Wisconsin Is a Fabulous Place

We went to Wisconsin to play at the Band on the Sand festival for the third year in a row. We get to meet so many great people on the road, and Wisconsin is no exception. In fact, it was one of the first, if not the first, places where we felt at home on the road.

Thursday night we played at a place called Xpeditions. This place is an underground bar, street-level coffee shop, and upstairs yoga studio. It’s fantastic! We had people singing along to our songs, which is rare so far in our journey. We hung out and talked with people that love Jessie’s music, and what a treat it is to share that bond through music with strangers-turned-friends.

Friday we started making our way to Band on the Sand, but not before a little fly fishing. I fished the Timber Coulee, and it was beautiful. It’s just a little creek running along the road. I found a place to pull off the road, geared up in my waders, and started fishing while Jessie relaxed and read. While I didn’t land anything and get pictures, I did manage to hook about 6 before they spit out the hook and swam away. I had so much fun anyways.

Then Band on the Sand. I don’t know what to say that I haven’t said about it in previous years. We love it. Dennis and Joyce are fantastic hosts to us, and Dick and his wife Pam help them put on our favorite stop along our tour. Two days of music, food, and camaraderie on a sandbar in the middle of the Mississippi River is just what the soul needs. I especially needed it after the previous two weeks’ frustrations with tires and the fact that we had to leave town with a tub full of water that wouldn’t drain (more on that story later).

Jessie and I love our travels. We also love being home. I’m so glad we get to make these memories sharing our music with people.

Burning up the Road

Apparently Jessie and I have been burning up the road.  How do I know?  In the last seven days, we have replaced seven tires.  I already posted about the two camper tires last week.  Today we brought five new tires into the family.

This weekend we had a show in Florida, and Jessie’s car needed an oil change.  I decided that I should do a tire rotation too, so I took it to my grandfather’s shop Thursday night to do all of the work.  I jacked up the car and took off the tires while the oil cooled.  As I was rotating them, I noticed one tire was so worn on one side that I could see the cords that are embedded under all the rubber.  That was not good.

I went ahead and changed the oil (it’s much easier with the front passenger-side wheel removed), and I put the bad tire in a position where I thought it would get the least amount of wear.  It was 9 p.m. the night before we leave for Florida – no time to get new tires before we leave.  The rest was going to be luck.

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Jessie kissing a gator at Bayou Bill’s in Florida

We made it down there, did our gig, had a fun weekend on the beach with our friends, and then headed home Sunday afternoon.  Monday morning, I was at the tire shop having my tires (I thought) balanced to remedy some shaking I noticed as I towed the camper back from Paducah.  Unfortunately, one of my tires was beginning to separate, meaning I needed a new tire.  $$

I had made an appointment for Jessie to get new tires today too, somewhere between teaching music lessons and meetings.  $$$$

All this on top of the two camper tires, having work done on my truck, and my gas-and-tire-saving bicycle being stolen.  It’s been a rough couple of weeks around these parts.  My friends suggested we start a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds to replace my bike so I can get back and forth from work.  It seems more and more like a good plan every day.

We have a couple of shows in Wisconsin this weekend.  I’m hoping we sell a bunch of merch at these shows to help offset all of these recent costs.  For those of you who won’t be in Wisconsin, feel free to check out Jessie’s merch over at Swampicana.com – there are even a few new items I have yet to add to the online store.  That reminds me – I need to add the new Jessie Smith tank tops to the store.

Maybe we can make a case for a tire endorsement…

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This is Cam and me getting the spare tire out to put on the camper somewhere in Nebraska.

Wyoming – What a Place!

What a trip we’ve had so far! After playing for a great crowd in Lincoln, Nebraska, we set off for Centennial, Wyoming.

None of us have ever been to Wyoming. Cam has never been west of Texas. Neither Cam nor Jessie had ever seen the Rocky Mountains. All of that changed this weekend.

As we crossed over the state line from Nebraska to Wyoming, the landscape really started to change. Hills started rolling as we passed through Cheyenne on our was towards Laramie. Then the hills started to climb and become what looked like drip-sand castles I used to make with my cousins on the beach. As we neared Centennial, we really started to climb.

Centennial is a small town claiming 270 residents. It looked like a scene out of a movie, and we felt like stars the whole time. The people were so welcoming and accommodating! We wished we didn’t have to go home so soon. In fact, I wasn’t sure Cam would even get in the car with us to go home!

We had dinner with our hosts, then they sent us up the mountain to see something really spectacular. Our host Mike gave me directions to Mirror Lake where we could stand and look straight up to a 14,000-feet-above-sea-level peak. I was so thrilled to get to see Jessie and Cam react to such beauty! We walked in near-silence (except our panting in the thin air) as we took in the majesty of the mountains. Pictures truly don’t do the sight justice.

We couldn’t believe this was work. We went back down the mountain and got to talk to Mike and his wife Kat for a little longer. They are the owners of the Historic Mountain View Hotel in Centennial, and they are also the ones coordinating the Elevation Festival we were to play the next day.

During our conversation, we started talking about fly fishing. Of course I told them I brought my rods just in case I found myself with a few minutes to fish. Mike said, “Hang on just a minute,” and he proceeded to pick up the phone to call a friend. Moments later, he hands me directions to a fishing spot on a friend’s private waters. I was overjoyed at the thought of getting to fish waters that see so little fishing pressure!

We headed to our room to get as much rest as possible. I got up early this morning to head to the fishing spot. I have been trout fishing before, but never on my own for wild trout, and never have I caught trout without a guide. Within a few minutes I had my first fish. I was nearly giddy with the fact that I had caught one all on my own! He was little, but that didn’t bother me at all!

Within a few minutes, I had another hooked. I almost wet my pants in excitement this time – I knew I had something much larger on the end of my line.

In total, I caught about 7 fish. I just couldn’t believe it. The water was cold and clear, and the fish were biting everything I was throwing – Griffith’s Gnats, Prince nymphs, Bluewing Olives, Elk Hair Caddis, and Woolly Buggers. I didn’t want to stop, but I knew I needed to get back.

I got back, got showered, packed up, and the three of us headed across the street to where we would be playing on the front porch of the Mountain View Hotel. We were set to play first, so we got plenty of time to soundcheck. It was very different playing at high altitude – it was harder for Jessie to sing, and Cam and I had to catch our breath as we played!

Once again, the crowd was fantastic! Getting to see people bob their heads, clap, and some even sing along is such a heartwarming experience. We got to meet so many great people like Mike, Kat, Mara, Gary, Rick, Jimmy, Dave, Shane, and so, so many more!

I can’t wait to go back, whether it be to play (hopefully in next year’s Elevation Festival) or for vacation. The people we met hold a special place in my heart. I love doing what I do because I get to meet such wonderful people – I mean that in the sense of my wonder for what people do and how they do it – and I get to see so many things I’ve never seen. I’m so glad Cam got to experience these things with us as well. He’s been such a trooper helping get the camper set up and torn down, and he’s been a great companion on this long journey over the last few days.

Tomorrow is the last (long) leg of the trip back home. I can’t wait to be home, even if it’s not for long. Florida and Wisconsin lay ahead of us in the coming weekends. I can’t wait to see old friends and make a few new ones too.

Off and On the Road Again

First, the off the road story:

Shortly after the last post about riding my bike to work, I did something stupid. About a week and a half ago, I was fixin’ to head home on a Friday afternoon on my bike. I wanted to pump up my tires before starting my homeward trek, so I unlocked my bike and took it to the door that leads from the parking lot directly to my office. Here I pumped up my tires using an electric pump, then took the pump back inside. I changed clothes to my riding attire, packed up my things, and walked back outside to my bike.

Only it wasn’t there.

My bike had been stolen.

I think I know who did it, but I haven’t been able to spot them or my bike since. I still have a little hope.

We’re now back on the road. Jessie and I are currently in the camper in a park outside of Lincoln, Nebraska. Last night, we made it to Monroe City, Missouri, with our friend and drummer Cam. We spent Independence Day driving to Monroe City, then headed down to the park marina for dinner and to do a little people watching. Monroe City didn’t disappoint! It was a warm and muggy night, but we made it all right!

The camp site was beautiful; the bathrooms were not. As hot and sticky as we were, we opted that the showers were too nasty to get us clean. We got a night’s rest and packed up in the morning for hopes of better facilities.

Today we drove to Lincoln. We arrived at the camp site, and Jessie decided to first check the bathrooms and showers in hope we had found something better than what we had just left behind. What she found was an outhouse – a glorified hole in the ground. This was not how we thought it would go.

She knew there had to be more, so she went searching while Cam and I got started setting up the camper. Several minutes later, Jessie came back with a smile on her face – she had found better bathrooms and clean showers!

Jessie gathered up her things and headed to the showers to get ready for tonight’s show. She discovered a problem – these showers required quarters to operate. The rate was 75¢ for the first three minutes, then another 25¢ for each additional minute and a half. That was going to cause a problem. I went through the car and found quarters for a 9-minute shower for Jessie. She was determined to make that work. I luckily found a dollar that I could feed into the machine to get four more quarters. I was able to get a shower before the show as well, and Cam had braved the “prison showers,” as we called them, at the previous camp site and would wait until later for his turn.

Now that we were clean, we headed to the venue in Lincoln to scope it out and find some dinner.

We had found out before we left Nashville that they had accidentally double-booked the night, and there was already a poetry slam happening. They graciously said we could take the stage when they were done at eight, and they would stay open an extra hour for us – all so kind!

After seeing the room, Jessie, Cam, and I found a great Greek restaurant called Sultan’s Kite. With our bellies full of Mediterranean baklava, we headed back to the venue. The slam was going a little long, so we decided to break out the guitars and play a couple of songs with the girl who was opening for us right out on the patio as we waited. As soon at the slam ended, we quickly took our places.

As Grace, the girl performing before us, sang to the crowd in Mo Java, Cam and I played along. It was fun to help this 14-year-old feel like a star with a band. She is very talented, and we were happy to help!

Jessie took the stage next and absolutely blew away the crowd! They were hanging onto every note that fell off her lips, and they were already trying to get us to play their hometown of Omaha on our way back from Wyoming this weekend!

We had a great time playing at Mo Java, and our new friend Rex, who ran sound for us, even helped suggest a new name for our camper – Jim! “Jim the Camper” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?! Well, maybe not.

Anyways, we were so excited to make some new friends this evening, and we are thankful for clean showers. Now it’s time for a little shut-eye before we head to Wyoming in the morning for our show on Saturday. It’s going to be long days from here on out to make it back to Nashville for work on Monday, but we’re up for the adventure.

It’s always an adventure in the camper, but it makes touring possible. Cam has his own bunk, and he’s got the hang of camper life already! We’ve got the A/C on full blast, and it’s feeling quite nice in here tonight. Tomorrow is another day with another song to sing; we have to give it all we have and put on a show for the people. Until then….

Our New Tour (Camper) Bus!

Jessie and I have been talking about a pop up camper for a while. It would make it so easy to pack up and tour, save money that we would have spent on hotels, and we can take a little bit of home with us wherever we go! So several weeks ago, we bought a pop up.

We found one on Craigslist that was just right for us, and that was ready for some work. We have found a little website called ThePopUpPrincess.com that gave us the confidence that we can make a pop up our own. We have big dreams for this little thing, and I can't wait to get started.

The camper is in good condition, and I think we can do quite a bit with it. Some of the first things we would like to do are replace the floor with some faux-wood vinyl (or something similar) and paint or replace the cabinets. When we do this, I also want to carve out space to build-in our mini fridge. Eventually, we want to redo counter tops, upholstery, curtains, paint the exterior, and a laundry list of other things as well.

Shortly after we bought the camper (just days after), we headed off on our maiden voyage. We had a show at our favorite venue on the Gulf of Mexico – the Green Door Music Hall in Ft. Walton Beach. Jessie survived the heat and humidity in the camper for two nights, and we called the trip (and the show) a success! We had so much fun!

We love the quiet peacefulness of the camp sights we've found so far, and we can't wait for the adventures that await us. As I write this, we are currently on a week tour across Wisconsin in our camper, playing our music for the wonderful people in this state. We have yet to meet people that are better friends or love music like these cheese heads! I can't wait to update you with our latest adventures when we return. Until then, I'll enjoy the ride and reminisce about the awesome times we've had like lunch at the Back Porch a few weeks ago.

I'll do my best to log our adventures, both on the road and in remodeling the camper, right here.

The Problem of Nashville

Nashville is great. I’m one of the few that grew up here. I was actually born in this city. My dad grew up here, mom grew up within a few miles of here, as did 3 of my 4 grandparents. We’ve been here a while, and I’m very proud of that.

Nashville has been an “it” city for several years now. I could have told you that before the craze started. People have been moving here for decades to pursue music after they became the big fish in a little pond wherever they were raised.


I never had that big-fish-in-a-little-pond experience. This Nashville pond is more like a Great Lake. What I have discovered is that Nashville locals don’t attend music shows like in other areas. Music is too common. Why go out tonight when I can go out any night? That usually turns into rarely going out to hear live music at all. I know because I’ve been there.

My wife and I have decided to change our habits of never going out for several reasons. One, for me, is “do unto others as you would have them do for you.” I love it when people come out to our shows. The people who come often say things like, “I love seeing y’all play! It’s so great! I didn’t realize how much fun this is!” I know it’s hard to get butts in seats. It hurts to see empty rooms. It feels awkward always telling friends about shows only to hear three words in return: “Sorry, I can’t.”

My wife says I’m loyal, sometimes to a fault. I try to keep up with other musicians, buy their records, go to their shows, and show up for anything possible. I don’t really care whether I like the music (although I have very talented friends); it’s about supporting a person, a friend. I do it because I know what it feels like if no one shows up.

Music City, U.S.A. is a hard place to grow up in music. Why go hear someone you know but don’t know their music when you could go elsewhere and hear someone sing their 15 top-10 hits at a writer’s night next door? Sometimes we talk about moving anywhere else because we want to be big fish. Little fish get thrown back in the water.

If I didn’t believe so much in the music we make, I wouldn’t take it so personally. I know the music we create and the experience we provide is better than most of this town. I just wish others would take the little time and effort it takes to see this too.

Why I Still Believe in Music

I’ve been encouraged with music recently.

Saturday morning, I partook in Record Store Day here in Nashville.  I’ve never been to Record Store Day before, but a friend invited me and I wanted to know what it is.  I have to say, it’s quite refreshing to see hundreds of people get up early on Saturday (and one guy who got there Friday afternoon) to buy vinyl.  VINYL!  That was old technology almost 30 years ago!  Now look at it!

Now vinyl isn’t saving the music industry, but what I saw was people excited about new product.  That’s refreshing.

The other thing that has me encouraged was the viewpoint that was shown to me on the whole Spotify-paying-artists issue.  Many artists are mad at Spotify not paying like radio does.  What I failed to consider before was that a spin on radio can easily reach 10,000 people.  A spin on Spotify reaches 1 person.  Look what Spotify pays per spin and multiply that by 10,000 – it adds up to much more than what one spin on radio would pay.  It could potentially pay a whole lot more than radio!

Finally, I’m excited to be trying new ways to give fans more than just music.  Fans want an experience.  They want to know the artists they follow.  We’re trying new things to make those experiences count, to make them cool, to make the memorable, and to make them profitable.

I’m so excited.  So excited.