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November 2012

Let me tell you about my weekend.

I’ve been playing with a new startup artist named Amanda Daughtry since the end of August. Amanda has spent many years and a lot of effort in the North Carolina area (her native land) making a name for herself. This summer, she made the decision to base her operation out of Nashville and use a touring band from Music City, as well. The band currently also consists of guitarist Tom Yankton, keyboardist Rachel Solomon, and drummer Wil Easterwood. We play most weekends in the southeast sector of the country, bringing a high caliber of music to all who drop on by. The shows are consistently getting better, and every gig has been well-received by many people who carry around a little bit of clout.

So.

We met for travel call at the usual spot at 3 a.m. on Friday morning. Many nights that we have to leave, either Tom or I (sometimes both) have night gigs that leave us with no option but to leave at that time of night. We travel five people in a Chevy Tahoe with a 7×12 trailer. We load the trailer up, grab spots in the Tahoe, and get moving. Recently, I’ve found that the most easy thing is for me to take the first, grueling shift of the drive. I’m generally pretty useless for driving if I’ve been sleeping or relaxing. I just can’t get it going unless I start. We hit the road, and I listen to podcasts (life tip: we have all this access to interviews with legendary people in all fields about how they built and continue to build their success…take notes and implement them into your own life). Everyone else is asleep, and I make the drive to Black Mountain, NC, home of one branch of The Dripolator, a coffee shop that we all love dearly. Then we switch drivers and I pass out for a bit. On this particular trip, we get very close to the switch, and Amanda wakes me up in a sweat and shaking to ask if I can pass her back some Tylenol…

We generally pull into whatever town we need to be in just around 2pm and either go to the hotel that we may or may not sleep in, or we go load our stuff into the venue. Regardless, after a little bit of downtime, our sound company comes in and starts to set the PA up. This past Friday night, we played a private party (outdoors) in Grantham, NC. Ok, so we get set up and soundchecked. Then we go back to the house of the party and I shower, followed by a delicious steak dinner from the hosts.

It was a well-known fact that it was going to be cold out there in Grantham on Friday night. I pulled out my fingerless gloves and a scarf to throw on so I could alleviate some of the cold. Tom was wearing 3 layers and 2 hats to play guitar, Rachel was emblazoned in a puffy winter coat and owl-crested fingerless gloves, Wil was wearing at least 2 pairs of socks, and Amanda was eventually bundled in a blanket…to sing. For some reason, going in and out of bitter cold and permeating warmth a few times was really messing with my system. I had terrible shakes, a lot of weakness, and blurred vision all throughout that gig. Gloves aside, my hands froze, and I spent the majority of the time only hoping I was hitting the right strings. Amanda threw up at some point following our second set. It was Wil’s first official gig with the band, and we had all the elements against us, even though the reception was a great time. Time to go load the trailer back up at around midnight, and get a (surprisingly) good night of sleep at the hotel.

We get up for late check-out on Saturday morning, and begin the trek to our next gig in Jacksonville, NC. Stop and get some food, and finish the trip. We throw our gear into the venue (Gus’ Warehouse) and do as much setup as we can (Tom and I were both using backline amps that the sound company has, Rachel needs the PA to even begin making sound, but drums can get pretty set), before making an attempt for Amanda to go see her grandfather for his 80th birthday dinner at Golden Corral. Not so fast….

Here’s where it gets fun…

Amanda is beginning to feel pretty awful. She decides that we’re going to just run in, say hi to her family, and she’s going to run to the urgent care to see what’s wrong with her. The rest of us head over to a delicious (but overpriced…the touring musician’s bane!) Mexican restaurant that’s within spitting distance from the hotel, and midway through the meal, Amanda texts to tell us she’s on her way to the emergency room. The planning begins…

Sitting at the table, I outline the fact that among the four of us that are healthy, there are three other lead vocalists. Tom can be seen almost every night of the week in Nashville fronting a band with a killer lead and harmony voice. Rachel is about to put out a record of her own that I swear has some of the most refreshing sounding vocal tracks on it I’ve heard in an unfortunately long time. Wil has a voice that rivals some of the best male country voices of our time. …I play the bass really well (my contributions here are minimal). If there are any voices that I want other than Amanda’s powerhouse on stage, it’s these guys.

Tom and I take a cab over to the hospital and get the keys to our vehicular transport, and I tell Amanda that she needs to stay there and get the rest and medical attention she needs and that we’ve got this covered; she shouldn’t put her long-term health in jeopardy.

We get ready to play, head over, soundcheck for any contingency plan, and wait for showtime…

Right before our on-stage time of 10 p.m., Amanda texts that she’s on the way. She’s been diagnosed with a kidney infection, but the staff gave her intravenous antibiotics and a saline drip to get her in shape to play. We get the set time pushed back to 10:15. Amanda arrives, we take positions and proceed to roll through the first set.

I had mentioned that the frozen tundra gig from the night before had been Wil’s first gig with the band. That hadn’t gotten us anywhere, for peripheral reasons. So, the first set was a little on top of the beat. I described it like you’re driving a car, but the seat is leaned forward, so you’re in attack mode. I really wanted to get behind the beat and relaxed for the rest of the night. Luckily, with musicians of this caliber, only a few words need to be spoken about it, and we were on it. The rest of the show goes swimmingly, and we are very well-received. Now comes the hard part…

We finish our gig at 2 a.m. Teardown begins immediately, because we have to get loaded and make it back to Nashville by 2 p.m. (gaining an hour as we head west) for Tom to make his Sunday gig fronting at Nashville’s infamous bar, The Stage. I have a consistent 6 p.m. gig just down the street from there at Legend’s Corner, so I always have a little padding to my day when we get back. The drive begins…

Not terribly long into the morning, Amanda is feeling in a bad way again, so we stop at a small town Walgreens and get her prescriptions from the hospital filled, and continue heading back home.

We pull up to the downtown strip in Nashville right at 2 p.m. give or take a minute or so. As fate would have it, we can’t pull right up to The Stage as usual, because there’s the Veteran’s Day parade moving right down that way. Poor Tom has to wheel his gear two blocks to get in the club. Consequently, we have to go the long way back to our cars to unload. Everyone gets their cars packed, we say our goodbyes until the next time, and head where we need to be.

On my way to my 6 p.m. gig with Troy Brooks, I get a text that Amanda is headed to the hospital again, in Nashville. Eventually, she’d be ADDITIONALLY diagnosed with pneumonia. I play my 6-10 p.m. gig and finally head home to rest.

Folks, these are the trials and tribulations of the modern road musician. And honestly, this isn’t the most ridiculous trip I’ve had to navigate (by far) since I’ve been here playing music in Nashville. If you’re one of our many readers who see the idea of rock star touring musicianship as a bright, shining star for you, it is! One of the many challenges we face in our field is that while music can be EVERYWHERE at once, the musicians who make it can only be in one place at one time, although expected to be everywhere at once. It’s like Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben said in the Spider-Man movies; with great power comes great responsibility. It’s a widely accepted fact that high levels of musical talent are a great power. With just a few notes, there is the power to bring tears, anger, longing, and many other emotions. Our responsibility is to use that power to actually move people. You can be the most proficient bassist in the world in your bedroom or the music room in your house, but that will never measure up in respect or accomplishment to getting in front of people and moving them with your art. All of this to say, of course, that when you set down that path, you’re bound to have many, many of the moments I’m describing above.

Don’t get discouraged, because from downbeat to downbeat, you’re doing with a wide population only wishes they could do. It’s the best. Period.

Or….please get discouraged….so there are enough gigs to go around for me! :-)

Until next time…

…Oh hey, big changes are on the horizon here…stay tuned…

Matt O’Donnell
Managing Editor
Bass Frontiers

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