Tonight at the Pageant, Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven will be performing together. In this week's paper, Matt Wardlaw chatted with frontman of both groups, David Lowery. One facet that didn't make it into the interview was Lowery's discussion of the tour of the Middle East the band went on last year. He had some interesting insights below.
Matt Wardlaw: Going backward a little bit, I'd like to talk a little bit about the Middle East tour that you mentioned earlier. Was that the first time that Cracker had done something like that? David Lowery: Yes, it was the first time we've done anything like that. What we were specifically, pardon the pun, enlisted to do, was to be willing to play with the most stripped down set-up that we could. Basically, there were no amps, a small PA, and we used these direct Line 6 Pods and a drum set. Everything and us had to fit into a Blackhawk helicopter. We were supposed to be going to places that don't get entertainment, and sometimes we'd be doing two shows a day.
We traveled in cargo planes, Blackhawk helicopters, armored personnel carriers, and we did play at the big bases. Kuwait has big ones, and there's obviously some really big ones in Iraq. But then there's all of these little tiny, forward-operating bases, and that was the idea that we go out and play these places where they don't get any entertainment. On the new Cracker record there's this song called "Yalla, Yalla" which is soldier slang, that's kind of how those people found out about us. That's basically why we were asked to do this, and it was an incredible experience.
You know, a lot of those bases we go to, especially the smaller ones, are joint bases with either the Iraqi army or the Iraqi federal police. We played for a lot of those guys too, it wasn't just U.S. soldiers. It was really a trip - a lot of those guys had never seen a rock band and just tripped out on it, it was really incredible. It was interesting - it was just some place I never thought I'd go, I never thought we'd be asked to tour, but we did it, and it was about two weeks, and it was incredible.
On a personal level, what sort of safety concerns did you have going in? Obviously you hear a lot about the violence that occurs there. We were obviously concerned about that. Probably, if I would have known some of the things in advance - we were never really told where we were going to go - I don't know if I would have gone. If I'd have known in advance how much traveling we were going to do in convoys, driving through Iraqi cities, I would have kind of freaked out. I would have been like, "Nah, we'd rather fly in helicopters, we don't want to do any ground travel." As it turned out after going over there, it was weirdly normal. We were told for years that everything is fine in Iraq, it's getting better everyday, blah blah blah, and it wasn't.
Our experience over there was that things were a lot more normal than we expected it to be. Obviously, it's a war-ravaged country - it needs to be rebuilt, everything from railroads to power lines to buildings. But when you're just driving through the suburbs of Baghdad on a Friday afternoon and you're stuck in rush hour traffic, you're like, "Wow, this is kind of like cities everywhere." There's kids everywhere, teenagers hanging out on the corner with their friends. The coffee shops where people are socializing, fields of kids playing soccers, mothers and ladies coming back from the market, but there's a bunch of bombed out buildings too. It was interesting - in a way, it's getting better, and it's better than what we're told it is. I never felt in any danger over there - the most danger actually I felt was when we were in Kuwait City driving from the airport to one of the American air bases there, because people drive like maniacs there, and that's the only part that ever felt dangerous to me.