My Trip with toyGuitar: Cross Country to Fest by Rosie Gonce

I’m Rosie and I’m the drummer of the San Francisco-based band toyGuitar. Jack is our lead vocalist/guitarist. Miles plays guitar and Alex plays bass. We all sing backups. In 2016, we toured for one month, going up through the Pacific Northwest, then back down through California, through Texas to Florida, back through Texas again, and then back to California. I’m not going to lie—and those of you who know me, know that I’m basically incapable of it (thanks, Mom!)—this was a difficult tour. It was fun, of course, and I’m grateful for the experience, but it was a hard one. I think it was particularly difficult because of the state of our country at the moment.

As the tour continued, it got closer to the Presidential election. With hours to kill in the van and Facebook being a common source of entertainment, every day we got upsetting information, listened to speeches that made us fight back tears, and saw propaganda that made us seethe. Where do those feelings go when you’re stuck in a van for hours on end? In our heads, in our body language, in the tones of our voices, or just bottled up. But the saving grace was that we were able to put it into our performance. At the end of the night, I got to beat the shit out of my drums. I sit up there with my equals. We play together. We are strong together, we are happy together, and nothing else matters but the sounds we create as a unit.

We were on the road to Fest, a music festival in Florida. So, naturally, we headed north. Our first stops were Redding, Portland, Bend, Vancouver, Seattle, then back to SF. It was pouring rain almost the whole time and the media was telling everyone, “It’s the storm of the century! There’s going to be 180 mph winds!”  With stressful driving conditions, struggling to unload instruments in the rain, and wondering if the weather would affect our draw, we pushed on and kept our senses of humor. We knew this was only the beginning. Some shows are like that, we told ourselves.

Our first few shows were with CJ Ramone. CJ, Steve Soto, Dan Root, and Pete Sosa easily nailed every performance. CJ talked in between songs with his thick New York accent, sharing stories about the Ramones and explained some of his songs. You can tell he loves what he does. He loves where he’s been and he simply can’t not be playing punk rock. Their performances were nostalgic and fun. If it didn’t make you pump your fist in the air and sing along, it at least put a smile on your face as you watched and listened.

My favorite part about playing with CJ Ramone was going into the green room and finding CJ in the middle of filming himself explaining and/or doing twenty-two pushups (for twenty-two days) to raise awareness of the twenty-two veterans who commit suicide every day. This punk rock tough guy, who sat at his laptop with his glasses on, saying, “Why won’t it upload?!” has passion and knowledge of mental illnesses and is trying to make a difference. It was a beautiful thing to see.

The Pacific Northwest is a beautiful place, even in the rain. Trees are everywhere, the air is fresh, and the mountains are gorgeous. The most interesting night of this portion of tour was when we stayed in Vancouver. We played at the Rickshaw Theater, which we learned was an old kung-fu theater back in the day. This fact made the trek up five flights of stairs to our green room more acceptable, since it was an old projection room. The Rickshaw is in a part of town where people who are homeless—or at least a little down and out—roam the streets and live next to dumpsters and in the shadows.

We booked a hotel close by. As usual, we said our room was for two people then showed up with the four of us thinking it would be fine. But this particular hotel locked its door, and then made you present your key to enter. The hotel desk attendant rudely yelled through the glass, “The reservation is only for two people! No guests after eight o’clock!” So we quickly came to the decision that Miles and I were going to sleep in the van. At this point, I stopped drinking water for the night so I wouldn’t have to pee. Miles made his bed on top of all our gear. I slept on the floor, in my clothes. I actually slept better than I thought I would. I’m not sure when we started jokingly saying “Livin’ the dream!” to each other, but it may as well have been the morning after this happened. It also may have only been me saying it.

The wettest, rainiest night was in Seattle at the Funhouse, where the door guy looked like he wanted to punch us in the face and couldn’t make eye contact because of how intensely he was rolling his eyes. Since it was an all-ages show, they made people drink behind a chain link fence in the bar that divided the drinkers from the dance floor/stage. Too bad. Most of our (and CJ’s) audience was of drinking age so they were all corralled into the bar zone and were yelled at if they left the area with a drink in their hand. We met Bo’Ba from Sloppy Seconds, who I was thrilled to meet because, as I told Bo’Ba, “My husband loves you guys!” He laughed and said “But not you!” and I said “Well, I do, just not as much as him!” It was a night of the good, the bad, and the awkward. Some nights are like that.

The next night we played in Sacramento at the Blue Lamp. That night I got into an argument with a guy—who ended up getting kicked out… but then let back in—about moshing in a small crowd and what it means to be “punk rock.” This is an argument I’ve gotten into before with people, especially when it comes to where the lines are drawn with how close one can be to the pit, and the expectations of the violence you are forced to endure. I’m sorry, but if a mosh pit is not happening and the crowd is mostly standing with drinks, singing along and dancing in their spot, it’s a dick move to come up and push them from behind when they can’t even see it coming, they spill their drink, and the whole room is glaring at you because you’re the one asshole who wants to mosh. Then you claim it’s on behalf of some punk rock rulebook which excuses you from ruining everyone else’s experience.  Needless to say, we didn’t come to an agreement but, letting bygones be bygones, by the end of the night we were laughing and hanging out. We stayed at a Motel 6 and woke up early the next day since we would be in SF. We all wanted the extra time to hang out with our families.

San Francisco was the usual great time, hanging with all our loved ones and friends from Fat Wreck Chords. We celebrated my husband Colin’s birthday by having me be a designated driver back to Oakland while he drunkenly—and giddily—explained to me and Miles why Sloppy Seconds is so amazing. “Picture this!! It’s 1988… in Indianapolis…” with his eyes closed and “Veronica” blasting through the speakers. It was a treat and a highlight of the tour to be able to spend Colin’s birthday with him, since our SF show fell on the day right after his real birthday.

After SF, we began the long journey towards Florida for Fest, across the country, first playing Fullerton and Phoenix then going through the south. Phoenix is always fun to play, since that’s Jack’s hometown. We always stay with Jack’s mom, who goes above and beyond with her meals and hospitality. She even made us sugar cookies that had little candy ghosts on them, a tribute to our Move Like a Ghost EP.

The view out the window changed drastically from the greenery and weather that I love in California and the Northwest. We saw plains and plateaus, deserts and cacti. It was hot and sunny, and I constantly asked for the air conditioner to get adjusted. It’s still beautiful, particularly the sunsets, but rest stops became more strategically planned and the drives got a lot longer. We made our way, show by show, slowly across the country.

One show was in New Orleans with some bands we ended up loving: Vacation, Mea Culpa, and Shellshag. We genuinely enjoyed each band, and even all agreed that they were really good. We played a high energy show and people seemed to like it as they danced along. Unfortunately, it was the first time I ever threw up right after I played. As soon as I hit the last crash on my cymbals, I ran to the bathroom and puked up the Redbull I had pounded hours before. I realized that we had forgotten to eat dinner. You have to make a concerted effort to take care of your body when you’re on tour. And with fast food being so cheap, the odd hours of shows and the fickleness of your body when travelling, it can get difficult.

It was exciting getting to Tampa for Pre-Fest and running into so many friends who we hadn’t seen for so long. We became friends with Masked Intruder and The Flatliners from the Fat Wreck Chords 25th anniversary tour in August 2015 and hadn’t seen them since then. Jack was reunited with his other bandmates in Dead To Me, who we’re all friends with as well. But the best part about finally getting to Pre-Fest was being around the community of people that it attracts. After driving through the south and spending one extremely tense meal in Tallahassee on the very same day that Donald Trump had a rally in Tallahassee, it was nice to be in a place where we felt accepted. Nearly everyone at Pre-Fest who was working or volunteering for the event was friendly and welcoming. I realized, and was told, that people had come from all over the world for this event. Everyone who was there was happy to be there.

Fest was a little different from Pre-Fest. It’s bigger and… well, drunker. Everywhere I looked, I saw people with band shirts on. It’s almost like Warped Tour for thirty-something year olds, with more beer and more beards. At this point I was getting exhausted, but I really enjoyed watching Lemuria—who I had heard so much about—and Pears, who are our buddies. But I took a break for a while and sat in the van by myself with my shoes off, just to rest my feet. As I sat, I was very entertained by people watching. A girl puked in the parking lot, Red City Radio dudes smoked a joint nearby, people of all shapes, colors, sizes, and drunk-levels, walked/stumbled past our van, and I just laughed to myself and thought, “What a shit show.”

Jack was a champ, playing four shows with Dead To Me and two shows with toyGuitar, during Pre-Fest and Fest. I’m glad he did, too, because I’m a big Dead To Me fan and their shows were so fun! I danced my ass off with some good friends, who I only see a couple times a year, at shows. One of my favorite parts of their set was when Chicken (singer/bassist) would take a moment to talk about some friends who had died this past year, particularly in our “scene,” from drug and alcohol abuse. He said, “My least favorite kind of punk is a dead punk.” He encouraged people to reach out if they need help. Having just lost my thirty-year-old cousin from alcohol abuse only months prior to the tour, I teared up each time he said this. Here’s this tough punk rock guy, with veins popping out of his neck when he scream-sings, who is taking the time to remind everyone to not be afraid to reach out, that there are people here to help, including himself. It was a beautiful thing.

After Fest we began the journey back towards California. We still had a few shows to play and a lot of territory left to cover. We got to stay in New Orleans again, but this time it was a night off and it was Halloween! Our friend Lizzy, who we were staying with, took me and Alex out to walk up and down Bourbon Street, which I had never done. I dressed up as a jail bird/convict with a black and white striped jumpsuit. Lizzy was a skeleton and she happened to have a cat onesie for Alex to borrow, which he happily did. He let us draw whiskers on his face. Jack and Miles stayed at her house and had a Walking Dead marathon, while we spent too much on drinks, stayed out too late, smoked too many cigarettes, and hung out for too long in a place that smelled like rancid vomit. But it really was so fun! I had to at least experience Bourbon Street, especially if I’m only there one night and it’s Halloween. By the end of the night I was moonwalking at a hip hop club, Lizzy was only opening one eye, and Alex’s whiskers were smeared off, so we taxied home. It was one of the best nights off tour I’ve ever had.

The last leg of tour was a couple shows in Texas, a driving day, shows in Arizona and Long Beach, then home. At this point, the living conditions were a little rough but all hung in there.

My hair, which started the tour as a vibrant blue, was turning mossy green. I was organizing my clothes, not by clean and dirty but by least dirty to most dirty, based on smell. I was demanding photos of my cats to be sent to me every day via texts from my husband. I was homesick. Not just homesick for my family, but for my California weather, the culture I’m surrounded by in Oakland, my neighborhood where people don’t stare at me or ask constantly if we’re in a band. I missed my bubble. After going across the country and feeling a bit culture shocked by the attitudes of people and the political tension in the air, I realized that I wanted to go back to my bubble. I realized that I didn’t really know what a large portion of this country is like. With everything that was going on through the media and all the complicated feelings that go with it, it was hard to be in a van, in this Petri dish where emotions fester from lack of sleep and malnourishment. We didn’t really talk about it, but we all seem to be experiencing the same thing, even if they’re caused by different aspects of our lives.

We ended the tour on a high note with an amazing show at Alex’s Bar in Long Beach. We were back with good friends, sharing stupid stories about tour. Pete Sosa brought us a pizza, we signed some autographs and took some photos. On stage we all gave each other hugs and we nailed our last set of the tour. As soon as we’d loaded up our gear, we booked it to Buttonwillow to get a head start on our journey home.

When I finally got in to my apartment, after Colin helped me with my bags and we plopped them onto our living room floor, I fell into his arms and cried. Now I could let my guard down. I could cry about Michelle Obama’s speech about women, about seeing so much support for Trump, about how hard it is financially to be a musician and about the aches and pains I felt from how difficult it is physically. But I was also crying from happiness, because even after all of that, still, we had done it. I had done it.

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