Touring with toyGuitar, European Edition, by Rosie Gonce

May 23, 2017

It had been a total of thirty-three hours since we had slept. My band toyGuitar that I drum in, and the Swingin’ Utters—the other band we were touring with—were about to play our first show of our sixteen-show European tour in Magenta, Italy, a town in the province of Milan. We had made it to our first show and we were in the beautiful country of Italy, but we weren’t about to go wandering around to nearby coffee shops or parks to explore a new culture. There were strings to be changed, hands to be warmed up, naps to be taken.

After all, we aren’t there for a vacation. We were there to play a show. We were there to have a performance that makes us proud, that makes us worthy of a European tour. People may ask, “What is Italy like?” And honestly, I don’t really know! I mean the people who worked at that one venue we played at were super nice and they fed us well. The view that I saw through the window of the van on the way from the Frankfurt airport to the venue was gorgeous, in between some unsatisfying naps that left me sorer than I was before. But still, it’s special, because of how we comically struggled to communicate with the locals, using gestures and the minimal words we knew of each other’s foreign language. It’s exciting and unique and I would do it all again in a second.

But still, it’s not a vacation.

The second venue in Italy that we played had an “American spring break” theme, complete with real sand on the dance floor, bouncers in “Baywatch” shirts, bras strung on the ceiling, and a sign that said “Drunk Zone.” We cringed as people danced barefoot in the sand and laughed as they tossed big pool floaties around in the mosh pit. After a fun and interesting show, we got to stay at a beautiful hotel surrounded by vineyards and awoke to the smell of fresh baked chocolate croissants. I quickly ate one faster than I wanted to as we needed to pile into the van to continue on to our next show in Solothurn, Switzerland.

My face was pressed up against the window of the van as we drove to Switzerland, getting frustrated at how my photos always look blurry or how I couldn’t get my phone unlocked quick enough to capture the gorgeous waterfalls and breathtaking scenery. I decided to not nap and just take it all in, never knowing if I’ll ever see this again.

The fourth show was in Colmar, France at an old factory that was made into a venue. We were greeted by an extremely friendly woman who gave us bread that she had baked that morning and radishes that were picked from the garden that day (along with other snacks). For dinner, she gave us pork, salad, and potatoes, and explained that there in Colmar they only ate the fruits and vegetables of the season. She said, “We’re still waiting for the first tomato!” almost apologetically. The food was delicious and we chatted about how that “farm to table” concept was more of a fad back home, not so much a way of life like it was there in Colmar.

Next we were headed to Stuttgart, Germany where I made one of my many foolish remarks. Holding my beer, I asked if it was okay to be outside with it. Turns out it is okay to drink outside and excitedly I hollered, “Oh, it’s like Vegas!” which was followed by several Germans laughing at me and saying “Stuttgart is like Vegas?!”

The next show was in Linz, Austria. In the venue’s greenroom there was a bowling alley, which made me sore in weird muscles for days after. It was a lively show and the crowd was very into it. Afterwards, I wanted to stay, hang out, and party with everyone, but I knew I had to get some rest, so I returned to the hostel while a few others stayed to party. I felt like I was missing out, but I knew I had to take care of myself so that I could play well the next night. One of the funniest stories of the evening was when an Austrian man told Luke, the drummer of the Swingin’ Utters, “Your wife is better at drums than you!” There were just so many things wrong with that statement that all we could do was laugh.

We played in Munich on our seventh day of touring, and I was feeling frustrated because my body wasn’t keeping up with my brain and I messed up more than usual. I needed more rest. It was finally catching up with me. So the next morning when everyone got up a little early to go explore the streets of Munich and shop for souvenirs, I slept. Again, I felt like I was missing out—it’s a struggle when your brain is saying, “But you’re in Munich! You can sleep when you’re dead!” and your body is saying, “I am dead. You’re gonna sleep now.” So I got some rest. By the time we were about to play our next show in Frankfurt, I was grateful I had made that choice.

The venue in Frankfurt was one I had played during our last European tour. It’s a very squat-like place with people living in tents and trailers in the expansive back yard. There are large room upstairs with bunk beds that could accommodate up to twenty people, which is reserved for whatever band is playing that night. One of the best parts about these kinds of venues is how there’s creative expression just oozing out of the walls. There was a foosball table where all the little players were made to look like punk rockers and on the adjacent wall were dioramas of more little foosball player punks in different scenes. There’s tagging on the bathroom walls that no one tries to cover up; things like “I love cats but hate catcalls,” band stickers, and anti-fascist statements.

Unfortunately, it was at this venue that I made my least favorite memory. It was one of my party nights, when I stayed up until the sun came up, laughing and chatting with a small group of people; some I knew, some I didn’t. I was sitting next to a guy, just having a regular conversation with him, when he started grabbing my thigh. He did it a couple times. I moved away from him and in my feisty, drunken state said to him, “If you grab my thigh again, I will kick you in the face!” He told me to calm down and chill out. It wasn’t until Johnny from the Swingin’ Utters, after hearing he was grabbing my thigh, stood up and told the guy to leave, did he actually leave. But not before trying to hug me goodbye.

Next stop was Amsterdam and I was thrilled to see my husband Colin who was on a real European vacation. After finding out that we were going to be on tour in Europe, we planned for him to see us in Amsterdam, Hamburg, and Berlin. The timing couldn’t have been better since, emotionally, I was beginning to get a little unraveled because of how exhausted I was, how I had been grabbed by a stranger the night before, and it also was the one-year anniversary of the death of my cousin. Being held by Colin made everything better. It recharged me. After an amazing show and hilarity of some killer dance moves bt a group of Germans who all had their sweatshirts tied around their waists, we all had an incredibly fun night! We rode the Ferris wheel, saw the girls in the windows of the red light district (something I had never seen before), and just walked around all together, enjoying the scenery and the adventure.

The next show was in Hamburg. Hamburg was another party night. I was a little regretful the next day, as I was so hungover I couldn’t stop sweating. I asked our driver to stop because I thought I was going to throw up. We were given some shots of thick, red strawberry-flavored booze—I still don’t know what they were—and we were singing Lillington songs along to house music and making everyone at the bar hate us. On the way back we walked by the Reeperbahn—a red light district where women are prohibited to go—and me being the feisty, “You can’t tell me what to do!” kinda girl, I walked through it with my guy friends, with my hood on. Since it was 3:30 AM at that point, there were only two women in the window, looking at their phones, and nobody else on the street. I was surprised by how many people were shocked that I did that. I’m glad I didn’t do it at a time when I could’ve gotten in trouble for it.

The next day we got to play at the Ramones Museum in Berlin. We played an acoustic set to a packed coffeehouse, and then were treated to an amazing dinner by the good people at Destiny Tourbooking, who book the Swingin’ Utters.

This was a time when I felt the dirtiest, literally. I had been wearing the same outfit for almost forty-eight hours and I was so excited to be staying with Colin in his Air BnB, to take a shower and to use his Gold Bond. My shoes were like sponges, squishy with sweat. So here we are in Berlin, Germany, and I’m looking forward to using medicated powder.

The second day in Berlin was almost like having a day off, since we had until 5 PM to be at the venue. I spent the day with Colin. We walked through the “Central Park of Berlin,” called the Teirgarten, and went up into a tower in the center of the park that overlooked the city. This was one of the happiest days of the tour for me. But, it didn’t feel like touring!

The next day was Leipzig, Germany, at one of the coolest places I’ve ever seen, Conne Island. It was a big recreational area in the forest where there was a skate park, picnic tables, turntables, basketball hoops, ping pong tables, and young people enjoying all of it. There was art everywhere, covering the walls of the buildings and hanging from the trees, and people in the process of adding more with spray cans. I wished there were more places like this back home and felt resentful that in our American culture, we didn’t have places like this (and if we did they were in danger of being shut down).

On our way out of Leipzig, our driver, Anka, who is from Leipzig, took us to a monument that was built in remembrance of the Battle of the Nations. It was incredible to walk through and felt haunting, as gigantic statues loomed over us with simple, yet poignantly expressive faces and body language. It was a quick stop but everyone was grateful to finally get to see something “touristy.”

Moving on, we headed to Nuremburg, then Dusseldorf. At this point things were starting to get blurry as shows started to blend together and everyone was just kind of ready for it to be over. Even reminiscing about it, I find myself wondering, What show was that again? I was no longer interested in seeing any sights of wherever the hell we were. It was just about survival at that point. I was yearning for burritos and my cats and my bed.

The end of the line was Groezrock, a big yearly music festival in Belgium. It was great to see familiar faces, like my friends in the Flatliners. I made some new friends too—fans from around the world, people in other bands. It was a celebration since, after toyGuitar played, I got to look forward to heading home and felt proud about what we had done over the last sixteen days.

One of the best moments of the whole tour was at Groezrock, watching the Petrol Girls perform. The Petrol Girls are a band of two women and two men from the U.K. who play post-hardcore punk music with a powerful message. As I approached the backstage area to watch them from the side, the singer was talking to the audience about consent. She was yelling, “If a girl says no it means fucking no!” She sang/screamed her lyrics with her hands outstretched to the sky, head thrown back, veins popping from her neck. In between a couple songs the band played some audio clips of women sharing stories of sexual harassment at music festivals. As the audio played, I saw a guy in the front row wipe away a tear, listening to the words of a young woman saying, “I thought since I was drunk that I deserved it.” The clip following that one was a girl explaining how some guys kept grabbing her ass and how finally she turned around and said, “Touch me again and I’ll fucking kill you.” And then the song started which was aptly named “Touch Me Again,” the singer shouting lyrics, “It’s my body and my choice! It’s my body and my fucking choice! My lips, my thighs, my wrists, my mind, my lips, my thighs, my wrists, my spine! My hips, my neck, my tongue, my mind! Touch me again and I’ll fucking kill you!” I put my sunglasses on to cover my eyes welling up. My thighs. She was expressing the exact rage that I had felt that night in Frankfurt, the night I told that guy, “Grab my thigh again and I’ll kick you in the fucking face.” I wasn’t alone and I was so grateful to be able to share that rage and see these powerful people shouting this message for everyone to hear. Thank you, Petrol Girls.

After their set I went right up to the singer and said it was a great show. I told her that what she sang about really hit close to home. She responded with, “I don’t know whether to say thank you or I’m sorry.” Later that night I bought their CD, a shirt, and a zine the singer wrote. It was the only band stuff I ended up with from the whole tour.

The journey back was a nightmare. We waited in the longest lines ever, our gates were the farthest possible gates in the airport—it was like a sick joke. On the flight back, I watched She’s Just Not That in to You and Deliverance, a perfect combo for how manic I was feeling. Our families were waiting for us when we got off the plane. We got some quick hugs from each other before everyone happily went home.

There are things I’ll never forget on that tour, and there are things that I’ll never remember on that tour. I’m so grateful for the unique way I get to experience the world and the different challenges that I face, that continue to make me stronger. It was the best tour I’ve ever been on, even if I did come home with the worst athlete’s foot.

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