Well, I asked Billy Joel to sit in with us, but he said no. I don’t know why, maybe he was weirded out because I asked him while we were both taking a leak in the bathroom. Whatever, bro, get over yourself. It’s 2015. The walls of urination etiquette are a savage custom of the past. Live in the now.
Okay, so I didn’t actually ask Billy Joel to jam with us, nor did I even see him whatsoever. But on a serious note, Bonnaroo was absolutely unbelievable; without question not only the hugest crowd we’ve ever played for, but also one of the most energetic and appreciative. But I’ll start from the beginning of our Bonnaroo experience before we get into the meaty show time details.
We arrived nice and early in the afternoon with a lot of time to kill before our set. I usually don’t like to be at a festival all day before we play. It’s not that I don’t want to be there; I just know from experience that walking around for eight hours under the hot sun can leave me totally drained of any energy by show time. Not only that, but a lot of times I get bored and cope with it by drinking beer. And that’s definitely not something you want to consume all day before playing. In this case, though, we didn’t have a choice, so I figured I might as well walk around Bonnaroo and take it all in. I did, however, give myself a rule of no drinking before the set. I didn’t want to be a sloppy, exhausted pile of crap for one of the biggest festivals we’d ever played.
Before our set we sat down to do an interview with Red Bull TV, which was one of the stranger things I’ve experienced in my time on the road. They brought us up to a sort of tower overlooking the concert field, where they sat us down in front of super bright lights, handed us all microphones and dabbed makeup on us. I felt like I was announcing New Years Rockin’ Eve or something. It was weird. The interview itself was pretty fun, though.
The time finally came to set up our equipment, and I was surprised to see a substantial amount of people already at the stage waiting for us. To be honest, I initially told myself that they were probably just camping out for a good spot for whatever band would be playing after us, and we were just the entertainment in the meantime. As we neared completion of our sound check, we were all a bit stressed to discover that Eli’s Moog prodigy was completely incapable of staying in tune. Fun fact for those of you who don’t know much about keyboards (and I am one of you): Vintage synthesizers actually have to be tuned. I don’t know if it was the dust or the humidity or what, but the Moog was in super rough shape. But it was now or never! Gear malfunction moments are what separate the men from the boys, and if you don’t keep your cool and handle it with grace you’re bound to have a terrible time on stage. I knew that if anybody could handle it, it was Eli. He has four other keyboards on stage, and dude sounds amazing on anything that has piano keys, so I knew if something went wrong he would still play it off like a boss.
As we took a minute to collect ourselves before walking on stage, we heard the entire crowd chanting our band’s name, and I realized that the people who had been waiting while we were setting up were not just waiting for some other band to start playing. I hate to be cheesy, but we were really moved by it. As we finally took the stage, I was absolutely dumbfounded at how much the crowd had grown since I had walked off after sound check. I had never experienced anything like it. I would guess it was somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 people. A few of my friends and family asked me if were nervous playing in front of such a big crowd; Honestly, aside from being a touch nervous about Eli’s synth working properly, I couldn’t have been less nervous. How could I be stressed playing in front of a crowd that was so warm and enthusiastic? I didn’t feel I had anything to prove. I was only focused on having a great time and enjoying such a beautiful moment while it lasted. On top of that, Eli dealt with his technical difficulties beautifully. I was proud of him for being so zen about it and adjusting without a hitch.
After having a day off to enjoy Bonnaroo, we hopped on a plane and headed back up north to play at Disc Jam Music Festival. I have to give a shout out to our unbelievable road crew for this one. As soon as our set had finished, they packed up the all the gear and drove all the way from Tennessee to New York so that we could stay at Bonnaroo for an extra day and then fly into the next gig. That just blows my mind. They work way harder than we do to begin with, yet we’re the ones who get special treatment. I won’t lie, I was more than happy to be able to hang out for awhile and then fly in a nice comfy airplane, but I felt kind of guilty about it. The next time a fan comes over to me to shake my hand or ask for an autograph I should just tell them to go get our road crew to sign their stuff instead, because in actuality my job is pretty easy and theirs is unbelievably difficult.
We arrived at Disc Jam in high spirits, not only from the afterglow of Bonnaroo, but from excitement about playing a festival that’s been so good to us throughout the years. It’s changed locations multiple times at this point, but has managed to retain the same vibe no matter where it’s been held each year. My theory is that it’s truly a festival that thrives off of the people who attend it. I’ve seen so many of the same faces every year I’ve ever played at it that it really doesn’t matter what the location is. The people there dictate the mood and spirit of the event.
As I set up my equipment in preparation for our set, I enjoyed the sounds of Electron emanating from the adjacent stage. Those guys have all been doing what we’re doing for years and years, and they’ve been super cool and supportive to us. They’re definitely always a fun hang. The only guy I haven’t talked to too much is Tom Hamilton, but I can safely say I was really impressed with his guitar playing. To be honest, up until recently I didn’t really know he was so good. It’s not that I didn’t think he was good – I just hadn’t checked out much of his playing – that was until a few months ago, when I caught him playing with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead in Denver. Man, that guy can play guitar.
As Electron wound down and we started getting into our set, I felt a nice, rare wave of contentment. If I’m being honest with myself, I feel like I always want something else; more songs, more gigs, less gigs, more notoriety, more guitars, whatever. But every once in awhile, I can reach a place where I’m totally happy with where I’m at right then and there. I got to go to that place while I was on stage at Disc Jam, and I really appreciated being there. I was on stage with my friends, playing music that I was happy with, for a crowd of people who were feeding us great energy. I couldn’t have asked for more.
The set started off pretty standard, with us breezing through a few more abridged versions of songs. Definitely tight, but the real fun was yet to begin. Then, about halfway through the set, we brought up our friend Justin Hancock from Haley Jane and the Primates to play some guitar. Justin goes way back with all of us. I met him in college in a guitar lab, where we bonded over Phish. On top of that, he used to be in a band with Chuck and Eli called Actual Proof, so there’s a lot of history between all of us. We all had a great time playing together, and Justin sounded great. From that point on, I don’t think there a single break between songs. I also don’t think a single thing went according to plan, which is how we want it to be. That’s when the really good stuff happens!
Anyhow, that’s all for now, I’m in the van, as usual. It’s a little past midnight, and I’m listening to some Cannonball Adderley. Check him out if you never have. He is definitely my favorite bebop horn player. I may even start my next blog as soon I’m done with this one. It’s not like I have anything else to do! ’Til then, you all be safe out there.