Ed and I have always wanted to go on tour with a New Jersey band since we love road trips and live music. We’ve thought a lot about seeing how our beloved New Jersey bands are received by a non-local crowd. Since The Front Bottoms were the first band we ever met through YDKJ, we thought they should be the band to ask first. We’ve been big fans ever since we met them and it’s been a pleasure seeing them work hard and succeed. We’ve seen their shows in New Jersey and New York and the crowds are intense. We even saw them in Akron on their Talon of the Hawk tour when our vacation plans in Ohio crossed paths with their tour schedule and the Ohio crowd was just as rowdy as a local one. How would all the out-of-state crowds be when The Front Bottoms came to town? We aimed to find out. We ran it by drummer Mat one summer night over beers and it was a whirlwind of planning ever since. We ended up following them in the midst of an 18-show run of sold out dates. We caught up with them on October 28th in Detroit, went through Columbus and Cleveland and ended up in Chicago on Halloween night. It was the trip of a lifetime for us and a peek behind the backstage door.
Being on tour with them meant that we not only got to see how hard the band works every day but also the people behind the scenes who work just as hard (maybe even harder?).
It was exciting, fascinating…. and exhausting.
We left work on Tuesday night in New Jersey and drove past Pittsburgh just as they were finishing up their show there. We didn’t stop because we wanted to get to Detroit and have at least a few hours of sleep. We were already scheduled to arrive around 2:00am so stopping in Pittsburgh would have put us in Detroit just as the sun came up.
We hadn’t made a specific plan of when to meet up with anyone before the show so we texted them what we were doing and waited for someone to be available. We had breakfast by the old Tiger Stadium site and found a museum/arcade out in the suburbs where we passed the time. Detroit was a really cool city. The people were all really friendly and everything was easy to get to. Sure we saw abandoned buildings but we see that in NJ and all over the country.
Mat and Ciaran were available for dinner so we met them by their bus. Ciaran wanted to take a longer walk so he headed off without us and we went with Mat to Hop Cat which was just down the street from the theater. With 130 beers on tap, how could we resist?
While we ate, Mat told us about the eating and drinking regimen he has on tour. Vegetarian food and Red Bulls start off the day, whiskey or Bloody Marys before the show and vodka cranberry drinks with a snack to finish the day. These are the tidbits from an experienced tourer that we were hoping to hear about so it was already worth the trip. A lot of the guys like to take really long walks around town after they wake up. Mat said that he and rapper/tour-videographer GDP even bring skateboards to really get away for a while. My visions of glutony and debauchery on the road were quickly fading at this point. This is a real job for these guys and they take it seriously while still having fun.
The Majestic Theater is a historic one in downtown Detroit. It had kind of a haunted atmosphere which was fitting being so close to Halloween. We watched the show from the crowd because we love to sing and dance along with them. The fans were just as excited and into the show as a New Jersey crowd so except for the different venue, you would have never been able to guess where we were. There was a disco party next door and the sound bled through in between songs which was a little weird but kind of helped promote a party atmosphere.
After the show, we hung out backstage a little before we headed to Columbus. We met a few members of the Smith Street Band in Detroit, too, and they were extremely friendly. They along with Elvis Depressedly were great opening acts to watch every night. The Elvis crew were friendly but tended to disappear after their set so we didn’t get to see them as much throughout our nights with the bands. This was also the first chance we’ve had to meet GDP. We’d seen his sets at last year’s Champagne Jam and in Brooklyn earlier this year and love his addition to the ‘Historic Cemetery’ track on Back on Top. He is touring with The Front Bottoms as a performer and videographer. He’s been posting great weekly video documentaries of the tour. He and Ed bonded over photo equipment and he loved to pose off stage.
The Front Bottoms hired a bus for this tour so they rode and slept their way to the next venue every night. We intended to follow that pattern, too, until we drove that first leg between Detroit and Columbus. That was a miserable drive so late at night and after a full day of walking around Detroit and rocking at the show. Once we got to Columbus, we quickly cancelled those plans and booked hotels that were closer to each night’s venue.
After a lot of sleeping and then a lot of coffee, we headed to High Street to soak in some Columbus vibes. I spent some spring breaks and lost weekends away from my own college town with friends who went to OSU in Columbus and it’s just like I remembered. A college town is a great place to hang out in. The Columbus show was also my favorite show of the four we saw on this trip.
Skully’s Music Diner is an 800-person venue and was packed to the gills once the fans arrived so we were limited to standing to the sides of the stage. This ended up being pretty great.
We really got to see Ciaran and Mat up close at this show. Ciaran plays just about everything but bass, drums and acoustic guitar on their records. He’s so talented and it was very cool to stand right next to him and watch him juggle an electric guitar, trumpet, keyboard, tambourine and even cowbell. Normally, he’s a little hidden behind the keyboard stand when you’re watching from the crowd. Being right next to him was an eye-opening experience on just how many times he’s switching instruments.
On the other side of the stage, we got to be just a few feet away from Mat’s amazing style of drumming. Most of the time I end up watching Mat at a Front Bottoms show because he has such an amazing drumming style that makes every movement look so fluid and easy. Watching it up close, you can really see how fast he’s moving and his incredible technique.
Being next to the stage also let us start to see how hard the crew works, too. Tour manager, Justin, guitar tech, Adam, and sound man, Carson, were all over the place and sweating all the details. We got a chance to pick Justin’s brain a few times on the trip and it was fascinating to hear how much planning there is behind every show. I mean, I always knew there was a lot going on besides just what’s on stage but I’ve never heard the details before. Getting the band out to promotional gigs; getting money squared away for each show; dealing with guest list jerks like us (sorry Justin!); setting up the stage, lighting and sound for each show… the list just went on and on. We even drove him on an errand in Chicago so we liked that we helped him a little.
After the crew packed up, bands chatted with fans for a while and we headed off for a late dinner, we met up and went to Barrel on High for drinks after the show. We got to hear more road war stories from band and crew and got to watch them figure out an on-going problem on this current tour. Even when they’re unwinding with a drink, there’s still business to discuss.
Friday morning, we headed to Cleveland to meet the band at the historic Agora Theatre. In the morning, we checked out the Lake Erie waterfront and had lunch at West Side Market thanks to Jersey boy Anthony Bourdain’s Cleveland show that had featured it. The Agora was sold out in front of 1,800 people—their biggest show to date as a headliner—and was Ed’s favorite show. Ed is a big Rush and KISS fan and they both played here a lot so being able to stand on that stage and be backstage was very special for him. We met Mat outside while he was trying out his new drone.
Since this backstage green room had so much history and was big enough that we could hang out without being in the way, we spent the most pre- and post-show time with the band here.
Brian impressed us with the food and drinks spread. He’s enjoying a turkey sandwich here.
Sound man, Carson, made kick-ass Bloody Marys for everyone. He really had it down to a science.
And guitar tech, Adam, slept off an exciting night in Columbus.
Cleveland’s venue and fans were amazing. This was the best Front Bottoms show we’ve ever seen. The band was on point, the stage was huge so everyone had room to really jam and there was just something special in the air. Right as the show ended, the theater’s stage manager looked at me and said, “Now, that’s a fuckin’ rock and roll show!” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Ed got to hand out set lists to fans after the show and even consoled a crying fan outside the backstage door. She touched him by saying that the band had saved her life. Being in the Agora had gotten Ed thinking about what it would have meant to meet some of the bands that had saved his life as a kid and he instantly knew what she meant. He had a lot of rock star moments here with the band.
The fans, promoters and venue staff were all extremely friendly in Cleveland. Many were dressed for Halloween Eve.
Brian threw his guitar into the air at the end of the show and broke it. Justin had the whole band sign it and gave it to a fan whose entire lower leg was a tattooed tribute to The Front Bottoms.
The final night of our TFB tour experience was our wedding anniversary spent on tour with our rock star friends in (my favorite non-New Jersey city) Chicago… what could be better?
The Bottom Lounge was the smallest venue (700 people) and sold out so we stayed on the side of the stage again for most of the show. We got to watch sound check before the show which saved us from waiting outside in the pouring rain with the dedicated fans.
The band picked out dessert costumes for the show: whipped cream, donut, ice cream cone and cupcake.
Ed and I had costumes, too. He was Shazam for a party a few weeks before and he packed his shirt and cape for the trip.
I had been grapes which wouldn’t have traveled well so we went to a KMart and I bought some Bears stuff and was NJ-native Kevin White for the evening.
The Smith Street Band said that they didn’t really celebrate Halloween in Australia so they were pretty excited to dress up. Unfortunately, without years of childhood experience like American kids, they didn’t learn that you can’t wear a full set of clothes under your costume. They were drowning in sweat under these giant robes right after stepping onto the stage. They still made it look good though.
The Front Bottoms made the Chicago show a Champagne Jam which meant that each band member had to finish a bottle of champagne on stage. Tom, who’s usually in the middle of the stage, was moved to our side of the stage. He danced up a storm. He was also the first to finish his champagne. I should watch him more often!
This was an amazing trip for us and it was great watching The Front Bottoms connect with fans outside New Jersey. The life of a touring rock star isn’t all adoring fans and partying but it isn’t all work, either! We’ve known this group of guys for long enough that they’re good friends by now and it was great seeing them be able to reap the rewards of years of hard work on the road. It’s hard not to gush when I write about The Front Bottoms but Ed and I both know them really well by now and they’re so down to earth and nice that it’s amazing to see them on this huge tour playing to adoring crowds all over the United States. We New Jerseyans might not have them to ourselves anymore but we can be proud to share them with the rest of the country… and beyond.
The Front Bottoms continue on tour with The Smith Street Band and Elvis Depressedly through November 30th, ending in Rhode Island.
Check out some pictures from our trip with The Front Bottoms and stay tuned for an even larger gallery of concert pictures:
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