10 Minutes - Today Was More Productive Than I Thought It Would Be

First off, happy birthday to my buddy Branden M. I think he still reads m'blog...?

I had anticipated today to be somewhat inefficient from a productivity standpoint, but it exceeded my expectations, which is always a good feeling.

I meditated a full 30 minutes this morning (goal is 15), with a jazz backing track, before Deborah and I went to meet with our accountant Pam at 10 AM to finalize taxes. We had a RAGBRAI planning meeting scheduled with our friends Sherry and Tyler for 11:30 AM across town, and I was afraid the time between meeting Pam and that would be too short to do anything productive, but I was wrong. I eeked out 30 minutes of jazz piano practice in the interim. The timing could not have been more perfect. After the RAGBRAI planning meeting, which spawned some action items, Deborah and I talked on the phone with Deborah's dad, who's a lawyer, about the ins and outs of making a prenuptual agreement before Deborah and I wed in a few short weeks. We didn't prepare it yet but were simply schooled on the various components of one, and it makes a lot more sense now (Thanks, Howie!). We then went to the gym and had a pretty good workout. I did about 15 minutes of weight machines and then 45 minutes on the exercise bike, sweating hard and burning over 500 calories. I completed my Duolingo language exercises while pedaling too. After the gym, I worked a few hours before heading home to watch some TV shows with m'honey.

Very little time was squandered today, yet we weren't rushed at all, and I like that a lot.


Strip Down to Texas Tour - Days 8 and 9: Full Throttle

The SUNSPOT South by Southwest (SXSW) rock-n-roll tour drew to a close on Tuesday morning as we packed up the van in preparation for the long drive back to Wisconsin from Austin TX. Before loading, I gave the van a once over, removing trash and cleaning out the cooler with soap and hot water to remove the residual funk it contained. Wendy had wisely put the jumbo cooler ice packs in Vic's freezer the day before so they were solid and cold when we loaded the cooler with water and some snacks (mostly apples and cheese).

A little bit after noon, we all hugged it out with Vic and bid him farewell and thanks for his hospitality. Then we piled in the van and departed, heading north on I-35. In Oklahoma City, around 7 PM, we stopped at a pizza place called the Wedge that Wendy had found via the Giant Internet Brain. They had salads, so I got one in an effort to maximize my vegetable consumption. We collectively decided that we would push on through the night without stopping until we got back to Madison, taking the driving in shifts. I drove first, until I was relieved by Mike some time after midnight. In Austin, we had usually been going to bed in the pre-dawn hours and our diurnal rhythms were off, so I wasn't all that tired when I ended my shift at the wheel but it was important to rest up for the marathon drive. So I took some Benedryl and an herbal sleep aid to force my mind into a light slumber. Sleeping in the van was not especially comfortable given the close quarters, but I was eventually able to position myself in a way that was tolerable and drifted in and out of sleep.

Stuart drove the last leg of the all night marathon drive and I slept most soundly between about 7 and 10 AM. All of a sudden I awoke and we were pulling into Wendy's driveway. Yay!

Everyone but Mike disembarked the van with their stuff. Mike drove home to the east side of Madison with the van and Stuart decided to drive back to the Twin Cities, foregoing Wendy's offer to take a power nap at her place before he did so. Wendy drove me home to Middleton and I thanked her for the fun and fulfilling opportunity to join SUNSPOT's 2017 SXSW road crew. Once I had my stuff unloaded into the house, I put in some laundry and headed upstairs to power nap until Deborah came home from work.

The End


Strip Down to Texas Tour - Day 7: The Horro'

With the departure of the band GLASS MANSIONS on Sunday afternoon, at the conclusion of the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival, Vic's house became considerably less populated by rock-n-rollers and the living room couch became available real estate for sleeping. So I slept there Sunday night, substantially more comfortably I might add than sleeping on my thin camping mat on the floor of Vic's study. I slept hard and long and woke up very well rested Monday morning.

Vic's was far less frenetic than the previous mornings during the music fest shenanigans. I chillaxed on the back porch, drank some coffee, and enjoyed the perfect Austin TX weather. Gradually, we started to collectively embrace the idea of getting some food in our bellies, and around 2 PM, Vic took us to a great little vegetarian restaurant nearby, the Bouldin Creek Cafe, for a late breakfast (non-rockstars would call it a late lunch). I had a veggie omelette, marginally increasing the vegetation quotient of my road trip diet and significantly decreasing the refined starch quotient in favor of protein. After eating, Stuart borrowed Vic's scooter and took off on it to go visit a friend of his for the afternoon.

Wendy and Mike run a weekly paranormal podcast called "See You on the Otherside," that focuses on paranormal phenomena and ghosts and conspiracy theories and whatever, and they had an agenda for later in the day to film footage for a video podcast about haunted sites around Austin. Normally, their podcast is audio only, but they wanted to do a video supplement for their loyal podcast fans, as I understand it. About 4 PM, Mike, Wendy, Vic, and I piled into the SUNSPOT van and drove out to the Oakwood Cemetery in Austin where we captured some video for the podcast, including a musical performance by Mike and Wendy at the gates of the cemetery about 7 PM, just as it was closing for the night (it has gained notoriety in recent years as a late night hangout for teenagers and the occasional quasi-Satanic midnight sex party, forcing the city to close it up at night at the behest of local residents).

After a quick stop back at Vic's to freshen up, we headed downtown to the Driskill Hotel, a supposedly haunted site, where Mike and Wendy interviewed a couple of local Texas ghosthunters named Billy and Mark, who host a PBS show about the paranormal called Strange Town. Part of the interview was taped at the Driskill Bar over a couple rounds of Shiner Bock beer (possible sponsor?) and the rest across the street at another putatively haunted site, the Buffalo Billiards Bar, which used to be a brothel.

I should pause here and let my readers know that I am a total skeptic of the paranormal and have never experienced anything that could not be explained by science and the Laws of Nature. There is a reason they call seeing ghosts and hearing haunted sounds "parapsychology," because they happen in the internal realm of the mind, which is capable of extraordinary beliefs and sensations and imaginings that are not bound by external, objective science. The keyword here is PSYCHOLOGY. I have never seen any report of a paranormal happening that was verified by science. In fact, there is a guy named James Randi, a retired stage magician and paranormal investigator, who until his retirement in 2015, offered a $1 million dollar prize to anyone who could demonstrate evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event under test conditions agreed to by both parties [SOURCE]. No one ever won the prize.

That doesn't mean things didn't happen or weren't experienced by the person or persons reporting the happening, just that they did not meet the scientific standard of proof, mostly reproducibility, but also strong concrete evidence confirmed by objective third party observers. And a million bucks would, I should think, be a pretty strong compulsion to do the rigorous scientific work of proving the existence of ghosts and whatnot. Blurry, unidentified blobs and light reflections that loosely resemble humanoid shapes or spaceships don't cut it for me, but if they do for you, that's great. They don't for James Randi though either. Bear in mind, the human brain is quite good at finding meaning in random shapes. Just the other day I saw the face of the Olympian god Zeus in a cloud formation (though it might have been Thor...but it wasn't a storm cloud, so that's why I am leaning toward Zeus right now).

On the spectrum from skeptic to true believer, I think Mike and Wendy are closer to my skeptical end of the spectrum, but definitely more open minded than me to the possibility of science-defying paranormal weirdness. Billy and Mark seem to fall considerably closer to the true believer axis, I think. They presented some kind of handheld device to Mike and Wendy that could supposedly "translate" localized paranormal happenings into meaningful English words, and the thing was going off like crazy at Buffalo Billiards whilst we were upstairs in the dark and dingy closed off part of the establishment. I have no idea how authentic this ghost sensor was. If it was credible, they missed a huge opportunity to win James Randi's million bucks, but maybe they weren't aware of the challenge. For all I know, they might have built the contraption themselves. It's one of those things some people will willfully suspend their disbelief for, but until I see the peer-reviewed published journal article in Physics Today, I will disbelieve heavily.

At one point in the video footage Mike and Wendy captured, Mark appears to sense something behind him and turns around to look. A moment later, their paranormal Tricorder thing on the table lights up with a new word. One could find a correlation in those two near simultaneous events, but it could also be pure coincidence, or maybe even a gimmick of some kind (presumable Billy and Mark are familiar with how their device operates...so I will just leave it at that). A broken clock is right twice a day, after all. But like I said, people can believe what they want. I am happy to be the token skeptic playing Devil's Advocate and I think that's mission critical to keeping everyone honest when it comes to paranormal phenomena. Leave your thoughts in the COMMENTS below.

"Have you ever experienced anything that you couldn't explain?" Mark asked me at one point during the visit to Buffalo Billiards.

I immediately thought of the only incident in my life I can remember that had a sort of spooky, paranormal feel about it.

"Years ago, I remember waking up from a power nap and I had this weird sensation that something invisible crawled up on the bed and held me down," I said. "I couldn't move for a few seconds and I had to struggle to break its hold on me."

"Wow, interesting," Mark said, seeming intrigued. "So maybe there was something there..."

"Or maybe I was just having sleep apnea," I said. "Hard to know..."

Mark didn't talk to me anymore after that until we bid them farewell at the conclusion of the meeting with them. Both Billy and Mark were super nice guys, whatever their beliefs may be. I was happy to mostly keep my mouth shut and try not to roll my eyes too much.

We had been joined at Buffalo Billiards by a friend of Vic's named Emoo. She was definitely nearest to the paranormal believer end of the skepticism spectrum than anyone else there. She too came equipped with an electronic paranormal sensor gadget. It had a little retractable antennae and a ring of colored lights embedded in the plastic base, resembling a miniaturized version of the electronic children's game Simon Says. According to Emoo, the device was immune to actual real world EMF, including cell phones, and the appearance of a blue light meant something from the spirit realm was "present." The blue light flickered on a few times, but I never felt the presence of a goddam thing.

Emoo joined Vic, Mike, Wendy, and me for a late night dinner at Eureka Pub across the street from Buffalo Billiards. I got a "naked" (no bun) bison burger with a side salad and the portion size was huge, so I got a substantial amount of some actual leafy green vegetables into me, a rarity thus far on this trip. We all then went down the street to Aussie's Pub to have a few drinks (except me...the DD) in celebration of Wendy's birthday (Happy birthday, Wendy!).

We went back to the house and decompressed on Vic's back porch, chatting and sipping wine, before getting an "early night" to bed at around 3 AM. We were still all running on Rockstar Time, but we would be road tripping back to Wisconsin the next day and wanted to be somewhat well rested for the long drive from Austin to home.


Strip Down to Texas Tour - Day 6: Recovery Day

SXSW is effectively over. A few musical things are still going on, but Austin TX was noticeably quieter when we were out and about today.

If you recall, Vic hosted an after party at his house last night following the rocking performances at El Mercado by SUNSPOT, GLASS MANSIONS, and some other bands. Vic owns Music Madness ATX, the company that organized the El Mercado show, as well as the Brass Hall show of Friday night. That party reportedly went all night, though I succumbed to slumber at some point much earlier than dawn.

Everyone kind of got up at their own pace this morning, showering and drinking coffee and packing up. GLASS MANSIONS, the other band staying at Vic's house, had to hit the road in the late afternoon and Ben of SUNSPOT was flying home as well.

About 2 PM, a few of us walked the block down to El Mercado and had a nice brunch on their back patio. When we returned to the house about 4 PM, GLASS MANSIONS bid us farewell to continue their rock-n-roll road trip off to somewhere else and Vic took Ben to the airport. Wendy and I opted to take power naps on air mattresses on Vic's back porch. I don't know how long Wendy napped but I was out cold for about 2.5 hours and woke up groggy but highly rejuvenated.

I made myself some coffee-to-go and walked down to the so-called "Bat Bridge" downtown. Millions of bats live under this one particular bridge and at dusk they fly out in big swarms to feed, keeping Austin mosquito free (not really). My timing was impeccable. I arrived there about 7:30 PM, just as the sun was setting and the bats were starting to emerge in small swarms. I got some pics and video but I don't think they can do justice to the live experience. At the height of the bat exodus, there was a sound in the air something like the earie collective chirping sounds that cicadas make and I suspect that this was the aural effect on human ears of amplified bat sonar, or possibly it was just the sound of hundreds of bat wings flapping. But it was cool.

Mike and Vic arrived at the bridge soon after I did, and when the bat emergence had dwindled to a trickle, we walked down the street to Aussie's Pub for some appetizers. Afterwards, Vic drove us down to the State Capitol building and Governor's mansion, where Mike shot pictures for his and Wendy's upcoming paranormal podcast, focusing on haunted sites around Austin TX. I think they plan to tape the podcast tomorrow.

About 11 PM, Vic took me over to the grocery store near his house and I scored some frozen pizzas for a late night dinner for the remaining group, comprising me, Mike, Wendy, Stuart , Vic, and Norman (Vic's roommate). We cooked up the 'zzas and bantered on the back porch for a while. I eventually went inside to fall asleep on Vic's comfy couch, now available for sleeping on since GLASS MANSIONS had left.


Strip Down to Texas Tour - Day 5: El Mercado

The day started characteristically enough...I woke up a little bit before noon, took a quick shower whilst everyone else slept (except Stuart, the only one who gets up earlier than me), made some coffee in Vic's one hitter machine (I had to acrobatically lean over the air mattress and its occupant that consumed most of the kitchen floor to accomplish this), and decamped to the shade of the back porch to drink said coffee and squeeze in my 15 minutes of daily meditation.

Vic went out and bought a metric pantload of breakfast tacos for everyone. It was exactly what everyone needed and it hit the spot (we love you, Vic!).

Stuart and I decided to walk downtown to scope out the SXSW musical action on 6th Street. It was about a 30 minute walk, and much needed exercise. When we got downtown, we went into an Irish pub that was showcasing Australian musicians and stayed for a couple of acts. The rest of the SUNSPOT crew had taken the van downtown and were waylaid by bad traffic, but we eventually caught up with them at Touche Bar. The group walked a few blocks up 6th to the Star Bar where Roy Elkins, CEO of Broadjam, was hosting a small social. Broadjam is a Wisconsin based company that specializes in music licensing, such as soundtracks for film and TV.* I was surprised to see the ex-guitarist, Joe, of now defunct Madison glam metal band TIGER CLUTCH bartending at Star Bar. I miss that band.

Mike of SUNSPOT had Broadjam duties to attend to, and the rest of the band needed to prep for their show at El Mercado tonight, so once again Stuart and I branched off and ended up at Darwin's Pub where a surly goth looking waitress served us gyros, our lunch. She passive aggressively switched Stuart's and my orders, which we didn't detect until we had taken a few bites, but that was rather inconsequential to us getting some grub into our bellies.

Stuart was coordinating to meet a friend downtown, but I was eager to keep moving and get more exercise. So I hoofed it back to Vic's, mostly uphill, stopping at El Mercado on the way to check out the venue for tonight's SUNSPOT show. The other band staying at Vic's, GLASS MANSIONS, was also on the bill, so I was looking forward to finally getting to hear them rock.

Phase 2

My buddy Brad, who lives in Austin, met me at the El Mercado Mexican restaurant, which is only a block from Vic's house. We ate some pretty grubbin' food before heading into the attached music venue, called Backstage at El Mercado.

The second of the six bands on the bill had just finished rocking and SUNSPOT, who were playing next, were loading in their gear. I helped Mike set up his Twitter livestream and then Brad and I watched SUNSPOT's great set. The venue had great sound and lights, which made it even more impressive. The bands that followed SUNSPOT were all rocking too. GLASS MANSIONS played great music that I will describe as heavy techno synth pop with grungy guitar overlaid on top. It was sweet. The last band was J AND THE 9s, fronted by an energetic chick singer named Jeanine. All the bands had at least one female member, which was cool, though I am unclear on if that was accidental or by design.

Broadjam was the primary sponsor underwriting the El Mercado show and Roy Elkins gave a presentation about Broadjam and its services for musicians and songwriters, offering discounted memberships for those supporting the El Mercado performances and its organizer, Music Madness ATX, which is Vic's company that promotes musical happenings around Austin TX.

After the last band, everyone came back to Vic's for an after party. He had bought a keg and some sandwich trays earlier in the day. It was been reported to me the next morning that the party continued until the break of dawn, but I went to bed long before that. The party was still going strong when I did, so the reports were likely true.

Here are some overflow pictures from the day.

*Broadjam.com is a global community and resource for musicians and their fans with a library of 500,000+ songs and 150,000 members. Broadjam helps musicians promote their tracks and has music licensing opportunities to get independent songs in films, TV shows, and ads.


Strip Down to Texas Tour - Day 4: South By

I slept about as good as I could on my camping mat and sleeping bag in Vic's small study, which can't be called actually good in an absolute sense, only a relative one. I had set my phone alarm for 11 AM, but once again woke up about a half an hour before it chimed, which gave me some time to complete my morning meditation (more of a focused effort not to doze off than an actual productive meditation). Afterwards, I noticed a text from Wendy on my phone: "The shower is free...you might want to grab it before everyone gets up. Pro tip." I tried. However, Ben had been a little quicker than me and so I took a quick shower after him. Wendy and I made ourselves coffees on Vic's one hitter coffee machine and I used that to wash down some aspirin and Asian herbal energy supplements. At that point I was ready to face the day.

A little bit after 1 PM when we were all prepped and ready, most of us (Stuart had already walked downtown) piled into the SUNSPOT tour van and headed down to the infamous 6th Street district of Austin TX, which is basically the heart of the huge music festival called South by Southwest (or just "South by" by the locals; SXSW for expediency in writing my blog posts), currently in full swing. 6th Street reminded me a lot of State Street in Madison WI, but on steroids...the kind of steroids that can only be purchased illegally on the black market because they will cause your johnson to shrivel and fall off.

A punk band that SUNSPOT knows, THREE KISSES from Alaska, was performing at a pub/vinyl record store called Whisler's from 1-2 PM and so that was our first stop. We parked the van in the lot of an insurance company across the street from Whisler's and walked into the middle of the band's energetic hour-long set. When they finished rocking, their gothic singer Tish chatted with SUNSPOT a while. A Thai food vendor had set up a cart next to Whisler's and when they opened at 2 PM, I scored my first real meal of the day, a Thai noodle dish that had peanuts and a few vegetables. This was the first whole plant food I had eaten in days, it felt like. The portion size was good and it had decent flavor, albeit not $10 worth of either of those constituents. But vendors know they can sell stuff at whatever price the market will bear.

Stuart met us at Whisler's and when we decided it was time to move on, he and I walked down 6th Street toward the heart of the fest, while the others took the van there (except Wendy, who had actually coordinated a 2:30 PM meeting with one of her Austin-based customers at a coffee shoppe across the street from Whisler's...she's an incredible multi-tasker). The walk was the first exercise I had had in days too, and it felt good to move. It took Stuart and I perhaps 20 minutes to reach the epicenter of 6th Street festivities, an area cordoned off from vehicular traffic by barricades. Even walking, we beat the van folks there because they had to park the van. We milled about with the throngs. 

There were bands playing in most of the bars lining 6th Street. We stepped into the country and western themed Trophy Bar, which had a mechanical bull in operation, tossing a few 20-something women about as their friends cheered them on. Wendy met us at the Trophy Bar and we started walking back toward the van by way of Hoeke's Heavy Metal Pizza joint, where we scored some slices of heavy metal pizza for a late lunch before driving back to Vic's. Road trip eating is not the healthiest and it really makes me smile when I realize how healthy I usually eat at home (spinning the trauma of road chow into a positive). Greasy, starchy, salty road food like pizza, while tasty, is pretty alien to my body after the fitness kick I have been on for about a year now. I am craving fruit and vegetables and cannot wait to get my hands on some after this rock-n-roll adventure concludes. I wonder how many pounds I will put on during this trip...

Back at Vic's, the band and crew chillaxed a bit, some falling almost immediately into brief power naps, until Mike started rallying everyone for Phase 2 of today's shenanigans, driving to Marble Falls TX, where SUNSPOT will rock the aforementioned Brass Hall there. Read on...

Phase 2

It was about an hour's drive from Vic's house in Austin TX to Brass Hall in Marble Falls TX, where SUNSPOT rocked their first full band show of the tour tonight. The drive felt longer, because it was a long and lonely stretch of road. Everyone was a little wiped from lack of sleep and a fun filled afternoon at SXSW in Austin. When we got to Marble Falls and finished loading the gear into the club, I walked up the street to a restaurant called Rae's Bar and Grill in search of some food with vegetables in it. The best I could do was a chicken taco salad plus a side salad with the maximum amount of veggies I could add on. Texans are apparently not huge on veggies, but it was enough to tide me over. I ordered an assortment of to go tacos off the menu to bring back to the band posse while they were setting up back at Brass Hall.

SUNSPOT rocked a solid set. They ended up performing first because another act had canceled. After they played, a rapper and a DJ took the stage and apparently it was a really fun dance party. However, I only heard about it second hand...I had gone out to the van to rest a few minutes after SUNSPOT played, but succumbed to a full on power nap and before I knew it, the bar was closing.

The power nap served me well though. I had offered to designated drive the band and crew home after the show, along the long and winding rural highway that separated Marble Falls from Austin. Everyone thanked me profusely for DD-ing, but honestly it was very pleasant. I was pretty well rested from my earlier power nap and at 3 AM, I had the highway pretty much to myself but for a car or two and a small herd of mule deer I spotted by the side of the road as we barreled past.

Back at Vic's, we chilled on his back porch as one by one everyone eventually succumbed to fatigue and went to bed, including myself. I downed some Benadryl and an herbal sleep aid that guided me quickly down the dark tunnel to slumberland.


Strip Down to Texas Tour - Day 3: Rollin'

Phase 1

I woke up from a phenomenally deep, albeit insufficiently long, slumber about 10:30 AM Thursday morning in a surprisingly comfortable full bed at the economical Knights Inn outside New Orleans (NOLA) where the SUNSPOT SXSW tour overnighted following yesterday’s NOLA shenanigans. I looked over at the other bed in the room to find it empty, my roommate and fellow roadie Stuart already awake and prepping himself for the day. I did a 15 minute meditation before I too got up, downed a handful of herbal stimulants, and drank all the coffee I could make with the fixings in the room. About noon, we all regrouped at the tour van, after checking out, and Mike took the helm for the first leg of today’s road trip from NOLA to Austin TX, stopping at a truck stop for a road breakfast and more caffeination a few miles down the road. The truck stop had a little burger joint where I scored a double cheeseburger in an effort to improve the protein quotient of my road trip diet, which thus far has been starch heavy. It was a damn tasty meal too.

I have to report that Louisiana is far and away the dirtiest state I have ever visited. No judgment, just an observation. I am sure there are dirtier states, I just haven't visited them. There is just a kind of filthy stank every place you go in Louisiana...perfect for a touring rock-n-roll band. It’s not easy to capture smells in a written word travelogue such as this, but NOLA had a lot of telltale fragrances, including stale urine (and beer), body odor, and rotting garbage, that pierced my nasal passages with varying degrees of intensity depending on where we were. New Orleans reminded me a lot of Dublin Ireland, only dirtier. Both towns have a similarly high festivity quotient though and I suppose richer aromas are the cost of that.

Most of the day today was spent driving across the deep south. I took a stint at the wheel from 2 to 7 PM that took us through Houston’s hellacious rush hour traffic and resulted in me learning from Mike far more about the history of Kellogg’s corn flakes than I ever thought I could or should know. I also learned what onanisme is. When Stuart took over driving from me, we were still a couple hours or more out of Austin.

One thing I liked about today's long haul in the van was the escape from corporate media, both mainstream and social, because I was free from reminders about the shitty state of politics in America and could just enjoy the people and places in my immediate surroundings. It felt pretty awesome.

As I finish writing this Phase 1 entry, we are sitting in standstill traffic on I-10 between Houston and Austin, due to an accident a few miles ahead according to the navigator apps some of us have running in the van. So I am going to use the delay to grab a few ZZZs.

Phase 2

Due to lots of traffic, construction, and at least one accident on Interstate 10 in Texas, we didn’t get to the outskirts of Austin until after 10 PM. Since SUNSPOT guitarist Ben Jaeger was arriving at the Austin airport about 10:30 PM, our timing actually could not have been more impeccable, and we re-routed van GPS toward the Austin airport to get Ben. This saved our host during our stay in Austin, one Vic Hidalgo, an airport run.

We arrived at Vic’s house in Austin, where we’ll be staying the next few days, about 11 PM. He had pizza and cold beverages waiting for us. Another band that is on tour and playing SXSW, named GLASS MANSIONS, was also staying at Vic’s. They left after a while to go party downtown and see music. It was a beautiful night with a light breeze, so the SUNSPOT posse decided to chillax and banter with Vic on his back porch for the remainder of the night. Vic’s roommate Norman arrived a little while later. He owns Brass Hall in Marble Falls TX where SUNSPOT is booked to rock a show on Friday night. During the day on Friday, we are going to head down to 6th Street in Austin to check out the SXSW festivities. I am pretty geeked to experience it for the first time. Stay tuned.

Although today’s shenanigans were fairly tame, we got some much needed rest and relaxation at Vic’s ahead of the extended weekend rock-n-roll party to come.


Strip Down to Texas Tour - Day 2: Four States, One Van, Deep South

Phase 1

Today the SUNSPOT rockmobile is traversing four states en route from Nashville to New Orleans LA (NOLA) – Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana – where Mike and Wendy are going to live stream a haunted pub crawl as a supplement to the weekly paranormal podcast they host, called See You on the Otherside. I’d link you to the podcast site, but I think I’ll let you seek it out on your own; it’s pretty easy to Google. Plus I’m lazy and rushed to get today’s travelogue drafted before we arrive in “Nawlins” and the non-stop party action begins.

You see, I got a late start on today’s entry because I volunteered for the first shift driving the van when we left Nashville at 10 AM and I was still relatively alert and awake from copious quantities of morning coffee and a concoction of Asian herbal stimulants. Then I took a feeble stab at an afternoon power nap when I was relieved of driving duty around 2 PM. Due to the late hour of our performances last night at the Douglas Corner CafĂ© songwriter’s circle and subsequent decompression from that awesomeness with snacks and boxed wine at the Comfort Inn (Franklin TN) afterwards, I got a very short amount of very shitty sleep. My brain was overstimulated and wouldn’t stop effing thinking. Though my phone alarm was set for 9 AM to allow ample time to prep and grub some free hotel breakfast, I of course woke up at 8:30 in the king bed I was sharing with fellow SUNSPOT roadie. Knowing I wouldn’t fall back to sleep before the alarm went off, I made use of the time to do my morning meditation for 20 minutes or so. I think it helped a little to calm my mind, but the caffeine and herbal supplements I sucked down after I got up kept me conscious and ambulatory. I felt pretty great actually as I helmed the van for the first leg of the day’s journey, which took us through the remainder of Tennessee and most of Alabama.

Somewhere west of Birmingham, Wendy relieved me of driving duties when we stopped for gas, snacks, and bio breaks (as we are calling pee stops). I settled into the back seat with a neck pillow and tried but failed to power nap, though I may have dozed slightly. When I realized the futility of achieving true slumber, I decided to turn the time into an extended meditation. It was the best I could do.

But now I am awake and pounding out Phase 1 of today’s post as furiously as I can before we arrive in NOLA in less than one hour to begin Phase 2. That’s when the fun action starts, if all goes to plan. Mike and Wendy want to get to NOLA by about 6 PM and start the haunted pub crawl live stream about 7 PM in Jackson Square in the mysterious (to me…a NOLA virgin) French Quarter. That pretty much meant putting the pedal to the metal and stopping minimally on the four state power road trip. As one Tenacious D likes to point out, “The road is @#$%ing hard.” But actually, it’s not so much hard as it is long. At risk of jinxing the shite out of this thus far successful SUNSPOT tour to the South by Southwest (SXSW) music fest in Austin TX, I’ll say that the van has been a reliable and cooperative workhorse so far. It still needs a name. I would favor something out of Norse or Greco-Roman mythology, but we’ll see how the van weathers the remaining days of the tour and determine if it is worthy of such an exalted moniker (Please, van, be worthy!!!).

Anyway, we are only about a half an hour from NOLA now, so I will sign off and report back on Phase 2 shenanigans as opportunity permits.

Phase 2

We rolled into NOLA right about 6 PM as planned and parked the van in a public lot by the river before making our way to Jackson Square, where Mike and Wendy kicked off their haunted pub crawl musical livestream. I manned the Twitter livestream using Mike’s iPad, which involved me walking around with it as we went from place to place to film Mike and Wendy give short spiels on the haunted history of the location in question and perform a relevant SUNSPOT song (Mike on acoustic guitar and Wendy on violin, both on vocals). It was a little cumbersome but fun, as long as I didn't trip on the uneven pavement and faceplant (I didn't). Stuart taped on his own gear for a Facebook livestream as well. I won’t reiterate details of the livestream here, because you can go view the archived video if you want via SUNSPOT’s social media outlets. Suffice to say, we traversed several blocks around Bourbon Street in pursuit of haunted sites to capture historical and musical footage.

Stuart had a friend in NOLA named Tomahawk (Tommy for short) who had invited us to a pub called One Eyed Jacks for a burlesque show, and we were intrigued enough to immediately accept. After finishing the livestream, we scored a mediocre but satisfying dinner of pizza slices from a storefront vendor. One Eyed Jacks was a cozy little pub and the burlesque show, called Vixens and Vinyl, was a pretty straightforward affair involving erotic dancers stripping down to their pasties while dancing to vintage music spun on old school vinyl records by a DJ. It was an entertaining beginning to the loooooong end of the night...

Phase 3

At the conclusion of the burlesque show, Tommy was supposed to take us to another pub called Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop a few blocks away for a little more haunted trivia about the Pirate Jean Lafitte, who reportedly founded NOLA. However, this plan rapidly devolved into more of an impromptu art walk, as Tommy, bless her heart, paused at nearly every art gallery storefront to tell us her thoughts on the art within. There was some decent stuff, like a sculpture of a giant Andy Warhol head and a mosaic of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator composed only of computer keyboard keys. Conversely, there are a shite tonne of art shops in NOLA and after a time, Wendy and I came to the same realization, to wit that we might be musing over art with Tommy well into the afternoon of the next day if we didn’t get the group back on track toward concluding the action packed evening. So Wendy and I opted to diverge from the larger group and bee-line it to Lafitte’s in hopes that might compel the rest of the group to follow suit. The temperature in NOLA had dropped into the 40s at night and notwithstanding getting our pulses up dancing to vinyl records at One Eyed Jacks, the seemingly eternal nocturnal wanderings thereafter had substantially lowered our core temperatures.

Lafitte’s was thankfully still open when we got there and had a fire going that we warmed ourselves by after Wendy scored a round of drinks in anticipation of the rest of the group’s impending arrival, which never did happen. Things became somewhat disorganized thereafter, as they often do when a group of partying people tries to regroup in a fun, strange, and confusing city. But regroup we did, at the Golden Lantern pub far off the main drag, after some trials and tribulations that included a thrilling walk through NOLA’s seedy “mug zone,” as a local who guided us through said zone called it, carrying ALL the drinks Wendy had bought at Lafitte's, so as not to waste booze (open alcoholic beverage containers on the street are totes legal in NOLA), and her violin (not a mugger magnet at all!).

Arriving at the Golden Lantern (aka, the Golden Latrine, as Mike called it) safely and without incident, a super friendly bartender named Jackie chatted with us and made us feel welcome. She even had a cool story about a haunted NOLA mansion that was featured in a season of the TV show "American Horror Story." Eventually Wendy called an Uber and we all piled into it to go back to where the van was parked. As it was after 4 AM, I cannot deny I was a little surprised to find the van was still there and intact, but there and intact it was. Not only that, but the parking was free (rather than $40) because the parking attendant wasn’t on duty at that wee hour of the morning and the exit boom arm was up. As designated driver, I stealthily crept the van out of the parking lot and drove us about six miles to a Knights Inn motel that Mike had booked rooms for us at online earlier in the evening. Our late arrival to the motel threw the front desk manager for a loop because he thought we were actually checking in early for Thursday night rather than ridiculously late for Wednesday night, but we got it sorted out. Most of the group was partied out by then, but Wendy awed me by extending the party a little farther than its tolerance specifications, swinging through the motel’s morning continental breakfast (already open to guests when we arrived), for some last ditch carb loading. I headed straight to the room I was sharing with Stuart, dosed up on sleep aids, and immediately succumbed to a power slumber of unbridled proportions - deep and fulfilling, albeit too short.

I’m finishing writing this from the van as we start Day 3 of the Strip Down to Texas Tour a little after noon on Thursday 3/16. We don’t have anywhere to be today except just get to Austin TX some time late this evening and find something fun to go do. It’s about an eight hour drive. So I’ll conclude here. Tune in for the next installment tomorrow.

Here's a video of a "fire fountain" at Paddy O'Brien's pub in NOLA.