Archive for January, 2011

San Francisco, the city, was so incredible I can’t even talk about it. It was my first time there. From the lovely walkableness of the city (what can I say—I loved the hills) to the freedom of expression to the gorgeous weather we were blessed with that day to our super-cool host in the Castro who prepared us the best breakfast we had on the entire four-night trip, it was sublime. Of course, in our limited six-hour window we didn’t get a chance to do much more than walk around. And eat. And drink. But it was enough to know we will definitely be going back.

Best of all was meeting up for dinner with Katrina, a friend whose acquaintance I made entirely apart from the fact that she’s a 97’s fan. I love it when that happens. The three of us had a lovely, simple dinner at Chow and then she was nice enough to drive us all to the Fillmore. (San Francisco may be walkable, but unlike Boston, the city I’m most familiar with, it’s damn big.) Despite a former glut of Wreckers in the Bay Area, by now most of them have moved out of state, and the only one I was prepared to locate in the crowd was Becky. By way of recognition—we’d never met in person—she said her purse would have a 45 on it. Because I am an idiot, I looked for an actual number, not a record. That’s why she found me first. (Either that or she recognized Matt’s hair.)

I have hardly any photos of the Fillmore show. Out of all the security at all the shows, the Fillmore’s was the most rigid. I had to open my purse and I was told in no uncertain terms that I could NOT take pictures. Complete bullshit, because people were taking photos all over the place. (Except for videographer girl. We tried unsuccessfully to locate her, and decided San Francisco was likely too far for her and her cameras to trek.) Still, the warning stayed in my subconscious long enough that I didn’t think to reach for my camera at all, and I used my camera phone only a couple of times.

Like to take this picture:

Sandra's view in San Francisco

That’s the back of a guy’s shirt. For a good portion of the show, that was my view.

In the unspoken parameters of rock show etiquette, a behavior 97’s fans seem to universally adopt, height makes a difference. If you have someone short (like me) and someone tall (like everyone else), the polite thing for the tall person to do is to move aside so the short person at least has a view. That’s not to say I expect everyone who’s taller than me (which is pretty much anyone over sixth grade, possibly fifth) to move aside. It’s nice when they do and I appreciate it, but I usually don’t ask for it. Last night, though, I almost did.

When we arrived the Fillmore was nowhere near full and we got a great position in the second-ish row, Murryside. Halfway through Langhorne Slim three guys moved in front of me to join their friend, a girl, who was in the front row. All righty, fine. Except dude in front of me? Was about six five. I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup at gunpoint because the neck-crane to get a look at his face would have tumbled me backwards. But I could describe the back of his (striped, oxford) shirt in meticulous detail.

Not only was tall guy and his cohorts interrupting our party, but TG, at least, was swaying. Drunkenly swaying. He and his friends thought that was loads of fun. I got a lot of sympathetic looks and comments from people next to and in back of me but because I am a wuss, I just dealt with it best I could. TG was like a human vision test; every time he swayed I switched from right-eye vision to left-eye vision.

But my friend Becky? Not a wuss. Girl sees more rock shows in a year than I’ve seen in my life. When the three-man dance made its way towards her, she pushed back. Hard.

Now I can have a lot of patience for genuine, no-kidding fans. If you’re up front at the show and you love the band you’ve been waiting to see since you bought your ticket three months ago, I can get behind that. But I can’t get behind six-five dudes in the front row who don’t even know the band. I checked. Dude’s chin was not moving at all during any of the choruses. (What, you don’t suss out your fellow showgoers’ level of obsession by seeing how many songs they know the words to? Yeah. I thought so.) And even though at least two of the swaying guys, including TG, weren’t mean-spirited—I honestly think they were just drunk—I thought that they should at least take their party elsewhere. So did Becky. When one of the ruder guys suggested she move to the back if she was uncomfortable, well, you can guess where that went. But I was grateful to her, because it did seem to work, for a little while anyway. They asked her if she wanted to get in front of them and she said, yes, thank you, and bring her—pointing to me—too. So they placed us in front. Thus separating myself from my husband and Katrina, but at least I could see.

Except it wasn’t over. The guys decided that their new location was perfect for starting—I can’t believe I’m typing this—a mosh pit. Yep. At an Old 97’s show. As you can expect, the surrounding crowd didn’t take too well to this. Not Becky, not the guy with the girlfriend behind us, and certainly not the group of grrrls to the guys’ left. I kept having to turn around to make sure the “pit” wasn’t moving in my direction. But by this time, I was one of the lucky ones. It was everyone else that was furious. When the actual shoving began, it was enough to get Murry’s attention. He stopped everything. Pointed to the crowd. Mildly suggested that it might be a good time for security to step in. I didn’t see what actually caused the final ruckus but Becky summed it up for me: “You don’t f@#k with the lesbians.”

“That was very punk rock,” Murry said when they were gone. “Next up, the Dead Kennedys.”

Now onto the actual show. They played, be still my heart, “Old Familiar Steam.” As is his custom in the Bay Area, Rhett introduced “Indefinitely” with the story of how he wrote the song on the sidewalk at the Oakland airport. As someone posted in the forum on this site, Rhett dedicated “Doreen” to a fan who passed away a few months ago.

At one point, Rhett moseyed over to Murry’s side of the stage and fixed his collar, which had become all askew in the wake of guitar strap movement. It gets better. He then came back to smooth down his disheveled hair. I remember thinking–and was just reminded of this reading another review from a friend–that these guys were, for all intents and purposes, brothers.

Partway into the show Becky tapped my shoulder and pointed up to the box seats on the left, where we’d seen the band hanging out during Langhorne Slim. Their dressing room door was just behind them. “That’s Michael Chabon,” she said. I peered in the direction she was pointing. “And his wife.”

“AYELET WALDMAN IS HERE????”

I’m a writer, and a mom, and I’m on the Internet a lot. I know that Michael Chabon is this prolific writer and I know that he’s written a whole slew of both popular and critically acclaimed stuff, but I must admit I have not read any. Ayelet, though, is my girl. Sure enough, that was indeed them, sitting up there in their box seats, her curls unmistakable in silhouette. During “State of Texas” (which I love more and more and more every time I see it), Rhett got the crowd going with a clap-along—I don’t recall seeing him do that ever, so it seemed kind of cute—and there were Michael and Ayelet, clapping along in time with the rest of the commoners below them.

Their presence may or may not have inspired Rhett’s pre-encore play of “Our Love,” which he called something like “literary history all wrapped up in a pop song.”

The boys LOVED being in San Francisco and playing at the Fillmore. In case you couldn’t tell from the perpetual grins on their faces, they shared this sentiment with the audience multiple times. During one song in the encore (I think it was “Friday Night” ), Rhett was playing with three broken strings. Always a good sign.

If I ever have the chance to see them again in San Francisco, I’m doing it. Mosh pit weirdness notwithstanding, I loved the energy, and loved the vibe. Or maybe it’s just for another chance to be five inches from Ayelet out on the sidewalk as she and Michael leave the building. I watched them take off down the street, walking, and I was thinking that if I wasn’t such a wuss I’d yell “I love your writing!” And then Michael would think I was talking about him and I’d have to clarify and I’d embarrass myself and them and it would all be a total disaster.

Yeah, San Francisco’s pretty awesome.

I know, I’m way behind in announcing this. But if you kept up with the Facebook voting at all, the standings are clear. The number one vote getter, with 302 “likes,” was the motel sign by Austin designer Steve Chandler.

motel sign t-shirt design by Steve Chandler

motel sign t-shirt design by Steve Chandler

The second-highest vote getter was also by Steve Chander — the matchbook, with 118 “likes.”

matchbook t-shirt design by Steve Chandler.

matchbook t-shirt design by Steve Chandler.

So as you can tell by the image at the top of this page, we’ve decided to go with a suggestion from the Facebook comments, and combine them into one shirt. It makes sense conceptually, and it just looks good. Congratulations Steve, and thanks again to everyone who entered. I’ll let you know when this one is available in the site store.

Well, we didn’t get “The Other Shoe,” but we did get the Cramps’ “New Kind of Kick.”

That day we woke up in Costa Mesa, ready to make our way north for the last of the driving portion of the trip. So far I was pleased with our luck in travel. Discounting our late takeoff out of Denver and the overwhelming desire to squash the smarmy Thrifty car rental agent like a bug in San Diego, getting from place to place has been refreshingly without incident. True, we did manage to blow a red light, skip paying a toll completely, and make an illegal right-on-red turn all in the same day. But compared to what could have happened on a southern California road trip, I’d say we got out of it relatively unscathed.

In Los Angeles, we grabbed a late lunch (gyros again, oddly) at the Farmers’ Market and then checked in to the kitschy Best Western Hollywood Hills adjacent to the 101 Diner. (I’m told it’s the diner where Swingers was filmed but personally, when we grabbed breakfast there the next morning, I was more enthralled with the orange-juicing machine. Oranges squeezed as you watch. Hypnotizing.)

So. The Hollywood show. I’ll write in listy form, ’cause that’s the way I think.

The venue: grand. As in, the Music Box is indeed a grand theater.

Beer selection: abysmal (and horrifically expensive, which is the worst combination).

Videographer girl: still there, front and center, with her two cameras, but I was too far away from her to worry about her arms.

Friend factor: insanely awesome. As I’d expected, Los Angeles was less about the show than it was the people. Matt, Julie and I lingered for a two-hour sushi dinner with Kim and Courtney, longtime L.A. girls and longtime 97’s fans. And the food—besides music, this vacation was all about the food—was pretty fantastic. As more and more sharable sushi dishes were set in front of us I even forgot we had a show to go to. Eggplant stuffed with albacore and almonds? More, please.

Murry’s shirtwear: pearlsnap, long-sleeved.

Set list: just all right. People who saw only this show might not agree, but for us the third show felt a little repetitive. Besides the punk interlude (which I’m told should be up on YouTube already, or at least a portion of it), there was nothing remarkable about the set list. It was the first time we got Indefinitely, and Jagged, and, shockingly, Big Brown Eyes, which I hadn’t yet realized had been absent the past two nights. But nothing was pulled from the dusty archives.

Band’s mood: downright giddy. It was obvious that they were loving the hell out of this venue in a city that at least half of the band has been able to call home, and they were clearly feeling the energy in the crowd.

The crowd: a little different. The crowd was … odd. I don’t mean that they weren’t into the show, because they were. Or that they didn’t know the band’s repertoire, because they did. From my ten-rows-back vantage point (first between Rhett and Murry, then on the crowd fringes at extreme Murryside) I found myself looking around and assessing, trying to put my finger on what was different. About halfway through the show it hit me: this crowd was so male. Not that guys are a rarity at an Old 97s show, but usually they’re attached to a girl or sparsely placed throughout. But there were pockets of guys all over the audience. And they really wanted to be there.

LA crowd.

The crowd was also BIG. Upon arrival we took one look at the floor and rejected it in favor of the upstairs outdoor roof patio. Which was perfect. We could clearly hear Langhorne Slim—and I now have a new favorite song of his, even though I can’t tell you what it’s called—but we could also still hang out and laugh about unfortunate Coachella camping experiences, discuss Taylor Swift’s mad self-booking skills when she was still a nobody, and weigh the merits of “Cash” as a first or middle name.

When we came back downstairs, the crowd had redistributed and we made or way to about 10 rows from the front, but that was all I had in me. I’d rather be able to see and breathe than be within range of pick tosses, so I was good.

The band was tight and the songs fast and furious, but I felt a little off-kilter all night. I still had a great time and there was nothing about the show I disliked, but the vibe was just … different. In the future, if I had a choice to see the band in LA or, say, Texas … I might pick Texas.

The Old 97’s are four dates into their West Coast tour and from the looks of all the tweets, videos and reviews, it’s been a phenominal success so far. Besides Rhett’s two videos showing off b-ball skills that would make a Harlem Globetrotter or his physics teacher proud and Sandra’s fan diaries to keep you busy, here’s a link to the in-studio performance our favorite band of merry men played for KPRI in San Diego.

http://www.sddialedin.com/2011/01/kpri-presents-old-97s-at-abbey.html

Many thanks to all at KPRI for posting the entire mini-concert on line and YouTube. To all fellow Wreckers attending the remaining shows of this leg, don’t forget to jump on the Forum to share your experiences.

Remember: Drive safely. Imbibe responsibly. Sing (w)recklessly.

There was a proposal.

But more on that later. First things first. Since this is about me—I mean us—I will take a moment to tell you about our day in La Jolla. It’s January, but the weather was glorious. I woke up before 7 AM, still on Central time and thinking I needed to get the kids to school. Tried to go back to sleep, but I was up for keeps. So I took to the cove. The previous night’s beer kept my head from consenting to the jostle of a run, but I walked, briskly, in shorts and a T-shirt along the ocean. More than once I passed people in parkas and gloves. We exchanged looks of mutual bafflement.

Later on was alfresco coffee (with free wireless) at the Goldfish Café alongside the ocean, where if you squinted you might be able to convince yourself you were in Italy. There was sunshine, seals, and sea lions. Then after that, a hike overlooking the ocean at Torrey Pines State Reserve. Seventy degrees, pure sun, the whole world of the Pacific open.

We had ourselves a time.

On we drove to Santa Ana. Dinner was at a Greek restaurant I’d found on Yelp. We’d originally made dinner reservations at the venue, but then we decided to look at the menu and canceled our reservations. I was happy with my gyro. The venue was oddly situated behind what appeared to be an office complex, and the beer selection was unacceptable. But the stage area was set up nicely, with booths and tables ringing the floor in a half circle. The floor, it turned out, was cement. We all exchanged sighs, because we knew what that meant.

Langhorne Slim now has us wondering if he shops at a new Goodwill store before every show. More: Dude playing the upright bass has a fro for the masses. The drum kit is half the size of Philip’s. We likey.

For the second time, the house music played between the opener and the band included Stuck in the Middle, so I’m going to go ahead and assume that’s a decision on the band’s part. Murry came out and ooo-oooooed along with the part in the song that goes … ooo-oooo. And then it was show time.

I actually took notes during this show. That won’t happen again. I stopped short while texting notes to myself in the middle of Barrier Reef, when I realized I was texting notes to myself in the middle of Barrier Reef. But for now, you’ll benefit from the fruits of my labor:

Opened again with Grand Theater, which is growing on me. (Incidentally, my husband is one of those folks who says thee-ay-ter. The kids have picked it up, too, and my daughter corrects me when I say it differently.) Rhett seems to be taking care to vary the set list because he knows crazies like us will see them more than once (or twice) (or three times). We appreciate the thoughtfulness. Last night’s St. Ignatius was tonight’s Stoned with the supercool psychedelic intro.

I think it’s safe to say the band was feeling loose and in extremely good spirits. As they all paused for a moment while Rhett downed whatever was in his cup, Murry quipped: “We get thirsty a lot.” Later Rhett posed a request to the crowd in general for a Jameson on the rocks. “We should have people for this,” he joked. The drink materialized alarmingly quickly. Intro-ing Champaign, Illinois, Rhett said, “We wrote this song with Bob Dylan. We weren’t in the same room but it worked out.” As the were going into “State of Texas” (possibly my favorite “new” song on the new album), there was an uncharacteristic mixup that had all four guys looking to one another and laughing, starting and stopping the song.

Mistakes are what makes it real.

Videographer girl was back, and I was happy to see that she now had a speaker on which to rest her elbows while she again filmed the show with both cameras.

Midway through the show Rhett invited a guy on stage, and even before he started strumming the opening notes of Question, we knew what was going on. Another damn proposal.

Julie, who has seen the 97s many more times than I have in the past few years, has seen onstage Question proposals before. I have not. But as tattooed, grinning Chelsea was coaxed down to the stage, where her man was waiting with a ring, which he presented to her on bended knee, I forgot all of the cheesiness I’d ever ascribed to this practice. The whole place was cheering for that couple–even Rhett couldn’t seem to keep himself from smiling.

Proposal.

Then Murry began to play You Were Born to Be In Battle, which he offered to the happy couple as the song for when they had kids.

On the set list I caught a mention of The Other Shoe, which remained unplayed, ditched in favor of Dance With Me. No idea why, but I’m wondering if the proposal took so much time that curfew was setting in sooner than expected and a shorter song was warranted.

After Smokers, which smoked (including the otherwise-inappropriate fog smoke that finally found its purpose), Ken, who had been jamming almost into the crowd right next to Murry as the song built up to the end, threw his guitar pick into the crowd. I know he wasn’t aiming for me, but he threw it straight at me. I predictably missed it, but it bounced off Matt, and now it’s in my hotel room.

My only 97s guitar pick ever.

As feared, the night ended with aching backs, feet, and legs. (Seriously, club owners? Concrete? It can’t be that spendy to at least throw down something foamy or rubbery.) If I lived in Santa Ana, I’d never watch a show from the floor there again. Which just might mean I’d never watch a show there.

I’m not one for requests, but we’ll be expecting The Other Shoe tonight.

Did we even know how to do this anymore?

Yes. Yes we did.

Well, pretty much. When the show got out at 11, 18 hours after I’d woken my kids up for school that morning, I was at first shocked, then relieved, then downright ecstatic to know I’d be getting home so early. I suppose I should be embarrassed by that. I’m not.

The first time I bought tickets to see the Old 97s was for a show at the Paradise in Boston. But the first time I saw them was at Irving Plaza in New York City. So impatient was I to witness this band I’d just discovered that I decided I couldn’t wait an extra two days for the local date. Finding no willing partners, I drove the four hours to New York alone. By the time Rhett sang the line that had singlehandedly detoured my casual curiosity into outright fandom—“It’s not funny like on TV, and it’s not smart like it is in books”—I knew I’d never let a lack of a sidekick keep me from seeing this band.

But that said, sidekicks are the best part of showgoing. Tonight I’d be meeting up with Jen and Julie, as well as Mark, Julie’s cousin, who’d never seen the band. Snow delayed our flight and we arrived at the Wild Note Café, the restaurant adjacent to the Belly Up, just in time to be an hour and a half late for our dinner reservation. But our friends were well into their cocktails, the door to the venue was in my line of vision, and Ken was dining two tables away. All felt right.

Old 97s crowds take on different characteristics in different cities. Some places — say, Denver — I’ve been able to wait almost until they take the stage and easily make my way to my preferred spot: one row back from the front, Murryside. In other cities, like Dallas or Chicago (so I’m told; Chicago’s a city I’ve missed thus far), you damn well better stake your claim while (or before) the opener comes on or you’re out of luck. Frankly, in cases like that I usually choose to be out of luck. If being up front it means staring at the back of some guy’s T-shirt or being bumped by screaming girls competing for their share of Rhettsweat, I’m gonna take it to the back without complaint.

Julie and I evaluated the crowd. The path to Murryside looked impossible. We exchanged looks and wordlessly agreed to head to the second-most important location at an Old 97’s show: the bar. This helped. The bar was on a riser, and we had a better view of the crowd density. “We can so navigate that,” I told her, and she agreed. Beer in hand, we entered the crowd midway back, Kenside, and slowly smiled our way through. We caught the last few songs of Langhorne Slim, whose fans were in full force in the front. In my crotchety older age, I’d rather not stand for hours at a time, so opening bands are usually not my thing. But I have to say, I liked the sound. I wasn’t disappointed I’d be seeing them for three more nights.

I should admit up front that I’m not much of a show reviewer. I know my limitations. I’m more of a list maker, a reporter of observations. So here’s my list of what stands out from Solana Beach:

  • Brie burger: fantastic. I highly recommend it.
  • Sound: Thumbs up. Even from right up front, often the worst place for the best sound, it was phenomenal.
  • Venue: For that matter, I’ll say that the Belly up is one of the best rock show venues I’ve been in.
  • Murry’s shirtwear: pearlsnap, shortsleeved.

Murry @ Belly Up, San Diego, 1/11

  • Ken’s hair: Mohawkish.
  • State of certain band members’ sobriety: questionable.
  • Band Julie’s cousin compared them to, mid-song: Replacements
  • Notable shirts available: the brown crown shirt, which I own and recommend, and a new Strike Anywhere matchbook one, which I scored.
  • St. Ignatius. Hell yeah.
  • Girl in the front row who held up two different cameras recording video of the show the entire time: My arms got sore just watching her.

Camera girl at Belly Up show.

Mostly, I just stood there and existed, knowing the experience wasn’t mine alone. The best word I can use to describe being there with Matt for the first time in over three years, hearing “Wish the Worst” and “Doreen” and songs that we’d been watching together since the beginning of us was … contentment. I know that’s not the most exciting way to describe a rock show, but there it is. Hearing Rhett and Murry harmonize on West Texas Teardrops or seeing Rhett’s windmill during Barrier Reef just brings an order to things. On the floor two rows back from the stage, Murryside, at an Old 97’s show, nothing feels out of place.

I’m on the way to the Santa Ana show and I’m exhausted. Delayed jet lag. More tomorrow.

Rhett Windmill Video

For the first four shows of the current Old 97’s tour, long-time fan Sandra Hume is going to provide a road diary from the fan’s point of view. As she, her husband Matt and an ever-changing cast of like-minded Wreckers follow the boys up the west coast, Sandra will keep us posted on all the fun. She’s uniquely qualified to do so, but I’ll let her tell that story herself.

It’s a little embarrassing, really, so I’ll just come right out and say it. My family—the family of my adulthood, the one I chose—exists because of the Old 97’s.

Almost eleven years ago, I discovered this band called the Old 97’s. It was between Fight Songs and Satellite Rides. At the same time, I discovered Internet fan groups. I was a Johnny-come-lately to the Yahoo Group “Wrecked” (and its on-topic, no-exceptions sister, “Hitchhiking”) compared to the pioneers who had been around since 1998. Like my husband.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. At first this guy, Matt, was just a fan whose name I’d see tacked on to the end of his group messages. And then in my personal email inbox. Our private email exchanges were sparked when he offered me unsolicited advice on a romantic situation I’d vented briefly about to the group. This should have been a turnoff, but I liked his style. Email gave way to instant messaging, then phone calls, and the next thing I knew I was meeting him for a drink in a hotel bar on a June night in Dallas before a one-off Old 97’s date at the Gypsy Tea Room. It was my first time in Texas, and I’d flown from Boston solo. He’d driven down from … where was it? Oklahoma? He corrected me: he lived (and farmed) in Kansas. I was almost thirty, fairly newly single, and experimenting with my latent bravery, but I wasn’t nervous about meeting the Kansan farmer. Although I liked him and felt an almost alarming synergy with him, the two pictures he’d sent of himself I’d found … underwhelming.

Then he walked into the bar, where my mind shut down from all but two thoughts: Dude’s wearing cowboy boots. Dude takes really bad pictures.

Five months later we were married.

Some couples love Vegas. Others schedule annual Disney trips. For me and Matt, seeing the Old 97’s was What We Did. For a while, it was easy. Just before we got married, we met up with other fans for a three-show hit in Missouri and eastern Kansas. The drive to and from Boston for our five-months-after-the-fact wedding reception serendipitously coincided with another tour. We hit Pittsburg on the way there, and St. Louis, Columbia, and Lawrence on the way back.

Wherever we could, we hooked up with friends. People from the same Wrecked group where Matt and I met were scattered all over the country, and hitting shows together was some of the best fun we knew how to have. That summer, 2001, we joined half a dozen other “Wreckers” for what we still call the “trifecta,” caravanning to Dallas (Trees), Austin (Stubb’s), and Houston (I can never remember the venues in Houston) over a long weekend in July.

Wreckers

Our venture into parenthood crimped our plans only slightly. Our daughter Sky’s first plane ride, at ten months of age, was a jaunt to Dallas to catch a Ranchero Brothers Barley House show, which we listened to from the sidewalk. Video exists somewhere of Matt sitting on the bottom floor of Sons of Hermann Hall holding a sleeping Sky while “Wish the Worst” plays in the background. As she got older and life at Grandma and Granddad’s proved much more exciting than being with Mom and Dad, we were able to hit Dallas or Austin or Denver for a couple shows at a time.

Then we had another kid. Relatives in Austin were kind enough to keep Wilder and Sky while we caught a show at Stubb’s in 2005, and we even tried to indoctrinate the kids by bringing them to sound check. But that year marked the last family-wide Old 97’s travel. Life got complicated. From where we lived in the middle of the High Plains, getting away was always at least an overnighter, and usually required a boarding pass. Taking off for an adults-only weekend wasn’t just inconvenient, it was irresponsible. The kids had things to do, school to attend, and when they didn’t, relatives to see.

The guys we learned to love as they sang about drinking and debauchery were now married and having their own kids, just like us. But playing music was their job; listening to it wasn’t ours. Years went by. Entire tours happened without our hitting a single show. When a ballet recital conflicted with the Gruene Hall recording of Alive and Wired, I … forget it, I can’t even talk about it. As I sit here typing this in 2011, I can’t believe that the last time the two of us together saw the band perform was in 2007.

Matto Hume & Sky

Matt and I celebrated our ten-year anniversary this past November. What to do to mark the occasion? The best time for us to travel was January. We considered the Caribbean. We considered Europe. When we took a look at the Old 97’s tour schedule, though, we realized sheepishly that the rock clubs of California would win out. Tonight, in a club just north of San Diego—kids happily moved in for a long weekend at Grandma’s—we’re going back to where it all began.

Four cities. Four nights. No kids.

Do we even know how to do this anymore?

– Sandra

The boys are hitting the road again tomorrow, and once again with help from Cindy Royal we’ve set up spots on Gowalla for every show. When you get to a show, look for the special Old 97’s spot, check in and win a free download of a rare demo from the band. Check in at three or more shows and you’ll get the “Head West with Old 97’s” virtual pin for your Gowalla passport.

If you’re not on Gowalla, it’s easy to join:

1. Download the Gowalla app for your smartphone. It’s available on iPhone, Android and many other services.

2. Set up a login and password.

3. Make sure you are following Old 97’s on Gowalla. Go to gowalla.com/old97s and click “Add As Friend.” Or visit gowalla.com/trips/31986 and choose “Bookmark This Trip.” You must either follow the band or bookmark the trip to be eligible for the pin.

4. When you’re at a show, look for the special Old 97′s event spots and check in. You’ll then be able to see which other fans have checked in at the show. And please help spread the love by broadcasting your check-in to Twitter or Facebook, uploading photos, and making comments. You can share the experience and help get the word out at the same time.

5. When you get home, you’ll have an email waiting for you with a free rare demo download.

Not going to be at the show? You’re still in luck. You can follow the action by visiting the Gowalla event spot during or after the show to see the check-ins and enjoy the photos and comments.

Old 97’s at Belly Up – San Diego

Old 97’s at Galaxy Theater – Santa Anna

Old 97’s at Music Box at the Fonda – Los Angeles

Old 97’s at The Fillmore – San Francisco

Old 97’s at Showbox at the Market – Seattle

Old 97’s at Wonder Ballroom – Portland

Old 97’s at Boulder Theater – Boulder, CO

Old 97’s at Bottleneck – Lawrence, KS

More Gowalla promotions to come in February.