Sorry, their music sucks. Driving around in a bus to play for a few people and make squat is no way to go through life.
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Christian Blochinger remembers stopping his band's tour bus on a rural Missouri highway in 2006 and flipping on the blinker. He'd been driving in the wrong direction on the isolated and narrow road, and he was turning left to switch course. "This was a county highway that was intersected by side streets," Blochinger recalls. "I put my blinker on and looked behind me." That's where the recollections of that day end for the drummer and leader of the Celtic rock band Potcheen. A few moments later, a FedEx truck barreled into the side of his 1983 MCI Crusader and pushed the bus off the highway.
Blochinger was driving Potcheen's tour bus with another band as passengers; he was ferrying the rock group Savage Henry to dates on its first Midwest tour, a planned six-gig stretch that included an appearance in Lee's Summit, Missouri. When the police arrived at the scene of the accident, Blochinger says, the other passengers, who were injured but still conscious, told the troopers the driver was dead.
But the bloodied, unconscious Blochinger, still strapped into the driver's seat, wasn't dead. "I ended up breaking my collarbone, my shoulder blade, four ribs, my nose," Blochinger notes. "I had a slight hairline fracture in my wrist and eighteen stitches in my head. I had a major concussion, as well." As Blochinger attempted to recover from a laundry list of injuries and a ruined tour bus, he enlisted drummer David Derby as a temporary replacement so that Potcheen could keep its commitments. "I didn't have insurance," he says, "so I had to heal up on my own. I racked up $150,000 in medical bills. My truck got repossessed from my driveway."
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After four months of being laid up, Blochinger took off his splints and returned to his drum stool in time to play on the main stage at the Desert Rocks Festival in Utah. By then, he had also replaced the ruined tour bus with another fifty-foot, 37,000-pound MCI Crusader, a 1980 model he named "Bonnie" after a famed pirate.
The basic story of perseverance and survival is one that's played itself out countless times in the history of Potcheen, which Blochinger founded in 2003. The outfit has demonstrated the same sort of resilience over the course of its nine-year existence, as more than forty different musicians have shuffled in and out of its ranks and the format has shifted from traditional Irish tunes to classic rock to somewhere in between.
Through it all, Blochinger has been at the helm, handling everything from squabble mediation to booking duties to tour management. Not surprisingly, he has no shortage of horror stories from the past decade, from musicians throwing hissy fits over muddled sound to dramatic breakups between dating bandmembers to confronting a bazouki player about his unwillingness to wear deodorant. "Being a bandleader," he insists, "you have to address that. Whenever somebody whines about something, that's when I want to smack them in the face. I only lose it about once or twice a year."
Even as he recounts the most stressful aspects of his role in the band, Blochinger maintains a friendly and approachable tone. There's no denying his affability, a quality others see as key to the band's longevity. "He's got a gift of gab, as much as we make fun of him for it," says guitarist Neil Zimmerman, who's played with the group for the past four years. "The bottom line in the world of business is that people like to do business with people they like. He comes across as very likable, especially when he's talking to booking agents."
Zimmerman, who also plays as one half of the local folk/rock duo Pairadeux, says the gregariousness covers a deep commitment to the band, a focus that's allowed it to survive. "It's his baby, and his dedication to keeping it alive despite the obstacles," Zimmerman observes. "The bus accident was a nasty thing, but he's like a football player. He plays with pain."
The stress of it all is a constant test of willpower and patience, Blochinger admits, but the 6' 3", 200-pound son of German and Argentine parents has found a sort of personal mission in playing old Irish songs and pirate rock. His perseverance has deep roots that go back to a childhood spent in New Jersey, far from the mountains of Cork and Kerry.
"When I was a freshman in high school," says Blochinger, "I was 5' 1" and 65 pounds. I got shoved in more garbage cans and lockers than I can remember. Every team my twin brother and I were on, we were always the worst players. For some reason, he would quit and I would stay with it." That same dogged persistence has kept him at the helm of Potcheen for nearly a decade. "I don't like to quit anything. It's the way my brain is wired. I'm an idiot," he says, laughing, adding that he's threatened to write an autobiography titled Herding Cats in a Parade. "I just believe in what the band can do. And I believe that the bands that make it are the ones that don't quit."