alpacas, graceland, and the full band (but not in that order)

It’s late, and Skid Row is (regrettably) playing on my radio, probably for the first time ever. But it’s okay, because Manuel is driving and it’s keeping him awake. It’s 9:30 at night and we’re not even to Texarkana, which means that even if we grow wings, we probably won’t be home before 1 am. We actually started this journey at 8 pm yesterday evening, but a 5 hour detour through Graceland has kept us from getting home at a reasonable hour.

We began this tour what seems like months ago… and I guess if you count the Europe portion, it was months ago. The US tour began exactly a month and 7000 miles ago. We’ll wrap it up this weekend and by then we’ll easily be at 8000, maybe more.

We kicked everything off with some incredible full-band shows in Texas. It had been years since we’d played in Texas with the whole band, and I am so glad we finally got to do it again to celebrate the release of the new record. A big thank you goes out to Gabriele Galimberti and Aneil Naik for filling in on bass during that leg of the tour. We had some great shows with Salim Nourallah and Buttercup and Monco Pancho and just generally enjoyed those few weeks, hectic though they were.

Here are Gumo and Gabriele, pretending to be very rock'n'roll in our rehearsal space in Austin:

And here we are at my favorite rest stop on I-10. These guys would make great spokesmen for Dr. Pepper.

We played our show in Austin on April 4th; on April 5th, the Nessie Brown Trio (me, Manuel, and Gumo) loaded up the car and began our trek into the great (and still frozen) expanse of the Midwest. We had many a car argument as to why it’s called the Midwest – and looking at the map, it’s true, as the boys point out, that it’s more Mideast than west. I tried to explain the whole going-west thing but I am not sure they bought it. It’s amazing the things you can discuss (argue) when you have 10-12 hours to spend in the car (as siblings the world over know very well).

We drove north in a ferocious wind that even brought us a bit of snow somewhere near St. Louis (where we did jumping jacks in the parking lot of a rest area in some sort of mad effort to fend off sleepiness). We stayed the night with our new couch-surfing friends, Emma and Kyle, and then drove the next day to Chicago, where we stayed with the wonderful McDonough family. Manuel & Gumo made dinner and we all sat around talking until late into the evening, even though all of us had to get up very early the next morning.

The NBT had its first show in Waukesha, Wisconsin, at Waukesha County Technical College. Perhaps a strange way to start the tour, but it was a great one, not the least of which was due to the hospitality and kindness of Paul B. Wisconsinites (?) are some of the friendliest people I’ve encountered on the road. Chris in Lake Geneva, Kate in Sheboygan, and Brian & Nikki in Marshfield all did their best to make us feel loved and cuddled.

In the midst of all of this madness, we found out that Alberto would have to return to Austin for his INS interview, so we had to cancel our Minneapolis show (sorry, guys!) in order to take him to Chicago. We had to put the poor sucker on a Greyhoud for a 24-hour bus ride back to Austin….

After a few days off, Manuel and I did 5 shows as the acoustic duo. Thanks to the folks in Cincinnati (Donna Frank and the whole Top Cats gang) for the show on Friday, and thanks as well to the McDonough family and Cary Neeley for organizing two amazing house concerts in Chicago and Indianapolis. Those two shows were the perfect way to wrap up our northern tour.

We hung out for a day at Heather's house and made friends with the fluffiest alpacas I have ever seen:

Our Indy house concert wins the award for most creative venue so far...we played in a hair salon run by Cary Neeley. It was actually awesome - they did a great job organizing everything and getting people out on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Thanks to Heather and Cary and Lamar and Ernest and Kevin and everyone else who helped!

After the Indy house concert, we made one last stop at Roscoe’s Tacos (yay!!!)….it’s one of my favorite taco shacks, in Greenwood, Indiana, of all places. Their Texas Brushfire sauce is AMAZING.

Then Manuel and I started the drive back to Texas, stopping for the night at a rest area. I always feel most like a gypsy when I sleep at a rest area. I don’t do it too often but when I do, I always have bizarre dreams and I’m always a bit afraid to open my eyes when I awake, afraid I’ll see some random face peering back at me through the car window glass. Eek.

We woke to gorgeous, spring-time weather, and at Manuel’s behest, we made a small detour through Memphis so he could finally visit Graceland. He read an Elvis bio last year and he was dying to see it. First we stopped at Neely’s BBQ, a Memphis BBQ hotspot that has been featured on the Food Channel. It was pretty darn good, though maybe Peggy Sue’s is better.

As for Graceland….I have to say… it just made me sad. It was fun and kitschy and all the things you would expect, but just the thought of Elvis made me sad. For one, he was known for being a very generous man, always giving away money to strangers, cars to his secretaries, donations to charity… and it made me mad that our tickets were $35 each (plus $10 parking, natch), and I doubt much of it goes to anything other than the giant Elvis bank account. I remember reading that, even today, the Elvis empire makes millions and millions of dollars a year on trademarked items. Who knows where the money goes… but I hope some of it goes to a good cause.

Anyhow, it was sad for other reasons. This poor man made so many people mad with happiness, positively crazed with joy when they saw him perform…. but like so many people in his position, he was lonely. He was strung out on painkillers and didn’t have a lot of inner peace. He kept crazy hours because he couldn’t go out during the day without being beseiged by fans. I guess it’s the curse and the blessing of celebrity but it reminded me that I am quite happy doing my small house concerts and driving myself around in my own car. I am not sure I’d ever want the tour bus life.

After our afternoon at Graceland, we loaded up the car and finished the long drive to Dallas…. And I must say we arrived at the house, at 1 am, with completely fried brains. We’ve spent the last few days unloading the car, doing CD and tee inventory, doing laundry, entering receipts in Excel…all the exciting post-tour madness. And now we’ve got a few more shows this weekend before we head back across the seas.

Check us out on Twitter and check out the new videos posted on YouTube. (I've just linked one, there are several). And here's the photo album from the whole tour.

Thanks for reading, we'll see you there one day soon...
vp & icom.

Leave a comment