With a group of friends who have known each other for over a decade, sometimes, the Leggy van can get brutal – any time Kerstin does, well, anything, she’s met with a chorus of, “Ugh, classic Stanley…” (Stanley is a nickname derived from her first and middle name, Kerstin Lee). But when someone wants to use their “tour wish” – choosing the one specific thing they want to do before returning home – any activity is fair game.
Sometimes the tour wish is simple – Chris just wants to smoke weed, and Troy is completely content any time we stop at a vegan restaurant on the road. But for Kerstin, a self-proclaimed “public transportation nerd” with a degree in urban planning, it was clear what her tour wish would be as soon as we drove into Morgantown, West Virginia.
“Look at that monorail!” Kerstin shouted from the middle seat of the van. I may have been mocked for getting excited about mountains, but even though I’ve only spent about a week getting to know Kerstin, there’s no doubt in my mind that shouting about public transit is just, ugh, claaaassic Stanley. But when a badass bassist with a passion for city planning declares her tour wish, it must be granted, even if everyone else thinks it’s silly.
With Veronique’s slight bit of peer pressure, my tour wish is to get my nose pierced with Troy. I don’t know if that will happen yet, but if it does, I hope my parents don’t disown me.
Morgantown is a textbook college town – basically the only people who live there are University of West Virginia students – but in order to travel across their mountainous campus (their mascot is the Mountaineers?), they take a monorail throughout the small town. It’s a driverless eight-seated vehicle that looks like a Smart Car gliding across a metal track, and they don’t even charge money for it – you just push a button declaring where you’d like to go (football stadium, dorms, downtown, etc). In theory, you’re supposed to show a WVU student ID, but no one at the station checks. I guess most tourists in Morgantown don’t have a classic Stanley in their squad who just really wants to ride the monorail, no matter what it takes.
On Thursday night, Leggy and Alice Bag play at 123 Pleasant Street, a historic, nineteenth century rowhouse in Morgantown. When we walk inside, I notice a mural of Harriet Tubman and signs that say “Underground Railroad.” Classic Stanley might be a public transit nerd, but after growing up in South Florida, a region built mostly after 1930, I’m totally cool with calling myself a historic building nerd.
Between sets, I ask Candy, the woman working door, about the history of the venue. Did it have any relation to the Underground Railroad? She tells me that it wasn’t actually a stop on the Underground Railroad, but there was artwork dedicated to the route early in the venue’s existence, so the venue owners have always sought to keep the history alive. Candy tells me that above the bar, there’s a sculpture from a local artist that says, “Follow the drinking gourd,” which was a secret code that former slaves used to communicate to each other which direction was north (the drinking gourd is the big dipper).
As we’re loading out our gear after the show, Candace, Alice Bag’s drummer, mentions that her partner told her that she should check out the monorail in West Virginia.
“Kerstin wanted to do that too,” Troy says. We make plans to get the two bands together in the morning to ride the monorail, but everyone is drunk, so nothing gets set in stone.
As we’re driving out of Morgantown to Baltimore, we all make jokes about how we were supposed to meet Alice Bag and her band at the monorail, but they probably aren’t going to text us anyway, right?
“I actually think it’d be so fun!” I say. “I totally want to ride a monorail with Alice Bag.” It may be Kerstin’s tour wish, but I’m really into the idea as well.
As we walk into a Qdoba to stop for food, Veronique gets a text from Alice.
Do you still want to ride the monorail?
We all look at each other, look at the inflated burrito prices, and collectively run back into the van to meet up with Alice and the band. Not many things are better than burritos, but riding a monorail with Alice Bag is one of them.
With a band called “Alice Bag Band,” it might seem like Alice is the star, and she definitely is a star – but it would be a crime to understate just how cool the entire band is.
Fiona is one of the best guitar players I’ve ever seen – she goes wild on stage, dropping to her knees and shredding, or jumping up and down around her bandmates while plucking extremely difficult guitar riffs. She wears these head-to-toe white suits, and she doesn’t even seem to sweat in them, which makes me think that she might be an alien. But when she’s not on tour with Alice, she’s actually a professor of Asian American Studies and Gender Studies at the University of Illinois. Alice calls Fiona “the evil Dr. Ngo” on stage, but the doctor part isn’t a joke – Fiona has her Ph.D. When I first overheard Fiona telling Veronique about being a professor after the Pittsburgh gig, I googled her and was blown away. She’s written a book about jazz, race, and sex?
Then there’s Candace, who does it all – her drums propel the Alice Bag band, and every night before and after the show, she runs Alice’s merch table and chats with fans. Candace writes for magazines I admire like Tom Tom, a publication dedicated to women drummers, and she also works with Girls Rock Camp, an organization I admire – basically, what I’m trying to say is, I admire Candace.
I unfortunately haven’t talked to David, the bassist, in enough depth to tell you how cool he is, but he’s a great musician and a particularly friendly, welcoming person – so that’s always cool.
When we arrive at the monorail stop and meet up with Alice and the band, Kerstin is noticeably excited. Veronique, Troy, and Chris are still making fun of her, but once we get on the monorail, everyone is equally hyped up about granting Kerstin’s tour wish.
“Oh my god, this feels like we’re on a Disney ride,” Veronique says. As we head down a small hill on the monorail track, David and Troy throw their hands up and shout. As we zoom around the perimeter of Morgantown, I can’t tear my eyes away from the beauty of Appalachia.
There’s a WVU student with us in our little car, and she’s amused at how excited we are. For her, this is a daily exercise. Alice asks her questions about how the monorail work, and they chat about her studies at WVU. I wonder if she knows she’s talking to a legend, but I also feel like Alice wouldn’t want me to think that – even though swarms of fans greet her each night and tell her how inspiring she is, Alice still sees herself as an ordinary woman, which baffles me.
We part ways with the Alice Bag Band and get on the road to Baltimore, Maryland. We may have granted Kerstin’s wish, but she was about to grant all of ours – Kerstin’s mom travels for work frequently, and she collects hotel bonus points that allow you to upgrade your stay. Every tour, Kerstin’s mom books Leggy a luxury hotel using her reward points, and Baltimore was the night where Kerstin’s mom granted my tour wish: a warm shower with clean towels and a comfy bed to sleep in.
The hotel is far too nice for five sweaty twenty-somethings on a punk tour to waltz in with their smelly duffels, but that’s exactly what we did, and it was a blast. We sped through the lobby, decorated with marble flooring, chandeliers, vintage rugs, and immaculate staircases to get to the upstairs lounge. It was 5:30, and happy hour ended at 6. But at this luxury hotel, happy hour doesn’t mean discounts – happy hour means that you check in, get your room key, and get as many free mimosas as you want.
The hotel room has two queen mattresses, a marble bathroom, and a smaller room with two bunk beds, an x-box, and a dog mural. When I decided to go on tour, I expected to sleep on stranger’s floors, and we did do that – but I had no idea that we would spend a night in a hotel designed for lavish businesspeople.
The show in Baltimore is at a place called Sidebar, which a sixteen-year-old named Joey who I met at a poetry festival described as “a place where you don’t want to put your hands on anything.” When Joey told me that, I figured it was just because he’s sixteen and hasn’t gone to many punk shows, but the venue did indeed smell like cat pee. But cats are cool, so I dealt with it.
Before Alice Bag’s set, I sit on a staircase to the right of the stage. It’s elevated and provides a wider view of the venue, so I perch up there to vary my camera angles.
“Can I tell you something?” Alice says to me, whiskey in hand.
“What?” I say.
“I never really get nervous anymore…. But for some reason, I just feel nervous right now,” she says.
“It’ll be fine!” I tell her, as a knee-jerk reaction. Then I realize that fine is an understatement. “Every night you’re amazing!” I tell her. “Everyone loves you! We love you!”
Despite my declaration of love for Alice, she still seems a bit shooken up.
“Hey, Candace, can we cut ‘Sorry’ off of the setlist?” Alice asks her drummer. ‘He’s So Sorry’ is a slower, jazzy song from Alice’s LP, but at a dark divebar like Sidebar, covered in stickers from punk bands and graffiti from its visitors over the years, Alice wants to tailor her set towards the head-bangers.
The Alice Bag Band is amazing every night, but this Baltimore show was absolutely outstanding. Alice gave a speech about saving punk and standing up against people like Donald Trump and Monsanto, and she jumped into the crowd and had fans sing along with her, which she hadn’t done at any previous shows. Part of me wanted to get every stunning moment on film for my documentary, but on the other hand, I felt like this performance was something that I shouldn’t watch through my camera.
This morning, I woke up in our luxury hotel – thanks, Mrs. Bladh – went to the lobby, and chugged two cups of cold brew coffee (typical for me). I can’t believe I’m headed home.
When I arrived in Detroit for the first night of tour, I was terrified. I felt completely alone, barely knowing Leggy, and the idea of eating Burger King on the highway in a vehicle without AC disgusted me. I was worried that I would be counting down the days until we got back to Philly, but now that today is the last day of tour, I don’t want it to end.
It tells you a lot about Leggy and Alice Bag that I’ve enjoyed seeing them perform the same set five times in a row, but when it comes down to the pure experience of tour, I don’t care how good the music is. What I care about is that someone like Fiona, whose talent absolutely baffles me, is humble and friendly enough to want to hang out with a twenty-year-old who won’t let go of her DSLR. (Maybe friendly isn’t the right word – last night, carrying Veronique’s guitar out of the venue, I accidentally nudged Fiona with the case, and she shouted, “God fucking dammit, Amanda, I swear to god, if you do that one more time!” But it’s friendly coming from Fiona. She could’ve said, “Hey, Amanda, you’re cool,” and it wouldn’t have been as nice as the “God fucking dammit!” thing).
Tonight, Leggy and Alice Bag are playing at Treat Y’rself Fest, a benefit to support the March to End Rape Culture. In the morning, I will wake up in my own bed, and Leggy will travel to Washington, D.C. with one less person in that sweaty, malfunctioning Honda Odyssey.
I would be lying if I said that I didn’t look up Megabus tickets from D.C. to Philly on Monday, just to see if it would be feasible for me to stay on tour an extra day. But Treat Y’rself Fest seems like a natural conclusion to one of the most interesting weeks of my life.
When Alice Bag spoke about saving punk on stage last night, she emphasized that punk is about creating places where everyone is welcome as long as they respect the people around them. She emphasized community.
It sucks that today is the last day of tour, and it sucks that by next week, I’ll be starting the school year again. I wish I could stay on tour forever (although my body probably doesn’t). But as Alice reminds me, punk is about community. And though I won’t be on the road anymore after today, community doesn’t evaporate easily. Memories don’t evaporate easily.