Our show in Richmond is at an art gallery. It is the senior show for an art school, which means we are surrounded by interesting fashion decisions. One dude has a giant paper clip in his nose that simply must somehow interfere with eating. Distinctive, though, for sure. The show is well-attended, and people are into it. Afterwards a few of us want to go out and party, but I opt to sleep. Our hosts are people we met in Harrisonburg when we played MACRoCK, Noma and Lucy. We are shown to a big room full of soft surfaces, and this cat. Her name is Moxie, if memory serves. Like all cats, she can take you or leave you, but I like her vibe.
Even though I want to hang I pass out almost immediately. It has been a bad week for sleep. In the morning, there are some home fries and eggs, plus fancy donuts. I take the opportunity to make coffee for our hosts. It is Lucy’s birthday. In the middle of making coffee, I am introduced to this little guy whose name escapes me.
This is what I refer to as a “burrito dog”: a dog the size of a Chipotle burrito. You can see my arm in the picture for an idea of scale. Like a lot of small dogs, he is terrified of everything because everything is bigger than he. I am always pleased when a place we stay has animals. As if this weren’t enough, someone lets it slip that there is a hedgehog. A hedgehog!
His name is Levi. He seems a little overwhelmed by the attention, but my brief interaction with him totally makes my day. Look at that expression. So stately! If I were to get a pet, it would be a hedgehog. I would feed it carrots and stroke its soft underbelly. After our breakfast, we head to the James River. It is freezing, and there are some rocks under the water that pose a threat to the knees and shins when coupled with the strong current, but it is exhilarating. I am refreshed. My towel is filthy from sitting on. Whatever. We say our goodbyes, and on the way back we listen to Lucy’s bandcamp. We’re into it. Of course it would be good. She sort of sounds like Sharon Van Etten. She and Noma just got back from touring in Europe like it’s not even a thing. No booking agent or anything, they just did it. So much cooler than I was at their age.
In Raleigh, I experience an exciting new concept: fast food barbecue. Having just missed the closing of Clyde Cooper’s, the one that had been recommended to me by a local, I am down to two choices: The Pit or Dickey’s Barbecue Pit. I have been to the Pit before, years ago, after perhaps our worst-attended show ever. Maybe three people showed up and the promoter gave us fifteen bucks because he felt sorry for us. But now our star has risen to the point where an at least double-digit number of people will attend the majority of our shows, and it is time for new, undiscovered barbecue. It is only when I arrive at Dickey’s, accompanied by Felicia, that I realize it is a chain. A barbecue chain? Is this okay? I’m already here, and the Pit is in the other direction. Fuck it. I order a rib plate, with green beans and mac and cheese and hushpuppies.
The ribs themselves are surprisingly good, and I am happy to see vinegar-based barbecue sauce available in addition to the traditional sweet one with which they are served. They have a strong smoke flavor and nice texture. The hushpuppies also hit the spot, with a nice crispy exterior and hearty corn flavor. The mac and cheese sucks. The macaroni is soft and the cheese is flavorless. It is like Popeye’s mac and cheese. Boo. The green beans are okay, bad texture, good flavor. All in all, a successful meal. I am still a little bummed about Clyde Cooper’s.
The show goes well, and we head to our friend Mike’s house to crash. Mike is one of our favorite local hosts, and we always end up hanging out really late even though we’re on tour and it’s objectively a terrible idea. In the morning, some of the more ambitious members of the band go out for a jog. Julian comes back with exciting news: there is a Salvadorian block party down the street, and they are selling pupusas.
The picture of said pupusas was regrettably lost due to an annoying iOS glitch that doesn’t always update the photo you are viewing when you delete photos. Fuck you, iOS. Anyway, they hit the spot. I get three with cheese and spinach and three with revuelta for everybody to pass around, and end up eating one of each. They come with a little plastic bag of curtido and a little plastic tub of the tomato sauce. They are delicious, better than the ones back in Boston, even. I think I like spinach better than loroco, at least in this context. What a pleasant surprise, to find pupusas here. Are pupusas everywhere, and I just haven’t been noticing them? I must be more vigilant.
Our next show is in Columbia, SC, at the New Brookland Tavern. This is a hometown show for ET Anderson, and it is well-attended. It is here that I am introduced to another, even better fast food barbecue situation: Cook-Out. According to our local hosts, it is sort of the Southern version of In-N-Out burger. As is apparently traditional for this restaurant, I order it around two in the morning after having had a relatively large amount of whiskey. I get a pulled pork plate with cole slaw, hushpuppies, and fries. It costs four dollars. Aside from the fact that the pulled pork is served in an unappetizing scoop shape like ice cream, I have nothing bad to say about this food. It is a meal of decent barbecue for four dollars! How is this even possible? The pork is moist and smoky. I am well pleased.
In Charleston, I am introduced to another Southern staple I knew nothing about: pickled shrimp.
What a brilliant idea. They are briny, spicy, and refreshing, not unlike ceviche. Carlos and I split an order and take turns putting them on Saltine crackers. I could eat these all day. How hard can it be to pickle shrimp oneself? This will be a project for my return. Our show is at The Royal American, which is perhaps my favorite venue on tour so far. There are spacious back porches in the front and back, and the vibe is extremely cozy. The back porch looks out onto railroad tracks, and as the sun sets the whole scene takes on a lovely golden tinge you only see in this part of the country. Charleston is beautiful, and I get a good feeling from it. I take the opportunity to FaceTime with the lady back home. It does me good to see her face, even in medium-res digital form. We talk until my phone dies, and I head inside.
I haven’t had a burger yet on this tour, and I am craving one. I bet this place does up a good one. I am not disappointed.
The burger is juicy and perfectly-cooked, and the bun is flavorful and pleasantly chewy. It easily soaks up the grease. My one complaint about the Royal American is a dearth of sides. I have the option of potato salad or a loaded baked potato, which I have seen someone else get and determined is entirely too much food. Or chips, but like, come on. I would love a grilled vegetable, or even just like normal fries. The potato salad is just okay. I don’t finish it. I’m pretty full anyway. That burger hit the spot.
The other drawback to this venue is that the stage is tiny and behind the bar, which makes loading pretty weird. We share gear with ET Anderson, and stack amps on top of each other, and it is just barely feasible. Clearly this place was built before they decided there was going to be music. I see some familiar faces from the previous night’s show, as Charleston is not far from Columbia. In terms of our performance and the audience’s response, this is my favorite show yet. It feels fucking great. I think we are hitting our stride, now is about the time in tour when it starts to happen. There will still be a weird one here and there, but something appears to have clicked. People are friendly and enthusiastic, and we quickly find a place to stay. We stay in a beautiful old house with both upstairs and downstairs porches. I sleep peacefully on a too-short couch, my ankles dangling over the edge.
In the morning we go into town to hit a bank. Most of the money we’ve made so far is in cash, and it’s starting to overload my wallet (it’s mostly small bills, don’t get excited). But it makes me nervous carrying a bunch of money around in an already-stuffed wallet, so we deposit whatever we won’t need for the day. On the way to the bank, a man offers me a free sample of a hushpuppy. It is hands down the best hushpuppy I have ever had. It tastes like it was fried in cleaner oil than is the standard. The guy is advertising Hyman’s Seafood, and it works. It was a successful hushpuppy campaign. I decide that I will get something small at Hyman’s, even though I am only a little hungry. Just for the experience. Hyman’s seems to be one of those local institutions that knows it is a big deal and gets a lot of press and is not afraid to charge an arm and a leg because they know you’ll pay for it. I get this tiny crab cake, and it costs fucking nine dollars.
It’s worth it. This is the best crab cake I have ever had. When I think of a crab cake, I generally think of a perfectly disc-shaped mass of breadcrumbs and eggs with little bits of crab scattered about. This is more like big lumps of crab held together with fried onions and garlic by a thin batter. Topped with a tangy, creamy sauce and a squeeze of lemon, this shit is dank. I could eat several more. I opt not to, because I am trying not to blow a bunch of money on nonessential things. But hot damn, what an amazing crab cake. Hyman’s. Believe the hype.
On our way out we have a moment of panic. We parked in one of those public lots where you take a ticket and pay when you leave, and we have misplaced the ticket. So even though we’ve only been parked for about fifteen minutes, we will have to pay the maximum fee of $30. We are furious. What a fucking racket! And how did that ticket get lost in such a short time? This place sucks and we suck. Shit. At the ticket booth, the lady verbally confirms that we owe thirty dollars, which I grudgingly fish out of my wallet. She waves us through without taking it. An awesome piece of Southern hospitality. She probably gets this all the time, and has to go through the motions because she’s being observed or something. Our faith in humanity restored, we set out for Atlanta.
As is standard, we make our first stop at Sevananda Natural Foods. I am kind of over Sevananda, but whatever. It goes in my stomach and won’t kill me as much as other things I might eat. I eat. We have a lot of time to kill at 529 Bar before our set, and I take the opportunity to get some work and writing done. There is a spacious backstage, which we take full advantage of. The bar is serving frozen margaritas, which are deceptively potent. I have two over the course of the evening, and that is plenty. I remember my mother’s warning about margaritas from her bartending days: Triple Sec is what gives you a hangover. When I make my own, I use Cointreau, but you’re never going to find a bar that does that without being asked.
Tonight’s bill is with Landline, featuring our friend Phil of the now-defunct Carnivores. They crush it, as expected. It’s good to see Phil, who will also be our host for the evening. He tells us about how they will be opening for Billy Idol on his upcoming tour, which they acknowledge is totally bizarre. Friend of a friend of a friend, or something. They’ll be bringing someone to document the whole experience. I have not thought about Billy Idol in some time, but I guess it makes sense he’d still be doing his thing. I hope they are getting some serious money, cause you know Billy is. Also of note is closing act Red Sea, about which opinions differ. I think they are excellent. The music is pretty proggy and math-y, which is usually not my thing, but I am completely into it. And then, completely unexpectedly, they whip out a perfect cover of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”. Like, exactly like the record, singer hitting all the notes, every element of the arrangement spot-on. Nothing about the set would lead the listener to believe this band could do this. Sneaky fuckers. It brings the house down.
We stay with Phil and his girlfriend Claire, who are excellent hosts. As usually happens when we stay with friends, I intend to sleep and put it off longer than I should. It is good to hang. Claire has a cow puppet from her childhood on the couch, and we all have fun playing with it. My partner is a puppet fabricator, and I make a stupid video of it to send to her. My puppetry skills leave a bit to be desired. I can basically make it nod and wave its arms. Eventually, I sleep.
In the morning, I make some coffee, and Phil and Claire take us to their favorite local place for breakfast. I am excited, as I remember the last time Phil took us out for breakfast. I got a sort of benedict thing with brisket slow-cooked in tomato sauce, and it was one of the best breakfasts I can recall. This was years ago. He remembers it too. This new spot, Homegrown, does not disappoint. There are several things I am torn between, including an excellent-looking brisket dish. I settle on something that has never occurred to me, but makes total sense: crab hash.
Everything about this breakfast is perfectly executed. The home fries are perfectly crispy on the outside without being burnt. The crab is fresh and plentiful. Eggs are just the right amount of runny, and the red cabbage/jalapeno slaw adds a pleasant tang. This is borderline too much food, but I eat just about all of it. And it’s cheap! I am always amazed at the price of things outside of New York. That is one thing I do not miss. But it is a long ways away. Today we are off to Savannah.