Last April, Stephanie and I traveled quite a bit to see Old 97’s perform. As anyone who follows the band can attest, the cities, venues, and accommodations may vary greatly, but there is one comforting constant on the road: tour manager extraordinaire, Mike Dalke.
We thought it would be fun to get to know a little more about the man who keeps this train from running off the rails.
1. How long have you been involved with the band?
I did my first run of shows with them in Fall of 1997 during the “Too Far to Care” album tour. We parted ways temporarily around 2000 since I had a day job as a producer at a dot com during the goldrush. That year, I met my wife, and had steered my life in a non touring direction for several years. The 97s stayed in contact with me because we were friends outside of the business anyways. I started up my touring business again in 2005, and I think Philip called me and told me about a job opening in 2006. It is a true piece of good fortune that I am back on tour with the guys.
2. How did you meet the band and subsequently become part of the touring crew?
I was tour managing a second stage act on Lollapalooza 1997, and I spent my free time on that tour hanging out with the Old 97s, because they were on that stage as well, and there was a ton of free beer around after the set was done. All of us were done working by 4:30 pm on that tour. We had a lot in common, so when Lollapalooza ended, I told them that I would be happy to work for them, since my artist, Jeremy Toback, had no shows scheduled after Lollapalooza, I needed a gig.
3. Were you in a band back then?
Yes, There were still some occasional gigs for my instrumental surf band, “The Revellators”.
4. Take us through a typical day. The bus pulls into town at 9am and…
I wake up because I can tell when the bus driver is looking for a parking space, or driving into a parking lot. I get the bus driver situated with a hotel room as soon as the hotel will permit. Hopefully it is immediately, as drivers are usually very sensitive to extending their workday with waiting. Once that is done, I look for breakfast, knowing full well that no one on the bus is awake yet. After that, I return to the bus, turn on the satellite tv, troubleshoot it and make it work if the signal went out. Fire up the laptop and check email, look for red flags regarding interviews, guests, meet and greets, things that will be issues within a few hours of the guys waking up. At 2:30 I will enter the club with Jason and Jeff (our loyal crew), or our guitar tech du jour, and meet the venue’s staff for the show. We do a quick rundown of how things are going to go, and then the crew loads in and sets up. At 4:00, I get the band off of the bus, and go into the venue for sound check. We normally take about ten minutes to get the vocals loud enough on stage to work, and then we do two or three songs for a sound check. Then we give the stage up to the support band, and look for dinner. Some time during or after dinner, I will have completed the guest list (except for the ones that certain people only add after doors have opened) and Rhett will have made the set list for tonight’s show. He will make a set list every night with a deliberate effort to be unique to the previous show , and from the previous show at that same venue even a year before. It is much more labor intensive than any set list that I have ever seen. Then doors open up, we hang backstage, I keep an ear out for anything dramatic happening with guests, promoter reps, crew or band members. We keep conversations light and cheery till set change. At set change we put out the set lists, double check all of the instruments and mics, and I play my set change music, and the walk on song. After the show, I collect the band’s check, do a quick review of the night with the promoter, thank them for having us again, and tell them that we hope to return soon. If the agent calls them in 9 months for another show, we want them to remember that we were good to work with. Then I leave, call the bus driver, have him cab it to the bus, then we take the bus to the hotel for showers. After 90 minutes of shower time at the hotel, we start our journey to the next town. Average drive time is 8 hours, so generally, I get my sleep while the bus is in motion, and stop sleeping when the bus stops. That has been the bus schedule for 20 years now.
5. There have been several comments online from fans complimenting the song selection played prior to Old 97’s taking the stage on tour. Who’s responsible for choosing the tunes? Is it thought out,completely random or mood driven. Earlier in the winter leg of the tour last year, Devo’s “Freedom of Choice” was featured prior to a Wisconsin gig. A nod to the anti-union political happenings in WI?
I make the itunes playlist for set change during the tour. Sometimes they are based on a song that we all wanted to hear after a conversation that takes us to the core of our being. Being cooped up in the same 200 square feet of living space with 7 guys will do that to you. Ken and Philip will throw out really random song or band names, just to see if I can find the song. So, that’s why the good people of Lawrence Kansas had to hear “Carry on my wayward son” by Kansas as a closer. Some of the songs are meant to get someone’s attention because of a lyric or title, or an artist’s home town. Freedom of Choice is actually just a song to raise the spirits, and prepare the audience to get up and move. It was a walk on song for us. The walk on song says, no more standing around talking, it’s about to get loud. I was glad that Madison folks took it as a fight song.
The Pink Floyd song “Time” has a tempo and a feel that sort of puts the audience onto a virtual moving sidewalk that moves them out of the building feeling like they just had an epic experience.
5a. We all have guilty pleasure favorites in our iPods, songs that we’re all embarrassed to admit we not only own, but know every word to. Spill it. What’s yours?
Uh, well probably… “to Sir with Love” by Lulu. It has the best chorus of any song on my ipod that I can think of. It reminds me of some really great people who used to cover that song in a cabaret show.
6. What’s your most important duty as tour manager?
The big picture is that I have to make sure that 7 people make it to 19 shows in 21 days in 19 cities at the time that was agreed upon in order to play the show for the fee that was negotiated so that the band and crew can continue to do this as a way to make a living. Getting us all to the show, and going through the associated pitfalls and stress of dealing with different people every day, without freaking out and stressing out the band. That is the challenge. Feeling like the world is trying to kill you, and looking like you didn’t notice is the daily challenge. Growing up in L.A.; friends could all tell horror stories about that time they drove to San Francisco… 400 miles… Or the time we drove to Vegas after work… 320 miles…. Most people remember drives like that after doing them once. We do them at least 100 times per year, and then put on a rock-show at the end of each drive.
7. Is Murder Or a Heartattack really about your stealthy kitty cat, Charlie? How do you feel about Rhett’s less than flattering portrayal of you in his retelling of that story to audiences. It is kinda rock ‘n roll, but still, does Rhett pay you a little extra to trash your rep?
It really is about the kitty cat Charlie. I just celebrated ten years of sobriety, so I have no problem saying that I was a big lush when Rhett and I lived in Hollywood together. My apartment was sort of a hostel for musicians and world travelers who had met me through my years of touring. Everyone was welcome, and drinking was encouraged. So, while I was not even in the same county as Rhett and Charlie when that song was written, Charlie did come back, and I was very drunk very often when I was at the apartment. So Rhett’s stories are at least based in reality. And, yes he pays me extra quite often. He is a generous employer.
8. You’re in the enviable position to have heard the Old 97’s catalog performed over and over. Which songs are your favorites? Any tunes you’d like to see put back in heavier rotation?
Uh, Barrier Reef, 4 Leaf Clover, are classics that I look forward to every night. Jagged needs to be in heavier rotation, and Let the Whiskey Take the Reigns should be played more. Iron Road is the Murry song that I miss live. We need to put that one in again. I suppose that I am partial to “Too Far” songs since they pretty much played it in full every set when I first toured with them.
9. What’s the craziest thing you’ve done for or with the band. Anecdotes, please.
Well, this is crazy in terms of maritime safety, and just hilarious in terms my misfortune making for an amusing story. We had a day in Annapolis, MD with two events on the schedule. Event one was a radio show, which is broadcast from the second floor of a candy store. Event two was a concert on a 40 foot harbor cruise boat that had only one toilet for 300 people.
I was trying to cut down on my sugar intake, so I asked the candy store owner if she had anything low in sugar. She said yes and handed me a complimentary 16 oz bag of Sugar Free Gummy Bears. I ate the whole bag in 10 minutes and then took the band to the boat for the harbor cruise concert. Once the boat was good and full, my lower intestine made a sloshing noise and then I felt a sick pain and heard my stomach make a noise like… geglunk… It turns out that the fake gummy bears are indigestible, and they have an incredible laxative effect if you eat one ounce of them. I ate 16 ounces. The band was onstage, the boat was full, there was one tiny toilet on the far end of the boat. 300 drunk contest winners, 150 people in line for the toilet, and me holding down 16 times the normal dose of a super laxative disguised as gummy bears. The ship’s people got me a special pass-the-line privilege on the boat, so I survived without losing it. In terms of maritime safety, the boat had about 3 times more people on it than it should have. The vessel was listing to one side, because the audience all moved to one area of the boat to see the band.
10. So… what’s this I hear about a dalliance with Gwen Stefani?
Her brother and I were close friends in High School, she was two years younger than we were. We all lived walking distance to each other’s houses as well as Disneyland. My friend was Gwen’s first boyfriend, but he was not very nice to her at the time, and they broke up right before a Winter Formal dance. It was a traditionally girl ask boy dance. Gwen asked me, I said yes. We double dated with her brother and his girlfriend. It was pretty much something out of Happy Days or American Graffiti. Eric Stefani had a 65 Plymouth Belvedere, I think we all drove in that.
11. People would be surprised to know that…
The mission of the Old 97s on tour (besides playing shows) is to feel at home, and comfortable. Parties and exotic outings are truly silly ideas.
12. Anything you miss about the early, lean years?
Uh, I miss Noah Polk, my old crew mate, and current Pizza Mogul of Austin Texas.—East Side Pies—I occasionally miss the college-bar feel that some of the old gigs had.
13. If you weren’t involved with Old 97’s, or the music biz, what would you be doing?
If I still needed money, then I would be working in TV doing editing. Some of my friends back home in LA do that, and it’s a great job. I am learning the software right now, just to have another skill.
14. You’ve recently picked up the Twitter baton (@broktune). How are you liking the Twitterverse so far? Where did that moniker come from?
Well, I have less than 10 followers, so I don’t really feel the power of Twitter yet. I am following Steve Martin, He is deeply snarky. Broktune is the secret code name for the guy who plays Mr Belvedere. Credit to Kevin Nealon SNL Tom Hanks episode. (watch the skit here)
15. Regarding chicken and women, leg or breast man?
Chicken, breast, Women, leg.
16. I believe the answer to this next question reveals a lot about a man, so answer carefully. Samantha or Jeanie?
Hmmmmm, well Samantha could get me in there with Serena. So Samantha.
17. Favorite city(s) on tour?
Uh…. Austin, Boulder, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Seattle, Charleston, New York, Chicago, Gruene Texas,…I just like towns with a lot of people who dig music, or are really unique in an architectural or geographic sense. When the weather goes cold, keep me away from the Great Lakes. I have terrible seasonal depression. Winters near the great lakes would make me hang myself.
18. You’re always so laid back, is there anything that just royally cheeses you off?
Um… Well my main word in trying to get people to work together is flexibility. If I am faced with a person who is inflexible and therefore unable to solve a problem, I get a bit miffed. I still handle it with courtesy and professionalism. Then, if the band feels that it requires further action, we file a complaint with the booking agent, and then the doo doo hits the fan, long after we have left the city.
19. You recently met musical legend Chuck Berry in Missouri. How cool was that? Who are your musical idols? Anyone in particular you’d give your first born to meet?
Well Chuck was incredible, because on the surface he is a sweet old man who I wished could be my grandfather. But if you shake his hand and think about Johnny B Good, or any of his hits, it is a religious experience.
I would love to meet Bowie. I would only want to meet him if we could chat for 10 minutes. The handshake, and walk away routine means nothing to me. My idols were pretty cliché rock icons. Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Mick Jagger, David Bowie. My bar is set really high for rock idols.
20. What do you do in your down time between touring?
I cook for my family, take care of the house, the cars the pets. Fix whatever broke while I was on tour. Try to make a romantic getaway plan with my wife. We live on an island east of Savannah GA. We sometimes do weekend trips to the beach in Florida. I actually do road trips in my spare time. Sitting still makes me kind of crazy.
21. Earlier this month, I was backstage at the Tin Angel in Philly. All four walls and the ceiling were covered with artists’ signatures and drawings. I have one question: why so many penises?
Well, at that level of touring the guys are usually broke, bored to death, and handling their own penises so much, that their hand is naturally inclined to draw a penis as soon as they get a Sharpie between their fingers.
22. Is there an actual dressing room that isn’t crappy?
Well, venues come in two categories. Those to which, I would bring my mother. And those with penises on the dressing room walls. Category one usually requires 1,200 capacity and rather expensive tickets. The extra money goes to keeping the building nice. We just played a club this month that has not painted its dressing room, or vacuumed the carpet since before 1990. I tagged the wall in 1990 and it is still there, and it was a dump in 1990. So it is safe to guess that this room has been neglected since the 80’s.
23. Is there a favorite restaurant/diner you guys never miss while touring?
Well, we all have our go to places that we know from the trip before. I will sadly guarantee that we will have breakfast at Cracker Barrel on a travel day for every tour. So while it is corporate, and a bit cheesy, we never miss a Cracker Barrel.
24. Best thing you ever bought, received or stole.
I bought an Ibanez Paul Stanley Iceman at a pawn shop in Australia for 200 bucks 20 years ago. That was probably the greatest shopping experience of my life.
25. And finally, Dude… the McRib is STILL around. Are you psyched?
Yes, but the words… “for a limited time only” really make me insecure. When will they give McRib full time status?
Thanks again Mike for taking the time to answer these queries. I think I speak for every one of us when I say we’re all glad you and your innards survived the Annapolis harbor cruise.
There you have it. A little more insight into the coolest man behind the band. Be sure to stop by and say hello next time you’re at a show.