Eating is a necessity that doesn't always come in the best form when eating on the road. Having been a traveling musician for many years, I have ingested (and sometimes even digested) many meals out there somewhere. A solid 10-to-12 years on road was spent playing at playing clubs, concert halls, theatres, and other venues with my compatriots in Hybrid Ice.
Early on, most standard fare consisted of fast food places, a quick bite on the way to a new town, until you checked into the motel. It didn't take long for “preferences” to emerge when driving by interstate exits: So and so gets sick on Mickey D's. Somebody else can't eat Arby's. Two guys will eat anywhere. Somebody else needs a “real meal”. It was always advisable not to settle for 7-11 “death tubes” (hot dogs) under any circumstances. But occasionally I would eat an entire roasted chicken from one of those places.
If there was time, you could check into the motel and go get something to eat at a real restaurant. At certain venues in later years, we added meals as a rider to our contract – booze was always included – and it would all be in the dressing room, waiting. If there was not time to go someplace, and the club wouldn't spring for a deli tray, there was always the ubiquitous two large pizzas delivered to the dressing room two hours before the show. That served as dinner with one caveat: Usually, one pizza was for the band, and the other for me. I had a bottomless pit for a stomach in those days.
If the gig ran at least two nights or more, you checked into the motel, and you searched for a good place to eat the next day. Keep in mind, there was no internet. No Google maps to guide you to the venue. You asked for directions on the phone with the club owner or agent before you left and wrote it down on a piece of paper. I made the motel reservations (always with a late checkout) in advance on my land-based, coil cord telephone, later hi-tech wireless handsets prevailed. There were no restaurant reviews on phones in your hands. How did we even survive under such primitive conditions? We followed well-established rock band rules.
1. If possible, talk to the roadies of other bands and find out where the best places were to eat. This sometimes happened as you were checking in and out of motels. Sometimes club personnel would offer that info. Sometimes the names of places (and a lot of other things) would be written on the dressing room walls. I wish I had photographed those walls...
2. If #1 had not yet occurred, find a place with someone's name on it. Personal pride almost always guaranteed the best food. I still use this rule when choosing an untried restaurant in an unfamiliar town.
3. If you had to settle for a chain restaurant, insist to your server that your order look exactly like the photo on the menu or you wouldn't pay for it. Kidding, of course, but they would take you seriously. And you made sure it was always someone's birthday in these places so you got a free dessert and a song sung to you - for a change.
4. Tip the waitstaff well and always mention where in town you were playing and for how long. You could skip the part about even being in a band. Everyone got that when you pulled into the parking lot in your limo or van and all who emerged had long hair and looked like the people your parents told you to stay away from. Occasionally, a beer can or two would fall out when the back door would open. That pretty much nailed it.
5. Never turn down a meal from the club employees! Many times over the years, we had some of the best home cooked meals at the homes of the bartenders, waitresses and their families. Some of them turned into regular events as picnics every time we went back to that particular part of the country. In time, we invited those same people to our studio for our annual summer bashes, complete with softball games and kegs o' beer. All fun times from long ago and I am glad to see that at least one place that we frequented, The Peach Blossom Diner in Spartanburg, South Carolina, is still going strong.
6. Buffets. All you can eat. Jackpot!
Stay with me. Special Guest Appearance coming up...
We played a place in Charlottesville, Virginia called Max/Trax (sadly, it has since been closed and razed by UVA). It was big rock club, laid out correctly, playing lengthwise to the room, with a high stage and high ceiling. It was a popular venue, one that was on almost everyone's calendar who was playing the circuit. We always did the two pizza thing at this club and ordered from the same place every time because they were good and the delivery was fast. The same person always delivered them, too.
Our delivery guy was a pleasant, smiling congenial sort of guy who always asked how our road trip was going, what places we had played, how long we were out, how the crowds were and where we are going next. He mentioned that he was in a band and he played there, too. We saw him every time we were there and chatted for a few minutes and tipped him twenty bucks every time.
Years later, that pizza delivery guy who played in the unknown club band, finally stopped delivering pizzas and serving as a waiter at a restaurant in Charlottesville when he and his band signed a record deal and went on to mega-fame and stardom. His name? Dave Matthews. And I'll bet he tips well.