In Boise, it really started to feel like we had our act together. Not just the musical part of the show, but loading and unloading the car, signing in and out of the hotel, taking a pit stop on the highway. Before we left on the trip, I was as eager to develop a system on tour as I was to play in front of some new folks in some interesting places. I figured it would take until Denver to get the system worked out, but we're already a well-oiled machine. As technical manager for Slate, my job is a lot like being on this tour. In the few years I've held this position, I've developed as much of a system as Shagbark and I have going right now.
I'm not sure there are many other folks I'd like to have riding shotgun on this trip. Shagbark has a worldly sense about him. The night before last, he picked the hotel for us because it had a sign that read "Free Cocktail Hour." He has an innate ability to sniff out liquor and bargains. He's getting frustrated, though, that I'm picking up the tab for just about everything. While we were getting our free bourbons at the hotel, he insisted that he was going to take care of the bill.
Monday morning, Valentine's Day, we woke up in Rock Springs, Wyo., which since has become a baseline on this trip for how good a city can be. Shagbark mostly liked it because we got to drink for free for a few hours. Ogden, Utah, a town we passed through a couple of hours earlier, would be at the other end of the spectrum. We've started rating cities on a scale of Ogden to Rock Springs.
For the first few hours of the trip, it was kind of snowy but the driving wasn't bad. Then I noticed a crack in my windshield. It started running north to south, but as it got bigger, it took a right and ran parallel to the dashboard. We measured how fast it was growing by putting a piece of a Post-it note at the edge. When it outgrew the Post-it, we decided we should stop and have someone take a look.
We stopped in Wyoming in a town called Wamsutter, where there looked to be a 24-hour mechanic on duty. We walked into the store and looked around for some sealant or something that might plug up the crack. I asked the clerk if someone could take a look at the windshield. Out of the garage came a man who was tall and broad and had a head like an oversized football. He asked if he could help us out. I explained about the crack and ask if he could look at it, and he said no. When I gave him a quizzical look, he asked, "Well, how big is it?" I held my hands out about 14 inches apart. He shook his head and said "Oh, that's too big." Shagbark and I traded looks of disbelief and walked back to the car. We started driving and Shagbark moved the Post-it note one more time. And, wouldn't you know it, after we left Wamsutter, the crack stopped growing.
The snow let up, the sun came out, and the next few hours made for beautiful driving weather. We set the controls for Fort Collins, Colo. Once here, we found the Starlight Theater and let ourselves in. We told them that it just so happened that we were a band with a night off before playing Denver on Tuesday. And it just so happened that they were interested.
The bartender, Nate, who also did sound, lent a hand setting up. It didn't take long to dial in a good sound and we made for the bar to hang with the locals, mostly people without dates on Valentine's Day. That's who we'd promoted the show to with a set of four fliers that Shagbark drew up back at the hotel. Xeroxes of the fliers in hand, we split the pile and walked separate sides of College Drive, handing them out to most anyone we met. Unfortunately, not too many folks took us up on the invitation.
We started playing around 11:30 to an empty room, though the adjacent bar had a handful of folks in it. We worked through the set, skipping the John Prine cover we usually do. Around the song "Yours," a couple started slow dancing. We followed with an improvisation, and the couple kept dancing, even though we were playing some pretty difficult music. It isn't often that I play to people slow dancing, and I wish it happened more. We played about 90 minutes, twice as long as we'd planned. We added a couple of Shagbark songs and a Built to Spill number called "Carry the Zero." I think the new songs will find a home in the set.
Tuesday, we head to Denver, where we'll be playing the 15th Street Tavern downtown, a few blocks from our friends Doug, Carrie, and Lilah, who'll let us stay for the night.