By: Lee Haywood 1/2010
My “Dirty” Weekend at “Church”
My weekends are usually filled with long Saturday nights and early Sunday mornings. Clanking beer bottles and live music by night is the norm before waking up to the sound of a choir singing hymns in my little white church on the hill. It’s a life I chose somewhere between sin and salvation. The wailing of a steel guitar in a dive bar on Saturday night and the opening piano notes to “Victory in Jesus” come Sunday morning are both captivating to me. Each genre is beautiful in its own way and equally as pleasing to my ears and heart. Is this wrong? No. I don’t believe so. I was taught right from wrong by a good set of grandparents and I know what I believe in. Whether it’s hymns or honkytonks, I just love good music…
I often stare at the neon lights on the horizon as I pull up to a backwoods venue that I’ve never been to before. Outside the sign lights up the name of some band that’s trying to make it happen. It’s exciting to see guitar cases and sound equipment being carried into a side door and hearing the sound- check as you anxiously stand in line out front. Occasionally those Saturday nights drag into Sunday morning but I try hard to pull myself out of bed and slide into the back pugh before grandma knows I’ve been gone. Aviators sometimes hide my tired eyes as I fumble through the hymnal. You know YOU’VE done it too…sit there and think about how much fun you had over the past two days as the preacher’s eyes catch you smiling to yourself like a possum. I slip an extra buck in the offering plate and do a little repenting before it’s off to another work week and the hope of getting to do it all over again come Friday night.
This past weekend was one of those that you look back on and say, “Holy shit, that was fun!” The type weekend that makes your mind race back through it all, trying to remember and relive it in your head as the sermon is shouted from the pulpit. Oh yeah…it was definitely one of “those” weekends. It was a “dirty” weekend. No..no.. not that kind of dirty. I headed to Mt. Airy Friday night to see The Dirt Drifters play B52’s and then on to Jacksonville, NC the next day to see them open up for Eric Church. Two amazing bands in one hell of a weekend…
Part 1: Mt. Airy, NC Friday 1/22/2010
I walked into B52’s bar Friday night, ordered some jack, and watched the last few minutes of a couple college basketball games on the flat screens that adorned the walls. The bar wasn’t crowded as pool tables kept a large group of regulars occupied in the back. I sipped on my drink and tried to entertain myself by people watching until the show started. A man beside me was digging into some chili cheese fries, licking his fingers off, and drinking his Budweiser out of a tall beer mug through a straw. I hear that will fuck you up. It was almost 10:30pm so I eased off my barstool and strolled over to a side room where the dance floor and stage sat under dim lighting. A Fred Durst looking DJ was playing Phil Collins over the speakers and singing his own version of back-up vocals just a little too loudly. He came over the sound system and said “The Dirt Drifters are up after this next song!” Instead of suffering through another Kid Rock dance remix I decided to use the bathroom and grab a beer before the band hit the stage. There was a black and white poster of The Who hanging above the toilet that had, “Becky Sherman sucks cock” written in the left hand corner with black Sharpe. Ha. I wondered if she really does? After that I grabbed a Rolling Rock from the barmaid and perched at a tall table in the back of the room. There were only a couple dozen people there but I didn’t mind. Wish there had been more for the band’s sake but not having to worry about shoving my way through a crowded dance floor for once was an appeasing thought. I knew the next night in Jacksonville was already sold out and that the boys had just come from a sold out venue in Georgia the night before, so getting to see the band play three sets to a small crowd was kind of….well….nice. The spotlights on stage grew a little brighter as the DJ introduced the band. The guys came walking up on stage from a door that led outside and I just had to smile. I hadn’t seen them since Nashville in June and had been anticipating this weekend for a while. Six men strong, the band took their places behind each instrument. The stage wasn’t very large. The drummer, Nick, was tucked in the back corner behind a set of blue and black glistening drums. Steve sported a PBR trucker hat and brown rockabilly colored snap shirt that I was a little envious of as he settled his “chucks” onto the foot petals of his steel guitar. Jersey was over to the right on electric, calm and cool with black hair covering his eyes like he was bringing back grunge. The new bass player, Jeremy, had a “go to hell hat” tucked down over his face and tattoo sleeves artfully decorated his forearms. Then there were the Fleener brothers who stood front and center. Ryan, Jager ball cap turned backwards, dark sideburns and piercing blue eyes and Matt, in an old denim button up looking right at home behind a Gibson acoustic. The lights dimmed and the music started…
I watched the first couple songs from the back of the room in the shadows as I took it all in. The band that I had been listening to for the past few weeks on my scratched up iPod and truck radio was finally here in the flesh. They opened with “Stranger”. It’s a catchy song about a guy who returns to his hometown to find that the party crowd he used to run with has settled down. A song I could relate to after being gone to college for a while and then returning home to teach kids who parents graduated high school with me. “There ain’t no crazy left in that old crowd…everybody is so different now…I’m a stranger in my home town…” are some clever lines from the chorus. I sang along with the songs just like I was listening to the stereo. What an awesome feeling to see one of your favorite bands performing live. It’s almost surreal. The band played three, hour long sets filled with covers by Springsteen, Waylon, Hag, and Ryan Adams. The covers are great and necessary for an up and coming band but I love to hear Dirt Drifter originals. Slow songs like “This is my blood”,“Feel my love” , and “Name on my shirt” are so well written that you lose yourself in the lyrics. Their verses are filled with values and life lessons that everyone should have been taught. On the flip side to that there are the songs that you can’t help but move around to. These are the crowd pleasers. “Lonely and me” and “Tonight” are full of howling guitars, loud drums, and a lot of bouncing around on stage. They make you want to get off your ass and urmmmm….headbang?! Well maybe not that heavy…it just depends on the crowd. The sets seemed to fly by quickly, each song better than the one before. I appreciated every chord, lyric and melody. Then as quick as it began…it was over. Cigarette?? Ha.
After the show came to an end I wanted to say hello to the band. Ryan came over and invited a few fans to hang out for a bit. The night was wearing on and I knew I had a long drive ahead of me but I wanted to say thanks for a great show so I “twisted” my own arm into staying a little longer. I followed a few fans out back to a camper that was being used as a backstage area. We climbed up and chatted amongst ourselves until the band had packed up all their gear. I slipped outside for a cigar and a call home. Had to leave a voicemail cause hubby was snoozing then I strolled around the parking lot puffing on a well-rolled import. About the time I was finishing my smoke the band was loading up the last few pieces of equipment. Everyone gathered in the camper and hung out for a while. I chatted with Matt a little about the wonders of Ryan Adams and songwriting. Had to brag on a few lyrics the Fleener’s had written that were in my own words, “Genius.” The guys seem humble and excited about being a part of The Dirt Drifter brotherhood. They take turns driving their RV across the country and work as their own road crew. I’m sure it isn’t always a glamorous life but no one said the music industry was peaches. Still, I’d give my job up tomorrow to travel the world playing music and hearing a crowd sing my lyrics. What a cool job! These guys have the talent to make it and they’re giving all they’ve got to the music and that life on the road. Whether playing to 30 people of 3,000 they bring the same passion to their live show. You actually feel like the songs are for you. Not just every band can do that. I noticed the guys have a great rapport with one another, playing off of each other’s jokes and laughing a lot. It’s fun to watch…a lot like hanging out with my older brother and his friends. Boys will be boys. I did notice that Ryan has a vertical tattoo on his arm of the word “family”. I definitely thought that was cool. When bands spend so much time touring and traveling sometimes family gets put on the back burner. These boys seem to have their priorities straight. Props. Around 2:30am I had to bust off…told the guys thanks for letting me hang and that I’d see’m the next day in Jacksonville, NC. I went into “fan-mode” and snapped some pics with everyone then headed to my truck.
Walking across the parking lot I glanced out at the front yard of the venue. There was a giant silver bomb sticking out of the ground that I hadn’t even noticed when I arrived earlier in the day. It was part of the “B52” theme I guess and I chuckled to myself because it looked like a giant penis. I hopped in the truck and laid a promo photo that the guys had signed in the seat beside me to ride shotgun. I stared over at it and shook my head as Johnny Cash played over the truck radio. Then ….I headed home.
Part 2: Jacksonville, NC Saturday 1/23/2019
I stumbled into bed Saturday morning around 4:00am and the alarm started blaring at 7. “Shoot me now” , I mumbled to myself as I rolled out from under the comforter and attempted to focus my eyes on the mirror in front of me. “Damn!” I thought… “rough night.” I smelled like cigars and beer… Mmmmm… always a welcoming smell in the morning. I showered and started to quietly pack my bags for Jacksonville while my husband slept. The Dirt Drifters, who I had seen play the night before were opening for Eric Church at a place called Gus’s Warehouse. I threw my last few things in the back of my truck and hit the road for J-vegas. The concert was a good 5 hour drive for me through back roads lined with chicken and hog houses. The nothingness of the Carolina flatlands intrigues me. During the summer the fields are full of tobacco and cotton but they stand barren in February. The flat sandy landscape stretches for miles along NC routes on the way to the coast. Jacksonville, NC is a military town. Camp Lejeune Marine base is located among the pines and there are used car dealerships, tattoo, and barber shops on each corner. Ryan Adams wrote, “Jacksonville's a city with a hopeless streetlight, seems like you're lucky if it ever changes red to green, I was born in an abundance of inherited sadness, with 50 cent picture frames bought at a five and dime…the soldiers fill the hotels on the weekend, I saw the pretty women as I walked through town…” about his hometown. It’s a city that nobody stays in for too long so I was thankful to only be driving in for the show. I pulled into the venue parking lot early and quickly covered up under my pea-coat to take a nap. I rested a while with Old Crowe spinning in the cd player and tried to catch up on some of the sleep that I had lost from the night before. When I woke up a few cars had started to gather in the muddy parking lot so I hopped out and went over to chat with a couple that were sitting on the hood of their car. We got into a deep discussion about Eric Church. They had never seen him live so I had to quickly explain that their life would never be same after the show! A few “Church” Choir (Eric’s fanclub) members showed up and we all decided to go ahead and start a line. It was an hour before the doors of the venue opened so we all stood around talking college football with some Marines from the great state of Alabama. I met a security guard stationed in town but originally from Arkansas and struck up a friendship by swapping duck hunting stories. Finally it was time to get the “wand” from security, hide our bombs, and head in. The place was a lot nicer inside than it appeared on the outs. A few of us gathered up front and a friend dragged me to the bar and bought me a cold beer before the dance floor got too crowded. It was still a while before The Dirt Drifters would come on so we sat on the stage ledge and watched Marines two-step. If you have never done this, ladies…let me highly suggest it. Each one perfectly packed into a pair of wranglers and cowboy boots. No big hats...ball caps instead…I like that. In the words of Eric Church, “I wear a greasy ball cap…I like my shirt untucked…I spend Saturday’s working on my truck.” These were “those” kind of boys. Yikes!
Finally it was time for the DD’s. All of a sudden just like a siren went off people started pouring onto the dance floor. It got hot and crowded quickly but all in good fun. Then a cheesy radio-lady came on stage to introduce the band. Everyone screamed and it got rowdy! I love the kind of crowd that is pumped and ready for a show. It’s like electricity is running from one person into another. You sway one direction and the entire group moves. Beer bottles roll under your feet and fists pump in the air. It’s addictive. I can only imagine what it looks like from stage. The Dirt Drifters came out rocking and the crowd seemed to really like their vibe. I had three people tap me on the shoulder to ask, “What’s the name of this band again?” I think it was apparent that I was a fan. Let’s not be shy…I was definitely rocking out to the songs. I just love live music… “It takes a maaaaan….to get a maaaaan off your miiiiind…”, I shouted! Then they broke into Waylon and Oh HELL the crowd really responded. I mean I don’t think Hank did it this way…but who cares?! There were a couple college guys from App state that kept falling on me during that song. I figure…just go with it so I put an arm around each of them and sang along! The band played “Always a Reason” about midway through their set and I swear those lyrics are about my hometown. It talks about the many reasons to “drink around here…” which I thought was ironic since we were in a military town notorious for domestic disputes and STDS. After that, a Ryan Adams cover song...and one of his best. Is there really anymore to say than, “Come pick me up…take me out….FUCK me up…steal my records…screw all my friends…their all full of shit…with a smile on your face...and then do it again”? I don’t think so. My favorite song of the night was “If I can’t be myself”. There is a line in it that says, “Thank God for pearl snap shirts, guitars, and blue jeans.” ...umm...amen?! Towards the end of the set Matt put his guitar down and started the first verse of “Just got tonight”. The crowd was jumping around to “Come on…Come on…It’s Saturday night…” when down he hops off stage in front of me and some friends. WOAH! Good times! That song fucking rocks! At that moment it was like all the shit you worry about on a daily basis disappeared and everyone in that place was just bouncing around and enjoying the night. He was feeding off the mob and feeling the alcohol and the crowd was taking in all that energy from the band. They closed with “Trouble” and damnit it was exactly what I was going to be in if I didn’t get my ass home by sun up. Sunday morning felt far away since Eric hadn’t even hit the stage yet but in the back of my mind I knew I had a long drive home. The Dirt Drifters quickly packed up their gear to head home to Tennessee and the anxious crowd awaited the ECB.
After about 45 minutes of stage tear down and prep the crowd was drunk and ready to get the party started. The “Errrrr-ic…Errrrr-ic” chant began and the lights dimmed. Then like so many times before… I heard those first few thumps of Clutch’s “Electric Worry” and the crowd absolutely lost their minds. I’ve been in a lot of pit audiences but this Jacksonville horde was ridiculously unruly…I loved it! The Eric Church band members ascended the steps with drinks in hand and arms raised. Ed and Hyde wore dark sunglasses and Driver was suited up in his “Black Label” sleeveless T. The band strapped on their instruments and kicked in to “Ain’t killed me yet”. Eric emerged from the darkness wearing dark shades and a “Von Dutch” ball cap. He had a red solo cup in hand as he nodded to the crowd, almost a thousand strong. He set his drink down, bent over his guitar towards the group, and shouted “Yeaaaaaaaaaah!” He stepped to the mic and sang, “working all this overtime, its good at keeping me occupied, the hell with the stress, It ain’t killed me yet!”. The fans knew every word and we screamed the lyrics right back at him like we were exchanging punches. The songs rolled on…from “Sinners like me” to “Livin part of life”. Just a like a conductor guides his symphony, Eric lead us through each verse and guitar solo. When he hopped… we jumped, when he stepped… we stomped, and when he screamed …we screamed louder! It’s become tradition to raise a cowboy boot in the air during the song “These Boots” and this definitely wasn’t the crowd’s first EC rodeo. A sea of leather and embroidery swayed through the air as Eric sang about the one thing that has been with him through all life’s trials…his boots. I opted to leave mine on as I was standing on a broken beer bottle that some idiot had decided to stomp a few songs earlier. “Love your love the most” was a hit throughout the crowd. It’s been one of Eric’s top singles so far and although the lyrics are a bit cliché in parts it’s a love song and it wins over the girls. The chick behind me had cut the elastic band out of the top of her t-shirt and wrote “I love Eric” across it in Sharpe. She had the fabric stuck around her forehead like Rambo. I looked back at her during “LYLTM” and she was leaning on her boyfriend’s shoulder, eyes closed, and singing the words as her hand waved slowly back and forth in the air. During the last verse that says “Yeah I love scuffed up cowboy boots and broke in tore up jeans, a for wheel drive, 8pt buck and rocky road ice cream…” I held my phone screen up in the air with a picture of me holding the 8-pt buck I killed this past season. Eric saw it and shucked his imaginary air shotgun and proceeded to “pretend-shoot” my phone which we all got a kick out of. Around the middle of the set Eric stopped dead in his tracks on stage, held his guitar head down, and stared straight ahead like he was frozen. Driver started playing a Pantera riff as the entire place including Eric began jumping two feet off the ground, heads banging in unison. The dance floor shook. The band then faded into “Before she does” and when Eric sang the lyrics “I believe in peace…”, a fight erupted to my right. Punches flew and the crowd formed a circle around the contenders. When I turned back to Eric he was pointing at the bleeding boys being escorted out of the bar and singing, “I believe everyone should wet a line every now and then.” Things settled down a bit after the angry mob dispersed just in time for the encore. Eric ended with “Those I’ve loved along the way” as usual and then placed his hat over his heart and mouthed “thank you” to the roaring audience. He climbed off stage as the band finished the last few bars of music, then they nodded, waved, and followed their leader.
After every Eric Church show I have an adrenaline high that lasts for hours. I’m just looking for the next “hit”. Thank God I have plenty of EC music in the truck because my ears long for it. On the way out of town I pulled over and made the decision not to stay in any of the hotels that lined the Jacksonville stripe. After all I had and a freshly burned Dirt Drifters cd to keep me company all the way home. The GPS said arrival time in Troy, NC… 6:24am but I knew I could make better time on the straight stretches of NC highway than ran across the plains. I pushed in a cd, cranked the volume, and sang my way into the morning.