A few years ago, I set out on a six-week concert tour of eastern Australia. Unfortunately, two days into the tour my van broke down and we were forced to hire a car for the rest of the tour (that is it’s own tour tale right there). The tour went really well and we had an incredible series of concerts which I still enjoy the memories of to this day.
Over the whole tour, I was joined by young gun Caleb who was looking after sound and merch sales. As I mentioned, the tour was simply incredible with loads of great people and many enjoyable concerts.
Caleb is one of those guys who doesn’t talk a whole lot. However, I couldn’t stop him talking about a particular hotel in Armidale, NSW that he and his family had visited when he was kid. He and his siblings had really enjoyed the heated pool. All during this six-week tour, and a few previous trips, Caleb had talked about this remarkable hotel at Armidale with the heated pool.
Now I hadn't told Caleb, but I had managed to track down this illustrious Armidale hotel and had booked us in there for a couple of nights. In the back of my mind, all during the tour I knew that I was going to make Caleb’s childhood dreams come true.
The last Thursday of the tour finally led us to Armidale and we pulled into the hotel that Caleb had so fondly regaled all tour for its incredible heated pool. I dashed through the cold wind from our hire car into the reception area. As the cool breeze chased me in, I was met by a surly stare from the lady behind the reception counter.
As I checked us in, I told the lady of Caleb’s childhood visit and how he’d so often talked about their heated pool. She stared at me for a moment before her face contorted into a strange grin.
“The pool heater is busted, love,” she cackled.
Caleb and I ended up braving the cold to dash in our swimmers across the hotel car park to the indoor pool area. Even though it’s not heated, it can’t be that bad, surely! I dipped my toes in the water only to have an immediate cramp seize my foot and most of my calf muscle.
“Oochy Momma - that water sure is cold!” I exclaimed as I grasped my leg.
We ended up avoiding the pool which Caleb had so long talked about. We crammed ourselves into the tiny sauna. As we sat there, I thought to myself, “Have we really driven all over Australia to arrive here?” We spent some awkward moments staring at the inside of the sauna before heading off to find dinner.
That Saturday night, I had my Armidale concert which went well. The Armidale locals are great people. Afterwards, Caleb and I contemplated dinner.
For a musician, most times you find yourself searching out dinner after an event at around 11pm. This was no exception and we looked for a place that would still be open at the time. There weren’t many dinner options available to choose from. We chose a drive-through burger joint.
We arrived just before they closed. At the drive-through window we ordered our meals only to find ourselves in the middle of a staff dispute.
“I’m not making no xxxx burgers!” we heard from the depths of the kitchen.
“You’ll xxxx make what you’re xxxx told to!” the manager yelled back.
It descended into farcical chaos from there. As I contemplated whether we should just drive straight off to Lismore with no dinner, a bag was roughly thrust out the window into my hands. I had a quick look and knew that my burger was stone cold. The drive-through window slammed shut and I passed the bag over to Caleb.
Caleb ended up eating his big burger and mine as well. We drove onwards to Lismore where we would be staying with one of my favourite musician mates and his family.
We arrived and had a late-night catch up before heading to our assigned rooms in their basement area.
My exhausted head hit the pillow and I was almost asleep when I heard a noise coming from the next room. I went to investigate. The room was empty, aside from some organic mounds of matter strewn across the floor like gopher piles which smelt like a cross between bile and recently eaten burgers. I heard more noises coming from the bathroom.
It was Caleb. He was being sick like I haven’t seen someone ever be sick before. He heaved with the flexibility of an Olympic gymnast. I patted him on the back as he erupted like some sort of puce-coloured fountain. I didn’t think that it was possible for those two burgers to have become all that I saw around me. Caleb was really sick.
I went to find my host. While Caleb continued to be sick in the bathroom, we pulled up the carpet and started hosing it off in the backyard. I was still in my socks. After a while, I realised that I’d have to take Caleb to the hospital - he wasn’t able to stop being sick. He was like a walking Niagara Falls of bile.
I went to put on my shoes, only to realise that they’d been within direct fire from one of Caleb’s heaves. I cleaned them as best as I could. I drove him off to the hospital.
After sitting with Caleb in the waiting room, he was eventually triaged, admitted and put on a drip to restore lost fluids. I sat beside his bed, wondering what to tell his parents. “I’m sorry, but somehow my tour ruined your son.”
Eventually, the sky started to lighten outside the hospital. Morning had arrived. I looked over at Caleb and even though he still looked ashen and green, he was at least sleeping.
I snuck out of the room and arranged for Caleb to stay at the hospital until my return.
I coasted to a silent stop outside our host’s house. After ninja-ing my way in through their garage, I quietly packed up all our belongings and cleaned up as best I could. I looked at my watch and realised that it was not long before I was due to do a sound check for a local Lismore Church’s Sunday morning service.
I brushed my teeth and straightened my hair in the bathroom of the Church and greeted the pastor. I then started loading in all my gear and merch. I was wrecked!
The service began and I collapsed down into the front row. The pastor began to pray. Soon I realised that I was sleeping and jolted myself awake with the horror of possibly having been introduced and not having been awake! It was a false alarm. I popped some more breath mints to try and get a sugar rush to keep me awake. As I continued to fight fatigue, the time eventually arrived for me to get up and sing for thirty minutes. Adrenalin kicked in, and my tiredness became a distant memory.
It was a wonderful morning with a truly lovely group of people. They were earnest, happy and responsive to the songs I’d brought to share. It went so well and they were very gracious.
Afterwards, I made my way to the merch table to find a couple who’d driven up from Coffs Harbour especially to see me. They were fellow musicians who wanted some touring advice. I have no idea what I said, but it mustn’t have been horrific as we’ve all become firm friends since.
As the people continued to socialise and literally congregate, I went back to pack up all my gear. As I finished packing the rental car, I waved goodbye before driving off to the Lismore hospital.
As I arrived to pick Caleb up from the hospital, I heard someone shout out to me. A lady was running at me with cash in her hand. She’d been at the Church that morning and wanted to buy a CD. My thoughts of Caleb’s well-being were immediately cast aside as the prospect of another CD sale took my full attention - hey! I am a musician after all!
Soon I helped a still ashen-faced Caleb out to the car. I’d arranged for Caleb’s parents to pick him up from my next and final concert destination on the Gold Coast that evening.
Usually it would take an hour or so to drive from Lismore to the Gold Coast. I was so fatigued that we visited every rest stop along the way for me to powernap. It took us three and a half hours. At one rest stop, they had some ladies making tea for motorists. I fell upon them like I’d been in a desert. My shaking hand managed to get most of the tea into my mouth. I think that they might have thought I was on drugs.
We eventually made it to the car park of my next concert venue on the Gold Coast. I found a tree for shade and parked the rental car. We slumped in our seats and slept like the dead.
In my sleepy haze, I realised that I could feel an unexpected breeze on an area of my body that doesn’t normally get a breeze. I looked down. At some stage during the horrors of the previous night and day I had split my jeans! I then started cataloguing my movements that morning at the Church: bending over on stage, facing away from the Church congregation as I rolled up my microphone leads; leaning with my foot on a step as I spoke of deeply spiritual matters with a collection of earnest people who, unusually kept a rock-solid and steady eye-contact with me the whole time (was that a tremor on their faces that I now remember?). It seemed pretty mild with what we’d survived. In the end, I just embraced it.
Caleb’s parents finally arrived, bundled him off in their car and headed home. Meanwhile, I set up for the concert. At the end of the Sunday night concert, I headed off to stay with the concert organiser’s family. We talked briefly before I went off to sleep for twelve hours.
I woke up and drove southwards to Port Macquarie to empty all my music gear into a friend’s garage and also to return the rental car. I then flew to Sydney to await the verdict on my crippled van. The van ended up being a mechanical write-off (which I’m still paying for).
Two weeks later I arrived home, without my van, but with a slight case of returning sanity. Aah! The life of a touring musician! The glamour! The adventure!