We haven't even gotten the New Tour Smell out of our clothes yet, and Sara Routh and Rae Davis already find themselves in the middle of the longest, hardest stretch of the whole thing.
Leaving Omaha on the morning of day three, they drive eight hours to Oklahoma City for a show that night, then pile right back into the car for another seven hours of driving to Santa Fe where they grab a few hours sleep before playing an afternoon show in Albuquerque, followed by an evening house show back in Santa Fe.
Everything after this is cake.
Once everybody is awake and showered, Routh and Davis make the drive to Canvas Artistry, in Albuquerque. Set in the middle of a block of shops and local eateries, Canvas Artistry is a bar, diner, and queer-positive art collective that features painters, jewelry makers and DJ's. When the ladies walk in to start setting up, there is a woman in a black t-shirt that reads "END WHITE SUPREMACY" aggressively painting the SHIT out of a canvas set up on an easel in the corner. Another 20-something woman lays out hand made jewelry; Routh will eventually buy a necklace on the way out the door. There is a waitress who is the spitting image of Jennifer Beals.
But the main attraction on this day is set up directly behind the space where Routh and Davis will be playing: Sundays at Canvas means it's time for Dance Brunch, featuring DJ's spinning all the Pitbull you could care to shake your rumpus to. Shortly after we arrive, the air fills with a heavy techno beat, and the place slowly starts to fill up with pairs of beautiful lesbians in love and looking for early afternoon mimosas.
And now, a small moment of digression to discuss Albuquerque, and the great American southwest in general: Austin, TX is an overrated blowhard of a city. Don't get me wrong, Austin is a great town, and home to some of the most vibrant art and life happening in an otherwise bleak, right-wing pustule of a state. But Austin has built so much of its national and global reputation on being "weird." There are even bumper stickers and t-shirts emblazoned with the "Keep Austin Weird" slogan. But you know what? The whole southwest is weird. Gloriously so.
As the warm weather and cool ocean breezes continued to draw America's young and incredibly attractive to LA, and the tech bubble forcefully evicted most of the slackers from San Francisco, the country's artists, hippies, spiritual wanderers and general burnouts gradually found themselves migrating to odd little pockets like Moab, Utah and points south. So, sure, Austin is weird. But is the town any more artisticly motivated or more full of delightfully strange people than Moab, or Santa Fe, or the 'Que? I'm putting dollars down on "no." Austin just has better marketing.
So, yes. Albuquerque is weird and beautiful and full of art, and the atmosphere at Canvas as the DJ starts spinning is loud and vibrant and fun. Everyone is clearly enjoying themselves, including Davis and Routh, though it might be a little hard to tell.
In between chatting with the regulars and hugging old friends, there are secret furtive, slightly bewildered looks. This is clearly not a typical gig. How is this crowd going to respond to a couple of acoustic singer songwriters shoehorned into the middle of their dance party?
When Davis takes to the mic, the crowd is clearly curious. As she sings, curiosity turns to enjoyment. "Hallelujah," Davis' ode to a spectacular orgasm, is what wins them over for good.
But then, just as soon as everyone is on board, Davis' set is done, and Pitbull is back in full effect. The DJ spins dance tracks for another 15 minutes or so, before cutting again and ushering Routh to the mic.
The difference in the room, as the thundering bass cuts and the little guitar begins is deafening. But, again, the curiosity gives way to approval, and Routh's banter helps ease everyone into the swing of things.
When the show is done, there is only a brief window of time to sell some CD's and commune with new friends before everyone has to pack up and sprint back to Santa Fe to get ready for show number 2.
Since arriving in the wee hours of the morning, Routh and Davis have been staying with Davis' friend Tamara. She's a force of nature: tall, rubenesque, completely giving of herself, and in possession of the most gentle spirit you'll meet. And chickens. Tamara has three adult chickens in a coop in her back yard, and two spirited chicks in a warming box in her bedroom. They prove to be quite a popular distraction.
Tamara regularly invites 20 or so friends into her home for regular house shows, featuring a variety of musicians and artists. As Routh and Davis unpack their car from show number one, a stream of people begins congregating in Tamara's back yard. Hotdogs are grilled, food and beer is served, and everyone chats pleasantly and mingles for an hour or so before piling into Tamara's front room.
There, she has assembled 15 or so chairs, as well as pillows on the floor. A couch in the next room serves as a final row of seating as everyone gathers around and Routh and Davis take their seats on a small stage in the living room.
Playing with no amps or mics, the two sit together and take turns round-robining their songs. Back and forth, back and forth, banter and laughter serving as punctuation here and there. The cool (cold) desert winds waft through open windows. The crowd, predominantly women, listens attentively. For nearly 90 minutes, the two musicians ply their trade, letting people come and go as needed, filling the house with strong, lilting voices. It is the most sublime point of the tour thus far.
The longest day on the tour ends. There is still plenty of tour left, but the hard part is officially behind them. An off day in Phoenix is immediately ahead, and everything from here on out is a short series of road trips up I-5, and the slow circle back home. But for now, there are soft blankets, one last drink, and fluffy yellow chicks to say goodnight to.
Miles traveled: 1,200