I got up in the morning and picked up the Dodge Caravan rental, loaded it up with merch and gear, said goodbye to my cat, and picked up Dobson and Heather before heading to my parents' house for a box of LPs and some sleeping bags. My mom fed us and made us coffee and sent us back out into the world with a chocolate bar and fruit and bottles of water. So far so good.
We arrived in Albany with time to spare and checked into our rooms at the Ramada, our only hotel night on this tour since friends or family will be hosting us every other night; air mattresses and couches await. We got to Valentine’s, Dobson set up the marimba, we did a sound check, and it was getting close to the posted showtime of 8:00 with no appearance by our local contact and opening act, Stephen, who had booked this show. I tried calling him, but his phone kept going to voicemail.
A quarter to nine: still no word from Stephen. The bartender and the sound guy were getting antsy, and so were we. It seemed like it might be time to switch to plan B: start the show without the opening band. So we took the stage. Then, two songs into our set, Stephen walked in with band members and gear in tow.
I was in the middle of singing “A Lot Like Being Alone,” and as I tried to give the words of the chorus a special significance in light of our situation (it was a lot like being the only band on the bill to show up) I could see there was some drama happening between Stephen and the sound guy, and then the mutual friend who had put me in touch with Stephen approached the stage with an expression of deep pain on his face. As soon as our second song was finished, he implored me to stop our set. “It's not supposed to be like this,” he said, meaning the still practically empty room, the other band standing ready to set up their gear, our having started a show only an hour after its advertised time when the followers of the opening act didn’t expect them to start until then; apparently starting the show anything like on time is not how things roll upstate.
Most of what I know about performing I learned from the circus: be versatile and quick on your feet, be prepared for unexpected changes, respect your colleagues, and the show must go on. So it was very surprising to be asked by another performer to stop in the middle of our act so that the night could proceed as originally planned, and it was extremely awkward being forced to have this conversation onstage in front of an audience. I was furious, but gracious; after a brief band tete-a-tete we ceded the stage to the other band and regrouped by the bar to console ourselves with drink ticket Budweiser.
In spite of ourselves, Dobson and I actually really liked their set. Punk rock is alive and well in upstate NY. And the room filled with people as they played. When they finished we returned to the stage, this time with a decent number of people listening. Torch songs with a marimba/violin/ukulele arrangement was definitely not what this audience was expecting, but I like a challenging room, and I’m starting to suspect I perform better when I’m a little pissed off, and we won those bastards over pretty fast. We killed them in the end.
So Albany was an interesting start to our week of shows. We’ll see what’s next...