A Hillsborough Community College Student Publication since 1978.
By Jaki Herrington-Coulon
Anticipation built heavily as the weeks slowly turned into days, the days evaporating into hours. My previous adventures with friends played in my mind as my normal life carried on. The feeling of this reality still had not sunken in completely. I wanted to burst out and tell everyone about my plans; it was as if I had just received a brand new red bike from Santa. For it was I who was to be graced with the joys of riding along with five guys in an economy van for six days. Not your average Joe’s idea of a good time, but being a young adult involved in the music scene, I had hit gold; it was my first tour.
Over the past several years, I have been lucky enough to befriend several bands. Through a series of connections and good times shared, I ended up traveling on the road with Dr. Manhattan. I first met them when I was following my good friends in the band Fear Before (the March of Flames) around Florida on the “Stay Weird” tour. I instantly connected with the guys from Dr. Manhattan. Between Dr. Manhattan and Fear Before, those days I spent on the “Stay Weird” tour still reign as one of the best weeks of my life.
Dr. Manhattan is a four-piece band from Wauconda, Illinois. led by the power of Matt Engers as lead vocal and guitar player. Matt’s brother, Adam, plays bass guitar. Andrew Morrison hits up the piano and floor tom, adding his own ‘woos’ to songs, while Nick Vombrack beats out tunes on the drums. The kooky combination of musicians that make up “Dman”, Dr. Manhattan’s nickname, carries its own individual stage presence and sound; the members somehow pull it all together to make some of the most natural and original pieces of music.
These high spirited lads obtained their name from the graphic novel “The Watchmen,” but once you meet them, you will find that they are far from being a giant blue superhero. The energized sensation of greatness pulsates from them like steam rising in a shower. While looking out at the audience, I’ve witnessed the smiles and head nods start to infect the crowd at their shows.
Dr. Manhattan has been called a “party on stage,” a description that is well justified. The live, fast-paced, and heartfelt performances the band puts on every night makes you want to be their best friend.
The courage it took to ponder up the right words to ask if I could join them on the road was one of the largest anxieties I have ever dealt with; but, once Nick replied “Ok,” it was absolutely the best feeling in the entire world.
The tour was a short trip compared to most, but it was the most eye-opening experience I have ever ventured upon. The other touring bands were Foxy Shazam and The A.K.A’s. Together we traveled from Tampa, Florida. to Little Rock, Arkansas; visiting many cities along the way. The most memorable was a gig in Waco, Texas, at a venue called “Art Ambush”, a tattoo and piercing shop that included a stage in an adjoining room. The kids from Waco were so humble and appreciative of the new developing music scene created at the local tattoo shop.
The show happened to fall on Valentine’s Day. In the spirit of the occasion, many of the local kids brought baked treats for the bands. These simple gestures, reflected perfectly in pink sprinkles on top of icing covered cupcakes, was just a reminder that good people are still in the world. That evening the show was sold-out, as most of them were, and I think everyone went home with a smile and an everlasting memory of the experience that night.
Bands make sacrifices for memorable and extraordinary nights like the performance in Waco. Even though touring is one of the greatest experiences, the pay isn’t the best. Many nights we found ourselves at rest stops or a local Wal-Mart parking lot, sleeping in the van. The glamour is gone once you leave the stage, but the flip side is that these spots turn into the most convenient places on the road for some deep conversations and memorable moments. One time while at a Wal-Mart in Houston, Texas, we stopped to get our oil changed. During the wait, Matt pulled out his acoustic guitar from the case and started to play it in the parking lot. He immediately caught the attention of the workers in the service area. They crowded around as Matt started to play one of Dman’s songs: “Gunpowder: A Ballet.” The hard case for the guitar happened to be left open, and the workers started to tip as they were really getting into the song. A couple of them actually bought Dman’s CD, and one offered to do the album artwork for the band’s upcoming release.
Once sleep was tackled, the next biggest issue was food. Three of the four members of Dman are vegetarians, so it shrinks the possible places to eat. I honestly think we ate at a Subway restaurant every day. Five dollar footlongs became our best friend. Being a carnivore myself, I really tried out of respect to adapt to the vegetarian lifestyle. It really isn’t as hard as people think, but I’m sure after several weeks of fast food, I would start to feel malnourished. To counter the lack of nutrients, the van was stocked with fresh fruits and peanuts.
The most random moment of the entire trip occurred in Metairie, Louisiana. The setting was at a venue called The High Grounds, the day before Mardi Gras began. The streets were starting to fill with floats and purple and gold decorations for the following night’s festivities. Once, passing these and entering the venue, Nick noticed a flyer on the wall for that night’s show. It held our tour line up, but with the addition of other bands: And I Set My Friends On Fire, Watchout, and There’s Ghosts. Now, even I will admit I giggled a bit at the idea of these names, but to my surprise, the musicians were really awesome guys. Actually, I spent most of that evening chatting with Matt from And I Set My Friends on Fire. Their band puts on a really good live show and an even better one now that they have added a drummer.
These moments really defined the trip for me along with all the good people I met and befriended, making it a time to be treasured forever.
You definitely grow from being on the road, and the term “Band” takes a whole new meaning. It’s no longer just a bunch of dudes who play instruments, but rather a family. Nearly every aspect of their lives are somehow affected by the band. Decisions were made as a whole, and consequences were felt by everyone.
Spending nearly all of your time together, trying not to be at each other’s throats in the process, you are definitely doing something right. The guys in Dr. Manhattan, along with the members of The A.K.A’s and Foxy Shazam, together showed me the best time on the road. With welcoming arms, they embraced a newcomer, and their hospitality was shown to everyone. I know that touring with the band allowed me to experience life as a traveling musician. I respect and hold a big part of my heart for all the bands that I shared times with along the way and cannot wait for the future with them and other bands.