Ghost Story #9: On the Road with Kowabunga! Kid (pt. 2)

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Derrin Coad is writing from the West Coast, where he is on his first long-term tour with Champaign-based band Kowabunga! Kid

We awoke on Monday the 27 in a hotel in Ontario, Ore., just across the Oregon/Idaho state border. After we all endured the free continental breakfast and checked out, we made our way to the interstate ramp when a sign of hope appeared. Aaron had tried multiple times during the early days of this West Coast Kowabunga! Kid tour to obtain the new Mac N’ Cheetos creation at Burger King, but had failed every time. However, on this day, the Burger King in Ontario had them, and so Aaron, stepping up to the counter with childish glee, purchased a small order of this deep fried monstrosity. I also ordered some, just for the sake of comradery. Our excitement was soon quelled after actually trying the abomination, and I personally don’t think I’ve ever eaten anything that felt as unhealthy as those misery sticks in my life. Needless to say, a bathroom stop was needed less than an hour after getting onto the interstate.

I began driving us throughout the lengthy route through Oregon on our way to Olympia, Washington for the show that night. Although it took a while to get through the state and all of our ears were pretty screwed up due to the extreme altitude changes, the drive was awesome. Starting off with more treeless hills and mini-mountains, we eventually hit some forests while unknowingly driving up a freaking mountain. I couldn’t hear a thing for an hour after the abrupt decent, but it was pretty cool to see everything for a 50-mile radius around us. The interstate began following the Hood River about an hour later, and we continued to follow that really beautiful scenic route full of cliffs, trees, and the lonely Hood Mountain for a couple hundred miles. We suffered through a short Portland traffic jam, then found our way up the interstate into Washington, witnessing all of the typical awesome Pacific Northwest scenery along the route.

Heading into Olympia, we didn’t have much hope that the show that night would actually happen. The guy who had set up the show with Aaron had not returned any of Aaron’s messages for a few days, but we still showed up to the venue on time nonetheless. Of course, no one was there. We bailed and ate at some really good vegan restaurant had a weird and friendly interaction with some dude from another touring band, then went up to Seattle to get some ice cream (started calling Kamila “double-scoop” because she went for it and didn’t finish even the first scoop of her ice cream) and met up with Kamila’s friends Harrison, Seth, and their awesome little pug Marcy and stayed with them for the next couple of nights. The guy in Olympia messaged Aaron back the next day, saying that he mixed up the days for the show somehow, a response that earned a collective eye roll from the four of us.

We spent all of Tuesday, June 28 exploring Seattle on foot, checking out the waterfront market, taking the obligatory Space Needle pictures, and checking out EMP, a ridiculously cool museum that featured Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix exhibits, a bunch of horror, fantasy, and sci-fi movie props, a showcase of the evolution of guitars over the last 150 years, and an indie video game exhibit. Another exhibit, called the Sound Booth, had instruments for everyone to play with, and sound-proof booths for people to crank up the volume in (Kowabunga actually practiced a new song in one of these booths before premiering it later that night). We walked nearly 10 miles that day, in the sun, up and down some steep hills, but we were just happy to be out of the van for the first time in days.

The show that night was at Lucky Liquor in nearby Tukwila, a dive bar in an industrial area that featured a few really cool pinball machines and a small stage that bowed when you walked on it. The first band, Choke the Pope, played a pretty good set full of odd masturbation references sprinkled in their folk/pop-punk songs. Kowabunga played next (and suffered some unfortunate P.A. problems), and then the rock band Skates closed the show. There wasn’t a great turnout, but it was still a pretty cool time.

After saying our goodbyes to our gracious hosts Harrison, Seth, and our best bud Marcy the pug, we drove down to Portland on the morning of Wednesday, June 29. Once arriving, we did the tourist-y things of getting some doughnuts at Voodoo, checking out the huge Powell’s Books, and visiting the beautiful Rose Gardens. The show was at The Know that night, a bar that had an excellent separate room for shows and a bar area that felt a lot like good ole’ Mike & Molly’s (for you C-U folks). The first band, Brave Hands, felt like a really good emo/punk throwback band. Kowabunga once again played second to a crowd of maybe 25 people. Low Culture from local Dirtnap Records played last, closing the show with their really solid punk songs that felt somewhere between Radioactivity and Alkaline Trio. That night we stayed with one of Aaron’s co-workers from Polyvinyl, Andy, his wife Annie, and their very friendly dog Sidney.

Corvallis, Ore., was the destination for Thursday, June 30, and it was an easy hour-and-a-half drive south from Portland. The city was basically a more beautiful version of Champaign-Urbana, in that it is a college town that’s relatively quiet over the summer that was surrounded by mountains. Since we spent the last couple of days walking around Seattle and Portland, we decided to just hang out in a coffee shop and take it easy for the day. The show was in a different coffee shop located across the street from the campus of Oregon State University, and, tying it back to C-U, felt a bit like having a show at the Red Herring, in Urbana, a couple years ago. The first band was SLC two-piece punkers Big Baby, making a stop in Corvallis during their own Northwest tour playing some slow and grimy punk songs. A local band, The Carys, played second, performing their set of what Jake and I thought to be Get Up Kids inspired early 2000s throwback emo. Kowabunga played next to a pretty receptive crowd, and another local band, Dumb Luck, closed out the show with their excellent feel-good pop punk tunes. We stayed with our friend Indiana from Dumb Luck that night and her tidy punk house, talking about the video games we all grew up with and how bad the new Blink 182 album is before we all fell asleep.

We left fairly early the morning of July 1, knowing that the drive to Arcata, Calif., would be very scenic and full of twists and turns. Jake jumped at the chance to drive us all there, hoping to get a good look at the mountains, forests, and redwoods of northern California. Jake was not disappointed with what he saw and neither was the rest of us. We also drove past a farm that very confidently displayed multiple signs for “SWEET CRON” that was available for purchase. We didn’t stop, so the mystery of finding out whatever “cron” is will haunt us as one of our biggest unanswered questions on this tour.

Arcata was a bizarre town. Everyone who we had talked to before going there claimed it was part of the weed capital of California, and they didn’t seem to be wrong about that assertion. Jake and I stepped outside for some fresh air at one point during the show, and after getting a great whiff of that air, Jake said, “Man, this place sure does smell like medicine!” The show was at a bar/shitty tater tot restaurant called Blondie’s, and it was as bizarre as the rest of the town. The first band, a local bunch called Wreckage, was an odd jam rock/Incubus inspired band that featured lyrics like, “Let get drunk together!” to carry a chorus for an entire song, played for 45 minutes and did an encore. What local opening band does that? Anyway, Kowabunga played their usual 20 minute long set and were followed by Smooth Weirdos, an awkward group that sounded absolutely awful for their first few songs. The guitarist and drummer switched places halfway through the set and became much better, but it still is an awkward band to categorize. Instead of going to a house party down the block, we decided to be party poopers and found a cheap hotel in nearby Eureka.

We set out on Saturday, July 2 for out second day of driving through beautiful northern California at around noon, making our way down to the Bay area by the same winding Route 101 that we took the day before. When we reached the Bay area, Aaron, who had been driving the entire day thus far, began acting pretty convincingly that he was terrified of driving over long bridges like the one we were currently on heading into Oakland. I’d have to say it was one of my favorite of Aaron’s “tour pranks” he has performed on us at this point. We didn’t know about many things to do in Oakland, and seeing as how we didn’t have time to check out San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, so we just walked around by a marina and hit up an In-N-Out before heading over to where the show that night was.

This Kowabunga! Kid West Coast tour had been very tame at this point; the venues were bars, restaurants, or spots ran by people we knew personally. This show in Oakland was at a sketchy skate park that was situated behind a scrap yard located in a dilapidated area of the city. It was a generator show, kind of like the show Wolf Luv played a few weeks earlier in a barn outside of Springfield, but this show was much more unorganized. A couple more bands hopped on last minute, so seven bands were slated to play. The turnout was huge, likely around 200 people at one point, but most people were there for a party instead of a show. The bands were largely ignored as the punx in attendance drank, snorted coke, and let the dogs they brought wander around in terror as the night went on. Without bias, I do think Kowabunga sounded the best out of anyone on this night, but there were a couple of other bands that I thought were coherent and quite good that I cannot remember the names of due to the entire show kind of melting into a bizarre gathering. We took off as the last band was playing and drove across town to stay at the crustiest punk house I’ve been to in a while. This area was also a pretty iffy, so after parking the van around the block and covering up the equipment with Aaron’s sleeping bag in an effort to hide everything, we hurried into the house and collectively slept with one eye open, fearing the worst about the thousands of dollars worth of equipment sitting helpless just a short distance away.

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