The Tour of the Brave, in April 2004, was the first and the best of all AmCat tours. The story goes like this:
Here was the band American Catapult, a year old, anxious to play out finally after finishing both Home of the Brave and the follow up EP Excess Falling, and hoping to get up into Central California. Initial efforts to set up dates for the tour were met with silence, as no venues would book the band, most even refusing the calls. Some of the frustrations were described by Shawn in this brief interview a few months before the tour:
Efforts to land a show, any show, persisted for a while more, and they finally got a slot at Jerry’s Pizza in downtown Bakersfield on a Friday night. It was more or less a pay to play show, and that was kind of against the code for the guys, but they were desperate and figured they could build the rest of the travel around it. More time passed, the time to commit to leave came closer, and there were still no gigs booked. So it was decided to leave anyway on a Wednesday, head up north with a compass and a map, look for lights and open doors, and play whenever they could ’till the Jerry’s show on Friday night. They did manage a local show at a coffee shop in Azusa on the following night, so that would be their coming home show. It was set. Shawn and Terry got the RV arranged, Tom researched the options, and Michael got nervous.
AmCat played a show at Molly Malone’s on Fairfax in Los Angeles a week before the tour, as a warm up. It did not go that well. But it did get some kinks out, and was well received.
The band met up on Wednesday afternoon, RV and all, packed up & left. Also along for the ride was Phil Bloom, filmmaker and friend of the group, who had asked if he could video the trip for a possible documentary. The band got about 5 minutes down the road, to Azusa, and stopped for dinner – mostly to look at a map and decide where to head first. Since it was getting to sundown, they chose to head up the Grapevine and try to get to the Bakersfield area to play somewhere along the way before midnight.
The first show that night happened at the Rest Stop atop the Grapevine at dusk. AmCat played about 6-7 songs to an audience of about twenty (coming and going, stopping at the vending machines for a couple of songs, CalTrans workers dancing along, a couple inviting the band to their cabin in Yosemite), and stopped just before the Highway Patrol could stop it for them.
Later that night they scouted two Latino bars before settling into the more Anglo Cuckoo Inn, who denied them a stage for the night but told them to call the next day. The band ended their search after midnight, found a place to park their RV and looked to the next day for more shows.
Thursday morning breakfast the plan was hatched: Get out to the local College of the Sequoias and try to land a lunch show, call the Cuckoo, keep looking elsewhere. Also along the way they paused to take group pics at Mefford Field, which seemed empty and a cool place to play as well.
The college lunch show very nearly happened. The guys talked their way into campus and, with the help of security and other facilities workers, parked the RV and set up their gear in the middle of the courtyard. But just as they started the power went off, and an armed security officer (we’ll call her “Dolly”) approached and asked them to desist. Well Hello Dolly, we meant no harm, we just want to play. You like rock and roll, right? Guess not. She never took her hand off the holster either. So the band packed back up, drove the RV up and loaded in, then headed back to Mefford Field, which by this time became the backup show if the lunch didn’t work out. They set up in front of the main hangar, powered by the RV’s generator, and played a full set for passing traffic (hwy 99 to their right) and the handful of vehicles that pulled in for a closer look.
Tony from the motorbike and Tammy Sue from the White Chevy came in for a closer look, and got to know the band a bit. Tony offered some sage advice from a fellow local musician, and AmCat played them one more song:
Back in the RV, Shawn worked the phone and got two more gigs – an early Open Mic show at the Spotlight Cafe in downtown Bakersfield, and a 2 hour set at the Cuckoo Inn in Delano later on. That makes four shows (counting the lunch show that nearly happened) in one day. Not bad for a group that hadn’t booked anything before leaving. The Tour of the Brave was really in full swing now. Terry, who had never toured with a band, just shook his head and smiled as he drove up the highway.
The Spotlight show was semi-acoustic, with Shawn on snare and brushes, Tom and Terry both on acoustic guitars, and Michael sticking with the Tele. They played a set of 5 songs, others came and did 1-2 songs apiece, then AmCat returned for 3-4 more songs. They met a lot of cool people, moved some T-Shirts and Tour CDs, got to hear others play (and rap) for the first time on this tour.
Finally AmCat returned to Delano and revisited the Cuckoo (the first time was around midnight the night before, and literally stumbled their way to it the first time). They entered the side door and set up on the red parquet floor next to the stage (the stage was full of karaoke equipment and lighting). Exhausted but grateful, the band worked hard through 2 more hours of songs. Included in this set were various comments from bar patrons (you guys are pretty good. . . where did you guys come from?!? . . . you’re almost there, really close to being perfect, just a little tweak here and there . . . do you guys want another drink?) and a run in with a homeless guy who alternately sang along with the band and tried to pick a fight (AmCat won by forefit). 5 shows down, who knows what tomorrow brings?
Friday morning, back to breakfast and to come up with a plan for the day. Go to Cal State Bakersfield and try again for a lunch show there, then get to Jerry’s Pizza for the actual booked show that night. This time the guys tried for permission, and this time they got it from Student Services. There was a lunch party already going on outside for the Latino Students Association, so the band set up next to them and played when the lunch ended (didn’t want to compete with the DJ and the dancing). AmCat played for an hour, met a few students and local musicians. Another show down they didn’t have the day before. The sun had its way with the group by now, and they settled for a long nap in the afternoon back at their humble motel.
Friday evening, show at Jerry’s Pizza, downtown Bakersfield, in their basement. The last and loudest show of the Tour, with the most energetic audience. AmCat played with abandon and joy at what they’d accomplished.
After the show, much conversation outside, and a gift to a local homeless couple:
After the Jerry’s show, the band debriefed for the cameras in the RV and drove back to the motel, which was conveniently located across the way from Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace. So the four, plus camera entourage, slipped over for some mingling:
but there was still energy left for some wild enjoyment, courtesy of the cover band (without Buck, which was a huge disappointment):
Saturday eventually came, and after a slow breakfast Tom realized that his voice was gone. There was not much use in finding another show, and so the day brought a slow drive home.
Along the way the band stopped to do some post-tour interviewing with the documentary crew:
The documentary was finished in early 2005, and is available from Further South Productions – firstname.lastname@example.org – for a small donation upon request. More from that film will become available on this blog page when we get around to gathering clips. There was an entire bonus DVD as well of the final day’s interviews (the interviews were not originally part of the Tour Doc), we could throw that in too. Thanks to Phil, Frank, Darren and Mark who joined AmCat for that tour and worked hard to capture it.