When you’re in an emerging independent band, you learn to take the highs with the lows. You walk the line between the joy of celebrating at a crowded hometown show with the utter exhaustion of a playing to eight people in a club in a town where no one knows you. You counter the excitement of a great review from a writer you respect with the frustration of sending countless unanswered emails asking people to listen to your record. It’s that day-to-day balancing act that makes being part of The Outlaw Roadshow at CMJ so special.
I should rewind a bit.
It was the summer of 2000. I was 16, and my friends and I went to see the Counting Crows at what was then called Deer Creek Amphitheater just outside of Indianapolis. They had become one of my favorite bands after the release of “This Desert Life.” With three years of playing my old Fender acoustic DG-7 under my belt, I had just begun attempting to understand what it meant to be a songwriter, and the Counting Crows helped give me a definition. Their songs weren’t grounded in a general setting and a general feeling that could apply to the lowest common denominator of a listener. They were about people like Maria in places like California in the mid-afternoon when it was raining. I listened to their songs with the volume knob turned up in my maroon 1994 Buick Century.
At the show, in between learning the art of paying older, cooler concertgoers to buy us beer, I learned a lot more from what the band was doing on stage. The entire evening - and the many Crows shows I’ve seen since - served as another lesson: songs are never finished. They evolve to keep pace with the person or people who wrote them.
For every person who wants to sing along with a song exactly as they’ve heard it in their cars, there’s another person who wants to be caught off guard, who wants a new turn in the arc of the song, who wants to be part of a performance that will only happen once. It’s a moment in time - not a reproduction of a memory you already know. Adam Duritz and the Counting Crows are a band that knows the importance of capturing those moments.
Since that show, I’ve been chasing after a career as a songwriter. I’ve been in and out of bands. I’ve spent summers driving around America, playing shows and sustaining my existence on bean burritos and coffee. Soon enough, I’ll be at a point when I’ll be twice as old as the 16-year-old kid who stood on the lawn at Deer Creek.
There is a piece of me that grew pretty fucking terrified while typing that sentence.
After all these years, a lot has changed in the music business. It’s an uncertain time that leaves me never quite sure of what our band should do next. There are plenty of pieces that I haven’t figured out, and I don’t expect to figure them out anytime soon. But with all those questions still looming, the Outlaw Roadshow has given me and my bandmates the kind of hope, excitement and energy that’s essential to overlooking the fact that those answers are hard to find. It’s safe to say that Ryan Spaulding and Adam Duritz have done the same for many of the other bands that will be on the stage at Bowery Electric, too.
So tomorrow night in New York is much more than a date on a calendar for me. It’s a sign that if you can manage to make the moments really count, the highs will start to outweigh all those lows.