California gets progressively more lovely, the further north you head. In the matter of the Great Divide within the state, it is clear that I sit firmly on the NorCal side of things. The greens are greener, the hills are lovelier, and the people are -- if you'll excuse the ad hominem painting -- more chill and genuine.
Rae Davis and Sara Routh are spending their time here quartered in different locations. Davis is staying with friends in Oakland, while Routh and a couple of her friends have rented an AirBnB in The City. After splitting up to unpack at their respective host homes, everyone heads into town for a gig at the Revolution Cafe, and right into a situation that has the potential to be the biggest clusterfuck of the entire tour.
The Mission District is one of the most vibrant, vital parts of the San Francisco landscape. It is exactly what you would expect any large city's heartbeat to look like: colorful, loud, frenetic, slightly gross, beautiful, dirty, and eternally entertaining. Looking for the best cafes? The best little places to eat? The best art? This neighborhood--no matter what each city calls it--is the place to go.
The one potential drawback to that much going on in one small area, however, is the chance for overlap in events. Like, for example, today, when Routh and Davis rock up to the Revolution, and find a full-on street fair happening on the street outside. A street fair including an actual stage with musical performers, literally 10 feet from the Revolution's front door. This could be interesting.
Like most cafes, the Revolution isn't really set up to host music. There's a PA shoved into a corner, and Davis is told to just go ahead and move a couple of tables out of the way to form a performance space. The sound is so-so, once guy working the counter tracks down a working cable for the mic. Volume is a tricky bitch at first, because the cafe is tiny, and extremely easy to overwhelm, but with all the commotion outside, if the volume drops too low, you start to lose bits. All in all, this is a lot of extra curricular bullshit to deal with on a gig that is only being played for tips.
This is the first time on the entire tour that I have seen Routh visibly angry. She's far too nice and far too diplomatic to let it get away from her, but she's clearly pissed about this situation.
When Davis takes the stage, there are about 10 people inside the cafe, with that number again sitting on the patio outside. The door is open, letting music and sound from the street fair stream in. Routh closes the door. It opens back up again in a minute, to be closed again. This will continue throughout.
The people who are there and who listen, enjoy the performance. And once the door is negotiated closed for at least most of the time, the sound inside is decent enough to not hinder anything. A number of Davis' friends turn up for the show as her set progresses and, after the days in Routh's comfort zone of LA, this stop is clearly Davis' home away from home.
As Routh sets up for her set, the guy at the counter points to the stage out in the street.
"The music is about to start out there," he says. "So if you could turn the volume down a little bit so we don't distract, that would be great."
If we were in a horror film, this would be the moment when Carrie gets doused in pig blood. This single moment is how I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that psionic powers do not exist, because if Routh couldn't explode that guy with a tight smile and a surely evil thought, nobody could.
I can not say for certain that the volume was lowered. But if it was, Routh made up with it in lung power, so nothing was lost. However, despite the less than ideal circumstances, Routh kept her outward appearance light, and banter strong. She established a good rapport with a guy visiting from New York, and the jokes brought everyone tighter together. As the volume kicks up outside, Routh plays off it a couple of times. At one point, the performer outside begins stomping out a rapid beat with his boots on the wooden stage. Routh stares out the window and listens for a bit, then kicks up the tempo of her own song to match it. By the time she's done, the crowd is hooting and shouting along with her, and people begin looking her up on Facebook before she's even finished her set.
This night finishes similarly to Oklahoma City, with a third set of round robin songs from both performers. It's fun to see them play together like this, because they draw a lot of energy and inspiration from one another. Again, the crowd stays into it, and even cheers Davis on when she gets into some fingering trouble, playing Routh's bigger guitar.
Walking into the Revolution, the day could have been a complete and total nightmare. Everything was pointing to it being a miserable experience, but Routh and Davis refused to let it be so. It's one of the valuable early lessons that every band has to learn on their way to success. You show me any act currently selling out an arena, and I'll show you an act that spent their early years playing crap shows in the corner of cafes, fighting to be heard over far more popular events 30 feet away.
Indifferent crowds, horrible playing conditions, hecklers. It's all just a part of the process, and all a part of the life of a musician trying to make a dime off the road. Nobody looks for the rough shows. Everyone would love them all to have perfect sound and listening room-level attention from the audience. But that's just not how life works, and if you can't bomb-proof your act and play through the occasional puddle of bullshit, you're not going to do very well.
Routh and Davis to very, very well.