Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Looking back at 2013, what a great year.

Howdy everyone!

The idea of writing a year-end review of 2013 is a little daunting but also quite worthy, as we’ve had one helluva year.  I asked the ever-helpful Jenny Viars to give me a quick review sheet to work with, and as I was reading through it, I started thinking, “I can’t believe all this happened to us in one year."  We released a live album, made several trips out west, played "Shakedown Street" with Keller Williams--twice, opened for Lukas Nelson, opened for Bob Seger in front of 10,000 people, played a ton of festivals, and made a whole lot of new friends and family along the way.  

Playing to a sold-out crowd at PNC Arena in Raleigh in our opening set for Bob Seger

Instead of trying to recap everything that has happened in our incredible year, I wanted to share a few memorable stories that we haven't really had the chance to tell.

We also have a little something special here.   This video is from our viewpoint on New Year's Eve with a GoPro camera.   So if you've ever wondered what a BDL show looks like from our point of view, here you go!

I listed some of the obvious highlights above, but there are also the not-so-obvious highlights like getting towed off the top of a mountain in Colorado in the middle of the night at zero degrees. I don't think we've told this story yet, so here goes.  It is kind of long, but it is the craziest experience we've ever been through, so hopefully it'll be worth it.  

Our trip to Colorado this past February caught us in no less than three big-ass snowstorms.  Most bands would never be that lucky, but obviously we're special.  We had to drive from Breckenridge to Durango--a trip that should take 6 hours, not 30.   It started snowing on us in the early afternoon, so to be safe we decided we would try out our handy-dandy snow chains on the van. We have a big heavy van towing a big heavy trailer, and at the time we were on some pretty worn out, bald tires.  We knew we had to make it over two different mountain passes to get there; as the roads started to get white, we decided to go ahead and "chain-up" while it was still light out.  We got the chains on and got back onto the road; after about 45 seconds of being beat to death by the chains on the pavement, we decided to take them back off and just go for the first pass.  As we got higher, the roads got whiter, and the sunset was beautiful.  It's an odd feeling watching a beautiful sunset over majestic mountains and at the same time not knowing if you are going to make it around the next curve or not.

The first pass wasn't too bad.  We drove slow, and my love of stunt driving in the snow as a teenager in Sparta helped a little.  (We would actually go out driving in snowstorms and try to get the cops to turn around and come after us, just to see if we could get away.  That was back when they still drove the Crown Vics, not the trucks they have today.  See kids, the stupid things you do when you're young DO pay off!)

We came down into the valley below the famed Telluride and started up the next pass.  It was very dark by this point and these roads were steep and sinuous.  Somehow we actually made it to the top of this pass.  At the peak we stopped again to put the chains back on.  We were about 10K feet up on icy, snowy roads and knew going down was going to be rough.  NC has this wonderful invention called "guard rails" that they place around bad curves to keep you from falling off a mountain.  Colorado has yet to find this advanced technology and prefers to deal with the problem with a technique called "high-angle rescue" with their firefighters.  We did not want to experience this high-angle rescue--or 500-foot-bottom-of-ravine rescue either, for that matter.

We didn't make it very far before the van lost traction and started sliding.  I had two options for the slide -- go left into the ditch, or right off the cliff.  After some pondering I decided left would do just fine.  We got stopped and sat there for a few minutes, allowing the full "WTF just happened" feeling to wrap itself around us.  Heavy van, heavy trailer, and icy roads with a cliff to one side....crap. We called our friends in Durango and asked what we should do, and they laughed at us and wished us good luck.     

This is where things got interesting.  We called two towing services and they don’t answer.  Joey got an answer on the third try and patiently explained the situation.  The guy says he'll come get us and take us to the hotel in Telluride.  Joey tells him we are a traveling band and that we can either pay for a towing bill or a hotel, but not both.   

Towing service owner:  "Oh, I see...well, is everyone cool?"  
Joey: "Umm...yeah, we're cool."
Owner: "I mean, is.   everyone.   cool?!"
Joey: "Yes!  Everyone.   Is.  Cool!"
Owner: "Okay then, you can stay with me."  

Two hours later two trucks pulled up.  One was driven by a good-ole Colorado country boy, and he called his truck "Bull Dog."  The roll-back truck was driven by someone who had very little experience.  After much yelling and cussing from the Bull Dog driver to the rookie we finally got the van onto the roll-back and the trailer attached to the Bull Dog.  The next problem was where to put the five of us.  There wasn't enough room in the tow trucks and putting us back into the van on top of the roll-back would be the dumbest and most dangerous, not to mention illegal, option.  So obviously, that's what we decided to do.  Keep in mind it is literally zero degrees and windy on top of this mountain pass through this whole process.   

Remember the scene in Lord of the Rings when Gandalf is leading the fellowship over the Caradhras mountain pass?  That's what it felt like for a few moments.  

As we climbed up the roll-back and got into the van, the first thing we notice is how incredibly high we are off the ground.  Imagine being in a very tall truck that is stacked onto another very high truck and then riding around icy roads with 500 foot cliffs to one side, because that’s exactly what was happening.  And just to make the entire experience more surreal, the yellow flashing lights on top of the truck were exactly eye level to us and made the inside of the van feel like a disco-rave party. 
We wound our way back down the mountain--and keep in mind the rookie is driving us, not the veteran with Bull Dog.   He was driving fast, too.  Everyone one of us imagined the physics laws that would apply to a van on top of a roll-back flipping off a mountain.  The part of me that loves thrills had to enjoy this, by the very nature of thrill-seeking.  The part of me that wanted to continue living wasn’t so sure.  

We got to the owner's house, a modest mountain cabin up a one-lane gravel road, and they pull the trucks in and both drivers just walk inside and tell us to wait out here.  After everything we’d been through at this point you would think we’d just be relieved, but standing outside this house in the middle of nowhere, knowing that we were at the mercy of these crazy mountain dudes, was not a secure feeling.  It felt like they were in there forever.   Enough time for them to decide how to kill us, bury the bodies, and sell everything they had just scored.  We are not paranoid people, mind you, but dammit, we’ve seen these movies before!  We know how this goes down!  

It was probably 15 minutes until they came out.  It felt like an hour.  But they came out and invited us inside where we met the owner, an older guy who had obviously lived in these mountains for a very long time.  He was a nice laid-back guy, with a well-earned lifetime stoner vibe, and for the first time in about 8 hours we were able to sit down and relax as he and Wookie discussed the finer points of the decriminalization process.   

I slept better that night than I did the entire trip.   We woke up to a snowy wonderland of mountains, tall pines, and deep blue skies.  We got the van hooked back up to the trailer, said our “thank you for saving our asses” goodbyes and slowly went down the one-lane road to the pavement.  Oh the sweet, sweet pavement.  We headed west, out of the mountains, and took the long way to Durango.  30 hours into our 6 hour trip we pulled into our friend’s house and cracked the first of many well-deserved beers.   

When you start your year out like that, everything else seems pretty easy.  

Last week a group of us had a rare Saturday night off, so we headed up to Johnson City to celebrate the opening of a music venue/coffee shop called The Willow Tree.  This place is a dream realized, and we’ve been lucky enough to experience the entire process.  We read about people who just give it all up and follow their heart, but rarely do we see it with our own eyes.  One of the great things about what we do is getting to meet a lot of amazing people: as we play a part in their lives with our music, they become part of our lives as well.  

The chain of events that led to us being there started several years ago when we noticed a lady named Teri Dosher and her daughter Zoe showing up at our gigs in different parts of NC.  They were both very sweet and genuine and just lived for live music.  Through the years we’ve all become great friends, so when Teri decided she was going to follow her heart and open a music venue, we were some of the first people to know and have helped as much as we can through the process.  

As we were standing there on Saturday night watching our friends The Red Dirt Revelators play, I just thought to myself how lucky we are to meet people like this and to be there to witness such big moments in their lives.  There is the business side of what we do, but there’s this whole other side that can’t be put into an accounting book.  Those are the days that keep us moving forward.

We're also really excited to play The Willow Tree grand opening party on February 8, along with our friends Yarn.

If you've made it this far then you're either quite a fan or just bored.  Either way, I thank you.   We are sitting in Florida right now and will be heading down to the Keys here in a few.  I know, I know, tough life right?  It almost makes up for being stranded in the middle of the night on a 10,000 foot mountain top.    

Thanks for sticking with us through it all, and hopefully we'll be seeing you soon.