Koffin Kats March 2014 Tour — Update #3 (Austin, Laredo, Harlingen, San Antonio, Fort Worth, Springfield, Grand Rapids)

Hey-o! Here’s the final update from the road on our two-week March tour, and our one-off show with Mustard Plug this past weekend!

After being treated to a delicious bacon and eggs breakfast in Beaumont, Texas (thanks, Alicia!), we hit the highway to Austin, Texas. Once we got through the crazy rush hour traffic in downtown Austin, we pulled up to the night’s venue, The Lost Well.

Just another manic(ure) Monday.  On the way to Austin, TX.
Just another manic(ure) Monday. On the way to Austin, TX.

The Lost Well is another DIY rock and roll venue with a relatively small stage (not as small as the stage in Laredo, Texas, but we’ll get to that soon). Vic and I set up our rigs, and then I immediately got to work changing Angel’s strings and cleaning off the residue of sweat and beer that inevitably ends up getting on her. Strings tuned and stretched, I helped myself to some of the wonderful homemade lasagna provided for us.

Our show that night had a really good turnout and crowd response, especially considering Austin had just hosted their annual South By Southwest festival; it was a Monday night; and it was St. Patrick’s Day. The audience included several longtime friends and fans of The Koffin Kats, who warmed up to me quickly and had much positive feedback. Post show, we went to our friend Alyssa’s house and hung out for a bit, smoking and drinking. Soon enough, my tiredness hit me and I retired to the bus for a good sleep.

Morning came sooner than expected (time flies when you’re having fun), and after brushing my teeth we left Alyssa’s to get to a local Ford dealership where our buddy Steve from the band Klax works. Steve is a gearhead, and really knows his way around diesel engines, so we tapped him to help us work out a couple kinks with our bus. While the bus was being worked on, we went to grab a bite to eat at Logan’s Roadhouse, then walked around Cabela’s for a bit. We had more time to kill while the bus was in the shop, so we hit up Wal-Mart and Vic purchased a Panama hat for the outdoor work he’ll be doing this spring/summer.

Ready for sunny weather in Austin, TX.
Ready for sunny weather in Austin, TX.

Eric and I treated ourselves to milkshakes at Sonic, and we walked back to the dealership to scoop us the bus and travel to Laredo, Texas. Vic drove us the whole way to Laredo, since Eric and I were passed out having sugar dreams. Our arrival at the venue, On The Rocks, was a bit early, so we spent a little time walking around town, eventually stopping to look across the Rio Grande and the border into Mexico. Back at the venue, the opening band (Scarecrow) was chilling outside, and we all sat around and chatted for a bit about band dealings and music stuff.

On The Rocks is a narrow venue, with a stage so small it required Vic and I to set up our rigs directly in front of Eric’s drum kit. In fact, there wasn’t enough room to store our gear inside the venue, so while Scarecrow was playing we staged our stuff outside on the sidewalk. Once on stage, Vic and I each had about a 3’x2’ area in which to perform, but we made the most of it. The crowd was incredibly responsive, and the fans made their appreciation known throughout the night. They were truly grateful for us coming to Laredo, and encouraged us to not only come back, but to book shows in Mexico, too. Someday!

We had hotel rooms that night in Laredo at a local Motel 6. That’s right; I said r-o-o-m-s, plural. Each of us had our own hotel room in which to sleep and do whatever dudes do when they’re alone in a hotel room. It was refreshing to sleep in a bed, even though the bed was a little stiff.

I feel like Motel 6’s amenities are a direct reflection of the nonchalance in the voice of their spokesman in their commercials; everything was just annoying enough to not be too annoying, but noticeable: the bed was a little stiff, but not too stiff; the towels were slightly scratchy, but not so scratchy that you couldn’t use them; the TV was small, but not so small you couldn’t enjoy it; the bedding was thin, but not so thin you couldn’t keep warm. Then again, we were in a Motel 6 in Laredo, Texas. (In other news, I’m really good at using colons and semicolons.)

After a morning shower, we left for Harlingen, Texas. Seriously, I had to ask the boys “What did we do between leaving Laredo and arriving in Harlingen?” It turns out all we did was drive and take naps. Fine by me! We got to the Harlingen venue, The Hop Shop, with plenty of time to spare, so we…took another nap. God, we’re old.

The Hop Shop in Harlingen, TX.
The Hop Shop in Harlingen, TX.

Loaded in, The Hop Shop treated us to barbecued chicken and ribs, which were great. Full of protein, we greeted the fans and friends who were filling the venue quickly. We took the stage (read: the floor), and the crowd went nuts. Fans were jostling for a better view, since we were slightly obscured by a half wall, and people were knocking into each other and having a blast. They even coerced us into two encores!

Who are you calling "chicken"???
Who are you calling “chicken”???

Once we departed The Hop Shop, we drove to Corpus Christi and parked at another Wal-Mart to catch some Zzzz. Up and at ‘em the next day, we made the short trek to San Antonio and parked outside the venue, Korova. Our buddy John met up with us and treated us to lunch at Bill Miller BBQ. The food was delicious, and we were quite grateful. Lunch consumed, we went for a walk around downtown San Antonio, stopping for ice cream and cigars along the way. We went to the Alamo and strolled along the riverwalk, which was very pleasant. I remarked to the boys that I felt like I was on vacation; the weather was perfect, and the scenery was lovely. We returned to the bus and, you guessed it, took another old man nap.

Got 'em.  Smokin' 'em.  In San Antonio, TX.  Post-lunch.  Pre-nap.
Got ’em. Smokin’ ’em. In San Antonio, TX. Post-lunch. Pre-nap.

That’s really been our routine on this tour: wake up, breakfast, gym, drive/nap, lunch, walk around with an ice cream or milkshake, nap, load in, set up/change strings, hang out at the merch table, perform, hang out at the merch table, tear down, load out, drive to where we’re staying, sleep; rinse, repeat. I’ve loved every minute of it!

IMG_0713

We loaded in, and after setting up my rig I immediately went to work changing strings on both Angel and McFly, my blue sparkle Sensei from Reverend Guitars. Strings changed and stretched, I moseyed to the merch table and hung out, meeting and greeting friends and fans. I even autographed the skin of several people in order for them to turn my signature into tattoos. I sure hope they know what “permanent” means! I’ve never been asked to do that before, and it’s proving to be less rare than I would imagine. Koffin Kats fans are awesome, and I’m honored that someone would want my name on their body, especially since we’re not dating. Ha!

The crowd at Korova in San Antonio, TX.
The crowd at Korova in San Antonio, TX.

The crowd at Korova was fantastic, all up at the front of the stage and eager for the show. The stage was, in my opinion, the perfect size for the show we like to put on, and I was able to engage with the audience much more than at previous shows. This was the first show at which I felt brave enough to take my shirt off and perform, and did so later in the set to much appreciation from the females in the audience — I see you, ladies! 😉 We came back on stage and did a two-song encore of “A Darker Place” and “Needles and Blades,” then we were mobbed at the merch table for pictures and autographs.

The last of the friends and fans left after the venue had closed, and we packed up and headed to our friend Luis’s house. Luis and his wife had an amazing spread of food waiting for us, including this phenomenal macaroni and cheese with bacon and chicken. It was some of the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had. We stayed up for a bit, drinking and chatting, then passed out in our respective areas.

Looks like our bus stole the show in San Antonio, TX.
Looks like our bus stole the show in San Antonio, TX.

The next morning, we were fed breakfast and a cinnamon cheesecake concoction that made us all feel nice and full, ready for the drive ahead. Before breakfast, Vic took some time to make some adjustments to the pedalboard enclosure he built for me. Now I can see the digital readout without having to crouch down and look inside the enclosure, which makes for a much smoother transition between songs. Breakfast finished, we departed the company of Luis and his family, and made for the nearest Buc-ee’s so Eric could buy us some beef jerky for the road.

Breakfast with friends in San Antonio, TX.
Breakfast with friends in San Antonio, TX.

Our destination was Fort Worth, Texas. We arrived a couple of hours early and walked around town, stopping at a liquor store where we purchased a bottle of Herman Marshall pure Texas bourbon. The distiller was at the store offering samples, and this whiskey was quite smooth and flavorful. We ate at Freebirds World Burrito, and I made sure their restroom felt my wrath on two occasions within two hours.

On the road to Fort Worth, Texas. Eric is making full use of his degree from Nap So Hard University.
On the road to Fort Worth, Texas. Eric is making full use of his degree from Nap So Hard University.

We loaded in at Lola’s and hung out at the merch table, like we do. The place filled up very quickly, and there was hardly room to move inside the venue, even during the opening bands, which is awesome. While the first acts were performing, I was able to meet a bunch of friends of the band, all nice people. We chatted and got to know one another for a bit, and then it was time to play. The crowd was incredibly energetic and moved throughout the entire set. Ladies in the front row were begging me to take my shirt off, and I obliged.

You know, a good, smelly saloon . . . is my favorite place in the world.
You know, a good, smelly saloon . . . is my favorite place in the world.

The performance at Lola’s was one of the strongest we had during this tour. Vic came up to me after the show, shook my hand and told me, “You’re owning it.” I was speechless and grateful. After we packed up our gear, we went to an IHOP to eat some food with Fort Worth friends before heading out on the road for the eight-hour drive to Springfield, Missouri.

Lola's was ready.
Lola’s was ready.

 

After parking at the venue (Outland Ballroom), we trekked to a local market for a healthy late lunch. Once lunch was finished, we went to the bus and took a short nap before loading in. Load-in at Outland Ballroom is somewhat painstaking; all gear needs to be brought up a long, steep ramp, which leads to the rear of the venue. We set up and had an awesome sound check. (I could actually hear my guitar while playing!)

Honoring Grandpa by wearing his hat and chewing on a toothpick in Springfield, MO.
Honoring Grandpa by wearing his hat and chewing on a toothpick in Springfield, MO.

This show was a fitting end to my first tour as guitarist for Koffin Kats: We were on a big stage with a great sound system and solid engineer, we had our buddies Brutally Frank (Joplin, Missouri) and Gutter Ghouls (Detroit, Michigan) opening the show for us, and many longtime fans and friends of the band were in attendance. The crowd was highly engaged, and women were grabbing at my junk every time I made my way to the front of the stage (I am NOT a piece of meat, ladies! :-D).

If this van's a rockin' . . . it's just Ballman getting more merch out of the trailer.  In Springfield, MO.
If this van’s a rockin’ . . . it’s just Ballman getting more merch out of the trailer. In Springfield, MO.

When the last of our friends and fans had left and with the trailer packed, we began the long drive home to Detroit. We got home in the middle of the afternoon, and I immediately set to work preparing Stu Stu Studio for my clients’ arrival that evening. The following week would be filled with ten-hour recording sessions and sleeping.

Almost home.
Almost home.

This past Saturday, we played with our buddies Mustard Plug at The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The venue layout is awesome, and it has a wonderful sound system. We loaded in while the sun was still shining then walked to a local dive bar for dinner. Upon returning to the venue, I changed Angel’s strings and hung out with our people.

This was the first opportunity that my girlfriend Jackie, Vic’s girlfriend Liz, and Eric’s brother Michael had to see me perform. They each were very complimentary toward me, and even though the damned clip on my guitar’s wireless transmitter broke halfway through the show (!!!), it was a successful night.

The Red Queen and I at The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids, MI.
The Red Queen and me at The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids, MI.

After we finished at the venue, Jackie and I went to a late night coffee shop before boarding the Megabus to Chicago, where I write this now.  I’m working on learning all of the old material so we can add more old songs to the set if we want.

Study materials.
Study materials.

When the band first approached me about playing guitar for the group, I was fearful that my skill set wasn’t at the level necessary, and doubtful of my ability to play the lead solos accurately and smoothly. I busted my ass for days practicing the songs and solos over and over and over, building calluses and developing muscle memory. Though I still have a flub here and there, I feel extremely comfortable in my new role, and I absolutely love performing with Vic and Eric. Our vibe is great, and everyone is telling us that I fit right in with the band. This opportunity has dramatically changed my life for the better, and I am so thankful to have been chosen for this position.

I also want to thank those of you who read these posts and follow the band in everything we do. To those of you whom I’ve met, I look forward to seeing you the next time we’re in your area. To those of you whom I’ve yet to meet, don’t be shy; I’m quite approachable, and though I may occasionally forget your name, I appreciate you and your support for the group. You are why I get up on stage every night.

I just can’t wait to get on the road again . . .

/smooches

:-J

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