We leave Ohio and I start to get those flashbacks of what it was like a handful of years ago when I didn’t know anything and was just happy to be poor and in a van and seeing cities I hadn’t ever seen, some cut rate Marco Polo of the Millennials, singing sad songs and drinking PBR in identical dive bars across a country that didn’t much care one way or another.

I’m not delusional now either: I still know only one or two things, and mostly people still don’t care that much. Poverty is relative. The van is the same van. But we’ve learned a lot about building better shows and we’ve built some regional word-of-mouth groundswell in the Midwest, and so it was strange to be on tour for two weeks in the familiarly warm middle of the country where we didn’t really feel like we were on tour so much.

That changed pretty quickly in New York. Monday was a show at a theatre in Syracuse, smack dab between two empty college campuses with an 1100-person capacity. I told the venue we probably shouldn’t take the date—we don’t know anybody upstate—but they assured me it’d be fine if I booked some locals. I booked some locals. It wasn’t fine. But Adam met a cool old vet on oxygen with braids in his beard and we got him on the list, we were making friends. We met a dude who worked there, Wes, who kindly offered his living room. His tortoise woke us bright and early, banging on his terrarium and making way more noise than you ever thought a tortoise was capable of.

Joshua Powell & the Great Train Robbery play Westcott Theater in Syracuse
Then Buffalo was a little better. Mohawk Place is a sweet dive bar on a good strip. I walked around the city watching the sun decline in the reflection of the buildings’ windows and I’ll be danged if I didn’t run into that same old vet, sitting outside a different club in a different city with different oxygen tanks. He was sober and offered me cookies and I told him, you’ll be on our list anywhere we play, Joe.

Buffalo to Philly was a haul. Adam and I explored the city by foot for a while. Ever since we quit smoking, it’s weird to be at a venue in between loadin and show time—you feel like you should be doing something, but there’s nothing to do. So I’ve taken to rambling around whatever boro, picking up vibes and watching the people in their respective urban lives, so different from my small town in south Florida and my not-really-a-college town in Indiana. There were some great bands on that bill, one that sounded like something straight out of True Detective and one that featured a pretty girl and a slide guitar. I got to drink a few beers with Kyle, the guy behind IndieOnTheMove, the site responsible for almost singlehandedly enabling our touring career. He bought them, which seemed very backward to me. Then we left the city, headed Brooklyn way, and found a quaint little copse of trees along Cooper River in Cherry Hill, NJ, where we slung hammocks and ate trail mix and slept to the sound of cicadas and woke to an eruption of polyphonic birdsong littering the canopy overhead.

Joshua Powell & the Great Train Robbery camp in Cherry Hill
It’s not all romantic: we were equally as excited about the Taco Bell down the street. Then we sat in a cool little coffee roastery where I caught up on inboxes, the boys dutifully sent press releases, and Adam played with a little tyke who offered up his toy trucks in a steam of babble and trust that only children have and aren’t allowed to keep very long.

I’ll tell you where we didn’t eat Taco Bell though: New York City. I once wrote a hateful little poem called, “To Every Empty Room in Brooklyn,” and the sentiment still stands a little. I don’t care how trendy the room is, I haven’t played a good show in BK yet. But that might change next time, because we played with an excellent band called DizeeChroma with whom we’re already scheming show trades for later in the year. My old pal from Florida days, Sarah, lives in Long Island City. I met her at an Assemblies of God church where I used to work when the pastor and his wife and actually just the whole church tried setting us up, but she’s become a dear friend since, and that was reflected in the message she sent met after leaving for work in the morning: come anytime, use our towels, drink my whiskey, and adventure on.

The wooden floor in the little box of a living room wasn’t the most comfortable ever, but what really killed us was the crushing humidity of late May in New York City with the windows open. About six in the morning, I left the boys sleeping on makeshift palettes in their underwear and set out to get my fix of the city. Bagel deli in one direction and coffeeshop in the other. Trying to find my way to the taller buildings and realizing they’re farther than they look. Then I had a vision of every greasy homeless dude I’d ever seen on a subway platform, so I grabbed the Guild out of Old Lady Science and headed down to the E Train where I sat for over two hours, lazily singing Beatles covers or whatever else came to my head, watching the sleek shoes of businesspeople headed into Manhattan, old Indian ladies in traditional dress, little kids tossing in quarters, gorgeous girls in their own worlds, everything that makes me love New York even though it’s hard. And I made enough money to buy some new jeans after ripping the crotch out of mine, climbing a tree the day before.

Ryan and Jason of Joshua Powell & the Great Train Robbery
Today I got to show the boys how beautiful Vermont is. We’ve got the weekend in Burlington, where the people are what the people in Portland and Austin and Williamsburg are only pretending to be. They have old books because there are no new book chains. They wear flannel and beanies because it’s cold. They live in cabins with no electricity, not because they’re writing their new novel in an MFA program, but because, man, those particular mountains haven’t been marred by power lines yet. We’re pulling in to the bar now, and I’m complaining about Adam’s music, and he’s trying to push me out of the shotgun side of the car for it.

Come see us sometime this summer. That’s all I’ve got.

On the Importance of NyQuil

Disappointment, anxiety, and vexation are all definitely a part of life as a part of a touring band, but a person forgets that this job can also take a brutal toll on your body.

I am positively wracked with sleep deprivation, for one. The New York jaunt got all of us with different strains of rhinovirus, Nicole bit down on a nerve in her tongue, I lost my voice like a pesky set of keys, and it never seems like there’s a chance to get caught up. After six days out to Manhattan, I spent four in the hometown working opening shifts at the coffeeshop (you know, because I want to be as cliche a musician as possible,) which means 5:30am wakeup calls as opposed to my regular noontime meanderings. And I’m in the back of my buddy’s Element writing this on a way to my second gig of the weekend where I’m still pounding DayQuil and recovering from my 4am bedtime last evening. But sweet Lord do I love it. Even my dear friends with the best desk jobs still have jobs with desks. And I am anti-desk to the core.

Two Wednesdays ago, Jacob, Michael, Michael’s wife Nicole, and I loaded up the ol’ Quest and battened down the hatches for a hefty drive out to Canton, OH, to play our first set of the mini-tour. We were all jazzed about packing Billie Corgan up to the gills (that’s our Van’s name, like the Smashing Pumpkins guy but a girl), and we may or may not have spun the new Taylor Swift record more than once on our way. Canton nearly crushed our spirits to a pulp. We’ve played three hour gigs before to pay the bills, but this was the most vehemently we had ever been ignored. My throat gave out on me by the third hour and the boys covered for me, but I didn’t feel much like talking the rest of the night anyway and I text-vented to a friend about quitting the dream after throwing a chunk of concrete at a dumpster and sullenly slumping down in the shotgun seat.

Michael's over-it face.

Michael’s over-it face.

Thanksgiving was nice though. Jacob and I have some cousins out in western PA, and Brother Bear and I are used to small, immediate-family-type holidays, so it was fun and sort of cinematic to be around twenty-some distant cousins laughing and singing and slinging food all directions. But Friday was sort of blacker than usual. We had a show booked in Philly but the bar burned down. It was supposed to be moved to another spot but the talent buyer dropped contact with me. Then my college buddy Adam tried to set us up two different shows in Youngstown, but things just didn’t work out, so we begged the hospitality of cousin Scott for one more night. I bought a flannel shirt on sale and we all saw Interstellar, which meant that we three boys would have a good two hours of conversation on the next day van ride about fifth-dimensional beings and just how Jessica Chastain could be so doggoned intuitive.

Joshua and cousin Sydney clearly have genetic similarities.

Joshua and cousin Sydney clearly have genetic similarities.

Oh, and I watched the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer about twenty-five times.

Grove City to Brooklyn was a haul, but David Foster Wallace and the new Copeland record kept me company, and we parked our car without event, opting to take the piss-stained, much-photographed subway into Harlem and Manhattan for back-to-back shows. Somehow playing two hour-long shows is harder than a three-hour show. But Rockwood Music Hall was straight magic for our second year in a row. Old friends transplanted from Vero Beach warmed out hearts, and a green room with short tumblers of bourbon warmed our bellies. We slept in our dear friend Jared’s crammed Brooklyn apartment where a dog left souvenirs all over the floor and the heat never kicked on and we had to get up at 8:30 (woof) to drive 12 hours straight to Dayton.

Rockwood Music Hall in Manhattan.

Rockwood Music Hall in Manhattan.

Green rooms make us feel way cool.

Green rooms make us feel way cool.

Blind Bob’s is one of my favorite spots, and seeing our slew of Buckeye friends is always a treat. Both guys in the band all but begged me to cancel the gig because we were all strung out on our last legs, but I cracked the whip and they forgave me eventually and it ended up being a great show, even if Nicole did have to beg the salty door guy to give us our cut without waiting ’til the end. Seriously, we always try to stay to watch the other bands, but twelve hours to the gig and two hours home from there—we were done.

Clearly I have a thing for Michaels. Also, I am 35.

Clearly I have a thing for Michaels.
Also, I am 35.

So that whole trip was a veritable roller-coaster of emotion, but you better believe I’ve never been so happy to stumble into my bed with a down comforter and a white noise machine and a bottle of cold medicine and NPR One.

Last night was The 86 Club in Cinci with just Jacob and me, and tonight I’m running solo out to LaSalle Tavern in South Bend to open for my friends in The Bikewalk. And we have one more week of downtime before our month-long Christmas run down to Florida, out to Texas, and back. All whilst trying to get final grades entered for the class I teach, coffee sold at the shop, and a new record written for January’s tracking. I’m tired, y’all.

86 Club in Cinci Photo by Joe Cox

86 Club in Cinci
Photo by Joe Cox

But I love this work and I love every one of you that believes in us and comes to our shows and make us feel more loved than I often feel I at least deserve. But for every bad show, I’m digging in to my reserve of grit, and for every good one, I’m planting a metaphorical kiss on every one of your foreheads. We love you. Stick with us.