In this Crazy Tour Stories segment, the folk/americana band, SeepeopleS, shares one of their stories from being on the road. You can check out the story, after the break.
When Digital Tour Bus asked me to do another story with them (for the few that read the Tour Tips I did a few years back, I hope you took what I said to heart…and bought extra socks!) I knew I wanted to tell a “crazy tour story,” but when faced with trying to pinpoint one worthy-of-print event in my 22 years on the road -with SeepeopleS and my other band theWorst – I realized I wanted to take the opportunity to tell a different kind of story, and one – I will fully disclose now – hardly qualifies as a “tour story,” but the incident that occurred certainly falls under the “crazy” category, and the event itself would become a moment of true healing and revelation. I will also tell you now, the event in question deals with race, violence, and was truly one of the scariest and most harrowing moments in recent memory. I am, in fact, perhaps lucky to even be here to tell the story. But if you are looking to read something whimsical and fun, you should stop reading now.
With the pandemic, my life on the road, now, as I explained before – decades-long – came to a grinding halt. No more tour = no more tour stories. Life on the road means a life spent in transit, in constant adaptation to the surroundings and environments you find yourself in, whether on purpose or incidentally. So, when that life comes to a point of stasis, it is impossible not to take a look around the place you’ve found yourself stuck in, and garner some keen awareness. When I looked out into the world during the first months of lockdowns, I saw a world of confusion, hatred, darkness, and ultimately conflict and suffering. Not that those things don’t exist all of the time, but I think we all became more collectively aware of our world during the beginning days or months of the pandemic. The election of 2020 still loomed over the entire period of Trump’s last months in the presidency, and we saw ourselves in the midst of a racial reckoning. I think many of us felt close to the edge, and many of us still do. It was during this time, not much different than now, this crazy story began.
By June of 2020, I had already been off the road for a few months. When Covid-19 first hit and the lockdown began, SeepeopleS and theWorst had finished up four straight years of national tours and I was toast, utterly spent. I actually remember thinking that this was a good thing and that I needed a break. But once summer hit, I was straight jonesing to tour, and also very much needing some gig money. I was scheduled to play a two-night solo-stand at one of my favorite venues in my home state. I am gonna leave names out at this point lest there is any confusion of my intentions with this story, and quite frankly because the venue and the location are irrelevant to the point I’m trying to make. But I will say, the venue is a destination venue in a rural part of our state. At the time, the venue had put in both effort and money in making the show “covid safe” and outdoors, and so, when I eventually canceled these two shows, the only shows in all my years that I ever actually made the decision to cancel, it hurt me greatly. In fact, I was crushed.
As I wasn’t actually on tour at the time, I went up to the woods a day early with my girl to see some friends and family, and get a good hang in before my first shows since the pandemic started, were about to happen. . The night before the first of two shows, we went on a hike on an ATV trail to get to this fabulous sunset spot with a fantastic view of Canada, right across the border. We got to the trail and parked our car. The walk to the spot was probably about a mile or less down the trail. It was all of about five minutes into the walk that a large and very drunk ATV driver pulled up next to us. I noticed that he also looked to be armed, and had a gun. My girl and I only had cell phones, neither having any service in this remote area. At the time, I was awaiting back surgery, and with three slipped discs in my back (another story for another day) – I wasn’t exactly super mobile, to begin with. I wasn’t going to escape this easily.
His first words out of his mouth were “why are you mad at me?” and that he was here “looking for aliens” and “had we seen any?” It was plainly evident that he was extremely inebriated. Not a good start. A nervous and awkward small talk ensued, all the while we continued to walk, slowly and in handicapped fashion to our sunset spot, all the while this individual, still following along, slowly, on his ATV. Things began to get a little scarier when he stated confidently that “you can fuck aliens – not sure if you knew that,” followed by “where are you from?” I answered my hometown of Portland, ME. This was followed by “…no, I mean where are you really from?!… I see you!”
Now before I proceed, I will have you know my Mom is from the country of Thailand. I am not particularly connected to my Asian heritage or my Asian family members for that matter, but yes, being multi-racial meant that I knew exactly what he meant when he said “Where are you really from?” I was beginning to understand what kind of aliens this man was looking for. I was also keenly aware of where the situation was headed – this wasn’t my first time having a racially charged encounter. I was keenly aware, this person had picked up that I didn’t quite look all white. The path began to narrow as it got closer to the sunset spot, a clearing that overlooks a meandering country hillside. So the three of us began to fall in single file, and it was at this moment that the man revved his ATV and pulled up directly in front of me, his face being no more than a few inches from my face, and said…
“Have you ever cut off a piece of human flesh with a machete and eaten it?” I responded, “excuse me?! What did you just say to me?!” and he responded, “You heard what I said! Have you ever cut off a piece of human flesh with a machete and eaten it? It’s delicious! I will tell you, I prefer the darker meat myself. White human flesh is too chewy.”
If you are thinking to yourself, Deliverance, then I will have you know – Yes!, I was thinking the same damn thing when it happened. That and also, “Wow, I’m gonna fucking die here!”
Over the next twenty minutes, this confrontation would become more and more intense and more and more heated as we walked slowly down the path. My girl and I were doing our best to simmer the situation down. But he wouldn’t stop, adding that he could “rape aliens too,” this time looking at my girl, all the while describing, in great depth, the joys and specificities of eating human flesh, and his joy, or at least seemingly so, of him possibly getting the chance at eating more dark meat! Eventually, we made it to the clearing. There was really no going back now. We all knew this. He had made his intentions very clear, and I certainly understood what those intentions were. FUCK!!!!!!!
And so a painful silence ensued. with this very drunk and armed man explaining that “I had made a big mistake coming there, that this land was his land, and repeating “you’re scared, I can tell – you are scared aren’t you?! – you shouldn’t have come here!” He was right, I was scared, and I really really wished I hadn’t gone there. It was at this moment, while my girl and I were trying to communicate our escape options with the use of our eyes and without words, that another ATV driver, wearing a mask, cause that was the nice thing to do during covid, came riding down the trail, ending the silence, abruptly.
“Why the hell are you wearing that damn mask!?” screamed my tormentor at this new potential victim – and with that, he revved his ATV and went flying down the trail after this new rider – and my girl and I ran – we ran for our lives, and I ran as fast as a man with a broken back can run – back to our car at the beginning of the trail – all the while listening for the sound of an ATV and a man returning to finish business, and find us! We did make it back to the car, and we did make it back to where we were staying that night. When we filed the police report, we would learn that the man was a veteran of the Iraq and Afghan war, and had a slew of assault charges in another state. In the words of the police, “we were very very very lucky.” This was a man who had long since proven himself dangerous.
I had made it back safe, but the damage was done. I was rattled and rattled hard. I got on the phone to discuss with the venue owner what had happened – and that I wasn’t sure I could play the shows. We both cried on the phone together, honestly, both he and I were crushed. He was so upset to see and know I had had this incident, and it had essentially happened in his county – essentially his backyard. At that point, my experience in the rural parts of my home state of Maine had always been rewarding and friendly. In fact, some of the nicest and most hospitable people I know live in this area. I’m sure this is likely true of any rural area in America. But I did ultimately cancel the shows. At the time, it really hurt to do so – I needed that money! I was so broke. But on another level, as I said, I had never canceled a show. Sure, over the years, lots of shows got canceled, it was never my decision, however, to do so. Not until now. On the deepest levels, I felt violated, I felt so afraid, and I felt hatred. I, just like my tormentor, was now swimming in the same anger. Less than 12 hours after the incident happened, I was in a car driving as fast as I could and as far away as I could.
After spending 22 years on the road I have seen some shit, and felt some real fear – found myself in some harrowing situations – and of course, had a few racial incidents on the way – but all the while – I was fearless, perhaps even foolishly so. Now it was different, I felt the fear, and for the first time since I could remember, I was utterly consumed by it. It would take months to just make peace with the incident, to eventually forgive that man, I can only surmise that he didn’t end up in an ocean of hatred on entirely his own accord, and that surely, surviving both the Iraq war and Afghan war provided him with more than enough reasons to be angry and hateful, and fearful of others. It would take me months to finally accept the fact that we were both victims, and perhaps, as hard as this was for me to go through, was likely nothing compared to the trauma of war. I also, of course, don’t want to discount the trauma that my girl had to go through that day, but for her, actually being caucasian, meant her experience was different – no less traumatic, but again, irrelevant to the point I am trying to make here – as this particular hatred was specifically fueled by a difference in race and appearance between me and this war vet. If I had been all white, it is entirely possible, this would have gone down much differently.
I spent the next few months in double lockdown – covid lockdown – and straight-up mental lockdown. The idea of touring across a hateful America, now being fueled by the rhetoric of Trump – now being empowered by the progress the far right has made of late in their mission to implement fascism and authoritarianism – was terrifying to me. The idea of even going back up to play one of my favorite little venues I like to play downright impossible! I realized that not only was I fearful, but I was also paralyzed by it. And of course, I eventually realized that in order to get past the incident – I was gonna have to go back up there and play those shows I canceled. And that is exactly what I did. Almost a year to the date, I went back up and played the two nights. When I first got to the venue I was literally shaking – feeling the fear again. But, because I had conquered enough of my fears to go back up there, I let myself be open and available to receive the incredible outpouring of love and compassion that I would end up getting from the patrons of this venue, and from the people who lived in the place I had driven like a bat out of hell to get away from, only a short year before. The tables all sold out (covid table shows) and I had so much fun going back up there, and yea made some money, and most importantly, reminded myself that conquering fears feels good and is empowering and that I never would have given myself this chance at personal redemption had I not spent the time thinking about the incident, forgiving my fear inducer, and ultimately challenging myself to courage again, ie, “face the music.” Now, as both SeepeopleS and theWorst prepare to release new albums, and I prepare for four national tours in one calendar year, all the while driving through both loving and hateful America, I am so thankful I took the opportunity to heal myself. I couldn’t be more excited to get back out there – and sure I’m scared, and certainly fearful as I know, even know, all that hatred is still out there, but I am armed with the knowledge that whatever may come, I will strive to address it – to face the music – and heal myself, and maybe others, with every step I take in defiance of my fears and ignorance. This is why I told you this story. I have no idea if it helped to read it – but I certainly hope it did. It helped me to tell it, to heal even more… so thanks!
Sincerely & with love,