Colorado Springs own Boondoggle returned last spring from a self-driven, self-supported road tour that took them through 70 shows in the Southeast, a rogue snowstorm, a hurricane, and netted them a new guitar player.
The band also left pieces of themselves in the lives of people everywhere they played -- or where the Boonie Bus broke down. The six-member band came back home closer to each other and closer to their goal of "making it."
Now, Boondoggle is preparing to do it again.
Boondoggle has been around Colorado Springs playing original music at gigs in the pubs and at civic events since 1994. They've paid their local band dues, performing at SpringSpree, Memorial Park fireworks and Earth Day in Acacia Park.
"But we're not a local band anymore," said Marni Green, lead singer and Boondoggle business maven.
Last fall Boondoggle loaded up their full-size school bus and hit the road, and after seven months and an average of four shows a week, they've proven Green's point. The band has left a devoted grassroots following throughout the Southeast in places like Knoxville, Tenn. and Morgantown, W. Va.
"We didn't visit a place that we didn't make friends," said Boondoggle drummer Chuck Shannon.
"We just love Boondoggle," said Debbie Terry, a bartender at The Peppermint Lounge, a biker bar with a three-tooth limit set on a crossroad in Woodward, Okla. Boondoggle played the Peppermint three times while coming and going on the tour. "Every time Boondoggle comes through town and people get the word they're here, they pack the place."
Strangely, Boondoggle had no initial intention of playing at the Peppermint; they didn't even know it existed. But on the first leg of the tour the transmission in their bus crapped out on a remote Oklahoma mile-marker, and the band needed something to do while repairs were made.
They asked if they could do a show. The owner couldn't pay the band's normal fee, so Boondoggle took what they could get from the door receipts instead.
"People knew we weren't making much, so the next time we came through they made food at home, brought it to the show and fed us," said Shannon.
The lengthy tour was almost entirely booked and run over the Internet. Darren Soule, Boondoggle's lord of the trumpet, booked the first gig at the Soundstage in Conway, Ark., with the help of www.musicianassist.com, a Web site that lists everything from performing contracts to places to crash in all 50 states.
Along the way, Boondoggle played venues suiting whatever local scene they found themselves in, and their trademark "junk rock" was generally a good fit. Their self-titled style is a sweet combination of lounge jazz, rock and hippie punk with a little ska in the mix.
"We [bring in] musicians from Austin, ska, instrumental jazz. We want music that's not the norm," said Melanie Wheeler of Spicy's in Knoxville, a house that Boondoggle packed five times. The band will return to Spicy's this September.
Their music is more complex than standard rock but doesn't exactly qualify as fusion. "In West Virginia, we played for folksy Public Radio types," said Green. "In Chicago, it was the metal-heads that came to see us."
Most of the shows were set up through e-mail and by promoting the band's Web site, www.boonie.com. The band simply looked for venues that had Web sites and e-mailed them.
Initial contact was made with club owners via a club's Web site, and in turn, the club owners could visit www.boonie.com were they could get the essential press kit and check out the band in a distinct way. If interested the club owner could then download MP3s and listen to Boondoggle's original music. "Then we were booked," said Boondoggle percussionist Jopa.
Amazingly, the computer networking and self-promotion was conducted from the road. The Boonie bus was outfitted with three computers and cell phones. In each town, as the band rolled in, out came the 100-foot extension cord and the 100-foot phone line. Shannon, who remembers the days when the members of his eight-member band each made $100 a night, feels that small venue live music is going to make a comeback as MP3s and netcasts take back some of the power from the major industry labels.
Boondoggle is back in the Springs until September, but they are still on the move mentally and anxious to get back on the road. They see their future anywhere, in fact, outside of the clubs of Colorado Springs. "Club owners here suck, they don't want to pay," said Jeremy Monteleone, Boondoggle's forcible bass player. The band knows their audience now and they are ready to get back out to them.
Marni Green says the Boonies who are their target market are young Phish-heads who can't go on tour because college is in session, so Boondoggle needs to get to them.
In between raucous sets at a recent practice session, Monteleone screamed, "Let's go on tour now! I want to go for the next four weeks."
While on break from the road, Boondoggle is rehearsing over 20 hours a week, honing their product and working day jobs to get it together for the fall tour. One of the keys to getting back on the road is working in 21-year-old Charlie Brennon, the new guitar player stolen from Knoxville to replace Ben Brunson who quit the band in the middle of June.
The rehearsal hall is a 15-by-15 foot room jammed with the six Boonies, a nine-piece drum kit, bongos, two tom-toms, a few snare drums, three guitars, a bass, two monitors, two speaker stacks, one trumpet, mikes for everything and everyone and a mixing board. A single dainty frosted pink light fixture hangs from the center of the room.
By the end of the first song, "When," the room is 97 degrees and the tight space is full of greasy man smell. Green contributes to the heat, screaming, "He pulled a wax ball from his butt."
Boondoggle's next show is 10 days away and Brennon has about 70 Boondoggle original tunes to learn. He has a bit of a head start, however, as he played with the band onstage for almost all of the shows in his hometown, Knoxville. "I brought a few of my own [tunes] for them to learn," said Brennon.
For the next ditty, "Napalm Party," a song that asks what would cause someone to execute the Oklahoma City bombing, Brennon said "just play it for me." Monteleone leaned over and beat his bass three times. "OK, I got it," Brennon said and off he went into Boondoggle's future.
Self-determination and creative control are in the plans for the future. "I want to be able to say 'fuck' as often as I want and bitch about McDonald's," said Green. For financial sustenance, the band is seeking grant money from women's groups that Green feels will support a woman-run small business like Boondoggle. Monteleone applied for a grant from Jim Beam. Disney doesn't seem to be in the cards.
On the fall tour, Boondoggle plans to record in a studio while in Knoxville. They won the eight hours of studio time in a battle of the bands against Johnny 5, a ska band and Brennon's former crew. After recording, the band will search for more horns, a manager and the traditional measure of commercial success -- money.
"According to the IRS, we have been a hobby for three years," said Green.
Success also means playing Red Rocks.
"Hey the String Cheese Incident did it," said Jopa, counting the days, months and years to Boondoggle on the Rocks.