Last week, No BS Brass, Richmond’s Manliest Band (as described by Style Weekly) set out on a busking tour. We drove, we played on the street, we drove again. These are our adventures, as told by Bryan Hooten, trombonist and usually successful navigator. Busking is the practice of performing in public places for tips or […]
Last week, No BS Brass, Richmond’s Manliest Band (as described by Style Weekly) set out on a busking tour. We drove, we played on the street, we drove again. These are our adventures, as told by Bryan Hooten, trombonist and usually successful navigator.
The band members start arriving at Lance Koehler’s (drums) house around 2pm on Wednesday afternoon. For those not in the know, Lance’s house is also home to Minimum Wage Recording, where No BS, Fight the Big Bull, Ombak, Glows in the Dark, Bio Ritmo, Brian Jones and countless other Richmond bands have laid down their records. Many of us were rolling in immediately after some serious travel. Taylor Barnett (trumpet) had just returned from Hong Kong, where he was visiting family and performing. Luckily the jet-lag/time-change was on his side this time. After some last-minute stuff-grabbing and packing of the trailer, we all piled into a fifteen passenger van by about 3pm. Most of us spent the quick drive to Charlottesville catching up and telling stories. I had been out of town for the previous month so I had plenty to hear. At some point in the journey, during a discussion of when the band would get some food and who would pay for it, Rob, our lead trumpet player, shouted from the back seat “I don’t even need to eat, I’ll just go get that killin’ Chris Potter record.” Hilarity ensued. A cacophonous roar of laughter and van-roof punching erupted into our confined space. This quote would be repeated countless times over the course of the week in varying accurate impersonations of Rob’s voice.
Before we go on, I must explain a bit of the history of this van-roof punching business. During my time in the salsa band, Bio Ritmo, punching the roof of the tour van became an expression of anger, frustration, excitement or just the punctuation at the end of a declarative sentence. Roof-punching has now become part of the No BS vocabulary. Dillard, one of our trombonists, attempted several times that day to master the technique with little success. He’s young though. He will learn.
We found a place to park near the downtown mall in Charlottesville, a picturesque strip of the city that is closed to cars and frames a slew of local shops and restaurants. After scouting out a spot towards the center of the mall, we set up the drums and arranged the stickers, CD’s and T-Shirts. We started playing not totally sure how our enormous size and volume would be received. Within a few bars of “Lando,” however, we were surrounded by fascinated, head-bobbing onlookers, including one uncomfortably enthusiastic dancer. As the crowd gathered, we quickly found our groove. Marcus and Reggie Pace (trombone) dealt out thrilling solos while Lance and Stefan (tuba) laid a rock-solid foundation. Reggie Chapman (bass trombone) electrified the crowd with his megaphone singing and trombone intros. All the dance moves came out as well. When not playing, Taylor often took on the role of email-list distributor, stepping out of the band to pass around paper and pen, collecting the addresses of new No BS fans.
LESSON #1: Bring someone with you to work the crowd.
Our tip jar quickly filled up and by the time we were respectfully given the ‘15 more minutes’ sign by a local police officer, we had played for almost an hour. New fans and old friends came rushing up after the final tune, including former member Hayden Hopkins, for whom the tune ‘HH’ is named. This busk was a great one, and foreshadowed more adventures. After a quick pack-up and single file procession past the counter of a delicious dumpling joint, we navigated the van through the winding streets of the UVA campus and up to the hill-top studios of WTJU.
We were met by a crew of three friendly guys and hurried to set up in their small auxiliary studio. Somehow, we crammed the whole band in to a 10’x10’ room, with a significant amount of that space taken up by the soundboard. If you have seen No BS live, you will recognize this as a towering achievement. No BS is a huge band both in numbers and individual size. Marcus and I had to be especially careful, however, since we were positioned almost on top Lance’s crash and ride cymbal, respectively. After a brief intro by a DJ who seemed to be surprised by our name every time he read it, we started playing around 9:15 pm, blowing through many of our most up-tempo tunes. It was fun hearing the band play just as hard alone in a room as it does in front of our home crowd at The Camel in Richmond. The set was broken up by a quick interview, during which Reggie Pace uttered the phrase “We’re trying to go international, and such.” An hour later, once our time on the air was over, we took a look around the studio, mostly focusing on WTJU’s enormous record collection. We had a good hang up there, listening to some music and checking out a sneak peak of the live recording from the radio show. I found out that Cameron Ralston, bassist for Ombak, Glows in the Dark, Fight the Big Bull and Ilad, was once a DJ at the station.
After a quick stop at a sandwich place and entertaining Jesse Harper’s idea crashing a gig somewhere else in Charlottesville, we decided to head back to Richmond, knowing we had a long journey ahead of us.