~ The Road Trip ~

In April of 2017, I departed from my home in Columbia, Missouri for a 10 day solo road trip where I drove nearly 5,000 miles.

I had been feeling complacent, bored, and most unsettling of all, I was comfortable. Having recently graduated from college, I was working full time as a candy maker at the same job I’d had since 2009. I was doing nothing productive to achieve the escape from the midwest that I’d so desperately been searching for for so long.

I knew I wanted to leave. I had known that since I was 17. I needed to go somewhere new, but in all reality, I had no idea what life was like anywhere else. It’s clear to me now why none of my family left Missouri – it’s safe, it’s quiet, it doesn’t challenge their way of thinking, and it’s conducive to a very normal life.

I wanted no such normal life.

So I took corrective action to finally accomplish something for myself and not for my family. I needed to do something that would make me happy.

From Missouri, I drove 13 hours to Colorado Springs, CO and stayed with my aunt. In the valley below Pike’s Peak, the winds that night were tremendous, but I had no idea what was in store. I departed the following morning and the winds persisted as they had the night before.

Western Colorado is immensely beautiful and navigating the winding ups and downs of the roads through the Rocky Mountains has a way of making a man feel quiet small.

Crossing the state line into Utah exposed an entirely new kind of barren, beautiful landscape. I arrived in Moab, UT some ten hours later and perused around Arches National Park. Despite the mild winds, brutal April sunlight, and sand in my eyes, I explored.

UNTIL.

I was approached by a park ranger at a trail head who instructed me that the park was closing early for road construction and that it was imperative that I depart immediately. Rude.

~ The Old Man ~

IMG_6121Astonished and dumbfounded that I had actually reached my journey’s first landmark destination, I arrived at my campsite which was technically an RV Resort, but my classic Ford Focus and one-man tent were prepared to keep me safe in a desert sea of pick up trucks, camper trailers, and RV’s.

Taking a moment to decompress and set up my tent, a mid-60s man hobbled out of his RV and locked eyes with me.

Now, I’m rather extroverted and enjoy talking to strangers, but having driven 23 of the last 48 hours, I was ready to eat, sit quietly in my folding chair, and listen to that week’s episode of the Unbelievable Podcast.

His demeanor was pleasant, as was the conversation, and then out of nowhere this strange man says,

“You’re gonna wanna put down some rocks. It’s gonna get windy”.

“Okay? Thank you. Please walk away now, Sir.” – This is what I wanted to say, but after all, I’m not an asshole and kindly thanked him.

He persisted.

“You hear what I’m saying’ to ya? It’s gonna get windy“.

Okay, weirdo. You said that already. I thanked him once more, he walked away, and I continued constructing my tent.

THANK GOD.

I resumed my business and I turn around to

*THUD…THUD…THUD…THUD*

This old man had left my company to go retrieve boulders. Bear in my I use the word boulders specifically because the made the ground shake as he dropped each of them at my feet.

“I told you… [his tone shifts]…it’s gonna get windy.”

“Wow, thank you so much! I’ll be sure to place these on my camping stakes this evening”.

Awkwardness be damned, my compulsive midwestern politeness always get the best of me.

He walked away and I continued with my night.

Over a kerosene camping stove, I cooked dinner, opened a cold one, which was kindly provided by the RV Resort General Store, and read a book while watching the sun set over Arches National Park. IMG_6141To this day, it’s one of my favorite photos to look at.

I feel like it could have been the cover of an Eagles record, right?

That one little cloud in the sky still reminds me of that whole trip.

I was traveling through a completely unknown area, by myself, but no matter how scared I was, I was there.

 

~ The Sandstorm ~

As it turns out, Mr. Creepy Old Man was completely right. It did get windy. So windy in-fact that there was a sandstorm with 60 mph winds that persisted for five hours.

Now, in hindsight, it would have been really easy to just get into my car and ride out the storm. But no, my stubborn ass pulled the blankets up higher, and I tucked deeper into my sleeping bag while I simultaneously learned that my tent was NOT weather proof…nor was it sand proof.

The winds blew so hard that my tent was practically breathing in and out to prepare for each 60 mph gust as the air pressure around me was rapidly changing.

Scared for my life, I just gripped my blankets and spit the sand out of my mouth. (But honestly, it was everywhere and it took me two full days and two showers to get it off of me.)

~ The Dream ~

During this stressful, hellish night, I had a dream about my mom.

My mother Christa Schilb passed away from terminal cancer in June of 2004, and I have had several dream about her in the past, so this was not totally out of the ordinary, but what happened this time shook me to my core.

My mom and I sat together in a nondescript location and as dreams go, it seemed like we had been sitting there talking for a while.

Aware of my conversation, I took the opportunity to ask my mom what I apparently considered a very important question.

“Mom, what’s your favorite kind of wine?”

Stupid question. Not, “what happens after we die” or “Have you and John Denver gotten to hang out yet?”

My Mom responded with two words, Elena Rose”, and the dream ended abruptly.

Damn.

I woke up and the sun was rising. The storm had passed, and there was a full inch of standing sand inside of my tent that had blown through my mesh windows all night.

Shoveling the sand out with my hands just so I could into my bags, I sat completely in awe of what I had just experienced. I pulled out my cellphone and Googled “Elena Rose”

SPOILER ALERT!

Elena Rose is not a type of wine. How cool would that have been?

Turns out, Elena Rose is the name of an Italian author who wrote a book titled Ti guardo da quassù“.


Funny how our stress dreams affect us so deeply.

Roughly translated to English, “Ti guardo da quassù” means:

“I’m watching you from up here” ~

OKAY. I WAS FREAKED OUT.

Without a real idea of what had happened, I hastily packed up my tent, my sand packed bags, and left Moab, Utah for my next destination. But I had no idea that it was possible to be so thoroughly weirded out and simultaneously speechless about a dream.

~ The Song ~

I wrote the song “Elena Rose” loosely referencing the events of my night in Moab, Utah. It’s a powerful, heart wrenching song, that I rarely perform live due to it’s volume and the raw strength it takes to belt the high noted chorus.

“Oh, Honey Baby, Oh, Elena Rose. You said you loved me so long ago. Tell me again and I’ll let you in my heart. Oh, Elena Rose.

When I was a little kid, long before my mom passed, she called me “honey baby” when I would get hurt or if I was sick. To this day they’re the only words where I can still hear her voice in my head. A small, and clearly affective memory.

It’s been 14 years since she passed, and it’s been 14 years since I’ve heard her say she loved me, but this dream felt like such a clear line of communication from her.

Maybe I’m grasping at straws. Maybe I’m drawing conclusions to broadly.

Who cares.

Elena Rose is for my mother Christa Marie Schilb – she was a songwriter…and so am I.

 

 

~Ever been to a really kick-ass concert?~

Whether you walk into an underground indie rock club where the stage is six inches off of the ground and you sit so close that you can smell the day old ramen noodles that the guitar player ate before the show or you queue in front of a stadium for hours waiting to spring forward for dear life into the general admission seats that are at best twenty feet from the stage, attending a live music event can be a transcendent life experience.

The lights, the sound, the energy of the crowd, and the overpriced drinks all play into how you fall in love with the adventure of a concert.

It’s a bit difference for a performer.

Sure, performers are completely aware of the generalities of the aforementioned concert qualities, but in a considerably more intimate way.

~I’ve played myriad awkward, boring, and at times…downright bad shows~

*For now I’ll completely disregard the shows where I have been unprepared, sung wrong words, played out of tune, or any number of other factors where I was the cause of a bad performance. (More on this at a later date.)

During a live concert there are any number of things that can go wrong from a performer’s perspective.

If you don’t want to read the specifics of what can ruin a show for a stage performer, skip to the bottom where I detail my worst show to date.

Bad Lighting

Lighting is a fairly innocuous issue to have when performing and most complaints can be accepted an forgotten. If I’m playing a moody love song and the lighting designer puts on yellows, reds, and oranges, sure that doesn’t set the mood like blues and violets may, but ultimately they don’t affect a performance.

What does affect a performance is when a lighting designer, on his first day on the job, turns on a 180 bpm strobe light in the middle of one of these melodramatic love songs.

This happened during a Writers Round I played in Nashville, TN in January 2018.

But what’s even worse than this nincompoop turning on a dance club’s strobe light during a round is that he had ~absolutely no idea~ how to turn it back off. So for the remaining 20 minutes of our one hour performance, we played with a strobe light that I can only assume was a portal of light directly from the Sun because I left the venue seeing little white spots.

All of that being said though, it ultimately didn’t affect our overall ability to perform regardless of how bright and distracting it may have been.

Bad Sound Design

Sound design is a considerably larger issue. Here’s the two general categories of bad sound design.

A) House Mix: This is what the audience is hearing. Depending on the music, any number of issues can arrise here. From a keyboard being mixed so loudly that it overpowers the lead vocalist, a guitar being so quiet that it’s inaudible unless you’re directly in front of its speaker cabinet, or a DJ’s subwoofer not even being turned on such that no one can even hear the beat of the song, a house mix can completely make or break a concert for an audience.

B) Stage Monitor Mix: The stage monitors (whether they are loudspeakers or in-ear systems) are what feed a performer their own instruments as well as the instruments of the others on stage. Loud speaker monitor systems are typically left completely in the hands of the sound designer or stage manager.

More often than not, monitors are hastily mixed to get a show going as fast as possible; dead silence in a rock club is a surefire way to kill the vibe of a room.

Performing with a bad monitor mix can feel like a death sentence for the life of a show. If I can’t hear my guitar over the sound of the drums and bass, it makes it immensely more difficult to follow closely along with the other performers – and playing out of time makes ~everyone~ what they’re hearing.

Aside from affecting one’s ability to perform well, a monitor mix can cause a string of other issues. If a stage monitor is too loud it can cause ear-splitting microphone feedback and/or instrument hum.

If you’ve ever been to a concert that has experienced bad feedback, it immediately results in the audience plugging their ears, squinting their eyes, and having a visceral reaction of wanting to make the noise stop at all costs – even if it means making the performers stop playing.

Band Members & The Hired Gun

In many cases when someone is in a band they’re playing with their closest friends. But in a city like Nashville, Tennessee, being a hired gun is common practice.

A solo artist lands a gig at a nice venue and they need to hire a full band to play with them. Now, with plenty of time and preparation, a solo artist can audition and thoroughly vet the musicians they hire to perform with them and hopefully each of them will give 100% towards rehearsals leading up to, and including the final performance for which they were hired.

However, as unfortunate as it may be, it’s also common for a musician to drop out last minute and consequently leaves this solo artist without a drummer for their big gig that’s happening in 12 hours.

When this happens, the first call to action is frantically calling and texting all of their friends to see if they know of a drummer who is not only capable of learning a whole setlist in a day, but is also available to perform on such short notice.

Being unable to find someone qualified can be difficult and can ultimately result in someone who is only there to make some quick cash. They are not invested in your performance, your brand, or most importantly…your fans.

Even having one temporary member in a four-piece rock band can totally derail a performance.

This isn’t to say that all musicians-for-hire are like this, and to be real, most are not. But in such a prolific city as Nashville, there are undoubtedly people who are only out there to give a small percentage of their time and effort to help out, and if you happen to hire one of the bad eggs, your show is put in jeopardy.

The Crowd That Does Not Care

All performers have experienced this the crowd that doesn’t give two shits who you are and would rather you stopped playing so they could enjoy their evening in peace and quiet.

Hecklers, though more common in standup comedy, still manage to find their way into live music events.

“You suck! Get off of the stage!”

Usually drunk and angry about something else, these audience members have the power to take you out of a proper performance mindset. And even more unfortunately, if they’re not causing actual problems and are still buying drinks at the bar, they’re not going to get kicked out.

“Freebird!”

This heckler, can mean well, but yelling Freebird at a concert is such an overused cliché at this point. It’s not funny. This ironic attempt to connect with the performer goes nowhere – what are we supposed to do…cut out three of our songs that are used to promote our new album to play an 11 minute song that came out 45+ years ago? No.

All of this being said, I was playing an open mic in Columbia, MO in 2017 and a guy from the back of the room yelled Freebird in the middle of my set.

I played five minutes of the song (basically everything until the electric guitar solos since I was a solo acoustic act that evening), put him in his place, and when I finished I indirectly spoke to the audience, speaking to that guy directly,

“Never shout Freebird at a concert again. Because you and I both know that we didn’t enjoy the past five minutes.”

Boring Audience Members, are those who basically just don’t care. They’re playing on their cellphones, they’re sitting three feet from the stage in a mostly empty bar, and you’re nothing more than background noise.

These people, while yes, technically are better than hecklers, can be just as distracting.

Performers like myself have a compulsion to entertain, and when we see someone who is having more fun playing Fruit Ninja on their cellphone than listening to the musician who worked for days preparing to play their half hour set.

Seeing someone sitting in the bar with their face illuminated by the white light of a screen is like a whole new kind of person. We grow distasteful of people who don’t live enough in the moment to have an honest experience of the present.

Yes, some people are using their phones to take photos, videos, and post on social media about the artist they’re watching, but we must be realistic and accept that most people are texting their friends from across the table asking about what bar to go to next simply because it’s too loud to talk about it out loud (yes, I do that too.)

~Regardless~

Regardless of whether a show was good or bad though, I’ll speak for myself and not other musicians, but I do this because I love it. Performing is the only thing that truly makes me feel like I’m living in the moment. The energy of the audience, the lights, the sounds, the drinks, and the food (usually the food is my favorite part)…these are all the reasons I perform compulsively.

It’s not a hobby. It’s my job. It’s my 128 hour a week job that is constantly being worked. The 30-90 minutes I get to spend on stage though, those are the moments when I’m happiest and most fulfilled. The audience is why I do it, the art is why I do it, the love is why I do it.

~Fin.

 Lot 56 at The Blue Note on May 17th, 2012

 

“As the audience trickled in, the members of LOT 56 quietly prepared for their set in the eighth annual Battle of the Bands at The Blue Note […] The four member band – made up of Aaron Schilb on lead guitar along with Ian Meyer on lead vocals and keyboard, Joel Pruitt on drums and Ben Morgan on bass – started their set for a screaming crowd”.

– Ryan Henriksen, Columbia Daily Tribune – May 22nd, 2012

I remember it so vividly. My high school band “LOT 56” arrived at The Blue Note in Columbia, Missouri for our one-year anniversary performance.

The four of us had played live no more than ten times in that first year together. However, each of us being a part of different social groups, we garnered a fan base from each of the schools in which we attended.

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I was nervous. But nerves be damned, my excitement and anticipation took control as I prepared to play the biggest show of my life at that point. My friends and (shockingly) family filtered into the venue and waved up to the stage from the floor and I ripped into (what I wanted to be) a scissor kick.

Lights growing a deep forrest green and vague background music came down as I allowed my guitar to feedback into the amp – we always opened our shows with a trashed intro leading into a song I wrote called “OtherSide” (which for you music theory nerds is in 9/8 transitioning into 4/4 and alternating back and forth).

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Photo by Ryan Henriksen, Columbia Daily Tribune. May 22nd, 2012

At this point, I’m going to spare you all of the track-by-track breakdown I could do and instead I’ll cut to our second to last song.

We closed our set (before the encore) with a song called “The Day Before”, the first song I wrote at age 16. Something special happened during that song.

A song about a girl that I had a crush on. How cliché. What’s even more of a cliché was that I was too nervous to tell her.  Now, what did NOT happen was that girl coming out of the woodworks after hearing my song and immediately falling for me. This night was a dream come true, but not like that.

The Day Before is about getting over yourself because, well, life is weird; it’s about embracing the weirdness.

Following the guitar solo, during the last chorus, we dropped all of our instruments and sang the words a cappella in four-part harmony.(What I find impressive now, some 8 years after I wrote my first song, was that I managed to write a melody and subsequent four part harmony utilizing a tritone in each part. I didn’t know what that was at the time. But cool for a kid, I guess.),

My life changed forever during that a cappella chorus.

“The thoughts in my brain are scattered like beans, yeah on the floor, yeah on the floor. The words in my dreams are weirder than the day before, weirder than the day before”

 “The Day Before” – Lot 56

I can still see the glowing faces of the audience singing along with music that I’d written. I could see the happiness in their eyes. I could feel the palpable joy radiating from them.

I have footage of the moment I decided to be a professional musician.

It was a completely transcendent moment where, looking back now, I can watch myself watching them sing along with music I wrote.

~THEY KNEW THE WORDS~

We hadn’t even recorded our album at that point. They knew those terrible, horrible, amazingly cheesy lyrics from coming to our shows. It filled me to the brim with happiness knowing that I brought that moment of happiness to those people.

We walked off the stage, hastily loaded our equipment, and for the first time, I truly felt like I was living. I was the happiest I had ever been.

After those brilliant 37 minutes on stage I knew that I had to commit my life to doing that again. I knew I wanted to write better songs. I knew I wanted to play bigger shows. I knew, without a doubt, what I wanted to do with my life.

Since that day, I have fully committed my life to music.

I now live in Nashville, Tennessee, write songs with so many amazing people, perform with killer artists, and more than anything, when people ask what I’m doing these days, I can earnestly say that I am living the dream.

~In Retrospect~

Sometimes I go back and watch the home videos of our shows and can’t help but laugh at the ridiculous faces, dances, and stage antics I brought to our audiences. So many times would I get made fun of at school. “Oh my god. Dude you looked like an idiot when your band was playing”.

I never let their remarks get to me; I always responded with, “Yeah I do. But you remembered me. And my band. So it worked”. Bad press is better than no press, right? After all, these people would come to our shows to make fun of me and I STILL got their $5 door cover, so I was fine with it. I was having fun.

I was a weirdo on stage.

Now, I won’t get too sentimental and I wouldn’t dare overstate the talent of my band, but some of our material was actually pretty good. (Yeah, yeah, still biased, I hear you.) We were each students of music though; this is what we were good at and I consider myself lucky to have performed with so many talented guys.

*If you are curious as to what I Aaron Schilb was doing musically when he was in high school, the “Lot 56” album is still available on Spotify, Apple Music & iTunes, and most other digital music retailers for streaming and purchase.

PS. I still do ridiculous things when I play.

Nothing has changed.

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Pictured: Aaron Schilb rehearsing prior to the recording of “Rock & Roll Degenerate” 2018