Volunteer tour managing a six piece band, only one of whom I’d met before (once, four years ago), for eight shows from New Orleans to Denver and then from Minneapolis to Cleveland is probably not everyone’s idea of a dream vacation, but it certainly was mine. It wasn’t quite as crazy as it sounds; Firewater is on Bloodshot Records after all (admittedly an unlikely pairing, but it works). The label manager Scott Schaeffer was managing the other two thirds of the tour, and he’s known lead singer/songwriter Tod A forever. Still I wasn’t quite sure I was making the best decision. On the morning we left Kansas City for Denver (another eight hour plus drive) one of the guys asked why I was leaving them the next day, so soon. “I didn’t know if I would like you guys,” I replied, “I didn’t want to commit to too much.” But the truth was now I didn’t want to go home, I did like all of them, a lot, and I would have done the whole tour if it wasn’t for the real job.
I’ve spent plenty of time on the road with Ha Ha Tonka, so I knew what to expect from being on the road, and I knew all about doing merch, but this would be my first time “TM-ing this shit” (as Lennon would say). I overlapped two dates with Scott, hoping to learn from him, but the truth was I was pretty clueless when he left and I became the one in charge. It didn’t help that my first date was Riotfest in Dallas. A mostly punk rock festival, this was its first year in Texas. The venue was some “your name here” corporate sponsor amphitheater, but to me it was the good old Starplex amphitheater, site of many a classic rock show during my time in Dallas. I saw David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan there, as well as Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Buffet and George Strait, just to name a few. It was hot as hell there- 105 when we arrived- and it hadn’t cooled off much at all by the time they went on at 8 pm. What on paper sounded like a great gig turned out to be kind of a nightmare. They were the last band on a second stage which was running late, which meant they went on against NOFX on the main stage. Second stage also meant no hospitality, and beers were $10 or more. Then, after they played I got forty plus minutes of runaround trying to get paid since my second stage wristband wouldn’t allow me backstage, where the dudes had apparently been waiting for me. However, the time the band was actually playing was pretty amazing. The handful of people in front the stage couldn’t have been happier to be there, some had driven hours and paid the fifty dollars for the festival ticket just to see Firewater.
The enthusiasm of the fans was true everywhere we went. Most people couldn’t believe they were finally going to see Firewater, saying they’d been waiting five years, ten years, or their whole lives to see them. Lots of people drove lots of miles. A trio followed us from New Orleans to Austin to Dallas. I met people from Des Moines in Kansas City, from Louisville, Iowa City and Baltimore(!) in Chicago, and from Cincinnati in Cleveland. And if they were excited before the show, they were even more so after. Merch sales were decent every night despite the fact that we didn’t have T-shirts and most of the people who came up to the merch table looked over the display and said they already had everything.
Firewater is Tod A, lead singer, guitarist and the only constant member in their twelve year history. Each record and every tour saw a different band. All of them good, every one has something to recommend it. In addition to 2008’s Golden Hour and the brand new International Orange!, Bloodshot has released Firewater’s entire back catalog (with the exception of The Ponzi Scheme, which is still owned by Universal). This is the first time in years that some of these CDs are available. Still, when people asked which one to get I had no problem highly touting the new one. Its ridiculously catchy songs get in your head and stay there. And they play well live too. “A Little Revolution” and “The Monkey Song” were part of every night’s show, which saw some variables from night to night. For instance, “Three Headed Dog” didn’t make it onto a setlist until Dallas, where we needed something darker. The highlight every night was (surprisingly) the mostly instrumental “Bhangra Brothers” which featured a center stage performance from percussionist Jazz. Even after eight shows I wasn’t tired of the audience participation portion which they always gladly gave.
Other highlights included the gig in Kansas City where the bartenders bent over backwards to keep us happy and the promoter couldn’t stop smiling; he couldn’t believe Firewater was playing his venue. In addition, the two Ha Ha Tonka members, Lennon and Brett Anderson, who live in KC came out to the show. It was nice to be able to put them on the list for once. In Cleveland on the last night of the tour they played every song they knew and Tod treated the audience to a solo version of an old Cop Shoot Cop song “Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead.” “You’re showing your age,” he chided the audience when they went crazy after the first line. Most of all the highlight of every day and night was getting to hang out with seven really great guys, every one of them smart, witty, charming and handsome. Oh, and foreign, did I mention that? Of the bunch, only Tod had been born in the USA and he’s been living in Istanbul for the last two years.
Yep, pretty much a dream vacation. If there is a spring tour, as Tod hinted there may be, sign me up.