My first tour wasn’t part of a grand plan. I just wanted to get to the Michigan Women’s Music Festival. I had a small problem, though. Money from a part-time clerical job in Tucson, Arizona wasn’t going to buy enough gas to get to Phoenix, much less across the country. My friend Martie and I decided we’d gig our way to the festival. No one told us we couldn’t do it.
We had booked local performances for ourselves, but we didn’t have the faintest idea how to book a tour that spanned hundreds of miles. We found a woman who offered to get us gigs. Martie and I set about working out harmonies and lead guitar parts on each other’s songs. I think I even played banjo on one or two numbers. I hope someone got a picture of that ‘cause I haven’t been seen in public with one since. (Next thing ya know, I’ll be taking up the accordion and offending an even greater part of the population … you know I’m kidding right? I love both instruments, I just happen to be a lousy banjo player. I’d have to go to a gym for a year to even pick up an accordion. Besides, injured animal sounds aren’t in high demand at concerts.)
I managed to save enough money for a festival ticket and it had already arrived in my mailbox. I’d also tucked away a few bucks for gas and food, but not enough for both. With the money from gigs we should be all right … if only we had some gigs. Just a few weeks before we were to leave, our esteemed booking agent called us and said she couldn’t get anything for us. What did she do? Call her cousin in Cat Litter, Wyoming, then give up?
Martie, ever the positive one, happily exclaimed, “Let’s pretend we’re booking agents!” Act as an authority and people will treat you as one, right? We started making phone calls to friends, friends of friends and strangers we randomly dialed. This was before email, before cell phones and before many people had answering machines. A lot of times the phone rang and rang … and rang. Sometimes I’d get voice mail. If I was really lucky, I’d get a five year old telling me that Mommy was in the bathroom. I’m great with five year olds and sometimes, I managed to get the little guy to give Mommy the phone.
If they didn’t answer or get back to me in a week, I called again. And again. I called until I got a yes or a no. Even a no was good because that meant I could cross them off my list. (Another musician once told me that “no” was his second favorite answer. I concur.)
We booked a half dozen gigs, all to people who’d never heard us in concert. It helped that we were making use of the fabulous women’s music circuit. Only in existence a few years, there was still a lot of enthusiasm for any women performers, whether you’d just learned how to change from G to C without stopping, or had recorded a few LPs. (Back before DIY recordings, albums were very expensive so not many had them.)
We set off in Martie’s van. A few years old and a little battered around the edges, you had to stand on the brake pedal with both feet. As long as no one pulled out in front of us, we were good.
We had some wonderful shows, from a small theatre in Albuquerque to a YMCA basement in Kansas City. We had some interesting* gigs, too, including one at a small bar near St Louis where the van broke down. A tow truck driver helped us by shoving a small twig in a hole in the carburetor, enabling us to continue on our way. There’s much more to that story, including a night’s stay in a kid’s bed with sandy sheets, a dog that peed on my foot and a drunk bar owner who didn’t want to pay us, but that’s a much longer tale for another post.
The festival was amazing. After hearing all those strong women who could most definitely change chords without stopping, we felt like freakin’ amazons. We played at open mike and at the jam tent. I dreamed of playing on stage there and finally did, in 2004.
With no gigs, the drive home took a lot less time. The brakes kept working and the twig stayed in place. Plus, I had great new calf muscles and a dream of touring, something I ended up doing for twenty plus years. And still do.
*Interesting = sucks the family dog out loud
Thanks to my friend Mary Ellen for turning me on to that phrase. I’ve used it so many times I must owe her a royalty. It ranks right up there with “butter my butt and call me a biscuit.” My buddy Elaine swears she found that on a website of commonly used southern phrases.