In this Crazy Tour Stories segment, the indie rock band, Jack The Radio, shares one of their stories from being on the road. You can check out the story, after the break.
During the late summer of 2011, Jack the Radio had a chance to kick off the Word X Word Festival in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. We had done our fair share of regional bar and rock club gigs by that point, but this was our first big “hit the road as a featured festival act” opportunity, so we routed some shows along the way and set our sights on the Northeast. Previously, the band had been lucky enough to borrow or rent vans from fellow acts when they had their rare breaks at home (I’m looking at you, American Aquarium… thanks for the ride!), but with all our pals out on tour and no Jack the Radio van in hand, we turned to the bargain rental circuit in Raleigh, NC. To keep ourselves out of civil court, let’s say we picked up our “premium” fifteen-passenger van from Dave’s Rentals. [Not their actual name] The van looked great, it was clean, and it was the only one left on the lot, so we felt like we got lucky. We loaded up and pointed ourselves down I40 toward 95 with our drummer at the wheel. When we hit highway speeds, the van showed it’s true colors — anything above fifty miles per hour would set off a violent vibration of the steering wheel. After an hour of discussion, checking our wallets, and laughter at our increasingly tenderized drummer, we pulled off long enough to have a small-town mechanic’s shop tell us that it wasn’t the tires or axles, it seemed safe to drive, and any further work would cost us a half day’s wait and a hefty chunk of change. As they say, the show must go on… so we got back on the highway and took arm-numbing turns at the wheel.
The shows were great, and the usual hassles of the road seemed to melt away at every location. Small miracles like finding unmetered street parking in NYC’s East Village directly across from the venue on our first try or being greeted in Pittsfield by a crew who lugged our gear up six flights of steps to a beautiful rooftop stage while we were treated to a swanky dinner. Room upgrades and comped tabs. Good-spirited sound engineers and working monitors! One or two of those on a run was cause for celebration, but this seemed to be an endless string of “tour luck.” Too-good-to-be-true stuff for a small rock band, but gradually, we forgot about the van issues and started to enjoy ourselves. Little did we know that karmic balance must be maintained, and the trip home would “shake the Etch-a-Sketch,” as it were.
At the end of the run, we started the long trip back south early on a Sunday morning, leaving from Connecticut and expecting to be back in NC by nightfall. That’s when Dave’s premium rented van turned on us. Just past NYC on the Jersey Turnpike, we hit torrential rain. With a vibrating van, Turnpike traffic, and an increasingly dire ETA on our GPS, we were alternating between laughing at the situation and quiet despair. I had finished up a shift driving and moved to the back seat of the van when it hit me that the heavy rain sound was a little too vivid in the van. Looking back at the rear doors, I saw a “waterfall wall in a bougie spa” style of water feature pouring into the van, directly onto all of our gear stacked below. After unleashing a string of expletives potentially worthy of consideration by Guinness Book, we started finding anything absorbent we could stuff in the top of the van doors to stem the rising floodwaters. I know a few of us sacrificed the shirts we were wearing, tearing off strips to act as a temporary and largely-futile dam. Pulling off the road on the New Jersey Turnpike requires finding one of the Service Plazas spread out along the route, and we were more than a mile away from the next one and crawling along at a walking pace. After what felt like an hour (but was probably only twenty minutes) we shimmied the van into a Service Plaza parking lot and stood — umbrellas in hand — to start the painful process of unpacking gear. Again, a mixture of laughter and somber groans as we emptied out a gallon or more of water from the inside of our kick drum, drained keyboard cases, stuffed amps with paper towels, and opened up guitar cases to dry. [For the record, my 1950’s Supro lap steel case still has a vicious squeak and smells suspiciously of New Jersey]. It seems at some point a renter saw fit to remove all the weather stripping from the doors of the Dave’s finest fifteen-passenger van, essentially creating a semi-open-air vehicle. After rigging a more weatherproof back door, covering the gear with plastic bags, and getting back on the road for hours more rain and traffic, we found ourselves rolling into Raleigh at around 5am the next morning after almost twenty-four hours on the road. Very little was said over the cacophonous vibration of the steering wheel the rest of the way back, and I’ve never been happier to see our city limits sign. In later years, mention of that tour among the band is met with knowing glances and terse grunts between pursed lips. All I know is if we ever find venue-adjacent street parking within minutes of entering NYC again, we should read the writing on the wall, call off the rest of the tour, abandon the van where it stands, and fly home with whatever we can check!