Rogue Valley tour diary, vol. 7: From saguaros to snowfall

Categories: Tour Diary
Rogue Valley's tour diaries are written by frontman Chris Koza and edited by bandmate Peter Sieve. You can read their first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth installments.

Atalesca: 72 degrees.  Pismo Beach: 62 degrees. Ventura: 65 degrees.

It was as perfect a day as one could expect in January. We drove along Highway 101 from Portola Valley towards Los Angeles, taking a break to hike around a satellite dish on a land preserve by Stanford University.  As we neared LA, we found the Lakers versus the Timberwolves on the radio and listened as the former hometown team withstood a late rally from our new natives.

We pulled up to the venue in a part of town called Echo Park.  From the outside, the Bootleg Theater was a nondescript building but the inside was a great 250 cap performance space with cocktail tables and a red velvet curtain that hung as a backdrop to the stage.  It was one of our best shows of the tour, in terms of how we gelled as a band.  Racecar Driver has been a favorite of the band to play on this tour, and we revved it into high gear. Minneapolis' favorites Mark Mallman and Mary Mack surprised us by both being in L.A. and at the show.  They went on and on about starting a cassette "podcast," but it would be a "pod-cass." It's still in the planning stages, so don't dust off those walkmen just yet.

After the show we found a taco cart called Tacozone in the parking lot of a grocery store.  We had been suggested three or four different spots, but this one came recommended by a trusted source, and they didn't disappoint.  There are so many differences between American "Mexican" food and the real deal. Americans are obsessed with putting cheese on everything.  Lay off the lactose, people. Without the cheese, there is more room for delicious seasoned meats, grilled vegetables, and scintillating salsas.

We spent a little bit of time in Santa Monica the next day, and enjoyed the  day.  We walked to the pier which was flanked by an enormous sprawling tent setup for Cirque du Soleil. We had been told that on occasion, the acrobats could be seen on the beach, practicing their stunts, but on this day we saw only tourists and vagrants.

We left Los Angeles for San Diego late in the afternoon, taking full advantage of the carpool lane on the maxed out freeway to shave at least an hour from our trip.  Somehow Pete's cousin, who treated us like musical royalty and not a rag-tag Midwestern quartet, was able to score us an unbelievable hotel room right on the coast. This place was honeymoon nice.  Ambassador nice. We were all a little reluctant to leave for the gig.

It was a slightly humid 62 degree night in San Diego.  The venue was along a flight path near the airport, and every five minutes, a plane would zip through the thick air, seemingly so low if you climbed a palm tree, you could jump from it's branches and grab onto the landing gear.  We played a venue called Tin Can Ale House with a touring band (Tiger Saw) and a local group (Zach Kingsley Band), both troupes well-rehearsed and populated with kind people.  Again, we were bombarded both by easy-going locals and hearty, back-slapping midwesterners who had traded their snowshoes for surfboards.  The venue was good, and the staff was great.  Somehow in the middle of "Onward and Over," the soundman inadvertently bumped a switch and Townes Van Zandt started blasting through the PA.  It's not every night you get to share the stage with a legend.

El Centro: 77 degrees. Yuma: 78 degrees.  

The dream of San Diego faded with every rotation of the tires on the Town and Country. Leaving the ocean behind is like giving back the finest gift to a giver who already has everything. We maintained a solid 79 mph through California and the desert en route to Phoenix, where we were set to play that night.

"The Rhythm Room," written in a jolly script on a big sign planted near the street adjacent to an empty parking lot identified a building that otherwise looked vacant.  We rapped on the door and waited for signs of life, which only took a few moments.

Inside, the venue was pretty classic: 8"x10" black and white head shots of blues singers from another generation lined the walls. We set up our gear and after soundcheck, I chatted with the handful of friends and their friends trickling in while the rest of the band left to get tacos. The opener had canceled the day before so we were the only act. We could have used some local support, but we performed the best we knew how for the folks that made the trip.

Phoenix: 72 degrees. Tuba City: 44 degrees. Moab 40 degrees.  Grand Junction: 34 degrees.  
The next morning, we rose early to catch the saddest continental breakfast I've ever seen: six bagels, two chocolate muffins, and half a pot of room temperature coffee. Out of sheer negligence, this defeats the Capri Suns and Pop Tarts we once experienced. Yes, they were serious.

We bolted from Phoenix, covering nearly 575 miles and a 40 degree temperature difference. We drove through Arizona, past the Grand Canyon and Four Corners; some of the better flying saucer sighting spots in the southwest. Utah was a vast wilderness. When we finally arrived in Grand Junction we drove straight to the venue, discovering an open blues jam going on until 10:15 p.m. We were the 10:30 p.m. show, billed on their dry-erase board as "Rouge Valley Blues." The misspelling as "Rouge" is common enough, but the "Blues" tacked on the end... All you can do is laugh. 

One thing I try hard never to do is judge anything about a pending performance in advance. Whether it's an ornate theater or a husk with a makeshift stage. I don't make assumptions based on the sign out front, the marquee, the bouncer, the clientele, the beer prices, the staff, or the other bands playing. The way I see it, I am a guest in someone else's home, and I want to do right. We ended up having a jolly old time that night, and although we didn't play blues, we powered through a double-long set, aided by a generous bartender, and afterwards met several unique, forthcoming, and good-humored folks.

The container of ibuprofen was in hot demand the next morning. We called in for late check out and treaded gingerly once on the road, keeping volumes and speed lower than on other days. Heading towards Denver, the temperature continued to fall, hovering around 36 degrees once we emerged from the winding, snow-speckled Rocky Mountains. We sat down in a coffee shop near the venue and were promptly warned by a young lap-topper there, that we were on the verge of a major storm-front. 12-24 inches of snow by the next morning. For all of the good-weather luck we'd cashed in on during this tour, our luck was soon to change.  

From 7 p.m.-midnight, Denver went from zero to nearly a foot of snow. Needless to say, this did not improve the attendance at the show. Text messages vibrated my phone, with apologies that the weather was too severe to navigate.  Legislature and all schools and universities would be canceled the next day.  But we would wake early to dig out the van, spin our wheels, and push on to make our final stops.

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