May 26, 2015

Where Is This Going?

"Where is this going?" 

My words hung unanswered in the dark of the van.

The road felt endless that night, the last few miles to the club was a beat up gravel track down a red brick alley, getting narrower and narrower.

'...beep....beep...' our GPS was freaking out, endlessly beeping and saying '...reconnecting.'

Abe drove focused on the narrow beams from our headlights as we inched past a set of dumpsters and bounced into a pothole with a full thud. The stacked cases in the back of the van rattled and slid before resettling.

"It was supposed to be a mile and a half. Should be... somewhere... here?" Jaime said from the passenger seat, "maybe?"


"Looks like it's just warehouses out here... I don't even know if we're close," I said mostly to myself.

The rain was soft. It didn't even feel like it was falling, but the air was incredibly wet and the heat from hours of sitting inside the van had fogged the windows.

"There are no signs... no names... ughh... this street sucks," Abe pulled to a hard stop under a lone streetlight, beside a chain-link fence that poorly guarded half of a parking lot.

'...beep... reconnecting...'

"Annnd we're lost," Jaime laughed, while Abe fought to get the GPS back.

There was a long silence as Abe restarted the GPS again. 

I thought about grabbing a book, but my eyes were exhausted from staring out the road and the words wouldn't sit still.

'Where is this going?' I thought again, but this time just in my head.


Someone tapped softly on Abe's window. 

Almost out of instinct Abe re-locked the doors before lowering it a crack.

"Looking for something?" a woman asked from the side of the van. I tried looking out my back window at her but couldn't see anything. 

Abe told her we were a band. 

"Club's down there," she pointed into the fence, "other side of the lot. Black door."

Abe thanked her then turned to Jaime, "it's gonna be a weird one," he said as the tires sloshed through the dirt and a small shaded figure with a flashlight stood by my window as we drove past her.


The club was a warehouse cut into four uneven rooms. If I walked in from the front door and stood in the middle of it, 2 o'clock would be the largest room and the stage with a narrow hallway that went towards the green room and the bathrooms. 

At 10 was a small sheet metal bar pushed against a wall, only selling beer bottles and well drinks. A handwritten, neon sign flashed in the corner advertising a PBR and an unnamed shot for 3 dollars, probably the brightest thing in the building.

Between 7 and 8 was a small area for a pool table, an old cigarette machine, a wall rack with most of the cues missing, and one of those big 20 something inch bulky TVs for sports.  

At 4 was the smallest room with a couple couches for people who were drinking and didn't want to watch the show. And even though it was only a mid-sized place it was too big for the night.

When I get to a new club, I try hard to read the room. The decorations. The lights. The stage. The equipment. The posters on the walls. How clean the bathrooms are. How sticky the bar tops and tables are. How clean the restrooms are kept. The feeling in the air. It's hard to judge an empty room and I've been wrong before, but I walked in and felt Abe was right. This was gonna be a weird one. 

I stood backstage looking out at a mostly empty room thinking again, 'Where is this going?'

Two guys were at the pool table playing their second game, drinking their fourth round. 

Three college-aged girls sat at the bar waiting for drinks. 

The sound guy was talking to a couple of regulars, and I know he really didn't care about us or the night having rushed through sound check while muttering things like, 'doesn't matter anyway.'

The bartender checked his phone with a look on his face like he just realized this wasn't the night he was hoping for.

The first two bands were outside smoking on the patio together with a couple of their friends.

And then I saw the stage set up with our gear. 


My bass rested on its stand, ready to play. And it didn't care. It didn't worry. Just a machine ready to work.

I think those are the moments that can define a working musician. Separating the ones who want to play and the ones who just want attention. I'm not saying it's good to play those shows, or you have to play one as some sort of right of passage, or that you should be happy to walk out to sparse clapping. What I mean is that if you are in a band, you will probably have bad nights, a lot of them. It's part of being in a band, and when it happens, how you handle it will prove who you are.

"Time to go," Abe said grabbing four waters from our ice chest.

Slowly, into the dark silence, we walked out. 

No one moved yet. 

I kept looking down at my shoes. Not embarrassed, just focusing on the job, going through my check list:

Bass in tune, amp on, flip a pick between my fingers (if I think about the pick too much, it starts to feel wrong in my hand... There's a way the point turns into my palm, cause I use a short edge, where the pick feels like it disappears and it becomes part of me and I can play anything I need to, and I never think about it again).

The bartender yelled to the sound guy, "Ryan! TIME!" His voice cutting through the room and grabbing everyone's attention. 

With a disappointed nod, the sound guy finished his drink and headed to his console. 

The girls moved closer to the stage. 

The guys still finishing their game, looked up for a moment at the stage, then kept playing.

Finally the sound guy gave a thumbs up.

Jaime tapped his heel, and I could hear the high-hat whispering the beat. 

'Where is this going?' 

We were three songs in and I was already sweating from dancing around, singing, and the bright red stage lamps.

'Where is this going?' 

This set. This tour. This cycle. This music. The next string of shows. My life at home. A doctor's bill I had to pay, and a lonely merch table. Questions that could fill an empty room or crowd a sold out arena, bounced in my head.

'Where is this going?' 

An industry seemingly collapsing on all sides. People groaning about how bad music is today. How there used to be real bands. And what am I? Or how good it was before I was born. How people don't care about live music. None of which I believe by the way, cause music isn't about any of those things for me. And if it ever was, the purpose of writing, the purpose of playing would be lost.

I keep writing to make better songs.

I play cause it heals me. 

I sing to save myself from suffocating.

I dance when it moves me.

It should be an honest reaction. In this small of a show, there's no pretension. No reason for the girls to dance. No reason for the sound guy to clap after a song ends. No reason for the bartender to send a round of beers to the stage. No reason for the game on the pool table to be left unfinished. All that happened honestly.

And I look out to the empty room, to watch them watching me. Not because I need the attention, though attention is nice, but because I am amazed to reach anyone hereIn the middle of nowhere. When everything should have gone wrong.

'Where is this going?' 

Sometimes I find that question stuck in my head. Usually on nights like this. When I'm loading out. When the 8 people who saw the show come together at the merch table for a drink. When I am re-stacking the gear into the back of the van, and my shirt is soaking wet from sweat, and the humidity makes me feel disgusting.

'Where is this going?' 

I didn't start for attention.

I didn't start so anyone would like me.

So I don't let it bother me. 

Not when there's 2 people, not when there's 2 million. I haven't gotten nervous yet, knock on wood. Reminding myself why. Asking. It helps me keep my way, as long as I keep asking.