This one is about a great member of the Bigfellas family, Don Hickox, and the first great Bigfellas road trip. The first time The Bigfellas really hit the road for a multi-date tour was in 2004.
Bratwurst Don & Our 2004 Tour
Posted by Charlie Recksieck
Celebration Of Don On Violin And On The Road
First, a little background on Don. "Donnie Bratwurst", so named for taking down a ton of Tim's beer-soaked brats at a Bigfellas BBQ. I first met Don in a local San Diego party band. We played drunken parties, boats, and St. Patrick's Day parades.
He's a killer violin player who can run through an amp to sound like Hendrix or played clean can sound like a classic Irish fiddler. He's guested with us from time to time and really is the key player on several of our recorded songs ("Vous Ne Parlez Francais", "Own Way", "4:20", et al). If you live in San Diego, you might know him from the band The 7th Day Buskers.
The Trip - Short Notice
Here's the deal about Don: you never knew when Don would be able to come play. I'd say this to his face - he has a wide-open schedule yet can be really elusive. We could give Don five months advance notice that we were playing a club down the street from him and we'd have no chance of getting him.
Contrast this to early October 2004 where Shay and I had bumped into Don at a club on a Saturday. We mentioned that we were heading out to a tour on Tuesday from California to Wisconsin for 2 weeks. He said "I'm free." We did 10 laps with him saying we'd love him to come but did he understand that we meant it, he'd be gone for a few weeks. He replied he'd be ready Tuesday morning.
Shay and I drove separately, we were taking two cars on the road with us going, lots of gear and Pam joining Shay. So imagine my surprise when I arrived at Don's house that Tuesday and he was all packed up and just hopped in the car. Then imagine Shay's surprise when Don and I in my car bumped into Shay & Pam at a Las Vegas gas station at a surprise rendezvous before our planned one, and Shay saw that Don was actually on the road.
A couple of random thoughts about the drive out. "Donnie Bratwurst" always could, and still can eat. Hell, I can put it away. But the volume of what Don ate at an all-you-can-eat buffet in Nevada on the Arizona easter border was simply amazing. Shay and I still talk about it.
I remember us not getting served at a racist Denny's (perhaps that's redundant) in Glenwood Springs, Colorado because Pam is black. I remember crashing a Denver area local music night. I remember Don planning hundred's of miles ahead in the Auto Club travel books to find local delicacies. And I remember a fucking delicious BBQ meal Don found in Omaha.
Eventually we pulled into former Bigfellas frontman Tim Gadziski's house in Manitowoc, Wisonsin - he'd moved there in early 2004. Half of the fun of being on the road is just the goofy stuff, not the onstage stuff. That's true here. When I think of Bigfellas on the road, I think of Don about four inches from the TV screen watching "The Price Is Right".
- Our first one on the road. We were playing by the university to about 30 locals, which was a fun warmup for the 5 of us. Apparently we were booked for 4 hours of playing and they wouldn't give us our check til midnight after an 8pm start. We sang ourselves into the ground on that one. I also remember a very strange art gallery in that venue. That's about it.
- We did the largest amount of promotion for this one. Great club and in advance we had a good newspaper article and a morning radio show hit from the phone on the road. And no one was there. I don't mean 15 people, I mean like 5. Ouch. The other memorable part of this one was the drive back to Manitowoc was the foggiest weather I'd ever encountered anywhere. It wasn't safe to be driving at all, I couldn't see the front of my car through the ungodly fog. But we didn't want to spend on a hotel, so we gave it a shot.
- I've written about this show before. Don brought everything that night - told jokes, brilliant solo fiddle playing, and by the end he couldn't play cause he was so high. And Don and I circled Chicago twice from bad printed directions (it was 2004, ask your parents). It's all detailed here: 2004 Chicago Show
- In typical Don roadtrip fashion (and typical Bigfellas fashion) I really remember the food and drink: boots of beer, incredible cheese fries in town. I also remember Don insisting we buy fireworks. I also remember that audience being great and loving Don.
- On paper, the previous 4 clubs were all at real music clubs whereas the Manitowoc show was at a neighborhood bar. As always happens with road gigs, expectations are completely meaningless. There were 150 people packed into that tiny bar and by far the best crowd of the tour. A magical one. All of us played so well; in my experience, that's typical when on the road and you get into everyday-playing shape. Don as well, although I remember our stage plot had us all next to each other in one line; I couldn't see Don in the first song and blindly called him out for his first solo but Don was in the bathroom.
So many other great memories, the only negative one is that I think Don may have broken the cruise control on my Ford on that trip. That said, Don was the best road trip co-pilot I've ever had. Talkative and amiable on all decisions including the radio and food stops. We sped back a little fast than the way out, despite Don taking us off the road about 50 miles to get a well-reviewed sandwich in Texas.
We spent the night in Los Cruces, New Mexico after a long day of driving. After checking to the hotel, I crashed in the bathtub while Don walked across the road to a liquor store to get us some beers. He didn't come back for like 90 minutes and I was starting to worry. Don was not served at the store because they thought he was drunk - he was dead sober. And then walking across the street he was stopped by local police and questioned because they thought he was drunk. He wasn't. Don is a character, a wonderful character who Shay and I love having in the band whenever we can. But a character is also the type of person who gets stopped by police.
That's the most consistent time I've spent with Don and I loved it. I still want him back on another tour. We had him in the studio a month ago to record on our upcoming record.
In closing, I'll just say that I wish somebody looked at you with all of the love that Don looks at a sandwich. And we hope you get to see him playing music with us soon. It's always special.
We love you, Don Hickox!