From September 24 to October 3, 2013, I traveled through Scotland, England, and Germany with musician Trace Bundy for a series of concerts. An internationally known instrumental guitarist, Trace has been a good friend for years, and he invited me to join him on this annual tour as his roadie, merchandise salesperson, and traveling buddy.
September 28, 2013
I awake in a strange bed, in an unfamiliar townhouse, in an industrial city an ocean away from home. I’m in Leeds, UK. The smell of sausage rises from downstairs, along with the voices of a young couple. They hadn’t attended last night’s concert, but were friends of the promoter. I met the husband after midnight—a stranger at his door—and stepped into his home. We shook hands. He gave me his wifi password and showed me to my room. I FaceTimed briefly with my wife and kids in Texas (school had just let out in the Central time zone) and passed out around 1:30 am. This morning I get dressed, pack my things, and head downstairs to greet my host…and his wife. I’ve used her bathroom but we’ve not yet met.
The husband and I walk together to the promoter’s house a few blocks away, where I’ll rejoin my friend Trace. I’m lugging my backpack and a duffel bag. We’re two concerts into a European tour. Edinburgh and Leeds under our belt already, with London, Birmingham, and several shows in mainland Europe still to go. Trace is a fingerstyle instrumental acoustic guitarist—he’s known as “the acoustic ninja” for his unique double-handed percussive technique—and his music has gathered a large international following. He played last night at a church here in Leeds.
We load up the car. Two guitars (a custom McPherson and a Breedlove), one suitcase full of gear, one 50-pound bag full of t-shirts and CDs, our individual duffels of clothing, and two backpacks fill up the trunk of our rented Škoda Octavia. Among my other duties on this tour, I’m Trace’s driver. On the wrong side of the road. So far, we’ve survived without incident. Today we’re driving 190 miles south to London.
We pass an exit pointing from the M1 highway to Nottingham, followed by a sign identifying Sherwood Forest. Trace cues up a bootleg Mumford & Sons cover of “Not in Nottingham” from the old animated Disney Robin Hood movie. We sing along. It’s Sherwood Freaking Forest, though it is conspicuously absent of outlaws, merry men, or Kevin Costners. (I would have been happy with Alan Rickman.)
London. We make our way through the city, stopping after we see the Saturday crowds of people in Camden Town, near Charing Cross. We decide to find parking and lunch.
We park near St. Martin’s Gardens, a few blocks from the chaos of Camden High St. Our eyes land on a little bistro named Caffé 43. Trace knows 43 is my favorite number—it’s a long story—so naturally we decide to see if the café has a bathroom and wifi. Yes to the former, no to the latter. We order minestrone soup and espresso to alleviate the sour looks the staff gives us for using their facilities.
We dive in to the Camden Town madness. It seems everyone is there: punks, hipsters, tourists, businesspeople, a traveling volleyball team. A swirl of cultures and languages, and that’s only in a one-block radius overflowing with tattoo parlors, souvenir shops, and a pub actually named The World’s End. Simon Pegg, however, is nowhere to be seen.
We weave through the streets of London to on Manette Street in Soho, a long-established basement venue that has hosted everyone from The Rolling Stones to Counting Crows. As we lug our stuff into the “green room” near the bar, I wonder who else has used that shower. Adam Duritz, maybe? Our car is parked illegally, so I shuffle back out—past a nightclub called, simply, G-A-Y—and find a meter to feed a couple blocks away. Note: Parallel parking on the left side of the road from the wrong side of the car facing an unfamiliar direction is the hardest thing I’ve ever done ever, and I write books and compete in triathlons. (Not at the same time.)
I help Trace unload his gear while he consults with AK, a red-haired, heavily bearded, soft-spoken Scandinavian sound guy who tells us his initials stand for “nothing you could pronounce.” I dutifully attach six capos to their proper locations on the two guitars (on one song Trace uses five capos at once), then begin setting up the merch table.
I refill the parking meter, which would only give us two hours’ parking at a time. This rock & roll lifestyle is a nonstop party, y’all. Good thing metered parking ends at 6:30.
With the sound check finished and everything ready to go (Robert Bearsby, the opening act, begins at 8), Trace and I walk to a recommended Thai place for a quick dinner. We order spicy noodles.
We finish our meal and lament how we’re in London but haven”t had any time for sightseeing. Trace loads up Google Maps and discovers we’re only a mile away from Trafalgar Square. The National Gallery. The River Thames. Big Ben. The London Eye. He checks the time. One hour ’til the show begins. He raises an eyebrow.
We pay the bill and sprint out the door, laughing. It’s dusk and we have decided to embark on a running/powerwalking foot-tour of London. We have 45 minutes and the steely determination of two guys who intend to photograph and see eight of London’s top ten landmarks in less than an hour before screeching back into The Borderline. We will not be stopped.
Upon the Hungerford Bridge, Trafalgar Square already in our rearview mirrors, we decide high-speed foot-tours of crowded tourist destinations are a fantastic business idea, as long as everyone is in good shape. Trace is breathing hard but his legs are shorter than mine. The longest we stop is the amount of time it takes to shoot an iPhone photo using the panoramic setting.
We arrive back at The Borderline a few minutes before the opener begins. Trace holes up in the green room to complete his set list and freshen up (we’ve both gotten a little sweaty from our tour). I talk to Robert Bearsby and sell a few CDs.
Trace begins his set. Having seen him perform four times over the last two weeks (and with three shows to go), I sneak into the green room to FaceTime with my wife, Aimee, who has just finished lunch. Never before have I realized how precious a gift is wifi.
The show ends with Trace’s rousing cover of “Where the Streets Have No Name” plus an encore of “Joy and Sorrow,” which he plays using two guitars, one tuned to D minor and the other tuned to D major. When the show ends is when my work at the merch table really begins.
The crowd thins out. We pack up the gear, apparel, and guitars. I walk to the car and spend ten minutes navigating the crowds, double-decker buses, and narrow streets back to the venue. I park illegally. It takes us three trips to thread our gear past the bouncers and raucous, well-dressed men who’ve lined up to enter G-A-Y. We load Google maps to find our destination: the London apartment of one of Trace’s old high school friends from Buena Vista, Colorado. She’s a painter and designer.
September 29, 2013
At the apartment, we FaceTime with our families via iPhone and wifi. I start to ask my kids about their day at school until I remember it’s Saturday. Who knew? Trace talks to his son, Sawyer, who is almost three. Tomorrow we’ll drive to Birmingham. Then we’ll fly to Berlin. It’s still six days before I head home.
I check my email. Yesterday a friend in Amarillo, Texas, asked me to design menus for her cupcake shop. I replied that I”d love to help, but not until I returned from this trip. “Wow!” she wrote back. “Touring with a musician in Europe! That must be amazing!” She couldn”t believe it.
Yes. Amazing. But I miss my wife and kids, and the glamorous driving/parking/hauling/running/wifi-seeking adventures of a rock star and his loyal roadie have left me so, so tired. On two inflatable mattresses, side by side on the floor of a London apartment, Trace and I call up the white noise apps on our individual phones. We say goodnight. Sleep comes immediately.