JKutchma & The Five Fifths recorded Blue Highways in one 12-hour session in downtown Durham last year. We started at about 6pm and finished the next morning. At 6am, we had a congratulatory drink and made our atta-boy back slaps. I went home, took a shower, packed my bags then went to the downtown Durham train station. I bought my ticket and boarded a train bound for Philadelphia, the first date of a five-day tour. I played the show in Philly and then caught a ride for the rest of the tour with the Durham band Awkward Friends.
I noticed something strange that tour. Every time I arrived at a venue, it didn’t matter what time the day or night, when I opened the door I knew whether or not it would be a good show for me. As I walked into the venue in Philadelphia, I knew the should be okay. Not great, not bad but okay. And it was. In Brooklyn, I knew it would be a great show and it was. In Boston, I knew it would suck. And it did.
I had 100% accuracy in the five shows. I don’t know how this happened and maybe it’s not that big of a deal. I admit, it’s not that big of a testing pool.
As I entered each venue, they were usually empty and the lights were off. Most had the bleached floor smell. I had no indication what the other bands on the bill were like or what kind of audience would show up. But I knew how the shows would go for me. I hoped it was a genuine gut feeling rather than a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe this is what happens after playing a thousand shows, you just start to know. Maybe it happens in all professions: you start to know whether or not you’ll have a good day at the office or classroom. I wanted to experiment a bit with it and thought maybe I should start touring this way.
My plan for this tour is to drive around a town and see if I get a gut feeling about a venue from the outside. It could be a bar or VFW post. It might be a pool hall or coffee shop. If I walk in and I have the feeling that I could blow the walls off the place, then it’s my job to try and get the person behind the counter to give me a half hour or so in the corner. No amp, no PA, nothing that would appear intrusive or scare the customers out. Maybe I’ll set up merch, maybe I’ll just open the guitar case, I don’t know.
I’m not sure how this would work with a band. Logistically and financially, it would be a nightmare. As a solo person, I’m able to keep my costs way low. I did a tour to Austin in March. I was on tour for eleven days but only played four shows. In those four shows, I made my gas, hotel and food money and I bet I would’ve come home with a couple hundred bucks if I didn’t blow it all on a two night stop in New Orleans.
I started thinking about guts and ‘gut-feeling’ and I thought this is something I need to train. It’s a muscle like anything else and it loses its strength. At some point in my life, I know I stopped trusting mine. For many of us, we stop training it at a young age. We get tracked in school. We go to college. We get the job. We put it on automatic pilot. And, ya know, it’s kinda nice to put it on cruise control and enjoy the scenery. But then one day you realize the only walking you’ve been doing is back and forth between the cabins of a train that’s been moving towards the same destination for a really long time. The only time you are thinking of your guts and the only time they are thinking of you is at the food bar. You may get full but you find yourself far from fulfilled.
I have five shows to give me some momentum going in. Thursday is Baltimore, Friday is Philadelphia. Saturday is Rahway. A week later, I’m in Providence and a week after that I’m in Ithaca. Here’s the tour: