Reflecting Back On the Gulf Coast Leg of the Tour
Updated: Apr 27, 2019
The Gulf Coast leg of the Spring Tour just wrapped up, and as I've had a few days to catch up on sleep and reflect I thought I'd do a bit of a recap like I did after last year's New England run. With these dates behind us, we are roughly 1/3 through the Spring Tour.
First, the big lesson from this run of shows is that it's definitely more fun to travel with a good companion than doing it alone. If you know anything about my story over the last couple of years, it's probably not too surprising that I actually looked forward to the solitude of doing these tours alone. I needed the “me” time, and I rather enjoyed the quiet between shows. That said, my boy Brad joined me for the first half of this run, and it was big fun. Brad fronts a great band called Freak Mythology, and with them currently working on their 2nd album he was itchy for a tour adventure, especially as he hadn't ever been to New Orleans.
This leg of the Spring tour's itinerary:
TH APR 11 - Tallulah - Jasper, MS
FR APR 12 - Second Line - New Orleans, LA
SA APR 13 - NOLA Brewing - New Orleans, LA
SU APR 14 - Big Beach Brewing - Gulf Shores, AL
MO APR 15 - Day Off
TU APR 16 - Day Off - Brad flight (pm)
WE APR 17 - Day Off
TH APR 18 - Props Ale House - Niceville, FL
FR APR 19 - Lazy Magnolia - Kiln, MS
SA APR 20 - Southern Craft - Baton Rouge, LA
SU APR 21 - Travel
MO APR 22 - Travel
Brad was great company, sat in on some shows, played a few tunes himself, and helped me with the gear and all that. He also helped driving, which alone is a huge difference... normally when I'm too tired to drive any further I have to pull over and all progress stops until I'm ready to drive again, but being able to just take a nap in the back of the van while someone else drives really changes things! It's pretty cool to fall asleep in Alabama and wake up being told you're crossing Lake Pontchartrain and about to enter your destination of New Orleans!
Beyond the help, etc., the really great part was just having someone to share the fun with. Between all the great beers, the people we met, the festivals and cool towns, the amazing beaches, and especially on this trip the AMAZING FOOD we had a blast. Showing him New Orleans and visiting some of the freaky shops in the Quarter was big fun, the fact there was a huge festival going on just added to it... and man did we eat some fantastic food! Fried oysters bigger than golf balls, a platter of oysters on the half shell prepped 4 different ways, etouffee, cajun shrimp, blackened redfish with lump crabmeat, and more than a couple oyster shooters.... heaven! Naturally all this was washed down with amazing beers, and then the whole freakshow factor made for endless laughs.
The breweries were great... being able to break up the trip to the coast with a stop to play a show at Tallulah's Brewery in Jasper, AL was a last-minute blessing, and we had a lot of fun with the crowd there. Our first stop at Second Line Brewing in New Orleans was one of my favorites. Being in the middle of the neighborhood created a great vibe, and the setup provided for a very cool stage setting for us to play. Mark and the crew were so accommodating.. letting us not only park the van there prior to the show so we could go party in the Quarter, but then also letting us camp on the property was awesome. The great little breakfast place a few blocks away was amazing.... and being in a warmer climate was heaven for me! Spending my days in sandals, shorts, and a light shirt is my natural habitat, so just being in my comfort zone while having so much fun was a blessing of it's own.
The second New Orleans show at NOLA was a completely different type of adventure. Again CJ and his crew were awesome, great conversation and insights, and a fun tour of their operation. NOLA's Boil Advisory beer takes the award from both Brad and I for favorite surprise of the tour.... and I'm craving it now!
When we headed east along the coast, leaving New Orleans for the stretch of beach shows, the first one we hit was at Big Beach Brewing in Gulf Shores. First, what a cool setup here... a small family brewery with a cool local following, places to play inside or out, and just a chill scene all the way around. We got there a little early, parked the van around back, popped it open and set out some chairs, cranked up a little Grateful Dead, and just chilled in the sun until show time. Should have taken pictures of some of these moments, but neither of us thought of it at the time.
The show that afternoon was fun, it was really windy which made it an adventure (at one point a gust of wind picked up a nearly full pint off my table onstage and threw it across the beer garden!), and we met some great snowbird folks. I had never been to the beaches of this region before, so we got some great advice on where to go, eat, etc. A local couple told us about a dive bar just down the road that on Sundays had all-you-can eat Red Royal shrimp (with red potatoes and corn on the cob) for $10. This is the type of locals info I live for! So we hopped down there and good god did we put a ton of shrimp away! Red Royals are BIG deep water shrimp, and they have a sweeter flavor similar to lobster. It was the perfect way to cap off this most chill of days... eating on a picnic table in their back yard, sand between your toes, just pounding tons of shrimp, a little potatoes and corn, with a nice tall beer as the sun was in early evening mode.
I don't remember where we slept that night, but Gulf Shores is a very cool, laid back beach community. There are some high-rise hotels, but what is really cool is they were broken up by long stretches of public beach areas, as well as coastal state and national parks. The beaches were beautiful (very fine white sand), and with it being April the water was a little chilly but certainly swimmable. Between Sunday night, all day Monday (which was an off day) and Tuesday (also an off day) we got to check out a lot of the local beaches. As I usually alternate between hotels and sleeping in the van (it's a conversion van with a queen sized bed in the back), I tend to forget where I did what, but one night we had a great dinner of Mexican food and found a spot to pull the van right up to the edge of a sand dune, the Gulf on the other side, and just sat up most of the night drinking beer and listening to music under the stars, getting up from time to have a smoke on the beach, etc. Nobody else around, no cop hassles, etc. A great night in a very chill beach town.
Brad had to fly home Tuesday afternoon from Pensacola, so we made our way the half hour or so east, and had more fun on their beaches. The Blue Angels are based at the nearby Naval base, so for two days we got a free show as they ran their exercises and practiced aerobatic routines in the skies right above where we were hanging out on the beach. That was another cool little perk that I'm glad I'm documenting, as I'd be apt to forget over time...
Bringing Brad to the airport made me feel sadder than I expected, and I secretly hoped his flight would be missed or canceled. No such luck, though, and I faced the rest of the run by myself. Normally this would be fine, I dig the alone time, but I think because it had just been such a ridiculous amount of fun I just didn't want it to end. One of the down sides of all this fun was that I hadn't taken the time to do my post-show blogs, so one way I fought off the lonely was to get busy. I did the blogs, found a laundromat to wash my favorite beach bum clothes, etc. and just focused on the cool destinations I still had ahead of me.
I had a beach day to myself on Wednesday, which I spent on one of the more undeveloped beaches east of Pensacola. It was even more beautiful than the previous days, the water a little warmer, and so clear that with the water shoulder-deep I could still clearly see my feet on the sandy bottom. Something else I did, both with Brad and alone, was check out some sailboats in local marinas. If you're not aware, my next plan is to sell my house (and pretty much everything else) in a year, buy a ~50ft sailboat, and live in the southern Caribbean on the boat... so I love to check out big sailboats in marinas. I also got back to my usual meager touring diet, as with Brad we ate and drank like kings and I blew through some cash (although the seafood feasts were all quite reasonable down there).
Thursday was back to work (yeah, yeah, I know....) at Props Ale House in Niceville, FL, which is just north of Destin. That was a fun night, really cute bartender guided me through my beer selections all night, good crowd, and I'd go back there for sure. I didn't spend much time in the area, as from here I needed to turn around and head back west, with the next gig being Friday at Lazy Magnolia in Kiln, MS, which is just outside of New Orleans, to the east. Another really cool place, which you can read about in that blog, but again I couldn't stick around to check out Kiln as my hotel was like 45 minutes away, and the weather was a bit stormy. That night I stayed in a Residence Inn, which I love. Nice big king sized Marriott overstuffed beds, and an apartment like layout. I always forget there's a kitchen, though, so I never bring anything to cook. We have joked about planning to cook like a massive Thanksgiving type turkey dinner at a future Residence Inn stay, though... that would be funny. I did bring a few beers in with me, and enjoyed the comforts of the room and the fact that my schedule Saturday allowed me to milk every last minute of that 11am checkout. I took two showers, just because I could.
Saturday brought the last gig of the stand, at Southern Craft Brewery in Baton Rouge. This is the second time I've been in Baton Rouge, both just passing through, so I still can't say much about the city. As much as I love the food and drink and architecture of the coastal region, I'd like to stick around some time and see what the city is about. But not this time. You can obviously read about this fine nanobrewery in my blog of the evening, but one extra tidbit that sticks in my memory here: there were several Dungeons & Dragon games going on. Often times you see these types of clubs, etc. using breweries on a Tuesday night... never on a Saturday. When I showed up to set up the owners said they knew I was coming, and had been asked to move from in front of the stage. Two did, one remained... which was fine with me.. as long as they knew that sitting right in front of the stage brings volume with it. Anyway, about 45 minutes into my first set they looked a bit frustrated because they couldn't hear their game over my playing.... so they started moving to the patio. On the one hand I felt bad about their game, but on the other they had been asked to move and didn't... so as they were packing up I snarkingly asked them not to go, and told them I was just about to start playing all my Rush trilogy songs. The reference seemed lost on most of them, but one guy seemed to think it was funny, and another seemed a little irked at my stereotyping. I thought it was funny...
Anyway, the drive from Baton Rouge back to Cincinnati is 13 hours, which I was dreading alone, but it wasn't too bad. I did it all in one haul with just a single short nap, so I actually made it home a day earlier than I had planned. One thing that hasn't changed: I'm still creeped out by the bayou and the black swamps, and driving alone in the middle of the night through massive swamps did make me uneasy. I imagined breaking down at 3 am in complete darkness in the middle of a massive marsh filled with snakes and gators and all kinds of nasty things that feed at night, etc. The photo below of the full moon I took from a causeway just feet above a dark swamp.
It was a fantastic adventure, and I am so thankful that I got to make it back to New Orleans, share the experience with one of my sons, and party like a rock star in my favorite of surroundings. It makes me really look forward to June's run of beach town breweries (part of which Brad now also plans to join me on)!
Dennis O'Hagan's Great Brewery Tour is a completely grass-roots operation. Please show your support by subscribing to the page for periodic updates, and visiting our shop for tour merchandise and music.