Touring is what makes or breaks the spirit of a band. Hearing the crowd cheer as you swing your hair and smoke solos, that’s nice. What happens after the show—the free beer, the ladies, the fans who’ve driven halfway across the state to catch a backstage glimpse—is also a hilltop of the experience. But shuffling back into the van for a sleepless all-night drive from Bismarck to Missoula, or Scranton to Worcester—that’s the downhill part, and it’s a long way down. My Morning Jacket has done a lot of touring. The Louisville, Kentucky, five-piece has three albums under its belt since 1999, all recorded at a cousin’s farmhouse. Lead singer and songwriter Jim James’ dark melodies and reverb-soaked arrangements caught the attention of fans in the Netherlands and Belgium, and soon the band was traipsing from Rotterdam to Antwerp on a very tight budget. As their popularity increased back home and in non-Benelux countries, touring became a way of life. In one six-week spell after the 2003 release of It Still Moves, the band toured America, Canada, Japan, the U.K., Ireland, and Iceland. You’d think that by the end they’d start storming out of sets just to get a decent night’s sleep. But that’s what separates MMJ from the rest of us.
When the bandmates pull into town after an all-night drive—this is the very bottom of the hill, mind you—they don’t fall out amongst themselves. Even when the drive has been hell and the motels are full, they throw a little parade. Knowing the kind of reception they’d like to receive, they give it to themselves. No setting the van on fire. No shouting matches in the lobby. Just a friendly, exhausted group of musicians driving in circles in a pre-dawn parking lot, blasting music, throwing stale peanuts like confetti, waving to an imaginary crowd.
HOW TO BUILD THE PERFECT PARADE
Band members (up to 50,000 can be used at once), hotel or Wal-Mart parking lot, bag of peanuts, box of cookies, jar of horseradish, no sleep, bottle of insect repellent
Tools: Ford Econoline e-350 passenger van, car stereo, and CD featuring “Hey There Fancy Pants” by Ween
1. Go on tour for several months.
2. Pull into hotel parking lot late at night after a particularly grueling drive.
3. Confirm that yes, your reservations were indeed canceled and that there aren’t any other vacancies anywhere in town.
4. Insert your copy of “Hey There Fancy Pants” into car stereo.
5. Roll down all windows.
6. Open windows and side doors of van and instruct fellow passengers to let limbs hang out, and to toss peanuts and cookies and spray insect repellent.
7. Play “Hey There Fancy Pants” again at a louder volume, and request that the driver honk the horn to attract passersby.
8. Passengers should apply horseradish and peanuts to their faces and wave.
9. Everyone wave, that’s it. Wave.
10. Drive at 2-5 mph in a straight line and in circles.
11. Do donuts.
12. Play “Hey There Fancy Pants” again, louder still.
13. Wave. That’s it, very nice. Wave.