As promised, here’s the recap of the Ezekiel’s Wheels recent southeastern tour! The whole trip came about because we were hired to play a big event in Montgomery, Alabama of all places and figured that since it was cheaper to drive 5 people and a bass than fly, we should just make a tour out of it. Then we discovered that we only had a week to do it in. We accepted the challenge. Three months and over a thousand emails and phone calls later, we were off!
On Friday, April 12th, we met up super early at my house to organize gear and pack up the van. Because of some scheduling mishaps with our initial van rental company, we ended up having to book a new vehicle really last minute (as in, the night before)–luckily, the new dealership was right down the street from my house so we were able to grab the van, pack it up, and only leave about an hour later than we wanted to. About ten hours of traveling later, we arrived at the Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, D.C. for our first of two gigs that evening. We played both before and after their Shabbat service (and pretty much just napped in the temple library in between). It was a little strange–weird acoustics and kind of a forced gig on our part, but we got a good amount of gas money out of it, and it was a nice warm up. After playing at the synagogue, we headed over to my friend Margie’s house to play a show in her living room. Margie did an awesome job at setting up several local bands opposite our set and brought in a large, warm, and attentive crowd. It was great to see a bunch of friends from Oberlin and NJ, too. We were really well-received and the only downside was having to leave the party kind of early to drive to Nat’s aunt and uncle’s house (where we were staying). I’ll have to get back down to D.C. sometime in the near future to actually visit.
Saturday morning, we had to wake up really early again because we had another huge stretch of driving ahead of us–we were going all the way to Atlanta, Georgia. Nat’s aunt and uncle were kind enough to wake up with us, and even made us breakfast and replenished our snack supply (they set the hospitality bar pretty high, though we were constantly amazed by how gracious our hosts were all trip). The drive was relatively uneventful–I think Pete ended up driving something like 6 or 7 hours straight with only a few stops and some of the strangest gas stations I’ve ever been to. As we got closer to Georgia, Abigale (an Atlanta native) and her obsession with Radiolab took over in the car. We arrived at Abigale’s mom’s house exhausted and hungry, but excited to be out of the car and in a very wooded area of the city. After eating spaghetti with Abigale’s grandmother (and answering her question “How’d y’all git tuhgethah?” multiple times), we drove over to the Ahavath Achim Synagogue, where we were performing that evening. Between Abigale’s family, friends, old teachers, and our contacts with the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival, there were over 200 people that showed up to see us! It was a great show, and the audience was so enthusiastic–even getting up to dance during our encore.
The next morning, we got to sleep in a bit and had a big brunch with Abigale’s family. Since Montgomery is only about 3 hours away from Atlanta, it was nice to not have to rush off early in the morning. When we finally packed up the car (and again had our snack supply generously refilled), it was my turn to drive the giant van. Turns out a 15-passenger van doesn’t feel that much different to drive than my minivan. Also turns out that every other member of Ezekiel’s Wheels is way more excited to drive than I am, so this ended up being my one and only stint behind the wheel (which was definitely fine by me). We arrived in Montgomery around 3 pm their time (we made it into Central Standard Time!), had a quick snack at Jon’s aunt’s house (suburban houses down there are all made out of brick!), and then got changed and drove over to the event location (a huuuuuge country club). It was nice that the event was on the early side–basically 4:30 til 7:30–it was basically a large dinner which we accompanied. Jon even taught some dancing, it was great! I think we also met just about every Jewish person in Central Alabama that afternoon (and sold them klezmer CDs). It was also a perk that the gig ended at 7:30, too, so we could relax back at Jon’s aunt’s house afterward. That night I think just about all of us got private bedrooms, which was pretty impressive.
Monday morning we also got to sleep in a little bit and awoke to a large brunch prepared by Jon’s uncle. After eating, we climbed trees in the backyard and had an eccentric jam session on piano, harp, and 3-5 recorders (mostly played simultaneously by Nat). Once again, we obtained even more food for the road–at this point, we were acquiring snacks faster than we could eat them. Our drive that afternoon was over to Chattanooga, Tennessee, about 4 hours away. While we were driving, we heard news from back in Boston about the marathon bombings and spent much of that latter half of the drive trying to get more information and informing the hoards of concerned friends and family who were contacting us that we were all safe in the south. Even though, it was still pretty unsettling. Anyway, on a lighter note, I think the most notable fact about Chattanooga that I learned over the course of booking a gig in the city is that they are starved for klezmer. After I booked the gig a couple months ago, it was amazing to see how quickly news spread of a klezmer band coming to play and how many additional gig offers we got as a result, ranging from a number of local synagogues to the children’s museum! (And the gig offers in Tennessee are still coming in–we just got another one by some folks who must not realize that we’re actually based in Boston. Maybe we should consider relocating…) Unfortunately, since we were only able to be there on a Monday, we weren’t able to set anything else up (turns out there’s not much of a crowd at the children’s museum on a Monday morning), but we did have a great time playing at the Barking Legs Theater! It’s a great little listening room and thanks to Abigale’s dad (who lives in Chattanooga), we were able to draw about 85 people to the show. That night, we stayed at Abigale’s dad and stepmom’s house–since her stepmom is a midwife, the whole house is basically a center for women’s health. We got a full tour of the various rooms used in the different stages of pregnancy and birth (I even slept in the birthing room that night).
The next morning we had to wake up super early again because we were traveling all the way to Baltimore, Maryland (another 10-11 hour journey). Abigale’s dad and stepmom were kind enough to wake up even earlier than us to make a big breakfast to send us off. Pete took the early morning driving shift again, and I navigated, kept Pete awake, and took pictures of crazy signs on the backs of trucks. Abigale and her trusty Radiolab podcasts eventually took over the drive again and brought us all the way to my friend Ben’s house, where we dropped off the majority of the contents of our van into his living room before the show. That night we were playing at the Baltimore Free Farm, an impressive urban farm and community center that has a relatively huge plot of land considering that it’s still within Baltimore city limits. They have a large garden leading up a hill to a greenhouse, hen house, and rabbit house–all built out of scavenged materials. Across the street is a warehouse where they host shows, classes, and other events. We split the bill with three local bands, it was a great turn out and evening of music and a fun way to ring in my birthday at midnight. That night we all crashed in Ben’s living room, which marked the first time we had to sleep in one room all together (pretty impressive that we made it so far sleeping in multiple bedrooms, actually).
In the morning, we got to take our time making brunch and hanging out. From our accumulated snack bags (and a few ingredients from Ben’s kitchen) we were able to make vegan pancakes, a large stirfry, and a huge bowl of fruit salad. And we were still left with boxes of crackers and pretzels and dried fruit and chocolate… That afternoon we drove up to New York City. We stopped off at my friend Alex’s house to drop off all of our stuff, have an old-time jam in his backyard (complete with banjo, guitar, fiddle, and melodica), and order some food for dinner. That night we played at a bar named Nublu on the lower east side. I had never been there before, so it was little bit of a wildcard when I booked it, but it turned out to be a nice little spot with really friendly bartenders and a large receptive audience. It was actually my second birthday in a row that I was on tour (last year I was playing in Philly on my birthday), and it was a nice end to 6 days of shows. That night we again all slept in one living room on an impressive arrangement of pull-out couches.
Thursday morning we woke up relatively early and drove over to a great brunch place near Alex’s house in Brooklyn (marking only our third meal that we had to purchase ourselves while on tour–pretty good for a week of traveling). Afterward, we packed up the van and headed out on the 4-hour drive back to Boston. It was strange coming back into town and all of us were exhausted from all the traveling (though we had a great time playing two-truths-and-a-lie for the last couple hours of our drive). First stop was back at my house to unload and clean out the van, as well as to replace the seats we removed in order to fit all of our luggage and the upright bass. After about an hour of sorting and vacuuming, Nat, Pete, and I drove the van over to gas station to fill the tank. While there, we had a hilarious episode where we tried to clean the windows with the squeegee at the pump–all of the dirty window water dripped down all over the side of the white van, leaving brown dirt streaks all over the car. Instead of finding a proper car wash, we did the next best thing and grabbed an available roll of paper towels and scrubbed and squeegeed the sides of the van as best we could until it looked just slightly better than before we started cleaning. The next stop was dropping it off at the rental agency, where they told us our official mileage: 2,615 miles driven in one week. Afterward, I drove Pete back to his house and then met up with my friend Rachel for dinner. I think I ended up passing out around 10:30, only to be awoken the next morning at 6:30 am by my housemate informing me that the whole city was on lockdown… but that’s another story.
All together, it was quite a successful tour. We’re already starting to brainstorm ideas for the next klezmer adventure–perhaps a trip out route 90, or maybe just another loop around the south since it was great (over perhaps 2 weeks instead of one…) Large trips aside, we do have a bunch of exciting upcoming shows in both Boston and New York City (more information to come as they get closer).
If you’re in the Boston area tomorrow night (May 1st) and want to catch a short guest appearance by the Wheels, we’ll be playing on Abigale’s graduate recital at the New England Conservatory (she’s been a masters student in the Contemporary Improvisation program for the past two years). We spent a lot of the tour keeping her from freaking out about her upcoming recital, and after hearing so much about it, I’m excited to finally see it (as well as play in it). She’s written a number of pieces for it (to perform solo as well as in various ensembles), and it should be a really interesting mix of all kinds of music. Ezekiel’s Wheels will be performing our arrangement of “La Rosa Enflorece” as part of the program (the same tune that was the required piece at the International Jewish Music Festival this past October). The concert starts at 8 pm and will be located in Brown Hall.
In other news, this past week of shows was amazing. I’ll be posting more about upcoming shows soon!