don't you tell me how i feel.

White Birds Tour: Day 1 by don't you tell me how i feel.
September 24, 2011, 10:54 pm
Filed under: white birds tour

In which Lehtola and White Birds make a 12-hour journey to show #1 in Cincinnati, blow a few fuses, and crash with a generous new fan

At 7 AM the alarm went off. A three-story house in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, covered in vines and surrounded by tall grass, began to stir. Farzad Houshiarnejad (vocals/keys) was the first member of White Birds to wake up. I asked how he felt: “Terrible.” Dude had come down with flu-like symptoms the day before tour, and was trying every trick in the book to get better.

Farzad said he’d heard that if one takes 200 sips of nearly-boiling water over the course of a day, a cold could be slain. I don’t think he actually tried this method, but he did pound about a gallon of herbal tea and honey on Thursday. Empty mugs littered the coffee table.

Chris Radwanski (bass) emerged next, and went downstairs to make make coffee and a kielbasa sandwich. James Harvey (vocals/guitar) came out of his bedroom, hit the bathroom, and discovered the sink and toilet were backed up. No hot water either, that morning.

Mike Camaratta (drums) came downstairs from the 3rd floor, wearing fluffy sleeping pants with little dogs on them. He was the first to get his gear lined up by the front door, and was in the van shortly afterwards, ready to go.

The white Ford panel van was fully loaded by 9 AM. White Birds and I were on the road soon after, en route to the MidPoint Music Festival in Cincinnati, Ohio. The band was scheduled to play at 11:30 p.m. at the Below Zero Lounge, and it would be almost 12 hours before we got there.

At the first stoplight, the air thick with morning mist, a pair of women jogged by on the shoulder. Farzad remarked that they were quite attractive, and someone recommended giving them a honk and wave. This was done politely and with the best intentions, but 5 dudes (4 with beards) in a van, all smiling and waving, does not look good. The women jogged across the road against the light, a move that Chris said looked like a snap decision, all because of our creepy hello. The women were probably terrified, but the situation was so absurd, we couldn’t stop laughing.

I wasn’t laughing later, though. Less than an hour into the drive, I realized I had to pee. Being the fly-on-the-wall dude, I didn’t want to slow things down and be “that guy.” But Gods, it started getting bad, and I made the mistake of waiting too long before telling Chris I had to go. We had just passed a rest stop, which would have been free, while getting off somewhere else would mean paying a toll.

Tolls, you see, are not good for subsistence touring – White Birds had enough money to fill the tank and get to Cincinnati. The money they made that night would fund the next day, and so on. This is why if ever I see a band I really like, I always buy a T-shirt. Often a band won’t make anything off a show, door-wise, which makes those merch sales crucial.

So anyway, avoiding tolls is key. But it wasn’t long before my teeth began to float, and I started getting that horrible, about-to-burst feeling. Chris saw me squirming, and pulled off on the side of the highway. I bolted out the door and ran down a grassy embankment to piss. It was amazing.

Mike took the wheel next (White Birds do their driving in two-hour shifts), and as he drove through the intermittent rain, James brought up the subject of where we would all be sleeping that night: “Does anybody know anyone in Cincinnati?”

None of us knew anybody in Cincinnati, and a hotel would mean sacrificing critical food and gas money. It was looking like it might be a night in the van, or, maybe — hopefully — some good Samaritan at the show would provide a place to stay.

But that was hours away. On we drove.

Farzad was passed out in the back seat, doped up on Nyquil. James recommended getting a bottle of hand sanitizer the next time we stopped, so we could avoid getting sick ourselves. Before long, we were all gobbling up the vitamin C pills Farzad had brought along. The gloomy weather made getting sick seem inevitable.

To pass the time, we watched Da Ali G Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Sopranos on a MacBook. In the van, it sits on top of Mike’s floor tom, wedged between the driver and passenger seat, and the sound is routed through the van’s speakers. I can’t tell you how hilarious it is to drive (I took Farzad’s shifts so dude could sleep) while listening to The Sopranos. You hear the dialog and sound, and imagine the most preposterous imagery.

Mid-afternoon, the A/C socket in the van’s dashboard stopped working. There are three altogether, but only one had been functioning. This meant the Garmin map utility couldn’t work, as its battery was dead. Computers and phones couldn’t be powered up either. We needed fuses.

At the next stop, Chris and Farzad got to work on the problem, poring over a digital version of the van’s manual on Farzad’s iPhone. It turned out there were spare fuses in the fuse panel, and after a bit of concentrated plucking and replacing, they got the socket working. This took about 45 minutes, after lunch at a rest stop, but we had directions again.

Soon after re-assuming the road, however, we were stopped dead by traffic for 60 minutes. Then we missed the exit for I-75 by about 80 yards. James pulled over on the shoulder, scanned the rearview and looked for openings. As trucks and cars zoomed by at terrifying speeds, rocking the van with every pass, James slowly backed up, waiting for traffic-free windows. It took about ten minutes, but he did that shit, and it made for a small victory.

Around 3 in the afternoon, Farzad woke up, took some more Nyquil and realized something. “Ah, shit–we forgot the Monopoly!” This bummed me out as well. I can dig on some Monopoly, and it sounded like a good way to pass the time.

A more dire realization soon followed, however. It turned out we accidentally left a bag of important gear behind in Doylestown. This led to a 3-hour detour to a Guitar Center somewhere in Ohio for an interface, cables and USB-type shit. After that, it was another three hours to Cincinnati, and the Below Zero Lounge downtown.

We got there at 10, loaded the gear inside, and spent 15 minutes finding a parking spot. Then it was time for White Birds to set up, which meant it was time for me to man the merch table ($18 for a shirt, $30 for the most awesome knitted snow hat you’ve ever seen, and free download cards for the EP).

They started playing at 11:30, opening with “When Women Played Drums,” and it sounded solid. The PA, however, had other ideas. It crackled with static, and I found out later there were some issues with the sound engineer, who Mike referred to as “Post-Matt Damon.” Chris actually left the stage in the middle of a song to see what the deal was. Also, the new interface sounded a little wonky, and Farzad was getting so owned by congestion he could barely sing.

The thing about White Birds is, their worst show is better than most bands’ best show. “Hondora” sounded especially dope, as did “Floating Hands.” But it was during “We Both Scream” that the true music lovers in the room got it — I could see it happen via their body language. Sound issues aside, when you have that realization at a show, that “holy shit this band is amazing” moment, is there anything better?

A girl named Jocelyn had that moment, and she would later turn out to be the good Samaritan we’d hoped for. Bless that girl! She came to the merch table, signed up for the mailing list, and I gave her a download card for the EP. She knew she had just borne witness to Future Music.

After that, Asobi Seksu took the stage and closed down the festivities for the night. James and I went to get the van, passing some of the scariest homeless people I’ve ever encountered. One guy was straight screaming nonsense, just wandering the barren streets. We got out of there, drove back to the Lounge, and loaded up the van.

We met up with Jocelyn at a bar called Neons, and then followed her back to her house, over the bridge and into the suburbs of Cincy. It was awesome. We had beds to sleep on, beer to drink and a whole bunch of electrical sockets to charge computers, phones and map utilities — not to mention a bathroom with a “Psycho”-themed shower curtain and rug covered in bloody smears. There was even a framed picture of Janet Leigh in mid-scream, on the shelf over the toilet. BADASS!

We had a few beers and went to bed, hard. It was almost 5 in the morning by then. Day 1 was fraught with issues, true, but it ended on a beautiful high note. Thanks Jocelyn!

– Lehtola

Tomorrow…the adventure continues in Illinois.


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