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ON TOUR

My Summer With The Band Barcelona

Story by Jesse Morrow January 5th, 2015

TOURING WITH A BAND

It’s 6am and we’re already on the road. The van is oddly clean but smells like Starbucks coffee and cliff bars, which have been floating around for breakfast. I think we’re half way through the tour right now but I’m not totally sure because the days have seemed to blur together. I should know a little more about the schedule because I’m the operating “tour manager.” It’s been at least a month since I’ve slept in my own bed, which would be a sure comfort compared to my current spot sharing a bench in a 15 passenger van. No one is talking — personal space, or silence for that matter, is essential for the 5 of us in the morning. One wrong outburst could ruin someone’s day, and when the quarters are this close, no one wants that to happen. Even though we’ve all taken turns driving, the usual seating arrangement in the morning is as follows: Brian (vocals, guitar) driving, Rhett (drums) riding shotgun, I’m on the first bench with Dane (sound guy), and Branden (keys, vocals) is already asleep in the back. Branden may be the only person I’ve met who can out-sleep me on long drives. A look at my calendar tells me we are 15 shows down, 20 more to go. This is by far the longest tour I’ve been on. Earlier this year, Barcelona was asked to join the Fray for a two month stretch through June and July. They agreed, and now here we are, driving.
In the van, driving through the southwest

Tour manager / merch guy / photographer

The tour began in Portland, OR, but a few short days later we found ourselves in the Southwest. I’m finally getting a feel for my job and day-to-day routine. It really feels like 90% of our time is spent on the road and the other 10% at a venue. Each day brings new excitement. New cities, new venues, new fans, and different drives are all enough to electrify someone and wear them out at the same time.

THE DAILY LIFE OF TOUR MANAGER, MERCH GUY, PHOTOGRAPHER LOOKS SOMETHING LIKE THIS (GIVE OR TAKE A FEW STEPS):

1. BAND ARRIVES TO THE VENUE AND UNLOADS THE TRAILER FULL OF BAND GEAR AND MERCHANDISE.

2. I COUNT THE MERCH AND SET UP THE SELLING AREA.

3. MAKE SURE THE GUYS ARE “GOOD TO GO.” THIS MEANS I’LL SQUARE AWAY THE GUEST LIST (EASY TO FORGET), MAKE SURE WE HAVE FOOD AND, MOST IMPORTANTLY, BEER, AND FINALLY TRACK DOWN THE WIFI PASSWORD EVERYONE’S BEEN DESPERATELY WAITING FOR. (FYI: WIFI NEVER WORKS).

4. SK8, EAT DINNER, SK8. WE BROUGHT A FEW PENNY BOARDS ON TOUR. THEY’VE PROVEN TO BE WORTHY COMPANIONS.

5. DANE, THE SOUND GUY, AND I LINE-CHECK THE INSTRUMENTS TO MAKE SURE THEY’RE IN WORKING ORDER. I TAKE A SELFIE AND THE BAND GOES ON THE STAGE.

6. I GRAB MY CAMERA AND TAKE A HANDFUL OF PHOTOS OF THE SET

7. SELL MERCH & CHUM UP TO FANS, FRIENDS, AND OTHER CREW MEMBERS.

8. LOAD UP MERCH AND MAYBE TAKE ANOTHER SHORT CRUISE ON THE PENNY BOARD.

Barcelona plays outdoor show - Idaho
Branden Cate - Idaho
Brian Fennell - Idaho

The Southwest

The beauty of the desert has really grown on me as I’ve spent a little time here over the past year. The dry hills and ridged mountains have become some of my favorite views. As we started to sink into a routine of long drives, short breaks at rest stops in the desert were a nice relief to the constant sight of paved roads and yellow lines.


Branden stands at a rest stop over looking the dry hills of southern California
Desert views - California
Desert Views - California
Desert hills - California
Canyon - Arizona
Dane stands overlooking a canyon - Arizona

Birthday

Today is my birthday. Brian woke me up this morning by playing “All My Life” by Casey and JoJo on the piano in the living room of the house we’re staying at. He and Rhett had gotten up early to get eggs and coffee for breakfast. I felt spoiled and certainly grateful to be celebrating where I was. The show tonight is at a casino, which is nicely air conditioned and clean. Instead of the usual catering that most venues had, the casino decided to give each of us $80 meal cards. We completely splurged at one of the sushi restaurants ordering up to $50 each. Still, this didn’t quite empty us of our gift card funds. After the show, as the crew was leaving, we collected a few of their cards that went unused. We thought that it was wise to spend the remaining funds on food rations for the road. At the gift shop, we proceeded to stack the counter full of hundreds of dollars worth of snacks. Cheez-its, Bugles, Gardettos, and gummy worms filled the bags, but even then we still had money! Once we completely cleared the stock of Nutri-Grain bars and Pringles the only reasonable item left to purchase was a $100 turquoise Zippo lighter…so we did. Happy Birthday to me.

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Crew members from the Fray and Barcelona take a look at our bountiful purchase
One receipt for our snacks
The $100 lighter

RED ROCKS

The day was overcast and the weather bounced back and forth between rain and slices of sunlight. There were a handful of special venues on the tour, but the legendary Red Rocks was on the top of the list. We walked around the high-altitude location with a bit of child-like awe in our eyes. After running up to the top of the bleachers, completely out of breath, we made our way through little underground hallways adorned with alumni autographs. An hour before show time, the temperatures had dropped and it was raining and windy. Oh Honey, the first band to play, took the stage and got soaked during their set. As I set up gear for Barcelona the wind blew over a drum cymbal, and keyboard stand. The stage crew ran around, frantically trying to mop up puddles, and the danger of electrocution seemed like a not-so-far-fetched reality. Not only was the band nervous about playing at such an incredible place, but also feared that their gear may be forever trashed. Much to our surprise, after Barcelona took the stage, the rain slowed. Then, after a song or two, it completely stopped! I was finally able to start taking a few photos. Because the weather had been so finicky the crowd wore ponchos well into the night. The sea of people sporting an array of bright yellow, blue, and red made the images I collected even more memorable.

Brian singing for a packed house - Red Rocks, CO
Branden - Red Rocks, CO
Rhett - Red Rocks, CO
Autographed hallway - Red Rocks, CO
View from the top - Red Rocks, CO

MICHIGAN

There has been one part of tour that I’ve been looking forward to all summer: Michigan. Not only did it work out that the tour would run through Michigan, but we would also have three days off. This meant that we would stay with my family in my hometown of Owosso. The circumstance is quite bizarre because it was only a few years ago when I first listened to Barcelona (also Brian Fennell’s solo album, Safety Songs!) while I was still living in Owosso. I used to drive these streets singing their songs at the top of my lungs. Now, here I am in the van with them — trying to sing a little quieter. I wanted to show the guys a good Midwestern time and really impress them with Owosso. For that reason, I’m making sure we spend the entirety of our time grilling, swimming, riding mopeds and dirt bikes, making the biggest fires possible, shooting guns, and because it’s the fourth of July, there will be loads of fireworks.

Dive - Owosso, MI
Branden, Owosso - MI
Brian, Branden, Dane - Owosso, MI
Brian on the scooter - Lennon, MI
Brian and Dane lighting smoke bombs - Owosso, MI
The grill - Owosso, MI
Ride till u die - Lennon, MI
Fire - Lennon, MI
Brian shooting guns - Owosso, MI

THE BIG APPLE

This is only my second visit to New York City so I’m excited. We have a couple of days off surrounding the show, so while the band is tending to business, Dane and I have been taking care of some business of our own. We took the penny boards out for a cruise in Central Park and hopped on the subway to head toward Brooklyn. I had coffee at Budin and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. We took a look at the new Freedom Tower and ate delicious sandwiches. Most importantly, I took a slew of photos of random folks on the street — something I’ve found fascinating lately.

The stage for this show is set on a pier. Bands face the water while the crowd enjoys a view of the city skyline behind them. The sun beamed golden orange just as Barcelona started to play. I ran around taking a few photos and talking to some friends of mine who came out for the show. Just as the band finished their last song, the skies decided to unleash a torrential downpour. No one saw this coming, but it had been the third time on tour when this sort of thing happened and Barcelona barely escaped a soaking.

The crowds cleared and crew members with leaf blowers buzzed around the empty lot pushing piles of plastic cups together. I counted the remaining merchandise and loaded up the trailer. Driving a 15-passenger van with trailer through Times Square in Manhattan is something I won’t forget. The weekend was exciting and dramatic. Exhausted, I crashed into the hotel room ready to get a few winks of sleep before we were off to the next city in the morning.

New York, New York
Rhett taking a look at the city - New York, NY
Dane with Penny - New York, NY
New York, New York
Rhett - New York, NY
Branden - New York, NY
Stage and crowd - New York, NY

LUNCH & Reconcilliation

Earlier today during our routine lunch stop at Chipotle, things got a bit awkward. I was asleep in the van and woke up to a heated debate between the guys. From what I collected, they were talking about another musician and weather or not he or she was good. Sides were being taken and points being made throughout the time I was in the queue for my Chipotle burrito bowl (veggie today w/ guac). After filling my cup with water and grabbing a fork, I rounded the corner to our table, extremely excited to take that first delicious bite. On approach, I heard one of them say to the other in a rather aggressive and serious tone “I could punch you in the face right now.” It’s never easy to be part of a situation like that, one which escalates beyond control. I didn’t know what to say or if I should ignore the whole thing. Either way I knew we would eat in silence and drift back to the van with our heads down. This sort of thing is inevitable with 5 people living in a small space for this long. Just a few days ago I had a little blow up of my own while I was driving. Quite frankly, I’m rather shocked it doesn’t happen more.

Tonight at the show, as usual, the three of them huddled around before taking the stage. It was a serious moment with apologies and “I love yous” being tossed around the circle. During the set, I caught one moment when it seemed like everything clicked. We had come so far from earlier in the day and the three were having fun, on the same page, all in it together.

The band  loving every second
Rhett - arms down
Branden, arms down

Dressing rooms

This afternoon we arrived, as with most show days, barely on time. We seem to have an uncanny knack for making it to the venue with no time to spare, toeing the line of really pissing someone off but never quite getting there. The routine of unloading the trailer, setting up merchandise, sound checking and heading to the dressing room is becoming religious. And if anything, the dressing room is our sanctuary.
Tonight’s room has wood panels — they give it a really homey feel. Brian’s talking band business in a serious tone with Branden. Rhett is on his computer taking another look at the tracks before show time. Our single table in the room is littered with the usual half-eaten bag of tortilla chips, goldfish crackers that we stole from Oh Honey, water, beer bottles, and of course, red plastic cups whose contents are some amount of Jameson or Maker’s Mark.

Dressing Room - Jacksonville, OR

THE FRAY // OH HONEY

Barcelona has been playing their set on this tour sandwiched between Oh Honey and The Fray. The two bands and their crews have been more than a pleasure to work with. It’s been so interesting to sit down with different people on the tour and talk about where they’re from and what bands they’ve worked with and who’s starting to get on their nerves. Everyone tells a different story, but the majority of them will say they’re following dreams and doing what they love. Life on the road certainly isn’t easy—especially in the case of having families, which many do—and each day I’m growing to understand that more. The sacrifice is real and when these bands and their crews really put everything into the shows.

Issac - The Fray
The Fray - Minneapolis, MN
Joe - The Fray
The Fray
The Fray - Minneapolis, MN
The Fray - Montreal, Quebec
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Montreal, Quebec

Montreal was an exciting thought for most people on the tour. It seems like everyone who has previously been there really enjoyed it. Last night we walked around the town and enjoyed the European feel and French vernacular. The show tonight is in a theatre, and it’s packed. Earlier the line wrapped around the building and down the block — always an exciting way to preface the show.

As I set up and sound checked Barcelona’s equipment on stage, I turned with my back to the crowd to take my usually nightly selfie. The crowd lit up with cheering…for a selfie…for someone who wasn’t even in a band. I knew then that the energy in that room was special. As soon as the music started, the fans stopped buying merchandise and were solely focused on the band, something rarely seen in the U.S. Song after song they erupted. At one point, Brian even threw out a French phrase that he learned from our bar tender last night. It was something about them all being beautiful, especially the ladies. This made the fans ecstatic and the roar grew even louder. At the end of tonight’s show, all three of the touring bands were up on stage for a final song. It was really special to see them all together as the tour is coming to an end.

Brian, blood sweat and tears - Montreal, Quebec
Branden - Montreal, Quebec
Dance - Montreal, Quebec
Rhett - Montreal, Quebec
Barcelona - Montreal, Quebec
Excited - Montreal, Quebec
The Crowd - Montreal, Quebec
The Fray, Barcelona, and Oh Honey on stage - Montreal, Quebec

ALL GOOD THINGS END

As my time on the road this summer winds down, I can’t help but to think of all the ground we’ve covered. In the past two months, we’ve traveled through 22 different states, 3 Canadian Provinces, and over 35 cities. We spent time with old friends and met new ones. Laughed with each other, got mad at each other, and laughed about how mad we were with each other. We blew tires, broke a trailer, and ran over a single orange barrel in the middle of a Southern thunderstorm. We drank, we ate, and learned from each other. Night after night, I heard Barcelona play the same songs. Somewhere along the line, I got sick of them, but now I think I like them again. I figure that I do owe them that much, because in the end, it’s the songs that brought me on this journey.

Backstage - Toronto, Ontario
Branden - The Greek, Los Angeles, CA
Holding a fan sign - The Greek, Los Angeles, CA
Barcelona - Chicago, IL
Night cruise - water front Chicago
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The Whole crew + Aimes - Barista Parlor, Nashville, TN
Rebels - Cedar Point, OH
Brian won REAL BIG
Sk8
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Dane Sk8 in parking garage - Houston, TX
THE JARTRAN...our trusty trailer
Abandoned water park - Toronto, Ontario
A Hands-free operation
Footnote: Thank you Barcelona for teaching me so much and having me be a part of your story. Thank you Rachel for editing this thing!
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