indie rockers who pride themselves on not knowing how to play, and here are these young Latino musicians who can completely tear down the fucking joint with their chops alone. They make the latest indie-folk darlings or electro-pop scenesters look like little fucking children, like amateur hour! I would love to see a bill like this Seattle so they could show the kids how it’s done. I would challenge anyone to see them and not be instantly converted into a fan. They are completely un-fucking deniable. After the show I left with a feeling of having witnessed something historic, and I feel extremely lucky to have been there to see it.
The energy of the set kept me relatively sober until I stepped outside and found myself reduced to a slobbering, incoherent fool. I haven’t been this smashed since my Grape Nehi debacle over a year ago at the Snoqualmie Ski lodge. Although the hotel was only a couple of blocks from the bar, I required Sugar's guidance to find it. If you can imagine… two cowboys dressed in black, arm in arm, and one of them has a handle bar mustache, leather vest, and cop shades, and is named Sugar McGuinn. You can probably estimate the magnitude of shame a normal person would feel being witnessed in that state walking into the lobby of the Omni hotel in Texas. But not me, ‘cause that’s the way we roll!
…By the way… Sugar has been known to hump my leg on stage!
This week’s blog was written by Tiny Dancer with photos by Sugar McGuinn and Brent Amaker
Touring during the early weekdays (Mon. Tues. Wed.) reminds me of the Maysles Brothers’ late 60’s documentary Salesman. The film documents the day-to-day activities of four traveling bible salesman who are the last of a dying breed. They try to stay positive recalling the good-old-days when business was good and life was easy. Playing on a weekday night in No-where-ville, USA can require the same sort of positive thinking.
On Wednesday we rolled into Kansas City for a gig we picked up the night before from a PBR rep. It turned out to be a rockabilly night with the band The Unkool Hillbillies from Sweden, who were great musicians and nice guys. We set out a tip jar and collected $12 each, which needless to say, didn’t even cover the night’s drinks, but we were still grateful all the same. We hung with some of the locals and had a few laughs. We’re here strictly for kicks folks. If I put as much energy into a respectable job as I do in music, hell, I might be an assistant manager at Blockbuster Video or something by now!
The next day we had a fantastic Salvadoran breakfast and learned that Sugar made out his will before leaving on tour with the stipulation that Brent gets his ashes should he perish on one of our misadventures. I can just see the canister on Brent’s mantle emblazed with Sugar McGuinn’s handlebar mustache and cop shades!
Rolling into Tulsa in 2010 doesn’t seem too much different from the desolate Tulsa portrayed in Rumble Fish in the mid 80s with half finished freeway on-ramps overgrown with 20 years of weeds. I love it. It’s an indication of a city having good thrift stores and tacos, which was confirmed in the next couple of hours.
The Crystal Pistol is a great place. We played here last tour and made friends with the owners, and had a great time. At 8 o’clock the bar was literally empty as people queued up outside to see Aaron something-or-other from Staind do an acoustic performance at the legendary Cain’s Ballroom next door. If you thought Staind was bad, you should hear it stripped down and performed by a single guy. It’s so fucking bad it’s mind-boggling. We live in a country where some thick-necked, chubby jock motherfucker can strum sub dorm-room quality songs about being “insane” and fill an auditorium. Benny and I took turns walking into the lobby and catching snippets of his set. At one point Benny heard him say, “You know, it’s just me and a guitar up here. So if you could keep conversations to a minimum…” At this point the appropriate action for us, had we been in the auditorium, would be to walk onstage next to him, slowly peel off a black leather glove finger by finger, strike him with it and say “Good day sir!” and calmly exit the stage. That’s what Vince Taylor would have done.
The hour for us to play rapidly approached and there was still not a solitary soul in the bar. The only thing you can do is laugh about it. After some conversations with some folks in the bar next door, and some clowning around, people started to trickle into the Crystal Pistol.
Homemade grape jelly for Tiny Dancer courtesy of Mrs. Amaker
When the bar finally amassed a crowd of about 15 people, we decided it was time to play. Sometimes these situations cause you to perform with a sort of carefree abandon that can really win over an audience. After the first couple of numbers the people were hooting and hollering!! We ended up selling over $150 in merchandise, and had a great night!
With South Dakota under our belts, it was time to get on down the road. Next stop Minneapolis. Right before we left on this tour, our Minneapolis show got canceled and the booking agent had to quickly reschedule. The result was a PBR-sponsored event at a bowling ally called Memory Lanes. When we got there, the first band was loading onto stage and warming up. The situation was looking pretty good. We were getting a $350 guarantee (courtesy of PBR), and the stage was sitting right in the middle of the lanes! Balls would be wizzing by us while we ripped through a set of Western music. Not bad for a last-minute rescheduled show!
We killed some time with a nice game of air hockey.
Then we ran into THIS douche:
This guy didn’t care about our music and he wasn’t looking to broaden his horizons. More than anything he just wanted us to know that this was his drinking spot. We tolerated him out of respect, but quickly realized he was the neighborhood drunk and he wouldn’t go away unless we were firm. Sugar stepped into his regular role as band “asshole” and mumbled a few words that made him walk away. I’m not sure what he said, but I can guarantee you Sugar was a dick. He is good for these sorts of things.
We played a great set of music in the bowling alley and had a nice crowd of loyal fans. This wasn’t a rock star moment, but it was definitely a win. We did our thing, sold some merchandise, and made a new contact with Craig (the PBR rep). Craig said he might be able to hook us up with some future shows. We have a day off on Wednesday and the Rodeo despises days off. Craig said he might be able to help.
The next morning (Monday) was another drive and another show. Shows early in the week are hard to come by and I usually take whatever I can get. It’s best to hit a big city. We drove into Chicago and loaded into the Elbo Room. Honestly, the highlight of this stop was a slice of Gino’s pizza before our show. We did our thing and got the hell out of town. No gig money this stop. Rooms are too expensive in Chicago and I had found something cheap on Priceline.com in Joliet. We rolled in around midnight.
As I was checking into my room, another band pulled in right behind us. I was too tired to care and got to my room as fast as possible. As I was falling asleep, Sugar texted me to say he was doing his laundry with Willie Nelson’s drummer. No fucking way! Willie Nelson was staying in the same shitty hotel as us right here in Joliet, Illinois. Turns out Willie Nelson had played Joliet that night and this hotel was the only game in town. Crazy shit. I didn’t meet Willie and I’m not much for stalking country music legends. But I gotta say, there is something encouraging about the fact that Willie didn’t sleep any better than we did that night.
As we were hitting the road the next morning I got a call from Craig (the PBR rep). He had contacted his Kansas City counterpart Jessica and she was ready to help us out with our vacant Wednesday night. Within an hour Jessica had approached a number of venues (offering them free beer if they could hook us up) and she lined us up an opening slot on an existing bill. Hell yeah! I love it when new tour connections pay off immediately. To celebrate the good news, we stopped at Cracker Barrel for some breakfast and a game of checkers.
Next, we hoofed to St. Louis for a show with Frontier Ruckus at “Off Broadway." I don’t like to make excuses, but this was a Tuesday night which happened to be election night, which happened to follow a big party weekend (Halloween). We played to a couple of hardcore fans and some crickets. As we were loading out, I noticed my guitar had a big giant crack in the side. It must have been dropped loading in to a show! This is my prized Martin.
In moments like this, it’s easy to turn to the bottle. The Rodeo found a hotel and headed straight to the bar. Things got really loud. The band was obnoxious. I don’t’ think we will be welcomed back to this fine establishment.
This is 3AM in the room. I’m not sure how Brian tore his shorts.
And we may not want to know.
Next Tiny Dancer and Sugar are taking over the Tour Diary. God help us all.
When we got to Mitchell, South Dakota, we were about to collapse. Up 28 hours straight with an all-night drive from Bozeman is something I will avoid in the future. I’ve only got myself to blame, because I book these tours myself.
As we were rolling into Mitchell, I got a text message from the promoter asking that we swing by KMIT for a radio interview. KMIT at 105.9 FM is a commercial country music radio station broadcasting to most of South Dakota. I never really set out to get my music on radio out here, but this seemed like a great opportunity. The band was wiped out, and all we wanted to do was sleep, but duty calls. The guys dropped me off for an interview, while they hit the club and loaded our gear.
I walked into the station and was greeted with a smile and a warm cup of coffee. “Big J” the afternoon DJ had already been playing our music at the station and he was ready to give us serious South Dakota support. Hell yeah! Turns out “Big J” follows our blogs. He already knew that we had landed on iTunes on the front page of the Modern Country section. This is a big break for us and totally unexpected. “Big J” played a couple of our songs and took good care of me in the interview. It was a real treat. When I walked into the station I had no idea what I was getting into. Before I knew it I was on mainstream commercial radio doing an interview. Amazing!
The show that night was killer. We slept a couple of hours before arriving at the venue to play our show. Somehow, Mitchell, South Dakota has become one of our regular tour stops, and they treat us like royalty. The owner of Signature’s (the venue/restaurant) treated us all to steak dinners. I had the ribeye and it was great. We played to a packed house of locals who were hell bent on getting wasted. We’ve done this before and we knew what to expect.
We played two sets of music to an insanely drunk crowd. During the second set I yelled at the bartender to deliver a bottle of Jack. Some drunk bastard brought it to the stage and the band launched into "Bring Me The Whiskey". The entire bottle was emptied into the crowd in minutes. Following our show I saw more than one of our fans puking in the parking lot. Success.
That night we squeezed in a few more hours of sleep and pushed the late check out as far as possible the next morning. I woke up feeling like I had been run over by a train. The combination of sleep deprivation and drinking was clearly not working out for me. The band rallied around and helped get me in the van. That day, I didn’t do anything except try and recover. The guys loaded all the gear and they let me hide in the back seat of the van. We were headed to the 5th Annual Zombie festival in Sioux Falls and I already felt like I was one of the walking dead.
That night we hung out with more zombies.
A weird thing has been happening with the Rodeo as of late. Fans come to our shows dressed like us. This was a Zombie festival, so I guess it should not have been a surprise that there would be cowboy zombies. One of these cowboy zombies found our hotel room and presented Tiny Dancer with a bottle of grape soda when we were loading in to formally welcome us to Sioux Falls. Tiny Dancer loves everything grape and was totally stoked. Pretty fucking cool. But I think my favorite thing of all was seeing a woman come to our show dressed exactly like Sugar McGuinn. Check it out:
She did such a good job that I found myself mistaking her for Sugar between sets. Damn! Things are getting really fucking weird now. I’m pretty sure we are all the way down the rabbit hole.
Both South Dakota shows were a success! Both were great paying gigs. We were fed and lodging was provided. Bryan worked our merchandise and sold a ton of CDs and Vinyl As we got on the road for Minneapolis, Benny performed his task as band banker and paid us out for Sioux Falls.
Now we’re officially broken in on tour, and the only thing left to do is get regular. All of us are on the psyllium husk at this point and we all have our own way of ingesting our daily dose. Sugar demonstrates the “bareback” method here.
Pretty sure I’ll be walking in my sleep all day tomorrow.
This is how I feel right now. For those of you who might think touring is glamorous, this picture should be testimony that it's not. I've been up for 28 hours straight. After our show in Bozeman, MT, Benny and I got voted to do the night drive to Mitchell, SD. Night drivers are required to ingest a cocktail made up of 5 Hour Energy drink, trucker speed, and anything else available at the counter to keep a man alert until sunrise.
Benny does the driving. I sit up front and keep him awake by talking all night. It always seems like a good idea when we make this decision, but late into the night, we realize we are still three hours away from our destination. The show we will play tonight is the rowdiest crowd on the tour. They will expect whiskey. Lot’s of it. They will expect us to party with them. Drunk fuckers will follow us back to our hotel room. All I want to do is sleep!
I just received a series of text messages from the Mitchell, South Dakota promoter demanding my time for radio interviews as soon as we arrive. I am not yet at the point in my career that I can turn down radio interviews, or any kind of press for that matter. I’m gonna have to power through and get it done. Don’t get me wrong, I feel really lucky to even have the opportunity. Still, I’m completely miserable.
Up until now the tour has been great. We had close to 75 people out in Yakima, WA on a Wednesday night. That ain’t bad at all. They gave us free food and drinks and we sold a bunch of merch. At the end of the night, the club owner slapped 150 bucks in my hand. I can’t complain.
We drove a couple of hours after the Yakima show and then crashed out in a roadside motel for about five hours. Spent the rest of the day driving to Bozeman, MT where we loaded in and played another show. Benny busted his head open on his own guitar while setting up for sound check.
Click to enlarge
Bozeman was not quite as well attended, but we had some REAL fans out on a school night (including some guys from the local radio station). Our new LP is in rotation at KGLT and somehow we landed on the front page of the Bozone (Bozeman weekly alternative). This didn’t really translate into draw at the club. We found out later that we were competing with the Monsters Ball at the Eagles Club. Everyone in town was celebrating Halloween early. We got out promoted by a costume party!
I’m looking forward to getting today behind me. If I can just power through a radio interview and another night of drinking, I get to sleep. Our show tomorrow is in Sioux Falls, so we can sleep in and get back on a regular schedule. You’ve gotta get the long hauls out of the way early when you tour out of Seattle. It’s the only way to cover serious ground in the Midwest. I am now in the back of the van bouncing around like I’m on a god damn trampoline. I’m gonna try to get some sleep before we get to Mitchell and we find ourselves further down the rabbit hole. We’re stoked to play Signature’s tonight and Tiny Dancer can’t wait to show off his new tattoo.
Howdy. My name is Mr. Amaker. The Rodeo and I are getting ready to go on a three-week national tour. I’m on a mission to embed my music into the cerebral cortex of a growing number of crazy fans who, let’s say, are “not your normal music fans.” I got no plans for riches or stardom. I’m just leaving a legacy that might only be understood by a bunch of weirdos.
So it’s no surprise that when I talk about touring with my band, I refer to it as “going down the rabbit hole.” I’m confident most touring acts can relate, but somehow I have to believe that my experience is unique, that my band exists on a different plane than most. When we exit the confines of the Seattle music scene, a new world awaits us. A world where having a set of balls is still important. A world where a man can be a man, and a woman is respected for her ability to manipulate a man. But more importantly, it’s a world where the spirit of the west lives on through the lives of traveling musicians.
My band is Brent Amaker and the Rodeo. We travel the world, and we play western music.
Out on the road we tackle all sorts of issues. We’ve had our tour van vandalized by thugs. We’ve driven 15 hours straight to play to a room of four people. We’ve had our share of meltdowns, anxiety attacks, and blowups. But we’ve also packed out shows at the shittiest no-name bars on the planet. And on really good nights women show us their tits. We deal with the good and bad as a collective unit. Our suitcases are packed with underwear and socks. Nothing else. No running shoes or shorts. No casual wear. No pajamas.
Once we throw on our matching black cowboy suits anything can and will happen. This is the Rodeo. It’s pretty fucking awesome.
Like most serious touring bands, we have a large van that gets us from one show to the next. Our van has our name on the side of it in cowboy approved Kung Fu font:
Five cowboys fit in this monster. The back seat has been replaced with gear and the remaining three benches are reserved for the band. Three grown men can stretch out and sleep at any given time. This is necessary because we don’t sleep much after our shows. When on the road, we don’t allow passengers in the van. The van is our sanctuary and nobody else gets in. The Rodeo has it’s own culture built in the form of a complex maze of inside jokes, eccentric behaviors, and band rules. If you follow our stories on the road you will pick up on some of it.
Everyone in this band is fucking crazy. Not, like, psycho “I’m gonna eat your brains for breakfast crazy,” but more like “What the hell went wrong at childhood?” crazy. Tiny Dancer is obsessed with all things grape. He has grape flavored cigarettes. Sugar McGuinn has a comic book image of himself tattooed on his own body. Brian Crawford has a mild case of Turrets Syndrome. Ben Strehle uses salad spritzer incessantly and is prone to panic attacks when we runs out of snacks in the van. As for myself, I’ll just say that I believe a man is truly defined by the company he keeps. Get it?
The Stranger is letting us give you some of our road stories in real time. I’ll be shooting video, taking pictures and filling you in on our culture one day at a time. Shit, this is gonna be crazy! The van is packed, and we play our first out of town date in Yakima, WA tonight. I’ll be checking in with you down the road.