Ed. Note: This post is a reprint from Julie’s blog, Musings from Boston.
This isn’t a show review. Not exactly. It’s a story of heartfelt commitment to one’s craft, to strength and perseverance, and to the bonds of friendship. And by “friendship,” I don’t mean posting something witty on someone’s facebook page, but coming to their rescue in the middle of the night on some desolate highway after a hellish traffic accident, packing their gear into your trailer and managing to cram 19 people onto a tour bus.
The glamorous life of a touring musician? I personally can’t imagine any sort of restful sleep in a moving vehicle, no matter how exhausted you are and however luxurious the ride. Nor does travel to exotic lands mean you actually get to see anything outside of airports, hotels, roadside restaurants and bars, the venues themselves, and the odd radio station or two, if there’s a promotional stop to make during the day. It seems like there must be an awful lot of time spent on logistics; just the daily mechanics of getting from place to place. Travel time, finding some place to eat, moving and setting up equipment, soundchecks, promotional commitments, finding your way around a strange city to procure whatever it is you need along the way. And all that for this brief span of time – 90 minutes, 2 hours tops – of actual performance, which is why one does this in the first place, but which can be filled with unknowns. What will the venue be like? What will the audience be like? Will the sound be good? Will the venue staff be helpful? Will the fans be distracted, expectant, or supportive? Will there be that magic in the air that makes it all worthwhile?
A huge part of what motivates me as a music writer is the level of commitment it takes to embark on the career path of a working musician. Just to believe in oneself and one’s music enough to be able to freely share it with others, especially when this involves getting up on a stage to perform… is completely mind-blowing to me. Add to that the effort it takes at self-promotion to distinguish yourself and your band from countless others out there doing much the same thing, to get your music heard in this complex and fractured world. When you add national or international touring to the mix, the level of effort and dedication needed to pull that off rises exponentially.
I first learned of The Drowning Men when they supported The Airborne Toxic Event on their mini East Coast tour last summer. I especially enjoy bands that have a little more going on than just straightforward rock ‘n’ roll, and these guys have a lot more going on – folk, dark-tinged Americana, sea shanties, pirate chants, Eastern European influences, and fer god’s sake, a theramin! This melding of styles gives them a unique and interesting sound. They’re warm, personable guys as well, which comes out strongly in their music and live performance.
Having released a debut EP and album since first forming in 2006, with a few supporting tours under their belt, The Drowning Men are still in their ‘up-and-coming’ stage, driving cross-country in a van, lugging their trailer full of gear as they travel from town to town, much the same as Airborne was doing a few short years ago. Those late night load-outs and long drives to the next tour stop must be among the least glamorous aspects of this job. Even if you’re not the driver, how much does one really sleep sitting in a packed van? So imagine yourself after a long night at a club, making your way down the highway when, all of a sudden, you’re hit by some careening drunk driver. This is exactly what happened to the Drowning Men on their way from New York to Boston, somewhere in Connecticut, in the dead of night.
This is where the story of friendship, and of bonds formed while on the road, comes in. Stranded on I-95 with their van and trailer totaled from the accident (but thankfully, with no one hurt), a call was made to Airborne’s tour manager Bill, as they were also on the road headed up to Boston for the show that night. At about 5am, they were picked up, band members and gear loaded into Airborne’s bus and trailer, to continue the trip. If this were any random headlining band and their support act, I suppose they would have had to cancel, or find other transportation somehow. But these two bands had become not just friends while touring together, but family. In an industry full of competition and oversized egos, there was none of any of that bullshit on that stretch of I-95 that night.
What can I say about The Airborne Toxic Event – the band, their management and crew – without coming across as gushing and sentimental? This is the only band I’ve followed since fairly early on in their career, and with how open and honest they’ve been in sharing this crazy journey with their fans, I’ve come to appreciate not only their skill as musicians, but their warmth and compassion as people. Unfailing generosity toward their fans, name-dropping fellow Eastside L.A. bands from very early on when most bands are only interested in promoting themselves, and ego-less concern for their touring partners.
Nato Bardeen of the Drowning Men says this far more eloquently (and succinctly) than I can. Enjoy the video of their wonderful song “Rita,” performed with their good friends in front of an ecstatic audience at the Orpheum Theatre last Saturday night.
Writer of all things from the sublime to the ridiculous, Julie publishes musingsfromboston.com, a music blog with the bipolar personality of wannabe philosopher and charlatan music critic, where she is just as likely to review the audience as she is the band. Since 2008, she has inexplicably favored musicians from the Silver Lake and Echo Park region of Los Angeles, for which she fully blames The Airborne Toxic Event. She does her best to live by the motto “only one who attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible.”