These last few weeks have hosted a memorable run of shows for our band, to say the least… It started with three of the most difficult shows we’ve ever played. Then our most senior band member and friend, Miguel, had to take an emergency trip home to Chile to be with his Dad. Then we were joined by our manager Tracy and her other artist Ella Mae Bowen for five shows… Now we’re in Michigan in a hotel where I can see Canada from my second floor room and we have neither Miguel, Tracy, or Ella Mae…
It’s been a strange few weeks…
Having the two girls with us on the road was a strange and wonderful experience for a number of reasons… Number one, the guy-to-girl ratio that I have worked so hard to cultivate over the years was dramatically dismantled… So much estrogen…
Number two, the life paths of all the people in our van could not have been any different without having picked up a lot of hitchhikers…
For starters, there’s us… The road-breathing band of 5+ years of consistent and unrelenting touring… Then add to that:
Tracy Gershon, our new manager who has spent the majority of her music-industry career in the VIP section… Tour buses, private planes, corporate board rooms, after parties… Imagine a book of all of coolest and craziest music industry stories you can imagine… Then put Tracy’s face on it… And you’ll be about halfway there…
But don’t forget Ella Mae Bowen… The sixteen-year-old songwriting prodigy that Tracy also manages… She’s been in Nashville writing songs since before she was a teenager… Now she has a record deal with one of the coolest labels in town… The only thing she hasn’t had time for is playing shows on the road…
So it was Ella Mae’s first tour of her life… And Tracy’s first week in a van since she can probably remember… And just another week in the life of the Natalie Stovall Band…
So many things that could go right… So many things that could go wrong…
A manager that’s used to platinum treatment… A young artist that knows little else than the writing room… And a van full of a**-holes… And Natalie…
But the week could not have gone any better… Except if Miguel got to be there with us.
We had so much fun… It was such a nice break in our normal routine… And I can honestly say I learned more in this last week on the road than I have in a while, including:
-Ella Mae is not really 16… Maybe on her birth certificate… But certainly not in her attitude, heart, talent, drive, voice, or demeanor… The only other 16-year-old part of her is probably the squeal she makes when she’s either excited or embarrassed… But it’s pretty endearing, so it’s hard to count it against her.
-For someone who has spent the majority of their career in places so cool it’s hard to even imagine for us, Tracy was way too excited to discover with Joel, that their iPhones had a King’s ransom worth of farting apps at their disposal… I haven’t been around that much prideful flatulence since my last Thanksgiving with Grandpa.
-And that, despite how insane our last year has been with our career, the decisions we’ve made that led us to being involved with people like Tracy and Ella Mae represent probably the best career decisions we’ve made since I decided to try and make out with Natalie.
Life is good… Can’t wait to get Miguel back in a couple days… But life is good… Goodnight.
A million thoughts have run through my head in the last two days… Happy memories… Sad realizations… Gratitude… Guilt…
Grief is an odd cycle.
I think about the fact that over the years I was able to find ways to make Grandma laugh when I wanted to… Which makes me happy, because making her laugh wasn’t easy… I think about how much pride I felt every time I was able to call her with good news and stories of the progress Natalie and I had made.
Then I wonder why I couldn’t have found more time to call… That doesn’t make me happy.
I’ve spent a lot of hours reflecting on all my grandparents the last few days…
My dad’s mom was an incredible woman… In her life she traveled to over 80 countries around the world, many by herself… She was shot in the head on a trek across the Sahara… died for a brief time… but managed to shake it off. Some of the artifacts she collected in her travels were featured in the Smithsonian. I wish I would have known her better, but just as I was finally getting to the age where I could start relating to her, she passed.
My dad’s dad was not an overly warm man… Blisteringly smart… Sharp… Proud… But I was never able to really spend enough time around him to get anywhere beyond the polite pleasantries of an enormous age gap…
My mom’s parents were a different story altogether… I was born in Iowa while both my parents were still there in school. I spent the majority of my life thinking that having your first child while one of you was in Med School and the other was studying for a PHD was an odd choice before it finally sank in…
When my parents needed them, Grandpa and Grandma eagerly stepped in to help out… On many levels, I think they were born to be Grandparents… As I grew into an adult and became a part of the adult conversations in my family, I was surprised to find out that my mom and her siblings had a very different experience with them as parents… The bickering that I had grown to see as the normal exchanges of my loving grandparents (forty-plus years into their marriage) had been perceived much differently in their parenting years.
But whatever issues they may have had in their youth, they had definitely worked them out for their reign as Grandparents… I should know, I was their first grandchild… I ruled the roost for almost six years before Brianne had to come along and ruin it.
Then came 9 more grandkids… A born-to-be Grandparent’s dream-come-true. Even though I know that all of my cousins had many years of great memories with them… I got the most… Just one of many the perks of being the oldest.
When I was young… So were they… As far as Grandparents go, anyway… Grandpa would have years of climbing down out of his evening chair to whip my ass wrestling on the living room floor. Ten grandkids later with Connor, the youngest, wrestling like that was long-since in the rear view mirror.
I’ve often wondered how much my cousin’s perceptions of Grandpa and Grandma differ from mine… On some level, the younger of my cousins only really got to know them after they were already “old”… Not to say that the experience was any less, but I’m sure it must have been different.
I would end up spending almost every summer, from elementary school until damn near high school, living with them on the farm. I got to spend weeks and months on end just kicking it in the south room… Eating hash-brown casserole… Watching MASH… And just being with them in their day-to-day lives.
I’m also the only grandchild that really spent time playing cards with them… I never thought much of it at the time, but looking back I think i got to see more of who “Dick and Leona” were through playing cards with them than anything else.
In fact, I am lucky enough to have spent more than a few nights sitting around the dining room table, playing cards against Grandpa and Grandma with my Great-Grandma Mary as my teammate… Who gets to do that?
I am by no means the only one of their grandkids to have a meaningful relationship with them… They touched all of our lives in different ways. But when I think about how much of an impact they had on my life, and how fortunate I am to have spent those months and years living with them… I just wish that all of my cousins could have had the chance to spend every minute with them that I did.
And for that matter, I wish that all my aunts and uncles could have experienced them as Grandparents… If even for a short while.
After the news of Grandma’s passing, I decided I wanted to try and put into words the most important things that I learned from them… For my cousins… For my aunts and uncles… For my mom… Maybe for everyone.
I’ve spent hours over the last couple days trying to put it all together… But it’s been much harder than I thought…
As I examine my memories, it turns out that my Grandparent’s really weren’t talkers… They really weren’t lesson givers… They just kind of did what they did.
It was a frustrating realization… How can I put into words all the things they taught me, when they never really put it into words themselves?
Then, after hours of searching… Scouring my own mind… It finally hit me.
The biggest lesson they ever taught me was that they never taught me a lesson.
We couldn’t have grown up in more different backgrounds or time periods… Geographically… Culturally… Socioeconomically… They were children of the great depression… Farm children… From smack dab in the middle of the dust bowl… And I was a suburban child, more privileged than most, that grew up wanting for nothing…
There’s no way we should have gotten along… But we did.
It’s amazing though, looking back, they never tried to make me feel bad or guilty for what I had… When I was rewarded for my first solo flight to Iowa with a Game Boy… When I got my first Discman… When I got my first cell phone… When I got my first laptop… The fact that I grew up in a time and place surrounded by the kind of possibilities that they never could have dreamed of…
There was never one eye roll… Never one, “When I was your age…” Never one, “You don’t know how good you have it…”
They just welcomed me into their home and kept doing what they were doing… And that’s the simple beauty of it.
They never told me I needed to stop wasting my money on frivolous things… But every week I watched Grandma quietly clip coupons and drive to four different grocery stores to save every nickel she could.
They never told me that I needed to drag my lazy ass out of bed if I ever wanted to make something of myself… But every morning they would quietly get up and do everything that needed doing on the farm.
They never told me that I needed to appreciate the little things in my life… But I can’t recall one time I ever asked Grandpa how he was when I didn’t get “Great” as a response… I’m sure there were times he was sore… There were times he was tired… There were more than a couple times he was recovering from open heart surgery, for God’s sake… But I never heard him complain once… Even the moments before the surgery that would eventually lead to his death… He was working to try and make everyone around him laugh.
When I said I wanted to be a basketball player, they didn’t tell me I was crazy… They didn’t tell me that I was destined to be in the NBA either… They just made sure they had a basketball inflated at the farm the next time I showed up. They gave me a chance to work for it.
When I decided I wanted to be a drummer, they didn’t tell me I was crazy… They didn’t tell me that they were sure they’d see me on MTV either… Grandma just went to the High School and borrowed a drum set for the summer, so I’d have something to practice on… They gave me a chance to earn it.
They were never quick with words of encouragement or discouragement…
They never told me I needed work ethic to succeed… They just showed me what work ethic looked like.
They never told me how good I had it… They just let me in on a world that was much different than the one I knew.
They never called me unappreciative, even though I’m sure I was from time to time… They just showed me what truly appreciative looked like, and waited around for me to catch on.
They never talked about faith… They just calmly faced their own mortality with the kind of strength and courage that I, as of yet, have not found within myself.
They led me quietly by example… Because that’s all that they knew.
The were truly the people that Tom Brokaw was speaking of when he wrote, “The Greatest Generation”.
And now I’m here… I’m happy, I’m married, I’m living my dream, and I’m a much better person than I ever would have been without them. The heartbreaking part is that to finally be where I am today, means that it has to be without them.
But I’ll continue to focus on all the years I did have with them, instead of the years that I won’t. I have had fortune beyond measure with them in my life for so long. There’s really nothing to be sad about. I just miss them…
But that’s what happens when you’re lucky, I guess. If they were terrible people, or they passed before they could really bear influence on my life, I would be spared the burden of missing them… But that would have been the real tragedy.
“Some things are over,
Some things go on.
Part of me you’ll carry,
Part of me is gone.
Even walls fall down.” -Tom Petty
This morning I was woken up with the news that my Grandma Leona had passed away last night… Needless to say, it wasn’t the call I was hoping to get.
In all fairness, it wasn’t totally unexpected. We found out a few weeks ago that the skin cancer that she thought she fought off had actually spread, taken up hold in some vital organs, and was growing pretty quickly. So thankfully, in some ways, I had already been preparing myself for this day.
The news of the cancer a few weeks ago was tough, but the timing seemed almost serendipitous. At the end of last year she had decided to take some money that she ended up with after my Grandpa’s passing and take our entire Iowa family on an Alaskan cruise while she still felt able to go.
When the cancer news came, it was devastating, but I think we all took some comfort in the fact that we were given this gift of a week-long goodbye with her off the Alaskan coast. Realistically, we probably wouldn’t have had much time after that, but man… it would have been nice to have that extra week with her.
But it was not meant to be…
As sad as I am… I really have nothing to complain about. I got to spend more time with my Grandparents than most people would get to in three lifetimes. Growing up, I would fly back to Iowa as soon as school got out and spend my whole summer at the farm with them. We played cards, we watched the Cubs, we had a great time… Every summer.
Certainly, I would not be the person I am today without the love and influence I got from them.
She was the best Grandma I could have ever asked her to be… she raised five loving children, eleven grandkids, and served her community as an elementary teacher for as many decades as she could muster out of her body.
She was born right smack into the middle of the Great Depression on a farm in southeast Iowa. When she was a child, in the leanest times, her parents had to make clothes for her and her sisters out of burlap potato sacks.
In her lifetime, she was able see all five of her kids grow up and start their own families… She was able to be a part of all eleven of her grandchildren’s lives… See them play sports… See them go to college… See them get married… She even got to hold and spend time with her first great-grandchild… She got to see the New York skyline from 28 floors up on her daughter’s couch… She got to see pictures of her grandson playing a concert to 3,000 sailors floating aboard an aircraft carrier on the other side of the world. She had a lot to be proud of for one lifetime.
She was a funny woman though, she would give so much to myself and others, but she would become terribly conflicted when people would give her anything in return. She hated any feeling of extravagance.
One of my favorite games, as I grew older, was to show up at her house with flowers and chocolate when I would visit. Her exasperated sighs and furrowed brow were so strangely and purely heart-warming to me… She was the best.
I remember vividly the night that she turned 75. Coincidentally, the band happened to be passing through Iowa, so we stopped by to stay the night at the farm. After a nice dinner and some visiting in the den, we all looked up and realized together that Grandma has disappeared… We all sat in the den and wondered aloud with Grandpa about where on earth a 75 year old woman could have wandered off to at midnight… on the farm… during a storm… But sure enough, a few minutes later she reemerged from the stormy darkness with two five-gallon buckets of pears that she knew would have been knocked off the trees by the wind. But that was Grandma.
Considering her distaste for people doing things for her, I honestly think that the thought of being just days away from a week-long vacation aboard a boat where an army of people wait just to serve her and cater to her every whim – may have just been too much. Pools, spas, buffets, 24 hour room service, and people that make your bed and fold your towels into the shape of animals every time you leave your cabin was probably more than she could handle… I knew I shouldn’t have told her about the towel animals…
In all seriousness though, I know that the fact that this vacation was going happen without Grandpa, and the fact that his passing is what made it financially possible, left her carrying some guilt. And as much as I would selfishly love to have had her there… On many levels, I think she will be much happier being with Grandpa and looking down on the rest of us dealing with the towel animals.
Death is not sad… Death just is… The thought that I won’t ever see my Grandma again is sad… I wish I had more time with her, but I know that I had more than most. There would never be a time where I was ready to see her go, but I know for sure that she was ready to move on. She was ready to leave her aging body behind… She was ready to see Grandpa again and find out what’s next… And as much as it hurts, I’m glad she’s getting what she wanted.
I will always miss her, but I will always be thankful for the time I did get to spend with her… She was the best.
Well, our Spring Run is now officially in full swing… It started out a little too easy: 4 days on the beach in Panama City… We were getting spoiled.
But this is the Spring Run, baby! It’s no time to be spoiled…
Don’t worry, though, we’re past it now.
Since Panama City we:
Drove 4 hours to Mobile, AL and played our show at the University of South Alabama
Left at midnight straight from that show and drove 10 hours through the night to Spartanburg SC… Slept from 11am to 2pm… Then went to play our show at USC Upstate. Got back to the hotel at 1am.
Left at 5:30am to drive 8 hours to Gainesville FL for our show at University of Florida.
Now it’s 12:45am and we’re driving the 55 minutes to our hotel in Lake City FL.
Ahhhh… Now it feels like April…
It’s awesome… The Spring Run is like doing a marathon… You get to hit your wall and fight through it… You get to struggle through the kind of schedule that makes you really feel like you’re earning something.
I don’t know that I could tour like this all year… At least without a driver… But no matter how crazy it gets, there’s something about our two crazy runs (Spring/Fall) that I love… There’s something about waking up in the morning and thinking, “Holy crap, how on Earth am I going to drive 8 hours this morning?” Then putting one foot in front of the other until you’re done… It’s awesome.. It’s just good-old-fashioned fun…
You’re not “playing band” anymore with your college friends… This is the real deal…
The van… The trailer… The instruments… Six weeks of shows… And your will power.
There’s something about rising above your doubts and doing something you didn’t know you could do… Even when it’s as simple as waking up, driving, and playing a show, that makes you feel good… Tired, but good…
Right now I feel tired… But good.
And in about 30 minutes we will be at the hotel and we should be able to get a 7+ hour night of sleep… Which will be wonderful.
We’ll definitely be ready to keep rockin’ in the morning.
Only 23 shows and 31 days left until we’re home.
That’s nothing… We got this.
Until tomorrow… Night everyone.
Being in the studio always sounds easier than it is… On one hand it sounds very fun and glamorous… And on some levels it is… There’s a certain magic to being in a recording studio that’s hard to describe… However, on the other hand, it’s also like taking all the worst and most imperfect parts of yourself and examining them under a microscope with all your closest friends right there to watch.
We are all so proud of what we’ve accomplished in the last few days… Was it easy? No… Was there as much time as we wanted? Of course not… But that’s all part of the fun…
Will we have these recordings out to you guys as soon as we hoped? Nope…
But I can assure you that it will be worth the wait.
These last few days have definitely been the single biggest step towards capturing who we are as a band on tape that we’ve ever had… And it’s been a wonderful and very intense experience for all of us.
So for now, thank you to all the people that have put in the hours with us this week and have made these days possible…
Our band… Our tireless producer Steve Fishell… Our wonderful engineer Scott Velazco… Paul and all the people at Sound Emporium… Ryan, whose job is one of the most important and almost always the most thankless… And all of you guys who keep sticking with us and waiting on this music.
We can’t wait to get it in your hands… We hope to make you proud.
Until then, we will keep working on it until it’s done… Or until you get tires of us… Which hopefully won’t happen… Cause we like you guys a lot.