Touring in the winter can be a bit of a bitch. Your options are limited where you can travel due to snow storms and ice and brutal freezing temperatures, so you tend to try and stay down South over those cold months. But for us first starting out, we didn’t have the connections in the Southern states that we did from my roots in the South Dakota, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wyoming area. The other bonus about those states is that during the winter, they have nothing else to do but drink and party, so bars are willing to pay well for bands to travel as so long as the band is willing to drive through a frozen hell to get there. We were that band.
We set out from Tennessee to the land of ten thousand frozen lakes, Minnesota to a fishing lodge called The Sportsman Lodge. It was an exciting show because we were the house band for 2 weeks instead of the normal 1-week residency. I imagined the amazing resort accommodations we would have with a cool little log cabin and a fireplace and maybe we could toast marsh mellows over the fire or something during those winter nights. I was actually pretty pumped about being there and meeting some new friends. You never knew what kind of people you would encounter and it always made for some hilarious drunken nights that you remembered for years to come.
The drive started out great and we didn’t have any problems until we hit the Minnesota border. Then suddenly it was like a switch flipped and we were in a serious snowstorm. There was already a healthy accumulation of snow in the ditches and shoulder of the road, but with this blizzard winds and new snowfall, it was completely blinding. I was driving and scared to death. My hands had a death grip on the wheel and my knuckles were as white as the snow that was racing towards us. The boys were sleeping in the back seats and the warm van was just rocking them to sleep…well it was the sliding side to side on the road that was probably more responsible for rocking them to sleep. There was a moment where I let my mind wander into that thought of us flying off the road and getting stuck in the ditch and freezing to death as we ran out of fuel and heat and then the van just getting covered in snow only to find our frozen carcasses sometime in the spring, but I quickly shook that out of my mind and got focused on just getting there. I remember passing a sign that said HELL, MN and I laughed at the thought of Hell freezing over.
The only thing keeping me out of the ditch were following the reflector fence posts that they put on the side of the road to let you know that is where the road ends and the ditch begins. The road wasn’t visible in any way and I was almost glad there was no traffic to be seen in hours because there was no chance of me hitting them head on. It also scared the shit out of me knowing that no one would be coming to find us and of course, cell phones don’t work out there.
I drove for what seemed like days and finally my eyes saw the sign that was in the front entrance that read The Sportsman Lodge. I was so relieved that I let my guard down just long enough to plunge headlong into the giant snow bank that was their front parking lot. The doors were buried up to the windows, so we climbed out like the Dukes of Hazzard and made our way to the front desk. I couldn’t wait for a relaxing cabin or a hot tub or maybe they had an indoor swimming pool or something. The clerk handed us our ID back and ushered us back outside to point out our new accommodations for the next 2 weeks. She looked across the road and pointed to a run down 1970 something trailer house and I tried to look past it thinking our luxurious cabin was just beyond there. I was terribly wrong. This busted ass single-wide trailer house was our new home. My heart sunk. Okay, it’s not the Holiday Inn, but I mean..at least we have an entire house to ourselves. I strained myself trying to see the silver lining. Like a bunch of clumsy newborns, we struggled with our luggage in the waist deep snow across the road to the new house. I had asked if there was a key and the lady told me that there used to be, but the band that was there the week before us had lost it, so they just leave it unlocked now. Note to self: Don’t store any guitars or valuables in here when you’re not there. We finally hobbled up the makeshift front porch steps to the front door and I grabbed onto that door handle and gave it a twist and a yank. Imagine my surprise when the entire door flew out at me and pinned me down on the steps. It wasn’t even attached at the hinges! What the hell is going on here, I thought to myself, but then the whole story about the band before us losing the key made a lot more sense. How do you get into a locked house with no key? Take the door off the hinges, of course. Son of a bitch. I got up and lifted the door off me while the guys were laughing and placed it back in the hole that it would normally go. This wasn’t gonna work. I went back to the front desk freezing and exhausted and tried to plead my case, but they were sold out and nothing was available. Take it or leave it. I headed back to the keyless entry of our new palace and moved the door out of the way to get luggage in and then slid the damned thing back in place wondering if it would still be upright in the morning or if we would essentially be living outdoors. The luggage was impossible to get around the strangely placed kitchen table in the middle of the room and all of the bedrooms were down the hall past the kitchen. I decided to make the load in a bit easier for all of us and pushed the table over against the wall. Well, I almost made it to the wall, but I quickly found out the reason the table was in the middle of the floor because as soon as I hit the center mark, that flimsy excuse for a rug they put down crumbled beneath me and through the hole in the floor I went. Is this real life? I would say that I was completely shocked, but based on what we had already seen, this wasn’t a surprise. I climbed out of the hole cussing and threw the rug back over the hole (to keep the cold out at least) and slid the table back in its rightful, safety position.
The next morning I awoke to about 4 inches of snow all the way around the windows in the room I was sleeping in, but luckily the house was well heated, so we were plenty warm inside. I went outside to inspect my new surroundings in the daylight. I was happy that the workers of this “resort” were already shoveling my rig out of the snow and since I was up to assist, we freed our trusty steed and trailer from its snow prison and parked in the driveway. They began clearing all the snow out of the parking lot now that I was out of the way. I headed to the restaurant and met some cool younger wait staff that were really excited to see us. I’m sure they were really happy to see anyone under the age of 50. The boys soon rallied and we set up our gear. I remember all the men in the place staring at me weird because they probably haven’t seen another woman there in a while. I avoided their stares while we rigged the entire PA System and our own instruments. A quick sound check later and we were ready for the night. We went back to our amazing accommodations and watched Spongebob Squarepants for the rest of the day since it was the only channel that came in. The boys were thrilled.
Showtime rolled around and we got up to do our first set. There was a guy in the corner wearing a blurred out shirt that says “This is my beer drinking shirt”. The place was surprisingly packed out because I guess there probably aren’t a lot of options at night of places to hang out. Our first break came and was supposed to last 15 minutes. I headed to the merch booth to sell t-shirts and cd’s or whatever I could. I was surrounded. Everyone wanted to talk about the band or buy a cd. It was great! I was coming out of my shell and starting to have some fun with these people. We were laughing and joking around when the manager walked up behind me telling me my break was at 16 minutes and doesn’t pay me to take breaks. Geeez…ok. He was militant the entire time we were there. I grew to hate him..just lurking, waiting, staring at his watch. I became short with the people trying to talk to me because I didn’t want the rude interruption and abrupt disengagement with the person I was talking to. I felt like I was herding cattle through my merch line and then telling them to leave me the f alone before I get in trouble.
The next day at lunch, the wait staff said he was like that to them too and that they all hate working there. We got to hang out off the clock though and they dragged me downtown to their yearly party called Willy Walleye Days. There were logging games and a rock wall you could climb. They even had ice cream and an Indian Taco (feathers, not dots) food truck called Oofda Tacos. It’s basically everything that a taco is, except instead of serving it in a tortilla, or taco shell, they put it on fried bread. They were delicious. We all had a few drinks and decided that we must come up with a plan to go out with style because there was no way we were ever coming back to perform at this place again.
Fast-forward to the last of our 14 nights at this amazing ice fishing resort. We’ve mastered the front door trick, all of our hair turned orange with the rust water showers we had every morning, I had eaten more walleye than I ever wanted in my life, and we played our last note. All the gear was loaded in record time since we were so glad to be done with it and we grabbed our paycheck and headed to the palace for our last night there. The snow had cleared out enough that we discovered a fire pit in the middle of the lot near the house. We should totally have a fire pit! We threw some wood in the fire and started drinking with our new wait staff friends. Little Rikky grabbed his guitar and played some campfire songs and Brian got increasingly more hammered and decided to run. He usually did that when he got drunk, but usually he took off his pants first. Luckily it was cold enough that he didn’t do that this time. I heard him scream something as he took off into the darkness. Shortly after, he returned with a huge gash on his forehead and a broken foot. What happened? Apparently when you run in the darkness, you sometimes trip on things and this thing was a giant Suburban with skis on the front and track on the back….kinda like a big ass snowmobile, but a Suburban instead. They called them Bombadiers or something like that. Brian apparently tripped over a ski and broke his foot and then gashed his head in the fall. Well, that when things took a violent turn. Fuck this place! Someone got an idea of burning a night stand in the house, so we threw it in the fire. Next was the entertainment stand, and then the table and chairs, and pretty much anything else we could find that we thought might start on fire. We laughed as flames ate up the crap we had to live with for 2 weeks and then next morning, we were gone. I still get their newsletter once a month. I’ve thought about returning just to see if it was as bad as I remember. Anybody up for a road trip?