Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Perils Of A Traveling Musician

I'm on a flight with the Mountain Heart gang somewhere over Montana right now that’s bound for Nashville. We had a ridiculous call time this morning at like 3:45am to leave Seattle…. definitely not musician-friendly hours. Mountain Heart and lots of other great bands and D’addario lovers including Kenny and Amanda Smith, The Infamous Stringdusters, The Seldom Scene, and so many more, were performing at an awesome festival called Wintergrass in Seattle this weekend. We had three great shows with amazing crowds to play to, and I got to really enjoy my first visit and tour of the city.

We had some SWANK hotel rooms this trip and the overall vibe from the people was perfect. In case you were wondering, the rumors are true....there was literally a Starbucks in every direction within a hundred yards. However, I didn’t make it to the original one on Pike Place.

As nice as all that was, I do have to mention what a terrible time we had traveling out this week. I’ll make it brief so I don’t ruin anyone else’s day. Basically, it started when we were leaving the Nashville airport. After checking our bags and paying the $25 “luggage care” fees, we stood in a half hour line just to find out that we had a 3-hour delay. That was not the best news considering that put us arriving at like 3 or 4 am CST at that point. After finding that out, we had to stand in another half hour line to get on another connecting flight because obviously, we weren’t going to make it on the original flight to Cincinnati. During the ticket changes, Jim from the band, was handed a “seat request” that looks like a ticket and we got new baggage claim and tracking info since we weren’t flying via Cincinnati. He was told that he and I were seated together on the next flight to Atlanta and then to Seattle. The clerk said “that’s as good as a ticket” when we asked about the seat request thing…”I’m just out of ticket stubs for my printer but that will get you your seat.”

So we waited around and after standing in yet another half hour line to board the flight to ATL, Jim was told “sir, this flight is sold out and your seat request isn’t going to get you on this flight. At that point, obviously the airline didn’t have ANYTHING together and Jim was going to be 24 hours late getting to the gig and was going to miss 2 of 3 performances. After fighting and then begging for something to be worked out, the (obviously having a bad day) clerk somehow worked Jim on the flight. Relieved to finally be in the air, we took off with a sense of peace. We got to Atlanta and then hopped the connecting flight to Seattle, which was quite a bit longer that I figured. We landed there as scheduled and headed down to baggage claim.

After the 12-hour ordeal to actually make it TO Seattle, we quickly noticed over half the band had one thing in common. Keep in mind, there are 6 members of Mountain Heart and we flew on 3 different flights from 3 different cities. The obvious bad news was, half of us didn’t have any luggage…at all! We had a missing bass and all of our checked luggage including laptops, everyone’s stage clothes, some stage gear and even pile of D’addario strings were all MIA. Completely pissed off at this point, we had to deal with the lost luggage personnel who obviously also were having a VERY BAD day (see the trend), in order to track our stuff.

They found Jim’s and my luggage and of course as anyone would suspect, it had safely made it to Cincinnati on our original flight but somehow, it never made it to Seattle. However, Jason’s bass was not so lucky as it was completely lost. They offered us no answers as to where it was or even MIGHT BE or when or IF he’d get it back. The offered no apologies, or even seem to care either way. After all, it’s not their stuff right? No, I’m not sarcastic So, we filled out all of the paperwork to start the process of tracking and shipping our gear and then headed off in a shuttle to the hotel.

The next morning, of course none of our stuff had arrived and we were at this point forced to borrow instruments and wear dirty underwear and t-shirts on stage in front of thousands of people, which was pretty embarrassing. Then came the 2nd performance….still in the same dirty everything, still with no answer or explanation from the airline. Nearing the end of this trip and after EVERYTHING work or music related was finished, the courier service dropped all of our stuff off without notifying us in the middle of the night!

Thankful to have everything back finally and especially to have on some clean drawers, we wrote this one off as a lesson learned when it comes to this particular airline. Just an FYI, Jim and myself wrote a song about this experience titled “The Delta Airline Blues” and we performed it in front of 10,000 people Saturday night and yes, it’s already on youtube. I’ll try to attach a link below in case you want to help us raise public awareness of airline injustice. Funny thing is, we all just had to check everything they lost and returned again just a bit ago and pay the same insane baggage fees to have them “shipped and handled with care” or just lost, which is WAY more likely.

Traveling as a musician has its good points and its bad; I think it’s important to see both sides! Since this incident consumed the majority of our trip, we felt it needed to be shared! Every profession has its on-the-job hazards. The next stop for the band is home, albeit for only 24 hours. Then we’re off to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. Jim and I have been before and I quickly learned to absolutely LOVE the vibe there along with the sites. We’ll fill you in next week on how everything goes. Clear blue water and skies, beautiful beaches, amazing food, 75-degree temps, and night swimming in the winter months, pretty much rocks.

As I’m typing this, I’m listening to one guy talk to his partner about this big sales job they’re in the middle of and how tough times are with his company. There’s a baby that WILL NOT stop crying across the isle, an old man that’s gently snoring, and a woman in front of me that’s obviously having some health troubles and has been in the hospital. All that being said, I just had a very calming feeling come over me as I think about why I’m on this plane. And it’s not for some job I hate or some family emergency; we’re traveling to bring our music to people across the world. That was simply a childhood dream and I’m getting to live it now.

So, I’m powering up my iPod to find something soothing to listen to and add to the little “positive bubble” around me. We’re very blessed to be able to survive doing what we do and it’s only possible because of all the great supporters out there. So, thanks to all the listeners and all the folks like D’addario that have helped myself and Mountain Heart throughout our careers. An update from St. Croix is coming soon!

Until the next time
Josh Shilling of Mountain Heart


  1. Nice story. Its good to keep a positive head on. That helps get through the problems.

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