Another Mile Farther Down the Road




    I couldn't describe a "typical" day of touring because I've never had one. There is a "routine"—get up, drive, set up, play, to the hotel, etc...—but it varies quite a lot.

    Early AM—You normal get up somewhere between 7am and 9am—depending on how far the next city is and when you have to arrive there. My early mornings are a lot the same whether I'm at home or somewhere on tour. I wake up, thank God I have another day, swig out the last couple sips of warm coke left from the night before and go get coffee.

    I know the great saints do a lot of praying in the morning. I'm a total flop in that department. I'm more like a Zombie than a saint in the morning. People think I'm being quiet but I'm really just dead—there's a big difference.

    I like to get up in time to have breakfast. I love Truck Stop breakfasts especially—cheesy omelettes and greasy potatoes and buttery toast (wheat is my preference), waitresses are quick with the coffee and never fussy. I hate restaurants where waiters have too much style and your plates have more finesse than food. Nothing kills an appetite like a garnish on your breakfast plate.

    Late AM—People often ask how you get "quiet time" in the midst of the hectic schedule you have to keep on a tour. It's easy for me—I ride with Beaker. Since we both enjoy driving, we take turns. And since we both enjoy quiet, we don't interrupt each other's silence unless we think of a really good joke or see a really interesting landmark.

    While Beaker drives, I usually watch the scenery or read. In the past I've read Confederacy of Dunces, The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, A Prayer for Owen Meany, several Tony Hillerman mysteries—I tend to gravitate towards either "Isaiah" or one of the Gospels out of the Bible. One year I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee which was a mistake because it really made me antagonistic toward my predominantly white American audience and my completely white American self. I have to watch because I really get into books. This year I'm reading Hans Christian Anderson and The Jungle Book.

    I love the way the scenery changes. It varies subtly from state to state, county to county. Kentucky barns are so different from Wisconsin barns. In the South, you get those beautiful, stone slave fences—on the plains there are hardly any fences. The lay of the land and the things people build on it all seem to be saying "don't miss this—this is a one-in-a-million scene."

    It's in that quiet, too, that all the garbled, frantic feelings and thoughts begin to settle, and slowly you begin to see the shape of the love of God. You're in a truck where you can't do anything but sit and listen and occasionally talk. You can—if you choose—worry like crazy about stuff that you can't do anything about, or you can let go and enjoy the ride. The quiet, the still, small voice of God, the scenery, the freedom of this helpless moment where you have no opportunity to be a Martha—just this privilege to sit like Mary.

    Early PM—A lot of times—not as much lately, but still, some—we go to a bookstore or a radio station in the town where we're playing. For two years, we did both things in practically every town we were in. It really keeps you hopping and as I'm older now, I hop a little less.

    Once in town—if we don't go to an interview—we go to the concert site and Beaker and the other players change strings and tune gear while I spend a couple hours looking for the stuff I lost in the first couple minutes. If our dogs are with us, we run them...

    The "crew" usually has most of the stuff up and ready to go. They drive ahead early to do it—they certainly get the short end of the stick. I can't tell you how much difference their work makes in the tone and all of a concert. If their work goes well and the place is cooperative, the whole thing is pretty easy for all of us. I like to look in to see what I'm in for that night.

    A lot of times I run while they're finishing the set-up. Running energizes me somehow and gives me an hour or so outdoors. It also keeps me out of everyone else's hair.

    If I don't get lost on my run—and several times I haven't—I generally get back and we all take a meal together. (A great Christian tradition began in the first Century and perfected by the Mennonites and other rural congregations.) We almost always eat buffet-style and it's a time of a lot of joking around and enjoying each other. It works—all of it—to rebuild us.

    Oh—I forgot about sound-check—which is what we do before we eat. During a sound check, you do a couple songs or parts of several songs to see if you can hear yourself over everyone else. This is a tedious time for me—well, it is for everyone. It's just the rest of the band hunkers down and does it and I complain.

    The Concert—So, this minister came in one time before a concert, and after about 3 minutes of quiet he said, "Well, do you guys want to pray?" We all felt stupid for him because we were praying already.

    For us, prayer is not a pump-up session. It's not a way of getting our "heads into the show." Prayer is a grace through which we pour ourselves out before God and through which He calls us into His presence. If it is anything other than that, it is not prayer—it is the practice of magic.

    There are two guidelines that we try to follow in these sessions of corporate prayer: one is that we pray honestly. The other is that we pray unselfishly. These two "goals" or "guidelines" are pretty highly idealistic. When we are most gut-wrenchingly honest, we generally reveal how utterly, completely selfish we are. When we are most selfless, we are most apt to be drawn into praise. So, in our prayer times, along with quiet, there tends to be a lot of asking God to keep us from impeding His best work and thanking Him for the privilege to be a part of it.

    Then the concert starts.

    There are nights when you go out there feeling already ground down to nothing. After hearing yourself night after night, it's hard to imagine that anything you'd have to say would be worth listening to.

    But this is what you drove all those miles to do. This is what you left home for. This is why you practiced and studied and worked out the boring details. This is why you sound checked. No matter what a concert might mean to an audience, it is the payoff for hours of work for the performer. That is why it's so important to you that it goes well.

    People often ask me if I get nervous before a concert. Well—I don't. I get excited—kind of anxious and thrilled all at once. You can't dwell on the possibility of forgetting lyrics or missing cues or singing into a dead mike. You naturally think of them, but it's pretty self-defeating to let those things occupy more than a minute of your thoughts.

    A concert—and this is what you have to think about—is, at worst, an opportunity for you to show off. At best it is a chance to share some of what you've been given. The best that can happen is that someone can catch a glimpse of the glory you're hinting at. At worst you will make a fool of yourself. Well, I've bombed so many times that the thought doesn't scare me. I mean—you bomb, you get over it.

    But occasionally you get a sense—you hear a story or get a letter—that someone really did get a glimpse of what is bigger than your little concert. And you remember when you first glimpsed Him yourself and how, once a person encounters the Almighty they never get over it. Suddenly the worst at its worst is not as bad as the best as its best is good. Then you remember that line of Paul's—the one about being more than conquerors—and you know that the ego cannot win.

    At its best and at its worst—and for now the two are still mingled—this is the audible fruit of my life. Hopefully you can taste the fruit of the Spirit in it. Hopefully you can hear the Voice of God above the noise of our best attempts at imitating it. Hopefully you will be strengthened, encouraged, and challenged to walk more closely to Jesus—that you will leave the concert refreshed and maybe a little more in love with Christ.

    Who wouldn't love getting to be a part of that?

    Late PM—A lot of times we can't leave the concert site until 12:00 am or so. Everyone else is rolling cords, packing up instruments, loading gear. I spend a good 45 minutes to an hour trying to find my shoes, whatever book I may have taken in with me, my billfold, my guitar ... it looks a lot like someone filmed the day and is playing it backwards at a fast speed.

    A lot of nights I go to sleep after about a half of a chapter and about 3/4 of a coke. It's good to know that it'll be there to finish up tomorrow.