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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lost in the Trees Tour Diary: Charlottesville, CMJ and broken vans

Posted by on Wed, Oct 28, 2009 at 4:29 PM

[Editor's Note: Chapel Hill band Lost in the Trees headed north last week for a short tour that took them to the annual college music festival, CMJ, in New York and to a backyard photo studio in Freehold, N.J. While on the road, the band chronicled its adventures and misadventures for this five-part tour journey. Lost in the Trees plays tonight at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's Gerrard Hall at 8 p.m. The $5 show is free for UNC students.]

click to enlarge Lost in the Trees' Mark Daumen, left, and Tour Manager Martin Anderson, right, laugh before the road.
  • Lost in the Trees' Mark Daumen, left, and Tour Manager Martin Anderson, right, laugh before the road.

Lost in the Trees No. 1: North Carolina to Charlottesville, Va.

We assembled (as we do every tour) at Trekky House for our pre-tour meeting, led by our dear Tour Manager, Martin Anderson. As usual, everyone was about an hour late. Will had to race to Raleigh to get his cornet mouthpiece unstuck at Marsh Woodwinds. Drew had to get a last minute repair to the tuning peg on his cello. Everyone else was throwing everything that we might need on our trip into one of two vans.

Even though we have toured with a ton of musicians for a while, we always forget just how much stuff goes with a crew of 11 people—instruments, bags, pillows, jackets, food, cameras, skateboards, merch, books...

We finally hit the road after a couple of hours, driving through the most beautiful autumn afternoon on the way to Charlottesville, Va. The side of the highway looks like a calendar, with bright orange and yellow trees for miles. The white van (aka Patsy Van, borrowed from Midtown Dickens) has no radio, so we entertain ourselves by trying to remember the words to City High's "What Would You Do?” The Green Van goes with 20 Questions, a good time-killer, guessing "garden gnome" on the last chance.

We arrive at Tea Bazaar in Charlottesville, a heady hookah bar and tea house that we've played about four times before. We love coming back to Tea Bazaar. The limited sound system and tiny stage are easily countered by the amazing hummus platter, the free tea and the good people of Charlottesville, who are always warm and appreciative.

click to enlarge Lost in the Trees' Ari Picker and Will Hackney
  • Lost in the Trees' Ari Picker and Will Hackney

This is the first show of the tour, and we certainly have some kinks to work out. There are no monitors. We have about a dozen broken cables. The mixer is basically inaccessible to Martin (who also moonlights as our sound man). Oh, and we never actually got a full rehearsal before we left for this tour. Situations like these can become disasters, but we just all took a deep breath and played our show. It all worked out in the end. It was the biggest crowd we've ever had in Charlottesville, and people seemed to like the new songs that we played.

We load up and head over to Will's brother's house, where we are crashing for the night. We reunite with Smoky, one of our favorite cats on tour. Alyssa, our euphonium player, receives the good news that her lost phone and lost wine have been found, and the chaotic universe aligns once again. Tomorrow, we are to wake early and head to Washington, D.C., for adventures that will hopefully involve a Zoo and a shrine made of tinfoil.

Lost in the Trees No. 2: Charlottesville to D.C.

It’s hard to wake up early on tour. We usually don't get to the place we are crashing until around 1 or 2 a.m., and then it’s nice to stay up a little while to hang out with our hosts. However, it feels really good to have a full day on tour that isn't just filled with driving. So, today, we woke up at 8 and got rolling as soon as possible.

click to enlarge Soundcheck in D.C.
  • Soundcheck in D.C.

Our first stop was at our favorite grocery store in the country, a place we journey to as if on a pilgrimage, a shining Mecca of grocery perfection: Wegmans, a store that only has locations in the Northeast. A Wegmans is like a fantasy hybrid between your favorite local co-op, your bourgeois health food store and your general "everyday low prices" grocery one stop. It has anything and everything, but still has the feel of a family-owned business. We never eat fast-food on the road, so grocery stops are crucial to getting some real food in our systems. We stocked up on fruits, vegetables and snacks and continued to D.C.

We drove straight into the heart of D.C., flanked by famous monuments and giant museums. We didn't have many specific plans, but we really wanted to visit one special attraction. It’s a part of the folk art collection of the Smithsonian Institute of Art called "The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly.” It’s an elaborate, intricate shrine made out of discarded furniture and cardboard, ornamented with tinfoil and cryptic, pseudo-religious scripture. The centerpiece is a giant throne topped off with the phrase "FEAR NOT.” It was created over a span of 14 years by a janitor named James Hampton, who secretly collected the materials and pieced together 180 different pieces, all covered in tinfoil and all a strange tribute to God, who James believed sent him visions. No one knew about the shrine until after he died, when they found it in his garage. It was a pretty inspiring spectacle to see. We have some pictures, but you really have to see it to understand how amazing it is.

click to enlarge Lost in the Trees' Will Hackney stares at the "Third Throne" in D.C.
  • Lost in the Trees' Will Hackney stares at the "Third Throne" in D.C.

After “The Throne of the Third Heaven,” we didn't have anything particular that we wanted to see, so we just started wandering, taking in whatever we came across. We visited the Old Post Office, where Mark actually played with his high school jazz band on a field trip. We passed by the house where Lincoln died, across the street from the theater where he was shot. We walked up to the White House to celebrate the fact that it was the first time in many years that we were actually proud of the dude who lives there. After the White House visit, we had walked about four miles, so we decided to head back to the vans, get to the venue and get some rest.

DC9 is a great mid-sized venue in Washington that we've played once before. We recognized the bartenders and the sound guy, which made us feel welcome. The sound system was a little more capable of handling our nine-piece band than the Tea Bazaar's, so we were much more relaxed. That night, we experienced the strange phenomenon of people actually singing along and requesting songs and seeming to like our band. We're usually happy as long as there's just a few people at a show who are at least listening, but somehow we actually had a wonderful, large, enthusiastic crowd. It was surprising but very exciting, and we're hoping to carry the energy of the DC show straight into CMJ tomorrow.

After the show, we drove to Bethesda, Md., where Alyssa's parents live. We had some cake, ate some popcorn and marveled at how lucky we are to have relatives with nice houses who will let us stay anytime we want. Tomorrow we play CMJ with our friends The Love Language at the Paste Magazine party. Chaos Magic Jam!

click to enlarge The lights of a Jersey tow truck
  • The lights of a Jersey tow truck

Lost in the Trees No. 3: D.C. to New York City

Staying with band members’ parents is always a special treat. Everyone we stay with is usually a great host, but parents have this wonderful tendency to overcompensate in terms of hospitality. Alyssa’s parents definitely have this tendency, and we were happy to wake up to a delicious spread of bagels, lox, cereal, coffee, tea and orange juice. It takes a lot to feed 11 people, so we were extremely grateful.

We were anxious to get on the road so we’d have time to really soak in CMJ and New York City before our performance, so we set out with our twin vans, Patsy Van and Green Van, and got onto the glorious New Jersey Turnpike. We were making good time and starting to call friends, expecting to have a good few hours in the city to see our New York comrades. Shortly after exit 7A, Green Van suddenly lost the ability to steer. This can be a scary thing when you are driving 75 miles per hour on the New Jersey Turnpike, so Ari quickly pulled over and clicked on the hazards. Upon closer inspection we found that there seemed to be some crucial parts of the engine missing, so we called AAA for help. Over the years, we’ve learned to expect breakdowns. In fact, it feels weird to come home without having had one. So we sort of just went into breakdown mode, which entails everyone trying to be as calm and optimistic as possible while we assess the damage .

A tow truck arrived to give the van a ride. We all thought it was illegal to let people ride in a vehicle while it’s getting towed, but apparently not in New Jersey. They jacked up the van with Ari, Gini, Alyssa and Mark still in the cab. This was a rather frightening experience, as the van was perched on top, putting us a good 20 feet up in the air, zooming down the highway. The tow truck brought us to a mechanic in Highstown, N.J., where we met up with Patsy Van to see what needed to be fixed.

click to enlarge Consolidating vans in Jersey
  • Consolidating vans in Jersey

Apparently, the steering belt and the connected pulleys had busted and fallen out and needed to be replaced. It would potentially be an easy fix, but we didn’t want to risk it and miss our show, so we bit the bullet and packed all of our equipment, bags and selves into Patsy Van and got back on the Turnpike. Theoretically going from two vans to one should’ve been impossible, but we just got cozy and got used to being packed in like sardines.

In New York, we collected our CMJ badges and headed straight to The Living Room, the venue where we were playing the Paste Magazine showcase. We hung out in front of The Living Room for a while. Our friends Sara Heathcott from Hometapes and Dylan Thurston from The Physics of Meaning stopped by to say hello. We lucked out in getting scheduled to play right after The Love Language, who we played with in August. They asked Will, Mark and Alyssa to play horns on their song “Lalita,” so after a quick rehearsal inside the Love Language tour van, the trio joined them for their set closer. It was really nice to have musicians from home involved with the show. It kept us from feeling totally lost in a sea of strangers at the insane orgy of chaos that is CMJ.

As the night went on, everything was stacking up to make this the most stressful show we’ve ever played. It was cold and pouring rain outside. The venue was packed to the brim, making load-in virtually impossible. We were running behind schedule and had only a line check for our giant, complex instrument setup. Will cut his hand on the door of the van during load-in. We assumed this is just the name of the game for CMJ, having heard similar stories from friends about how hard it is to relax during the festival.

These factors made for a more intense set than we usually play. Our show the night before in DC9 was pretty relaxed and celebratory. This show was a little darker and more disturbing, as we transferred our anxiety from the environment into the music. This wasn’t what we had expected for the show, but it actually ended up working out in a strange way. We completed our rainy, hectic load out and everyone in the band split up and went in various directions to stay with friends in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

We found the best way to do CMJ was to make it as small as possible. It’s an enormous event, but we had a really nice time just staying in one place and taking in our little pocket of chaos. It was definitely a challenge for our huge crew, but we hung in there and enjoyed the ride.

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