Salty Tales

“Gentlemen, we’ve had some complaints.”

I was quite confused as the man approached our vehicle.  After all, we’d just arrived.  Still, it had been a long set of days and nights and I wasn’t entirely sure I could mount a defense against our yet to be named crimes.

Jon and I had spent a fair portion of our free time in recent months blasting around the Midwest.  It was 2000, the summer after our last days of high school.  While our peers were busy planning for school and partying down for the last time with their childhood friends, he and I were spending aimless hours following Veruca Salt from show to show.

We had no college plans.  We had no prospects.  We had no career dreams.

Jon was talking about moving to Madison, Wisconsin.  His family ties drew from the region, as did his favorite ball teams.  And they certainly had more going on than small town Michigan.

I was likely headed into the local community college.  My high school grades had earned me a pass on the majority of the relatively cheap tuition.  I figured I’d kill a year or two there, taking advantage of my parents’ free rent, while the as of yet unseen “direction for the future” would present itself.

Had I not kept myself busy playing “local groupie”, I would have likely been terrified at the growing reality that becoming aware of what I wanted to do with my life was far from inevitable.

I had a more pressing fear for the moment though, centered mostly around the thought “are we getting arrested?”

“We’ve had some complaints, guys.”

“…well…uh..but…”

Of course, then the guy smiles.

“See, you guys are not having enough fun.  We’re here to have fun.  Take some stickers.  Go inside.”

And so began Rockfest: nine bands in the hot summer day at Chicago Motor Speedway.  We had come following Veruca Salt, but we also came to take in Stone Temple Pilots, Barenaked Ladies, Metallica, Kid Rock, and Third Eye Blind.  And whoever else we saw.  And the fireworks.

After a day of running around a race track, navigating crowds and portable toilet lines, hanging with one band, and rocking to the rest, we wearily made our way back to Jon’s truck.  At an event like this, crowd control is an issue and we were prepared for the long wait in the clog of vehicles headed for the exit.  Well, mostly prepared.

“Uh…we’re almost out of gas.”

The tank was so low that we couldn’t afford to idle in the parking lot traffic.  We needed a clear shot out and to the nearest gas station.  Rockfest, however, was a popular event (over 100,000 attendees) and the exits seemed to be few, so we had little choice.

We waited.  Two in the morning.  A long day in the hot sun, rocking out.  And there we sat, in Jon’s beat-up SUV, waiting until every last car was gone so we could dash, unobstructed, to the exit.

It was a long night.

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Our travels took us to many more Veruca Salt shows that summer (and beyond).  We even caught a gig from former band member (at that time), Nina Gordon, who was touring with her new solo album.  It was a mellow show in the downstairs dining room at Chicago’s House Of Blues.

Jon had indeed made his move to Madison by this time, but we met up in the Windy City to see Nina.  We were lucky enough to meet her after the gig.  I discovered that’s she’s as charming in person as she appears in the media and that she had family ties to my little area in rural Michigan.

After that show, Jon and I said our goodbyes and I made my way into the parking garage where I’d left my vehicle.  I realized after Jon was well on his way that I had made no note of where I’d parked my car in the garage.  I spent the next hour lost in the Daliesque design, traversing the structure from top to bottom, somehow missing numerous levels, including that which held my car.  Once again, it was only when everyone else had gone that I was able to make my exit, my car becoming obvious as the only set of wheels left in the building.

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Another Veruca show took us to Rockford, Illinois and their annual On The Waterfront festival.  This was the event for which I made the above pictured sign, displaying the ridiculous amount of time we’d spent on the road in recent weeks following the band.

By this point, we were well known, obvious members of the set of groupies that made it to every show, and we were greeted accordingly.  It was thrilling.

The festival was vast, shutting down a fair portion of downtown Rockford.  With games, food, booths, and multiple stages, it was a blast of an event and one I’d continue taking in for years after.  In addition to VS, we took in a number of performances including MU330, The Blue Meanies, and Lucky Boys Confusion, the latter who would be a major part of the next era of my music life less than a year from that moment.

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It wasn’t long after when the band went into an extended hiatus.  There would be a few shows here and there over the next few years.  A couple of recordings released.  But Jon and I had gone our separate directions in life and  the major tour and the era of our travels with them was done.

I remember taking my friend Margaret to a reunion show a few years down the road.  The groupies were all there and the band was asking about us.  It was an excellent show, but it felt like a remnant of something that was gone and never to return.

This is why it meant so much when I first heard that the founding members of the band were reunited.  Playing together.  Recording together.  Maybe even touring.

The music of Veruca Salt has been with me for most of my life, through the wasted days after school on Mitch’s couch, in the frighteningly aimless college years, through blasted car speakers on late night country roads, to the travels with Jon, with others, and on my own to see live shows.

They were my first concert.  My first musical love.