I realized when we started planning this tour that, from talking with my friends (both band and non-band people) about the endeavor, there was a little bit of mystery as to how this level of touring works. The level at which my band, Night of Joy, operates -- I guess I would call it DIY -- is pretty normal for groups of our style, though I wouldn't generalize our experience as across-the-board by any means (each band's tour experience is different).
When I say style, I don't mean genre; we work more from the perspective of ethos, and as a band we try to play and promote all-ages shows where all people are welcome. We also receive no funding for tours from anyone but ourselves; we make all of our own merchandise, and we promote our shows with the help of friends and other bands. This two-part travelogue is just that: Our experience (and our tour mates Lust-Cats of the Gutters and Sara Century's experience) on the road.
That being said, we left for our two-week tour Friday, April 22, in a van the bands collectively rented. A vehicle tends to be the most expensive part of a tour outing, but we found a relatively good deal for van that could fit seven people, plus gear. Our first show was at a punk house in Flagstaff, Arizona, called the Cottage. Not having played in the city before, we had no idea what to expect. Were people going to come out? Would they be stoked to see our bands? What was the vibe going to be like? But, armed with a key lime blessed with a protective spell made specifically for us by our friend Piper Rose, we had the best intentions out there in the universe.
Yes, we are that kind of band.
The show was booked through a connection at Stay Punk, a DIY-booker out of Flagstaff. Night of Joy had also made friends with Custody Battles, a band out of Flagstaff, last year when we all played Total Fest 2010 in Montana. I would say that this is the majority of how Do-It-Yourself tours are booked: connections. No managers, no middlemen, no bullshit. These connections come through support, first and foremost - like going to shows in your own city, meeting and talking to bands who come through on tour, being hospitable and housing touring bands, collaborating with other bands and smaller labels outside of your town on music and artwork, etc. It is these connections that will help you when booking outside of your own area.
We got into Flagstaff pretty late, but when we pulled up to the spot, it was like a scene from a movie: The house was teeming with crust punks, bicycles and beer cans, spilling out from the Cottage's white picket fence. Welcomed to a place we had never been before with open arms, we arrived just in time for the opener, a dude with a guitar named D.H, who played some cool songs about girls and Easter.
Somehow, we loaded our gear into the tiny basement show space through a hatch in the floor. It was murky and dank, and we would soon learn that anything that touched the floor would get covered in some kind of unknown toxic sludge. Lust-Cats tore it up first, and everyone that could possibly fit into the small room did for the rowdy set, appropriate for such a swampy joint.
Next, we set up the rest of Fez's drums (to save space in the van, Sara Century and Alex from Lust-Cats use a stripped-down version of his kit) and tried to figure out the best way to position our two guitar necks so we wouldn't end up hitting each other in the face with our headstocks. This was not ultimately accomplished. But the acoustics in the small room were amazing -- the mix was perfect and the kids were going crazy! (Apparently, some dude tried to crowd surf in the lowered-ceiling room while we were playing - no bigger compliment to a band, for sure.) Sara Century played next, and her usual fifteen-minute No Wave-ish folk assault was the perfect ending to what couldn't have been a better first night.
Upon ascending from the stinky lower level, my brother Evan, the ever-stoic merch dude, informed us that we had all sold a ton of tapes and shirts. To top it off, donations from party-goers made it a more lucrative night that we had ever had at any show in Denver, for sure. This coming from an audience that didn't know us really at all. It felt great.
Something else about touring on this level that I don't think is common knowledge is unless you know someone in the state you're visiting: You have to find a place to sleep. It can be both a hard and easy endeavor, but in Flagstaff, it was truly a blessing. Our friend Travis from Custody Battles offered up his place, and it was just a few blocks from the house show. We wandered over his way around 3 a.m., sleepy and happy and ready to roll out our sleeping bags. Five of us slept in the house, and two slept in the van with the gear -- a precaution we take to make sure nothing gets stolen.
The next morning, we went to Travis's work, a local coffee shop and organic restaurant where he and his co-workers (some of the punks from the show) hooked us up with a hearty veggie-friendly breakfast. The West seems to have a lot more vegetarian options in general (compared to the Midwest and some of the the East Coast) which made us (and our stomachs) extremely happy.
Next, we made our way to the van and headed to Tempe to play a female-centric mini-fest called Fox Fest, and to visit and stay with our friend Anna Nxsty (who has played in and fronted bands like Hell-Kite, Vegetable and Pigeon Religion). We arrived late in the afternoon and did some shopping at a thrift store before heading to Anna's to make a big family dinner. That night, the show (even though it was at a bar) went just as smoothly as the house show the night before. We again made a good amount of money and had a warm place to stay.
After a day off in Tempe spent at Saguaro Lake, we headed to Van Nuys (near Los Angeles) for our next show, at a shop called Take Off. The hosts and venue/store owners Luis and Jordan (of L.A. band Protect Me) were welcoming and effortlessly chill. California was definitely more on point with Denver in terms of the vibe. Our third show of the tour was also a success, a night of low-key hanging out and playing in the minimalist space. Our friends Neonates from the L.A. area popped in for the show and ended up playing a surprise set as well.
We had a few days to kill in L.A., so we took over our drummer Fernando's parents' house in Moorpark, where we swam and slept and were very well fed. The night after our show, we wandered back into the city to catch Abe Vigoda, Cold Showers and Beaches at The Smell -- an awesome all-ages, D.I.Y. volunteer-run space in downtown L.A. After the mini-vacation of sorts, we got back on the road to head to San Francisco for a show at a gay bar called The Stud.
The spot was again welcoming, and we played to a sparse crowd of strangers, and thankfully, some good friends. That night, we stayed with our friends, Denver transplants Alejandro Archuleta (of bands Slight Harp, Psychic Handbook and Heavy Petting) and Johnee Evanofski (of Popdrone) in their spacious place in West Oakland.
We had another relaxing day of seeing family and hanging out before our house show at Alejandro and Johnee's. The weather was warmer than usual, and made a perfect night for a veggie-burger BBQ and bonfire party with bands: All of us played in the living room, along with Heavy Petting. The turnout was perfect for the space size, and all of the bands ended up selling a good amount of merch.
The next morning we had brunch and made a visit to Down at Lulu's, sexy divo frontman Hunx of Hunx and His Punx's vintage store and hair salon, before getting on the road to our next show in Davis. The drive was a quick 66 or so miles, giving us time hang for a bit before the house show. This was the only time so far on the tour where things went slightly awry -- the house we were supposed to play decided last minute that they were shutting the show down. Apparently, there was another show in town that everyone wanted to go to, so we kind of got screwed.
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But spirits were high, so we decided to jump in the van and drive to our next destination, Portland, Oregon. A harrowing ten-hour drive got us to the city in one piece, and we lounged and hung out with friends for the day, giving everyone time to cool off after the kind of crappy Davis situation. Now here we are, all bands pumped and ready to go as we play our fifth show, midway through our ten-date tour of the West Coast together tonight at the Tonic Lounge in Portland with our friends Guantanamo Baywatch.
Still very much above our monetary expectations for tour, I think every bandmember was and is still flying high. From Night of Joy's past touring experience, things didn't seem to go anywhere or in any way as smoothly as our first few week of this current tour. Robin Edwards of Lust-Cats said it best: This actually feels like a vacation.