If it weren’t for music, I never would have gone anywhere in my life. Dreams of travel to exotic, historic or otherwise far-away destinations would have never been realized. At one point in time, I had considered a career as a flight attendant, but then, quite by accident, music happened. My parents bought me a guitar at age 12 and enrolled me in group lessons, where I learned to play “Jambalaya” and “Michael Row the Boat Ashore.” I continued to connect the dots until I arrived here, sitting on a plane bound for London. In the decades that have passed since those group lessons, I have traveled to most major cities, tourist traps and hell-holes worldwide. Though it is by no means a comprehensive list, what follows are some gems, in my opinion, of U.S. tour destinations.
Lawrence, Kansas: I was so enamored by this city that I married a girl from here, moved here and lived here for five years. It is home to the University of Kansas (a.k.a. KU), and its downtown is a straight-up Norman Rockwell painting come to life. Lawrence grew bands such as the Get Up Kids, Coalesce and the Appleseed Cast as though they were wheat. It also had a punk club in a cornfield called the Outhouse, which hosted all the legendary hardcore and indie bands of the ’80s and ’90s. Beat author William S. Burroughs even spent the last years of his life here when he burned out on NYC. Venues of note include Liberty Hall; the Granada theater; the Bottleneck for larger shows; and the Replay Lounge for small shows, low door prices and cheap beer. New all-ages DIY space the White Schoolhouse presents community events, as well as shows from local and touring bands.
Detroit, Michigan: Legendary Midwest bastion of the auto industry; home of Motown Records (Four Tops, Supremes, Jackson 5); and mother to OG bands such as Negative Approach, Funkadelic, Adult (period) and Eminem. This town bleeds music, and if you’ve ever played a show here, you understand why Paul Stanley had to drive his Camaro head-on into a Mack Truck after losing his mind in DETROITROCKCITY! The audiences here are like no other in the U.S.; they lose their shit when you play. It’s also home to the Jack White-founded Third Man Records (where you can watch records being pressed through the front windows of the plant/shop), which is just down the street from my favorite Motor City venue, the Magic Stick (which is now called the Majestic), a combination live-music venue and bowling alley that serves tater tots. What more could you ask for?
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: NYC is dead and gone; long live Philly. Revered for its sense of community and diversity, Philadelphia has a bit of everything: cool-ass architecture, food, art, bands, record shops and venues of all sizes. There’s Union Transfer (large); Voltage Lounge (medium); and, among the small and DIY, PhilaMOCA, Kung Fu Necktie, Everybody Hits and Creep Records. Check out the Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians to have your mind blown, South Street shopping to blow your cash, and vegan diner the Tasty in South Philly if cheesesteaks aren’t your thing.
Waffle House in Any City: Sketchy as fuck, no tour would be complete without a stop at one of the 2,100 Waffle House locations that dot the mostly Southern portion of the U.S. Since 1955, it’s been doling out waffles, eggs, hash browns, grits and butter to road-weary drivers. It appeals to van tours mostly because it’s cheap, quick and 24/365. The ’50s-diner atmosphere, 16-item menu and yellow glow of the Waffle House sign provide a comfort and familiarity in the post-gig small-hour darkness. Even though you know you are headed for a possible catastrophic, gastrointestinal apocalypse, it’s an experience every musician should have. C’mon, take one for the team.