Tour Journal: Cactus Tractor—The Best Way to Book Shows is Not to Book Shows

Originally published at, where the band recorded the shenanigans of their 2012 U.S. Tour in the Shape of Yemen. Cactus Tractor is made up of many people, but today’s featured characters are David Bashwiner, Christy Cook, and Orson, their delightful dog.

Cactus Tractor - Pyragraph
Photo by Kate Burn.

July 27, 2012

Booking shows is a lot easier than one would think. When you spend about a month writing fruitless emails to bars and coffee houses all over the country—trying to seem hip, fun and talented, without sounding pompous—you start to get the sneaking suspicion that no one likes you and that it’s actually impossible to get gigs. But the solution is so simple: all you have to do is go on tour.

Bashwiner and I have played at least one show every day: sometimes two or three. Our strategy is basically to pick up some instruments and wander the streets until we find ourselves playing in front of a live audience. We tried this out last night. I had my washboard and ukulele and David was carrying two electric guitars (you never really know when you’ll need a spare). Anyway, it was probably because of the two guitars that some folks immediately asked us where we were playing and informed us that they would be joining us wherever that might be. Luckily we’d found out about a few open mics in the area and after listing a couple of them we found ourselves following the native Springfieldians to a bar called Norb Andy’s for Chris Maxey’s open mic.

Cactus Tractor - Pyragraph
Chris Maxey playing under Norb Andy’s nautical-themed décor. Abe Lincoln might have been in this building once.

We were early (and “on tour”) so our host, Chris, let us play a longer set than normal, during which, we impressed the audience with the seeming randomness of our song choices. Even though it would have been impossible for someone other than a Cactus Tractor band member to guess what song was coming next, several people in the audience were singing and dancing along. After our set Chris invited us to come and play between acts at his show (tonight!) at Boone’s Saloon. We calmly nodded our assent and congratulated ourselves on our careful planning and forethought.

Having played and booked a show we left Norb’s with a pleasant sense of accomplishment, but we thought we’d hit up the Tin Can Pub’s open mic before calling it a day—just in case. We opened the door to the rousing sound of people yelling the word “Yes!” over and over again. We decided to stay and sign up to play.

Cactus Tractor - Pyragraph
Tin Can Pub Open Mic: there was either a very chaste porn or a very sexy regular movie playing above the performers.

When “planning” our tour we had tried to contact the Tin Can Pub in advance to set up a gig—a useless endeavor because we’d emailed the wrong pub. David divined this information by accosting the bar tender and the owner, demanding, “Why isn’t the door to your pub blue like it is on the website!?”

“Well, son, that’s because that is not our bar.” —Bartender

“Incidentally, we were trying to get a gig here.” —David

“Oh, you guys want to play on Saturday?” —Bartender

The bar owner then sorted out the fine print by adding us to his iPhone calendar—an act he described wonderfully as being a “guerrilla booking.” After we’d been officially offered a gig, we went up and played a few songs to finish off the open mic for the evening. Luckily, there was not a rousing chorus of “No!”s and we kept our much desired spot on the iCalendar.

We don’t have any real shows planned in Chicago, but why would we? We’re not there yet.

Cactus Tractor - Pyragraph

Cactus Tractor - Pyragraph

Cactus Tractor - Pyragraph

These pictures represent some of the things we’ve been doing on tour instead of booking shows: taking cute pictures of Orson, finding bird nests in fast food restaurant signs, and considering putting our photo on a cake.

Photos courtesy of Cactus Tractor.

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