The Quest For Real Country Music

20. Starbucks with Sturgill Simpson

September 26th 2016 10:51 am

I make little efforts of consistency. So far, restless sleeping has been the only entry on that list. I’d harass Melanie and her bassist, Beth, when on the road, as they brought their own coffee making supplies into someone else’s home. I saw it as almost a rude gesture. I was wrong – it’s consistency. It’s the most attractive aspect to settling yet a vital factor to success…and sanity. Waking up in the same house, with the same schedule and the same cup of coffee. We don’t have this luxury as easily, it must be adapted. I find my consistency in allowing reading time and now admittedly, with my foot in my mouth, coffee.

For the intake I’ve become accustomed to over the past couple weeks I thought that purchasing a jar of instant coffee and using free hot water at truck stops would be my most financially conscious decision, possibly saving a hundred dollars a month. After its inaugural testing, I committed to quality over quantity. A quality road coffee costs four dollars and time.  Like hunting out relatively unknown Real Country groups and their residencies, I was eating up data searching for a bold java across America. Driving around centres treasure hunting for a brew was becoming tedious, so I chose to make coffee consistency more accommodating. This decision left me with two options, McDonalds or Starbucks.

I’m sure one could get into an ethics pissing match but as how they are sold to me without much research, I settle on Starbucks.

I still stubbornly order ‘a big black coffee’ but that always leads to me conceding with ‘grande, black, pike place, please’. ‘No room for cream’ is then answered after the barista inquiry. I thought I covered that with the word ‘black’. The first couple Starbucks sit-downs revealed the one dollar refill. I can now walk into a Starbucks, with my dented ‘Carson Energy Services Ltd’ Contigo mug, specifically ask for a refill and I’m rewarded with a decent one dollar cup of coffee. Consistency.

My barista in Ashland, KY is a southern belle. Pleasant, attractive, and a wonderful drawl. She jokes with the old boys, is kind to the punk teenagers, has the manager under her spell. She is the bubbling epicentre of the Ashland Starbucks Experience.

I’m only a couple days back on the road but attention from a pretty girl makes me self conscious about my lack of shower the night before and now that I think about it, skipping out on brushing my teeth with my quick transition from van floor to driver’s seat this morning. She calls me sweetheart. I request a refill. She winks and says it’s on her. I have an extra Sturgill Simpson ticket. She would be the perfect date. I don’t need to put myself in that position. She gives me my free coffee. I tell myself it would be a harmless platonic offering and karmic return. She calls me Doll. I go sit in the corner.

My coffee and book are giving me the consistency I’ve been needing over the past few days. Patrons come and go and a couple hours pass. I touch base with W.B. about the possibility of a pre-concert supper but he’s running a little late and will be arriving at show time.

The Ashland Starbucks is 330 ft by Google Maps to tonight’s venue for the Sturgill concert, The Paramount Arts Center. Three’s. The mid afternoon lull has my possible date wiping down tables and me coming to an end with reading. A businessman sits in the corner opposite me and thumbs through the paper. A student is typing away on her mac while highlighting a textbook.

Sturgill Simpson walks in the door.

Having toured for ten years, I’ve been in countless positions meeting successful acts. I rarely get ‘star struck’.  This isn’t ‘star struck’. It’s more a recognition of a life event. An opportunity that was meant to present itself, allowing me the choice to move forward on it or not. This recognition is cutting off a bit of air and tightening up my throat. Still one to get nervous before stepping on stage, my heart is beating and palms sweating in a similar fashion. Nobody else in the room is paying any attention to the event. Sturgill is with his trumpet player Scott, whom I met at Times Change(d) in Winnipeg following the Manitoba date. They walk past me to wait for their order, I stop Scott and reintroduce myself. ‘Oh yeah, hey man, that was a fun night’ he recalls, not connecting the distance between crossing paths again. The interaction is over.

Sturgill’s cosmic and philosophical approach to his music can only make me assume he sees all as equal. We’re all here, we all die, we are all a speck in the cosmos. This thought immediately puts us on the same level of universal worth. I walk over an extend my appreciation for his music and excitement for the show. His thank you is genuine. I’m vulnerable and open up about my search. I take the opportunity to let him know it took someone in his position to rock the boat, it encouraged me to do more in the fight. I thank him. We both appreciate the serendipity of the moment.

“I know what He would have thought.”

Knowing he was talking about Merle.

“If I didn’t say something, what’s that say about me?”

There it was.

Every journey has that one important piece of information given to the hero. This moment with Sturgill is the Apotheosis. ‘If I didn’t say something, what’s that say about me?’

There’s the risk of burning a bridge, of judgement passed, of standing alone in a situation against a room or industry of people, but what’s that say about you. Knowing something is to be said or someone be defended. Having the power of a voice to make a difference but choosing to live among the quiet. Understanding that as artists our duty is to spread light and make change. What does complying with the way things are say about you? In the worst case scenario your voice will quiver but your gut will be satisfied. Truth will always build courage.

If you don’t say something, what’s that say about you?

I’m a changed man in this moment.

Our conversation moves to a more casual tone and a genuine connection is made. There’s flow. Scott, Sturgill and I walk outside with our Starbucks, laughing at the setting of the engagement. Scott mentions how when you recognize synchronicity you have no choice but to go with it, be open and release expectations. We chat about music and being on the road. Sturgill asks if I already have my tickets to the show and I disclose I actually have an extra. He gives me a back pat and says he’s sure a lone road cowboy like me won’t have a problem finding a date. We both gesture the obvious. An appreciation for having met, Scott and Sturgill walk back to their bus and I head inside.

I thank my greater power for the moment and pay for another refill.

Sturgill