Pocket Vinyl goes for world record with 50 gigs in 50 states — in 45 days
Couples who've been together a long time can have entire conversations on auto-pilot — and sometimes they're not really aware they're communicating.
"We need Diet Pepsi."
"Oh, we're out?"
"Look at that bird in the backyard!"
Maybe, then, at first, a few years back, it wasn't anything other than an offhand observation when Eric Stevenson ran across a story about punk band The Melvins. It seemed that, in 2013, they'd just completed a tour where they played gigs in all 50 states in 50 days.
Amazing? yes. Still, at the time, Stevenson turned to his wife, Elizabeth Jancewicz, and said, "That's beatable."
And, reflecting on it for a few seconds, Jancewicz said, "Oh, yeah, that's totally beatable."
And life went on.
However, inasmuch as Jancewicz, 32, and Stevenson, 33, are married and comprise the longtime piano/painting duo Pocket Vinyl, they were in the position to actually follow through on the "that's totally beatable" observation if they wanted to.
Flash forward a few years. Pocket Vinyl, who formed in 2010, has since played hundreds of dates on several "normal" tours; released two full-length concept albums, "Tin" and "Uncomfortably Unsure"; and produced their own wonderfully received on-the-road documentary called "Drive. Play. Sleep."
Now it's 2019 and Pocket Vinyl is finally ready to go for that "totally beatable" 50 states/50 days record. They started in a proactively big way Thursday by knocking out three states in one day with shows in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. They'll be in New Hampshire tonight, Maine Saturday and Vermont Sunday before heading south and west.
Remember, Pocket Vinyl ain't playing for the tie, as the football people say — particularly as The Melvins aren't the only or even the first artist to pull off the 50/50 challenge. Rocker George Thorogood & The Destroyers did it in 1981 and, two years later, folksinger Adam Brodsky became the first solo artist to do it.
50 gigs, 45 days
If it all works out as per their itinerary, Pocket Vinyl will perform in Honolulu on April 6 and shatter the record with their 50th gig in a rocket-quick 45 days.
"It's the sort of project where you have to think way ahead," says Stevenson, talking a few weeks back as he and Jancewicz were running down a travel checklist that ranged from auto maintenance and food shopping to equipment updates and printing 130 of their own tour T-shirts for merch sales. "For a few years, now, we've been telling people that, in 2019, we were going after this record. Ninety-five percent of them said, 'Are you crazy?!'"
Sanity is an iffy term. What's verifiable, though, is that Jancewicz and Stevenson are creative, visionary, and blessed with a cooperative and finely tuned sense of survival in the oft-cruel business of independent rock. For an enviable period of time, Pocket Vinyl has done pretty well for themselves as a self-supporting, working unit. Theirs is a unique concept. Stevenson writes, sings the songs and plays piano, while Jancewicz simultaneously sets up an easel onstage and, for each gig, creates a totally new painting to be auctioned off at the end of the show.
It's a genuine and fulfilling concept — as opposed to a gimmick — and it's worked well. They're always fine-tuning, though, and coming up with new possibilities, as per this tour.
"We definitely try to think of fresh things to do with each project," Stevenson says, "but it's not something we think of as marketing. Instead, we want to keep people interested in what we do. Pocket Vinyl is pretty unique but, at points on tour in the last few years, it was hard because people are starting to know us. They still like us and the quality of the work is still there, but we don't want to repeat ourselves."
With that in mind, Pocket Vinyl has only 47 more gigs to do in 44 days!
"We expect to have some rough times, but at the same time, it's fun that there's a pretty lofty goal attached to this," Stevenson says. "That helps mentally, because it's true that any job can take on that 'another day at the office' feeling. During a long drive, doubts can creep in. 'What are we ultimately doing?' 'Will anyone be there?' 'Is sitting on a stage, asking people to pay attention to you, a selfish thing?' Now, a lot of that doesn't weigh as heavily because there's a bigger picture. It reminds us of our first-ever tour and brings an invigorating energy. That's huge."
While there's a huge endurance factor to what Jancewicz and Stevenson are trying, a lot of the hard work has already happened. Just because an artist might want to play 50 states in 50 days doesn't mean it's easy to arrange the gigs in coordination with the demands of the calendar.
"There were a LOT of logistics involved," Stevenson laughs. He started reaching out to venues and contacts last August. The first 30 gigs he booked came relatively easily, and the first 40-45 fell into place with relative ease. Then it started to get more difficult.
The problem with Idaho
"At that point, there's no wiggle room. You've got to connect the dots precisely," Stevenson says. "I was running out of existing contacts and started shooting off blind emails and reaching out to friends-of-friends of people we've met on the road over the years. For some reason, Idaho was the hardest to book. It's on March 31, which is a Sunday, and Idaho is a state where it's not easy to find a live music show outside of a weekend. We started to get worried because we kept getting no, no, no."
Then, once they nailed down Idaho, a potential disaster popped up in Bangor, Maine. They were contacted by the venue's new booking agent, who said his predecessor had screwed up and they were going to have to cancel.
"We were so stressed out," Stevenson says. "We couldn't find another gig in Maine, and it doesn't count if you just set up on the side of the road and play. It has to be a real show. All of a sudden, it was looking like we were done before we even got started because it's one of the first dates on the tour."
People were calling them back with ideas: Try this shop owner, or maybe this person will have a house party. Finally, the new agent at the original Bangor club called back; there had been a misunderstanding, and they could have the date back.
"And then we were terrified someone we'd reached out to would call us with another gig in Maine, and we'd have to burn bridges with all these generous people who'd been trying to help us." Stevenson laughs with what sounds like nervous exhaustion. "In the end, it worked out and everyone was fine and happy for us."
The road only goes on forever for Robert Earl Keen, but Pocket Vinyl has a lot of highway travel ahead of them — and an unexpected tour sponsorship from the RØDE microphones company in Australia is providing a lot of gas money and equipment. It turns out an executive at RØDE saw the "Drive. Play. Sleep" DVD and became a fan.
Stevenson explains, "Out of nowhere, this guy contacted us and said, 'I love your movie. I love the band and what you're doing. Would you like some free mics?' I said, 'Who ARE you, really?!'
"Man, this is so huge for us. So kind of them. We sent them the itinerary and calculated the gas mileage for the car and the plane tickets to Alaska and from there to Hawaii and back. And they said, 'Looks good!'"
The tour is officially called RØDE presents Pocket Vinyl — 50 States/45 Days, and Stevenson says it's remarkable that it came about because another of their creative ideas: the self-made tour travelogue DVD,
"I don't know," he says. "It's fun and weird that this came about, but it's also kind of validating. Elizabeth and I looked at each other, and I said, 'Maybe this does kinda feel like something weird happened, right?"
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