I was guitarist for Medicine Hat, a Seattle rock band active in the 1990s during Seattle’s time in the spotlight - a little reflection on an awesome couple of years playing with my best friends.
Over the spring of ’93, our drummer and bass player convert a derelict moving truck into a tour van that sleeps 6, and things feel official. It’s the beginning of summer and we’re over the mountains, heading east to do another mini tour of the state: Yakima, Tri-cities, Spokane, maybe Boise. This time we’re in a van all our own, just like Fugazi, Drive Like Jehu, the Police, etc. We’ll never have to borrow my parent’s station wagon again.
Flying east on 90 to the Tri-cities, we are headed for the Hoedown, which at the time brings to mind the music of Mule, Phleg Camp, and other noise-minded twangpunk bands we were listening to at the time. “We” meaning everyone but our singer Sean, who would recoil in horror at the first sign of Phleg Camp. Hoedown means country to us, and we’re not sure whether we’ll be welcomed by kids or a rain of beer bottles like in the Blues Brothers.
Anyone from Washington will tell you it’s two states for two reasons. There’s the Red and the Blue, divided by ideology and politics, and the wet and the dry, divided by the Cascades. We leave the Seattle cloud cover ceiling, cross Snoqualmie and hit glorious sun. We’d played with Tri-Cities superstars Small a few times so we’re probably playing their tape with ‘Legalize It’. It’ll be a flat few hours’ drive to the southeast corner.
We pull into the club and it’s hot. 90s and dry. Unload and grab food. I nerd out reading Carlos Castenada in our van for maybe 30 minutes, and emerge to see two parking lots full of people and cars, sneaking beers and joints. A cop hangs nearby.
I split a bottle of cheap wine with a few folks who drove from Seattle to see us. I walk in to play and my clothes are immediately soaked with sweat. I’m dropping my fogged up guitar but manage to put it on. I’m 6 feet tall and clumsy, and I’ve got maybe 6 inches of headroom until I hit ceiling. Not so bad, perhaps, because it’s carpeted, though craft-minded instrumentalists have woven coiled bits of broken guitar string everywhere. I’ve also got hair down to my ass at this point in life, and by end of set “rocking out” has tangled me in the carpeted-ceiling-string mess. We have to cut a chunk of my hair off to liberate me from the stage.
Next up is Tchkung: the unique and awesome. Multiple drummers wrapped bass and maybe guitar in tribal calls to action, always pro-earth.
YOU CLEAR CUT? DUNga DUNga dun DUN. WE SPIKE! YOU CLEAR CUT? DUNga DUNga dun DUN. WE SPIKE! was my favorite. An expanded show awaited hungry anarchists this time, as there was a firebreather joining in. In a small sweaty club with very low ceilings.
I pull my stuff out to our van and load back up, sit inside for a moment, take some more wine and listen to the Tchkungdrums through the van wall. There is a break in the sound. Power outage? A lengthy enviro-sermon from the stage? The parking lot is full again with people and the cops have brought reinforcements. The fire breath had caught the ceiling carpet on fire and the show was over. Or paused – I can’t remember. You see, I read too much and often miss out on things like this.
Later that year, we’re invited to play with Treepeople and Engine Kid down in the Tri-cities. Treepeople are too big for Hoedowns, so we’re rocking a giant tent in a dormant state fairgrounds. We’ve got company this time in Jeff the photographer, Dave Lights, and a gorgeous woman named Runhilde, who will later turn up as vocal gymnast lead singer of Thorr’s Hammer with one of the Engine Kid (and later Sunn O))) fellas.
We’ve got a full house to play to, but my amp dies. After scouring the Tri-cities area for tubes, I return empty-handed. Treepeople let me play through their Treeamp though so all’s well. There’s a healthy crowd for us, which is lucky – we are the opener, and they like us.
The Engine Kid hits the stage next, a trio. They quietly sing through the first verse of John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High, and we have to stop talking to hear the singer in this boomy space. “…never saw an eagle flyyyyyy, rocky mountain….. BBBAAAAMMMMMMMMM.” The wall of sound that accompanies the chorus on ‘High’ melts our faces off. Cool. No wonder we were the openers. Treepeople ruled, but Engine Kid stuck with me.
Being an all ages show, we had some super drunk kids on our hands at the end. Drummer Jason, ever the pure soul, opted to drive em home on our way out of town. In school he’d written a paper on the ‘evils of alcohol’, cinched tight with the closing line “our children are being herded into an alcohol ranch of no return”. He hits every kid with this line as we drive them, one-by-one, home to their parents.