Tales From The Golden Road: Ha Ha Tonka Barnstorm the West Coast With Old 97’s

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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. 

Ha Ha Tonka is one of those few bands today that still plays to the indie ethos that was so courageously paved from the likes of Pavement, The Pixies and The Mountain Goats. The Springfield, MO-based band recently released their awe-inspiring fifth album Heart Shaped Mountain, a collection of ten songs that even in their early release stage persevere as anthems and rallying cries of conviction. Comprised of band members Brian Roberts (guitar, vocals), Brett Anderson (guitar) and Luke Long (bass), the trio recently added Hoots & Hellmouth drummer Mike Reilly and The Spring Standards multi-instrumentalist/singer James Cleare to take their songs into new experimental yet organically driven directions.

With Heart-Shaped Mountain out now and receiving positive acclaim, the band is currently in the midst of more Mid-west dates. We are keeping up with Ha Ha Tonka as they band present their own version of a tour diary. You can also keep up with all the rowdiness of the road by following Ha Ha Tonka on Facebook and Instagram

Eugene, OR. The woods outside are wet and spooky but the party inside is lively and friendly. Our new friends have defied AirBnB policy and welcomed us, now a group of nine, into their cozy home away from home for the night. I can’t remember their names as I’m talking to them, let alone where they’ve traveled from to see our band at Wow Hall tonight, but I know they’ve come a long way. It’s a tiny, quaint bungalow, and tight quarters for twelve folks total. We’ll be sleeping on top of each other, unless we decide not to get any sleep. It’s a tough call, so we put it off and keep raging.

Photo: Liz Allred

By now, our crew are accustomed to cramped quarters. Upon arriving on the West Coast for the next leg of tour, during which we will be supporting the Old 97s in big, gorgeous venues, we have taken on a fiancé, who is currently shaking up the living room dance floor, and our booking agent, who is spinning sweet jams on his laptop. The kitchen is busy with the sampling and discussion of a fridge full of different local craft IPAs. Several of the band are attending a lecture by one of our hosts about the finer attributes of a wide variety of organic cannibinoids on the screened-in porch, where he has produced visual aids for demonstration. This brand of party banter is new to none of us, but in Oregon in 2017, it feels downright scholarly.

At 2:20 AM, the ongoing band text thread displays a message from Smash, our 6’9” tour manager who is trying to get some sleep in the next room:

Remember, tomorrow you play the Historic Fillmore. Get some rest.

It’s one way to proceed, we agree.

He follows up: Wheels up at 7am.

Delusional, I address our host and lecturer: “That means if we’re going to hike up to that ridge in the morning, we need to be out the door by six, right?”

This is intoxicated horse shit.

We roll over a few hours later at 6:30. There is no early-morning hike. Instead, a few of us stumble into the shower, and we say hurried but heartfelt goodbyes to our new friends. Then we promptly pass out in our designated spots in the van while Smash takes the wheel for the long drive to San Francisco.

Inside the Fillmore, Rhett Miller is in his element. He tells us he has been playing here for sixteen years. We assume he means his guitar, and then he produces a whiffle ball and bat and explains that the 97s have a tradition of playing inside the venue before soundcheck. B pitches and Rhett knocks one off the house left balcony. Someone gets it on camera.

The 97s play a rowdy, sweat-drenched two hours-plus every single night. Their fans are repeatedly overheard remarking that this is the greatest band in the world. Rhett doesn’t have to come out at the top of the show to introduce us, but he does on many nights, and we love him for this.

California and the west have never looked prettier. The cold season has quenched the long drought, for now, and the sights out the window are green, mountainous, breathtaking. Our routing takes us out of Reno via Lake Tahoe and south through the Sierras, and from Hollywood up into the mountains again to Big Bear Lake. It has never been sadder to leave the coast than it is on the day we drive out of La Jolla, heading for Scottsdale and the vast southwest, but even the desert is stunning in its seasonal bloom, which is visible from space that week, the reports have it.

Photo: Alessio Neri

The last night of our three weeks with the 97s sneaks up on us in Lubbock, Texas, where we raise our Shiner Bocks to our headliners and their crew, who have treated us so well on our favorite tour to date. It is on this warm night in Lubbock, hometown to Buddy Holly, that we receive a long-awaited email: the band is confirmed on the Conan show. Details to follow.

Mike Reilly

Photo: Liz Allred

Ha Ha Tonka are on tour now with Old 97’s. For a full list of dates and to hear more music check out hahatonkamusic.com.

 

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