03 - Press The Accelerator

Three months went by. I stopped back in Chicago one time and played an open mic at Red Line and Sarah sat in on one song, she was pretty drunk by the time I played, she'd been there all night, I came in late. She still sounded great. Over the next couple months we chatted a lot online but really didn't see each other much, maybe a couple times. I found out she'd split up with her wife completely pretty much the week we'd met, but it was rough, and I'd gone through the same thing a year earlier. We had a lot in common, we were both writing songs about it, working through it in our own ways. I'd been riding my bicycle around the midwest, recording a new solo record in Madison. Over the previous year I'd managed to throw away or donate almost all my belongings, to the point where I could almost live on my bike. That was my goal. She on the other hand was in the aftermath of a bitter breakup and her ex-wife had thrown all of her stuff in a dumpster. She was left with basically the clothes on her back and her violin. Now we had even more in common. She threw herself into work, gigging with three or four bands a week in Chicago, taking any pickup gig she could find on Craigslist.

In December I decided to take a solo bicycle trip down the coast of California. My friend Nancy loaded my bike on the back of her car and drove me from Madison WI to Davis CA, dropped me off at Days Inn with all my gear. I didn't travel light. I had a cooler, a ukulele, a tent, a sleeping pad, a cookstove. Here, here's a photo I took in the windmill farms as I rode over Altamont Pass.

A funny thing happened to me on that bike trip though. I'd been biking hard for about a year, taking longer and longer solo trips. As I wound down the coast of California I realized I didn't really want to bike from place to place anymore. I wanted to tour a little faster. Go a little farther. I wanted to see more of the world than I could going 50 miles a day. And I didn't want to tour solo anymore. I wanted to play with other people. I wanted a band. Or at least a duo. Someone to riff off of. Someone to jam with. But I definitely wanted a touring act. I needed to travel. A weekly Tuesday night gig at the neighborhood bar sounded like torture. I'd done that already. That's when Sarah messaged me that she'd be in Los Angeles visiting her family for the holidays. And she was buying a used car, driving it back to Chicago for New Years. Her ex-wife had kept their old car from the marriage.

"Who are you driving back with?" I asked.
"No one, I'll just drive it alone."
"That's over 2000 miles. Need a co-driver?"
"You can come if you want." she said.

A friend let me store my bike and all my gear in their garage, I bought a one-way ticket back to LA from Chicago for the following week so I could come back and keep riding, and I jumped in the car with her on Dec 27th, 2015. She'd bought this sweet little 1998 two-door Honda coupe that she dubbed "The Helen Mirren Express" because it was old and white and classy as fuck. We stopped at the Culver City farmer's market for a bag of oranges and some fresh baked bread. Sarah had a bag full of candy her family had given her, it's what she called road food. There was no stereo, so we stopped at a Michael's and bought a drinking glass to use as a resonating chamber for her iPhone. She gunned it from the coast over the mountains. We drove the full length of Route 66 over three days. Slept in motels. Co-wrote two songs. Got pulled over by a cop in Texas but he let us go with a warning. Like I said before, I've always liked moving toward yes. Especially if a road trip is involved. Press the accelerator. Some awkward first motel sex was involved. The second motel was better.

We got back to Chicago in time to drive her straight to a gig. Later that week I asked her to play an open mic with me near her apartment, we played one of the songs we wrote on the road. The host booked us as the featured act for the following week. A week or two later we landed a $400 gig in Wisconsin at a whiskey tasting event. I'd never seen anything like this, something felt magical, outside of my understanding. $400 gigs don't just fall out of the sky and get booked through an email in 10 minutes as you're eating breakfast. Even more that it was an email from someone I'd never met. I asked Sarah if I could put some promotional materials together to book us as a duo. Get photos taken, get a one-sheet made, put a few recordings and some videos on line, make a website, come up with a band name. I said "Do you mind if I sort of press on the accelerator? See what happens? See if we maybe catch fire, or maybe we'll explode and break apart?"

She said "Sure, I'm just the fiddler."

I put it all together in a few weeks maybe. I booked us solid for almost every weekend in February and March, culminating with a TV show taping at a local community college and a recording of a house concert March 22 and 28 respectively. We hired a photographer. We shot some live videos on my iPhone. I had my daughter design a logo and the branding, a one-sheet, posters. It kept taking off faster and faster. I called every venue I knew, setting up gigs all over the midwest. I had 4-hours of material already before I met her, it wasn't terribly hard for me to land paying gigs, but having female fiddler who sang harmony more than doubled the fees I could get. She made more money playing with me over that spring and summer than she made with all of her other bands put together. But let's be honest, I'd never experienced anything like this before, something take off this fast. Booking a duo with a hot fiddler was much easier than booking a solo act, or booking a full band. It was like a perfect sweet spot of low overhead and high entertainment value I kept asking... "Mind if I keep pressing the accelerator?" and she kept agreeing. She kept saying yes. I didn't fly back to LA until the end of April, and then only to pack up my bike and ship it home to put in storage. I found a sublet in Chicago. In May we recorded tracks and released our first album in June. We gigged like crazy all summer and fall. In October we wrote and recorded a holiday EP and released it in November. In mid November Sarah said "Hey, my apartment lease is expiring in February... umm... what should I do? I mean, should I get another apartment?"

"Yeah, the lease on my apartment expires too."
I hesitated. She looked at me. I looked at her.
"We could... go on tour..." I said.
"Really?!" Her eyes were lit up like sparklers.

Press the accelerator.