He's in every high-school yearbook. That kid who stared out the window in class and doodled AC/DC logos on the back of his notebooks. He'd go home after school, sit on the edge of his bed, pressing his fingertips into the hard steel strings until they bore permanent dents. He eventually got a job at a record store because he didn't want to do anything that didn't involve music. He put up a flier looking for a drummer and bass player, and the first time they all plugged in alongside the bikes and lawnmowers in his parents' garage that initial electrifying C-chord sent a surge of energy through his body, raising the hairs on the back of his neck.
Now he spends all his time trying to hold onto that feeling. He plays in clubs and bars, lugging around his own amps, getting paid in beer and writing songs 'til the sun comes up. He is convinced the big break is just around the corner.
It is a well-worn story. For every Dave Matthews Band, there are 100 maybe 1,000 bands like this one. They may be in different stages of their careers bands like Solid Gold Fish Bowl and Lazy Cain seeking big success on the road; Car Bomb, Inc. recording what they hope will be the breakthrough CD; Pat McGee Band recording its major-label release; Agents of Good Roots recovering from a false break or BS&M who are just happy to play but it's all the same story.
This isn't the story of six bands. It's the story of Everyband."How do you afford your rock 'n' roll lifestyle?"
Cake "Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle"
[image-1]Photo by Scott Elmquist"We don't fit in with a lot of the local bands," says guitarist Pierre Picardat (center) of Solid Gold Fish Bowl's improvisational groove-rock.
felt like a rock star, cruising down I-64 in Solid Gold Fish Bowl's converted bus.
Although the destination reads Disneyland, the bus was headed to Lynchburg. After late arrivals, lost equipment and mechanical problems, the 13 of us had finally filed onto SGFB's converted tour bus: eight band members, their four dogs, the sound guy, Uncle Larry and me.
Over the past three years, Solid Gold Fish Bowl has hooked schools of dancing fans in the region with their percussion-laden grooves. After gaining a sizable following in Richmond and winning the Virginia Slims Dueling Divas contest in October 1998, they began cultivating out-of-town fans.Play ItSong clips from Solid Gold Fish Bowl"Seeds""After Richmond""Some Swim"Requires RealPlayer
"Once we get locked into a groove and we feel comfortable in a room, then I can be anyone, anywhere" says founding member and guitarist Pierre Picardat, sitting at a bolted-down card table while the bus rattles down 64. No doubt Picardat dreams of being one of the guitarists that influences him Carlos Santana, Trey Anastasio, Jerry Garcia or Tim Reynolds.
As a third-generation jam band SGFB's repertoire is spiced with covers from improvisational originators, the Grateful Dead, Santana and their contemporaries, as well as second-generation jammers like Phish and Widespread Panic. SGFB's original material swings anywhere from bluegrass to funk.
The bus, El Guapo, was purchased with the prize money from the Dueling Divas competition and carries the band and any friends who want to come along to more than 100 gigs a year from Maryland to South Carolina.
"I've been through more jobs this past year I've been with the band than in my entire life," says vocalist Fran Robinson with a yawn. She woke at 5:30 this morning to work inventory at the mall in order to get off at 2.
"I'm on three hours of sleep," says 32-year-old guitarist Jim Slagle. "I do that every day, work all day, play that night. That's why most of us are in the food-service industry, they put up with our [schedules]."
Three hours later El Guapo pulls up to Percival's Isle, one of the few bars in Lynchburg. "If we're set up by 7 we get free pizza," vocalist and band mom Anne Bloomsburg instructs everyone while Lynchburg's version of Friday Cheers carries on across the street. After quickly unloading the bus, the band begins to set up its cumbersome equipment. Percussionist Zack Hess' visiting uncle and I watch. With just 30 minutes to spare, dinner is served. The array of complimentary pizza, pasta, salad and crudite has the band planning their next gig at Percival's Isle.
SGFB takes the stage promptly at 8, in order to lure in the crowd from across the street. The handful of biters curiously watch Bloomsburg's shoeless twirling. SGFB has played at Percival's several times before, but will anyone return tonight? "Our goal with this out-of-town thing is, if there are people there, that they stay," Picardat says. A little girl dances on her father's shoulders, the crowd gets more focused. Tables are cleared to provide a dance floor.
"Y'all are quite seated tonight. If you feel like dancing up here, I'll be here with you.
It makes you feel good," Bloomsburg beckons.
Several Birkenstock-clad kids take her up on the offer. Both Bloomsburg and Robinson dance and flail about the stage as they sing. Their energy is contagious. Bass player Andy Bossola and guitarists Slagle and Picardat sway and wince while they play. Along the back, drummer Trip Hill and percussionists Hess and Dave Raymond raise their arms over their heads and shout "El Guapo!" They're having fun and the audience can't help but do the same.
"You have to lower your expectations when you play new towns," Slagle says. "There could be no one there, or it could be a packed house. Some of these small towns are great to us. They're hurting for entertainment."
The room begins to fill. The middle-aged Deadheads show themselves when SGFB covers the Grateful Dead's "Franklin's Tower."
A baseball cap-clad 22-year-old from Lynchburg bobs along next to me. "They are the best band that's ever played in Percival's, or Lynchburg," Christopher Tyred says. " I've seen them five or six times. I'm on the mailing list." Several audience dancers kick off their shoes and swerve to Robinson's powerfully sweet vocals.
After three sets, 25 songs and five hours, Solid Gold Fish Bowl has earned $385, but none of the musicians will get paid. "The money goes back into the band. If you run it like a business it'll work," says Slagle. After reflecting on his previous job selling guitars at Metro Sound And Music he adds, "This is worth not making money that wasn't worth making money."
The band spends a long time greeting fans afterward, some they have met before, others they hope to see again, but all are encouraged to sign the mailing list. After breaking down the equipment and loading the bus, we retire to a fan-turned-friend's house to spend the night. "Did you see that kid ask me for an autograph?" says Hill excitedly. Some skittish fans track us down and join the late-night discussions. The band courteously includes them in conversation and asks their opinions. One recent high school grad unscrews a bottle of wine and bluntly asks Bloomsburg why they have three drummers. As she explains the band's percussion-based sound I recall something she wrote in SGFB's last newsletter, "We are a lucky, lucky band: we get to play music for our family of friends, which is always and ever expanding.
When we're old and gray, it'll always be about with whom we shared the wine, not what kind of wine it was."
Slowly, one by one, the group thins, and the exhausted band, their four dogs, the sound guy, Uncle Larry and I retire to El Guapo."How far are you gonna go before you lose your way back home. You've been tryin' to throw your arms around the world."
U2 -- "Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World"
[image-2]Photo by Bryan SheffieldThe members of Lazy Cain may be from Richmond but they're looking for success elsewhere. "If you want any longevity you've got to get out of town," says guitarist Cam DiNunzio (right) of Lazy Cain.
Local legend says if your band does well in Richmond, you won't be successful anywhere else, but if no one knows your band's name in Richmond, you're going to be big.
Of course that hasn't rung true for every local success story, but some Richmond bands do avoid playing locally in order to make an impact globally.
The postmodern punk band Lazy Cain has gained success through extensive touring, but put minimal effort toward cultivating a local fan base. The foursome signed with an independent label this year, released their first full-length album, "Five Days, Eighty Hours" in March, and has already sold 1,300 copies and taken off in Germany.
Vocalist and guitarist Cam DiNunzio says when the band formed in 1993 they performed in Richmond a lot, but they didn't really gain popularity until they began venturing outside of Richmond. "There's only so many people you can get to a show in Richmond," he says, "and there's really not much longevity in playing the same clubs in the same town over and over and over again. Bands like Pat McGee and Dave Matthews play good-time music you can go see every week and not get tired of, but our music is a little more demanding on the attention span and more taxing on the eardrums."
Most of Lazy Cain's success has occurred because of people outside of Richmond, according to DiNunzio. They put together a 7" themselves, the band that got them signed is from San Diego, their booking agent is in Washington, and they networked by playing with out-of-town bands coming through Richmond.
Now, Lazy Cain plays locally only about six times a year, if they're on a tour coming through Richmond or if one of their friends' bands ask them to share a bill.
"Richmond has spawned a number of great bands so people get excited when they hear we're from Richmond," says DiNunzio. "But we'd rather play out of town because we prefer to play to more people. Kids write us asking us to come to their towns. We go to Winston-Salem and other small towns, and they know all the words to our songs
"I think Richmond fans are jaded and it all has to do with the venues, they're rude, the sound is terrible. In other cities we go to, the club owners give a shit about the bands that come through and even as an unknown band a lot of times we feel more welcome elsewhere than we do here."
He also says that the band prefers to play all-ages shows, and that narrows down the options in Richmond.
DiNunzio says they don't mind being more popular outside of Richmond because it will pay off in the long run.
"If the only people that know about you are in your hometown it doesn't really do you much good to be in a band, unless that's all you're shooting for. It depends on your goals and our goals are oriented to being able to play anywhere."Jump to Part 1, 2, 3 Continue to Part 2