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Lost in the Lowcountry

by Amy Kingsley

It’s a shame we have to cross this bridge in the dark.

The Arthur Ravenel Bridge is a beautiful, delicate piece of civil engineering – a suspension bridge with supports laid out like out like a bamboo fan. We admired it on the way into Charleston, SC earlier this afternoon, when the water underneath sparkled blue and jewel-like.

But no one’s admiring now. We’re on the northbound lanes of this beautiful bridge, it’s past 2 a.m. and the water is matte black. After unsuccessful stops at five budget hotels, we’re accepting our exile from the Holy City.

Here’s the scene: Five bedraggled musicians in a rented minivan packed with amps, guitars and sleeping bags. None of us know Charleston all that well.

Our guitarist Andrew says Route 17 will take us up the coast and to the next town. Hopefully someone in South Carolina had the good sense to put a motel in it.

A decade and a half ago, I dreamed my life would look like this. Those were the nonverbal years, the middle part of my teens, when I retreated into music like a mollusk into its shell.

That’s when I started playing the bass guitar and joined my first band. Even though our set consisted of Smashing Pumpkins and Weezer covers, I imagined we could make it.

And by “make it,” I mean do what I’m doing tonight – travel to cities outside your hometown, play in clubs and leave with money.

Of course, when I was 15, I didn’t consider the practicalities. Some things never change, although this was not what I pictured those many years ago: the four of us who aren’t Andrew, waiting for him to work his charm into a place to stay.

No one from my band, Dawn Chorus, or our touring cohort Wood Ear – which is just Nathan – put a lot of thought into tonight’s sleeping arrangements.

This was not a good idea. Thirty minutes outside of town, after a quick spin through a closed KOA, the gas light goes on.

Frustration turns to panic. Route 17 cuts through some lovely country, which means there’s a lot of space between its isolated pockets of humanity.

“If this gas station isn’t open we should just park here and camp until the morning,” Nathan says.

“If we have to sleep outside,” drummer Will says, “I’m going to freeze.”

I’m with Will. And luck is on our side. One of the gas stations left their pumps on after hours. Sixty dollars later, we’re on our way to wherever.

Dawn Chorus likes to call consecutive out-of-town shows “tours,” even though our weekend jaunt to Charleston and Wilmington hardly qualifies in a subculture peopled with road warriors who regularly log one- and two-month journeys.

We don’t even own a van. We rented this one, a shiny Honda Odyssey just big enough for us and our gear.

Soon after we fill her up, we hit the outskirts of Georgetown, SC. The Bay View Motel materializes on the right side of the road and we pull in. Nathan and Andrew get a room, and the rest of us sneak past the lobby window to avoid the surcharge.

The clock reads 3:30 a.m. Two of the guys unroll their sleeping bags on the floor, two fall into a bed and I get the other to myself. That’s the benefit of being the only woman in a van full of men, I guess.

I should mention that our Charleston show went really well. We played the Tin Roof, a neat little bar with a covered patio and an arcade game called Big Buck Hunter that I’m not very good at.

Three members of Wood Ear couldn’t make this weekend’s shows, so Will and I backed Nathan up.

Then we played with Dawn Chorus. No local band followed, but the crowd seemed into it. At one point, I looked up to see a heavily tattooed girl cradling the plastic gun from Big Buck Hunter in her arms as she clapped. That’s the visual memory I’ll take from Charleston.

The bartender comped my drinks and the owner gave us $200, the take from the door plus a little from the bar. Without that money, we’d be sleeping on the streets.

Instead we’re living it up, clandestine-style, at the Bay View. As soon as we fall asleep, a ruckus breaks out in the room above us.

We’re annoyed. Which is not at all what I pictured when I was 15 – five adults fresh off a rock show pissed about some noise.

Talk about your rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com.

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