Photo of the day – Flying Mariachi band

Last week, Virgin America launched new flights from San Francisco to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. What better way to get into the espíritu than with a Mariachi band? Frommers editor and Flickr user DavityDave was on board to get this shot and taste some Mexican goodies. We wonder if the band had to purchase an additional seat for their guitars or if they could just fit them in the overhead bin. Did they perform the safety demo too?

Have you ever flown on an inaugural flight? Seen anything else fun on a plane? Add your best shots to the Gadling Flickr pool and we may use it for a future Photo of the Day.

New Orleans Band Better Than Ezra Welcomes us to Mardi Gras

Ever thought about going to Mardi Gras, only to quickly reconsider? Daunted by the idea of drunken crowds and inadvertently turning up on an episode of Cops? Well New Orleans-based rock band Better Than Ezra is inviting newbies and veterans alike to a Mardi Gras experience that promises much more than the balcony-hanging, bead-throwing debauchery one might expect.

The event is called Krewe of Rocckus – a play on the name of the legendary Krewe of Bacchus – and offers visitors a weekend chock-full of New Orleans food, drink, and music, all seeped in Mardi Gras tradition.

Better Than Ezra bassist Tom Drummond took some time to introduce us to the Krewe:

Gadling: So you’ve just finished up the Road to Mardi Gras tour, and in early March you’ll kick off the Krewe of Rocckus. We have to admit, Mardi Gras is a bit new to us…

TD:…you see, this is exactly who we are trying to reach! Through our travels we’ve seen that there are a lot of people – probably like yourself – who considered going to Mardi Gras in the past, but were kind of on the bubble and just never committed. I think it is definitely something that everyone should do, at least once in their life. A lot of people think it’s like, “Oh, I did that in high school, or college,” well it’s really not. Sure, there’s a lot of that going on, but it’s also a great time to come to New Orleans and have a great time, get some good food, and hang out with a lot of people. It’s just a lot of fun.

Gadling: Ok, but what exactly is a krewe?

TD: Well a krewe is basically a group of individuals who have organized themselves to put on the Mardi Gras parades, and then typically those same krewes have balls that either follow the event or the night before. Most of the older parades are krewes. Those are social groups, and typically you have to be invited into those groups. I’m involved in one, we have a ball every year, it’s actually a secret society you’re not supposed to know you’re in. We have to wear a mask when we parade on the floats. They have video cameras set up along the routes to know whether or not everybody wore their masks.

Gadling: And this is the first year for the Krewe of Rocckus?

TD: Yeah, you know the band has played Mardi Gras every year for twenty something years. We’ve had the idea for a while, and we finally decided to commit and get on with it. We have a lot of people who fly in from out of town for these shows, because these shows are very unique for Better Than Ezra, because the atmosphere is so great. There’s a lot of debauchery going on, you just get a different take on the band from one of these shows.

Gadling: So the Krewe of Rocckus is born of your Mardi Gras shows, and now you’ve built it into an event.

TD: That’s exactly right. You get a hotel – you get three nights at the Hilton Riverside – we’ve planned everything to be within walking distance, which is one of the great things about New Orleans, that if you stay downtown, you’re within walking distance of the French Quarter, the Warehouse District, and just about anything you want to do. Not a lot of cities are set up that way, which is why it’s great to have big events here.

We did a few of these Rock Boat cruises, where you go, hang out on the boat for three or four days, and all you do is see bands the whole time you’re there. Well that kind of gave us the inspiration – how can we use the city if New Orleans as a giant ship, imagine it as a giant Rock Boat. So we have all the venues, all the restaurants, all the bars, everything that we’re going to send people to, all within walking distance during Mardi Gras.

We’re trying to offer things that you can’t just walk up and get when you come to Mardi Gras. It’s going to start off with a very unique event, which is brunch with award-winning chef John Besh, who owns a number of restaurants in town. We’ve got private viewing stands for the Friday night parades, all you can eat and drink, we’ve got a very large private balcony on Bourbon Street.

You obviously get the two Better Than Ezra shows Friday and Saturday night, and then Friday night we have Pat Greene performing, who’s a big country artist from Texas. We’ve got Big Sam’s Funky Nation, who was also on the Road to Mardi Gras tour, he’s playing with us on Saturday night. And at each party and event, we have local bands playing as well. You’re definitely going to get your music fix out of this trip for sure. Which I think is one of the biggest attractions in New Orleans.

Gadling: Is the band actively participating in the whole weekend?

TD: Oh yeah, we’ll be at every event. We’ll literally be holding your hand, walking you from one event to the next. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Gadling: What’s this about a Bloody Mary contest?

TD: Yeah, apparently I’m involved in it! Everybody that comes down is going to be the beneficiaries of free Bloody Marys that morning. It’s going to be me and some other celebrities, and everyone is going to taste them and decide who’s the best.

There are a lot of those little things we have planned. On Friday we’re going to meet at one, and we’re going to second line with the Mardi Gras Indians to a restaurant called Michaul’s where we have a private viewing stand on Saint Charles Avenue. We’re going to literally walk 400 people through the Warehouse District to the viewing stands, with the Mardi Gras Indians, and a brass band leading the way.

We got Krewe of Rocckus beads made, really nice big beads, the kind you want to hang onto after Mardi Gras. We also have a poster that the artist Jamie Hayes has designed for us. He’s a really well known New Orleans artist.

We think it’s going to be a really great event – it seems like no brainer, really – to have the biggest band from New Orleans walk you through Mardi Gras. This will be fun!

Gadling: Speaking as a New Orleans native, what would you recommend first-time visitors to do, aside from Mardi Gras?

TD: I think one of the great things about New Orleans is the food. There are so many great restaurants here, so many great places to have a great time, even if Mardi Gras weren’t going on.

Gadling: Oh? Are you a fan of crayfish?

TD: What, crawfish?

Gadling: Ok, I’m from the north.

TD: Yeah, they’re awesome here.

Gadling: And you suck the heads?

TD: Of course! You have to!

You can sign up for Krewe of Rocckus here. Note that the all-inclusive package is only available until February 4. After that, the locals-only package will remain available without hotel reservation. Hotels may still be available, but the prices will have increased after February 4.

Motel 6 goes for younger image, offers free stays to rock bands

When you think of edgy, hip places to stay, I’d venture a guess that Motel 6 isn’t the first place that comes to mind. But the budget lodging chain is hoping to change that with a new promotion – providing free rooms to a few up-and-coming touring rock bands. The marketing gurus at Motel 6 have asked the bands to blog and tweet about their stays, hoping that the buzz will build brand recognition and positive association among younger customers.

The bands, which were chosen by a music promotion company called Primary Wave Music, will receive six weeks of accommodation at Motel 6 locations along the tour routes. The bands aren’t being told what to say about Motel 6, but the company is obviously hoping for positive press. Even the budget motel has been hit hard by declining travel, with occupancy rates down 5-7% over the last year. Jeff Palmer, VP of marketing, is hoping the promotion will help get Motel 6 back on track, and earn the company some new, younger customers. “If they stay with us young, maybe they’ll remain brand loyal,” he said.

Rock on, Motel 6.

Band on the Run: A Roadie Without The Heavy Lifting

Alright, this is the first post of a new series entitled “Band on the Run,” (as you can see above.) This is a blog about travelling on the road as a musician here in North America. It’s about what we see and where we’ve been – the stories that go along with those journeys and the images to accompany them. It’ll be like you’re the roadie that gets to witness what happens behind the scenes without having to carry any heavy equipment.


(I mean, I’m the bandleader and I don’t even get out of carrying the heavy stuff!)

Specifically, I’m a Canadian musician with a Canadian band who performs more than half of my shows south of the border. And yes, I have provincial license plates on my van and work permits for the U.S.of A. for all of my band members, so I’m down on American soil legally, don’t worry!)

We are on the road A LOT, which sometimes means that we’re home less than we’re away. In fact, at one point just a few years ago, we peaked at 200 days on the road during the year. I am happy to report that we’ve calmed down slightly and probably are out only half the year now. That’s slightly healthier all around, for everyone.

The downside of this life is the fact that we’re travel-tired most of the time and we spend copious amounts of time in moving vehicles, most notably our van (or occasional rental vans if there’s a flight involved.) Sometimes we joke that we’re professional drivers who moonlight as musicians.

Sometimes it feels like that.

The upside of this life is that we get to make music for different audiences sometimes four and five times a week. Music is what we love to do the most in this world. Music is the drug of choice for this band; it’s the art; it’s the heart; it’s the fuel. Without it, why would we do this to our bodies? Why would we sit in a van for ten hours in a row, for example?

Honestly, music has taken me far and continues to pull me farther still. I am tempted by its long distance promises and its moments of brilliance on foreign stages, no matter what it takes to get to them. (So tempted that I sometimes make bad touring decisions, but I’ll leave that for the blog as they happen…)

Music is my nightlight. It’s the good dream. It’s consistent.

Stylistically, it’s a rather mixed-up folk-jazz-funk-pop-world combo (check out samples here). It’s lyrically-driven music and the show is as much about what’s being said in the songs themselves as it is about what’s being said between the songs. I sometimes write about topics that people don’t want to discuss. I also write about love and beautiful summer days and funny situations worth laughing at. All in all, the music has listeners and that’s all that matters.

After ten releases (counting the 2005 documentary-stye DVD, of course), five vans (we’re on our fifth now), uncountable tours across various parts of Canada and the U.S., eight trips to Australia, two tours to New Caledonia (link to where that country is, as it’s little known!), and one solo trip to China, the adventure continues.

We’re not famous, but we’re well-known in some circles. We have fans – listeners and supporters and friends – and we continue to sell albums. We continue to perform live. People continue to buy tickets to hear those shows.

Life is good.

We’re independent, too, which is important. These tours are not being funded by big label tour support or sponsorship dollars or product placement. We aspire to sustainability and this means we ride waves of occasional prosperity and occasional poverty. In the midst of it all, we find the balance of a living and breathing career that has careened along the corners of mountain passes for over a decade now.

No complaints.

I don’t think it’s poised to stop anytime soon. It always changes shape a little as time loops around us, but the wheels keep turning on these travelling vehicles and we keep finding ourselves in them along with gear and contracts and passports and a well-calculated number of clean underwear tucked away in our suitcases and stashed around guitars and amps and on top of boxes of CDs to stop that incessant rattling of plastic against plastic.

It’s not all glamorous, but what is really?

Behind the scenes is just behind the scenes. It’s my job to strip the scene for you, I suppose. It’s my job to bare all.

(But it’s not that kind of show, so get your mind outta that sticky trench now!)

Now if you do enjoy these stories and we end up in your town all of a sudden, we won’t deny you the opportunity to lift some heavy stuff if you show up early to help us load in or you stay long after the rest of the audience has gone home until we’re finally loading out.

In fact, temporary roadies are the BEST.

They have enough strength to lift the bass amp…

And that same strength didn’t require a meal buy-out.

Love it.

[All photos except the van shot by Desdemona Burgin, a fantastic friend and photographer]