Tag Archives: rhythm records

JU Summer Tour 2013 Part Four: Remembering People’s Names in North Dakota

North Dakota, the West-midwest. From Bozeman to Bismarck is a long, tedious drive. We had to rise early in order to make it on time to our show at Rhythm Records. Fortunately the caffeine-fueled Jam Unit was up to the challenge. I cannot remember what happened on the drive. Most likely it was a lot of silent staring at the flat, featureless landscape. I may have had earplugs in (don’t worry, I could hear just fine, we live in a really loud world). After an uneventful nine hour drive, we arrived at the record store and set up in the tiny space. I was not expecting there to be very many people there, so I promised that the band would improvise a song based on the names of every person in attendance at the show. The people showed up, probably about 20 of them, and sat down and listened to us perform our music. Many of them had seen me perform as a one-person act before and seemed glad to see the addition of a live band. As promised, we performed improvised songs based on the names of every person in the audience. We went as quickly as possible, and it took approximately five minutes. It was absolutely wonderful to play rock music at a reasonable volume level to a bunch of polite sit-down listeners in a shop full of vinyl records. Thank you to Robbie for letting us do it, and please, if you’re ever in Bismarck, stop by Rhythm Records. They have coffee and their selection of vinyl is small but good quality. I always find something I want there.

That night we stayed in a campground that was full of weirdos, and we couldn’t find firewood, so Naomi just took a bunch of cut-up trees from a pile. Later that evening, I decided I cannot eat veggie dogs while wearing a mustache. Also we snuck over to the RV section to use the bathroom, although, I think we were allowed to.

Then it was off to Fargo and the Red Raven Espresso Parlor! I had played there about four times before to extremely small audiences. But they were so nice to me, I just had to keep coming back to play, and I was determined to build up a small following, even if I had to do it one person at a time. But I like it that way, because I’m fairly picky about my fans. I want to make sure each one of them is okay with being part of a large group all looking in the same direction. I want to make sure they aren’t developing cult behaviors or anything like that. I want to make sure they are there to enjoy the performance. Anyway, I was expecting a small chunk of people to show up, but it turned out that the audience that came was about five times larger than I expected. That made me happy, but also a bit nervous, because I had also promised the audience of this show that my band and I would come up with improvised songs based on each of the audience members. Well, we played the show and people enjoyed it, and I think I even saw a few people dancing. We improvised everyones names and it took a really long time, but we got through it unscathed. I was very pleased with the way it turned out because Josie, from Bismarck, was at this show and the previous show, and we remembered how to play her song from the night before. Then, because it was Ian and Max’s (our guitarist and drummer) birthday (they’re twins), I surprised them with a birthday song, which I forced them to play without having rehearsed it. That was one of my favorite moments of the tour, just because I actually remembered someone’s birthday (edit: actually, I was just told that in fact I didn’t remember, Naomi told me. but I still remembered what she told me long enough to mention it on stage, which is quite an achievement). I was feeling really good about my own memory recall by the end of the show, and when I went out to push our merchandise on people, a very nice audience member who had come in with her teenage kids introduced me to them, and this one kid quizzed me on his name and I couldn’t remember it, even though twenty minutes earlier I had written a song about it (along with 35 other people). He seemed a bit bummed out. If he had known he was going to be talking to an absent-minded person, maybe he wouldn’t have felt so bad about it. Anyway, if you’re listening, kid whose name I couldn’t remember, I hope you’re still listening and enjoying the cd (as you might expect I once again can’t remember your name, but I do know there was one kid in your group named Chase…is that right?)

That night we got treated to a first class suite in an actual hotel. Thanks Brandon!

Stay tuned for the next entry, in which I will describe the nicotine antics of The Drug Budget and one show that went horribly wrong.

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!