My first tour is complete and in the books! What an amazing experience this has been. I wanted to share a little bit with all of you.
First of all, let me say thank you to a ton of people who made this possible. When I first started out I wasn’t sure if this was even going to be doable. I knew I was beginning with scheduling a little later than was ideal and although I had originally planned on having a couple people with me, the closer the dates came the more it looked like I would be traveling alone. Being a very independent person and somewhat of an introvert, this option was actually appealing to me, but it did nothing to make the whole idea less intimidating. So I looked to my friends who have done this before for advice. Andrea Colburn (of Andrea and Mud) and Kira Annalise (of The Waymores) were extremely helpful in giving me direction, not only with venues and places to stay, but things to look out for on the road. And knowing that both of these amazing women play a huge role in scheduling their own tours gave me the confidence I needed to begin scheduling my own. I would also like to give a huge shout out to all the venues and bookers for taking a chance on me. Whether it be based on a recommendation or simply a visit to my website, I am so glad you saw something you liked and rolled the dice on scheduling a woman from all the way across the country. I seriously can’t wait to be back to see all of you! It also I hope goes without saying (but I’m gonna say it anyway) that I am extremely grateful for my friends and family who offered me a place to stay along the way. Wendy and Scott Kick (and their adorable puppies) in New Orleans, Lauren Embree for her suggestions in Dallas, Nicole Gordon for her companionship in Dallas, Brian Curbello (and company) in Phoenix, and Emily Rayburn in Austin, all of you guys rock!!! Lauren and Emily I WILL get to see you next time I come through. Another fun addition was my childhood babysitter showing up to my show in Dallas at the last minute and having a beer with me! Too cool. And to all of the folks who offered their places for me to stay but I couldn’t manage to book a show in your city, I will absolutely take you up on it next year so be ready! And of course to all my fans in Atlanta who followed my journey and sent me words of encouragement, it was very much appreciated. And my San Diego family, well, I’ll get to y’all in a minute, but you know how much I love all of you. And last but never least, my parents, who helped me out with some of the preparation and who never went to bed without knowing I was safely at my destination. None of this would have been possible without all of you, so hats off!
First night: Starlight Lounge, New Orleans, Louisiana
What better way to begin my tour than with a stop in New Orleans? This was a songwriter’s night (one of my favorite ways to perform) so I got to listen to two other local songwriters perform their amazing music, and I immediately made friends and fans. Starlight Lounge is in the French Quarter just off Bourbon, so even though the crowd was small, the vibe was everything you could ask for. With the speakers pointed towards the street and sipping on an authentic bourbon cocktail, I serenaded a few new followers and whoever was passing by on the street during the Essence Festival. I wish I had taken more pictures there, but here is one my friend Wendy shared with me. It seemed appropriate to wear my skull dress…
New Orleans always feels like home to me, and I look forward to revisiting this venue. With it being only 7-8 hours away, I plan on traveling here more than just during my western tour.
Second Stop: Sundown Tavern, Ruston, LA
On the way out of New Orleans my friend suggested I wait to get gas until I got on the freeway. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any signs stating which exits had gas, so I missed fueling up before leaving the city. Luckily I still had ¼ tank but that long drive across the swamp made me a little nervous! But man, I do love bridges and there is an indescribable feeling being all alone in the middle of the swamp. I had never driven west of New Orleans before and it was really cool (and eerie). The second day is when the intimidation factor really set in. I was traveling to a new city to which I had never been and I didn’t know anyone there. How quickly that changed! The staff at Sundown Tavern could not have been more friendly and the patio was so cute! This was my first opportunity to try my new merch table setup, and although I didn’t sell anything, I did send people home with downloads and I made at least three new fans who are currently following me on FB. Everyone was so welcoming and complimentary. I can see why this is a favorite spot of my other touring friends. I definitely plan to make this a stop on the next tour out west. Here is a picture my new fans took of me against the wall of flowers. Seems appropriate, right?
Third Stop: Hop & Sting Brewery, Grapevine, TX
Thursday morning of the 4th I had to book it from Ruston to get to Dallas in time for my daytime gig at Hop & Sting Brewery in Grapevine. Yet another cute patio complete with trees, misters and an indoor/outdoor bar (Atlanta, you seriously need to step your patio game up). A couple of the drafts included charitable donations with your purchase, including an animal charity and a firefighter’s fund, so you could really feel good about drinking some local beer! Ran into this guy from good ol’ West Bend, WI whom I haven’t seen in years, so that was pretty awesome!
Because my gig was during the day and I didn’t need to be to Oklahoma until the next evening, I actually got to spend a little time in Dallas. My friend recommended hanging out in Deep Ellum. I spent a little time listening to some jazz and blues, had some delicious tacos (contrary to what my CA friends say, there are indeed good tacos in Texas if you know where to go) and one of these fancy tequila drinks, plus I got to hang with another Vortex friend for a little while. All in all a very well rounded visit.
Fourth Stop: Red Brick Bar, Norman, OK
Norman, OK is a college town, home of the University of Oklahoma Sooners, which should explain some of these pictures. It definitely provided for a laid back atmosphere. I was an appetizer for karaoke and there were plenty of people in the crowd who wanted to make friends right away! A couple of gentleman purchased my cd’s and insisted on introducing me to the local version of Natty Light and Milwaukee’s Best.
As an Atlanta resident, it had been awhile since I saw college level drink specials (I guess since the last time I was in Athens). Definitely a friendly community even though school was not in session. I look forward to revisiting this community during the spring or fall sometime.
Fifth Stop: The Giant Skillet, Las Vegas, New Mexico
Did you know there’s a Las Vegas in New Mexico? I did not until I made this trip. And now I will never forget it! This place definitely wins the friendliest staff of the tour, although Ruston was a really close second. I think it was probably the dog who put them over the edge, but the people were also super nice. Again, I understand why this place is one of my touring musician friends’ favorite places to play. A good number of staff members bought T-shirts and CD’s, which means, of course, that I must go back!!! And I hate to sound repetitive, but I think you can tell by the pictures that this place was super cute. Of course, as Murphy never sleeps, I received a ton of T-shirt orders while my merch bucket was in the van in a torrential downpour. Over time I finally figured out a van organization that worked for all circumstances, but it definitely took some trial and error.
Everyone throughout the state of NM was extremely friendly. I received several compliments on my choice of outfit for the day and even received a free fountain drink at one of the gas stations because I ‘look like Arizona Iced Tea.’ I then drove down to Santa Fe to spend the night so that I had time in the morning to have an authentic New Mexico breakfast before heading to AZ. Y’all, the southwest puts potatoes in everything, and I’m not complaining.
Sixth Stop: The Spirit Room, Jerome, AZ
Let me start by saying the drive from Santa Fe all the way to San Diego was absolutely breathtaking. I wish I had more landscaping pictures to share with you, but honestly, the most beautiful views were from the road where I couldn’t take pictures, and even when I could, the pictures really don’t do the magnitude of it all justice. There were several times where I exclaimed ‘ooh’s’ and ‘aah’s’ and ‘wow’s’ and ‘are you serious?’ I was blown away by the things I saw in nature on this trip. I had ridden in a car through some of these landscapes when I was a child, but driving through them as an adult with a new perspective was really transformative. I felt so tiny.
When I first booked this gig I knew nothing about Jerome. The gentleman who booked me was from Atlanta so we had a conversation about that, but he mentioned to me a few times how much I was going to like Jerome. I had no idea. This place definitely won the coolest city on the trip. Located at the top of the mountains, it is more than just a gorgeous view and fun people. Apparently it is known for being haunted. I got to spend a little bit of time there the next morning, but before I even left I was ready to return. There is no doubt in my mind I will be back to this town. There were tourists and regulars alike, and all of them were very receptive and several of them bought my music. The bartender suggested a spot to stop on the way back down to Cottonwood where I was staying, and I happened in on a swing dance night with even more friendly people as I gazed out over the mountains at the stars and listened to Lavern Baker. It was so serene and surreal. The drive down the mountain was almost as beautiful as the drive up as the lights from the city lit up the mountain. All I could think was how amazing my life is. I tried to take some pictures for y’all the next morning. Like I said, they don’t do it justice, but they are still gorgeous nonetheless.
Onward to San Diego!!!
As it turns out, although I have been to San Diego numerous times (my brother has lived there for twenty some years), I have never DRIVEN into San Diego. In case you were wondering, Hank Williams and Chris Isaak are the best Pandora stations for crossing the desert, but I digress. I stopped off in Yuma on my way out of AZ to check out a local brewery (anyplace with a Han Solo in carbonite plus a Three Amigos Chevy Chase on the wall can’t be all that bad) and then it was off to California. Because I had never driven to San Diego, I had no idea that right outside San Diego there are giant rock mountains. Seriously, the massiveness of these mountains composed of rocks was phenomenal. Add to that I got to drive straight into the sunset fading behind those mountains and I felt like I was in heaven.
Of course, the main point of going to San Diego was to do some more work on this country album I have been talking about. It is a lengthy process recording an album on the opposite end of the country, but I am optimistic we will have it ready for release in 2020. We added some pedal steel and now this thing is really starting to sound country. I can’t wait to share it with y’all but we still have a bit of work to do! Besides working on an album and hanging out with my brother and his friends, I also got to hang out with my nephew and spend some time with his new best friend. This little girl is so cute!!!
As is usual when I am in San Diego I stopped into a couple breweries (there are at least five in a short walking distance of my brother’s house, and several more if you’re an avid walker). Family, doggies, local beer, authentic tacos, good friends, and making a record? I mean what more can a girl ask for? I had a blast as usual. San Diego is basically my west coast home. After only one dramatic encounter with a lost phone (literally in my barstool) and several tequilas later, it was finally time to head back east.
Next Stop: Phoenix, AZ
I wasn’t able to get booked this time around in Phoenix, although I did make connections with a local band that I will hopefully be sharing a bill with in the spring. But it did seem like a good stopping point to spend some time with an old friend. I got to drive through the sandy part of the desert on my way to Phoenix and wow was that a riot! The road through this part of the desert feels like a roller coaster and I can totally see why people ride their four wheelers through here. Apparently the sand drifts at any given moment and the topography changes from day to day. And I hope you know where you’re going, because gas in the desert was over $5 a gallon! I arrived in Phoenix in the evening and am now 100% aware what they mean by ‘dry heat.’ Y’all, it did not cool off not one bit when the sun went down. Swimming in the pool felt like bath water. I couldn’t believe how hot it stayed there at night. This was the opposite of the mountains I had stayed in my first drive through Arizona, where it actually cooled off to sweatshirt weather at night. Not so much in Phoenix. But I had a wonderful time hanging out with my friend and his dog and daughter and roommate while he made us dinner and I serenaded them with a few songs. It is always nice to touch base with old friends, and I look forward to stopping back through and playing a show the next time around.
Second to last stop: The Gotham Room at Spinners Live, Austin, TX
After leaving Phoenix, I spent the day driving to Texas. While there was more beautiful scenery, (there are some HUGE rock formations in Arizona and New Mexico), I was glad I had two days to get to Austin. Between my vertigo kicking in from driving through the desert hills the day before, being very likely dehydrated, and driving through severe elevation changes, I was feeling pretty rough by Monday night. I spent the night in Odessa, about five hours away from Austin. I would tell you more about Odessa, but it was honestly just a hotel room for me this time around. I made it into Austin with just in enough time on Tuesday to take a quick siesta before the show.
I had the pleasure of meeting Daniel Sapphire and experiencing his art as he opened the show for me at The Gotham Room. He had some interesting vocal stylings over fresh beats that were definitely inspirational. And then he offered to play the cajon with me for part of my set. It’s always fun networking with new musicians, especially halfway across the country. It was kind of Nina Simone meets Andre 3000. Definitely unique and extremely talented. I wish I could tell you more about Austin but I didn’t really have time to hang out there. Our show didn’t wrap up until after 1 and I scheduled myself to drive to New Orleans the next day. These are the rookie lessons I am learning on my first tour experience. Do not schedule all the long driving days at the end of the trip, especially if you’re gonna make yourself sick in Texas!
Last Stop: Neutral Ground Coffee House, New Orleans, LA
There was awesome artwork all the way across the tour, but one thing I did learn is to always wander around anyplace you play in New Orleans, because the artwork does not end at the front of the bar. There was some really cool stuff in this Coffee House and the overall vibe was very laid-back and creatively encouraging. The evening began with a poetry reading, including some older famous poets as well as some local folks reciting their original material. This was a wonderful atmosphere to share my original tunes. Since I still wasn’t feeling 100% and had ambitions of getting up early to have breakfast before driving back to yet another gig in Roswell, GA, I headed back to my friend Wendy’s and spent the rest of the night with this cutie pie.
So I really did make new friends with people AND dogs all over the country. As a side note, I have started pet sitting services to supplement my income while I am in town in order to keep this career focused and moving forward. Please tell your friends and get in touch with me if you need someone to stay with your babies while you are out of town!
That marks the end of my adventures. I headed back to Gypsy Rose to play with Wasted Potential in Roswell and then spent the weekend jamming out at Doc’s in Smyrna. By Sunday I was ready to stay in bed for days!!!
Check my Instagram @lilchota and Facebook www.facebook.com/mandistrachotamusic for other fun tour encounters I may have missed sharing with you here, including a snippet of some pedal steel recorded for the new album.
I can’t wait to book the next tour and look forward to more adventures, more music, and more new friends! Thank you all for your encouragement and support. I hope to make it to your hometown to play soon! Save me a couch!