Two Seattle musicians set out on DIY tours in June. Damien Jurado kicked off his 50-state tour playing intimate spaces, while Tim Basaraba hopped in his car with his wife and guitar for a coast-to-coast tour playing anyplace at any time.
Two decades of touring the United States and Damien Jurado still hasn’t seen much of the country.
Jurado — like many musicians — rolls into a city, does a sound check, performs his gig, crams in dinner then departs the following day to reach the next city. This contrasts with his experiences touring a more compact continent like Europe where Jurado would spend about a week in a country, playing shows in small and large cities.
“I thought to myself, ‘Why aren’t we doing this in the states?’” Jurado said.
The grind of driving from big city to big city and ignoring the medium and small-sized towns was wearing on Jurado, whose first album was released by Sub Pop in 1997. The singer-songwriter, now on Secretly Canadian, knew there were fans in cities like Albuquerque that don’t always attract the type of shows that hit cities like Denver, where there are a variety of venues to play and established fan bases.
Fans from these tour dead zones drive hours to see live music. Jurado knows because he was once one of those fans, driving from Ocean Shores to Olympia and Seattle in the late 1980s to see shows.
Now the Seattle musician has embarked on a journey that will eventually take him to all 50 states in an effort to connect with music lovers and reignite a teenager’s passion for music. What makes this tour different for Jurado is that he will be touring with only his acoustic guitar and, instead of performing in concert halls, he will play in living rooms, basements, churches, coffee shops and small halls.
Jurado isn’t the only musician wanting to connect with fans by playing more intimate settings. Seattle Living Room Shows, which Jurado has worked with, matches musicians with people willing to open their homes for a show. Seattle musician Tim Basaraba, who performs under the name TBASA, embarked on a coast-to-coast tour last month playing in any venue or place that would have him.
“I’ll play anything with anyone and I want a chance to sell my merch. That was my pitch,” Basaraba said.
Carrie Watt, who owns Seattle Living Room Shows and Seattle Secret Shows with her sister Kristen, said that people in a listening room environment are there because they truly care about music.
“It is a wonderful opportunity for musicians to share their music with an attentive audience, for attendees to feel connected in a deeper way to the artists, and for all to experience a sense of community and a shared love of music,” she said.
Jurado isn’t sure how long his 50-state tour will take. He is randomly picking two states at a time. Each state’s name is written on a Ping-Pong-sized ball and put into a wire tumbler for a drawing. The randomness could lead to some logistical gymnastics, say if he draws Maine and Hawaii. Jurado didn’t have any such problems for his first two states. He ended up with neighbors Ohio and Indiana and for the second round will be going to Kansas and Oklahoma. He kicked the tour off June 13 at a private residence in Toledo, Ohio, and a coffee shop the following day in Vandalia, Ohio. The first leg of the 50-state tour ended in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Jurado is spending July and August in Seattle and will head for Kansas on Sept. 17.
Jurado says towns that often get bypassed by established acts are not music deserts, and he plans to tap into the scenes in each place he visits by writing and recording songs with local musicians in local studios. This wasn’t possible in Ohio and Indiana because of time constraints and the difficulty of finding an available studio. Despite these challenges Jurado said he is determined to do so at other stops.
Even though Basaraba has been performing since the early 1990s, he has yet to make it further east than Salt Lake City. The TBASA coast-to-coast tour kicked off at Frelard’s Substation, where he books bands, and took him along the northern tier of the country to cities such as Fargo, North Dakota; Albany, New York; New York City and Philadelphia then back through the Midwest, ending in Clarkston across the Snake River from his hometown of Lewiston, Idaho.
Picking up and doing a DIY tour might sound like a great adventure, but the logistics and cost don’t make it easy for an independent musician. Basaraba’s wife, Pauline, has neurofibromatosis, which causes tumors to grow throughout the body. The couple decided to hit the road after she recovered from her latest surgery. They don’t have children and have for years focused on living as simply as possible. They’re making the trip in their 2006 Chrysler 300, a car Tim says is left over from their “opulent era.”
His second show after Seattle was in front of a sushi restaurant at a Missoula, Montana, farmers market. Basaraba, who has been playing in Seattle bands since 1997, said there is something special about performing in an intimate setting with only his guitar. Connecting with the crowd is more difficult when you are one of three or four onstage, he said.
“The solo difference is the interaction with the crowd. When I’m by myself, I’m able to use whatever humor and dry wit I have,” he said.
Solo acoustic shows are not new for Jurado. The Watt sisters have worked with him before, most recently booking Jurado to play a secret show at the Bullit Center. In 2011 Jurado played a solo show in the old press room of The Seattle Times.
For Jurado, the desire to perform in nontraditional settings is a throwback to his musical roots of punk and hardcore and was partly inspired by the book “26 Songs in 30 Days: Woody Guthrie’s Columbia River Songs and the Planned Promised Land in the Pacific Northwest,” which was written by KEXP DJ Greg Vandy and Daniel Person. Jurado was struck by how Guthrie crisscrossed the nation with his guitar playing in people’s homes, picket lines and halls, bypassing the standard music venues his peers were playing.
That “of the people ethos” Guthrie lived was thriving in the Seattle of Jurado’s youth.
“In the 90s, Seattle had a huge, thriving hardcore scene while America was focused on the grunge thing,” he said.
Jurado started attending DIY hardcore shows as a teenager in the late 1980s. Two shows left an early impression on him. In 1986 he was living in Houston and saw JFA play a skatepark. The other was Undertow at the no-longer-existing Party Hall at 21st and Madison. By this time, he had seen Nirvana and the Butthole Surfers, but the Undertow show enveloped him like those others hadn’t. There was no stage, putting the band at the same level as the passionate crowd that was packed in so tight it was difficult to move.
“I remember when the band played they would just crowd the band. The band could barely move because they were surrounded by so many kids,” Jurado recalled.
The singer’s vocals were drowned out by the crowd singing along. Jurado gets chills thinking about it. Those early experiences are a part of who he is as a musician. While Jurado has gone in a different musical direction, he has kept that intimacy he found as a teen in cramped halls and living rooms. He hopes to rekindle that feeling with this tour.
“I grew out of hardcore but carried with me those values and ethos. They have never, ever left me,” Jurado said.