Striving for a gold star on our report card, SWMRS headed to the Lone Star State to play a week of shows after five weeks of touring Europe. I was lucky enough to spend my week off in Paris to recharge as well as cleanse my palate with French bread and cheese pre-Texas barbecue. The idea of this short bonus tour came about when we got an offer to play in Natchitoches, Louisiana for Demon Fest, a young festival run by some cool kids at Northwestern State University. We really wanted to play the show, and since we aren’t going to be coming through this area with All Time Low this summer, we thought it was the perfect time to get a taste of Texas, with a side of Louisiana.
Where I come from, most people have a pre-conceived notion that Texas is a land of cowboy hicks who despise vegetarians and liberals. I find this hilarious, because just as many of those people exist in pockets of California as they do in Texas…Texas rules! And so does Louisiana (well, sort of), you just need to know the right spots. Don’t worry folks, I’ve got you covered.
We started the week with a hilariously awesome show at the music festival hosted by Northern State University. An appetizer, if you will. The reason I say hilarious is because after playing in a practically empty basketball arena with only about 100 kids, we realized this was technically our first ever “headline arena show” – complete with raining confetti at the end of our set. Truly an epic sight. Not only did we have a blast, but the students made it feel like we were playing in front of 10,000 people. An unexpected but great start to a memorable week.
The next morning, on our way out of Natchitoches (pronounced “Nak-ih-tish”, and eerily home to the oldest cemetery in the Louisiana Purchase), we stopped at this AWESOME gas station (bet you probably haven’t heard those two words put together). It was called French Market Express. Never before had I seen such a big line for gas station food, so Cole and I decided to test out the waters of their Cajun/ Creole specialties. I got a delicious cornbread dish with spicy pulled from chicken stuffed INSIDE. Yeah. Culinary inception. Along with tasty turnip greens, yams, and rice, on top of the fact that this was from a gas station, I was left absolutely mind-f*cked. After that meal, we were amped and ready to drive to our first show in Texas. Joey found it necessary to celebrate…
Night two, but basically night one. People often associate this city with NASA, but there is so much more to be said about the food and culture here. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I believe a huge DIY scene is beginning in Houston, and I think it has a lot to do with the venue we played at called Walter’s. This place doubles as a record store when there are shows and is open to all ages – imperative when starting an underground music scene. For us, 1-2-3-4-go!!! and 924 Gilman Street were the all-age venues that helped us jumpstart our career, and I think Walter’s is going to be very important to Houston.
We were also excited to be in Houston at the same time as our buddies in No Parents and White Reaper. After exchanging hugs and kisses with our homies, we completed soundcheck at that night’s venue per usual. But not long after we finished up, we heard a MASSIVE explosion that literally shook the venue. Upon sprinting outside we saw billowing clouds of black smoke coming from the train tracks just down the road. A train car had exploded because of some chemical problem with lithium batteries. Luckily it wasn’t in-use and no one was hurt…Thank you for the very warm welcome, Texas.
After a rowdy, loud, and fittingly explosive show, I was HYPED on Houston and this venue. So, the next morning, I woke up before everyone else to take advantage of the sunshine and explore more of the city using their bike-share service, B-cycle. About a mile from our hotel, I biked by a juice bar called One Love Juice & Smoothie Co. and since I was already sweating bullets, I decided to give it a shot.
Before making the commitment, I looked up the place online and found it had ridiculously good reviews. Not only did I get a fantastic smoothie, but I ended up having a great 45-minute-long conversation with the owner who’s deeply committed to Houston’s growing culinary scene. He pointed out the huge Vietnamese population there, and recommended the place across the street called Simply Pho, for “one of the best $3 bahn mi’s in the city.” I got a lemongrass pork bahn mi (a Vietnamese-style sub sandwich) and ended up bringing the guys to both the juice bar and the bahn mi spot later on our way out of town. Cannot wait to come back to Houston.
This was quite possibly our biggest show in Texas, and it took place in an oversold, packed room at Three Links in the heart of Dallas’s arts district called Deep Ellum. Since this is where we’ve played every time we’ve been in Dallas, I don’t know much about the rest of the city, but I’m a huge fan of this district. It has gotten a bit sleepier, with several vintage stores and cafes no longer open, but the charm remains in the downtown area with cute shops, food stops, and even a couple of breweries.
I actually flew into Dallas eight hours before everyone got into town at the beginning of the tour, which gave me ample time to pursue the most famous BBQ in Dallas from Pecan Lodge. As a beef brisket and pork rib connoisseur, you can trust me as a credible source when I say this is the smokiest, most flavorful slow-cooked meat I’ve ever had. This place emits a haze of smoke that literally spans the entire street. Loyal meat lovers embrace the smoky carnivorous sauna as they wait in typical hour-long lines. It is so worth it. The true test of good brisket is the “bark” – the deep, dark, crusty rind of the meat with such an incredibly complex flavor, the term “burnt” just doesn’t do it justice. Pecan Lodge has mastered this art. Paired with a fire ash smoked amber ale from a Texas brewery called the Texas Ale Project and some collard greens of course. You’ll leave this place a happy camper, and smelling like one too.
The barbecue at Pecan Lodge was difficult to top, but it didn’t deter me from further seeking out the various facets of Dallas’s food scene. I have to give honorable mentions to Fuzzy’s Tacos for their fantastic and well-priced breakfast tacos, as well as AllGood Cafe, where I had terrific migas the morning after the show. For those thinking WTF are migas? It’s a classic Tex-Mex breakfast scramble with bell peppers, onions, and tortilla chips in the eggs, and black beans, pico de gallo, avocado, and more tortillas on the side. Filling, satisfying fuel (not the kind of breakfast that makes you want to go back to bed).
Of course the hottest day of tour would align with our one night in an outdoor venue. I haven’t felt that hot on stage since Emily’s Army played Las Vegas in 112 degree weather on Warped Tour 2013…Despite being sweaty as hell, Austin fans brought the energy, as they always do.
I actually spent a whole extra day in Austin at the end of the week, after everyone flew home. It started off with a cappuccino on South Congress, rummaging through vintage stores, hat shopping, and people watching. I then used Austin’s B-cycle to bike 7 miles outside of town to Breakaway Records, which is now on my list of all-time favorite record stores. It was a ridiculous trek but I’d say it was worth the sunburn and heat exhaustion. This place was chalk-full of rare vinyl. I picked up a limited edition 45′ from the old gospel band Joy of Memphis Quartet. A broody, bone-shivering song called “Tell Me What You Going to Do” on the record became the soundtrack to this tour for me. Unfortunately, this band can’t be found on Spotify, but definitely check out this week’s Between Stations playlist for tunes that sum up this week just as well.
My solo day wasn’t complete without a visit to my all-time favorite BBQ joint, Micklethwait Meats. Less of a restaurant and more of a communal outdoor eating area, the owners of Micklethwait smoke and cook their meat all day long from two trailers on a vacant lot with picnic tables. I ordered a quarter pound of brisket, as well as an incredible lemon poppy seed coleslaw and finished it off with a Topo Chico. JUST KIDDING, I went back for seconds. Yes, I ordered another round of burnt bits along with a slice of pecan pie. Go big or go home…or go big, then go home…full of gluttony but no regrets….
The morning after our Austin show (before I came back for the solo day described above), I took Cole, Wills, and Hans to Veracruz All Natural, owned by two sisters/best friends who grew up in Veracruz, Mexico. Their trailer in Austin’s East Caesar Chavez district dishes out the greatest breakfast tacos you will EVER eat. I ordered three kinds – chorizo & egg, chorizo & cactus, and al-pastor. Basking in post-breakfast taco satisfaction, we spent the rest of the morning and midday at Barton Springs, a ‘recreational pool’ filled with water from nearby natural springs. This is such a conceptually unique and well done public space, and has become one of my one of my favorite spots in Austin. However, spending the day here before playing our show that night in San Antonio was not smart. We were exhausted from so many hours of sun, and in desperate need of rest and aloe vera. Lesson learned.
This was our final show of tour with No Parents and White Reaper and it was definitely a push. Between our draining 90 degree day swimming at Barton Springs and the last month and a half of being on the road, it finally hit us. But alas, the crowd re-energized us so we could deliver on a great show.
In addition to our lively fans, finding good food was critical for refueling in the absence of sleep. Looking for some Tex-Mex, I tried my luck at the poorly named Sanchos Cocina. Unfortunately, they only had tacos, which I don’t really consider to be Tex-Mex at ALL (think platters of tamales, chiles rellenos, enchiladas, etc.). However, the carnitas tacos were amazing. Pairing them with a nice cold margarita was only fitting on such a hot day… I got a great mezcal margarita with the rim dipped in the classic cayenne/sea salt seasoning Tajin (pronounced “Ta-heen“). It worked perfectly with the smokiness of the mezcal and added the kick of spice I needed before our last show.
They say “Don’t Mess with Texas” and this is true. They take their smoked meats and gun rights very seriously. But this shouldn’t be interpreted as “Don’t Go to Texas.” It’s home to a wider spectrum of people and flavors than you might expect. So turn on some good ole’ Texas tunes and go enjoy the constant sun and endless BBQ. Don’t forget sunscreen.