Don’t Forget To Be Awesome, Part II

– Loosely follows DFTBA, Part I –

In late April, I received some terrific news from one of my favorite internet personalities and vloggers, WheezyWaiter— he announced on his channel that his band Driftless Pony Club was heading on tour.  Curious, I checked the dates.  Among them: July 1st, San Francisco.  Within minutes, I’d bought a ticket.  Another head-on collision with a hero from the internet was on its way.

As is my tradition for a weekday concert, I left work somewhat early to get to Slim’s to get to the front of the line.  I showed up for Sara Bareilles’s show there seven hours early; the line began about three hours early.  Since Driftless Pony Club, and Hank Green, who I should mention was the actual main act, aren’t as popular as Sara (based solely on speed of ticket sales for the show), I figured three hours would be more than enough time to get good line position.  I was correct.  For nearly an hour after I arrived first, there showed up maybe seven other people.  I relaxed with my position claimed, grabbed dinner fearlessly, and resumed waiting on the sidewalk.

It wasn’t long before Driftless Pony Club drove up in their black rental van.  I knew them the second they turned the corner onto 11th Street and calmly waved to them as they parked the van.  One by one they came out, guitarist (and oftentimes host of The Good Stuff YouTube channel) Matt Weber first, then bassist Sam Grant who was piloting the van.  Rob Scallon, fill-in drummer and all-around amazingly talented musician came out around back.  Through the tinted center windows I spotted the unmistakable bearded silhouette of Craig “WheezyWaiter” Benzine and next to him, his girlfriend Chyna, a mainstay of the Wheezy channels.  When everyone was out on the street, I felt a certain feeling I’d only had once before.  These were people I didn’t know personally, but could not have been more familiar.  It’s so odd, having them in my life in a sort-of one-way relationship (really more like 1.5-way in practice), knowing them well but not having anything close to the same level of familiarity heading the other way.  I couldn’t help but stare and reconcile the fact that the barriers of the internet were completely down.  And suddenly, Hank Green popped out of the venue doors.  I don’t think anyone in line was expecting that based on our reactions.  The six citizens of the van and a couple others I didn’t recognize unloaded the van right there in front of us.  I really wanted to help.

As Driftless Pony Club finished lugging their stuff inside, Hank came up to me and introduced himself.  I shook his hand and congratulated him on a successful Vidcon.  Unfortunately I wasn’t there, I’d just seen every YouTuber I’m subscribed to post video after video of their experience that weekend.  We took a picture (duh) and then he moved on to chat with the people in queue next to me.  He was still right there, though, so we all had a really nerdy conversation about each other’s t-shirts (half of which were John Green related) as well as video technology and aspect ratios and stuff.  It was all over the place.  Somehow, Hank Green is exactly like I imagined he would be.  Seems to be a running theme with YouTubers!  Soon he continued on to the next few folks in the line and I went back to standing there waiting, making the smallest of talk with those next to me.  Then Hank Green came walking back to go inside, and as he passed me he said and I quote, “Thanks for being first.”  And as is tradition on YouTube, I happily exclaimed “FIRST!” like those people everyone hates in the comments.

The next hour and a half was killed listening to soundcheck and playing Cards Against Humanity on the sidewalk.  I’d never played before; now I have to get a copy of my own.  Too much fun.

Oh yeah, since this was obviously a concert consisting primarily of people most famous for their work on the internet, basically everyone at one point came out to vlog, tweet, or post photos to Instagram.  I’m in WheezyWaiter’s tour vlog for that day briefly, as well as Instagram photos by Driftless Pony Club and Rob Scallon.  There’s probably a few more that I haven’t seen.  Both Sam from DPC and Hank Green walked around the lines with their cameras locked and loaded.

Once the doors finally opened to the fans, I quickly made my entrance.  I decided instead of immediately jumping to the front of the stage that I would stop by the merch table and buy hard copies of the two latest Driftless Pony Club albums Buckminster and Magnicifent.  Oh, also I wanted to meet Chyna who was manning the table with Hank’s wife, Katherine.  I was still feeling a little shy though so I didn’t say much to her; however, I also said hi to Rob Scallon who was just standing there and we had a decent short chat about the tour, the venue and the overall schedule.  Since there were at least four acts, I didn’t want to miss out on meeting everyone after the show when I was booking it for the BART station before the last train.  He gave me a rundown of how the last shows went and said they’d all be around afterward to meet and greet.  Great!  I gave him best wishes for the show and ran off toward the stage, finally.  The wait was painfully long, mostly due to the fact that I was up against the edge with a large screen dropped down right in my face; there’s was no room to maneuver, I was staring straight at a wall practically, and there was nothing to see.  In reality it was only about 40 minutes before the opening act came on.

It just so happened to be Rob Scallon on solo guitar.  Let me simply say now that this guy is talented.  The first song he played was this one, shared here from his YouTube channel.

I was completely sucked in within moments of the start.  He makes a single guitar sound like three instruments, at least.  The crowd during his performance was perfectly quiet, and rightfully so.  I think we were all pretty engrossed.

He played just three songs, making way on the stage for a second opening act, Andrew Huang, perhaps best known for his channel Songs to Wear Pants To.  Before he began playing, he set up his laptop rig right in front of me and we had a brief small-talky chat.  He seems like a really nice guy.  And then he played this song…

…and I remembered where I knew him from!  He sang/rapped Hannah’s part too, obviously.  It was impressive live, perhaps even more than the video since he was also playing guitar.  His other songs were mostly short comedic bits; they were all pretty funny, especially his song “Close to My Heart,” a sweet love and loss song, made hilarious when he told us it was actually about his nipple ring.  He finished his set with an Instagram photo of the crowd and set his phone on the stage to play one last song.  When he left, his phone was still there, right in front of me.  I strongly debated trolling his account somehow, but my good conscious got the best of me.  Damn you, morality!

It was a little bit more of a wait for the third opening act, Harry and the Potters, but soon the show started up again.  These guys are odd, yet entertaining in their own right.  See, unlike probably 75% of the crowd (at least), I’m not into Harry Potter.  Not at all.  Never read the books.  I only saw the first movie when it came out, and even then I’m not really sure why.  So, these guys come on stage dressed like Harry Potter– they’ve got the hair, the glasses, the sweater and tie, and magic wands.  And all their songs are about the books.  I bet I would have found them at least ten times more entertaining if I connected with their lyrics.  However, all that said, they were really great, really energetic and put on a really decent show.  Especially when they shot confetti out of their magic wands and leapt into the crowd.  The audience seemed to be really into it so by osmosis I was into it too.

The fourth act of the night and the first real headliner, the band I’d really come to see that night, was Driftless Pony Club.  Their show was on a different level from Harry and the Potters.  This is how I’ll put it: most shows have an opening act.  They’re usually a decent band, relatively talented.  Stage presence varies; sometimes they top the headliner, sometimes they present less energy than a dead fish.  I usually find myself enjoying openers, for at least the time during and immediately following their set.  But here’s what I’m getting at.  When the headliner comes on, they’re just better.  The sound is clearer, the musicianship is stronger, the timing and harmonies are tighter; it might even seem like they take up more room on the stage.  This is what happened when Driftless Pony Club came on.  Now, I’d seen clips of their shows on WheezyWaiter’s vlog channel, so I had an impression of what their live show was like in my mind.  They’re not the biggest band and through a video recorded on a point-and-shoot uploaded to YouTube, they seem quite small on my computer screen or phone.  Amateurish, even.  Nope.  These guys are excellent.  Their sound is huge, they’re supremely talented, and they know how to rock a venue.  They’ve been together for over twelve years now and it shows in their chemistry.

IMG_9703Also, I mentioned Rob Scallon as their fill-in drummer before.  Their regular drummer Nate Bartley apparently couldn’t make this tour so he was replaced by Rob.  The guy can obviously make sweet love to a guitar, but damn, he’s a complete beast on the drums.  As if I couldn’t be more blown away already (and really, that seems to happen to me a lot) he made it happen.  Driftless Pony Club performed I think around ten songs, at least three of which were from their 2009 EP Expert.  I own a digital copy of that record and it was the first album I played at the start of my quest to Mount St. Helens last July.  Their music is pretty heavily connected to that voyage through the mountains of Washington state; I spun each of my three DPC albums thrice that day.

Standouts from their set included their rocking opener “Men of Action,” a performance of the first Driftless Pony Club song I’d ever heard, “Inspectors of Inspectors,” both Craig and Sam jumping into the crowd– the former vlogging (see above) and the latter playing bass among the fans during “House of 1982.”  They also did a really slow, laid-back rendition of one my favorite songs “Bedrolls Across America.”  Just a really solid set.

And finally, as ten o’clock rolled around, Hank Green & The Perfect Strangers strutted onto the stage.  First Joe and Paul DeGeorge from Harry and the Potters on keys and bass respectively, Rob Scallon on the drums, Andrew Huang on guitar, and last but not least, to great applause, Hank Green.  All of the opening acts there on stage; together, the Perfect Strangers.  It was an eclectic mix of talent, yet they more than made it work.  They primarily played songs from their album Incongruent, which I actually own and was familiar with most of the material, thankfully.  Between songs, Hank chatted with the crowd, frequently whipping out the camera to raucous cheering.  He even solicited fans to scream out the opening to his Friday vlogbrothers video, “Good morning John, it’s Friday!”  In turn, many came back with their own “Good morning Hank, it’s Tuesday!”  Hey, it actually was Tuesday!

Also on stage with Hank Green and the Perfect Strangers was a 360 degree camera rig composed entirely of GoPros, recording the entire show for an immersive virtual reality experience.  I’m pretty sure Hank said it was the first time this was ever done, or something like that.  The video, as of this writing, is being compiled and edited by Emily Eifler.  Maybe I’ll put a link here when it’s complete.

(Edit: It’s done!)

IMG_9755Now it’s obvious Hank Green’s an incredibly smart man, nerdy, yet very personable and outgoing at the same time.  Most of his songs are odes to typically nerdy subjects: “I Fucking Love Science,” “The Universe is Weird,” “Oh, JK Rowling,” “Accio Deathly Hallows,” to name a few.  While I don’t feel like I fit in with most of the goers at this show, I definitely find myself understanding and enjoying his science-oriented songs, compared to those that refer more to geek pop-culture.

The most moving performance of the night for me was Hank solo on his acoustic guitar (“This Machine Pwns n00bs”) playing “Video Game Books,” a ballad sung from the female perspective and featuring mentions of The Prince of Dawn and Max Mayhem, all references to brother John Green’s novel The Fault In Our Stars and its protagonist Hazel.  The song’s got a great progression and lovely melody, enough to hook me, especially within the context of TFIOS.

My favorite song of the show, however, was the ever-accelerating nearly-vulgar tongue-twister “Mother Pheasant Plucker.”

This song just makes me happy.  I think they pushed it to at least two more speeds beyond the album recording.  I’m fairly certain Hank didn’t slip up; clearly I was listening for it. 😉

IMG_9810After an encore consisting of an extended reggae outro to final song “Accio Deathly Hallows” and a second encore of “The Universe Is Weird,” the band victoriously paraded off the stage whilst also high-fiving and shaking hands of fans in the front. (ie, me!)  As the crowd inside Slim’s slowly filtered outward, I strolled around, looking for musicians to meet and chat with.  Eventually I found a semi-circular queue focused in on the man I’d really come there to meet, Craig Benzine, Mr. Waiter himself.  He was one of my revelations last summer, between his channel, his daily vlog, and later the music of Driftless Pony Club.  More than probably anyone he helped me through my long period of uncertainty.  I’m always at least a little nervous meeting “celebrities” like this, at least initially, but personalities like Craig (and others like the guys in 5secondfilms, Andrew McMahon, basically those notable people I’ve met in the last year) make me feel so comfortable around them so quickly.  When it was my turn in line, I went up, shook his hand and praised his show, all the while trying not to get lost in his glorious beard.  I presented my fresh copy of Magnicifent for him to sign, which he happily obliged.  We posed for a goofy photo and then I took a few seconds to chat.  Firstly, I addressed a comment he made during the show where he seemingly facetiously said that the song “Pyramid City” was inspired by San Francisco.  I tweeted as much to the band before the show and wondered if he saw (it was favorited by DPC); in response he told me to look up “Bummer and Lazarus,” who are described in the lyrics.  Long story short, yes, Pyramid City is in fact San Francisco!  Neat!  As I wrapped up with Mr. Wheezy, in a fleeting moment of mental clarity, I noted to him that it was almost ten minutes until Wednesday.  You know, EXPLOSION WEDNESDAY.  I told him to be careful, gave him a high-five, and ran off.  Nailed the exit.

I also met up with Matt and Sam from Driftless Pony Club to sign my Magnicifent album.  In my chat with Matt I mentioned I was a big fan of The Good Stuff and that I was looking forward to their next playlist (about entropy!).  Back at the merch table, I ran once again into Rob Scallon.  Before I met him earlier in the night, I knew he was talented.  After the show, I didn’t even know what to say, other than just that but more emphatically.  As a multi-instrumentalist myself I had to know how long he’d been playing for so I could feel worse about myself. (haha, just kidding, sort of)  Well, he’s got ten years on me on the drums, so that’s nice except, and I had no idea beforehand, he’s two years younger than me.  Gah!  If only I were a professional musician I could have all the time in the world to practice my instruments!  (That’s a catch 22, right there)  I got a picture with him before I left and on my way home immediately subscribed to all of his channels.  He’s another really awesome guy who I’m incredibly happy to have met.

Finally, I said goodbye to Chyna at the merch table by having her add her signature to my decorated Magnicifent cover.  I lent her my Sharpie to do it, the same one that leaked into my pants pocket before Andrew McMahon in Los Angeles.  Did I mention that that happened when I was waiting in line before Dear Jack?  Anyway, I told her it exploded in my pocket once and that she should “be careful.”  Nailed it, again!

Magnicifent
Even more magnicifent

As I at last emerged onto the foggy San Francisco street, I checked my watch to make sure I wasn’t shit out of luck with the train.  I had eighteen minutes to get myself about a mile to the BART station for the last train south for the night.  Challenge accepted.  I walked down 11th street calmly, saying goodbye to Hank Green who was entertaining a long queue of fans as I passed.  As I turned onto Harrison toward the Mission, I broke into a brisk jog.  I made it almost to South Van Ness before I was too winded to continue.  I’m out of shape.  However, by then it had been less than five minutes and I was only three blocks away from Mission.  I was going to make it back to my car at Millbrae.  Hallelujah!

And with that I made it home at 2am, happy that my night went the way I’d hoped.  I met a ton of great people, and for the second time in a month (and the who-knows-th time in the last two years), met another awesome hero of mine.  I couldn’t have been more of a sore, tired zombie the next day at work, but it’s nights like this that make life worth living.

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