For the first time in 15 months, live music is returning nationwide after the global coronavirus pandemic ravaged the industry. Billboard’s “My First Show Back” is a series dedicated to sharing stories from throughout the touring ecosystem about what’s happening now, what has been forever altered and what will never change.
In this installment, Drive-By Truckers‘ Patterson Hood discusses returning to the stage on May 28 and 29 after a year and a half without touring. Hood describes the surreal moments of being back on Vashon Island and how pandemic rules varied for each night.
The first show back I did two nights on Vashon Island, Wash., just off the coast from Seattle. It’s a beautiful drive up there to the [Vashon Center For The Arts]. I took the ferry. I took my son with me and I’d never taken him on a gig trip just the two of us before.
They have been probably my favorite solo shows I’ve ever played. You get something taken away from you and you realize it’s important to you on a bigger level than you appreciated. That goes for me and my side of it and I think it went for the audience side of it, too. They were amazing shows. It’s kind of amazing how it feels out there right now.
I’d played for this promoter on Vashon Island once before and had a great time. When the promoter saw I was going back on the road, she reached out to me to see if I’d come do it. I thought it would be good to get a couple shows under my belt before the tour that kicked off on June 16 in Chicago. One night became two nights, because it sold out really quick. Then they added a little more capacity for the second night because everyone had to be vaccinated to get in. The rules changed just in the short time between when the first show was booked and the time they added the second show. There were substantially more people there on the second night.
It was great all the way around. It was great to have money coming in. I’ve been unemployed for a year and a half and so I loved everything about it. The feeling when I walked out on stage in front of an audience after a year of playing shows in my house, it was very emotional. I wanted to take a minute before I even started playing to have a moment with the crowd to acknowledge that, almost like a moment of silence. Everyone was very emotional, but I managed to not be a blithering crying idiot.
The audience’s reaction that night was over the top. It was, “God, I missed this so much.” I missed it, too. It’s my job, but it’s so much more than that for me. It is so much of who I am that a lot of last year I felt lost. I’m a dad and I try to be a good one, but I am not even sure I was at the top of my game even being a dad, because there was this void in me. I think my kids understood because they were dealing with their own voids, too. I think they could understand why dad was depressed.
The venue was pretty strict backstage because my son’s too young to get vaccinated. When I first booked the show, my wife was emailing the promoter about my son. The promoter was like, “No one will have access to your son. We’ll be super tight about it.”
I played over 250 different songs virtually from my house over the course of this last year. So for the Vashon Island shows I made a master list of 50 songs and then just walked out there and went off that list. I played the hits and I played some deep cuts and unreleased stuff. It was a really nice response to the new songs. [Drive-By Truckers] are going to do some recording in about three weeks.
When all this happened last year, our band had just put out a brand new record, The Unraveling. We had a year and a half of touring already booked. We did the first three weeks and then the rest of it went away. We put out another record [after that] at the end of last year. We essentially have two new records we haven’t toured behind. But that first album is also a year and a half old now, so I’m not looking at our next tour as picking up where our last one left off.
So much of The Unraveling was steeped in the political climate of what we were dealing with at that moment going into an election year and who we had in the White House. After emerging from all this, we’re in a different place. We’ll certainly play some songs off those records, because there are still some that are valid. There’s also a lot of songs that I don’t want to spend a whole tour or a whole night in that headspace. I’ve always felt our band played to the moment, and it’s a different moment.
As told to Taylor Mims