There are some moments that stick with you, not only because they are memorable, but because they are surreal, blurring the line between what seems possible, and impossible. This is a moment that did not make sense to me at the time. You could say it was an out of body experience that would be difficult to recreate. Ok, enough hype. Allow me to document the events leading up to this impossible moment. Flashback to the summer of 2013. We had received news from management that we were playing at the Buffalo Chip at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. And to top that, we were commanding the stage on the same bill as Brantley Gilbert and Lynrd Skynrd. It felt as if we were making big strides forward, and in only our second year as a band. It felt like we were going to be the next big thing.
For those of you who do not know, Sturgis is a small town in South Dakota that hosts the largest motorcycle festival in the world. It is estimated that 800 million dollars is brought into Sturgis from the festival alone. That should give you some sense as to how insane this biker event can get. A little over 2 weeks in length, you can expect to hear some of the biggest names in rock music and beyond. Headliners have included Rob Zombie, Nickelback, and even Weird Al!
The band flew into Denver, CO, rented a large 12 passenger van, and started the 6 and a half hour drive to Sturgis. It took about 3 and a half hours for us to step into shit. As was usually the case, I was driving. There it was, a 30 MPH sign as we entered into a small town that I do not remember the name of. Flashing lights came on behind me, and I was pulled over. Apparently I did not slow down fast enough. Going from 70 MPH to 30 MPH is a fairly big decrease in speed. I was ticketed.
45 minutes later, I was ticketed again for passing a car going 15 over the speed limit. I guess I was excited to get to the show. (That has to be a record, getting pulled over twice within 1 hour).
The van was a bit rowdy, but nothing I couldn’t handle as the adrenaline fueled my focus on the road. Flash forward another few hours and we were pulling into the Buffalo Chip campground.
The universe must have known that I was going to be at this festival. My favorite band at the time, Mastodon, was performing the night before we took the stage. The one and only time I got to see them perform, and meet the drummer backstage! There is a picture out there somewhere of me wearing a marvel comics t shirt, posing with Brann Dailor. I believe the drummer for Machinehead was with us too.
After a night of face melting rock music, me and the guys all slept in a tiny camper together. Actually, now that I think about it, 2 of the members slept in the van. We did what we had to.
The day of the show was rather uneventful. Soundcheck, eat, walk around. Talk to some people. Take a couple of interviews. After what seemed like forever, it was our time to shine. We took the stage, no backdrop, no lights, no frills. It was us and our instruments along with 20,000 bikers enjoying the early evening rock show. This is when the moment happened…
We were at the final section of our last song of the set. It is perhaps the heaviest part of the show and comes in with reckless abandon after a long pause of silence and some guitar distortion. 16 snare hits in rapid succession lead into a hard hitting medium tempo groove that would make your head bang til the cows come home. As I was relentlessly slamming the drums I realized that there was no sound coming out of them, or, that’s what it seemed like. The sound of 20,000 bikers roaring their engines in delight of the rock music completely drowned out the sounds coming from my drums. I knew I was hitting the snare as hard as ever, yet all I heard was the roar of motorcycle engines, and this is with my ear plugs on! It did not seem possible that I could be right on top of my snare drum and not hear it, yet that’s what happened.
The show ended and we left the stage. Adrenaline was pumping, and then started to subside. What just happened? Is that it? Do we get to play again?
The remainder of the night had some different kinds of adventure in it. Somehow I ended up on a dance floor 75 ft in the air, moving and shaking with a beautiful girl from Wyoming. We later found a car (no idea who the owner was) and made out for a few minutes inside while 6 people were having a conversation by the trunk. By this point it was 3:30 am and time to get some sleep before the long drive back to Denver.
The drive to Denver was not as pleasant, and I’m pretty sure that’s why I don’t remember most of it. Apparently there had been some drama between my singer and the CEO of the project. Some sort of physical altercation induced by copious amounts of alcohol and testosterone. I didn’t see it, I only heard about it, and yet it didn’t matter, because we made it to the airport and everyone returned home safely, back to their regular day to day living routine.
As with a lot of these grandiose experiences it seems like it never happened. One thing is for sure, I will always remember that moment on stage when I left this planet and became one with the energy all around me. I was the bikers watching the show, I was the drums crying out even though no one could hear me, I was the band playing each instrument. I was the cacophony of motorcycle engines roaring in chorus. I was free.