Category Archives: Summer 2011 Tour

Johnny Unicorn Tour 2011 Summer Final Part Four Part Three

After the haircut

I found myself at GTG Fest Part Three, watching 11 bands over the course of an evening. They asked me to perform in between bands to an audience that was hanging out in the alley behind marxist art gallery Basement 414. I did not know I would be performing, so I had no instruments or stage outfit with me. I performed in cargo shorts and t-shirt (a no-no for JU performances usually). What an audience this was. One section at a time, I got them to sing a four part backing track, while I sang “River To the Sea” and they got it perfect. I don’t know what it sounded like out in the alley, but from the stage it sounded great. They took direction very well.

Next, I found what during the school year is an open mic in Bloomington, IN. Since it was summer, there were no musicians. But they still had a stage and a PA, and when I asked if there was the usual scheduled open mic, they said “yes, but you’ll be the only one.” So I set up and performed for the six people who were there. It was a shame I had not had a real show there, because the sound system was good and the acoustics were decent.  I plan on booking a show there in the Spring if I can remember the name of the place.

Then it was off to The Mill in Iowa City to perform at their usual Monday open mic. What an appreciative audience. And a nice room, completely separated from the main bar area. J Knight’s open mic has been happening there since the seventies, or so I’ve heard.

Then, I had a scheduled appearance at Roxie’s Patio in Sioux City, IA. Now that I’ve been there, I understand the name. All the furniture inside is patio furniture, and there are umbrellas at the tables. I gave them the full performance, and I made a few fans. Someone even bought me a root beer!

Then the northern road to Fargo and the Red Raven. I’ve been going back to the Red Raven and building up fans a few at a time. A great coffeeshop, in a new location since last year. Nice stage and sound system, although the room is a little verby. Really cool people there. Bicycle people, artists, gamers…my kind of people. Folk duo Kaboom Rawr opened the show with their guitar/accordion rock songs, and electronic act  Lava Proof Boots did the middle slot and hypnotized us all with hard-hitting rhythms and electronic noise.

The next day, a scheduled appearance at the Thursday open mic at Rhythm Records and Cafe in Bismarck, ND, one of my favorite towns. The thing that separates Bismarck from most other cities in the country is it’s vibrant “strip” straight out of the fifties. Standing on the sidewalk outside the record store for an hour, I saw no fewer than 20 big trucks with a bunch of people in the truck bed screaming at people in the sidewalk. If you haven’t been screamed at from a passing vehicle, then you haven’t truly experienced the city of Bismarck. The show went well. Some of the regular people from previous Bismarck performances were there, plus a bunch of new people. Ryan Schweitzer did a poetry set, as usual, but this night in particular he was dead on. Man, what a performance! I purchased Weird Al’s first two albums and Paul and Linda McCartney’s “Ram” on vinyl. Records are arranged by price, and in no kind of alphabetical order. You simply have to look through every single record each time you go to the store. That night there appeared to be about 50 people, and it looks like about half of them were purchasing vinyl. I don’t know how well the store did that night, but it sure looked like it was going well.

Off to the three-day Why Not? festival in Minot. Three days and about 6 million bands. Highlights: the joke band Gallons of Bacon put on a stellar performance at 62 doors to an audience that was singing along to every song. I enjoyed their song structures and their sense of humor. Progressive Metal band from Australia, Dead, performed a bit after me, and I was transfixed. I bought their LP. And then there was the highly impressive Atom’s Rite. Honestly, listen to their music…it’s up there with Tortoise. They played a disappointingly short set. My show went as well as it possibly could have. My fanclub showed up wearing unicorn horns. People sang along. Everyone had a good time. And once again, the people in Minot showed me more hospitality than I could have asked for. It was the last show of the tour, and it was the best possible end for the tour. The floodwaters have receded, and the city has begun to clean up. The art community there remains as vibrant as ever!

Thank you everyone who helped me get in the black on this tour. Stay tuned for next year!

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Johnny Unicorn Tour 2011 Summer Tour Part Four

U.S.A. – My tour from Minot to Michigan.

The “scheduling gods” had me going from the submerged Minot to the distant Fargo/Moorhead megalopolis. Standing floodwater in the roadway nearly aborted one preferred route, but trust in the truth of the sun’s shining light and a trust in my own sense of sight was enough motivation to drive very carefully through. The drive after that was uneventful at its most exciting.

The blistering sun of Fargo had me running for the shade. At the Red Raven I put on a fun show and lost some important equipment. Saw the act entitled Jesus or Genome, which I very much liked.

In the Twin Cities I swiftly procured the replacement equipment, which immediately and irrevocably broke. The only person who could fix it now is a master welder. Fittingly for the Twin Cities, I had twin shows. One at the Acadia Cafe with the wonder-band Drug Budget, and the one-piece punk outfit Frederickson. The crowd was large and friendly. Then, at the secret Psychic School, I played another show for a smaller, but more packed crowd with a lot of other bands whose names I cannot recall at the moment. One person laughed hysterically throughout the show. For that, I gave her merchandise.

Then it was off to Wisconsin, where I performed for a handful of very nice people, and some children, at a place called the Latte Cafe. For them, I took out the swears.

My car continued to not fall apart, so I moved on to the White City, where I performed at Reggie’s for a group of people who had just come from a baseball game. Some of the crowd got my act, and some of them looked at my act the way I look at baseball: questioningly. It was an early show, so I was able to make it to the very end of Mark and Reyna’s “Music in Widescreen” where they gave me a brief interview and played a track off my new album. The next day I performed an acoustic show at the Elbo Room’s upstairs lounge with Rich, Rob and Nan, and a metal group called Skinwalker (which for that night had wonderfully gone acoustic). Musically a happy time for everyone. Also present were the “Miller Lite Girls” who actually appeared to be adult women.

After that, it was up to Michigan, the South of the North, to rest and relax with friends and family. More about that in part three!

Johnny Unicorn Summer 2011 Tour part three – North Dakota

Minot, ND – The town is built around the Souris River. Little shops and houses line the streets. Some lay at the river’s edge, while others still lay up the shallow hill. A few days into my tour, I got the warning that large sections of the city of Minot had been evacuated due to flooding, and that I might consider contacting someone up there to see if the two shows I had scheduled were still happening. The Pangea House was not flooded, and the show was quickly retooled into a benefit show. The second show, at the Blue Rider, was sadly cancelled. But they were up and running shortly after that, thankfully.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Souris_River_flood

The flood waters had creeped into a large section of the downtown area, halting a number of local businesses, and flooding the water treatment plant, which resulted in some possible contamination of the water supply. I have never had to fear tap water before. I have become so accustomed to the running water being clean. To suddenly have to worry about the water getting in my mouth or eyes is quite a shock. On close examination of the flood water itself, it was not the beautiful river water I have come to expect from a river. It was brown, and a little foamy, and it smelled worse than it looked. I noticed city silt on the city streets. Deposits of dirt and rock and small objects on the dry street where flood water had been. I had missed the worst of the flood. The waters were receding. Now I took notice of the flood lines along the edges of the buildings. A much larger portion of downtown had been flooded than I had thought. Some of these businesses could be permanently shut down as a result of this disaster. Frustrating to say the least. This was on the southside of the river.

The northside of the river suffered the larger portion of the flooding, or at least that’s what it looked like on the map. We (I was traveling with a group of friends) arrived at a ballpark, which now looked like a lake. Behind us were park benches that had been deposited on the street. Across the ballpark-lake we could see hundreds of roofs peaking over the surface of the water. I knew some of the people in those houses. Hopefully they got their most important stuff out. I know they did not have that much warning. They told me that four thousand houses were underwater. 11,000 people were refugees. All but a couple hundred of those people were able to find a place to stay among friends and family.

We saw someone’s porch that had ended up under a bridge, washed up by the fast-moving river.

For Independence Day, I traveled with some other people to a house far out in the countryside. A family of absolutely insane people shot giant fireworks directly at each other, and I spent a majority of the night hiding behind a couch to escape the blasts. Between explosions, I noticed the stars, brighter than I had ever seen them, exploding in their own way, light years distant. I became lost staring into the center of our galaxy, wondering what my place was in this seemingly infinite universe. Then, a horrifying explosion, and I was back behind the couch. The night continued like that until we left at three in the morning.

I left Minot with an incredible respect and fear of nature, and some other kind of feeling for those who arrive in the wake of disaster and make money off of those who were affected by it. Indiscriminate nature, and bloodthirsty predators. It never changes.

Johnny Unicorn Summer Tour 2011 – part one million

EXT. CITY STREET – NIGHT

Johnny sits in his parallel-parked car, carefully putting together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on his lap by the orange light of the streetlamps. A group of youths pass by on the sidewalk. One hesitates and peers into the car in which Johnny is sitting. Johnny looks over to see the young man bending over, looking into the window from just a few feet away. Seeing that the youth is smiling, Johnny politely waves.

YOUTH (to his friends)
Hey, this guy’s making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!

EVERYBODY (dancing away into the night)
Peanut Butter Jelly! Peanut Butter Jelly!
Peanut Butter Jelly! Peanut Butter Jelly!
etc.

THE END

This actually happened to me in Erie, PA on July 24th, 2011. This entry is typed in the default font. I do not know how to change it to the proper font, so until someone can figure out how to explain that process in clear language, you will have to look at this scene in THIS font.

Johnny Unicorn Summer Tour 2011 – part two


Saturday, June 25th, Seattle – in the morning, Horace Pickett and I performed on the Viaduct for an audience of hundreds (only one at a time) at the Seattle Rock and Roll Marathon. All our hopes come true as the day turns out not to be the day of “The Big One.” How ironic would it have been if the Viaduct collapsed and killed only runners? Before the show, I had trouble getting up to the performance area because I was being hassled by a police officer at the entrance ramp for not having a “pass.” Even though I explained that I had to be there to play a show, he would not let me up to the stage. I don’t respond well to authority, so I did an impressive kick in his face, sending bits of sweat and blood into the morning wind. He quickly recovered and drew his gun. I could not match such a weapon with only my hand-to-hand combat skills this early in the morning, so I ran for the edge of the bridge and jumped off, did a flip, and landed in the back of a hay truck. The cop got on his motorcycle and crashed through the cement barrier and flew through the air, but before landing on the street below, he jumped off the motorcycle and almost missed the hay truck, but managed to grab onto the metal pipe that served as the truck’s bumper. It was a good thing for him he was wearing all that leather. His bike crashed to the ground and slid into a fruit stand in a flurry of sparks, wood, and melon bits. The officer climbed up onto the back of the truck and drew his weapon once again. What had I gotten myself into? I dove off the side of the truck and rolled onto the street below. I ran into the nearest building and went into the stairwell. The cop followed me. I ran as quickly as I could up the stairs, periodically looking over the railing to see trailing me about three floors below. He stopped occasionally to shoot aimlessly up into the space between the stairs. This guy was relentless. I wouldn’t be in this mess if I only would have controlled my anger. I finally reached the top of the stairwell and the exit to the fifteenth floor roof. I pushed open the door to confront the hot stink of the tar rooftop. It was dangerous up there because he’d be able to get a clear shot, but i stood a better chance out there than going back down the stairs. I ran across the roof, and jumped to the next building. I looked back to see him swing open the door, scan the rooftops for me and shoot. He missed, fortunately, then he took off after me. We spent a few minutes jumping from roof to roof. He was pretty fast for an old guy, but it seemed as though I was keeping a good distance from him. But then I came to a gap between buildings that was too large to jump. I teetered on the edge for a few seconds, and then finally caught my balance. The officer caught up to me, and stopped to catch his breath. He told me that I was cornered, and indeed it seemed I was. We stared at each other for what seemed like hours. I could see the folds of the skin around his eyes glistening with sweat as he squinted into the sun. He came across as an old tiger, savoring the fear of his prey; not wanting to end the hunt right away. I took another look at the building across the gap. Perhaps I could make it. At least I stood a chance of surviving if I could escape the rooftop. A pigeon cooed, and his eyes very briefly moved toward the sound. Without another thought, I broke into a run, and with all my strength, hurled myself across the gap toward the other building. It seemed to take forever. I screamed as I tried to move my muscles in such a way that they the momentum would pull me through the air faster. I thought back to footage I’d seen of flying snakes. If I could become the snake…but how? Hopefully instinct would take over. Perhaps it did, I’ll never know. But I made it to the other side. I looked back to see the cop attempt the same jump. He could not quite make the jump, but he did grab onto the building ledge. I was still on my side, catching my breath from the jump. I crawled over to where the cop was struggling on the edge, and looked down into his eyes. He did not say a word, but his eyes said everything. He wasn’t ready to die. Not yet. I looked into his eyes and I could see a lifetime of pain and love. What a shame it would be for this man to die so needlessly. Perhaps he had family waiting for him. Maybe he was about to retire. I would not be able to live with myself if I just walked away. I reached out my arm and asked him to grab on. Still looking into each others eyes, we shared a moment. Without words, we communicated the truth: we were not pursuer and pursuee anymore, we were humans, and we were in this together. Still without speaking, he reached for my hand and grabbed it. But he was running out of strength, and I could feel the sweat-covered fingers slipping out of my hand. He opened his mouth to speak. His moustache fluttered in the breeze. He said “break a leg” and before I could think about it, he slipped out of my hand and fell to his death in the alley below. I said a silent prayer, and then I went to the show.

Later that night, I had a show in Yakima, WA at the Rec Room Bar and Grill. This was the first show of my solo tour. A few people showed up and we had a very good time. The other act was a guy named Navid Elliot, who is a very good acoustic performer, who plays locally in Yakima as his main job. I met some very nice people and had a very nice time. I hope to come back. From there I went to La Grande, OR and performed without a PA system at White House Coffee. it was an actual house, and it was an intimate show, and the audience was very attentive and pleasant. I think I played pretty well for not having a microphone or a keyboard. The next show I did was by myself for a crowd of rowdy drunks at a bar called the Haufbrau in Bozeman, MT. People were in and out, and I think more would have stayed if I had played more dance tunes. So I made a pact with myself to prepare more dance numbers for those sorts of occasions. I have a lot of different versions of my show, but I never thought to have a version of the show that was just dance music most of the way through. In this situation, I was the dj, and instead of giving them what they wanted, I could only give them what I had. Next time I will be more prepared. But it was still a great night, and the people I met there were awesome. In Dickinson, ND, I played a show at a local restaurant called Samson’s, which kind of had the vibe of a TGI-Friday’s. Again, I was not equipped for this sort of “background music” performance, so I did my best. Luckily, I had Mike Swenson there to play half the show, and not leave me fumbling to try to figure out what to play next. Also, he brought the PA. If it had not been for him, it would have been a boring show, indeed. We ended up joining an ancient wizard on a journey to the top of a nearby mountain, where we searched for a magical crystal and had to battle a talking statue. Mike does a very good acoustic version of “Poparazzi.” The next day, I went to Minot. I’ll talk about that in the next post.

Thanks for listening,
Please tip your barista
-Johnny U

Summer 2011 Tour – part one

Last year I bored you with an in-depth show-by-show analysis of my clumsy cruise across the country. I gave a detailed explication of every failed adventure, every success, every moment of discomfort, and every moment of terror. This year, I will skip the minutia and focus on the big picture.  I only have a small amount of time to write, anyway.

So, here it is: Part one of the Johnny Unicorn 2011 Northern tour

I. I do not have a car stereo, and I tour alone
a. I get these songs stuck in my head all the time
1.  Theme from “Paperboy”
2. Disco Inferno
3. Maybe I’m Amazed
4. Theme from “Contra” (base levels)
b. I write songs while I drive
1. I wrote the song “Dance Dance Dance Dance Dance Dance Dance Dance                Dance” but I might find, when I actually sit down to record it, that it was
really an existing song that was stuck in my head (for me, this calls into
question the entire concept of copyright)
2. I wrote another really great song…but I forgot it
c. I do vocal exercises when I can
d. I’ve been directing music videos in my head
e. sometimes I just burp for three hours
f. I use up a lot of time developing my own opinions about important topics

II. Booking shows is really difficult.
a. Just because I once confirmed a show doesn’t mean it will definitely
happen. I have to keep in touch, even though it’s hard to on the road.
b. Some places aren’t set up for my act. Sometimes I can’t do my full show.
And I’m too forgetful to remember to ask about their setup.
c. I don’t know how to get people to come to a show in a town I’ve never been
to. And sometimes I’m the only act.
d. Some people cannot imagine how anything I could do could be remotely
entertaining. Sometimes I agree, but I know some people like it, so there
must be something to what I’m doing.
e. I contacted ten times as many venues as I got shows.

III. I don’t tour because I enjoy sleeping in my car, or imposing on people in their homes, or not knowing if I will be able to make enough money to eat. I tour because:
a. I like my own music, and I want to find everyone else who might, too,
because I don’t want to be alone doing this stuff, and…
b. if I can find all the fans, then maybe I will someday be able to afford to
do the music and actually make a living that will allow me some healthcare
and some shelter and decent food.
c. If I can get enough fans, I’d like the option to perform in theatres instead
of places where the main work I’m doing is indirectly selling drinks. My
shows get limited by performing in spaces that are not mainly performance
spaces. For once I would like to have a set, lighting, dancers and enough
musicians on stage that I can walk around without an instrument. For once
I would like to be able to do a sound check before anyone enters the building
so that I can give the audience a full show that is 100% show. Though if I ever
get to that point, I would still perform in coffeeshops and some bars that I
like, just because I enjoy those kinds of shows too. I just want the option of
a different kind of show.

IV. I keep running into talk about “fame” or “stardom” whenever I talk about being a musician. There seems to be some confusion about what it means to be an artist and what it means to be a celebrity. I wish people wouldn’t talk as though they expect me to be an aspiring rock star. A rock star is a different occupation from musician. To be a mostly unknown musician and have people thinking that I’m attempting to operate within the same entertainment system that is giving us Nickelback and Lady Gaga is disconcerting. In the “music industry” someone who only sells a few thousand albums is considered a failure. And I feel like most people go with the same line of thinking that the people in the music industry does. It makes my whole project seem more unrealistic than it is. If I truly wanted to be a star, that truly would be an unattainable goal, as long as I’m doing the kind of music I like. And that makes me feel like I’m doing nothing more than couch-surfing. My goal is to be able to reach all my fans, and it is my hope to make a reasonable salary from doing medium-sized shows. I would have to be well-known to get anyone to show up to a concert, but I am not seeking celebrity. If I were, then it is almost a guarantee that I will be a failure all my life, no matter how successful I am. I am close to breaking even on my latest album. That would be the biggest musical success of my life so far. That’s more people than ever that have liked my music enough to buy the album. That’s far from going gold. It’s far from any metal.

Next time, I will actually tell some stories. I’m not done yet.