On The Road With Lauren And The Boys
The writer, Laurie Mirkin sat down for 3 hours with Lauren Mitchell, Michael Hensley and Sande Caplin to get the information for this story….
We were sitting at Primo Ristorante, myself and Sande Caplin, enjoying wine and cocktails before dinner. It was the perfect spot and occasion for an interview with Lauren Mitchell and Michael Hensley. I was anxious to know what the Lauren Mitchell Band’s schedule was for the fall and if they would be heading out on the road. “Well, we might go to the Keys and play a few places down there, but as far as our next tour, we’ll be going back out after the first of the year. I have such a great team!” I asked Lauren about how she feels before a tour; anxious, excited, or does she take it all in stride? “I get very excited. One of the really great things that happened on our last tour was that we were received everywhere with such esteem; the folks from the venues helped, welcomed, and made us feel like stars. I laughed at being called ‘Miss Mitchell.’ That was pretty humbling.”
On their first tour Lauren and the band were gone 3 weeks, covering North Carolina, Ohio, and Canada. “Canton, Ohio is my home town, and it was great. Relatives and many others from Canton gathered around. It was wonderful. A group of my old theatre friends connected on Facebook and came to the show. Some high school friends were there, and my Mom and family.” Did you feel like “Look at me!” “Yes, I was thrilled at the turnout and support. The promoters were great too. Even the local paper interviewed me and put me on the front page!” That was at the Canton Blues Festival, a time to remember with warm thoughts. “Not to mention the irony of playing my first major festival in my hometown, promoting our first album which is titled “Please Come Home”. The sychronicity of it all was pretty amazing.”
I was curious as to how all the band’s gear fits in the van they travel in, plus the band members. Well, obviously that would be a tight fit and so weighed down that the van would not be able to move. Mike told me that they tow a trailer with all their instruments and gear on the back of the van. I have driven a 15 passenger van. When you switch lanes, especially with a trailer hitched to the back of the van, the front end comes into the lane and a minute later the back of the van arrives, and then there’s the trailer. It can get pretty hairy. In fact, Mike shared a story about how a torrential downpour scared the hell out of the band. “You couldn’t see two feet in front of you. Traffic was slowing down and we were completely blinded by the downpour. One of our wiper blades flew off and smacked into the window and cracked the windshield!” How scary is that? “Lauren was driving and handled it well…she is good in an emergency, but when you’re toting a trailer and a van full of bodies, the whole thing can be a nightmare.” I also asked about some of the crazy road stories they might have and Lauren was about to tell a story to us when Mike gave her a look as if to say, “Is nothing sacred?” One of these days I’ll get it out of her.
I asked Lauren and Mike how it goes, riding along in the van for hours at a time. All of the band is in the van. She usually drives on the first leg of the trip. No big conversations because they leave before daylight. Lots of coffee and bad “road” food later, they arrive at the first city on the tour and stay overnight somewhere. “That way we don’t arrive exhausted and have to play right away.” Mike and Lauren are the main drivers and Lauren admitted to being the most annoying on board. She does not ride in the back and is “a terrible side-seat driver”. “What happens when you get there?” I asked. “Everyone is so helpful. The setup is easy. Folks from all the clubs and different venues were amazingly gracious and that part was never a problem. They are always happy to receive the band and help us unload and set up.” In fact, during one leg of their second tour, their promoter offered his house for them to stay in. They pulled up to a gigantic house with 6 bedrooms and luxurious accommodations and he even cooked for them. “We had a great time.” The band doesn’t mind hotels because it’s only a place to lay their heads. Food is a different subject. “It’s almost impossible to eat anything healthy on the road. You’re too tired and hungry to care, so you eat some really crappy stuff you would normally not eat if you were in your right mind.”
I asked Lauren and Mike about the best stop on the tour, and they both said Canada. “In Canada, everyone from The London Music Hall and The Great Lakes Blues Society was ridiculously hospitable, overwhelming, in fact. They were waiting at the loading dock to do all the heavy lifting for us. But Canton was a close second,” seeing as it is Lauren’s home town and a bunch of people showed up who Lauren knew when she lived there including her Mom, and friends, relatives Facebook buddies and other local theater actors from when Lauren acted in local stage events. “The other great thing about touring is that you get to meet & jam with lots of other awesome musicians. Mel Melton joined us on harp for a couple songs in Durham, NC. And I can’t forget being asked to join Mac Arnold and Plate Full of Blues on stage for a song in North Carolina! Mac played with Muddy Waters. That makes him blues royalty!”
“In 2014 we are trying to set up a similar tour so that we play the same places and add some new venues. That’s being worked on right now. The Bradfordville Blues Club, which is on the National Historic Registry, as well as the Mississippi Blues Trail, and where the best blues artists have played for the past century, was a major thrill. “We loved it. We’ve been fortunate to play there several times and it’s always amazing.”
As a woman, I’m thinking how does Lauren plan her wardrobe? I had to ask. She pre-arranges outfits for each venue. Mix and match. Separate suit case for her red shoes. “Size 11 stilettos and platforms take up a lot of room!” She laughed, and showed me a picture on her phone of her suitcase of shoes. It was a riot of color and I was in pain looking at some of her shoes. She decides which ones to wear based on the venue (indoor or outdoor) and how long she’ll be in them. There are “two hour shoes, three hour shoes, and all day shoes”. Taking her shoes off onstage is an absolute no-no. When Lauren gets dressed to perform, she recalls advice from one of her drag queen friends from years ago, “Honey, if it don’t hurt, you’re not done yet.” Lauren has a secret obsession with drag queens and loves RuPaul.
So, 4 guys and you on the road….what’s that like? Are you the queen? “Well, it’s like I have 4 big brothers, 4 husbands and 4 children.” I had to laugh. “I try not to give them too hard a time. We do have a few very strict rules, like no alcohol on stage. It is not acceptable and looks unprofessional. Also no drinking before or while you’re working. Is there any other job you can go to drunk? So why would you come on stage having had several drinks, or worse yet, drink while you’re playing?” A very good point!