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Riding in cars with girls: tales from the DIY road to Treefort Music Festival and back

Do not stop at this gas station -- the owner will kill you.
Do not stop at this gas station -- the owner will kill you.

"Heh, heh. Nice John Wayne pin," says Don from behind the counter at the Holiday gas station on State Street in Salt Lake City. He's responding to the sight of my tourmate Alex Edgeworth -- who is the drummer and one half of Lust-Cats of the Gutters -- and her giant pin with Ronald Reagan's face on it, one that's barely hanging onto her oversized and tattered Kurt Cobain-reminiscent sweater. Reagan, Wayne, same difference.

This was the second time on our recent miniature tour from Denver to Boise and back that The Gipper would make an appearance. The first was on a bumpersticker plastered across the back of a pickup in front of our car somewhere in Idaho that had a picture of Ronnie on it and read, "Bring Back Capitalism" -- as if capitalism had ever left.

Alex lifted her head, peered out from underneath her thick black bangs and gave Don a gruff and bewildered "Thanks" before swiping her coffee from the convenience-store counter and bolting. It was too early in the morning for weirdos, but then again, shit almost always gets weird in gas stations on the road.

See also: A butt-level view of music festival fashion in 2014

The Lust-Cats' modest merch table.
The Lust-Cats' modest merch table.

On a mission to get to the Treefort Music Fest in Boise, Idaho, any way I could, I hitched a ride out of Denver with my friends the Lust-Cats. I officially took up guitarist (and fellow Westword contributor) Robin Edwards's offer to be the band's merch lady/tour manager, which is basically a glorified way of saying, "We don't wanna do all the driving, and we would love to split gas with you if you would stand around and sell our T-shirts at shows."

This worked out great for me, because it also gave me something to do once I got to Treefort. They had given me, like, a real job! I know that since I was a person working within that loose, bloggy umbrella called "media," I had something to do. But I think everybody knows that standing around being a "journalist" at a gathering of this nature just means tweeting social situations as they happen: You judge while other people socialize. At least that's how I do it.

This position of merch lady/tour manager also helped cover up my glaring insecurity about being at a music festival and not being in a band that was also playing. Since my own band broke up last year, I have felt like I am no longer part of my own maturity-stunted gang of adults. I used to have the matching back-patched hoodie and a reason to be wandering around a place like downtown Boise stoned at two in the afternoon saying things like, "I'd love to get more stoned with you, but I've got to play later, man."

Still, though, I wish I had a hoodie that said "Manager." I'll get a uniform for my next fake job.

An enviable back patch. #based
An enviable back patch. #based

On our way to Treefort, we cut up the long drive from Denver to Boise with a show in Salt Lake City. SLC is cool and the people there are super, super nice. We kept wondering if that was because they were Mormons or if the population of Utah is just extra-cordial. We began to over-think the Mormon thing, and every time one of us yelled "Fuck!" we felt like God or Joseph Smith or whoever their big guy is was watching us. As it turns out, Mormon or not, the kids in SLC don't care about swearing.

On a DIY-ish level, shows in other cities are lot of the same -- the record store or the shitty old-folks home of a punk bar you book are often just a clone of ones you played in a prior city. They are populated by people who could be carbon copies of friends you see at shows at home. After longer periods of time touring, this can become a mirage situation, one where you might actually walk up to someone you think you know, only to realize you're not in Denver anymore and there is no way that kid with the bleached-blond asymmetrical fro is at your show in Toledo. But at least then you've made a new friend.

Our merch paled in comparison to the variety Zebroids was offering.
Our merch paled in comparison to the variety Zebroids was offering.

This first stop on the mini-tour was a Thursday night show at Diabolical Records. It was typical of the first wave of festival-season touring -- bands are coming out of winter hibernation and trying to book semi-lucrative shows (or at least shows that equate to gas money) along the way to the fests. This also means an influx of touring bands in all of the cities along common passageways, leading to bills like the one Lust-Cats played in Salt Lake, which hosted seven bands on a weeknight for a donation-based show. Five of those were touring bands, meaning they were all vying for the same gas money.

This is where having merch can come in especially handy, because if you only make $11 at the door, at least you might be able to sell $50 worth of T-shirts at the show and not come out too broke to make it to the next city. I ended up selling more than $50 worth of T-shirts and tapes to a swell crowd in SLC. We also got extra-lucky, because Lust-Cats had befriended local band Baby Ghosts on a previous tour, and that led us to a comfortable, clean, non-sketchy place to rest up before our drive to Boise. Non-sketchy places to sleep are sometimes hard to come by.

As we headed to Boise the next morning, we stopped at "The Middle of Nowhere," a price-gauging gas station with llamas and a donkey tied up outside for "petting." You could also feed them pellets.

The guy running the joint had what Alex called "Maximun Security Blue Eyes." He was the kind of Deliverance-type dude who sells 69-cent pickled eggs out of a gas-station shack and could probably kill you with his bare hands and not feel bad about it. He sat on his cashier's perch staring down as we tried to open the bathroom door, apparently entertained by our inability to access the pisser. We finally got into the restroom, where it was the temperature of a meat locker. He definitely kept dead bodies in there on the weekends.

But we made it out and made good time to Boise. For our first night in town, we crashed at a pre-arranged stranger's house, which was all right except that the thermostat was set to slightly above freezing and there were "how-to" sex books everywhere. The stranger was also not home.

Lust-Cats playing at Burt's Tiki Lounge in Salt Lake City. FYI: Burt's Tiki Lounge is not a tiki bar.
Lust-Cats playing at Burt's Tiki Lounge in Salt Lake City. FYI: Burt's Tiki Lounge is not a tiki bar.

We chose to spend our remaining nights in Idaho at the Red Lion, where apparently every other band playing Treefort was staying. This was both a good and a bad idea.

I often wonder: Do the people who staff the front desks of hotels in America ever believe that when a sketchy witch band lady like myself stumbles into their lobby to book a few nights that I'm really only looking for a room for two people? It seems that people who look like they might try to steal towels because they are better than the ones you have at home aren't the kind of guests you want in your hotel.

They're probably wary. Robin told me that, one time, a lady wouldn't rent a room to her because she saw Alex standing outside and thought she was a hooker. I guess she thought Robin was her pimp?

But when you're operating in a city where there's a music festival happening and 90 percent of the people staying at the hotel are smelly, van-riding dirtbags in bands, I'm guessing your staff is ready to deal with apparent sex-worker vibes and guests trying to cram sixteen people in a single room.

Still, no matter how well-behaved you think you are -- and the Lust-Cats are very polite -- other music-minded travelers will probably up your chances of getting kicked out of the hotel at some point because they simply can't obey the hot tub's posted hours (Zebroids, I'm looking in your general direction).

We were good, only hosting five people in our room that was booked for two. The Red Lion in Boise tolerated us. And we did zero rabble-rousing, probably because we were too enamored with having a television with cable that played twenty episodes of Friends back-to-back-to-back... When we weren't busy trying to figure out how Ross ever got laid, we were enjoying the Treefort Music Festival, a four-day extravaganza, from our hotel room.

Naomi Punk at The Shredder.
Naomi Punk at The Shredder.

Once out of the hotel, the fest itself was grand. The L-Cats were slated to play on Sunday, so we spent all of Saturday wandering the city and seeing our friends play. For the final day of Treefort, we planted ourselves at The Shredder, a rad all-ages venue that apparently at one point had a halfpipe inside of it. The Lust-Cats were part of a well-curated and near-perfect lineup, one that had a good balance of local and national acts who were in sync with each other in terms of sound and aesthetic.

Perfect Pussy and Naomi Punk joined bands like Piss Test and Denver natives Zebroids for a great combination of smart, minimalist sludgy hardcore and tried-and-true asshole punk. I enjoyed the refreshing mix of lady- and dude-integrated bands (many of the other stages I wandered by over the weekend were dude band after dude band, which is typical of music festivals). I spent most of the afternoon and late into the evening womanning the Lust-Cats merch table and hanging out with the overflow of Denver people playing the long weekend.

On Monday morning, we checked out of the hotel bright and early (noon), deciding to stretch our drive home from Boise over two days because Zebroids had asked Lust-Cats to join them for a last-minute show in Salt Lake City.

When we arrived, it was clear that this was going to be one of those shows that doesn't pay. Everyone in the building was with a touring band or working at the venue. Apparently a local band was also supposed to be on the bill, but they either didn't show up or just didn't bother to play. No one came to see them anyway. They must have really sucked.

Oh, wait. I forgot to mention a man the Zebroids named "Ralth," a lost drunk soul who was the one and only audience member not from Denver. I'm guessing he didn't pay to get in, but at least he was interested in entertaining us with his wastedness. That lasted right up until he started yelling, "NO WOMAN" at Lust-Cats while they played. I think he was struggling with the startling realization that women can play music. But this also marked the only time I saw any kind of sexism hurled at the girls on this tour. Definitely an encouraging sign of the times.

Ralth chilled out and the show was still fun; it was one of those nights where playing to only people you know works out for both the band and the audience. Inside jokes flew between the stage and the crowd. For every show you play that's packed, there are ones where not even the sound person gives a fuck if you're there or not. I had the night off from selling merch, too. There was no one to sell it to.

We jetted the next morning at the crack of 9 a.m. in order to get back to Denver so that Lust-Cats could play another show with Zebroids at the Lion's Lair. The drive home was again easy, and I was lucky enough to get to sleep away most of the day, as Alex drove and we moved through albums by Delta 5, Dead Milkmen, Brian Eno, Weezer, Colleen Green and the Rolling Stones. We hit Denver around 5:30 p.m., just in time for the traffic that Boise and Salt Lake never seemed to have.

The Lust-Cats came home with money, all gear intact and no car trouble over six days. In the DIY-touring world, that's a victory.

Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies

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