Guest blog post by Eavan:
I’ve spent a fair amount of time on tour–both in a passenger van and trailer with eight other human beings and also jet-setting around the U.S. and renting mini vans. For a musician, spending time on the road is a breeze easily forgotten amongst the endless driving days and drunken nights that compose years and years of their existence. For a girl generally confined to a cubicle coordinating said tours, my time on the road was unforgettable. Everyone should have the opportunity to jaunt from city to city and see the cultural differences and geographical wonders and non-wonders of America. It can be glorious and depressing, but what I found most interesting were the venues themselves.
Some music and performing arts spaces are warm, welcoming, and have amenities that any traveler living in a van and Super 8 Motels would adore. Some, especially the small to mid-size spaces, are rat traps that can push you to the brink of mental insanity. My new recurring feature “In Venue Veritas” will review the ins and outs of the little boxes I’ve seen firsthand or want to see…one day.
For my first entry, I’m starting with one of my favorites: The Bottletree in Birmingham, AL.
Behind the scenes:
This place is full of surprises and so clearly owned by a touring musician who understands what makes a space great from both sides of the stage. Brian Teasley of Man or Astroman? and The Polyphonic Spree runs the Bottletree with his lady. When pulling up to unload your gear, you can load directly into the backstage area from the alley with no stairs hindering your journey. And you can park back there for the entire show. (double bonus!)
The green room/backstage area is clean and thoughtfully decorated with trinkets, vinyl, music books and plenty of seating. There’s enough room to invite some of your friends backstage without spilling drinks on your laptop and having to share a graffiti-ridden crack den-esque sofa. Once your gear is set up and sound check is impending, Merrilee, who runs the cafe, comes by to take your food orders instead of your standard hospitality rider. The menu is extensive, delicious, and good for your high maintenance vegetarian cohorts. So far you’re comfortable, well-fed and hydrated, and probably a couple pages into a Beatles song book. Then, as if by magic, you’re escorted to the three airstream trailers in the backstage courtyard. Each trailer has a flat screen television, shower, plenty of bedding and pillows if you can’t afford a hotel and need to stay overnight, and a basket full of toiletries and other essentials one tends to lose and/or need on the road. The Bottletree has literally thought of every way to make life in a van playing small venues the joyous, positive experience you dream about.
The stage is relatively small with the bar and cafe running along the left side of the building. There is ample patio seating should you wish to grab dinner and/or cocktails before the show. As far as divey show spaces, this one is pretty great with decent sound. It’s small enough for you to get up close to the band if that’s your flavor and you’re willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with sweaty people. Otherwise, try and grab a table or hang towards the back where there are a few chairs and the bands have merch set up.
The talent buyers and promoters have indie taste and I mean that as a compliment. You can catch some great bands (The Roman Candles, Maria Taylor, Band of Horses, Wild Sweet Orange, Rogue Wave) for a cheap ticket. It’s also one of those rare music venues that you’d just go to–band unknown–to hang out.
Superlative: Most Artist-Friendly