Life on tour with six Charleston musical acts 

Bands on Board

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Photos provided

From where we sit, scrolling through photos of different, exciting cities every night on Instagram, the lives of touring musicians look enviable and glamorous. What we don't see are the nights spent in cars in Walmart parking lots, the lengths some will go to stay healthy on the road, the broken-down vans, the logistics of getting to the next gig on time.

But there can be as many wins as there are challenges, too: the roadtrip tunes that will always remind musicians of a certain city, the magic that happens onstage in front of a different audience every day, the unforgettable food discovered in new places.

Curious about the unseen details of life on the road for local musicians, we asked six local acts about: where they slept; what they ate (the most memorable foodstuffs); where they played (recalling gigs that stick out from the trip); what they rolled up in; what they listened to (songs and artists that will remind them of the tour for years to come); what they learned (landscapes, cultures, roadtrip hacks); what they'll always remember (the most special moments); and suitcase essentials (the must-pack lists). Here's what they said. —Kelly Rae Smith

click to enlarge Babe Club keeps the whoopee cushion on deck while on the road - PHOTOS PROVIDED
  • Photos provided
  • Babe Club keeps the whoopee cushion on deck while on the road

Babe Club

WHERE WE SLEPT

We got to stay in this place called The Refuge in Appleton, Wis. It's an old 11-acre monastery that is converted for musicians to retreat and practice or write. We were on tour with Airpark at the time, and we got to relax, share stories, and play a little music. Good vibes there. I wish Charleston had a place like that.

WHAT WE ATE

I (Jenna) basically eat candy at every rest stop. We try to eat healthy and stop at a Whole Foods hot bar when we can. When we were in DC, there were these ginormous pizza slices — I mean big, so big you wouldn't even believe it.

WHERE WE PLAYED

We played two Sofar Sounds — one in Philly and one in New York. Those were my favorite probably. They are quiet shows, with people who come because they want to hear music or be around new people. Also, we played this show in Norfolk, Va. that was amazing; there seems to be a cool community of music over there. The crowd at our show in Davenport, Iowa was the best. That's just how it is over there; I really connected to them and shared some moments.

WHAT WE ROLLED UP IN

We borrowed a van from our friend Keon. Tour has its ups and downs. It's mostly a fantasy because you can just be focused on performing, and you have a lot of downtime, which means day dreaming and a lot of inside jokes. The downtime will kill you or inspire you. Traveling every day can take a toll on your body, and really make you appreciate your home and having some privacy.

click to enlarge PHOTOS PROVIDED
  • Photos provided

WHAT WE LISTENED TO

I listened to Mitski's new album on repeat this tour. It's amazing, and brings me back to many memories in my life. She sings with such perfect diction too; I like to use her songs as vocal practice when I'm driving.

WHAT WE LEARNED

Two things:

• Having a whoopee cushion readily available at all times is very important. Really breaks the ice.

• We toured with three members from the High Divers. And I learned that Mary Alice (from the High Divers) kills it. She's always thinking about the whole experience and all things that go into making a performance special. She's the special sauce and the tiny details. I learned a lot from her.

WHAT WE'LL REMEMBER

I went rollerblading with Mary Alice one morning and rolled over a pebble and threw my neck out right before our show in New York. Who knew a pebble could do so much damage? So I wore a neck brace for two days. I even wore it to the Ron Gallo show we went to in Brooklyn. It's kind of hilarious; it's half a joke because it looks so dramatic, but it also really helps your neck relax and heal up.

SUITCASE ESSENTIALS

Neck brace, dry shampoo, whoopee cushion, cots to sleep in, fuzzy blanket, face masks, a book or two, a journal, and a mini practice amp. —Jenna Desmond

click to enlarge Little Stranger’s chevy van is a home away from home - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • Little Stranger’s chevy van is a home away from home

Little Stranger

WHERE WE SLEPT

Walmart parking lots offer great amenities! So many spots to choose from. Plenty of places to pee. New trucker friends sharing in the experience. And all the food and drinks that Wally World has to offer.

click to enlarge PROVIDED
  • Provided

WHAT WE ATE

We played a People's Brewing Company in Lafayette, Ind. on our way back from Chicago. They served a tavern-style lager — it was a family recipe from the prohibition era that they've revived after years of being lost. Hands-down favorite beer we've had on the road. And we have a lot of beers on the road.

WHERE WE PLAYED

We played a festival called Mile of Music in Appleton, Wis. Our first trip to the Midwest. We played seven sets in three days; it was an unforgettable experience. The people of Appleton were some of the sweetest we've ever met. They were so appreciative that we came to their city to play. The fest even offered free dental work, massage therapy, food, and lodging for all artists. Heading back for round two this year!

WHAT WE ROLLED UP IN

We've been traveling in Peg — our 12-passenger Chevy van — for the last two years. She's been great to us. We're lucky to be a two-piece band so between the two benches in the back we both have beds at all times. Sometimes we get to the venue and choose willingly to stay in the van — that's how much we love her. She holds lots of pee bottles, too!

WHAT WE LISTENED TO

So much '90s hip-hop: Das EFX, MF Doom, Fugees, A Tribe Called Quest. Our most recent Charleston binge spin is Babe Club's Hate Myself. We like to listen to podcasts too. Joe Rogan mostly. Kevin loves Comedy Bang Bang. John loves Phish.

WHAT WE LEARNED

If you're ever in Chicago, do yourself a favor and continue driving north. Jump in Lake Michigan along the way and continue on until you find yourself in Appleton, Wis.

WHAT WE'LL REMEMBER

This past weekend we started our three-week tour with Badfish: A Tribute to Sublime. The second night of tour, their singer got sick and had to go to the hospital. They asked us how many Sublime songs we knew, and if we could fill in. We, along with the lead singer of Bumpin Uglies, filled in for the set two nights in a row at sold-out shows in Philly and Jersey. Unreal how it all came together with zero notice. It was an amazing bonding experience with those guys and the crowds.

click to enlarge A slice of life on the road with Little Stranger includes lower back tattoos - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • A slice of life on the road with Little Stranger includes lower back tattoos

SUITCASE ESSENTIALS

Eight road warrior essentials:

• Pedialyte, even though they're selfish and won't sponsor us.

• Reishi/Immune Booster supplements.

• Cooler in the van for healthy snacks: avocados, seaweed, avocados, and avocados.

• Towel and bathing suit because you never know when there'll be a hot tub.

• Butt wipes

• Garlic cloves and wooden stake, for shows in Mississippi.

• Yerba mate cans from our homies at Guayaki!

• And of course, things you don't want to get pulled over with! —John Shields

click to enlarge JONATHAN BONCEK FILE PHOTO
  • Jonathan Boncek file photo

The Artisanals

WHERE WE SLEPT

click to enlarge It’s all about the artisanal vibes on the road with Johnny  Delaware’s crew, the Artisanals
  • It’s all about the artisanal vibes on the road with Johnny Delaware’s crew, the Artisanals

If we're around the area, there's an old log cabin that was built in the '70s outside of Durham, N.C. that we usually like to stay at that is unlike any other Airbnb. It's a small home, but very artisanal. It includes a big granite stone fireplace in the living room that reaches from the floor to the ceiling, along with multiple bedrooms: one containing hand-painted mushrooms all over the room with mushroom lamps and bedding. Other perks include an outdoor shower, a large deck to have drinks and smoke, and a surrounding forest with lightning bugs adding some Avatar vibes. We also filmed our music video for "Drag" out there.

WHAT WE ATE

We are a Whole Foods and local co-op band! It's easiest for us all to hit the hot bar where everyone can pick out what they want, rather than going to a Chick-fil-A and having a couple different options. We're talking five different people with their own craving. Plus we need to keep healthy so we can feel good and keep sustained. Eating like shit will make you feel more lethargic than you already have to, considering you sometimes drive eight to 11 hours to the gig. The best co-op in America is in Sandpoint, Idaho. Second place goes to Ellwood Thompson's in Richmond, Va. Third: The Turnip Truck in Nashville, Tenn. Fourth: Johnny Gibsons in Tucson, Ariz.

WHERE WE PLAYED

There've been a lot of amazing shows! We feel so grateful for them all, but the Codfish Hollow in Iowa was electric this summer at the [SUSTO curated] Fine 2day Fest, and it's in a barn! It's so badass. The people all feel like family there. It's really special.

Our favorite venue for the aesthetic has to go to the Congress Hotel in Tucson, Ariz. It's an ornate, old Spanish-influenced hotel with beautiful colored tiles and custom wood etching throughout the entire place. There's a venerable radio station attached that plays wonderful music and the owner and staff are always so kind to us. Very artisanal vibes!

WHAT WE ROLLED UP IN

Our van is fully wrapped by a Texas independent senior living center called Miravanti. Clay bought the van five years ago. It's tough to see out the windows, but it works as a great decoy. You've gotta be on extra hard times to be stealing from a geriatric's van.

WHAT WE LISTENED TO

Israel Nash, Hiss Golden Messenger, Neil Young, Jonathan Wilson, the National, and Stillwater's "Fever Dog" is played almost everyday. Joe Rogan and Duncan Trussel podcasts are on mine and Eric's headphones. When I used to drive, I'd put on Skinwalker conspiracy podcasts to freak everyone out for an hour.

WHAT WE LEARNED

We stayed in hotels a lot, but lately we've been rocking in Airbnbs. Since there's a kitchen, we like to buy groceries and make dinner before the show or after. The only negative to an Airbnb is its inconsistency. You don't know what you'll really be sleeping on until you show up. It may say the house sleeps seven people, but the homeowners tend to get creative. We've all felt like Boy Scouts at one point or another on the living room floor sleeping on couch cushions. One good thing about the hotel is a workout room. Getting to move the blood is necessary for certain people. I'm a total pain in the ass when I don't get to exercise (sorry, guys!)

click to enlarge PROVIDED
  • Provided

WHAT WE'LL REMEMBER

Seeing the Pacific Ocean on Highway 101. It's spiritual. I remember being high and crying because of how beautiful it was.

On the Fourth of July last summer, we were going down a huge mountain into Salt Lake City and there were fireworks everywhere down below. The most we've ever seen. I'm talking 50 miles of city sprawl lit up by these colorful bursts of light, so it felt like we were in a computer simulation. It was one of the few times in our lives we all had to question what we were seeing. It made one thing clear: Mormons don't mess around on the Fourth.

SUITCASE ESSENTIALS

Bring a couple phone chargers, because you're gonna leave one behind somewhere. Also, buy your own natural body wash (Dr. Bronner's, etc.) because the chemical soaps make you smell worse — Eric and I are convinced of it. To save money, get a little camping coffee maker. It's amazing how much coffee adds up each month. Example: a $4 cup plus a $1 tip is $5 a day. Thirty days times $5 per day equals $150. That's utilities at your parents' place. Help them out if you're gonna live with them! —Johnny Delaware

click to enlarge PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE SPEARS
  • Photos by Christine Spears

Doom Flamingo

WHERE WE SLEPT

We mostly used Airbnbs. It's not so much the Airbnb that is the memorable part, but the shenanigans that occur within the Airbnb.

WHAT WE ATE

The Philly I ate at this place called Freddy's in the Krog Street Market in Atlanta. Holy shit. The fellas at Yous Guys would approve. So good.

WHERE WE PLAYED

We're sort of a brand new band, so while we have a lot on the books for 2019, we've only played a handful of shows. I'd have to say that the Pour House show on Oct. 26 and the Atlanta show at Variety Playhouse on Dec. 28 were both epic.

WHAT WE ROLLED UP IN

In many cases, some of us are coming from different places (some of us are on the road with other bands, like Ryan with Umphreys McGee). For instance, for the Atlanta show on Dec. 28, I flew in from NYC the day before. Ryan was on the Umphreys tour bus; this was in the middle of their four-night Atlanta NYE run, and the rest of the crew I think drove up from Charleston, at all different times.

WHAT WE LISTENED TO

I'm stuck on Donny McCaslin's new album Blow, also Chris Thile's album, Thanks for Listening. Also Oxnard by Anderson .Paak. Oh, and Healing Tide by the War and Treaty — those guys kick ass.

click to enlarge PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE SPEARS
  • Photos by Christine Spears

WHAT WE LEARNED

My car broke down in N.C. It's still up there. Lots of hills. Maybe avoid hills whenever possible? When in doubt, go around? I haven't spent as much time road-dogging as some other guys, but I will say that creature comforts go a long way. Also a good, healthy meal.

WHAT WE'LL REMEMBER

The most memorable moments for me are all musical. There are bits of magic that happen on stage. The emotion, passion I feel when we are really dialed in and it feels like we've somehow elevated our existence. Epecially when building this new band and idea — watching all of the ideas come to fruition is a pretty beautiful thing. It also means a lot to me when good friends are able to make it to the shows to see this thing you've been working so hard on. It's all very fresh and exciting.

SUITCASE ESSENTIALS

Extra briefs and socks. Rain jacket. Deodorant (sorry, Ross). The other stuff is pretty obvious. I try not to overpack. Making sure you have all your toiletries — the things that really keep you clean. The road can get dirty. Or, rather, the road is dirty. And if you're on it, chances are you'll get dirty, too. —Michael Quinn

click to enlarge Jah Jr. and SCRIB have taken their act to the West Coast - COURTESY JAH JR.
  • Courtesy Jah Jr.
  • Jah Jr. and SCRIB have taken their act to the West Coast

Jah Jr.

WHERE WE SLEPT

Jah: In L.A., we stayed at Indigo Hotel in downtown. We were just around the corner from the Staples Center. Had an amazing view. It was great. In Atlanta, we stayed at an Airbnb that was just a few blocks away from a bad area ... the pictures of the place made it look so much better than reality. The beds were super small and close to one another.

SCrib: Our friend Trey was handling getting an Airbnb to stay in for our trip to perform during A3C Festival. This place seemed to be very nice online, but when we pulled up to the house it was, how you say, ratchet! First, we came early and asked if we could have early access, and the only way we were getting that was by helping the owner carry out a washer and a dryer to his truck! Well, we got in the place and each room was super small. I'm fine with that because I'm only 5'8" but [friend and tour manager of sorts] Trey is like 6'5" and he was hanging off the bed. Not to mention the beds were hands-length from one another in the rooms! It was hilarious, but we learned that pictures are deceiving!

WHAT WE ATE

Jah: We ate at this amazing L.A. spot. The place had amazing drinks and the orange chicken and rice I had was crack! We had In-N-Out burger as well. We had to do it because we were in L.A.

SCrib: I can't remember the place we ate in L.A. when we were about to go to the BET concert, but I just remember I had this big dish of some type of spicy shrimp pasta and it was to die for! Jah took a video of my first bite and I was just in awe of how great it was!

WHERE WE PLAYED

Jah: The best show we had was definitely our last show of 2018, the Ingenium show at Purple Buffalo. We had the best set of the night and it was amazing to see the fruits of the hard work we put into pushing my debut album, Back 2 Da Dub displayed amongst the crowd that night. They knew the words to all of my album cuts. Any doubt I had about my music career before that show was erased.

SCrib: The Purple Buffalo show, which has been a thing for a while, but this show was that one that said JahSCrib is about to be a team no one can mess with! I think this was the first show where Jah performed Back 2 Da Dub tracks, and seeing most of the crowd screaming the words back at us while performing was dope to see! All of the crowd interaction and love during that performance was magical! It only goes up from there!

WHAT WE ROLLED UP IN

SCrib: Most of the time we drove in my Jeep and it was a dope time just vibing out to music that was released, new tracks Jah was working on or even having that time to just talk about the things in life that we cared about. Good brother bonding.

WHAT WE LISTENED TO

Jah: What we listened to consisted of Apple Music playlists, hour-long mixes, Back 2 Da Dub, and #JahSCrib. Oh and that one time SCrib put me on to Bruno Mars' album.

SCrib: I know one song for sure that we sing every road trip and it has a funny back story to it is we have to play and sing, "Calling All My Lovelies" by Bruno Mars. I think we were coming back from a listening session in Myrtle Beach and I was playing Bruno in the car. I told him, "Bruh, you gotta listen to this song!" I pressed play and the next thing you know Jah is like, "You gotta play that back!"

WHAT WE LEARNED

Jah: I learned, above all else, that things will not always go my way. I have to see that as adversity and handle it accordingly. I learned so much just from networking and simply walking up and talking to people. I met and exchanged contacts with some big-name producers (Hit Boy and Chase N. Cashe) and even got recognition from Chase N. Cashe about my music. My publicist, Michael Stover, taught me to go out and get what's mine as well as create opportunities for myself.

click to enlarge COURTESY JAH JR.
  • Courtesy Jah Jr.

WHAT WE'LL REMEMBER

Jah: Hands down, L.A. It was my first time flying and my first time on the West Coast. The entire atmosphere was love. Outside of waiting forever to get in our room and finding out we weren't performing (which was the reason I almost didn't go, SCrib made me reconsider,) we had access to all BET events and our hotel was paid for. We saw so many celebs and were even able to connect with a few. I can't wait to go back!

SCrib: I think everything about L.A. was the most memorable time as far as traveling with Jah! There were so much emotions throughout that trip. We started off pissed because we couldn't get in our room on time and found out we weren't performing anymore. We did make the best of the opportunity. We even got to see one of our fave rappers, Dom Kennedy, speak about his life and the crafting of his album, the Yellow Album.

SUITCASE ESSENTIALS

Jah: Shea butter, crystal gems, and headphones are a must.

SCrib: Towel, jersey, hat, and headphones.

click to enlarge Chaquis Maliq’s one-woman act has taken her across the border into Canada - BOB HATCHER PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Bob Hatcher Photography
  • Chaquis Maliq’s one-woman act has taken her across the border into Canada

Chaquis Maliq

WHERE I SLEPT

It's gotten to the point where I will just stay at a hostel or hotel. I used to stay with other musicians and artists. I stay at hotels when there aren't any decent hostels around. And pretty much there aren't really any hostels once you get to places like Northeast Indiana. Hotels cut into the so-called "profit," while hostels are more like a convenience you don't mind paying for, if it's artsy and clean. The best hostel I've stayed in so far was The Hollander (now The Robey Chicago) in 2017 on the Resilience Eludes Death tour. There are plenty of new, cool, and hip hostels in Chicago now. But in 2018 I stayed at the City Hostel-Seattle. This place was so eclectic and artsy. The six-range stove was right up my alley (I majored in advanced culinary arts/hospitality.) Everything was in walking distance. There was so much art in passing, it was sort of overwhelming. I had to keep focus. Their Public Market Center had everything from fresh local produce to cheap eats and art vendors. The setup is much different from the Charleston City Market and much busier since it's a big city.

WHAT I ATE

Well, I'm a gluten-free ovo-vegetarian eater. So that really leaves everything in the hands of me cooking, even if I stay at a hotel. I actually have an electric skillet that I travel with. And I do take my blender with me for my smoothies. So, there always has to be a decent grocery store that sells local produce or a farmer's market nearby.

WHERE I PLAYED

2018 was a little different than most of the tours I've done. I played at the Fort Wayne BuskerFest as a featured performer. I got to perform twice, so it was pretty cool to have witnessed two different crowds in one event. What was so different about this festival is that it was pure talent everywhere. Instruments I've never seen and so many pop-up jam sessions. It was full of color, smiling faces, dancing, and even a five-piece, all-women string band played on the first stage right before me. And they were dressed comfortably just as I was. It was hot! On the second stage, I was recorded with professional equipment. I had no idea this was going to take place. I saw a staff member during the first set recording and hoped to see that footage. But then I pull out my iPhone setup for self-recording, only to find out that I had nothing on the footage that was being recorded and that I was being projected on the mobile digital billboard around the festival, the camera guy told me at some point. I was like, 'Man, I hope there is a capture of me with the screen behind me somewhere.' Turns out, I could see a corner of it in my iPhone footage.

But what really took me by surprise was being invited to play in freagin' Canada! I ended up driving. I was the first international artist to play at Festival of Friends in Hamilton, Ontario, and they put me on their local news station for an interview and performance.

I mean, I thought, NPR Music Tiny Desk (2017) picking me to open the show for the Tank and the Bangas was as a good as it would get. But I'm learning that the work is paying off and to keep going, even though the pace is not what I expect it to be. Yes, I was the only black artist on the lineup at Festival of Friends, but it didn't bother me at all. I was treated with so much love even before I arrived. Hamilton is about 45 minutes away from Toronto. I had been catching up on sleep after the television segment, and my hostel roommates kept trying to get me outside. So, finally one of them said: Go to Toronto! I got up and did nothing to my hair. I just washed my face and left. I had no idea where I was going, initially. But got stuck in traffic and I just wanted to see the water [Lake Ontario]. I totally made a random right turn and ended up in a parking lot in Toronto, right on the water. Changed my clothes and hopped on a little ship, met a Russian woman, and we hung out until one in the morning. She made sure I had fun and got photos in all the tourist spots. We also caught a free reggae concert where the legendary Willi Williams was the headliner! This was an outdoor concert, right at the lake (it looks like the ocean), in downtown Toronto. It was a perfect night. The next day was the Carribean Festival, but I had to perform at Festival of Friends, so maybe next time.

WHAT I ROLLED UP IN

Since being in the Lowcountry I have traveled by plane and car to my gig destinations. I don't own a vehicle so, I always rent something. Well as before, in the beginning of touring, prior to moving here, I was taking Megabus, Greyhound, and BoltBus out of Baltimore and D.C. What I loved about the bus was gaining new fans on the bus and the random conversations with some cool people who I would never see again. But I honestly hate the bus. I have extreme anxieties (I have panic attacks) and get motion sickness, so the plane can be harmful to my health too. The flight to Seattle last year for my EccentroSoul one-woman band debut at the San Juan County Fair in the San Juan Islands was a doozy. My connecting flight was only in Atlanta, as opposed to somewhere in the middle, where I could have a moment to recoup, rest, etc. I was like, 'WTH, man?' Coming back, my layover was in Fort Worth, Texas, so that was way better. I've gotten better with packing my gear, so it wasn't as bad as when I used to pack my entire life when I was bussing. A 60-pound bag on wheels, Mr. Maliq [guitar] on my back, and some other bag. Hey, I'm on 5'1" and some. That was like 80 percent of my weight I was carrying around. But this year I was a lot more prepared.

WHAT I LISTENED TO

When I have to resort to earphones on public transportation, I always play soothing music to keep me calm. My go-to is Phony Ppl. When I'm driving across the country I listen to the radio. This is the only time I ever listen to the radio. Bruno Mars songs always keeps me motivated while driving, because I can sing with them. Upbeat sing-a-long music is the best for the road. And when I get to the middle America stretch, I always turn to the rock stations, because there is damn near nothing for miles and miles [Laughs]. I love catching the NPR shows, too, depending on who's on it. The comedy is cool at night. And interviews with performances make you feel like you're not on a solo road trip.

WHAT I LEARNED

I like exploring. Sleep can kill your plans on the road. So, I didn't get to do all the things I had planned on the trip. But the drive to Canada was boring until I got out of Pennsylvania. There was literally nothing but mountains and mountains and then finding out you might as well be in airplane as high as the elevation was on some other mountains I drove through. Niagara Falls on the Canada side is a much better view than from the New York side. I visited Nina Simone's birth home on the way to Indiana the first time. The second show in Indiana, I decided to go to Detroit and visit the legacy of the sounds I produce — Motown. I've always been an artist that believes in living while touring. I will never be a touring artist that just does shows back-to-back-to-back and so on. It's totally unhealthy, physically and mentally.

WHAT I'LL REMEMEBER

Singing at Nina Simone's birth home was unexplainable. It is a moment to cherish, a connection with a soul who has paved the way for me, at the birthplace instead of the tombstone. Discovering my backbone in music at Motown is one of those experiences that makes me regret nothing in my musical journey, and then topping that off singing "My Girl" with strangers in Studio A, where so many great, seasoned musicians that look like me created classic music that you can still witness artists of today being sued over for copying. It's a reflection to let me know that every tour is for a reason, especially when a child walks past you while performing in a less extravagant gig, and says, "I love your singing," and then returns with a tip. Those are the moments that get me. Those are the moments that make me believe.

SUITCASE ESSENTIALS

My wired headset is a must. Keeps me from feeling trapped on a stage with the rest of my equipment mic'd up.

I always bring a blanket and sometimes a sheet. You just never know.

Because I'm pretty strict about what I eat, I must keep raisins and bananas with me for energy. I don't do the energy bars and granola bars or the processed food thing, really.

I have to bring my electric pan and personal blender.

I used to bring my laptop, but not anymore. I prefer my small tablet for streaming animations before I slumber.


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