Hail City

Thursday June 18th – 301 – Highway Sign Refresher – Hail – Charm City Art Space – Rachel

More often than not, l’ll take the Interstate (the blue and red shield signs) to bypass major cities. I’ll then get back on the US highways (the black and white signs) when I’m clear of any sprawl. But the long spindly concrete fingers of DC stretch far and wide. No Interstate, highway or county road within a fifty mile radius is unaffected. It is in these moments that the black and white signs of US highways should be avoided at all costs. They are by far worse than the interstates and the county roads. It would make more sense for me to drive through fifty miles of neighborhoods and subdivisions than to putter around the land of Home Depot and Car Dealerships like I did all the way to Baltimore.

I let the radio scan but the reception of my van isn’t terribly good. Fortunately none of the radio stations are either. The strongest signal is from a hip-hop station. I let it play for about 20 minutes. I am neither a fan nor non-fan of hip-hop. I guess I can say the same in regards to most genres. A few times a year, on road trips or tours like this, I like to listen to a rap station to see where the culture at large is. In the past, usually a hook or rhythm in the beat or emcee catches my ear but that is not the case for these twenty minutes. Either the state of popular hip-hop is terrible or I’m old and don’t get it. I go with the latter.

A commercial for Sprite plays. They apparently have commemorative glasses out this summer from Biggie, Nas, Rakim and Drake. A song by Drake plays. As I listen, I can’t figure how his face got chiseled on Sprite’s Mt. Rushmore of Hip-Hop other than ‘he’s popular now’ but then again, I’m old and don’t get ‘the kids today’. The weather report describes the dark cloud ahead and how it’s about to piss down rain. It comes quick and hard and takes its time leaving. Hail the size of small beads pelts the windshield. Every other car blinks its yellow hazards. Everything stops but the running water beneath our tires gives the illusion we’re still moving forward. I decide to pull to an empty parking lot to the side and wait it out.

A half hour later, the spigot of rain turns off and the sun and relentless humidity makes me feel like I’ve already played the show.

I arrive at Charm City Art Space later than I wanted. I totally misjudged entering the city using 301. The long pause from the storm didn’t help either. CCAS is like many art spaces I’ve played (Spazz in Greenville, Bull City HQ in Durham). Utilitarian and gritty. Tons of band stickers. Usually a mural covers a wall and an immense industrial fan animates a thousand flyers on the wall. I prefer their stages to most: 2×4, or 2×6 frame, ¾" well-worn plywood top.

Tonight, I headline a five band bill. This tour, I’m trying to play without a set list and let the atmosphere guide the ship. It’s awfully hot and humid. By the time I finish, there is a significant pool of sweat on the floor. I think I play okay. It’s not terrible, it’s not my best. Lots of possible reasons: arriving late, first show on the tour, lack of practice taking care of logistics before tour. I suppose I could just chalk it up to one of the three dozen possible reasons the set went the way it did but on this particular journey I’m interested in the reasons it didn’t. I need to adjust my sets or highway routing or show locations or practice schedule or pre-show radio stations in the future.

The promoter for the show was Rachel Taft, an extraordinary person with a genuine love of music and caring attitude for the people that make it. Rachel founded a group called Feed the Scene, a provider of room and board for low- or no-budget bands. She’s a wonderful human being and offers me a place to crash. As she gives me her address, she adds ‘I think you’ll be the twelfth person’.

Shit. Twelve people. I bet there’s a thousand cats too. I should just sleep in the van.

Rachel’s house is a pleasant surprise. Heavy stone exterior, nice porch. My guess is that when this was built, it was probably one massive house but over the years it’s been broken up into maybe three separate apartments. The detail work on the inside is some of the finest I’ve ever seen. Great crown moulding, rich dark wood on the walls, lighter heavy wood on the staircase, beautiful tile everywhere. Great design sense from both the original builders and Rachel and her roommates. She takes me to a room in the back with four heavy duty bunkbeds.

“I did a kickstarter and raised $6,000 so bands can crash here”

The other eleven order pizzas but Old Man Kutch heads to his bunk. I put my sleep blinder eyeshades on and stretch. Goodnight Baltimore.

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