On Reopening

I had a hard time sleeping last night, which isn’t new for me or for a lot of people I know right now. There have been a handful of times when I’ve ended up tossing and turning during this COVID-19 pandemic. I’m the type of person to make a decision, and then over-analyze it. That’s exactly what happened to me yesterday and last night, because as more and more things reopen, I’ve been talking to venue owners about future shows. I had to make a decision on how we were going to handle that.

That decision (made in consultation with Molly and Charlie, of course) is that we aren’t going to cancel gigs. So if we’re booked to play, and a venue can safely reopen under social distancing protocols, we’ll play. We will practice social distancing and wear masks when we’re not on stage. Now, I only know of one gig in the next month that is definitely taking place, and I feel great about that one. It’s outdoors, and run by awesome people. Several other venues have asked me to keep dates on the calendar, but it isn’t for sure that those shows are happening yet. I know that I’m overthinking this from that end. Many of those dates will probably still get called off or postponed. And we aren’t getting unemployment, so playing the gigs that stand is really the only choice from a financial standpoint.

But what kept me awake was not the risk to us; we’re young, 20-somethings in good health, and I’d bet on us having already been exposed during our West Coast tour in February/March. It’s the impact on others that I worry about. The people that will come to the shows who could potentially be at risk. Friends and family that we’ve been planning to go spend time with, who we may not get to see because we are going back to work. I’d been rooting for things to get cancelled in April and May. But I’d be lying if I said a part of me didn’t want to go back to “work” now that everyone else is, even though I know the danger has not passed. It’s so hard! Two dear friends that own small businesses have reopened or are reopening, and I know they feel the same way that I do. The virus is out there, it hasn’t gone away. We must be careful and take appropriate precautions. Social distancing and mask wearing is important. But at a certain point, if we’re allowed to go back to work…we kind of need to.

Of course, we have been working this whole time in other ways. The livestream concerts will continue, permanently. We love doing them! The new creative projects will continue. And after this year, I’m planning to cut back on touring and gigs to spend more time with family and friends and focus on all of the new stuff we’ve learned during this pandemic. But this summer, we will be playing live shows in conventional venues, and that’s something I couldn’t say a week ago. I hope this post serves to explain why.

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The Future of the Music Business

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It’s been about a month since we got home from our last tour, so it seems like a good time to share my thoughts on the state of the music business. First, let me say that I absolutely care and am concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on the health and well-being of everyone. This is just about our little corner of the world, so bear with me! If you don’t know me, my wife and I make our living from music, and prior to this crisis, we were traveling around the country playing about 200 shows a year.

Ironically, the current debate about when to “open everything back up” likely won’t have much impact on when musicians can get back to playing shows in venues. For one thing, it seems like everyone agrees that large gatherings of people just aren’t a good idea for a while. That pretty well knocks out summer festivals for 2020. For another, most of the venues that independent musicians play are small bars and restaurants, and I fully expect many businesses recovering from a devastating financial loss to take a break from music for a while. And they should, because it costs a lot! I want them to survive, not stress themselves out with more expenditures.

Ultimately, like many other artists who have shared their thoughts, I believe that the music business has permanently changed, and will never be the same again. For years, musicians have heard and seen warning signs. Declining crowds at shows, the shift from physical merch to streaming, and decreased profits from touring to name a few. But, we’re a stubborn bunch! Rather than making changes to adapt to the times, most of us just kept plowing that field of diminishing returns and griping about how things used to be better. It turns out that we were wrong about a lot.

We used to say that people weren’t coming to shows because they didn’t CARE about music anymore. That doesn’t seem to be true now, because we’ve had fantastic “crowds” for our livestreamed concerts. We used to think that people didn’t VALUE music as much as they used to. Again, DEFINITELY not true! People have been overwhelmingly supportive of our Patreon, our digital tip jar, and everything we’re doing online. It’s funny; I’ve seen more shows by friends of mine in the last three weeks than I have in the last three years combined. It’s not because I don’t care about them or appreciate their music, I just never had time before, or if I did, I was exhausted from our work.

America is so unique. It’s a big place, and each state has a distinct personality and culture. There are certain things that bind us together, and I would say that the American work ethic is one. Facts are facts; we all have to work hard to make ends meet. Many of us have more than one job, or a small business in addition to a job, or work in an industry that requires you to do ten jobs at once! (Take it from your friendly neighborhood musician, singer, songwriter, booking agent, PR agent, road manager, audio engineer, producer, videographer, graphic designer, driver, accountant, mechanic, and guitar tech.)

Here’s what I’m getting at. Maybe, just maybe, live music needed an update. I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for live music in a restaurant, bar, or conventional venue. Nor am I saying that the digital realm is the be-all-end-all. But for hard working people who don’t have all the time or money in the world? It’s a whole lot easier to tune into a concert on YouTube or Facebook Live than it is to get in the car, find someone to watch the dogs/kids/house, spend money on concert tickets or $10 cocktails, and get back at Midnight after working all day. The fact that we didn’t stop to consider this before, and automatically assumed that people just didn’t care about music…it’s honestly kind of offensive. There is also the simple fact that people like different styles of music, and there might only be a half-dozen bluegrass or blues fans in a crowd of 80 at a bar. Being able to connect more directly with people who like our hippie brand of music is refreshing, to say the least.

I think normal is going to look a whole lot different after this. We will play shows in physical venues, yes. I believe we will tour again, but not in the same way as before. What if a tour is based around playing a house concert for our Patrons in Arizona, and then broadcasting a live show from our desert campsite, mountains and Saguaro in the background? What if instead of focusing all of my energy on finding the next $150 bar gig to play, I can invest that creative energy into making better music, with the belief that it will be supported by a connected community of music lovers?

The music business was already in transition from BIG to small. Record labels were already pretty much a thing of the past, and I think this crisis will actually level the playing field even more. For the ones willing to put in the time and effort to adapt, this could all end up being a positive thing for independent musicians. We’re headed for a new world; it’s up to us to imagine what it can be.

-Brian Keith Wallen

THANK YOU to all who are so generously supporting us! If you want to follow along, check out the links below. Stay safe, be well.

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/thewallensmusic
Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/thewallensmusic
Website: https://thewallensmusic.com/

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Opening Day

Here in the Midwest, the first really nice day has an almost sacred sort of quality to it. When the thermometer creeps above 60, it compels Midwestern homeowners to journey outside and commune with their little piece of earth. There’s something sacred about all of it; you feel the warmth of the sun as you gather up all of the limbs and brush that fell over the course of the winter. You marvel at the greenish hue returning to the grass as you tidy up the flowerbeds where daffodils poke their colorful heads out. Neighborhood kids knock the cobwebs off of bikes and scooters and spill into the streets. That’s what yesterday was like in my neck of the woods, and I took full advantage. My dog Charlie did as well.

All of this is wonderful, especially during a worldwide pandemic. I forgot about that for a while today, and everything felt almost normal for a minute or two. At least, until I remembered that today was supposed to be Opening Day.

Ordinarily, I’d be making plans to tune in. Preferably on 700 WLW, and ideally in my car, out for a country drive. Or maybe out in my garage, working on a project or two. Baseball really sounds best on AM Radio; it’s the format that offers the sharpest contrast between the steady buzz of the crowd and the telltale crack of the bat. Don’t get me wrong, I love going to baseball games in person, and I’ll tune in on TV as well. But radio will always have the softest spot in my heart.

MLB is going to re-air the Reds 2019 Opening Day game, which was a great performance by Luis Castillo. I haven’t decided if I want to tune in or not. Baseball has been a part of my spring ritual for a decade, since I was a teenager. The fact that it won’t be there today, or tomorrow, or the next month, or maybe not at all this year, makes this COVID-19 crisis hit home as much as anything else I could imagine. I like minor league baseball too, and we were planning to take Charlie to one of the “Bark in the Park” games that the Indianapolis Indians put on. Like so many other things, that is on hold indefinitely.

I know that there are many more important things in life. But today will be a tough one for many of us as we lose another layer of normalcy. If we want any shot of baseball coming back anytime soon, we HAVE to stop the spread of COVID-19. So be kind, stay safe, and STAY HOME. This virus is a strike we can’t afford to take.

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A Musician’s Guide to Livestreaming

Hey y’all! As musicians figure out what to do during a time when our regular venues are shut down, many of us are turning to digital concerts. We’ve been doing this type of thing for a while, and I’ve had a lot of folks reach out and ask about what equipment is needed to get the best possible audio quality for a Facebook Live. The intent of this post is to put all the info you need in one place. If you have some basic tech skills and a couple pieces of gear, you can get a quality video stream going!

Step One: A Computer and a USB Audio Interface

I think most know the basics about streaming from a phone. In order to get pro-quality audio on your live video, you’ll need a decent PC or Mac and a USB audio interface to connect your mics and instruments to that computer. I use a Presonus Audiobox, but there are any number of choices from Focusrite, M-Audio, and other companies around the $100 price range. Don’t worry about the number of inputs on the interface; if you have a mixer, you can just run everything through that and connect the stereo outs on your mixer to the interface.

Step Two: An iPhone, iPad, or a Webcam

For the video portion, you’ll need a device that easily connects to your computer. Any of the devices I mentioned above will do the trick. If you’re using your phone, get a mini-tripod designed for mobile devices. You can pick one up just about anywhere.

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Step Three: OBS Studio Software

To put the video/audio together, you’ll need to use software. Fortunately, there is a FREE software available, and it’s easy to use. Here’s the link! It’s compatible with both PC and Mac, and the help section will teach you how to use it. It’s very intuitive.

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If you’re using an iPhone as your camera, you’ll need to download the OBS Camera app and connect it to your computer via Lightning or Lightning to USB.

Step Four: Facebook Live Producer

Of all the social media platforms, none make it easier to do this than Facebook. If you click the “Live” button from the home screen of your Facebook Business Page, you’ll be taken to their Live Producer studio. From there, you can link up your software, do a test stream to make sure everything is working properly, and even crosspost to multiple pages. This is a huge advantage compared to just broadcasting from your smartphone.

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Voila! You’re streaming live with pro-quality audio.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to reach out if you have any other questions, and if this information was helpful, I have a digital tip jar up on our website! Good luck!

-Brian Keith Wallen

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The Weight: Coping with COVID-19

“I’ve never seen anything like this” is a common refrain I’ve heard over this past week or so. In grocery store aisles, in phone conversations, on social media feeds, the disruption of our day-to-day lives has been the surprise of all surprises. Obviously, we’ve known about COVID-19 for a while, but if we’re being honest, didn’t it always seem like some faraway thing before? Even when the first cases hit the US, I think many of us were in denial. I know that I sure was. And now, we’re here; in the middle of uncertainty. Most of us don’t have any life experiences to guide us on this one. And that sinking feeling of dread that many of us have in the pit of our stomachs is compounded by the fact that there isn’t an end in sight. There isn’t a quick fix, or a magic wand our government can wave. The only comparison point that many of us over a certain age have is 9/11, but with COVID-19, the enemy is ourselves.

If you’ve read any articles about it, you know that the only way we have a shot is to slow the spread of the disease and “flatten the curve” so that our healthcare system doesn’t get overwhelmed. But that means we all have to stay home, and probably for at least a couple of months, according to the experts. And doesn’t that go against every fiber of our being as Americans? We’re not a nation of people that like to stay in one place for very long. If you’ve seen me play a show, than you’ve probably heard me spill out our touring stats. “We play about 200 shows a year, and we drive 40 or 50,000 miles a year on the road!” All of a sudden, we’re not driving anywhere to play shows. I haven’t put gas in the truck since we got home from our last tour a week ago, because I haven’t had anywhere to go besides the grocery store. I’ve had multiple conversations with other musicians who are seeing cancellations into summer, and none of us are optimistic about playing any shows until at least June.

Everyone is stressed to the max about finances, whether you’re a business owner, a bartender, or a bank teller. On the other hand, think of all the people involved with healthcare who have to keep going to work. My dad is in that latter group. But even if you’re still working, we’re not going to church. We’re not hanging out with our friends, playing dominoes or sharing meals and drinks. We’re not visiting Grandparents and going to dog parks. All of the things that used to crowd our calendar to the point of it being too full are just…gone. Overnight.

When I started writing this, I struggled with the tone. I didn’t want it to seem to dark, because I always try to find the positive. And don’t get me wrong, there are positives. This situation is causing many of us to (rightly) examine our priorities and re-adjust our perspective, and it’s also inspiring a lot of creativity from people who suddenly have more time to be creative. But I also don’t want to sugar-coat the negative, or stigmatize the emotions that come with our present situation. We, as a nation and a world, are grieving. And that is perfectly okay! There is no getting around the fact that this is an event that will reverberate throughout our history for years to come, and we shouldn’t expect to just roll out of bed after a week of social distancing and suddenly be okay with it.

The world is going to be different on the other side of this. But what we have to do hasn’t changed; we have to choose kindness, find gratitude for the good things, and love each other. The way we show that love is going to be different for a while, but love we must!

The Weight of Love – The Black Keys

I used to think, darlin’, you never did nothin’
But you were always up to somethin’
Always had a run in, yeah
I got to think those days are comin’ to get ya
Now no body want to protect ya
They only want to forget ya

[Chorus:]
You’ll be on my mind
Don’t give yourself away
To the weight of love
You’ll be on your side
Don’t give yourself away
The weight of, weight of love

Dance all night cause people, they don’t wanna be lonely
Never wanna be lonely
They don’t wanna be an only one
You had a thing no one could ever be sure of
Never ever had a pure love
And never no cure from

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Weary and Wary: A Musician’s Perspective on COVID-19

I think, for me, everything changed in less than an hour. About 9:30 PM (Eastern) on Wednesday, March 11th, we were hit with a ridiculous stream of previously unthinkable events. Our President, addressing the nation about a worldwide pandemic, and banning travel to Europe. Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, sharing that they had contracted COVID-19. And an NBA player testing positive, resulting in the suspension of the NBA season. All within about 30 minutes! It felt like the plot of some bad SciFi channel movie that you watch in a hotel at 2 AM.

Prior to this, I had been following along with the news. I had witnessed the spread of COVID-19 across the globe, and I had certainly taken note of the cancellation of SXSW and Coachella. But it wasn’t until Wednesday night that I realized our lives were really about to change. Look, I’ll admit it; like many other Americans, I did not take the threat of Coronavirus seriously. Maybe it’s American arrogance, or maybe it’s because I’m 27. Perhaps it’s just because I’ve never seen anything like this happen before, but I just didn’t think it would be that big of a deal. Clearly, I was wrong. I know there are lots of folks still arguing about how serious this is or isn’t, but I’m content to leave that to the medical professionals. Both of my parents worked/work in healthcare, and so does my sister-in-law. If they say something is a problem, I believe it.

Setting aside the actual virus itself, the economic impact is immeasurable. My wife and I are touring musicians. Our job is literally to travel thousands of miles and play for large crowds of people! A Rolling Stone article started circulating Wednesday night, and the premise hit home for us and for so many of our artist friends. We suddenly knew it was time to start counting pennies and dimes, because it became pretty clear that we won’t be working very much for a while. Businesses are hurting too, big ones and little ones. School is cancelled. Travel is suspended. Every sporting event you can think of has been postponed. It almost makes our little piece of the puzzle seem insignificant.

It’s such a weird feeling, all of this. We just had our best tour ever, covering 10,000 miles across more than a dozen states. I was planning to write a recap of the final two weeks, but instead, I’m writing about this strange, strange space we’re living in now. We went grocery shopping today, and all of the toilet paper, liquid soap, and chicken were gone. Still plenty of pork, beef, and paper towels, though. We’re not doing any panic shopping, because we aren’t panicked. But I’ll admit, I did buy a 10 pack of Ivory soap.

The tour of Texas we had coming up in less than two weeks is cancelled. We have a couple of local shows through the end of the month, and that’s it. If they even still happen. We’re all in this weird vortex where it seems like time has stopped, and we’re just waiting for it to start again. But when it does, it seems pretty clear that things will have changed in a big way. There will be businesses that can’t make it through this. Venues will close. There will be artists forced to get day jobs. Will live music be the same after this passes? I don’t know.

All I know is that I’m thankful for a lot. For my health, for my family and friends, for my wife and my dog especially. I’m grateful that we have a home to come home to, and a little money to pay the bills with. And I’m so glad that I’ve been able to travel this country, doing what I love, for and with people I love. An extra pack of toilet paper is not going to get us through this; it’s going to take a whole lot of kindness, patience, and love. Be good to yourself and to others, and we’ll figure it out.

The Wallens will perform a Facebook and YouTube Live concert on Monday, March 16th at 8 PM Eastern. Tune in at https://www.facebook.com/thewallensmusic or https://www.youtube.com/thewallensmusic

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Wintertime Tour: Week Five – It’s All About Love

Hey everyone! Once again, Brian here. My wife and I are currently on a two month tour across America, playing music, (we’re The Wallens) camping out, and seeking adventure along the way. Here’s where we’ve been in the last week or so.

Stop #1: Sedona, AZ

In my last post, I talked about the awesome musicians we met at Fiddler’s Dream, Christy Fisher and Tina Reichow. They are such sweet people, and they were kind enough to spread the word about our next show to their friends and fans. So, when we showed up at Vino Di Sedona, there was a great crowd waiting for us! We are really thankful for our new friends. Vino is a pretty special place; it has fantastic views of the Red Rocks from the patio, a cozy indoor space for wintertime shows, and it’s one of just a handful of places that legitimately host music 7 nights a week.

The owner, Rebecca, has been very supportive of us over the years, and we really appreciate that. The staff is a lot of fun too! If you’re ever passing through Sedona, it’s definitely the place to go.

Stop #2: Cave Creek, AZ

Speaking of venues that really support music, Janey’s also sits high atop that list. Tucked into a corner of Cave Creek, a funky little town on the north side of Maricopa County, you’ll find this magical coffeeshop and bodega. And like Vino Di Sedona, you’ll find music seven nights a week!

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Owner/manager Julian has grown something really special here. The crowd is a fun mix of locals, snowbirds, and tourists; we even met a guy from Connersville, Indiana at our show! That’s only 8 miles south of where I grew up. We really love playing Janey’s, and we have to thank our friends Quint and Nancy for turning us onto the place.

Stop #3: Camp Verde+Flagstaff

Up to this point, we’d been staying at our friends house in Scottsdale. But we had to bring Alf the camper back out for a night, as we had two shows up the hill in North-Central AZ. We decided to camp in the Verde Valley and drive from there to our gig in Flagstaff, as it was about 20 degrees warmer at the lower elevation of Camp Verde. (Flagstaff gets over 100 inches of snow a year.) I can’t say enough good things about the Verde River RV Resort, which had a full mini-golf course, a clubhouse, rec room, and even saunas!

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Our Valentine’s Night gig was at Historic Brewing’s Barrel+Bottle House. It was the perfect place for us to play on Valentine’s, a space full of families, couples of all ages, and groups of friends out for a drink or a delicious dinner. Do not miss this place if you’re in Flag! I recommend the Arizona Bowl with a fried egg.

Stop #4: Chino Valley, AZ

The next place is an old friend of ours. I’ve been playing at Granite Creek Vineyards since 2015, and Molly and I have come to love it. The atmosphere, staff, and audience are always top-notch. It’s also a peacock preserve, so there are often colorful spectators in the crowd!

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We had a couple tables full of Indiana people in the crowd, and dozens of music lovers that made our afternoon absolutely magical. What more could you ask for?

Stop #5: Queen Creek, AZ

What a week of shows this was! Had it ended in Chino Valley, that would have been great enough. But we had to cap it off with one of the best shows of the whole dang tour. Outdoors, at the Queen Creek Olive Mill, on a 70 degree day. We set up under a tent in the middle of things, literally between the patio/dining area and an art show.

For four hours, we had a steady stream of dancing kids, picture-takers, clappers, and joyful people to give us energy for our songs. It was the biggest crowd I’ve seen to date at the Olive Mill, and it was a great time had by all, especially us. We even got to finish out our afternoon there with affogato, the delightful Italian combination of espresso and vanilla gelato. It was a perfect day.

Bonus Stop: Fountain Hills, AZ

In between all of these gigs, we spent almost every late morning/early afternoon hanging out in Fountain Hills. I’ve come to love this little town for a few reasons, one being that it has the best dog park we’ve encountered in our travels. It also has a great little hike through a botanical garden, and of course, one of the largest fountains in the world.

I really like the people too, a mix of Midwestern snowbirds and local folks that all seem to love art and music and good food and dogs. And that’s the thing; in all of our travels, we meet great people, wherever we go. There is so much love and goodness and joy in the world, and we just want to spread that around. The portrait of America painted by cable news channels and by Facebook memes and ads is an ugly one, filled with division and conflict and hatred. The actual reality is so far from that! If we can put down our phones for more than five minutes and make some human connections, the contrast becomes apparent.

The next time you start losing hope in the world, or you start feeling like we’re more divided than we’ve ever been, go for a walk or a drive. Find a town square, or a park. Go for a hike. Sit down at a coffeeshop, or find some live music. I honestly believe that what you’ll find the vast majority of the time are good people, trying to do the best they can for the ones they love. And that’s what it’s all about.

Choose love.

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Wintertime Tour: Week Four – An Attitude of Gratitude

Hey everyone! Once again, Brian here. My wife and I are currently on a two month tour across America, playing music, (we’re The Wallens) camping out, and seeking adventure along the way. Here’s where we’ve been in the last week or so.

Stop #1: Wichita Falls, TX

If you’ll recall, our last stop in the previous post was Arkadelphia, Arkansas. Our next scheduled gig was in Albuquerque, and we had a couple of days to get ourselves across the country. We set our sights on Wichita Falls as a stopping point, with one specific goal in mind. Watch the Super Bowl, of course! My Christmas gift from Molly was a TV for the camper, and it has been a great source of entertainment on this tour. We set up camp at the Wichita Falls RV Park, just in time for the big game and a spectacular sunset.

Temps were in the upper 70’s when we hit town, but a massive winter storm was looming, with a Winter Storm Watch in effect. We hightailed it out of town with our sights set on Albuquerque. Fortunately (or unfortunately for my wallet), our route took us through Childress, TX. This tiny Texas town is home to a Justin Factory Store, which might as well have been paradise for this boot-wearing guy. I have a pretty peculiar boot size, and they had more options in my size than I could have ever imagined. They also allowed us to bring our dog, Charlie, in with us, so we spent a good hour or so scoping out all of the options. At the very end, I spied a box on a shelf, and within was this little square-toed slice of perfection.

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With boot shopping complete, we drove on through some strong crosswinds to the Land of Enchantment.

Stop #2: Bernalillo, NM

We arrived just after sunset, but we were able to get checked into our campsite with relative ease. Bernalillo is a bustling little town about 25 minutes north of Albuquerque proper, and the Coronado Campground is perched atop a bluff overlooking the Rio Grande. It’s also next door to the Kuaua Ruins, remnants of one of the largest Pueblo Indian communities in the Southwest. The settlement dates back to around 1300, and Spanish conquistador Francisco Vásquez de Coronado first visited in 1540. To think of what was happening hundreds of years ago in the very place we slept was humbling.

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Remember that winter storm? It only grazed us in New Mexico, but we still woke up to bitter cold and a bunch of fluffy white flakes falling from the sky! We purchased a Mr. Buddy propane heater after a 20 degree night earlier in the tour, and that proved to be an excellent purchase. We were able to keep our little Aliner totally warm and toasty during windchills that got down towards the 0 degree mark. The payoff was a breathtaking view as the fog and clouds lifted in the afternoon.

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Winter camping has its perks.

Stop #3: Corrales, NM

We stayed at the Coronado Campground for four nights, so the next few stops will be about the venues we played. The first was the Corrales Bistro Brewery, a warm and homey place tucked into a village of 5,000. There is something magical about this little town, wedged in between Rio Rancho and Albuquerque. The sprawl of Starbucks and Walmart superstores hasn’t made it here, and the result is a sort of old Southwest charm.

Speaking of Southwest, that is a burger in a tortilla, smothered in green chile on the inside. New Mexican cuisine is great, you guys! So was the crowd that night, which was a total listening audience. It was almost like a house concert at times, and we were so grateful for the brave souls that ventured out into the cold to come hear our hippie songs and John Prine covers.

Stop #4: Santa Fe, NM

Up the road a spell is that most famous of towns, sunny Santa Fe. We had a gig at a really funky little spot called the Cowgirl. I knew when I walked up that it was our kind of place.

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The place was just oozing with charm and character. We really had a fun gig, but the best part was the nachos. Some places that claim to have nachos should be EMBARRASSED to even try to put themselves in the same category as the Cowgirl. They come with brisket, for goodness sakes. Enough said!

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Stop #5: Nob Hill

Every city has a hip, vibey part of town. In Indianapolis, it’s Broad Ripple. Cincinnati has Over-the-Rhine. In Albuquerque, it’s Nob Hill, a stretch of Route 66 a couple of miles from downtown. The first show I ever played out here was at Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro all the way back in 2014, and they have been gracious enough to keep booking us whenever we come through. The shows take place in their cellar bar, a fun and funky little space.

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I really enjoy playing there. We almost always meet interesting people, and Zinc really treats their musicians well. On this occasion, we got to dine on some outrageously good beef tacos. Check out Zinc whenever you come through ABQ, and I promise you won’t regret it!

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Stop #6: Phoenix, AZ

So we loaded up the truck and we moved to…Arizona! We have some truly great friends who have become family here, and Quint and Nancy are gracious enough to let us stay at their house whenever we come to town. They had the distinction of being the guests who traveled the furthest to attend our wedding, if that gives you any idea. We’re blessed with some really great people in our lives, and these two are some of the absolute best. Anyone who would let us unload this amount of stuff into their house deserves some credit!

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Our first show in AZ was at a new venue for us, Fiddler’s Dream. I love the eclectic spaces we’ve been encountering on this tour, and this was no exception! It’s a little outbuilding on the property of a Quaker church, and it’s a completely volunteer run venue.

I mentioned that our show at Corrales Bistro Brewery had a house concert feel. Well, this WAS a house concert. Chairs wrapped tightly around the stage area, and a totally unplugged format. No speakers, no mics, just acoustic guitars and voices. This is my favorite type of show, and Fiddler’s Dream did not disappoint. We had a wonderful audience, and we got to share the stage with a couple of great musicians from Jerome, Christy Fisher and her friend Tina on percussion. They were absolutely phenomenal!

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Touring is a whole bunch of things packed into a bundle. It’s exciting, exhausting, expensive, and rewarding all at once. This week was a great example; we came into these four shows tired. Just plain tired in a physical sense, from fighting a nasty cold that we both ended up catching and the cold outside. But the emotional lift from playing music we love for people who love music, and the connections and new friendships that come with that, is enough to make us forget all about the other stuff.

I’m just so grateful for what we get to do. Thanks to all who make it possible.

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Wintertime Tour: Weeks Two/Three – More Mid-South

Hey y’all! Once again, Brian here. My wife and I are currently on a two month tour across America, playing music, (we’re The Wallens) camping out, and seeking adventure along the way. Just wanted to update you on our last couple of weeks!

Stop #1: Franklin, TN

Picking up where we left off in the first post, we were fortunate to be able to spend several days with Molly’s sister Katie, her husband Josh, and their three wonderful kids. They are some of my favorite people, and it was really nice to spend some time in Franklin. Charlie enjoyed it too.

I haven’t gotten to be much of an uncle for my sister’s kids; for one thing, I was still just a kid myself when they were born, and for another, we’ve always been so far away from each other. (They live in Florida.) Being able to spend time with nieces and nephews and be “Unca Bunca” is really meaningful. I’m also very thankful for the hospitality of Katie and Josh. But, I’m sure y’all didn’t come here to read my sentimental thoughts on family!

It is worth noting that we were able to make a stop at my favorite of the Nashville hot chicken establishments, Hattie B’s. It’s legit, trust me.

Stop #2: Jonesboro, AR

Bellies and hearts full, we packed up the truck and trailer, waved goodbye to Tennessee, and headed onto our next stop! Jonesboro is a college town in NE Arkansas, and it has a really cool vibe. We stayed at a secluded little campground in Craighead Forest Park, just far enough outside of town to be peaceful.

Our venue was a funky little Irish pub called Cregeens, and it really did have a straight-from Ireland vibe. We had a very warm and welcoming crowd, and the Bangers and Mash were top notch! Can’t wait to go back.

Stop #3: Greers Ferry, AR

Speaking of family, we have some relatives in Arkansas that we didn’t know were relatives until the last time we came down! Kevin and Lee Ann Wallen are the kind of people you want to have in your family, for a lot of reasons. They were kind enough to hook us up with a place to stay and a gig at their church. If you’ve never been, Greers Ferry is an incredibly beautiful place.

Our weekend started with a gig at a small golf club bar called Bogies, and it ended with an afternoon concert at Holiday Hills United Methodist Church. You’d be hard pressed to find more generous and genuine people, and we’re very grateful that we got to sing some our favorite songs for them. ♥️

Stop #4: Memphis, TN

Friends and family are a recurring theme here. We headed to Memphis, not to play a show or to compete in the International Blues Challenge, but to spend a few days with some of our best friends. Steve, Brenda, Tom, and Catrina made the trip down from Metamora to rendezvous with us for some Beale Street shenanigans. I got a new hat at Lansky Brothers! We went thrift shopping! And most importantly, we got to watch Catrina play a showcase at the world famous B.B. King’s with the Chuck Brisbin Trio. Our friends are really like family to us.

We also found a great coffeeshop in a Memphis neighborhood called “The Pinch”, so named because it was cut off from the rest of downtown by the construction of an Interstate bridge. Comeback Coffee really impressed me, and it’s worth stopping there if you need some quality espresso.

Stop #5: Tuscaloosa, AL

If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I really, really love the South. The fact that you might walk into a brewery and find massive chalkboard art of Alabama football heroes in the style of a Jason Isbell album cover is a great example of why.

I knew it would be a great night as soon as I saw that. And sure enough, it was. Total listening crowd, and a tasty Pilsner! Druid City Brewing is really worth your time, and we enjoyed every minute of our show there.

Stop #6: Florence, AL

How cool is it that our next stop would be the hometown of Jason Isbell? Across the Tennessee River from Muscle Shoals, you’ll find a basement venue with one of the coolest names, The Boiler Room. It’s a combination bar, bowling alley, and music venue. Badass. We actually had a couple drive all the way from Corinth, MS to Florence and spend the night there just to see us play. Sometimes, I have to pinch myself. Not to sound like a broken record, but we loved the Boiler Room.

Stop #7: Arkadelphia, AR

Our last stop of this leg was back in Arkansas, in a little college town called Arkadelphia. We found out that there are two universities, Henderson State and Ouchita Baptist, that are literally across the street from each other. The rivalry is a different level of intense. Our campground, JB’s, was about a half-hour up the road, and it came complete with goats and an ass. Not kidding!

Our show was downtown at Slim & Shorty’s, a place with an island sort of feel. We dined like kings and queens on steak and vanilla cheesecake! The crowd was small, but awesome to play for. We met a couple who had traveled to many of the same Colorado mountain towns as us, and we met a metal musician with a big-time appreciation for bluegrass, to name a few.

It was hard to leave the South. It’s been so good to play venue after venue full of Prine and Isbell lovers, blues aficionados, and bluegrass diehards. The UP and Indiana have become very special to me for spiritual and community-based reasons, as has Colorado because of its beautiful mountains and towns.

I felt the same kind of connection throughout Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas, but it was driven by music. Blues, bluegrass and folk music are deep in the blood of the South, and it was an absolute privilege to play songs that are a part of that heritage. We’ll be back, and I can’t wait.

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Wintertime Tour: Week One – The Mid-South

Hey! Brian here. My wife and I are currently on a two month tour across America, playing music, (we’re The Wallens) camping out, and seeking adventure along the way.  I plan to document some of our shenanigans here on our blog, and hopefully show you a little bit of what we see out on the road.

Our camping rig consists of Merle, a 2004 Lexus LX470 and Alf, a 1996 Aliner camper. It’s not old, it’s retro!

Stop #1: Western KY

We loaded up the truck and started our big trip with a visit to…Draffenville, Kentucky! Molly’s grandparents live just outside of town, and she went to college about 25 minutes away at Murray State, so a stop to visit friends and family was in order. We set up at the Stagecoach Station Campground for a couple of nights.

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We had everything we needed, including some of the nicest campground bathrooms we’ve come across. I was particularly excited to test out our newest addition to Alf, a TV that I got for Christmas from my lovely wife. We picked up all the local channels via antenna, and we were even able to stream the College Football Championship via campground WiFi!

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It was really great to visit with Molly’s grandparents, and we got to hear some stories that would hit home a couple of tour stops later.

Stop #2: Tupelo, MS

We headed down the road a few hours to the birthplace of Elvis, and the namesake for that sweet southern honey. We camped out at Barnes Crossing, which had about 50 channels of cable! So, we spent the afternoon watching Forged in Fire on the History Channel and listening to the rain outside. Later that night, we played a funky little room called the Blue Canoe.

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Some heavy hitters have played there on their way up, including Sturgill Simpson, Shovels and Rope, and Alabama Shakes. The venue has a tradition of having every artist write their name on the wall, which was a cool way to see a lot of history all at once. You could tell that the audience was music-savvy, and our soundman, Preston, had everything dialed in. It was a perfect way to kick things off!

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Stop #3: Huntsville, AL

Next up, we headed to the Cotton State and a most unique campground location. We set up at the Space and Rocket Center RV Park, bordered by giant Saturn rockets and even a space shuttle. It wasn’t hard to find! Our show that night was at a venue that Molly connected with right off the bat; a Wisconsin-themed Packer bar called the Casual Pint.

We found out from the bartender that Huntsville is a bit of a melting pot. With NASA, Missile Command, and the Biotech Initiative in town, there are a whole lot of highly educated people that come to Huntsville for work from all over the world. We made friends with a music lover from England and an artist from West Virginia, to name a couple of folks from a really fun audience.

Stop #4: Corinth, MS

Remember how I said that Molly’s grandparents told us some stories that tied in with one of our stops? It just so happens that they got married more than 65 years ago in Corinth! Back in those days, Kentucky had a 3 day waiting period for a marriage license, and since Mississippi didn’t, a lot of young couples would make the short drive down to the Alcorn County Courthouse to get hitched. On May 18, 1954, a young Glenn and Shirley did just that, and Molly got to visit the place where it happened.

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Corinth was really good to us. First of all, the Daily Corinthian was kind enough to run a great article about our show at SMITH. We absolutely loved the venue. Great food, (Shrimp and Grits!) atmosphere, and a bunch of super-savvy music lovers sitting up front. It was really cool to be surrounded by John Prine and Jason Isbell fans!

This was also my favorite campground of the week, Cross City RV Park. Jim, the owner, is so nice and welcoming, and everything was top notch.

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Stop #5: Columbiana, AL

Our hearts were full when we left Corinth, but they were about to grow another couple of sizes. Our next show was at the brand-spanking-new Shelby County Arts Council facility. Home to classrooms, art galleries, and a BEAUTIFUL theater, we got this gig thanks to a friendship that goes back to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Bruce Andrews and George Dudley play together in a duo called 2Blu, and we all made the IBC Finals together. Bruce was kind enough to hook us up with the Sassy Brown Band, an awesome group of musicians.

The show was SOLD OUT! We got to play for 200+ people in an absolutely magical room, and then hear Sassy and the boys tear up some Patsy Cline. We even sold a cigar box guitar and a stompboard! This is highlight-of-the-year type stuff.

Shout out to Bruce and the entire SCAC for making this so special, to George for dialing in the sound so well, the Sassy Brown Band for being gracious enough to share the evening with us, and Candlewood Suites of Alabaster for sponsoring the show and giving us and Charlie a great place to stay on a chilly night.

Stop #6: Chattanooga, TN

Speaking of Charlie, he’s our canine co-pilot.

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His favorite city was DEFINITELY Chattanooga, because he got to go to a DOG BAR. Right across from our venue was a terrific place called Play Wash Pint. After our gig, we got to turn Charlie lose and play some cornhole while he ran around with some doggo friends.

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Shout out to Charles, our soundguy, for telling us about it, and for making us sound good at a really cool brunch spot, the Flying Squirrel. It was such a perfect vibe on a sunny Sunday, and it all came together perfectly. We set up camp at Holiday Travel Park, arrived in time to hear some soulful tunes from Courtney Daly, and devour some farm-to-table eats before our set. It was such a cool setup, with a listening area right around the upstairs stage and speakers playing us through the rest of the downstairs and outdoor dining areas.

Stop #7: Franklin, TN
Our final stop of the week is in Franklin! We’re here to visit Molly’s sister and her wonderful family, and also play a cozy little dive bar called Kimbros Pickin’ Parlor. This downtown spot has hosted some great ones, from John Prine to Emmylou Harris. It was about 20 degrees and snowing when we hit town, so we were grateful to have a crowd of family, friends, and friendly new faces come out to see us. (And, to be staying indoors instead of out in the camper when the show was over!)

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It was everything you’d want a Nashville-area dive bar show to be; fun, loose, and filled with laughter. We played a bunch of bluegrass and Prine tunes, and had folks from Mississippi, Colorado, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, and beyond sing along with us on a few of them. Daniel and Brentley did a great job on sound (we’ve been blessed with some wonderful soundpeople on this tour), and it was the perfect way to close out our first week.

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We’ll spend the next few days resting up, spending some quality time with family, and then we’ll head for Arkansas later this week. Stay tuned!

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