Plenty of people go to see bands when they come through their town, but most people don’t think about everything that it takes to get those bands to their favorite club. Being on tour for a musician is both enlightening and daunting, as physically and mentally draining as it is stimulating. And no matter what, there are always stories to tell. In Tales From The Golden Road we let musicians tell their own stories of life on the road to get a behind-the-scenes, up-close look at what really goes down between each show.
This month Glide Magazine is excited to share dispatches from modern blues-soul practitioner The Reverend Shawn Amos, who is currently in the midst of his first European tour.
THE POWER OF UNDERESTIMATION
Two weeks into this tour, I’ve been thinking about the definition of the word ‘band’. There are multiple meanings. I like this one:
a thing that restrains, binds, or unites
This is not a band in the most romantic sense. We are not childhood friends who formed a group in our basement, agreeing to cast our fate with one another. All of us have met relatively recently. Our time together is one-part business transaction and one-part musical solidarity. My job is to be a bandleader — both on and off stage. On stage is the easier bit. Off stage, I’m gaining my footing.
I admit, I underestimated the complexity of leading a band 24/7. How to create an environment that is casual while still professional? How to best accommodate for everyone’s varying degrees of comfort with the unknown? How to carve out my own space without becoming aloof? Maybe Im overthinking the whole thing. It wouldn’t be a first. My body had an unexpected reaction to my busy mind in the middle of a gig at Lage Vuursche. For the first time in my life, I had an asthma attack during a performance.
I’ve been asthmatic since childhood but have largely controlled it for the past 20 years. I’ve never had an issue while on stage. This night, I was sideswiped by it. My harp solos got shorter. I began changing my vocal phrasing on the fly to avoid long notes. In between sets, I scrambled to find my inhaler. It helped somewhat but didn’t stop me from searching my phone for nearby hospitals. Just in case. By the morning the attack largely passed. Kinda freaky though. Never underestimate the power of the mind to tell the body who’s in charge.
Surprise asthma attacks aside, the week has a predictable rhythm to it: we travel by van, we load into a venue, we set up, we nap (I nap), we play, we travel home.
Meanwhile, Back In Los Angeles…
Distance is the enemy of relationships. Over the past three years, I have travelled too many miles and days to count. Still, most of these have been counted in days away from home — not weeks. Nothing beforehand has taken me so far for so long. Something goes a little upside down once you cross the 7-day mark away from home. I’m lucky if I can squeeze in a call on the way to a gig (early morning in Los Angeles) or a quick text before taking stage. My kids are pissed off and sad. My wife is exhausted. It’s taking a toll.
Cell phones have become essential glue for me and everyone in the band. We all stare at them in quiet moments — looking to hold onto something familiar for a moment.They not only capture these new European memories, they remind us of what’s waiting back home.
The Dutch are known for their bluntness. They call it “Dutch directness.” It means enduring lots of instantaneous verbal Yelp-like reviews from fans after a show (“your guitarist needs to play longer solos”). It also makes The Netherlands the perfect place to actually build a following. The country is small enough that word-of-mouth actually spreads from one show to the next. It’s amazing to see the chain reaction happen right before our eyes. A fan sees us in Utrecht and brings friends to Nijmegen. Folks read the Nijmegen concert review in a paper and by the time we hit Amsterdam, the place is packed. Our crowds grow with every gig. We’ve also discovered that stealing set lists is a thing. They disappear from stage within seconds of us leaving.
It’s virtually impossible to get this kind of momentum in the U.S. — much less in two weeks – and especially for a band playing old school blues.
The Next Test
As I write this, we are about to board a train for London. We play a one-nighter before moving onto France. I got my beloved Memphis Mini amp back from repair in The Hague. She comes with me while we say goodbye to our Dutch tour manager, Menno. I’ll have to assume his duties for the remainder of the tour. Thankfully, our intrepid photographer, Beth, will stick with us to capture what we forget. It’s been a gift to have her document this fresh, frantic, fragile time.
The last week of our tour will look like most: a different city each day and lots of hotel rooms. We’ll be moving faster and we’ll have to work harder to hang together. We’ll also have give the best shows of our lives without the benefit of a relaxing afternoon in a Dutch country home. We’ll likely be playing tired and a bit frazzled. The four of us will be bound more closely together than ever as we move unaccompanied through train stations, in and out of cars. I hope it unites this band.
Stay tuned for more!
All photos Beth Herzhaft (herzco.com)