Tour Diary: Ames, Iowa 2/25/12

.

On Friday evening, as we made our way west for a Saturday show in Ames, The Giving Tree Band made a stop in Lasalle, Illinois for an impromptu jam session at a local venue. These gigs are always fun as they allow the guys to play songs that don't normally make the set list and provide the opportunity for some extended solos, while visiting fans that aren't always able travel to the larger shows in the area. They also make for late nights, so we weren't even really on our way west until well after 2AM, crossing into the state of Iowa sometime after 4 in the morning. People are often shocked to hear that E drives the majority of the time, especially when there are multiple late nights in a row, but somehow he manages without ever appearing drowsy at the wheel. It probably helps that Phil is often awake to keep E company well after the rest of the bus has fallen asleep. This can also be a recipe for mischief.

.

.

 I woke up somewhere along the way that night to Phil talking into a phone with a strange accent but was too tired at the time to process what in the world he was doing. Sometime later, still in a sleepy daze, I watched as E and Phil huddled around the phone listening to a message and laughing but again, couldn't put together a thought more coherent than, "who in the world would leave a message at this hour?".  We pulled up to the home of a friend of the band where we were staying for the night, rather the early morning hours, and everyone quietly grabbed their respective sleeping bag and belongings, heading in to catch a few short hours of sleep before we continued toward Ames.

.

The next morning, after everyone had showered and loaded back into the bus, E announced that he received the strangest message the night before from an enthusiastic fan and went on to play it over the bus's sound system. At first, the message was met with confusion from most of the bandmates, but after two or three (or ten or eleven) listen-throughs, the entire bus erupted in laughter. By that point, my memory of the night before had come back to me and I already knew that it was Phil behind the message but a debate ensued between the others of its authenticity. I won't tell you how the band was split, but it was a fairly even divide.

.

 

.

The debate continued for the entire duration of our forty-five minute drive to Iowa City, where we were stopping to grab a bite. Eventually, the non-believers won over those still convinced of its legitimacy and we departed the bus for a brief lunch at the New Pioneer Co-op. If you can't tell by the accompanying photos, the favorite for the day was the deli's Vegan Cajun Tofu Sandwich.

.

.

Upon arrival at DG's Taphouse in Ames, the night's venue, we discovered they wouldn't be ready for the band for a few more hours, so the guys decided to swing by a radio station where they were scheduled to appear to see if perhaps they could come in a few hours. Unfortunately, the station wasn't ready for them either, but the guys took the opportunity to discuss the format of which they should perform on air--whether all of the instruments should be brought in, if they should stick to guitar only, or use a variety of the instruments. Once they had settled on guitar, banjo, violin, bass, and shakers for percussion, the boys racked their minds for songs that they felt would be the most meaningful to perform.

.

.

They settled on "Caged Lion", "Circles", and a never before performed acoustic version of "Dead Heroes".  This was just another instance of the guys simply discussing something over a few times and going on to perform it without a hitch. Hopefully the audio from that evening becomes available at some point for those of you who were unable to tune in to the show, because while "Dead Heroes" is an overall rockin' tune, hearing it acoustic with a violin solo in place of the electric guitar is something else; it definitely brings a poignancy to the lyrics that one might miss in the full version.

.

.

Load in was load in and sound check went smoothly. Afterward, the venue had graciously arranged for us to have dinner at a nearby restaurant. We were led down the street by an employee of the restaurant and once there, were led up a flight of stairs to a private room with a gigantic wood table. The atmosphere prompted a comedic reprisal by E, leaving us with an ad-lib audition tape, so to speak, seen here:

.

.

..

Missouri natives Mary & The Giant opened that evening, performing a set that combined Americana traditions and rock n' roll energy that really had the crowd riled up.

.

.

The Giving Tree Band's energy brought a good portion of the house to the dance floor. The crowd went wild as "Together" was performed, joining in with the boys' on stage antics. During a rendition of Bob Dylan's "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere", the dance floor was completely packed and several in the audience could be seen singing along. Beyond being one of the most active crowds we've seen on the road, Ames brought out some of the friendliest folks. A fellow photographer even offered up his lens for me to borrow during the boys' set (The three photos of the band you see here were shot with said lens; thank you, Bryan!).

...

.

After the venue slowly emptied and the stage was taken down, all eight of us piled back on to the bus and started toward the apartment that had been generously offered to us by a friend for the evening, only making one quick detour--for snacks, naturally.

.

.

For more photos of our day, please visit this Flickr set. 

.

 

 

 

Tour Diary: Dekalb, IL 2/23/12

.

On Thursday, the 23rd of February, the Giving Tree Boys loaded up their bus and hopped over to the city of Dekalb to play a show at the House Cafe. I met up with them a little later in the evening due to a scheduling conflict that had me in the city. When I arrived, a few of the guys were completing a few last minute pre-show rituals before the doors opened to the public while the others had already walked up the street to a Thai restaurant for dinner. Completely smitten with the grooviest little cafe I'd ever been in, I stuck around to check the venue out.

.

.

After dinner (which judging by the leftovers brought back, mostly consisted of basil fried rice), half of the guys returned to grab their instruments and begin warming up while the other half took the time to greet fans and friends patiently waiting for the show to begin.  Dave Green took the stage shortly after, performing a diverse acoustic set that included a righteous cover of an MGMT song. I'm not particularly familiar with their song titles so I can't tell you which one, but perhaps a reader out there will lend me a hand... :)

.

.

Following Dave Green were Chicago locals Dasterdly. Like The Giving Tree Band, the quintet is contingent on the use of many different instruments including accordian, banjo, guitar, and clarinet. Their music is rooted in Americana but employs humor and a little bit of punk-esque vocals to brand their music as their own. On another note, if you find yourself at a Dasterdly show in the near future, make sure to swing by their merch table; their t-shirts are awesome.

.

.

What began as a drizzle earlier in the evening had turned into an all-out snowstorm that evening but a steady stream of people filtered into the House Cafe regardless of the conditions. By the time The Giving Tree Band took to the stage, the room was getting crowded and enthusiastic about the evening's show.

.

.

It didn't take long for the dance floor to fill up. In no time at all, it seemed as though the majority of the crowd had left their seats and moved toward the stage to join in on the action. On stage, the boys reflected this energy as they performed audience favorites such as "Caged Lion" and "Together" as well as newer additions to the set list including "Dead Heroes" and "Brown Eyed Women".

.

.

It took a while after their set to clear out, as many folks stuck around to chat with the band, ask a few questions, or grab a quick autograph but once the room had emptied, I began to explore the House Cafe again. Clearly this was my first visit to the House but it seemed like the kind of place I'd want to visit more often. Besides a very vegan-friendly menu (some selections included a variety of vegan baked goods, vegan wraps, & soups), a well rounded variety of espresso beverages and beers for those so inclined, the atmosphere was out of this world, though perhaps in line with their decor--totally in the center of this universe. I've been to a lot of joints that strive for a hodge-podge appearance but  end up with a room that looks like it was just filled with someone's old junk. The House Cafe has it right. The walls are lined with original artwork, the ceiling covered in balloons and handmade sculptures which perfectly catch the stage's colorful lightening, and the stage itself is adorned with yards of gypsy linen and oriental lamps.

.

.

After Norm finished reading the news and the others filled up their water bottles, we all drove off slowly into the snowy night.

.

.

.

For more photos of the House Cafe and the Giving Tree Band performance, please click here.

.

.

Tour Diary: Madison, WI 2/11/12

.

Last weekend, I was on the road again with The Giving Tree Band to photograph their show with Cornmeal in Madison, Wisconsin. I had only been to Madison once before with the band--just to grab lunch on our way up to Minneapolis last summer. Come to think of it, these may be the only two times I've ever been to Madison.

.

It seems quite nice though, with a beautiful lake front greeting you as you drive into the city and, from the small portions I've seen, a rather clean downtown. It's also only slightly over two hours from the city--this was particularly nice for the boys, as they've had many late nights in the recording studio recently and a short drive meant a late morning.

.

.

We arrived in Madison around 4:30 and made a quick stop at the Willy Street Co-op, the same location we had picked up lunch in the past. It's a favorite among the band and with good reason; beside offering a wide variety of organic and environmentally responsible products, they have a smoothie + coffee bar, a sandwich counter, a deli with a wide variety of vegan options, and a completely organic salad bar. Some of the early dinners that evening included Tofu Reubens, salads covered in balsamic vinaigrette and nutritional yeast, a vegan black eyed pea pilaf, and Kombuchas, as well as a few snacks for later in the evening. Load-in was at 5, so after grabbing our meals, everyone quickly piled back into the bus and we darted over to the Majestic Theatre, located a mere mile or so away. While waiting for Cornmeal's sound check to come to an end, dinners were consumed onboard and a few guys took the opportunity to stretch their legs by taking a walk around the block. I stayed on the bus: it was 15 degrees out.

.

.

Finally: load in and sound check.

.

I left the confines of the warm bus and entered the Majestic Theatre with the rest of the crew, hoping to find a warm sanctuary. I think Madisonites and I disagree over what qualifies as "warm"; I noticed a thermometer on the wall near the stage reading 61 degrees. Yikes.

.

As the band went through the sound check routine, I explored the multi-level historic theater, scouting out good shooting locals. What I found, however, was an upstairs oasis, warm enough to heat my very cold bones straight to the core. Subsequently, I've discovered a number of shots from above as I weed through photos of that night. I'm sure the two are unrelated...

.

.

Despite the chilly main floor, the Majestic really is an amazing theater. It's extremely well-kept and clean. Both its exterior and interior still maintain the glamour and mystique of the theater's vaudevillian heyday.

.

.

Set-up and sound check ended around 8. The show started at 9:45. Instead of leaving the venue to run out the clock, the boys found more productive uses of their time--many choosing to warm up and practice before the show. By 9, most everyone had made their way up to the green room to work out the set-list and prepare to hit the stage.  We were sharing a conjoined green room with Cornmeal and think our half may have been in a more mellow mood that evening, but both sides seemed to be filled with fits of laughter.

.

.

Finally, showtime. As we walked down the stairs from the green room to the stage, we turned the corner to find an almost full house. This crowd was ready for a show. By the end of GTB's first song, the dance floor was already filled and vibrant. Walking through the house, I overheard many people talking about the great time they were having and frequently had to work a bit of maneuver magic to make my way through the lively crowd.  The atmosphere that night was exactly what both bands and audience hope for at any given show; it was totally filled with a positive and respectful energy.

.

.

.

Allie Kral, of Cornmeal, joined the boys for their final number of the evening and the house went wild. Later, to the ongoing enthusiasm of the crowd, Cornmeal invited Phil Roach, GTB's violinist to accompany them for a tune.

.

.

As the evening came to a close, the gear was repacked and we all found our spots on the bus. Some of the guys pulled out their evening snacks, mostly consisting of chocolate bars and various bags of tortilla chips, but it wasn't long before the bus fell fairly silent. It had been a great day in Madison, but everyone was ready to catch some sleep by the end of it.

..

.

For more photos from that evening, please visit this Flickr set.

.

.