Tour Diary Part 8
The home stretch
Friday, August 26
Roanoke, VA (day off)
It’s a light bus that drives us to the halfway point between Philadelphia and Nashville — it’s only myself, John, Lizzy, and Tour Manager Katie taking our day off in Roanoke, Virginia, while the rest of the band opts to fly straight on to Nashville. When given the option, I will always stay on the bus. The schlep to a hotel after the show, the daunting prospect of having to set foot in at least two airports, and another shlep to a another hotel, just to meet up with the bus on the show day and shlep all your stuff back on to the bus — it’s a sucker’s game. Never get out of the boat.
The hotel where we’ll be spending the day feels like a country club-meets-residential care facility. It is of the “mock Tudor” design. There are strange insects screaming in the tree boughs. My room has a view of the pebble roof and an exhaust fan. I take an afternoon swim in the hotel pool and read my book; I take a nap in the room. In the evening, I walk into downtown Roanoke and have dinner at at place called Fortunato, which is decent. Yes, that was me, dining alone, reading The Mists of Avalon. Come at me, bro. On my way home, a random young woman outside a brewpub stops her conversation with her tablemate and exclaims to me, “Has anyone told you that you look like a young Nick Offerman?” I can only say, “Thanks.”
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Back at the hotel, I check in with the family. I take a shower. I turn on the TV and watch some of the coverage regarding our criminally inept and corrupt former president. I hoof it to the bus and snuggle back into my bunk. Three more sleeps till home!
Saturday, August 27
We wake up parked outside the Mother Church of Country Music, the Ryman Auditorium. Or, rather, in the alley behind it, which stinks to high heaven of garbage and beer and the ground is slick with a kind of viscous, brown slime. There’s a mat the bus driver puts down outside the door to the bus and it is immediately soaked with the stuff; he puts one wheel of the bus on top of it so none of the shambling drunks, for whom this alley is a kind of social thoroughfare, can make off with it. After my coffee and granola, I pack up my things and head inside.
It’s a Saturday and it’s barely noon, but already Nashville is positively awash with people. There is the sound of dueling parties everywhere as these massive, open-air buses fight for dominance on the streets, their backs filled with cavorting partiers, screaming along to blaring pop music and heckling the passers-by. Inside the Ryman, there is peace and black & white photographs of country stars.
We’ve gained an hour (or lost it — I can never remember which) by moving into central time, so the day feels longer and more empty than usual. I settle into a dressing room (“The Women of Country Music Room” is my go-to quiet zone here). I bathe in a shower that I will refrain, out of respect and courtesy to the Mother Church, from rating. I write yesterday’s diary entry and answer some emails; I have lunch in catering. Then there’s two hours to burn before we have to sign posters and get ready for soundcheck, so I brave the teeming streets of Nashville for a Lyft ride to Carter Vintage, an instrument store. Funk meets me there. I have no intention of buying anything, until I realize that I do have an intention to buy something after all. I know it’s probably not very cost-conscious to do all your vintage guitar shopping in Nashville, Tennessee, but I am a sucker for a late-tour celebratory purchase and it just happens that we often end tours in or around Nashville, Tennessee, and — and I don’t have to justify anything to anybody. I am a grown man and CAN DO WHAT I WANT. I walk out with a gorgeous 1948 Gibson L-7 archtop guitar.
We make it back in time to sign the last remaining posters for the Shebangers, then it’s soundcheck. The folks at the Ryman do tours of the auditorium up until 4 pm, so we always have to wait for the last group of tourists to get their photos taken in front of the radio microphone at the edge of the stage before we can make any noise. We do a quick breeze-through, getting sounds from various instruments; Jenny thinks her Hammond is detuned, but it might be that she has an ear infection. The Shebangers are lead down the aisle to their pews; we play “O New England” and “Riverswim.” The tempos during these pre-show VIP things tend to be much more laid back, stripped of the charged energy of an actual show. It’s pleasant, somnolent. It’s a big crowd of Shebangers today; two of them are wearing bespoke Decemberists-themed overalls. We answer their questions as best we can and heave off for a quick dinner backstage.
We opt not to play Pandemic Legacy tonight. Frankly, there is little appetite for it. We are a little ground-down, to be honest, by how dismally we’re doing in the game. It’s become, now, a nightly punishment. We’ll take it up again tomorrow night. I strum around on my new guitar; I do my vocal warmups. I watch the latter half of Jake Xerxes Fussell’s set from the side of the balcony.
Showtime arrives and we take to the stage. The crowd is immediately up and out of their pews, and the energy is pretty tangible in the room. The Ryman has been — and will likely remain — one of my very favorite places to play. There’s so much history here, the place has vibes for days, and people genuinely seem to like coming to shows here. We open with “The Infanta,” which suddenly has taken on new resonance after having seen the Princess Diana documentary — what does the future hold for our Infanta? Will it only be endless encounters with paparazzi and a public that vacillates between loving and loathing you? How will you ever retain your humanity? She might’ve been better off left in her cradle in the lake. Maybe a Forest Queen would’ve found her and turned her into a fawn or something. That might be preferable.
We close out with “Rusalka” and “Sons and Daughters,” as we have been doing, and it feels like a good bookend to the show. Backstage, we run into Slim Moon — our old label president from the Kill Rock Stars days — and it’s genuinely nice to connect. I truly believe that the Decemberists would still, to this day, be playing spotty gigs at McMenamins restaurants around the greater Portland Metro area if not for the vision and magnanimity of Slim Moon.
Then it’s out into the fetid alleyway, which is now even more teeming with stumbling drunks, and on to the bus. I snuggle in for some more Brideshead — Jeremy Irons has shaved his fake beard, thank god — and fall asleep before the bus even starts moving.
Sunday, August 28
The tour gods descend and bless upon me a deep and interrupted sleep, on this, our last night on the bus. It’s 10 am when I throw myself out of the bunk. Lizzy is there as I walk into the front lounge; I make my coffee and have my granola. Then it’s time to gather one’s things and extricate oneself from the bus. It’s moving house day. I’m pretty consolidated so it doesn’t take very long. I bid a fond farewell to the bus and head into the venue.
We’re playing the Tabernacle tonight, our last show of the tour. We’ve played here a bunch, going back to 2005; this is our first time back since 2015. It’s a vibey place; it might’ve been a House of Blues at one point (?) but it’s long sloughed off any lingering residue from that franchise. The backstage is a bit of a maze, but once you arrive there, it’s very homey. I settle into one of the rooms. I get my bag in order; I finish up some last remaining laundry.
In the green room, Jenny is practicing her concertina reels and John and I accompany her as best we can on guitars. Then soundcheck time arrives and we wind our way to the stage. The Tabernacle is an old church, I believe, before it was a House of Blues, and the bones of the old holy place are still evident. The ceiling stretches to the sky. We run through a line check of guitars and keyboards and things and then welcome in the Shebangers. We play “We Both Go Down Together” and “Annan Water,” both of which I manage to mangle pretty handily. But people are gracious and forgiving.
We have our early dinner in catering; the second Austin Powers movie is playing on a TV set into the wall. Afterwards, I gather my laundry from the dryer and fold it. I prep my bag for tomorrow’s flight. I write the setlist, allowing it to sprawl out a bit — this being the last show of the tour. My voice feels in good shape and with no impending shows following this one, the last of my anxiety over vocal strain dissipates in the Georgian humidity. I’m gonna let those larynx fry tonight, boys.
We play Pandemic Legacy, but — with all due respect to Mr. Leacock — it’s become a bit of a chore. We fared so dismally those last few sessions that the board carrying forward has become more and more unmanageable. We’re sunk before we even set sail and our failing all of the objectives is all but a fait accompli. There’s a kind of fun to be had, though, in the hopelessness of it all. Then we can hear the dulcet tones of Mr. Fussell’s guitar coming through the hallways and it’s clear that it’s time to get ready for the show.
It’s very hot and very humid when we take to the stage. We’ve played a lot of hot and humid shows on this tour, but most of them have had the benefit of being outdoors. This one is close. There’s a slick sheen on everyone’s faces and the air is so thick you can feel it between your teeth. We buckle down and play our show, opening with “The Infanta.” I’m not sure what’s happening, but the wheels keep threatening to fall off once we’re about two songs deep into the setlist. Lyrics are miffed, notes are blown, entrances are missed. You’d think that a band playing its last show of a month-long tour would be tight as a steel drum, but there’s a kind of energy to a last show that can derail all that. Tempos are all over the place — but we’re having fun, and the crowd seems to be having fun, so all is forgiven.
We stumble off the stage to the last lingering shouts of “Hear all the bombs fade away,” and the Arise From the Bunkers! Tour 2022 comes to its fated end. Backstage, I put Steve Miller on the hifi and John dances around in his tighty-whiteys. Hugs are exchanged, high fives given all around; another bottle of wine is opened. Then I throw together my things, stash some last minute items in the wardrobe case, and the venue runner speeds me off to the airport hotel. Fini.
A quick thanks to everyone, first and foremost, who came out to the shows. You are all fantastic, generous creatures. You are the reason we do this — the reason we can continue to do this. And thanks to everyone who kept up with this journal. Reading your comments was a daily delight. They kept me hauling on. I imagine I’ll keep doing on this on future tours — the daily ritual, while not always excitedly anticipated or anything, was a nice activity every day, something that added a degree of predictability and purpose to the empty hours.
I love touring and I hate touring. I’ve become resigned to the fact that my relationship with it, this very central part of my career, will probably not change. I wonder if that came through in these entries. I hope the balance was made clear; it was my intention to be as frank as possible, without becoming overly dreary. Because it’s not all drear, not by a long shot.
As always, it’s the show that keeps me here, that keeps me going. Those two hours in that interminable sea of waiting, of laundry-doing, of setlist making, of time-wiling. That’s what it’s all for, really. That moment when we get to walk onstage and do our thing. I owe my gratitude to you, showgoers, for being a part of that moment.
From the floorboards to the flies
Here I was fated to reside