SCP Takes Connecticut – Part 1: Mike’s Blue Collar Bar

SCP Takes Connecticut (Part 1): Mike’s Blue Collar Bar

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

EVENT: Concerts With Causes and T’s Promotional Entertainment Co. presents: Stephen Cochran Project @ Mike’s Blue Collar Bar – Wallingford, CT – April 30th, 2015

Ryan Byrne | Blog | Stephen Cochran Project Takes Connecticut - Part 1 | Mikes Blue Collar BarOn the road again . . . Sometimes we travel by bus, and sometimes we travel by van. It depends on a number of factors; How many gigs during this road trip? How far are we driving? Are they “retail” shows where standard performance fees are being charged – or are they benefit concerts where reduced performance fees (in some cases just travel/crew expenses) are being charged? Though renting a tour bus with a company-provided driver is preferred over renting a 15-passenger van/trailer and driving ourselves to a gig, sometimes the latter just makes more sense for an independent artist, especially for benefit concerts. By the time you figure in the daily bus rental fee, the daily driver fee (plus any overdrive fees), fuel costs, etc., renting a tour bus can quickly approach $1000 per day and go way up from there – depending on the age/luxury level of the bus. In regards to this weekend’s 2,000 mile round trip back and forth from Nashville to the greater Hartford, CT area, and the time frame we needed to do it in – we would have had to hire two drivers (as per commercial driving time limit laws). Then, factor in the cost of the diesel fuel at 6 -8 mpg times 2,000 miles, and then factor in that it was for three benefit concerts – the math told us that we were renting a van and trailer and that we would be driving ourselves. But the cause was well worth it! These three concerts were in cooperation with Concerts With Causes to benefit the new Fisher House being built in Connecticut. The Fisher House is near and dear to Stephen’s heart – as are most organizations that benefit our military men and women and their families. Anybody that knows Stephen Cochran, knows how important it is to him to perform these types of benefits, and we do quite a few of them.

So, during the late afternoon/early evening of Wednesday, April 29th, we loaded up our rented Ryan Byrne | Blog | Stephen Cochran Project Takes Connecticut - Part 1 | Mikes Blue Collar Barvan/trailer, departed Nashville and drove on through the night towards our destination at the 4-Points/Sheraton in Meriden, CT, which would serve as our homebase for this triple-header weekend. Since I have made the trip from Nashville to New England dozens of times over the last decade – I opted to take the wheel for as much of the drive as I could do before I got tired. After about 12 hours behind the wheel, I let “Metal Matt” (Matthew Seay, 1st guitar player), my relief driver, take the wheel for a few hours while I grabbed some sleep. I woke up pretty much exactly three hours later, and told Matt I was ready to drive the rest of the way in. At this point, we were only a few hours from our destination. We rolled in to our hotel around 12:00 noon. Luckily, even though we were early for our reservations, they had some rooms ready.

Normally, at this point, I would make a beeline for the bed and take a nap before we were due for load-in/soundcheck at 7:00pm. However, on this particular trip, I am covering both my and Mark’s (Mark Erhardt, utility player: steel guitar, banjo, mandolin, rhythm guitar, etc.) road jobs, as Mark was unable to make this trip. You see, people are often amazed how small of a crew we can tour with, despite the fact that we are often on the same bill as and play the same stages alongside artists with much larger crews. I jokingly refer to the SCP as an SCTU, a “Self-Contained-Touring-Unit”. Because if need be, we can reduce ourselves down to a crew of just the band members – and we each take on extra jobs to make sure that the show goes on. Even when we were on a label (indie label Aria Records Nashville) during our early years, instead of renting a tour bus with a company-provided driver – the label purchased a 35-foot RV, had it all wrapped with Stephen’s name and picture, and also purchased a 16-foot trailer for our gear and had that wrapped to match the bus. But we as a band drove ourselves everywhere, carried and set-up our own gear, and handled our own road management. All the while, we were on the road opening up for and sharing the stage with other artists that had entire road crews – drivers, instrument techs, road/stage managers, etc. I remember sometimes wishing that our label had at least rented a bus and driver, because we could have gotten more, better quality sleep criss-crossing the country between shows. But at the end of the day, I still counted my lucky stars that I was out on the road playing music for a living. We just had to work a little harder than some of our colleagues. The label knew that we would do all of our own driving and set-up/tech work. So it was a wise investment for them to purchase the RV. After all, when we parted ways with the label three years later, they re-wrapped the RV for another artist they had. And at some point they would surely still be able to sell the RV and recoup some of their money. But we were well-practiced as an SCTU, which would serve us well in our post-label years as a completely independent touring act.

Anyway, back to the story at hand. On this particular trip, I was doing both my and Mark’s jobs. As of somewhat recently, I am the “bandleader”. I am the one charged with making sure that we have musicians and that they are up to speed with the material. Mark, however, is normally the “road manager”. He’s charged with booking hotels, communicating with our points of contact at the venues, arranging sound checks, and dealing with any concerns on the road. Whereas my job requires some pre-trip time – being the point of contact between Stephen and the rest of the band, scheduling and leading rehearsals, occasionally arranging for some subs/fill-in musicians, etc., usually – my “bandleader” job is pretty minimal once we are on the road. Mark’s job, on the other hand, requires a lot of time both before and during the trip… And I was about to learn first hand.

After we checked in to our hotel rooms, I walked back out to go move the van/trailer into a parking spot – but noticed that the passenger-side wheel of the trailer was no longer centered in the wheel well area of the fender. But rather, it was pushed back to where the tire was just barely rubbing the inside rear of the fender. Adam (Adam Catt, 2nd guitar) and I stuck our heads under the trailer to see what was going on. It was Adam that first noticed that the spring shackle on the right rear was laying down just about flat, whereas the left side was standing straight up and down. At first glance, it appeared that the shackle bolts had probably loosened up, as nothing appeared to be broken. It was obvious that this had just recently happened – as I am in the habit of visually checking tires at each fuel/food stop and all appeared normal when we left out for our final stretch. Also, there was no sign of wear on the tire and there would have been if we had traveled long in that condition Whatever it was, my nap was about to be delayed – as my interim “road manager” position now required my time. After parking the van, I headed for the hotel room – but not for a nap. It was time to hop on Google and see what was in the area for trailer repair facilities, and then make a phone call to the van/trailer rental company to let them know about the needed repair. After getting authorization from the rental company to get the repairs, I scheduled an appointment for late morning/early afternoon the next day. I didn’t want to chance being late tonight for soundcheck or even the gig itself. Luckily, the venue was only about 12 minutes down the road from the hotel – and the tire was just barely rubbing. Besides, I wanted to salvage a tiny nap if possible!

Unfortunately, after the appointment was made, I had messages to call people back regarding radio interviews for Stephen, and the concert promoter regarding various questions about that night’s performance, etc. By the time I got done with all the phone calls, there was pretty much only time for me to “Smitty up” and start getting ready for the show! It was time to grab a shower, dry my hair, wax my hair in order to shape it into a mohawk, and then “spray paint” (actually it’s temporary hair color, but it comes in little spray cans that look and operate like spray paint cans) it with two or three coats of blue, letting it dry in between coats. The spray not only colors my hair, but hardens it so that it will stay standing throughout the night. Most of the time it will stay standing as long as I need it to, but there have been some outdoor summer concerts in the deep south where 110 degree heat and extreme humidity just destroyed my mohawk only 20 minutes into the show. Pictures do exist. And it was at one such show in Pensacola, FL where my drooping mohawk became the butt of a joke with one of our radio friends, Samantha, who decided to christen me with her own personal nickname of “Limpy” from that moment forward. Any time we were back in Pensacola, Samantha would be calling me “Limpy” in front of other people who did not necessarily know the origin of the nickname. I’m sure it caused a few to wonder . . .

At 6:30pm the band piled into the van and we were off to Mike’s Blue Collar Bar just down the road in Wallingford, CT for our 7:00 load-in/soundcheck. As we made our way into the venue we were greeted by TVs on the wall that were playing our music videos. Whoever was responsible for promoting the concert put together a nice collection of our various music videos that are available on YouTube and were playing them back to back. We were told they had been playing these videos on and off over the last couple weeks to promote the show. It’s always refreshing to find a club that understands the importance of their own local promotion. As it turned out, this would be the theme for the weekend. All three shows were well promoted. It would also turn out that we would eat well – VERY well – all weekend long. And that makes a Smitty very, very happy. Even though the event featured an all-you-can-eat buffet of chicken wings (both bone-in and boneless), the band was told we could have anything we wanted off the menu. With all those chicken wings around, I didn’t see the need to order anything special – but “Riff Raff” (Carrigan Shields, keyboard player) ordered the biggest steak he could off the menu. Manneth (Manneth Webster, drummer), who is basically a vegetarian – but will eat fish, ordered a really tasty fried fish dish. Yes, I did have a bite to confirm how tasty it was . . .

Soon it was time for A an E to take the stage. If you read my previous blog post, you’ll remember that A an E is Adam and Erica Catt. A husband and wife duo that is not only our opening act as of late, but also round out our band as members of the SCP. And take the stage they did! They rocked it! From the opening powerhouse a capella notes being belted out by Erica, it is clear that Nashville had arrived in Wallingford, CT. One song after another they did exactly what a great opening act does – they got that crowd warmed up! And after their opening set it was time for the SCP to make it’s Connecticut debut!

Though the SCP had never played Connecticut before, the turnout was still surprisingly decent – thanks to the local promotion efforts of the club and concert promoter – especially considering that there was a $25 donation/entrance fee at the door to raise money for the Fisher House. But what’s not surprising, is the connection we made with the audience – no matter the size. I’ve been playing in Stephen’s band for close to nine years now, and there really is something special about the artist-to-audience connection when we perform. As I looked around the audience, I saw bikers in leather vests standing next to people in cowboy hats and wranglers standing next to people with punk-rock tees and piercings. A crowd that also consisted of people spanning three generations – from twenty-somethings to sixty-somethings. What did these people all have in common? The unmistakable atmosphere that is both reverence and revelry, patriotism and party – as Stephen’s setlist flowed seamlessly from heart-felt songs like “Pieces” and “When A Hero Falls” to party anthems like “Friday Night Fireside” and “Grown Man Frat House”. Regardless of whether or not they had ever heard Stephen’s music before that night, by the end of the night we were all brothers – and we know that we’ll see many of them again when we next are in Connecticut.

Ryan Byrne | Blog | Stephen Cochran Project Takes Connecticut - Part 1 | Mikes Blue Collar Bar

Stephen Cochran poses for photos after the Fisher House benefit show at Mike’s Blue Collar Bar in Wallingford, CT

Alas, just as all good things must come to an end, we finished our last song of the night. We came off stage and chatted and drank Heroes Vodka with our new brothers for a little while before we had to begin loading out. Before long, the van was on it’s way back to the “Sheraton Meriden”, and I was finally able to hit my hotel bed for a very long overdue bit of sleep . . .


Goodnight for now, everyone – and join me soon for SCP Takes Connecticut – Part 2: HydeAway Cafe

Until then, I leave you with the below YouTube vid of “Pieces” live from Mike’s Blue Collar Bar on the very night written about above. It was put together by somebody who was there to experience the electricity in the air that night – and they did a fantastic job capturing that electricity in this video. Enjoy!

– Ryan “Smitty” Byrne


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