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Esslingen


November 19, 2017

"I can't believe I've spent probably a hundred bucks this month on going to the bathroom."

- Ken, dropping another 70 cents into the truck stop bathroom turnstyle.

How many more drives and load-ins can you stand to read about?

That’s the thing about the road. It becomes like Groundhog Day after a while. We work out the kinks. We find the diesel tanken and buy a yoga mat and then it settles into this routine where we get up, drive somewhere, eat, play, pack up, sleep. The scenery changes and it’s all fun, but for the purposes of a blog, there isn’t much new to say, especially if all is well. Accordingly, I’m going to do something a bit different with today’s entry.

But first, a quick word about our show in Esslingen, at Dieselstrasse Kulturezentrum. What a great venue! Big stage. Great lights. It’s a big, open space with a few “standing” tables and cool art on the walls. We really liked it there. Manfred and the crew, like so many others, treated us great and made us feel most willkommen. The show itself was a lot of fun too. Not a huge crowd, but Sarah is a master at pulling everyone in, no matter how many or how few. We played well and the audience demanded multiple encores again. We treated them to Sarah on drums for Free Fallin’. She rocked it.

Afterwards it was back to the hotel for a quick nightcap and much needed rest. I haven’t said much about the Virus of the Van lately, but the battle continues. We’re all coughing and sniffling. It’s like the choir from Hell when we get up in the morning. We have our voices, though, so no complaints.

And now for something completely different.

I want to talk a bit today about my travel companions for this little adventure. I know I quote them every day and write about them in passing, but maybe you’re interested in a closer look at how it all works and how we came together. I’m in my traditional place – back seat, passenger’s side – in the van and we’re weaving our way out of Stuttgart. This is how I spend hours and hours of every day. It may seem dull to you, but these are some of my favourite hours, to be honest. The van feels like home.

Deni

In the seat in front of me is Deni. Guitarist, songwriter, bearded demon. In the van, Deni has become the navigator. He sits up front because he gets motion sickness if he sits in the back. We follow his Google Maps. When Sarah needs help backing into or out of a space, it’s Deni out on the street giving directions. He helps Sarah take off her jacket when she’s driving. Most nights Deni’s also my roommate, so we’ve become pretty close over the past few weeks.

I can’t remember the first time I met Deni. I’m going to guess he was on a bill with Carly Thomas somewhere, but I’m not sure. We were aware of each other for a while, though, and then I worked with him on publicity for his latest CD, Passenger. Deni, like Sarah and Ken, is a full-timer. He makes his living on the road, with help from his recording studio and CD duplication business. He’s an outdoorsman, a family man (four kids!), a painter, and a complete nut in the very best possible sense.

There goes Deni running down some dark German street, knees high, toque bouncing. There’s Deni trying to hump my leg. There’s Deni video messaging with his wife and kids, being goofy, having fun with them. There’s Party Boy emerging as the clock strikes midnight. The night we had those beautiful suites in Vienna, Deni burst into my room and jumped up and down on my bed for 15 seconds. He’s full of energy and up for anything. He’s a really funny guy too.

Strange, then, that when he steps on stage, the beard opens up to release such quiet, beautiful, insightful songs about love and life. He’s many people, our Deni, but he’s always just Deni. We have an unexpected shared relationship too. Not long after I met him, he told me I really remind him of someone. Turns out that someone is my nephew, Joel, who Deni knew from some sort of camp many years ago. Small world, eh?

Deni and I talk a lot. In those few weary moments before we go to sleep, we have deep and often weird conversations about everything – relationships, music, flies, religion, people who look like frogs, dreams, possibilities, viruses. You get to know somebody pretty well and pretty fast when you’re in such close quarters. Deni’s a good man. I presented the Tale of the Forgotten Drum Case as kind of a funny anecdote, but when we decided to carry that case to the venue, Deni really did step right up to take the handle. That says as much about him as anything. Also, he can sleep at the drop of a toque.

More than once on this tour, Deni’s said to me, “You’re my brother, man.” It’s an honour.

Ken

To my left is Ken, who I met a few years ago when we were both playing in Carly Thomas’s band. I remember being excited when Carly said Ken was coming in for a few gigs. I knew him as a great player and I was curious about whether I could hang. Turns out I could, and I now play with Ken in Sarah’s band and in his Ken the Zen solo project. I still play with Carly whenever I get the opportunity as well, but Ken’s commitments make it tough for him. Carly has another guy playing bass for her and he’s okay I guess. His name is Deni Gauthier.

I’ve learned more about being a professional musician from Ken than from anyone else. Bass players and drummers need to have a certain connection. We have one. I’ve spent time on the road with Ken and played a lot of gigs with him. I’ve watched him prepare, watched him perform, watched him lead, watched him work. He’s a pro in every sense. Watching him has helped make me one too. He’s an individual. Singular. There is only one Ken the Zen, and as silly as he can be, he’s dead serious about music and he wears his professionalism like a badge of honour. I respect that about him immensely.

Ken and I have a very similar dark, twisted sense of humour. The difference between us is that he’ll say anything to anyone. The Zen thing is real too. It’s not just a nickname. He’s a practicing Buddhist who honestly lives The Way. Ask Ken what we’re doing tomorrow and he’ll just look at you. “There is no tomorrow. I live in this moment.” I’m all panicky and projecting and worried about the future all the time. I’m learning from him how to simply enjoy the now and let the future take care of itself.

Ken loves Star Wars and Alice Cooper and British music from the ‘60s and the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s full of great ideas about live shows. He’s really a backbone for Sarah – they’re best friends and partners in a deep, deep way. He’s also a big reason why I’m on this tour. We haven’t really talked about it, but I know he’s advocated for me when Sarah’s needed a fill-in drummer. It means a lot to me that he considers me worthy of that position. That’s a quality that Ken and Deni and Sarah all share: You never want to let them down. They work hard and they demand that of the people they let in. They’re pros.

I quote Ken a lot on the blog. He says the funniest and goofiest things. He also says a lot that I can’t or won’t quote on the blog that makes me laugh my head off. He has a unique way of being absolutely filthy and undeniably endearing at the same time. His Smeagol impersonation has been a revelation of the tour. He also doesn’t suffer fools or take people’s crap, which is admirable. He’s honest. He’s also a sweetheart, as Deni might say. He’s Ken the Zen. Another brother in this musical family we share.

Sarah

Ha – you didn’t think I’d do Sarah in this post too, did you? Always leave them on a cliff-hanger, folks. It’s Drama 101. No, I’ll save Sarah for another post, except for this one recent observation: Sarah doesn’t know how beautiful she is. Which makes her that much more beautiful, doesn’t it? Also, she has an unlimited capacity for water consumption. And no one on planet Earth takes care of business better or works harder than she does. Deni will sometimes describe one of his kids as a "weapon". Sarah's a weapon. She's formidable. Never forget it.

Sarah, man. Sarah.

#SarahSmith

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