A Weekend in the Life of “Smitty”

A Weekend in the Life of “Smitty”

A Tour Journal Entry from Ryan “Smitty” Byrne, Bassist with the Stephen Cochran Project

EVENT: Ballistic Concerts presents: Country Music Deep in the Art of Dallas (featuring Joe Diffie, Sammy Kershaw, Trailer Choir, Stephen Cochran Project, and Redneck Souljers) @ The Bomb Factory – Dallas, TX – April 18th, 2015

(Preface: This is sort of a draft version of this blog entry. I still hope to add some pics/video clips, and a little extra info here and there, but I wanted to have the entry available for reading while I get to that stuff. Enjoy! – Ryan “Smitty” Byrne)

11:58pm, Thursday, April 16th, 2015: It is two minutes to midnight – two minutes until Friday, April 17th, 2015. The transformation from “Ryan” to “Smitty” has begun . . . But more on that in a few minutes. In 14 hours we’ll be departing Nashville on a tour bus destined for Dallas, TX. We’ll be sharing the stage with Sammy Kershaw, Joe Diffie, our friends from Trailer Choir, our Red Revolver Entertainment roster mates – Redneck Souljers, as well as Dallas acts, Tiffany Nicole Taylor, and J Charles & The Trainrobbers. I really should be lying down to try to get some sleep, as I have some errands to run in the morning before we board the bus – but now, RIGHT now, I feel the urge to write.

At 40 years old, I STILL get as excited as a wide-eyed teenager when I know that I get to hop on a bus, travel to another city, and play music on a big stage – especially alongside artists/bands that I’ve listened to for the better part of two decades. I’ve been lucky enough to share the stage with a lot of big name country artists since I joined Stephen Cochran’s band back in 2006, but every once in a while there’s an artist that I just feel a little more personally connected to. Joe Diffie is one of those artists. A good 15 years or so back, I made my girlfriend at the time stay late with me at the Fryeburg Fair (Fryeburg, ME) because Joe Diffie was performing in concert that night. She was not a big country fan, so it was a tough sell to begin with. And if memory serves me correctly, it was also quite chilly that night – which didn’t help matters. At the time I had already been playing in my New Hampshire indie-rock band (Nostalgic Distortion) for probably 7 years, and was contemplating a change of location to Nashville – and a change of genre to country. I thoroughly enjoyed the concert that night and was dreaming about what it would be like to play big stages as a sideman touring with established country artists. Towards the end of the concert, Joe introduced his band, and it just so happened that the fiddle player was from Portland, Maine – which elicited a tremendous roar of applause from the crowd. That sparked even more dreams of me being the New Hampshire boy that moves to Nashville, gets a job playing bass for some big country artist, and at some point having a tour stop back “home” – maybe at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester – and hearing that loud hometown roar as the artist introduced that his bassist was “born right here in Manchester, NH“. I remember trying to convince my girlfriend that I should pursue music on a more serious level, and half tried to talk her into moving to Nashville. But, alas, my move to Nashville would still be about 4 years down the road – and not with the girlfriend . . . Or the girlfriend after that . . . However, it is now 1:00am. I feel like I have transferred some of my earlier excitement and fidgetiness to the written page – enough so that I may be able to go to sleep now.

8:12am, Friday, April 17th, 2015: My eyes pop open and I reach for my phone to check the time. Exactly one hour earlier at 7:12am, my eyes popped open as well, but I let myself close them and fall back to sleep. This time, however, it is time to get up. I’ve got to run to a couple stores and pick up a few items before we load the bus. Some new socks, some toothpaste, some hair wax and spray-in hair color (for the continuing transformation of “Ryan“ to “Smitty“ – more on that in a bit), and a new suitcase to put everything in. I trashed my old one some months back because it had seen it’s better days. Until now I had just been borrowing my wife’s when I need to travel – but she is leaving for a business conference as soon as I get back in town and her suitcase is already filling up with the items she is taking on her trip. She is, as my father-in-law calls her, “a little engine of preparation”. I, however, do not prepare as far ahead as she does. It is now T minus four hours and forty-eight minutes from bus call time and I’ve still got to purchase the suitcase I’m going to use for this trip. But it’s time to get my own suitcase again anyway. At least this way I won’t get talked to about leaving my “dirty, stinky laundry” in her suitcase for an extended period of time – because I forgot to empty my suitcase when I got back. You see, when she went to grab the suitcase several days ago to begin preparing for her upcoming trip – I still had some of my items in there from the band’s trip to Ocala a few weeks earlier . . .

So I’ve mentioned my transformation from “Ryan” to “Smitty” a couple of times now. People that are already familiar with the Stephen Cochran Project (SCP) and either know me personally or follow me online know about “Ryan” and “Smitty”. “Ryan” is regular ol’ everyday, normal me: A freelance bassist, substitute music teacher, web designer, and social media marketer that drives a minivan – though that’s always been for the purpose of transporting musical gear. “Smitty”, on the other hand, is the Mohawk wearin‘, head-boppin‘, Tasmanian-devil-spinnin’ rock-star alter-ego that I assume when I step onto the stage with the SCP. “Ryan” normally wears a somewhat normal, business-acceptable haircut. “Smitty” usually wears a brightly colored Mohawk. Usually before going on the road with the SCP, I will go have my Mohawk freshly carved out. And after the road trip I’ll begin growing the hair on the sides of my head back out again and perhaps get the length of the hair on top trimmed down to kind of normalize my haircut. If I don’t have a whole lot of days or weeks in between road trips then I’ll just wash all the color out (as I mentioned earlier – I use temporary hair color) and slick the Mohawk back and flat against the top of my head so that I can wear my hair in a somewhat professional manner for school/work/business purposes. But more than just the visual differences, there is also a difference in mindset between “Ryan” and “Smitty”. “Ryan” is straight-laced, friendly, a good talker, and smiles a lot. “Smitty” is very confident in his own self-importance, doesn’t smile or talk as much as “Ryan”, and when he does talk, tends to talk in a slightly lower pitch with just the slightest hint of a southern accent on certain words. Though, when “Smitty” gets excited – “Ryan” can start to sneak out again. Full on “Smitty” is reserved for being on stage – or when making appearances or getting interviewed on behalf of the SCP. Other than that, “Ryan” comes back out during travel time or other downtime on the road.

2:00pm, Friday, April 17th, 2015: After loading all of our gear and luggage into the underbelly of the bus and stocking the fridge and cooler with food and bevvies from Kroger, the bus departs Nashville for Dallas. Even though Stephen was flown out to Dallas a couple days early to do some pre-concert interviews and promotion, there are still twelve people on the bus: Jason, our driver for this trip; Juliette – who is responsible for setting up several of Stephen’s interviews in Dallas regarding this concert – is riding with us on the way to Dallas, but will be flying back when Stephen joins us on the bus for the return trip; Also along with us is Adam H., a member of our management team at Red Revolver Entertainment; Hit songwriter Sam Tate and his wife, Jo, are on the trip with us, as Sam is the M.C. for the event. Actually, it is Sam‘s bus that we are using on this trip; Next are all the band members: Adam & Erika Catt, a husband-and-wife team that make up the duo known as A an E. Though they are a standalone act, Erika is also Stephen’s cousin, and Stephen asked them to travel with us for a while as an opening act, and also to round out our band as background vocalists (and as a 2nd guitarist in Adam’s case). Then we have Manneth Webster on drums, Carrigan Shields on keys, Matthew Seay on 1st guitar, Mark Erhardt on utility (steel guitar, banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar), and yours truly on bass. The first few bevvies being twisted open help to create the atmosphere that we are indeed “on the road again”. After a few hours of recounting road stories (and this band is FULL of them), talking about upcoming events, and just plain enjoying the fact that we are still out here doing this, I begin to feel a nap coming on – and head towards the back of the bus to grab a bunk. It doesn’t take long for me to fall asleep on a moving tour bus. The hum of the engine and tires rolling down the road coupled with the gentle swaying back-and-forth of the bus as it winds down a ribbon of highway – all while nestled in the just-big-enough-but-cozy bunk is like putting a baby in a rocking cradle with a music box playing. I’m out like a light . . .

2:00am, Saturday, April 18th, 2015: After a fuel stop and a couple food and bathroom breaks along the way, the bus reaches it’s destination at The Bomb Factory on Canton Street in the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas, TX. Workers at the club are still picking up and shutting down from the concert that Nikki Sixx’s band, SIXX:A.M., played just mere hours ago. We meet Stephen outside the club. As mentioned earlier, he had been flown down by the concert promoters a few days early to do some radio and TV interviews as well as make a few solo acoustic guest appearances at some of the local hotspots to help build the buzz surrounding tonight’s show. We twist the caps on a few more bevvies and make ourselves comfortable. Our hotel rooms won’t be available until about noon, so the bus and the sidewalk outside of it will be our camp until noon. It is a comfortably cool night, and I decide to pull up a seat on the sidewalk next to Adam and Erika. The other Adam (Adam H.) is walking around the bus with the cell phone up to his ear. People are back and forth, off and on the bus, talkin’, chillin’, and basically just killin’ time until we can get into our hotel rooms. By about 4:30am the buzz has all but died down. I have grabbed myself a bunk again, and most everybody else is settling in for some sleep as well.

10:00am, Saturday, April 18th, 2015: I wake up and hear that several people are already up in the lounge of the bus. It is bright and sunny outside and the buzz around our bus/camp is picking back up. I step outside and see another tour bus and trailer parked behind ours – It belongs to Joe Diffie. Several people from that bus are also standing around outside and they have already begun loading their stuff into the venue, as Diffie’s load-in/sound check time is 10:00am. After that, at noon, is Kershaw’s load-in/sound check time. Our load-in/sound check time isn’t until after 2:00pm or so. Mark and I decide to walk off in search of food and stumble across a 24-hour restaurant/bar called BuzzBrews. Once inside, we make a quick call to the others to let them know where we are. Most of the crew decides that breakfast sounds like a good idea and our table of two turns into a table of ten or so in just about as many minutes. Our host asks us if we are one of the bands playing at The Bomb Factory. We tell him that indeed we are, and he lets us know that Nikki Sixx and company were here yesterday as well for some grub. After breakfast, we walk around the block to the venue. Sammy Kershaw’s bus is just pulling up. Sammy is standing up right up towards the front of the bus in full view of the big front windows. I give him a wave and he waves back. Mark asks if I’ve seen the venue yet. I say, “Not yet.”, and he says, “Well come check it out.”.

Upon entering the venue, I take a moment to soak it all in. A big stage; a huge, wide-open, floor. Crowd control gates about four feet in front of the stage, A 2nd floor area with seating around the edge that looks down over the wide-open floor below; and a very cool backstage area complete with multiple talent dressing rooms and a full kitchen. The place reminds me of a bigger, yet more bare-bones version of a former club in Boston called The Avalon (Now the House-Of-Blues). This is the type of venue I dreamed of playing when I was younger. My friends and I would drive in to Boston whenever possible and go to The Avalon to catch shows by our favorite punk/rock bands; The Dropkick Murphys, Social Distortion, Rancid, The Lemonheads, Soul Asylum, The Supersuckers, The Swingin Utters, etc. And even today, as I look at the calendar of upcoming shows here at The Bomb Factory, I see the likes of Ministry and The Jesus & Mary Chain – both bands that I saw in Boston back in the day. And all these years later it is cool to me that I am playing the same stage/venue that they are. . . but I digress. Anyway, The Bomb Factory is the type of venue I fell in love with years ago, and to this day I have to pinch myself from time to time when I play clubs like this. As I continue to take it all in, I notice that Sammy Kershaw is just a few feet away from me checking the place out as well. I stick my hand out and introduce myself and he shakes my hand and says hello. By now, it is just about noon. Diffie’s band is finishing up sound check and Sammy’s band/crew is loading stuff in and ready for their turn. Noon also means that we should be able to get into our hotel rooms – so we round up the band to head over.

2:30pm, Saturday, April 18th, 2015: After having been shuttled to our hotel and grabbing some showers, we are being shuttled back to The Bomb Factory for “sound check” – though as it turns out, we’ll never really get one. The very first opener of the night, Tiffany Nicole Taylor, finishes sound check. At this point the stage is stacked with three bands’ gear. Diffie’s in the back, Kershaw’s in the middle, and Taylor’s gear up front. It is at this point that we get notice from the sound crew that we will be doing a “throw ‘n’ go” set. Which means, we don’t get a sound check. We are to have all of our gear set up on the side of the stage. After Taylor’s set, the crew will strip away her band’s gear and set our gear out. Then we come out and do our set – and the sound crew will make sound adjustments on the fly. Though it would have been nice to have a sound check – this is old hat to us. We’ve done plenty of “throw ‘n’ go” shows at various concerts and festivals where there are mutltiple acts performing.

Back stage there is some catering set up. A few different types of pasta – some with meat sauce and some without for the vegetarians – and some salad. When pointed to the food, people don’t have to tell me twice, so I sit down and have lunch. After all, by this time it’s been a good four or five hours since I’ve had breakfast and it’s time for another meal. Sam Tate, who hasn’t traveled with us as a full band before, gets a kick out of how I have a meal every 4 or 5 hours like clockwork. On the way to Dallas, even if the bus was just stopping for a bathroom break/smoke break for us – Sam would see me getting back on the bus with a 6” sub or something, and he’d smile and say, “Well, you DID say that you like to eat.”

By this time, Trailer Choir and Redneck Soujers have made their way to the venue. I see Butter and Vinny, so I sit and visit with them for a few minutes while they finish their lunch. It is nice to still be playing shows with these guys. We’ve all been at it for quite a few years now – and there’s something comforting about meeting up with your Nashville friends in different places on the road. The hubbub backstage only grows as more performers and crew members – as well as family and friends of performers and crewmembers – continue to gather backstage. At 6:00pm the doors open and people start filing into the venue – only adding to the hubbub.

7:00pm, Saturday, April 18th, 2015: The concert has begun. Local Dallas artist, Tiffany Nicole Taylor, is performing a 20-minute opening set until 7:20pm. Then there is a 20-minute switchover and we perform from 7:40pm – 8:10pm. Then there is another 20-minute switchover and Sammy Kershaw starts his headlining set at 8:30pm, followed by another headlining set from Joe Diffie. I go out and watch some of Kershaw’s and Diffie’s sets from the audience. Though they were both good, as I mentioned earlier, I had a little more of a nostalgic connection with Joe Diffie – having seen him as an audience member at the Fryeburg Fair 15 years earlier. Now, tonight, to be opening up for him and performing on the same stage as him is just a cool experience for me. After the headlining sets by Kershaw and Diffie, there is still more entertainment to come. Trailer Choir is up next with their always-fun show, followed by J Charles & The Trainrobbers, and then the closing set by Redneck Souljers. I go back and forth from backstage to the crowd watching the bands throughout the night. Just after the Redneck Souljers start their set, somewhere around 1:30am, I realize how tired I am, and spot an opportunity for a shuttle ride back to the hotel. As I get to the hotel I see pizza delivery people making their rounds at the hotel. As it has now been another several hours since my last meal – I flag down a pizza delivery person on his way to the front desk and snag a phone number. By the time I get back up into my room it is already 2:15am and I call for my pizza. At 3:00am I get a phone call from the pizza delivery person that they are in the lobby. So I hop in the elevator and ride it down 24 floors to claim my pizza. On the way to the lobby I pass Sam Tate as he is making his way to his room (as the M.C., he stayed at the event all night). I tell him I’m going to get my 3:00am pizza and he chuckles. By 3:10 I’m back up in my room. I share my pizza with my roommate for the night, Manneth, and then we both hit the sack. Morning is going to come quick. Lobby call is going to be at 9:00am – but I won’t want to spend 12 hours on the bus with a Mohawk that I slept on overnight. So I call the front desk and ask for a 7:30 am wake-up call. That way I have plenty of time to wash the color and some of the wax from my hair and still leave time for Manneth to hit the shower.

7:30am, Sunday, April 19th, 2015: I wake up about 10 minutes before my scheduled wake-up call, but stay in bed until the phone actually rings. By 9:00am the whole band is waiting outside the lobby of the hotel for our shuttle ride back to the bus.

11:30pm, Sunday, April, 19th, 2015: After a few stops for refueling, food, and bathroom breaks, and a late night traffic jam outside of Nashville that forced us to take a backroad into town, we arrive back at the “Tour Bus Kroger”. We unload all of the gear and luggage from the underbelly of the bus. Everybody gives each other their post-tour, until-next-time hugs and handshakes. “Next time” is two weekends from now, when we head up to Connecticut for a three-show run outside of Hartford. I head back to my “Nashville home“ (aka, a spare bedroom at Mark’s house) to grab some sleep for the night. “Smitty’s” job, for the time being, is done – and the transformation from “Smitty” back to “Ryan” has begun. Tomorrow morning I will drive back to my Knoxville home in time for “Ryan” to clean up and work an afternoon shift at his day job.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, has been A Weekend in the Life of “Smitty”. Tune in next time, as “Smitty” takes on Connecticut!

2 Responses to “A Weekend in the Life of “Smitty”

  • Cool to see behind the scenes of other people’s jobs. 🙂

  • Absolutely loved reading that. I felt like I was there with you. Thank you for sharing.

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