Victorian’s Midnight Café – Columbus, OH
Sunday, February 22
I’m really not quite sure what time we got up in Scott’s dorm room at Malone University in Canton, Ohio, but I’m guessing that it was about 11AM. Though he lived alone in his room, he shared a bathroom with suite mates. Rider was being defeated in Madden ’98 for Super Nintendo as I eventually got into the shower. Scott was checking out the new Snow Patrol album online with his Zune and I was generally feeling better. After Scott put on his tiny sweatshirt designed with the main character from the TV show “Dinosaurs,” we headed over to the cafeteria where we were so kindly paid for. Rider went for the more direct sausage, French toast and hash browns, whereas I waited in line for the omelet station. It was definitely worth it, though. Rider was attempting the “eat less and shrink the stomach” and I seemed to be going for the “stuff yourself now and perhaps not be hungry for a while.” It was an eating challenge between the two of us and somehow a rumor arose of me having an eating disorder. The rumor was put to rest. We saw a girl with the greatest female biceps ever, and Scott noted that he was liking the phrase, “this is not the worst part of the day,” and decided he was going to spread it around. After some coffee, it was time for us to hit the road in order to make it to our radio gig for the day. We made our goodbyes and hit Scott with a CD and a shirt before jetting back into travel.
We had only made it through our daily serving of “Jim Class” with the Doors’ “Waiting for the Sun,” when someone called Rider. It was WOBN where we were to be recording some live music and interviews for airplay. Somehow, studio time at the station had been reserved on a Sunday, and so we would not be able to record our sessions with the station manager. We weren’t exactly sure how this happened, but we figured fair was fair and since Westerville was already on our way to our later show in Columbus, there was no real loss. She offered the chance to reschedule when we were coming back through Oberlin but the driving just didn’t work out. So, we drove straight through to Columbus stopping only to get gas, Vitamin Water and use the restroom. We were listening to a few artists’ CD’s, which we had traded our CD to get (a pretty common thing to do between bands). We wrote the first line down from every song on one CD and I requested that Rider make a sonnet from them. I also required that, since we had so much time on our hands today, he find a library and write me a two paragraph summary of the Grapes of Wrath. “Dust Bowl, turtle metaphor…”
We arrive in Columbus, Ohio, the home of Ohio State University at around 3PM and we first navigate to find Victorian’s Midnight Café, where we would be playing that night. The reason we drove past it the first time was due to a truly gigantic flyer that encompassed the entire height of the building’s front, right full-size window. We thought the band name was the title of the shop. How much could that have cost the band and do they reuse it? It could not be rationalized. I get out of the car and notice a very colorful graffiti with pictures across the street:
There are only three ways to spend money:
God, Gas and Gluttony
Rider and I have always appreciated graffiti that was at least clever. One can’t count the number of times a thoughtless blotch of paint is seen sprayed on something inappropriate. I vowed to get a picture of it before my car would leave Columbus, but I am now realizing that I definitely forgot.
Midnight Café was actually a pretty awesome little venue, just blocks from the main college drag. It was filled with quirky little booths and a few tables with a perfectly sized stage and a bar. They served both booze and coffee as well as breakfast and lunch foods. There was a slight hippie theme in some depictions on the wall but I was willing to let it slide with the overall aesthetic and vibe. Behind and above the bar was the most massive, big-screen TV I have ever seen, complete with giant speakers in the bottom of it, reserved only to play digital radio through their cable provider. Everyone was extremely nice to us upon entrance. Things were very, for it was Sunday, but some older regulars took to talking to us right away. As we explained we were from Michigan, they first heckled us about U of M and then proceeded to tell us about the Café. One of them was rolling silverware. Apparently, it has been slumping in the last two years and is changing owners soon. Renovations need to be made that the current owner is not up to handling. Everyone who attends the place knows everyone else there, the food and coffee are excellent and it’s a great place for music. Just then, the bartender came out from behind the bar with three open Rolling Rocks, introduced himself and then handed two of them to us. We were quite impressed and as we made our way around the place, taking things in, we ended up talking to another regular named David. He had two banjos laying out along with a guitar and when we inquired as to whether he was the other band, he surprised us with a southern drawl. He lent some more insight to the place, explaining that there were two “booking calendars” and that there was actually another band tonight that thought they were having “open practice” at the bar. This was unnerving, but upon checking at least one of the books, we found our name in it with Rider’s number. After finding out that David had a journalism degree and was the editor in chief of what he described as a “yuppie magazine,” he also told us that he quit his previous job for a short while to hit the road as a musician. He told his mother he was to tour the country on his motorcycle with only a banjo on back to become a country music legend by the name Skunky Precious. This is what she said to him:
“I’m glad to hear that. There’s no honor in journalism, but I still think you should get hi-lo certification.”
He said he’ll never forget that quote and I don’t imagine either Rider or myself will anytime in the near future. At any rate, we were in a college town and had the hankering to browse through some record stores. However, as we parked and went south on High Street, things got ugly. First, the record store, “Thunderpussy,” was a complete disappointment with loud metal, too many tee shirts and incense. Next, we happen to see two or three “sex-themed” stores and then went into another store that only had the outer walls of a big room lined with very random books. I’m thinking maybe I saw dream catchers, too. We got back into the car and scurried north to find a place where we could “Internet” and drink some coffee. While Rider was on the phone, I opted to pass a Starbucks and then within a block a noticed a place called Buckeye Donuts. It was an old diner that made donuts and also served gyros, chicken fingers, burgers, coffee and several other similar items. They had wireless internet as well, so we ordered up a few dark roasts and sat at the counter facing outside through giant windows. High Street was the main road running through the college area and we watched college life stroll by as Rider worked finance and, I, these journals and website. There was 80’s music over their system via satellite radio and they did not have a bathroom. I made three trips to the Wendy’s next store, but we ended up spending several hours there. Rider ate a gyro and I purchased a rather cool shirt from the place. On the down side, we received a MySpace message from the band we were sharing the bill with that night. They would not be playing.
Making our way back to Midnight Café, we arrived to find that the band hoping to have “open practice” was set up. Things had worked out with the other band canceling, thought we had hoped they would bring in some patrons for the night. Nevertheless, we set our things up in front of the other band’s equipment and played a 45-minute set for a smaller crowd. After all, it was Sunday night. When you’re out touring, you just hope to spread the word on a Sunday or Monday. And to this smaller but very attentive crowd, we played what was our best set so far on this tour. Since everyone was listening, there was virtually no other noise and we were not amplified loudly. My voice was feeling good and operating smoothly after it’s meltdown the night before. We played what has now become our usual set for this tour and we set up our video camera to record “Never Ready” and “Why I’m Not Great.” After ending the set with “Married to Change,” the crowd requested and encore:
Crowd: “One more song!”
Shirey: “Naw, see, we’ve already played our best material. You’d be forcing us to choose from b-sides now.”
Crowd: “C’mon! One more song!”
Shirey (trying to choose between “Goodbyes in the Wind” and “Leaving Town”): “Well do you want a faster-paced song or a more mellow one like the last song?”
Crowd: “Whatever you want!”
Shirey: “Well, c’mon now, you wanted it. Do you go to the grocery store and just ask for ‘FOOD’?”
Rider: “Actually, yeah.”
Someone in Crowd: “Okay, upbeat.”
After our set, we had one more beer while watching some of New Moonshine, the very tight band that was performing after us. I commented that they had “not a button loose,” and then I paid for the delicious burger I’d eaten earlier before we hit the road to Cincinnati. At this Midnight Café that night was also blues legend, Robert Johnson’s son and a guy who used to do something important for Jerry Lewis’ telethons. In addition, the drummer of the band used to travel with Ekoostic Hookah, among other names.
The hour-and-a-half drive to Cincinnati found us listening to the Doors’ self-titled album and then we talked about a few of the hilarious scenes from the Oliver Stone movie. We hit a very peculiar and dangerous, 5-mile patch of dense, blowing snow, but from there we tried to think of other movies about bands and/or musical artists. And after a bit of that, we were headed into downtown Cincinnati to stay with our friend Feley. He gave us the code to his parking garage and I squeezed my car next to his auto in the spot. We took a rickety old elevator with the meshed-metal, sliding door up to his fifth floor apartment. The place was very nice and large with a bedroom, kitchen, dining and living room. Off from that was the bathroom and a long, open room with a spare bed and a futon, perfectly setup for Rider and myself. It looked like heaven, as both were longer than the length of our bodies.