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Southern Girls… Southern Boys… the odd dog and some crawfish

(Robinsonville MS/Gadsden AL/New Orleans - March 2000)

Wednesday 8 March – The journey from Hell

The start of what I expected to be a tiring trip: three Cheap Trick shows in the South, and a 2500+ mile road trip from northern Illinois to New Orleans and back again, via the casino resort of Tunica, Mississippi, and the jewel of Alabama, Gadsden.

First, the usual aeroplane marathon from Europe. I’ll try to cut the details short, but this was like a bad dream! Left home soon after 7am, buses to Leeds centre, then out to Leeds/Bradford Airport. The plane arrived on time, but then we got told it would be delayed 90 minutes flying to Amsterdam, due to bad weather there. So, the plane arrived at a wet Schipol Airport, and I could see the 747 to Chicago (which I should have been on) just readying to take off as we taxied to the terminal.

I got booked onto a later flight to Minneapolis, then a late night flight to Rockford. (I was going to road trip with Rhiazann from Madison WI, who was planning on meeting my bus from Chicago O’Hare at Rockford bus station at 7pm, and we’d planned to drive almost to St Louis that night.) On arrival at Minneapolis/St Paul, it was a "delight" to find that my bag (containing all my clothes and toiletries, etc) hadn’t arrived. You’d think I’d know better by now wouldn’t you? Next time, I pack clothes in my carry on! I was told that I couldn’t make a lost baggage claim until my final destination, Rockford.

The Rockford flight took off at 9pm, but 40 minutes into the flight, the Captain announced a mechanical fault with the plane, so we had to turn and go back to MPLS and change to another plane. It was raining heavily by the time we got back to MPLS and by now I was very tired. I finally arrived at Rockford after midnight, 23 hours after leaving my house. Luckily Rhiazann was there to meet me, no thanks to the airline who had completely failed to deliver on a promise to get a message from Amsterdam to tell her of the change in travel plans. She’d waited 5 hours at the bus station and then the airport, and only at 11pm did the airline finally tell her when I’d arrive.

So, Rockford Airport was deserted, other than me, Rhia, and a burned out counter attendant who took 30 minutes to record my lost baggage claim. Instead of spending the night near St Louis, ready for a leisurely drive to Memphis next morning, we wound up in a hotel room near Rockford’s famed Clock Tower, the best we could do at such short notice.

OK, you’ve got the picture. I have no clothes, no razor, no stuff. I spent the next five, yes, FIVE days incessantly phoning the airline. For over four of those days they couldn’t even LOCATE my bag, either in the US or in Europe. So I had to buy emergency clothes etc. We’ll get back to my luggage later, but for now, I’m luggage-less…

Thursday 9 March – Rockford to Robinsonville

Set off from Rockford before 10am, missing the rain that was turning to snow in MPLS, according to the Weather Channel. Ouch! Well, northern Illinois was freezing, but no snow. A long, looooonnnnnggggg drive down through Illinois, and into St Louis (my choice, I wanted to see the Arch thing). My, it was far bigger than I expected. Passed by the Gateway Intl Raceway off I-55 as we approached the river, then swung by the Arch and Busch Stadium. Didn’t see Mark McGuire. Passed by a large Budweiser Brewery as we headed south on I-55 again.

The sun was shining as we headed through Missouri and Arkansas, and we felt it such a shame that my travel problems the day before robbed us of the chance of 2-3 hours in Memphis late in the afternoon as planned. Would have been nice to stroll along Beale St, the riverside, and visit Sun Studios. Finally approached the bridge on I-55 to South Memphis… only to get caught up in a dead-stop traffic jam apparently caused by an accident on the bridge. That sucked.

The car came close to overheating as we worried about our hotel room which we might lose after 9pm. One consolation of sorts as we watched the temp gauge red-line… we heard a cool, locally produced radio commercial for CT at Sam’s Town. After 90 minutes we finally got moving, and it was an anxious and much longer drive than expected down to casino country. We passed by those huge roadside billboards, advertising events and shows at the various Tunica casinos, and cool to see one huge poster for CT. We finally arrived at 8.45pm, just in time to check in at Sam’s Town. Eat-all-you-can ribs/BBQ was very welcome, before skipping the gambling and going to bed after an 11 hour road journey. Zzzzzzzz…


Friday 10 March (Cheap Trick – Robinsonville MS)

Drove into Memphis to get the car looked at. Got caught in another traffic stop, this time caused by a house (not a trailer) having slid off its lorry into the middle of the road. A simple thermostat replacement bloomed into a five-man, two-hour job in "picturesque" South Memphis. As a result, we didn’t get time to do more than just drive past Graceland. Didn’t see Elvis either, though the guy in the Jiffy Lube pit had an oddly familiar voice…

Got back to Sam’s Town Casino mid afternoon. I’d decided not to gamble, since I’d probably lose my shirt… literally… and it was the only one I had! Actually I did lose a couple of bucks on the slots, but stopped there. Since we were at a casino hotel, I felt I had to at least play something, if only briefly!

Got to the adjoining hall in time for the soundcheck. The band were very relaxed and sounded great, as they played two of my favourite songs, Losing You and Fan Club. The former is a regular soundcheck song, but the latter was a nice surprise. As the other band members left, Robin stayed on and played some solo instrumental on stage. As they left the hall, I asked Rick about the setlist, and he said that they’d play a regular setlist for the first one or two shows of this short tour, just to get back into the swing of playing live again. Then probably start introducing some different songs into the set.

After soundcheck it was great to run into many old friends, Stephanie from Boston plus Robin and Phyll from New Orleans, and then Jennifer from Boston, and Adam and Maria from New York. And I found Mariko from Japan, who joined us at the seafood buffet (it was Friday). After dinner, Adam brought out his latest two photo albums (TF3 and Rockford) to view – as always very cool to see!

Got let into the hall at 8.30 for CT at 9pm. No need to wait too long in line, since all seats were numbered. However, talked a little with John Candas on the merchandise stand before going in, and bought one of the very cool new CT bandanas.

Our seats were front row and slightly right of centre, so we’d have a great view of both Robin and Tom. Cool to see a few others I recognised from TF3, including QueenSheena, Brian from Dallas and Cindy & Tammy from New York. And a particular pleasure to see John Mays (Natten) from Atlanta, with some of his hometown buddies.

The hall was a good size, holding perhaps 2,000, with a nice wide stage. Plenty of room for Rick! The seating was slightly raised on 3 shallow levels, but there were no balconies. It was essentially a huge box. The lights went down at 9.05, briefly leaving a dark stage with a starry backdrop, before that familiar refrain started up.

RN – Black suit, black Lennon t-shirt

RZ – Black t-shirt, black velvet suit with long jacket

TP – Big straw hat, black shirt, black pants, blue jean jacket

BEC - Blue flowered shirt, jeans

The set was: IWYTWM, Come On Come On, Hot Love, Can’t Take It, Ain’t That a Shame, I Know What I Want, Wrong All Along, If You Want My Love, That 70’s Song, Voices, Need Your Love, Southern Girls, Surrender/ Shelter, Dream Police, Never Had a Lot to Lose, Goodnight Now

Robin had lyric sheets for Wrong All Along and That 70’s Song. After Ain’t That a Shame, Rick noted (in keeping with the casino theme) that making money was never CT’s forte… losing money with a lousy manager was! Need Your Love featured an awesome Bun E solo, as if he was playing himself back into being back on the road. Surrender saw a KISS/MFH flat thrown out. The setlist showed Ghost Town, but Robin actually started playing Shelter, and Tom and Rick both stood in front of Rick’s mic watching him. He sang the song full of emotion, and for me it was the high point of the show. Adam got one of Tom’s new Go to Hell picks, which are now purple and black checkerboard.

I walked Bun E to the elevator after the show, and asked about the new material coming up on in April. The 20 new tracks will be both "additional" MFH (ie Metro) tracks, and will include some songs from the 25th Anniversary Show at Rockford last year.

Cool to hang out a little with Natten (and get a copy of Natural Tension’s new CD!), Adam, Maria and Jennifer before heading to bed. We had a long drive to Gadsden next day.

Sat 11 March – (Cheap Trick – Gadsden AL)

It was a cool, damp and overcast morning, and since I awoke early, I saw Adam, Jennifer and Maria off on their early morning bus excursion to Graceland! Rhia and I left Sam’s Town at just after 10am, with Mariko travelling with us. We had plenty of road food and drink, but cool to see that Mari had brought some Japanese road food of her own! Today was going to be tiring, with half the journey on back roads, not Interstate. We cut across country to I-78 East, then cross country again soon after we got into Alabama. That was an experience. We had to take care to slow down to exactly the speed limit in every small settlement.. we had out of State plates of course. Seeing a variety of housing was interesting too: often a $ ¼ million mansion on one side of the road, with run down shacks or trailers pretty much opposite. I knew we were in backcountry when at one point, travelling slowly through a small grouping of houses, our car got chased by a dawg. Dang, he nearly caught us too…

Arrived in Gadsden not long before 4pm, checked into the hotel, then headed "downtown" to find the venue. Studio 231 was located in a pretty nondescript, run down part of Gadsden, which itself seemed pretty run down. We just missed soundcheck, which Robin said had been ELO Kiddies and It All Comes Back to You. The band headed off, as did we, in search of food. We could find nothing other than some fast steak place in a small strip mall nearby. Definitely not gourmet dining, but at this point ANY food was welcome. On getting back to the venue at 6pm, we were met in the car park by none other than Rusty Wallace, sporting a small chin beard! Hail yeah!! Definitely a nice surprise. Brian from Dallas was in line, and it was a pleasure to meet up with Jan Schneider and her friend Melissa.

We got let in at 6.30, and just in time too. It was getting COLD out there standing in line! The venue was a bar, with a central dance floor on front of the stage, surrounded by a waist high picket style fence, with tables and chairs surrounding that. There was also a balcony running along the sides and rear of the hall, and whilst we die-hards rushed to the front, the locals seemed more eager to get a good table to the side, rear or upstairs. The 5-piece house band played a couple of sets from 7 through to 8.25pm, playing covers from up to 20 years ago, like Cocaine, Gimme Three Steps and Sharp Dressed Man. Sweet Home Alabama went down especially well for some reason. Predictably Freebird then got requested…

With 30 minutes to go before CT, and as the stage was being cleared, the crowd in front of the stage had increased to TWO rows deep! It was bizarre, the balcony and downstairs around the main floor were packed, but the stage front area was almost empty. I’ve never seen that before.

The stage was moderately sized, not big but not tiny, with a raised drum riser at the back. Cheap Trick came on at 9.05pm, by which time a few more people had joined those in front of the stage. Maybe the crowd was now 5-6 deep…

RN – Black check suit, black t-shirt

RZ – Bottle-green shirt, black velvet suit with long jacket

TP – Big straw hat, black shirt, black pants, blue jean jacket

BEC - Grey flowered shirt, jeans, Cottage Grove Police cap

The set was: IWYTWM, Come On Come On, Hot Love, Can’t Take It, Ain’t That a Shame, I Know What I Want, Wrong All Along, If You Want My Love, That 70’s Song, Voices, Need Your Love, Southern Girls, Surrender/ Ghost Town, Dream Police, Never Had a Lot to Lose, Goodnight Now

A nice show. During Can’t Take It, Rusty showed his driver’s licence which has a Rick pick in front of the photo - to which Rick added another! After That 70's Song, Rick announced that Tom had bought a ‘64 Thunderbird bass that day. Well, he brought out a "new" bass, but I’ve no idea whether that was what Rick said it was. But it wasn’t sparkly for sure! Rick pointed out a number of fans he recognised in front, Rusty, Jan, and Mari from Japan. Surrender saw a KISS Rock’n’Rollover/MFH flat thrown out. Given that the dance floor hadn’t been packed with people, maybe it actually landed on the floor?

The band left straight after the show, and we soon followed. As we went to Rhia’s car, Rusty got something from his truck and threw it at me. OK, it was a very cool checkerboard t-shirt. "Very nice," I said, puzzled. "It’s brand new, never been out of the wrapper. I heard you lost your luggage… Merry Christmas!" said our man from Atlanta. Talk about generosity. Thanks Rusty, I definitely owe you! I especially wore it to the New Orleans show two days later, and both Tom and Bun E remarked on the cool shirt!

Sun 12 March – Gadsden to New Orleans

We left Gadsden a little before 11am on our 400 mile drive to New Orleans. A long drive on I-59, but pretty in places. The approach into NOLA late afternoon was cool. The low 3-mile bridge over the water was bizarre to be on, driving on what seemed to be an unsupported road across a huge expanse of water! The skyline was silhouetted by the sunset as we swung past the Louisiana Superdome and onto the Southbank Expressway. We crossed the Crescent City Connection bridge and soon found our hotel on the west bank.

After checking in, we settled into our rooms, only for Mari to come and ask me to check her fridge. It was completely taken up by a large a paper bag full of boiled crawfish – apparently a previous guest’s uneaten late-night snack… We gingerly took them to the lady at the front desk to dispose of them… (the poor woman, she was on duty every time we left/returned to the hotel, whatever the time of day or night - I guess she’d pulled the 72 hour shift that week…!). We felt too tired to drive back into the unfamiliar city to eat, so decided to eat at the Perino’s seafood restaurant right next door. Rhia, Mari and myself got ourselves some food, and were close to finishing when Robin, Phyll and Steph arrived to join us. This was our first experience of REAL N’awrlins eating. Robin and Phyll each had a large tray, about the size of a trash can lid, piled high with boiled crawfish. Stephanie had crab.

Wow, it was an experience to watch the locals rip those mudbugs apart and suck or pull out the flesh! Me, I couldn’t manage it once, and Robin and Phyll ended up shelling a few tails for me! Steph’s crab arrived without any tools to crack it open, but Robin proceeded to rip that sucker apart with her bare hands. Warning - don’t get on this gal’s bad side!! Apparently if you don’t learn how to get into shellfish by the age of about 6 down there, you starve… A fun meal!

Mon 13 March – (Cheap Trick – New Orleans)

A sunny day, around 70 degrees! And good news too at last. After yet another long, chasing phone call to Northwest at Minneapolis, I got a call back from Memphis Airport. My bag was there. Although I’d flown in from Europe with KLM/Northwest, for some reason my bag ended up with United at Memphis, and had been sitting with them for 3 days. Bizarre. Anyway, I was told it should get to NOLA later in the day! Cool! (Though as it was, it didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm).

We got into New Orleans late morning, found the House of Blues and met up with some of the crew who arrived soon after we did. Did some walking around the French Quarter, seeing the St Louis Cathedral, the mule drawn carriages and the buildings with their wonderful and famous balconies. We stopped for lunch – gumbo, red beans and rice and jambalaya – what else?.

The band arrived for soundcheck around 4.15, with Rick popping out briefly to the Werleens Music Store opposite. I have no idea what got played at soundcheck! We ended up in line down the alleyway to the venue entrance. We had planned to eat at the HOB restaurant but unfortunately it was closed all day for a private function. We managed to give Sven one of the many strings of black and white beads that Rhia had made especially for the show, but Sven’s had four little bottles of tabasco attached too! A local product, of which Sven is most fond! And of course strings of beads were everywhere in NOLA, despite Mardi Gras having finished a week ago.

As well as Robin, Phyll, Steph, and Brian and a couple of his friends, Ron (PBG) from Milwaukee arrived soon before doors opened! He’d taken a train down, which arrived late, but good that he was just in time. It was especially fun for him, Mariko and myself to meet up again, after Ron and I had been in Japan with Mari and our other Japanese friends (Cheap Track et al) for the shows there in October.

We got let in at 7pm, and had no problem getting to stage front. The venue was very cool, dark and atmospheric. Sort of Western Style, with all the fittings, railings, etc being rustic wood. There was a balcony running along the sides rear of room. The stage had a large blue HOB logo backdrop and also a lot of Western bar style doors set low into the wall (at various heights) behind the drumset.

There was a good sized crowd by the time the opening act came on. The Uninvited were a 4 piece band from San Francisco, on their first visit to NOLA, and they gradually won over the audience with their high energy and often funny set. They seemed to enjoy themselves, pogo-ing occasionally, including little clips of old classic songs, and their song about being "Too high for the supermarket" was hilarious. Most opening acts leave me cold. These were good, and if you get the chance, go see them! They have a website at too).

The good sized stage was ready for CT to come on at 9.30, and a few of us down front almost wet themselves when we saw the setlist that was stuck down! Well, I almost did anyway. The standard set was changed to include ELO Kiddies (why can’t I NOT think about Cheap Track whenever I hear this song now?? <g>), Losing You, Fan Club, and the biggie for me, Sabre Dance. Wowah! This would be awesome! I don’t think this has ever been played live, or if it has, only in those early club days.

RN – Black check suit, Mysterious Rick black t-shirt

RZ – Black turtle neck shirt shirt, black velvet suit with long jacket

TP – Big straw hat, black turtle neck sweater, long black sparkly jacket, black pants

BEC - Grey flowered shirt, jeans, white baseball cap with black CT logo all over

The set was: IWYTWM, ELO Kiddies, Hot Love, Can’t Take It, Ain’t That a Shame, I Know What I Want, Wrong All Along, If You Want My Love, That 70’s Song, Voices, Fan Club, Losing You, Southern Girls, Surrender/ Walk Away (where the set list had said Ghost Town), Dream Police, Never Had a Lot to Lose (where the set list had said Sabre Dance), Goodnight Now

Robin had the lyrics for Losing You, and later Walk Away taped down. Rick played the opening bars of Stiff Competition before launching into Hot Love. Voices had a longer than usual intro, as did Goodnight Now. Fan Club was just awesome! After Fan Club, Rick introduced the next song as being "by one of our favourite songwriters", at which point somebody in the crowd shouted out "Billy Corgan". Without a pause, Rick replied sarcastically "Yeah, right!" They then went into Losing You, with a fantastic ending. Surrender again saw a Rock’n’Rollover/MFH flat thrown out. On their return to the stage, Tom wore some of the black and white beads we passed up to him. Rick took a couple of strings too, wearing one briefly before throwing it up into the balcony. The second he carefully draped on one of Bun E’s cymbal stands. Robin came on and surprised me by singing Walk Away whilst the setlist showed Ghost Town. Very cool to hear again. However, it was a little disappointing to hear them start Never Had a Lot to Lose instead of Sabre Dance. I couldn’t complain at 4 changes to the set… but hearing Sabre Dance live would have been absolutely amazing!

After show was a rush. I phoned my hotel, my bag had arrived around 10pm, so Robin (Trap0, not Zander) kindly drove me the 6 miles there to open it up and get some stuff I brought over for the band, and the 6 miles back. Luckily we got back some 30 minutes before the band left for Athens GA. Huge thanks to Trap0! During my brief chat with Bun E, he told me about the dark gold drumkit he’s using for this short tour:

- 24" bass drum instead of a 28" bass (14x24)

- 2 tom-toms instead of one (8x12, 9x13)

- 1 floor tom instead of two (16x16)

- the cowbell has gone, just for this 10-day jaunt.

He said that he still plans to use the drumhead from TF3 that everybody signed. He also said that the band are actively working on the material from the 25th Anniversary show, hopefully for a video/DVD release at some time. No news on the MFH DVD/video though. And yes, they HAD planned to play Sabre Dance that night, but Rick wasn’t entirely sure about part of the song – hardly surprising I guess.

After the bus rolled out around 12.30, the group of us went and ate at a small local bar/restaurant, then walked down Bourbon St, with its loud bars, strip joints, etc. There were still lots of (mostly drunk) people around at 1.30 on a Saturday night, including a small group of men in lederhosen for some reason… and I missed one or two women "flashing" for beads! D’OH! We ended up having coffee and beignets at the famous 24-hr Café du Monde. Fun, but good to get to bed by 3am!

Tues 14 March – New Orleans

Athens and Macon GA were just too far to road trip, so we’d planned an extra day to sightsee in NOLA before heading back on the two-day trip to Wisconsin. It seemed silly to have come all that way, and not seen at least some of one of America’s most historic and fabled cities! After the late night, it was early afternoon before Mari, Rhia and I got into NOLA and met up with Ron PBG. Ron and Mari went off sightseeing, whilst Rhia and I took a streetcar out to the Garden District to see Lafayette Cemetery #1 and some of the amazing architecture of the mansions there, including several houses owned by novelist Anne Rice.

Downtown NOLA at 5pm was crowded with conventioneers, apparently 35,000 of them – including a fully dressed Star Wars trooper, peacefully toting a briefcase through the throng. No wonder we hadn’t been able to find a decently priced hotel downtown. The Death Star might have been easier… We took the Algiers Ferry across the river, seeing the city skyline at sunset, and funnily bumped into Ron and Mari on the Ferry back! We ended up having drinks (and yes, I even had a beer!), before eventually eating in the courtyard of Napoleon’s House. Didn’t see Napoleon. The food was terrific, domo arigato Ron-san! Afterwards we walked down to Jackson Square where Rhia treated us to a late mule carriage ride around the French Quarter. Very cool, seeing the French Market, the "House of the Rising Sun", and lots of other history. Thanks, Rhia! We then walked back and along Bourbon Street, and this time did accidentally happen to see a couple of "flashes"! At his hotel we said our goodbyes to Ron, and back at our hotel, said our goodbyes to Mariko, who was catching an early morning taxi to get her plane to Detroit, then on to Nagoya, Japan.

Weds 15 – Sun 19 March

The journeys home. Wednesday, Rhia and I left New Orleans for the 9-hour journey to Nashville, to stay overnight with a friend there (she won’t read this, but thanks, Liz!). Was lucky to find a cassette of the Epic CT compilation "Voices" at a gas station in Alabama! Thursday saw us leave Nashville and drive for almost 11 hours to Madison WI, an exhausting journey for two people already weary of driving. The final odometer reading for the trip was 2,727 miles! Phew! After the event, I’m not sure I’d recommend such a punishing trip to anyone!

I left Madison (it was snowing) early Saturday afternoon, flew down to Chicago O’Hare and waited in line for 45 minutes to check in for my KLM flight to Amsterdam. By the time I got to the desk, the plane was almost full and they were looking at "bumping" people. After all the airline problems I’d had this trip, no way! I finally got back to Leeds/Bradford Airport at noon on Sunday, and amazingly my baggage arrived with me! A nice surprise, but that doesn’t stop KLM getting a strong letter of complaint from me! Back to work on Monday…


As always, many people to thank, for making a tiring and often difficult trip fun at times! First of all, Rhiazann for service beyond the call of duty, the use of her car, and everything else she did. Many thanks! Trap0 in New Orleans, for so much help leading up to the trip, plus that "mercy drive" directly after the NOLA show!  Carla and Cheap Trick as ever, for their kindness and the great shows. And cool to have met so many CT friends along the way – Mariko, Robin and Phyll, Stephanie, Jennifer, Rusty (thanks for the shirt!), Natten, Adam, SqueekyNun, Tammy and Cindy, Brian, RonPBG (the Harmony Riley CD is terrific, thank you!), Jan Schneider, Melissa, QueenSheena, and anyone else I’ve forgotten! It was cool!

…And NO thanks to KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Northwest Airlines, who managed to make things difficult and stressful by keeping my itinerary a secret and losing my luggage for 5 days.

Until Saratoga thru Las Vegas this sumnmer…


(They persecute me right here in Leeds, England) - 23 March 2000


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