Taken by the Storm

It has been a rough couple weeks for us here at the Rats Nest. To be honest the Rats Nest is pretty much where ever we are and up till a week or so ago we were living in Everglades City. As many of you know Hurricane Irma went right through Everglades City. We resided in a ground floor apartment. Roughly five feet of water decided to let its self in along with about a half inch of mud all through out the apartment. Needless to say we lost a majority of what little possessions we had as well as our living arrangements. We did manage to make sure the instruments we use on the regular were safe along with a few other select musical equipment. No one was hurt and we are currently in Sebring, FL trying to rebuild whats left of our modest life. Below is a drive through of Everglades City we took a few days ago. We, of course, weren't the only ones affected. Thousands of people lost their homes or businesses and are having to rebuild from the ground up. It truly has been a rough week for Floridians and we feel deeply especially for the low income working class who took the hit harder than the high class citizens of Downtown Naples. Things will get better and some day soon we'll all catch the break we've been working for.

Ghosts of New York and the Breakdown

When we left off we had just woke up in Detroit and were about to leave for Rochester, New York to play the Abilene Bar and Lounge. It was a fairly long day of driving but we were relieved once we arrived. Once we got there we did our routine of unloading, setting up and chatting with the bar tender. It was pretty empty when we got there and we learned that there was yet another major music festival happening and they weren't really anticipating too much of a turn out. We were OK with that this was to be another first for Swamp Rats. We had never played in Rochester let alone New York.

We had some time to hang out for a little while so we made some CDs and relaxed for a bit. The venue has 2 floors. The men's room was downstairs while the women's was on the 2nd. Andy had to use the little girls room and ventured on up to do so. About half way up the stairs she heard a door close and figured there was another person upstairs who shared the same urge to use the restroom as Andy did. She went up, waited a minute and knocked on the door. No answer. So she went for the door knob and realized no one was in there and that the door was far to heavy for it to close via a draft or strong wind. Not to say there was any kind of draft in the place. She was kind of freaked out at this point and after using the bathroom went back downstairs where the bar was and asked the bar tender how old the building was.

The bar tender replied without skipping a beat as though he had been asked this before. The building was built in the early 1800s, if memory serves correctly. It was first a build that housed women of ill repute. It was a speak easy in a sense. Then it was a battered women's shelter for many years and then a gay bar for about thirty years before its current owners turned into the Abilene as it's known today. We then asked if there was very many unexplained occurrences. He said there is some weird going ons at least once a week from things moving on their own to seeing people in the bar after the doors have been closed and locked for the night.

All in all it was a fascinating and rather successful night. People did end up coming out and we met some cool people. One person we actually met through a mutual friend in Florida and we ended up crashing at her place for the night. Which, again, was greatly appreciated. Our next show was to be in a little town outside of Pittsburgh, PA. Not much to say other than it too was a good show and was set up by a friend in a band called the Hoffman Road Band. Many thanks to them of course. After that we broke down and had to cancel the rest of our tour dates. Long story short we eventually made it back home to Florida and are now working on a new album.  

Motor City Treasures

Our last post left us in Cincinnati. When had woke we got our things together and headed for Hazel Park, Michigan which is right outside of Detroit. This was to be our first time playing in or around Detroit as well as Michigan as a whole. The first time Swamp Rats had set foot in the state all together. We were excited and curious on how it was going to go. We played at a place called The Phoenix Cafe. Prior to the tour starting we were looking for local acts that could possibly jump on with us. We reached out to Cash O'Riley who was more than happy to do the show with us. This was to be his first time playing this venue so none of us knew what to expect other than it was to be a door deal and they allowed for all ages shows.

When we arrived to our destination the front door which was right on the street had a sign that said to go to the back. We thought it was strange but we obliged either way. We drove around back, parked and went in. The Phoenix Cafe was lined from front to back with various works of art from local artists. Which was something we haven't seen in such a capacity. Each section of wall was a different artist or similar theme of art. We can't express how cool we thought it was for a place to have so much local artwork lining the walls. We also discovered that the reason why the front door was blocked off is because there is a stage blocking it with as many amps and speakers as any moderately sized music store. It was pretty amazing. They also didn't serve alcohol which is why they were able to host all ages shows. This seemed to be Hazel Parks artist haven among the ruins of the Motor City.

They had planned on having a kind of open mic that night before the show as a way to help not only get people in the door but to also have some openers as well. The owners were cool as hell too. They told us about all the acts they have and that they also played in various bands from time to time. The first thing we were asked is if we had a place to stay. As usual we didn't and expressed just that. As luck would have it the owners of the Phoenix Cafe also owned a building next door in which they were in the process of preparing so that traveling acts had a worry free place to lay their heads. We couldn't believe the hospitality. If you're reading this and travel as a musician I recommend trying to set something up here at least on a week day. The owners of this place are working hard to keep an artist/musician community alive and well in what seems to be a city in decline.

Like I had mentioned before we agreed to a door deal with this place and we ended up making what seemed like more money than expected based on on many people walked through the door. All in all the night we very well for us. We finally met Cash and he was extremely talented and as nice as could be. We all chatted for what seemed like hours after the show. As the night went on and we grew more exhausted from our travels we took a spot in the building next door and went to sleep. We had a long drive from Detroit, MI to Rochester, NY the next day and need to wake up early to arrive on time.

FYI: The drive from Detroit to Rochester is shorter if you go through Canada. From all our research on the matter we found that you are able to enter Canada without a passport if you are traveling there for essentially a day trip. If I remember correctly it was up to a week or two. But you will not be able to re-enter the U.S. without a passport due to the current administration and their stricter laws and guidelines concerning immigration. All of didn't have passports on us at the time so we decided not to risk it. Food for thought.

Down to Earth in Cincinnati

Our last post was about our show in Louisville, KY. We woke up in a house that a member of Call Me Bronco was calling home. Got ready for the day and headed to Cincinnati, OH but not before hitting a couple of the museums Louisville had to offer. Not too much happened between us waking up and getting to Cincinnati besides us being tourists for a couple hours and checking out the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory as well as the Science and History Museum there.

The first order of business once we got to Cincinnati was to eat. Our contact there had pointed us in the direction of an Irish Pub was also have a bluegrass jam that night. Andy had visited Ireland last year and when we walked into this pub, the name of which I can't recall at the moment, she said was exactly how Ireland was. A group of musicians were huddled in the corner of the place in a circle and seemed to be playing for themselves regardless of how many people acknowledged their presence by clapping after each song. We were told that many famous musicians had come in here to play the weekly bluegrass jam. We all ate some great food and had a drink or two by the time our contact had met us.

After this very enjoyable experience we set out to the Listing Loon, the venue we were scheduled to play that night. The Listing Loon was a quaint little place that served crafts beers and had a full liqueur bar. We had arrived early so we ventured around this seemingly art/entertainment district. It almost was like this street was locals hung out. There were at least two other venues within walking distance, a cute little coffee house and an amazing record store which was filled with vinyl from wall to wall on two floors. Once we had our fill and it was about time to head back to the venue to start setting up. By this time their shift change had occurred. We then loaded in, set up shop and waited. Not soon after the opening act came in. Again I wish I could remember the name of the act but it was a folk punk duo featuring a guitar, tenor banjo and mandolin with dual vocals. We were pleasantly surprised since we knew we were playing with someone but didn't know who. The brought in a bit of a crowd and we were thankful that the crowd stayed to see us play.

All in all our night in Cincinnati was a pleasure. We played for a small but very engaging crowd, ended up staying a night with an awesome music lover then one of the members in the opening acts the next night and met some really cool musicians. We would definitely make a point to go back in the future. The next day we were headed to Michigan to play the Phoenix Cafe in Hazel Park.

As a side note I really feel bad we can't remember the names of people or places at the time of writing this but as the names come I'll update this post. Thanks!

Bears, Gummies and Rock'n Roll

We woke up in Knoxville, TN in the home of a couple of very generous strangers named Charlie and Beth. They made us breakfast and we swapped storied to kill a little time. Before too long we took off for Louisville, KY.

A few days before our friend Chad, who set up the show, reached out to see if we needed anything. We replied with possibly needing a place to stay along with the rider below.

“We'll need a stuffed bear that is at least 8 feet tall. Type of bear does not matter. The bear should then be dressed in an Alf costume. The bear should be equipped with a mechanism that when you punch it in the stomach the bear say 'OH YEA' in Randy Savage's voice and pukes out watermelon gummy bears. Strawberry will also suffice.”

Obviously this was a joke and was not meant to be taken seriously by any means.

When we got to Louisville our first stop was at another musicians house by the name of 40rty. We pulled up and he was sitting on his porch half naked with a beer by his side and his banjo in is hands. We hear “Oh! Hello Swamp Rats” as we walked up the path to his front door. This is where we also met one of the other acts playing that night by the name of Alan Tubs. We had a couple of drinks there and then started out to the venue which we were told is internationally known but when this information comes from some of the best trolls we know it's easy to dismiss such a thing. We were off for Mag Bar.

When we got there we met the other band playing that night. They were a touring punk esk band from California called The Orange Blossom Special. Very nice and talented fellas so we definitely recommend looking them up. There wasn't a bunch of people that night and we were told not to expect very many people since it was on a Sunday and it was also the ass end of a major festival there in Louisville. We usually like to see what is happening around where we are playing to kind of feel out what the crowd might be like. Our shows being scheduled on the same date as other bigger shows or festivals is a rather common occurrence. We have come to learned not to expect much crowd wise when we play outside our comfort zone. As long as there are at least a few people who dig what we're doing word gets spread around.

After we loaded everything in we ran into Chad. He greeted us with a hug and produced a couple of packs of watermelon flavored gummy rings. As he handed them to us he stated that he didn't have any luck locating a stuffed bear though he tried. Even though our list of demands were an obvious joke he shot back by attempting to fill the demand. A man by the name of Alan Tubs went on first. About half way through his set a man in a bear costume came in complete with a vest sporting the local gun clubs name and logo. We can't say for sure that they did that for us but either way you look at it we got the bear!

Like I had said there wasn't very many people and if a couple people went outside to smoke it was dead on the dance floor but if everyone is inside, which most everyone was at the start of everyone's set, then it was by no means an empty room. Alan finished his set, we went on then Orange Blossom Special. The night went pretty quick and then we found ourselves in a late night jam session with Sam from Call Me Bronco. We ended up crashing on Sam's floor for the night. Keep in minds we had no definite place to lay our heads but the stars aligned just right for the right people to be in the right place at the right time. We are so extremely grateful for all these people indeed and hope to return the favor some day.

The next day we were off to Cincinnati, OH but you'll have to check back later for that tale!

Van Troubles, FM Radio and Relief

We started July 15th in Wilmington, NC at the Juggling Gypsy were we had to leave at Midnight. The venue had made us coffee for the road. Our plan was to drive through the night in order to get to Knoxville, TN by 10:30 AM. You're probably wondering why the hell did we have to be in Knoxville by 10:30. We were booked to play the Blue Plate Special which is broadcast live from the Knoxville Visitors Center for a local FM radio station.

We did drive through the night and decided to stop to try and get a little sleep right around the North Carolina and Tennessee Boarder. After waking up at a rest stop we took off on our last stretch to Knoxville. We finally reached our destination by 10:45 AM. The whole time being paranoid about our breaks. We knew before we left Wilmington that we needed to take it easy and be careful because our breaks were starting to go. Having shitty breaks in the Smokey Mountains is not the ideal situation. Like I said we did manage to get to where we were going despite the breaks.

When we arrived we quickly unloaded our gear and merch and set up as the sound guy directed. We were like a bunch of zombies simply doing as we were told and executing with very little dialog. The DJ saw the look of sleep depravity on our faces. Once we got everything dialed in we were directed to a near by coffee shop. We were more than happy to venture forward to obtain some much needed caffeine and liven up a little.

By the time we got back the tiny visitors center was filled with people. They all sat in rows of chairs in front of the stage. Calm chatter filled the room as they waited for the show to begin. There were two acts that day. The first act was a duo called Friction Farm. A talented older couple but not necessarily the type of music we would voluntarily listen to. They were to take up the first thirty minutes of the one hour show. It was during this first half hour that we all started to become nervous.

Keep in mind Andy and I have been playing front of people most of our lives and we have played without an issue in front of hundreds but shows were people go to specifically listen to the music rather than to have a good time is always more nerve racking. The show started at 12 PM. By 12:30ish we were set up and about to play. Though the actual set is more of a blur than anything else we played a set that could've said our lives. None of could remember if we had made even the smallest mistake and after listening to a copy of the show we were extremely happy with the out come. By the way, we do have our set from that day and will release it as a live album in the near future.

After the show we rushed the van to Midas after trying to see if any of our Face Book friends had any recommendations for a quick cheap mechanic. After about two hours and a couple hundred dollars later our breaks were no longer an issue. We took off to set up at Crafty Bastard Brewery in Knoxville. This show pretty much paid for our breaks so it could've have worked out any better in my opinion. During our set a random couple had caught some of our set and went up to our tour manager, Kristen, to offer up their home to us saying that many times in the past someone had put him up and wanted to do the same for us. It was a chemist named Charlie and a school teacher named Beth. We couldn't have asked for better hosts. They were just happy that we chose to take them up on the offer. We are always very grateful for people like this. They come out of no where and just decide that they want to do something to help our a group of smelly, road dogs. Charlie and Beth were our Knoxville heroes and we hope to cross paths with them again in the future.

In the morning we set off for Louisville, KY to catch up with some old friends and play the world famous Mag Bar. Until Next time!

Discovering A Gem in Panther Lake

When we last updated this blog we spoke about Awendaw Green. After we parted ways we headed out for Willow Springs, NC to play the Panther Lake House. We knew it was going to be a house show but we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived July 13th.

The Panther Lake House is essentially a recreational area on a lake where you can take out canoes, paddle boards or other various vessels. A guy named Sammy lives, owns and operates this place. He had mentioned that he inherited it from family and that the place as been in his family for about three generations now. He has plans to establish a destination for touring bands to play and stay while getting a little relaxation and fun.

A folk punk duo by the name of The Constellations set this up for us. There wasn't a lot of people being a week day but we had heard from a couple other people that on a weekend they easily get about a hundred in attendance. We managed to sell some merch before we had even hit the stage which was a good sign for us. It told us the people who go to these events appreciate what we do and want to support us with out ever hearing our music. Fireworks were lit, a few beer were drank, food was made and we ended up taking a midnight boat ride. Though we don't have much to say about this show it was a rather grand experience.

Sometimes you have to take a chance for you to see how much people appreciate the fact that you are trying to live your dream. They all treated us like we were some kind of famous which threw us for a bit of a loop but the hospitality was appreciated none the less. Big thank you to Sammy and The Constellations as well as all the people who came, danced, tipped us, bought our stuff and most of all fed us.

After we woke the next day we were off to Wilmington, NC to play the Juggling Gypsy. That night was pretty laid back and easy. It was the fact that we had to leave there around twelve at night after the show in order to drive straight through the night to be in Knoxville, TN by 10:30 AM. But that, my friends, is a story for another day.