Friday, March 27, 2015

The Adventures of Sam and James

Last week was a blast , figuratively speaking, but maybe almost literally too!

Our distant friends Sam Barrett and Jamie Barrier loaded into the “Skate and Destroy” wagon (Dodge Sprinter) and departed Florence, Alabama at about 10:30 am Wednesday March 18th and headed due west. Sam had just arrived from England less than two days prior. The Serious Sam Barrett and James The Fang 2015 Spring tour begins with 3 appearances in Southern Nevada, before moving to the coast and upward toward Seattle.

I think it was around 4:00 ish our time (PST), I decided to call James, to see how things were going and what their ETA would be in Nevada.

He said, in his rather unique Southern drawl,
“I don’t know, man. I’ll have to see where we are in the morning.”

Keep in mind now, that he has driven back and forth across this nation of ours at least a couple of times every year for the past 12 or so plus years.

I said,
“Are you going to stop somewhere tonight?”

He replied in almost the same way except his pitch went up toward the end, as if he was asking himself the same question simultaneously to replying to the question. “I don’t know…?”
Fascinating. Absolutely incredible.

I am a Virgo who would have all of these details ingrained into my brain weeks before setting out on the trail.

The reason I am even asking is because if they arrive at the Hoover Dam and it’s close to 5 pm, I would suggest that they park it in Boulder City for a couple hours and we will meet them at the venue (The Dillinger). If they are going to be here any earlier, they should come on into Las Vegas, unwind, eat some food, maybe skate around a little bit, soaking up our intensely beautiful, blue skies and sunshine.

Essentially, do I need to cook in the morning, so there is a pot of grub ready upon your arrival?

Anyhow, I go to bed that night, rest assured that our friends are en route and tomorrow is going to be awesome.

Thursday morning comes and sometime around 10:30 am, I send a text to find out where the boys are in their journey. I am hoping that they have at least made it into New Mexico.

My phone beeps, a new text has arrived. It reads:
“Eating some breakfast in Flagstaff.”



That is close! Even closer, now, with the Dam overpass to speed things along.
They’re only 4 hours away.

Sure enough, 4 hours later, I get the call.
“We’re in Boulder City.”
Despite having performed here several times in the past 4 years, I give him some quick directions on how to find the Arts Factory.
Exit Downtown, Las Vegas Blvd, turn left.
Right on Charleston.
Right on Art Way.

He repeats the directions aloud so that the others can hear.

30 minutes later, the phone rings again. I answer only half-jokingly, “You’re lost!?
“I think so.” He replies.
Before he can explain what he sees around him, I have quickly deduced that he turned right instead of left on LVB.

“You looking at Cashman Field?” Surprised sounding he answers, “Yeah.”
“You’re going to make a left at Washington and another left onto Main Street.”
We repeat this back to each other a couple of times.

There is one more phone call regarding how to get from Main Street to 1st Street, but in a few short minutes, the gang arrives and everyone is happy.

As we greet one another and hash about the journey, is when I learn that these dudes DID NOT STOP almost at all, save for breakfast in Flagstaff and a pee break or two along the way.

I am flabbergasted. That is so hard core.

10:30 am Alabama, means 8:30 am Las Vegas.

That means that they drove almost nonstop for 30 hours and showed up with 4 hours to spare! Wow.

Of that 30 hours, Sam only drove one 12-13 hour shift.

James has now shifted gears into this other mode of being that can function on coffee and blinking, opposed to sleeping. He is now a machine.

We have a few hours till our departure for Boulder City.

James asks me to point him the direction of the El Cortez , and I do, while Sam would like to grab a shower.
Jamie hails from the very conservative South, but anytime he’s in Las Vegas, he LOVES to play just a little bit of roulette. Aside from $5 back in 2004, I have never seen him win. He doesn’t even really “believe in” gambling, but for some reason, spinning the wheel makes him really happy, even though he loses.

On top of which, ever since Lady Luck closed, he only wants to gamble at El Cortez. I do not know why, it’s just where he wants to go- so he does.

I take Sam to the house. He gets in the shower. I heat up the stew, dash back and forth from the house to the salon and back to ensure that all needs are being met.

Sam grabs a quick nap, I bring Hillary home, we have a quick bite and a brief spruce and we head back to the Factory to meet back up with Jamie and Steve.

Steve is one of Jamie’s friends from Alabama and he’s “just along for the ride” although he is also quietly learning the tools of the trade as a silent passenger on this tour.

In years past, I have driven many notable celebrity musicians to and from their gigs. From Toby Keith to Metallica, Rage Against The Machine to Gretchen Wilson and on and on.

Now, for the first time in the history of our friendship, I drive Jamie in his vehicle to the venue.

It’s only a 35 minute drive, but I know he hasn’t slept and despite being a pro, I know it will be far better if he can just rest a little bit. (Also, I don’t want to him driving us into a collision of some kind). He does not want to rest because he fears that if he goes to sleep, he’ll be done for and unable to perform. Interesting theory.

Regardless of exhaustion or stress, the duo perform two exceptionally polished sets, while the good people of Boulder City came and went throughout the evening.

Now it’s time pack up and head back to town so these guys can finally meet the Sandman. (That means get some sleep).


Every one of us has had a bit to drink except Jamie, (who rarely, if ever, imbibes, and even when he does only has one swallow).

I guess we’re going to have to trust that a sleep-deprived driver is better than an intoxicated one.

I’ll admit that I am tipsy, but I am also quite aware. I’m going to keep a very close eye on our sleepy driver to be certain that we make it home safe and sound.

He’s lethargic but he’s actually quite fine.

Like I said, He is functioning in a completely different mode than most humans are capable of. So long as he knows that he is in not allowed to sleep yet, he will get us through- and he does.

Five people sleeping in our house tonight. One bathroom. Which means a little patience and courtesy must be demonstrated.

In the morning, I rise first.

I want to stay in bed and sleep in, but I know that I have explicit duties to ensure that our morning runs smoothly.

Get the coffee going and the potatoes. The potatoes always take an hour for some reason.

After I’m up, Hillary gets up, followed by Sam, who gets into the shower first. Pretty soon, Jamie is up and wandering about, takes the second shower.

Steve was graciously given the queen mattress last night, while Jamie and Sam each, for some strange reason, preferred to sleep on the floor- so it makes sense that he would be the last to rise.

Jamie and Sam are now showered and dressed, so the four of us sit down to eat breakfast while Steve gets his turn to use the facilities.

Hillary is up next. While Sam reads and Jamie talks to his wife on the phone, I play some records and clean up the mess.

At last, everyone is clean and ready so now I may now hop into the shower for a quick clean up, which does not take me but a few mere minutes.

Unlike most days on any tour, these fellas don’t have to go anywhere today. They have all day to do whatever it is that they like. This is a precious commodity for a touring musician, especially with weather like ours, and sometimes one is so unfamiliar with the concept that they find themselves not sure how to fill those daylight hours.

We unanimously decide to leave the vehicles at the house and walk to the Arts Factory on this gorgeous morning. At the salon, Hillary and I mostly do what we always do except that I, myself, feel quite distracted having our friends visiting.

Having them around makes us want to transform into My First Rodeo , but we have Hillary Salon obligations that we must abide.

After a spell, hanging out with us in the studio/salon, our visitors decide to mosey and wander. Which is completely fine and even encouraged, because we want them to be entertained but we don’t have the time at this moment to do so ourselves.

After an hour or so had passed, I give em a jingle to see how they are faring.

Where are they? Surprise, surprise. All 3 of them are at the El Cortez , just hanging and watching college basketball.
They have two gigs tonight. 5:30 pm at Vintage Bike Night and 8:00 pm around the corner at Container Park, the latter of which is throwing in a hotel room for the night.

It’s 2:30 and their check-in time is 3:00, I suggest they try to check in early, Jamie sounds receptive yet not compulsive.

An hour later, we are wrapping up our salon duties for the day and behold, the guys are hanging out downstairs at HellPop Comics , just shooting the breeze about everything and nothing.
They have not yet gone to the hotel.

It is Friday approaching 4:00 pm and despite everything being very nearby, the traffic is getting pretty hectic, so I rush them over to the hotel for check-in, drop them off and go to grab some gasoline (as the low fuel light was on).

Immediately after, I swing back around to pick them up and then go back to the house so they can take their vehicle and get all of their stuff to the gig. No problem.

Hillary and I get a 20 minute cat nap in before getting dressed for the evening and walking back to the Arts Factory.
Now, this is strange.

Metro has closed off a square block (or two) just North of The Arts Factory.

Allegedly, there was a vehicle with a mysterious note in the window alluding to the idea that there was a bomb inside, so Metro and the Fire Department, bomb squad, etc., had taken over the area and even went so far as to evacuate Art Square (right across the street from us).

Good thing we walked over here. Metro is only allowing motorcycles into the area and turning away cars and trucks.

There are still plenty of people milling about, dining on the patio at BarBistro and looky here, the other band that has been booked for the evening is already loaded in and ready to rock 3 hours before their scheduled set time.

Annnd, there is no P.A..

Well, what do you know. My travel PA that I keep in the salon comes to the rescue once again! Honestly, has to be one the greatest investments ($500), I have ever made in a tool. These two speakers plus mixer have gone just about everywhere with me for the past 9 years and have saved the day on countless occasions.

I do not, however, have mic stands or microphones. Luckily, our brothers at HellPop Comics are also equipped with stage gear for bands, so I am able to quickly assemble the necessary components needed to get this gig underway.

After setting up the system and doing a quick sound check- it doesn’t take much for these seasoned vets, I fetch some beverages and post up in the front row next to Hillary.

This evening is so absolutely pristine! The temperature is perfect and the sun is slowly setting, but the guys are well shaded by the (Arts Factory) building, so there is no blinding light in anyone's faces. Just a slightly cool breeze, motorcycle engines and the disco lights on squad cars blinking in the distance.

The surly men with long grey hair from the “rockin blues” band (that took the liberty of setting up two hours early) quickly lose their edge moments after Sam and James begin to play and their animosity turns to admiration.

That’s right, Effers!

You can drop the attitude already and maybe start taking some notes.

We were originally told to play till 7:30, but the leather and denim blues man insists that his band is starting at 7:00- and after all, they are already set up and sound checked on the main stage before we arrived. Cute.

OK, man. Whatever you say. Gives us more time to get to the next gig anyway.

Sam and James perform a brilliant set consisting of songs from their split LP along with a few requests from the audience, including an excellent version of Pine Hill Haints “Born to Suffer” (requested by yours truly).

They’re on their final songs, so I locate the manager to get them paid promptly so we can get out of there quickly (and over to Container Park). After getting their dough, the manager runs over to thank them both for playing and he hands them his business card, saying in his gruff yet slightly fancy New York sounding accent. “ANY time you want to come back, we would love to have you! ANY time!”

After disassembling the PA, I rally a couple of bodies so we can take all the gear back upstairs in one full swoop. Onward to Container Park!

No bombs went off.

Being a mere seven or so short blocks away, we made it to Container Park in no time.

Must be some more confusion. We were explicitly told to perform 45 minutes of material at 8:00 pm, but this Dwight Yoakam wannabe doesn't even finish his set until 8:00 and then spends nearly 30 minutes getting his crap the eff off stage. You should have seen this guy. Moving like a tortoise, packing each individual piece of equipment into their respective cases and carefully stacking all of them onto his collapsable dolly, then walking back onto the stage while Sam and James are sound checking to walk around and do a “dummy check” in case he left something behind. Diddling in his phone at the same time.

It does not exactly surprise me to see this arrogant musician type of behavior, but it still just blows my mind when I do. Show some freaking courtesy for your fellow musician, guy!

Anyhow, the boys are tuned up, mic’d up and sound checked ready to go and it’s 8:45.

Sound guy asks them to wait till 9:00. What the what?

Container Park is busy. There are kids running about everywhere. Families of all sizes dining and strolling. But the park policy is that it turns 21+ at 9:00 pm.

Come 8:57 pm, park loudspeakers announce that the park is closed to minors and will reopen at 9:00 am. This announcement repeats several times, yet we don’t really see any of these families packing up. Slowly, a parent here, a parent there, they begin to reign in the fun and for some reason the children are oblivious to the fact that they were just told that it’s time to leave. Maybe because so many other families who don’t feel that the rule applies to them are taking their sweet ass time to get going, none of these other kids believe it either.

At last, James The Fang and Serious Sam Barrett take to the stage and they sound better than anywhere we have heard them before. Gotta give the Container Park props on their sound system and engineer. Aside from the children whining as they are being carried away, the sound is crystal clear and their execution is flawless. I don’t think we ever heard an off note throughout all three of these performances.

The audience has now been dramatically reduced, but there are a few mature groups seated in nearby parties who are really responding to their tunes. Big cheers after each song.

Now that the children have left the park, (grown ass) adults have begun playing in the children’s play area, running about on the bridges, play fighting with foam noodles. I felt embarrassed for their spouses. What a bunch of dorks.

After the show, we go back to the hotel.

What a nightmare.
The Gold Spike Hotel is like a really cool frat house having an endless rager. I had no idea it had gotten this bad. Even the hotel room itself is designed like a dorm room with bunk beds and laptop work stations. The walls are booming with bass from downstairs. young adults are playing oversized jenga and bean bag toss. For what it’s worth, it’s likely a really easy place to get laid.

This crew is not on that plain. No worries. I know a place.
We escape the Gold Spike and walk 3 blocks west to the California Hotel. Right inside the door, we hit the Cal Club. Burgers and fries all around. Sam gets some fried chicken and I grab a round of Coronas.

This is where we part ways, at least for today. Steve forgot his coffee apparatus at our house, so we make plans to meet in the morning for a little breakfast before they drive to San Pedro. The fellas walk back to their room. Hillary and I take the long walk home. It’s not a far or unpleasant distance, but tonight our legs are feeling it.

Of the many things I would love to show these guys while they are in town, is one of our skate parks and the Riviera Hotel. One, because these dudes live to skate and two, pretty soon our beloved Riv will be no more.

Well, we were lucky that Steve left his coffee thingy behind, because after we left the California Hotel, Jamie wanted forget about the hotel room and just hit the road. Even after I had explained to him that the Riviera is a piece of Las Vegas history that will not be here the next time he rolls through town. The place where Casino was filmed, for crying out loud! (Sam is a huge fan of the film).

Again, at our house in the morning, Jamie’s suggesting otherwise. I get it. Every dollar he can get by not spending, the better. He’s not on vacation. He’s on tour. It’s a job.

Still, you need to eat. We hop into the van with them and in a few short minutes, we are parked behind the Riv. We take the long walk through the back near the convention center and meander through the halls into the casino, past the floor and the bars and pinball hall of fame, upstairs to the wall of fame. Everybody. Elvis, Liberace, Sinatra, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Joan Rivers, Charro, The Smothers Brothers and on and on. We take the escalator down into the food court and decide on our breakfast options. Sam and James go with a traditional bacon, eggs, toast, coffee combo while Hillary and I opt for Quizno’s flatbread wraps.

One more important thing to do.

Take Sam’s picture in front of the world famous Crazy Girls statue.
“No ifs, ands or…”
That’s all folks. The tour rolls on to California from here.
I grab two tequila/OJs and Hillary and I walk home down Las Vegas Blvd.

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