St. Sad Milk: The tours over but the road goes on...
The angels were bowling strikes over Melbourne, Florida where we picked up our second cousin Dan, who had just returned from a stint in south east Asia. Dan’s a jolly bear of man that Chris and Lyle befriended while living out in California several years ago. Dan’s younger brother, Corey, was nice enough to let the entire sad milk crew crash in his small college apartment.
The next morning after the rain, lightning and thunder had died down we made our departure from Melbourne with Jacksonville as our next destination. Lost in the haze of tour the days started to meld together. Had it been three days, a week or even longer? It became hard to tell. Being drenched in the beach sun, humidity and slight sleep deprivation does strange things to the psyche. It can cause day long mirages to pass through your mind without the slightest glimpse of acknowledgement.
Jacksonville though a small crowd treated the bands well. The Headlamp, a newly founded venue and art space, felt like being back in Atlanta. A mash between the Mammal Gallery and 529. Victor St. Baloo started off the night playing solo but finished with back up from Sean Conlon on bass and Lyle Baldes on drums. Victor’s witty banter is charming with an air of subtle arrogance that is kept in line by his sincerity. He’s a truly talented songwriter with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of music and pop culture, which he draws upon in his songwriting.
Loudermilk then took the stage followed by Sad Fish. Both played their hearts out for an almost nonexistent crowd. The few people to venture out on a Sunday danced and seemed to enjoy themselves. The local act The Lifeforms, a three piece surf rock band, played catchy tunes reminiscent of the teen beach films of the 60’s, but drenched in heavy distortion. After everything was packed away we headed to the bass player’s house where cheap whiskey and beer were passed around and vinyl was spun till the wee hours of the morning. Toast, their pup, was more than happy to greet all of us at the front door with a knock to the crotch and a lick to the face. Staying up late and planning to wake up early has been a staple of the Back to the Beach Tour. Time becomes nearly meaningless except that you’re supposed to be somewhere at a relative time that you’ve agreed upon with people you’ve never met. Everything is in a constant state of flux when you’re on tour and if you’re a stickler for being on time you’re bound to get sea sick on the open ocean of pavement.
Engulfed in spanish moss and a thick accent of humid air Savannah has a tangible weight in it’s atmosphere. The cemeteries hold spirits both living and dead in their iron gates. It’s a living breathing time capsule held in constant state of modernity and timelessness. The brick buildings and cobblestone roads are a relic of a past yet to be fully explained and the walls tell lost stories in silent tongues felt but not heard.
Zunzi’s, a local sandwich shop, was one of our first destinations. Originally only a walk up and order lunch space they have now added a side patio for their patrons to dine upon. Their catch phrase is “Shit Yea” which is muttered after every topping is ordered on your sandwich along with other clever quips that keep the employees and customers amused. Sitting on their patio we soon garned a bit of attention, as we had instruments with us, and before we knew it Sean was leading the three bands in a “Shit Yea” sing along at the request of several employees.
After several hours of wandering and pondering on the Savannah streets and back alleys we were drawn to a strange vortex. The Wormhole is a dive bar with a cobblestone patio, an arcade of vintage games, a full stage with equipment to match and an eight year old named Nova running around with her beautiful blonde curls. Savannah is stuck in a different time and space, an alternate universe where everything is just a little different but you can only catch it out of the corner of your eye.
Tonight’s show was to be a little bit different. Unable to secure a show all their own the bands decided to take over The Wormhole’s open mic for the night. While not the most preferred method for a tour with three bands they made it work in their favor. Victor St. Baloo did his thing, Chris Mcgrath played a solo set of material he had been working on and Sean Conlon brought out his infamous side project Mullet Guns which threw everyone for a loop.
Mullet Guns is a parody band poking fun at racists, bigots and other intolerant groups all with a country twang. Three girls sitting close to the stage were so visibly upset they got up and walked outside. They did make some fans and before they knew Jack, a regular at The Wormhole, was buying shots for anybody that wanted them except “too tall” a.k.a. Chris Mcgrath, whose guitar was slightly out of tune during his solo set. Jack did change his mind, however, once the full Loudermilk and Moon ensemble took the stage. Sad Fish finished the open mic takeover in visible agony as they weren’t able to play on their own instruments. Sean was playing a five string bass which threw him for a loop and Arthur had problems hearing out of his monitors, but by that time everyone was pretty lit. Afterwards they piled into the photobooth and took some goofy pictures to enshrine the night in eternity.
Being the good journalist I am crawled off early to my bed on the floor soon after we arrived at Will Quill’s house, who was gracious enough to let us stay at his place. Apparently the jam lasted till the wee hours of the morning, with his three beautiful hammond organs, a wurlitzer electric piano and a frankensteined drumset. Peter Flemming ended the night with some soft sweet piano tickles that laid everyone to rest. Will’s home is right outside of Savannah on a beautiful river. Quill blows glass for a living and plays piano on the side whenever he can. He has a massive record collection that we delved into as everyone was waking up the next morning. Quill has a beautiful speaker set up that he blasts his favorite vinyl though. If you never listened Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters backwards it sounds like psychedelic EDM beats from an alien planet. We freaked out on that for a while, as we stuffed our faces with his homemade salsa, with ingredients he grew in his backyard garden. Packing up once again we he said our goodbyes and left for Charleston, South Carolina.
Savannah and Charleston are both stuck in another time but the latter has shed some of the mossy mystery. The houses are all packed in like sardines next to one another, but instead of feeling clustered it seems to bring a more communal vibe than anything else. We arrived in East Charleston in the early afternoon at the slender two story house where St. Sad Milk would be performing that night. Charleston has a thriving DIY scene and the house they would be playing at had been apart of it for nearly a decade. Newly remodeled the current occupants had only been living their for a couple of months but were excited to have their first show. Apparently the house had seen some very dark days before the remodeling occurred.
That night’s show was their biggest and most well received show to date. Arthur started out the night with a solo set playing some Brazilian folk songs that got everyone in the mood to dance. And those kids were ready to get crazy which was refreshing to all three bands. People passed beers and liquor around as the music blared out of the speakers. Everyone sang along and danced with Loudermilk on the breakdown,” Make that ass clap, make that ass clap.” Sad Fish got the bad end of all the fun when the cops showed up telling the house to quiet down or the occupants would get a eleven hundred dollar ticket. Apparently it wasn’t immediate neighbors but people three and four blocks away. Yea, the house was shaking under the weight of Emma Rubenstein's surf rock beats. After the near shut down we headed to late night pizza spot that Rebecca Jane recommended. There’s nothing like a good old late night pizza run after drinking. While we awaited our cheesy dinner Dan, Rebecca and I snuck off down a back alley and up a back staircase to a little hole in the wall bar for one last round of drinks.
Rebecca Jane told us about her performance art moniker Dumpster Cookies that she started with her housemate, Blake Godsey. They repurpose trash via dumpster diving and make them into interactive performance art pieces. They started the project when they were in college and have kept it active in the Charleston DIY scene. They now co-host events that include their performances along with bands and other DIY experimental artistry.
After finishing our pizza and drinks we retired to Rebecca’s house where we littered their second story veranda with our sleeping bags. Jane and Godsey’s home is an interesting mix of southern culture and their local DIY scene. The walls are covered with their art along with other local artists which has created a living time capsule that holds the past, present, and future of Charleston in all of its horrors and triumphs.
Every night is like being at a middle school sleep away camp. Everyone goes silent until someone utters something and everyone laughs. Listening to Victor and Sean late at night as everyone drifts in and out of consciousness is an experience beyond explanation. Both have minds that seem to be in a constant state of creation. Whether it’s four am and they are chuckling to themselves or it is their constant snapchat comedy sketches. Their minds are constantly churning and while at certain moments it can be overwhelming it is still rather awe inspiring. They create constantly because if they didn’t they would probably explode into a colorful cosmic field of astrally projected dust.
And then we were off to Charlotte, North Carolina to play another house show that was put together by a local performance artists known as Kyle Knight a.k.a. Emotron and Nella Fernandez. Somewhat of a local legend amongst the Charlotte scene.
Chris Mcgrath met him many years ago when he was playing a show at Swazyes in Kennesaw, Georgia. Next time he comes to Georgia it is a must see show. He sings, dances and goes apeshit like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It is the most tumultuous, beautiful punk rock performance I’ve ever witnessed. And he’s a complete sweetheart that has built his own home out of timber he and friends harvested themselves. He closed out the night after Victor St. Baloo, Sad Fish and Loudermilk and Moon played to a sparsely filled house.
After the show the two cars split ways for the night. The Carlyle crew went to Emotron’s house and horse farm while the rest of us went to Candace Wood’s apartment, Emma’s cousin. We got some much needed rest in a nice A/C filled apartment. As the morning came I awoke on a couch in Candace’s photography room to Sean cooking a much needed breakfast of eggs, bacon and veggies upstairs in the kitchen. Plenty of coffee and a full breakfast mended all of our road weary souls. After listening to some Otis Redding and letting Emma catch up with her cousin we boarded Cabigail once again and headed off to Snaggy Mountain Farm for the last date of the tour.
Snaggy Mountain is a farm community located in Burnsville, North Carolina. It sits amongst rolling hills and beautiful mountains. The land has been in Jared Mcqueens’ family for generations as a dairy farm. Since 2012 it has been operating as an organic farm that offers work trade as well as an Air BnB. Mcqueen himself lives at the top of one of the prominent hills in a repurposed barn he and his father transported and re enforced. Jared transformed the barn into a loft with his bed upstairs and a makeshift recording studio downstairs. It is a truly idyllic place to find yourself at any phase of your life. From his hilltop residence you can see for miles. There are dogs, cats, ducks and all kinds of wildlife roaming the grounds freely.
Though the crowd was small for the last show they danced and the mountains sang deep into the valley. A truly magical place. A safe haven in these troubling times. After the St. Sad Milk sets were done outside we all moved inside where the jam continued for hours. People wandered in and out as the musical trance permeated throughout the house and into the surrounding valleys. Snaggy Mountain was the perfect end to the week long tour that felt never ending and too short all at the same time.
Written by Stephen Wilkins